HC Deb 28 June 1984 vol 62 cc1141-3
1. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will report on his discussions to date on the report of the New Ireland Forum with representatives of the Republic of Ireland.

14. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on discussions held so far with representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland on the report of the New Ireland Forum and related matters.

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

I met the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland, Mr. Peter Barry, in London on 25 May. We had a wide-ranging discussion, during which Mr. Barry referred to the New Ireland Forum report. I expect to meet him and other Irish Ministers from time to time to discuss matters of mutual concern within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council.

Mr. Flannery

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says, but is it not a fact that the political situation in Northern Ireland, which seems to go on without changing much, is the reason why the New Ireland Forum was established? Is it not time that some new political initiative was at least thought about and dwelt on by the Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman look through the subsequent questions today so that he can see that, although we are all worried about security, the fixing of so many minds upon that one issue, instead of thinking politically, is no help in solving the fundamental problems that we face together?

Mr. Prior

We have to make slow and steady progress, and the people of Northern Ireland themselves must play the most important part Other matters will be relevant during Monday's debate

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the three proposals in the New Ireland Forum report are totally unacceptable to the majority of people in Northern Ireland? Does he agree also that if there is to be a solution in Northern Ireland it must be found within Northern Ireland by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

It is absolutely clear that there can be no change in Northern Ireland without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I am certain that the consent of the people would not be forthcoming for any of the three suggestions mentioned in the report.

Mr. John David Taylor

Since the New Ireland Forum report was effectively demolished last night by the decision of the largest political party in the Republic of Ireland to rule out all options other than that of a unitary state, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will not meet Fianna Fail to discuss the future of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I should not want to be so sweeping as the right hon. Gentleman about what happened last night. I have no plans to meet Fianna Fail. The report suggests that there are ways and means which should be examined other than the matters which I believe require further investigation and consultation.

Mr. Latham

Will may right hon. Friend remind the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) of the words of Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who said that no change should be made in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the Province's free agreement?

Mr. Prior

That appears to have been the consistent theme for a number of years.

Mr. Winnick

Do not the events of the past 10 years show that, on the basis of the status quo, there is no possibility of finding a solution to the problem or of ending the bloodshed and misery in Northern Ireland? Does not the New Ireland Forum report at least provide a framework for negotiations and discussions between the British Government and the main parties in the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Prior

To have any success, the report must also form an agenda for discussion between the political parties in Northern Ireland. It would be no good the British Government and the Government of the Republic discussing these matters unless there was a degree of consultation and acceptance by the political parties within Northern Ireland itself. That is where any solution must come from. I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Gentleman about the future.

Mr. Porter

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if he insists on discussing, as we shall on Monday, the Forum report, it will be sensible to discuss also the reasonable document put out by the Official Unionist party, which appears to me to provide a chink of light and the possibility of making progress?

Mr. Prior

Yes, I think that "The Way Forward" is well worthy of discussion. I understand that other documents will be relevant to the debate on Monday.

Mr. McNamara

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that careful examination of the results of the recent elections for the European Assembly do not convey the euphoria which either the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) or the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) might seek to read into the figures? Will not the real threat for all concerned come with the local government elections next year? To what extent will the right hon. Gentleman give constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, especially the minorities, an effective voice and an interest in fighting those elections?

Mr. Prior

It is essential that we give absolute support to the constitutional parties of Northern Ireland, both Unionist and Nationalist. That is the whole aim of the Government's policy, and one that we shall seek to carry out.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will my right hon. Friend build on some of the constructive proposals from the Unionist parties and persuade the SDLP to participate in the Assembly? Does he agree that unless Northern Ireland politicians can make a success of the Assembly, the patience of the British taxpayer in subsidising Northern Ireland may become exhausted?

Mr. Prior

The Assembly is of great importance. I hope that the good work being done there will be generally recognised, both in this House and in Northern Ireland. I hope that the leaders and Members of the parties will discuss matters with one another because there is a better chance of success and greater stability in Northern Ireland now than there has been for some time.

Mr. Archer

Reverting to "The Way Forward", does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the most significant factor about that document is not the precise detail of its proposals, but the fact that it shows serious thought about the issues and recognises that mature constitutional politics are about resolving conflicts? Does he further agree that it is an encouraging and commendable sign by the Loyalists of a willingness to enter into discussions?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, as the Unionist parties will be. In both the Forum document and "The Way Forward," the language is rather more important than some of the more specific recommendations.

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