HC Deb 13 April 1978 vol 947 cc1641-6
3. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his talks with the Ministers of the Irish Republic.

7. Mr. Litterick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland or other Irish political leaders in the near future.

8. Mr. Craig

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in his recent discussions with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, whether progress was made in obtaining an agreement for the extradition of persons wanted for trial in respect of the commission or of aiding and abetting in the commission of crimes of a terrorist nature.

11. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on his discussions with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic.

13. Mr. Goodlad

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next expects to meet the Irish Foreign Minister.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)

I have no meeting with Ministers of the Republic planned, but meetings at all levels between the two Governments take place as necessary. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had a short discussion with the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic on 7th April. They reaffirmed the views voiced in the communique issued after their meeting last September and reviewed progress since then.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I shall call hon. Members in the order in which their Questions are being answered.

Mr. Watkinson

Can my right hon. Friend indicate whether he takes the view that relationships between the North and the South have improved as a result of contacts between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of the South? Can he reiterate that the guarantee of the British people to the Northern Irish people remains? Can he also say whether he is engaged in talks on matters of cross-border security? In his last speech in the House, he indicated that there could be a slight area of improvement there.

Mr. Mason

As far as I am concerned—and I am sure that this applies to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—there is a good working relationship between the North and the South. The meeting held by the two Prime Ministers was very short. It was informal and private. What is most important is that they jointly reaffirmed the communique from the 10 Downing Street conference of last September. There is a Question on security and the use of the border later on the Order Paper.

Mr. Litterick

In his talks with Irish politicians and the Irish Prime Minister, has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State yet been able to reach any judgment as to whether the current public debate in the Republic of Ireland about possible federalisation as a solution to the—shall we say?—total Irish problem could form the basis for a new political initiative from Westminster?

Mr. Mason

No, Sir. I do not think that that is so. If utterances are made which tend to frighten the majority in the North—the Protestant population in particular—that makes it much more difficult to make political progress. I think that it is far better that that should be understood. Anybody who makes speeches about the unity of Ireland or national aspirations should bear in mind that that makes it much more politically difficult for me as Secretary of State. It is harder to talk to all the parties concerned if they are frightened, rather than our wooing them.

Mr. Craig

Whilst one would welcome any improved relationship between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, may I ask the Secretary of State to bear in mind that, in his own words, there is a gap in our security provisions that could be filled by more energetic efforts on the part of the Irish Republic? I am sorry that he was not a party to the talks. I hope that he will draw to the attention of the Government of the Irish Republic the need to close this area and, in particular, to consider the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, and more specifically the introduction of a satisfactory extradition agreement. All people in Northern Ireland are satisfied that the present so-called common jurisdiction in relation to terrorism is not a workable proposition.

Mr. Mason

As I have said in the House before, border security between the RUC and the Garda is good. We would like to be able to develop on that. Terrorism, whether in the North or the South, is the common enemy of us both.

As for the question of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, the Irish Government are well aware of our view that all members of the Council of Europe should become party to this important agreement. We would wish to see the Republic sign and ratify the convention without reservation and implement it in the same comprehensive way as the United Kingdom.

Mr. Molyneaux

But will Her Majesty's Government seek to convince the Government of the Irish Republic that they are fast losing the respect of the other European countries which have taken effective action to suppress terrorism? Will he and the Government point out to the Government of the Irish Republic that it is in their own interests to join in combined efforts to suppress terrorism in all its forms throughout Europe?

Mr. Mason

Yes, Sir. I think that the Irish Republic well understands that. I think that because of the exchanges of recent times they are fully apprised of it. I am hopeful, therefore, that we can develop along the lines I have suggested. But, border security being good, let us develop that further.

Mr. Neave

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we on the Conservative Benches share the resolve to put aside our differences with Dublin at present but want to reach an agreed determination to defeat terrorism? Is he also aware, in regard to questions raised by other hon. Members, that there is very strong criticism of the Irish Government in Europe for signing the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, in view of the number of people who are now hiding in Dublin from the police in the North? In view of the number of people who are skulking in the Republic, who may or who may not have committed acts of terrorism but are wanted by the RUC, will the right hon. Gentleman ask this very relevant question: what action would the Republic take if a member of the Red Brigade or the Baader-Meinhof gang were to take refuge in the Republic at present?

Mr. Mason

I would not want to widen the question into such dimensions. I think that the Irish Government understand the growing pressure throughout the Western European countries on the acceptance of the convention. We have a second best—the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975, agreed by both the South and the North. I would hope that we could get some results from that.

Mr. Townsend

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has told this House for years that there is good co-operation across the border when there is much evidence on the ground that that is not so? Why should there not be more liaison visits between the respective forces? Why should there not be joint patrols? Why cannot we reach better agreement with regard to overflying rights?

Mr. Mason

The hon. Gentleman, of course, will be impulsive and fly in the face of history. We have made good progress between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda of the South, but the hon. Gentleman knows well—and so does the House—that it is not so easy to make that sort of co-operative progress between the British Army and the Irish Army. Nevertheless, in spite of their historical difficulties, we have been gettng even the Irish Army to co-operate more in recent times.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend has laid particular stress on the fact that a short meeting of the two Prime Ministers seems to have resolved all the difficulties, which would seem to belie the fact of the crisis which existed prior to the meeting. Was there a crisis, or was it an artificial crisis? Is there now no further reason for a meeting between my right hon. Friend and the Irish Foreign Secretary?

With regard to frightening statements which may upset the Northern Ireland majority, is my right hon. Friend aware that many statements are made, particularly by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who only recently made a very bellicose statement in Northern Ireland which put him fairly and squarely on the side of an intransigent Unionist majority, to the total exclusion of any consideration of the minority in Northern Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend insist that the situation in Northern Ireland is not, as the hon. Member for Abingdon would put it to the House, purely military, but is a political question at all times?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions are getting longer and longer. This can only result in some hon. Members not being called.

Mr. Mason

First of all, there has been no crisis between the North and the South.

Mr. Fitt

My right hon. Friend could have fooled me.

Mr. Mason

If the hon. Gentleman wants to heed Press speculation—it, of course, wants to encourage conflict—so be it. There was no crisis between the North and the South. Secondly, even before the La Mon House incident five or six weeks ago, I had indicated that there might be reason for a meeting. I had also indicated to the South that I was prepared to go on the Thursday before Easter, but because of the death of the former President that meeting was cancelled. In fact, things were progressing along that path. But, shortly after the proposed meeting, the planned meeting between the Prime Ministers was imminent, and, therefore, there was no reason why they should not have discussed it. It was only a short, polite, informal meeting.

Mr. Neave

In view of the ritual inaccuracy of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) on these occasions, will the right hon. Gentleman please take note of what I actually said? Will he tell the Ministers in Dublin to have no illusions? We on the Conservative side stand four-square for the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That is what I actually said.

Mr. Mason

Yes, I appreciate that, and it is right that the Opposition should stand four-square with Her Majesty's Government on that sort of bipartisan policy.

In answer to an earlier question, I must reiterate—it was said during the course of the Prime Ministers' meetings—that, as long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland by decree, and, indeed, by referendum, wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, so it shall be, unless they decree otherwise.

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