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Republic Of Ireland

Volume 301: debated on Tuesday 25 November 1997

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If he will make a statement on relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. [15997]

Relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are excellent. The two Governments are working closely in the Northern Ireland talks and in the European Union. Practical co-operation between Government Departments throughout the United Kingdom and their Irish counterparts has been intensified and I, like many of my ministerial colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, have already had substantive meetings with our Irish opposite numbers.

Is the idea of Ireland's rejoining the Commonwealth ever discussed? Mary Robinson suggested that towards the end of her presidency. Is not the Commonwealth today very different from that which Ireland left in 1948? It no longer has imperial pretensions and is an area for tolerance, trade and democracy. Would it not also be attractive to Unionists, in terms of the peace process, to have their British identity recognised?

That is not a matter that I have discussed at my meetings with counterparts in Ireland; it would be a matter for the Irish Government.

In view of the likelihood of devolved government throughout the United Kingdom, would the Minister support unilateral action by Scotland or Wales to create a council for co-operation with the Republic of Ireland?