HC Deb 27 May 1976 vol 912 cc615-6
6. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on border co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Rees

The Government regard co-operation with the authorities in the Irish Republic as vital in debating terrorism in Northern Ireland. Co-operation continues to improve, and both Governments have now taken steps to bring into effect the provisions of their respective legislation against fugitive offenders.

In the economic field, I said on 24th November 1975 that the two Governments had made a joint approach to the EEC Commission for financial assistance towards a study of communications in the Londonderry-Donegal area. I am pleased to announce that consultants have now been chosen to carry out the study, and that I expect it to be completed in about six months.

Mr. Townsend

Is the Secretary of State aware that the British Government have accepted no fewer than 69 complaints from the Irish Government in the last three years, concerning overflying by British military aircraft? This is a continuing source of friction between the North and the South. Will the right hon. Gentleman strongly press the Government of the South for proper overflying rights on both sides of the border?

Mr. Rees

Even with overflying rights for particular purposes, this sort of overflying does happen, as do crossings of the border. There was one crossing of the border the other evening, to the extent of only 20 metres. This type of thing has to be sorted out in a better fashion, but in general the handling of these matters by the Irish authorities is first rate. I have no grumbles about it.

Mr. Hardy

We accept that the Government of the Republic must be acutely conscious of the fact of its territorial sovereignty, but is my right hon. Friend aware that the helpful and co-operative attitude that he just mentioned should soon have an effect on public attitudes in the North?

Mr. Rees

One aspect of the co-operation that I should particularly like to mention is concerned with explosives. There is no doubt that the incidence of the discovery of explosives this year was much higher than last year. That stems from the close co-operation between the Governments of the North and South. This co-operation has shown considerable results.

Mr. Farr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that another very real cause of friction between the Government of the Republic and our Government is the continuing clandestine discussions that our Government has with representatives of illegal organisations there?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Member keeps using the word "continuing". I have not noticed this, and both Governments know what they are doing.