HC Deb 19 December 1956 vol 562 cc1265-7
The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the situation in Northern Ireland.

Her Majesty's Government have the greatest sympathy for the people of Northern Ireland in face of the recent outbreaks of violence to which they have been exposed. We pay tribute, in particular, to the courage and resource of the members of the Royal Ulster Constabularly and the special constables who have borne the brunt of these attacks. Her Majesty's Government recognise that the situation is still fraught with danger, which the people of Northern Ireland have faced and are facing with exemplary restraint.

Immediately after the outbreak of violence on 12th December, Her Majesty's Ambassador in Dublin arranged to see the Republican Minister of External Affairs to obtain further information from him and to express the serious view which Her Majesty's Government would be bound to take of these events.

As the House will know, on 14th December the Republican Government issued a statement on their own initiative in which they said that they had determined to take, in conjunction with the police and defence forces of the Republic, such steps as they deemed necessary and appropriate to prevent activities which, if they were allowed to continue, would inevitably cause loss of life. In the light of this, Her Majesty's Government decided to direct Her Majesty's Ambassador to deliver a communication expressing their very great concern at the recent incidents in Northern Ireland, and the hope that the important objective which the Republican Government had proclaimed in their statement would be effectively and successfully secured.

In the Ireland Act, 1949, the Parliament at Westminster declared Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom. This is a declaration which all parties in this House are pledged to support. The safety of Northern Ireland and of its inhabitants is, therefore, a direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, which they will, of course, discharge.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Prime Minister has referred, very properly, to the statement issued by the Republican Government of Ireland on 14th December. I wonder whether he could tell the House whether he knows what the Republican Government have actually done in this matter since then?

The Prime Minister

We have been in communication with the Republican Government, but I am afraid that I have no detailed statement that I can make. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to repeat the question tomorrow, I might have further information, which I should be glad to give.

Mr. P. O'Neill

On behalf of myself and my hon. Friends, may I say that we welcome very much the Prime Minister's statement? We should like to associate ourselves with this tribute to the courage and exemplary conduct of the R.U.C. and of the special constabulary in discharging their duties under very trying conditions. But is it not a fact that, if history has taught us anything, it is that Ulstermen—and, for that matter, Irishmen, on whatever side of the border they may dwell—cannot be coerced?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these senseless outrages are condemned by the overwhelming majority of all classes and creeds on both sides of the border? Is he further aware that to bring such outrages to an end, co-operation between the authorities in both the North and the South is essential, and will he continue to work to achieve this so that peace and sanity may be restored? Does he agree that if, unhappily, these outrages continue, every assistance which the Northern Ireland Government may require to restore order and security will immediately be forthcoming?

The Prime Minister

I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct when he says that the overwhelming feeling on both sides of the border is against outrages of this character. I have given a full account of the action taken up to date, and I can only tell him that the responsibility mentioned in the last sentence of my statement is one which, I think, any Government of this country would always feel ready to discharge. At the same time, I think that the whole House will agree that we want to try to avoid, if we can, this matter becoming even more serious than it now is. My own feeling, therefore, is that I would rather add nothing more to the statement which I have made to the House this afternoon.