§ 11. Mr. Flannery
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will convene a meeting of all the legal political parties in Northern Ireland along with the Government of the Republic of Ireland to discuss the present situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Humphrey Atkins
I have made it clear that I am willing to talk to any responsible body or party which has an interest in achieving a peaceful settlement but, for the time being, I believe that such talks are likely to make more progress if they take place on a bilateral basis.
§ Mr. Flannery
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, important though security is, it is depressing that most questions asked in this House are purely about security, particularly when everyone knows that any solution must be a political one? I gather that the right hon. 1546 Gentleman agrees with that. Does he also agree that the Ulster Unionists in this House merely want to return to the old Stormont regime, although they know that what Stormont did precipitated all that is happening now—[Interruption.] I appreciate that Unionist Members do not want to listen to this, because it is relevant—[Interruption.] I gather that I am making my point. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this question differs from the others in the sense that it wants to bring together all legal political parties, and the Government of the Republic, so that they can talk—not independently of one another—and say exactly what they feel? Would not that be a good beginning to a political solution of the problem?
§ Mr. Atkins
First, I am not responsible for what questions are asked in this House. I am responsible only for the answers. Secondly, the House was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's views about the Ulster Unionist Party. Thirdly, I do not believe that at this time a round table discussion is the best way of moving forward. As I said in my main answer, while the time may come for that I do not believe that it has yet arrived, and I prefer to pursue the Government's objectives through bilateral discussions.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
The Secretary of State said in answer to a previous question that there was no military solution to the crisis in Northern Ireland. Does he not realise that that appalling statement will have a serious effect on Ulster people who believe that the fight in the Province is between the forces of law and order and the Provisional IRA terrorists who are against any kind of political progress?
§ Mr. Atkins
I was trying to convey to the House that the military solution is not the only one. We must try to beat the terrorists, but when we have beaten them there will still be a political difference between law-abiding and peaceful people in Northern Ireland which must also be resolved. There will be no let-up in our efforts to beat the terrorists, but the discussions about the political future of the Province must continue at the same time.
§ Mr. Stan Thorne
Since the partition of Ireland is really at the root of the whole problem, what steps will the Secretary of State take to overcome the errors of partition created by his predecessors?
§ Mr. Atkins
I am trying to find an acceptable form of government for the people who live in the Province because in the past they have demonstrated, by way of a poll, that they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As long as they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, that is what will happen. I am trying to make some progress in finding an acceptable form of government for that part of the United Kingdom.