HC Deb 21 July 1983 vol 46 cc550-3
4. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what consultations he anticipates having during the forthcoming recess with the Government and Ministers of the Republic of Ireland.

12. Mr. Parry

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

13. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next intends to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland.

17. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to hold discussions with the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Prior

I intend to meet the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Peter Barry, during his visit to London next week. I have no plans to meet the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Molyneaux

In his dealings with Ministers of the Republic of Ireland, will the Secretary of State bear in mind that their ideas of how Northern Ireland should be governed are designed to achieve a united Ireland? Will he also remember that what other nations regard as friendly relations, Dublin regards as mechanisms for proceeding towards that objective?

Mr. Prior

I do not go as far as the hon. Gentleman in his assessment of what the Republic of Ireland regards as friendly relations with the United Kingdom. There are great advantages in having better relations—indeed, the best relations—between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. I hope that when we meet Ministers from the Republic it will not always be thought that the constitution of Northern Ireland is likely to be changed, as that is not what is involved.

Mr. Parry

When the Secretary of State meets Dr. FitzGerald, will he discuss the statement on Northern Ireland in the Queen's Speech? Will he state what steps he proposes to take to get the various groups in Northern Ireland involved in the work of the Assembly? If he does not, will it not be obvious that the Assembly is a white elephant?

Mr. Prior

I do not agree that the Assembly is a white elephant. It is doing extraordinarily valuable work and many people recognise that. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends could help considerably by supporting the efforts that are being made to get the SDLP into the Assembly. There is no doubt that it would be a far better and more representative Assembly if the SDLP were playing a part there.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to follow my usual practice and call first those hon. Members whose questions are linked.

Mr. Winnick

In view of the continuing tragedy in the Province, when will the Government realise that there can be no successful initiative and no political settlement without the involvement of the Government of the Republic of Ireland? Are the reports that have appeared in The Guardian this week true? It is said that British Army chiefs have argued strongly against any concept of a united Ireland, on the somewhat dubious ground that it would be unsafe for Britain from a military point of view.

Mr. Prior

I do not intend to enter into arguments that are raging in the Labour party. Good relations between the Republic and ourselves are important. That is in no way inconsistent with the right of the majority to remain part of the United Kingdom. We must find some way in which to enable the 40 per cent. or so who support the nationalist cause to identify with their feelings and traditional aspirations of a united Ireland. That is not in question at the moment.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that if the stance of not wanting discussions of any type with the Republic of Ireland—which is to be found on the Bench behind me — continues, there is no hope of solving the fundamental issue of what is happening in Northern Ireland?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) said, is not the Assembly a failure? Its aim was to bring the two sides together, but the Catholic minority will have no part of it. In his discussions with the leaders of the Republic of Ireland, will the Minister seriously consider setting up a lasting forum such as an Assembly of Ireland to discuss, security, trade, industry and other matters, which will bring people together naturally? Does he agree that the policies of the Unionists are bankrupt?

Mr. Prior

The proposals advocated by the hon. Gentleman would have precisely the opposite effect to that which he wishes to achieve. He could help considerably by trying to persuade the SDLP to play a part in the Assembly. The Unionists should also invite and encourage the SDLP to play a part in the Assembly, because that would be the first step to bringing the two sides together, which is essential.

Mr. Arnold

Have the Government of the Republic of Ireland made any approaches to my right hon. Friend about the Irish Forum?

Mr. Prior

No, they have not.

Mr. Madden

In considering the future of the island of Ireland, will the Secretary of State examine the long and perceptive statement issued recently after the Irish conference of Catholic bishops? Is he aware that the statement contained many interesting items, including the fact that the scandal of our time was the great and growing gap between the wealthy few and the deprived? Will he draw attention to that statement and reflect upon it when he considers the future of Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I reflect on many statements that are made by people of many different religions in Northern Ireland and in the island of Ireland. I am trying—I am not sure that the Floor of the House is the best place to do it—to do as much as I can to enable people to live at peace with one another.

Dr. Mawhinney

Does my right hon. Friend accept that most hon. Members believe that it is in Britain's interest to foster good relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland? Does he also accept that while the political parties in Dublin discuss how they could politically adminster the affairs of Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of another independent sovereign state, many people will continue to be suspicious, not of my right hon. Friend, but of those who have aspirations towards that part of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Prior

I agree with my hon. Friend's comments, and I hope that my talks with Mr. Barry and others will help to dispel some of the false ideas that have crept in.

Rev. Martin Smyth

In the light of a perceptive article in the Daily Telegraph this week, will the Secretary of State assure the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland that the House and the nation are not amused by the fact that the Forum has continued, especially as one part of that Forum refuses to take its place in the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will he confirm that 31 per cent., not 40 per cent., of the people voted for Republican causes, and that Roman Catholics are taking part in the Assembly and have given evidence to it?

Mr. Prior

Several Catholics representing the Alliance party sit in the Assembly, and we welcome their role. I did not agree with much of the article in the Daily Telegraph.

Mr. Adley

Did my right hon. Friend see the press reports earlier this week which alleged that, during discussions some years ago between the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and the then Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Prime Minister said that the last thing he wished was a substantial change in the constitution if it involved a so-called British withdrawal from Northern Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that we all want good relations, but that a forced marriage could be disastrous?

Mr. Prior

Forced marriages are never successful. I shall not enter into discussions about what was said by former Secretaries of State in other Governments to Prime Ministers of other countries.

Mr. Freeson

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind in the forthcoming discussions, and in future similar discussions, that the British people will not always put up with the fact that any proposals to bring together all sides in the whole of Ireland are vetoed by one group in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that Parliament and the Government must take into account the interests and views of the entire British population, and that there should be an end to a veto that blocks negotiation and discussion on the future of the Province?

Mr. Prior

Several people have the right of veto, but the wish of the majority must be respected. That does not alter the fact that the minority also have rights and aspirations which the House should take into account. I am trying to do that.

Mr. Concannon

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Opposition would encourage him to talk to as many people and groups as possible, except those who advocate violence, and that we would encourage discussions with the Government of the South? As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said, if we cannot get people together across the table we should adopt policies that will help them to grow together. I endorse my hon. Friend's suggestions.

Mr. Prior

I always listen carefully to advice from all sections and from all parties in the House. The more the House speaks with a united voice, the more likely we are to make progress in Northern Ireland.