HC Deb 11 May 1978 vol 949 cc1379-82
4. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to hold further discussions with representatives of the Irish Government.

Mr. Mason

I went to Dublin last Friday accompanied by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and met the Foreign Minister, Mr. O'Kennedy, and other Ministers of the Irish Republic. We had a most useful exchange of views in a cordial atmosphere. With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will publish the full text of the agreed communique in the Official Report.

I am sure that each side now has a better understanding of the other's approach to the long-term future of Northern Ireland. In the shorter term, we agreed to encourage the political parties in Northern Ireland to come together in a system of devolved government based on the principle of partnership which both sections of the community could support and sustain. On security, we agreed to continue to work together, exchange information and co-ordinate our efforts in the fight against terrorism, which we both regard as our common enemy. On economic matters, we endorsed, and agreed to make public shortly, the recommendations of the steering group set up after last September's meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach.

I have agreed with Mr. O'Kennedy that we will maintain contact on these matters and will meet again as necessary.

Mr. Flannery

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that detailed answer. Will he accept that when I tabled my Question I was not aware that he was to visit the Irish Government? Could he dilate a little on the question of the differences between the present Irish Government and the previous one? The present Irish Government had a political platform which at least tended towards some discussion of the ultimate withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland at some unspecified and distant date. In the discussions, was this mentioned at all?

Mr. Mason

No mention whatever was made of a military withdrawal. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants.

Mr. Neave

Has the right hon. Gentleman read Mr. Lynch's speech of 27th April? Was it discussed at the Dublin talks? In that speech, Mr. Lynch justified the Republic's refusal to sign the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if anything constructive and concrete is to come out of these talks, there must be a change of heart on the question of extradition? Has he read in the newspapers today a report that the SAS is to be withdrawn from Northern Ireland and that this was part of the conversations in Dublin? Will he discount that report?

—Mr. Mason

On the subject of extradition, I have explained to the House many times before where Her Majesty's Government's interests lie, and I am sure that the Government of the Republic has understood it from the outset. We did discuss this matter in Dublin. The Dublin Government have a constitutional difficulty, which they asked us to recognise. They hope, and so do we, that the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1976 shall operate more effectively and that we will be able to tackle terrorism on both sides of the border in that way. The SAS was not mentioned throughout the discussions.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the satisfaction with which the presence of a representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on his visit to Dublin was noted as evidence that this was a visit from the representatives of one sovereign Government to those of another, and that no other Government or country has any right or standing in the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Mason

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to draw the attention of the House to that point. We had a Minister from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office present because we were talking about a border which is a United Kingdom border, and if we are talking about economic cross-border co-operation, it is across a border which belongs to the United Kingdom as well as to the Republic.

Mr. McNamara

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many applications have been made by both Governments for the implementation of the Act to deal with terrorism in either part of Ireland? Will he consider publishing in the Official Report an account of those European countries which have signed the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism and how many, having signed it, have entered derogations, particularly on the question of political offences?

Mr. Mason

It is possible for some of the European Governments to ratify the Convention with reservations. Her Majesty's Government are going to ratify without reservations. That is the only way we can develop, throughout Western Europe, a watertight system against the movement of terrorists from country to country. It would not serve any purpose, even if the Republic decided to sign and ratify the Convention, for it to put in reservations. In the end the Convention would be like a colander.

Mr. Fitt

In connection with that part of the discussion on trying to find a devolved form of government in Northern Ireland which would allow both communities to participate—on which, it appears, the Irish Government agree—will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is still the intention of this Government to try to find power-sharing initiatives in Northern Ireland, even to the extent of his standing up to the wrecking tactics of the Unionists from Northern Ireland who are trying to wreck the economy of the United Kingdom in the hope that it will force the Government to give them back their local authorities in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mason

We both agreed, first, that the short-term way forward was to develop a form of partnership government in the Province that would allow the minority to participate on a fair basis. Secondly, we agreed that we had to recognise that in Northern Ireland there are two national aspirations. One of them believes in Irish unity and the other believes that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom. The Government of the Republic understand to the full that when they talk about Irish unity they must remember that it has to be based on agreement with and consent of the majority of people in the Province.

Following is the text of the communique: The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt. Hon. Roy Mason, MP, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ireland, Mr. Michael O'Kennedy TD, met today for discussions at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. The meeting was one of a series of regular contacts established by the British and Irish Governments to exchange views on matters of mutual interest. Mr. Mason was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr. Frank Judd MP, Mr. O'Kennedy was accompanied by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. David Andrews TD, and the Minister for Justice, Mr. G. Collins TD, and the Minister for Economic Planning and Development, Dr. M. O'Donoghue TD, also took part in the talks. The discussion, which lasted 4½ hours, covered a wide range of topics including the political situation in Northern Ireland, security co-operation, economic co-operation. It was acknowledged that there was a difference of approach between the British and Irish Governments towards seeking a basis for a long term lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Ministers were, however, in complete accord about the need to make political progress in the short term and agreeed to encourage the political parties in Northern Ireland to come together in a system of devolved Government based on the principle of partnership which both sections of the Community could support and sustain. It was accepted that political progress in Northern Ireland required that the political parties there accept that this was the way forward and work together to achieve it. On security it was agreed that the British and Irish Governments would continue to work together, exchange information and co-ordinate their efforts to ensure the maximum efficiency of the common fight against terrorism. The Ministers noted with satisfaction the effective and constantly developing co-operation between the Gardai and the RUC. The Ministers received and endorsed the recommendations of the reports of the steering group set up, following the meeting in September 1977 between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, to review the arrangements and opportunities for economic co-operation with particular reference to Northern Ireland. The reports, which will be made public shortly, review the extensive economic contacts which exist at present, identify areas where co-operation could be improved and recommend specific projects for detailed studies. The Ministers announced that there would be an early application for EEC funds with a view to starting a study of the Erne catchment area. The study was a major proposal contained in the report and followed an initiative by local authorities on both sides of the border. Consultants would be employed to assess and report on the development potential of the Erne catchment area with reference to the development of tourism amenities in matters such as accommodation, access and marketing and the development of land resources through arterial drainage. It was also agreed by Ministers that the joint steering group would meet later this year to review progress on economic co-operation generally. The Ministers agreed that the discussion had provided a useful opportunity to exchange views on matters of short and long term interest and that they would maintain contact on these matters and meet again as necessary.