HC Deb 14 April 1983 vol 40 cc921-3
1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any plans to propose new initiatives for cross-border co-operation.

2. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

6. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on recent discussions between his officials or himself and the Government of the Republic of Ireland over matters relating to Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)

There is already a high degree of cooperation with the Republic on practical matters of mutual concern. Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland officials are in regular contact on a range of such matters as a normal aspect of their functions. I have not met any Ministers from the Republic since my discussion with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs in London on 1 February, and I have at present no plans to meet the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Secretary of State urge the so-called Unionists in this House to participate in Dr. Garret FitzGerald's initiative for an All-Ireland Forum to discuss possible constitutional changes leading to the peaceful reunification of Ireland, which is the type of true unity to which every genuine Unionist should aspire?

Mr. Prior

That is entirely a matter for the Unionist parties.

Mr. Flannery

Does the Secretary of State agree that this forum, which is, I believe, being initiated today in the Republic, is a step forward and that we should give it some help? Does he regret, with me, that the Unionists are opting out and just want to have their own way, which will result in the stalemate and the killing going Oil for ever unless we begin to talk to one another about the problem?

Mr. Prior

I certainly think that we should all talk to one another about it, but I believe that any forum or intitiative of this nature which in any way puts at risk the view of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland that they should remain part of the United Kingdom is bound to start at a major disadvantage. Having said that, I must add that any constructive talks will be welcomed, just as the SDLP playing a part in the Assembly in Northern Ireland will be welcomed.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Secretary of State agree that, on the basis of present policies, including the Assembly, there is no way in which one can see an end to the crisis and the bloodshed that have engulfed the Province over the past 10 years or more? Would it not be a welcome step if the forum now starting in Dublin and the British Government could find ways and means of coming to an agreement under which there would be far less of a hard-line sectarian attitude among the Unionists in the North, and the Irish Republic itself, by constitutional amendments, made itself more attractive to the majority of the people in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

A great deal could be done to remove the suspicions of the past, but if the hon. Gentleman and the House believe that there is a simple solution to an age-old problem I have to say that it simply is not there.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Trevor Elliott, who was murdered brutally in Keady was an officer of my party? Is he further aware that this shooting and many other killings in the border area of Northern Ireland mean that Her Majesty's Government should now press for proper cross-border extradition cooperation in order to bring those guilty of those atrocities to trial in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I should like to express my sympathy and that of the whole House to Mr. Elliott's relatives, who will suffer because of this dastardly attack. I believe that the greatest degree of cross-border co-operation on security matters is essential. I welcome the recent steps which might make it more possible for extradition to take place, as that will do a great deal to remove some of the suspicions that exist in Northern Ireland.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Must not such co-operation be based, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, on the viability of a union that is the people's will and conducted by the two sovereign Governments in these islands? Instead of Dr. Garret Fitzgerald All-Ireland Forum, what about a British Isles Forum?

Mr. Prior

I agree with my hon. Friend that discussions between the Governments of the United Kingdom and of the Republic are a better way forward. If some questions could be asked within the forum about the real attitude of the Republican Government towards unity, we could make more progress.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Secretary of State agree that a Catholic forum in Dublin and a Protestant forum or assembly at Stormont is a recipe for further alienation and polarisation between the communities? Will he use all his endeavours to get elected representatives, of whatever persuasion, to attend the forum? As a quid pro quo, should not the SDLP attend the place to which they were elected at Stormont? That is one way of getting people together to talk to one another.

Mr. Prior

If both would agree to attend the other, there would be no need for the forum.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister admit that the so-called Unionists, as they have been described in the House, are Unionists who would welcome any forum that would lead the Republic back into the United Kingdom? Is he aware that the suggested cross-border police force, mooted in the Dimbleby lecture and during the election campaign, has now been disowned by the responsible Minister in the South?

Mr. Prior

We are trying to deal with realities, not with the impractical.

Mr. Concannon

I was sorry to hear the Secretary of State say that he had no plans to meet the Taoiseach or the Foreign Minister. Is he aware that the Opposition would like him to meet and discuss the issues with as many people as possible? Only in that way can we move towards a peaceful, political solution to the problems in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Prior

The fact that I have no present plans to do so does not mean that I am in any way averse to meeting the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister of the Republic. In due course, I expect that I shall do so.

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