HC Deb 12 March 1981 vol 1000 cc991-2
6. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any further plans to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

I have no plans to do so, but my colleagues and I will continue to meet Ministers from the Republic as and when appropriate.

Mr. Flannery

Will the Secretary of State accept that many hon. Members are happy that this kind of contact is taking place regularly and that we believe it will help? Will he also accept that the failure of the Prime Minister to report fully to the House immediately after the last meeting and to give hon. Members the chance to question her democratically is still reverberating and allowing those who want to stop us struggling together to solve the common problem constantly to hinder us? Will the right hon. Gentleman exert what democratic pressures he can on the Prime Minister to ensure that next time such meetings occur we have an immediate report, followed by questions?

Mr. Atkins

I cannot accept the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question. What was discussed between the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in December was clearly set out in the communique issued thereafter. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is right that Ministers from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland should meet regularly in pursuit of matters of common interest. That can only help us all.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House whether he has received from the joint study groups any reports, interim or final, that were to be made available before he next met Ministers in the Republic? Will he tell the House, if he has received such reports, from what study groups they came?

Mr. Atkins

No reports have been received. They will be made to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Secretary of State now pay heed to the plea that we have made often from this Bench—that there should be interim reports on the activities of these study groups at frequent intervals?

Mr. Atkins

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear that these groups consist of officials who are reporting to the two Heads of Government. They have many matters to consider. They will do so and report as and when they think fit, or when my right hon. Friend calls for reports. This has not so far proved necessary, because the studies are at an early stage and still proceeding.

Mr. Kilfedder

Will the right hon. Gentleman arrange for the next meeting with the Eire Prime Minister to take place in Crossmaglen, Tullyvalley or Bessbrook, or in County Fermanagh, or any other part of Northern Ireland, where many people are daily and nightly under threat of death from the Provisional IRA, so that he and Mr. Haughey can experience some of the bitter reality of terrorism that has destroyed 2,300 people and injured 25,000? Is he aware that many of those responsible for this state of affairs are in the Irish Republic, as was pointed out by The Observer last Sunday?

Mr. Atkins

I repeat my original answer, that I have no plans to meet the Taoiseach. The next meeting will take place between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. The place and the timing are matters for her.

Mr. Stephen Ross

At the next appropriate meeting between Ministers, will the Secretary of State express our regret at the happenings in Belfast last week on the occasion of the visit of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and our rejection of politicians, some of them hon. Members of the House—or sometimes Members of the House—who acted as they did on that occasion?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says. The whole House feels that there is nothing to be gained by the kind of gross discourtesy that took place on that occasion. I shall convey those feelings.

Mr. Concannon

Is the Secretary of State aware that it appears that the Dublin conference will not lie down and that, judging from the neutrality debate in the Dail yesterday, it looks as if both Governments are experiencing slight problems over this matter? In my view, there should be a meeting between Heads of State as soon as possible if only to rectify problems and to enable them to report back, as should have happened after the last meeting.

Mr. Atkins

The right hon. Gentleman is right and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear in Belfast last week, the Government believe that it is in the interests of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and of the Republic, on the other, that meetings between Heads of Government should take place, that they should consider and discuss together ways of improving relationships. That the Government are determined to do.