HC Deb 07 July 1970 vol 803 cc494-6

Mr. Stratton Mills (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, if he will make a statement on the visit yesterday of the Irish Republic's Foreign Minister Dr. Hillery to Belfast.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

When he called on me on 29th June Dr. Hillery expressed the grave concern of the Government of the Republic of Ireland at the very difficult situation in Northern Ireland. It is natural that he should wish to keep himself informed, but I should have expected him to have consulted Her Majesty's Government in advance if he wished to make a visit. Not to have done so, particularly in present circumstances, is a serious diplomatic discourtesy. His visit has magnified the difficulties of those who are working so hard for peace and harmony in Northern Ireland. I am inviting Dr. Hillery, who is visiting the Chancellor of the Duchy tomorrow on other matters, to call on me.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this rather ham-fisted action by Dr. Hillery is bound to raise the temperature and increase the tension at this difficult time? Is my right hon. Friend aware that I very much welcome the rebuke which he has today given from the Dispatch Box? I hope that in future Mr. Lynch and his Government will attempt to keep down tension at this difficult time in Northern Ireland.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Everybody should try to keep down the tension; that should be the object of all of us. This undoubtedly was an error of judgement.

Mr. McNamara

The words which the Foreign Secretary has just used rather than seeking to damp down tension will considerably magnify it. Would it not be better for him to take a more positive attitude towards the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, rather than the negative attitude which the Prime Minister took yesterday, about the tripartite talks about the situation in the North? Would it not be better to persuade that right hon. Gentleman in Northern Ireland not to take part in certain inflammatory processions over the weekend?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Fitt

With his vast geographic knowledge, would the Foreign Secretary recognise that the city of Belfast is in the island of Ireland and that every Irishman in that island claims the right to move anywhere at any time in the borders of his own country? Would he further agree that this visit was the direct result of events last weekend when it became clear that the Tory Government were acting in a biased way towards one section of the community, which naturally brought a reaction from fellow Irishmen and patriots in the Republic of Ireland?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I cannot accept the accusation of bias in any circumstances. The hon. Gentleman would do well to take the advice, which I am sure would be the advice of the whole House, that he should assist in reconciliation between the religious divisions in Northern Ireland.

Captain Orr

Could it be represented to Dr. Hillery when the talks take place that there are many people in Northern Ireland who want to see reasonable relationships between the North and the South and a return to the situation where both Governments consult together over things which are in their mutual interest, and that the kind of behaviour which we have now seen sets things back?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am afraid, as I said, that this was an error of judgment, and it has had the effect of making the task of everybody engaged in reconcilliation more difficult, but I hope that this error of judgment will not recur.

Mr. John Mendelson

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, after the sad events of August of the previous year, one of the positive elements in the situation was the good contacts between the Government in London and the Government in Dublin? Is it not important today to say for the record that, whatever may be felt about one particular move, the present Government want to continue with this policy?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home


Mr. McMaster

Would my right hon. Friend confirm that actions of this nature are not in the best interests of the minority in Northern Ireland, who may be deluded into believing that their own unconstitutional and terrorist activities will be supported by the Eire Government and that the United Kingdom Government will thereby be deluded into handing Ulster into the hands of traditional enemies, and that this is prolonging the bitterness and ill-feeling in Northern Ireland?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope that we need not talk in terms of traditional enemies and other language of this sort, which does nothing but inflame the situation. I hope that the Government of the Republic of Ireland will co-operate with Her Majesty's Government in this way in trying to calm things down in a situation which is extremely difficult. Anybody could so easily make the situation, difficult as it is, almost unhandleable unless he is careful about his language and actions.

Mr. Loughlin

The Foreign Secretary has repeatedly referred to reconciliation. Can he tell the House what evidence there is that the Orange Order wants any reconciliation of any kind?

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I am concerned only with relationships between Governments. The matters which concern us in Northern Ireland are the matters with which the Home Secretary deals. He has made it very clear that the Government support the reforms which have been set in motion by the Government of Northern Ireland. In that respect I cannot say any more, but I hope that they go forward quickly. That is the desire of the Government.