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Irish Foreign Minister

Volume 132: debated on Thursday 28 April 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Irish Foreign Minister; and what was discussed.

I last met Mr. Lenihan on 25 March at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference. The joint statement issued after the meeting, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, sets out the wide range of matters that we discussed.

Who authorised the execution of the three IRA members killed in Gibraltar?

I trust that the hon. Gentleman is sufficiently well informed to know that the events in Gibraltar will be the subject of a full inquest before a jury. It is absolutely intolerable to make such comments in advance of the proper process of the law.

When the Secretary of State next meets Mr. Lenihan, what message will he give him for Mr. Haughey? Will he give the message given by the Foreign Secretary commending Mr. Haughey as a true and great patriot, or will he give the denunciation by The Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box on Tuesday?

I shall have great pleasure in endorsing the messages of my right hon. Friend The Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary when I next meet Mr. Haughey. I see no difficulty in that whatsoever. I should not have thought that there was any hon. Member who would not regard Mr. Haughey as a true patriot for his own country, or who would deny that we look for the fullest co-operation, not least in the defeat of terrorism and in the fight against the common evil represented by terrorism in the island of Ireland. We look for the fullest co-operation, and that is enshrined in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

When the Secretary of State next meets the Irish Foreign Minister, will he confirm to him that the statesmanlike views expressed by the Foreign Secretary represent the views of The Prime Minister and the Cabinet? If that is the case, will he then confirm to the Irish Foreign Minister that the petulant display by The Prime Minister at Question Time on Tuesday was the result of irrational pique rather than rational political judgment?

I suspect that they are what one might call two sides of the spectrum. There is some attempt to divide my right hon. Friends, but we are together on these matters. We share a common approach. I would say seriously to the hon. Gentleman that if he reads the speech by the Foreign Secretary he will see that my right hon. and learned Friend made it clear that the agreement that we have signed carries commitments and responsibilities on both sides and involves obligations on both sides. It is not part of a process sliding towards somewhere else, but, in the phrase that I have used, it is an end in itself. It is a resolution of the difficulties that have bedevilled the relationship of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, and any change in that relationship will be subject to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland.

Has my right hon. Friend discussed with the Irish Foreign Minister the Irish Parliament's unilateral imposition of restrictions on extradition from the Republic to the United Kingdom on the unjustified ground of concern for the quality of British justice and spurious concern for the rights of so-called Irish citizens who are extradited to Britain? If so, what is the Government's reaction to that unilateral restriction on the due legal process between our two countries?

My hon. Friend will know that he picks up an extract from the speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, in which he says that there is no monopoly of grievance. He made no secret in that speech of our grievances about the way in which the extradition issue has been handled, but he said that we seek to resolve such problems within the normal relationships between our countries. I certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that I am most anxious, as I am sure all those responsible within the Republic of Ireland must be, to ensure that there are, at the earliest moment, effective extradition arrangements between our two countries.

Does the Minister realise that the rabble-rousing and jingoistic answer that he gave me last time I asked about the shooting of the three IRA members has intensified the situation and that there have been more killings in the past few weeks than for a long time? Does he realise that shooting to kill demands an inquiry and that the tactics used by paramilitaries on both sides of just killing should not have been adopted by us when we could have arrested the three IRA members? We should not engage in the same tactics.

I do not immediately recall what the hon. Gentleman described as my jingoistic answer. I think that I may have expressed some considerable relief, which I think the House shared, that the most powerful bomb that the Spanish police had ever seen in their lifetime, despite all their experience of ETA, did not go off in the confined streets of Gibraltar. There cannot be any decent Member of the House who is not profoundly relieved that some 200 people who might otherwise have been killed or maimed did not meet their death or injury at that time. The hon. Gentleman says that there needs to be an inquiry, and he will have heard my earlier answer that there is to be precisely that in the due legal form of an inquest before a jury. That is the proper procedure, and that is what will take place.

When my right hon. Friend next sees the Irish Foreign Minister, will he ask him whether he is as fed up as Conservative Members are of television companies raking through the gutters of Gibraltar to find people to rubbish our security services? Will he also ask him whether he is as fed up as we are with people weeping tears for an active IRA unit which would have been responsible for a major massacre in Gibraltar?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the proposals for a television broadcast, which I understand may take place tonight. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary has made representations to the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority about that. If the reports are correct that the programme will include live interviews with people who are likely to be witnesses at the inquest, that raises very difficult issues and could run the serious risk of prejudicing the rights of those concerned at the inquest.

Many people are worried that instead of three people facing the prospect of spending a long time behind bars for taking part in and planning a most horrific offence, the Government may well have created three new martyrs for old Ireland, three more victims for the Crown. The Opposition share that worry. Is the Secretary of State aware that we very much regret the Foreign Secretary's decision to go to the chairman of the IBA to try to prevent the film being shown? Is he aware that we regard that as another example of the ministerial arm-twisting of the press and the media that we have seen since Christmas?

Is the Secretary of State also aware that by seeking to take that course of action the Government are prejudging the issues because, according to the very words that the Secretary of State used himself, that bomb was 50 miles away? The three were unarmed. Those are the facts. They should have been arrested and charged. The Government have created martyrs and they are now trying to prevent a proper examination of the Government's conduct and policies by hiding behind the theory of an inquest. We well know that there will be no examination in that inquest of the decisions made at Cabinet level about how those men and that women were to be treated. The Government are hiding behind the facts. They are running away again.

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that that was the most unfortunate intervention that I have ever heard. He has presumed to stand at the Dispatch Box—speaking, I understand, on behalf of the Opposition—and say that he claims to know all the facts of this matter in advance of the inquest and the evidence. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will have heard the hon. Gentleman say that he knows all the facts. The hon. Gentleman has—[Interruption.]

Order. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman asked a series of questions. He is now being answered.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that those were the facts. I must tell him that, as we have said, there will be an inquest. Does he really think that it is desirable in the proper process of law and for the protection of all those who have their rights who will be giving evidence in one form or another at the inquest, that there should in advance of that inquest be trial by television in which partial witnesses will be shown in support of one particular thesis? The hon. Gentleman should consider the facts. He will hear later that a considerable amount of independent examination of these matters can be quoted to show how dangerous it is for witnesses to give evidence on television before inquiries and inquests are carried out.