HC Deb 29 November 1984 vol 68 cc1071-3
1. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what talks he intends to have with the Government of the Irish Republic concerning the constitution of Northern Ireland.

2. Mr. Andrew Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had with Ministers from the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I had a meeting with Mr. Barry, the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland, on 25 October, when I also met Mr. Noonan, the Minister for Justice. I met Mr. Barry again with other Ministers at the Heads of Government meeting on 18 and 19 November. These were useful occasions and I look forward to future meetings within the framework of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. Such meetings do not affect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Secretary of State appreciate the immense harm caused to Anglo-Irish relations by the Prime Minister's remarks after her meeting with the Irish Prime Minister? Would it not be wise for the right hon. Lady and the Secretary of State, who is new to the job, to realise the need for sensitivity? Is he aware that if mainstream Irish nationalism is treated with contempt the only gainers will be the Provisional IRA?

Mr. Hurd

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already answered that question. The process of regular discussion and consultation between the two Governments, the giving and taking of advice, is very useful and important for all who are concerned with Northern Ireland.

Mr. Bowden

Will my right hon. Friend ignore the characteristically unhelpful comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)? Will he confirm that although the three proposals in the Forum report are not acceptable to the majority of Northern Ireland people, there is an opportunity for a unique relationship between the two sides and ourselves without impinging upon the spirit or the letter of the constitutional guarantee?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is exactly right. The Forum report is a stimulating document in which much common ground is revealed on issues such as consent and violence.

Much has been said of the three possible solutions in the Forum report, but it leaves the door open to other possibilities.

Mr. McCusker

When the Secretary of State next meets Dublin Ministers, will he ask them to describe in detail the abject misery and nightmare existence which they allege is endured by hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland for which he is responsible? What does the Secretary of State intend to do to remove the deprivation which, according to allegations made at the weekend, is suffered by hundreds of thousands of Northern Ireland people who are being denied basic political rights?

Mr. Hurd

I hope that we shall have the support of Unionist Members on both sides of the House in proving that the Province's institutions are there to serve all who live in the Province.

Mr. Peter Robinson

At the recent meeting with Mr. Barry, or at the summit, did the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister raise with representatives from the Republic of Ireland the arrogant, abusive and illegal claim of jurisdiction over Northern Ireland contained in articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Ireland's constitution?

Mr. Hurd

No, Sir.

Ms. Clare Short

Does the Secretary of State admit that the only policy that the British Government have for Northern Ireland is desperately to keep the lid on it and that they have no solution to all the conflict, misery and death? Does he agree that Britain is simply willing to wait until some explosion occurs to force constructive action that will bring us to a long-term settlement?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Lady cannot have read the communiqué from the summit or what has been said since. Her description of our policy is a travesty. On the one hand, for the reason that I have just given, we are searching for closer and more effective co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. Within the Province, a particular part of my job is to do my best to encourage those who are elected to represent the different traditions there to come together and to show that the institutions of the Province exist to serve all its inhabitants.

Mr. Dubs

While making every possible allowance for the Secretary of State's newness to his job, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is not aware that his mind-boggling complacency will arouse the anger of many people who want to see a settlement of our difficulties in Northern Ireland? Does he realise— if not, is it not about time that he did so—that his speeches and the conduct of the Prime Minister are a stab in the back for the Prime Minister of the Republic and the hopes of many people for peace in both parts of Ireland?

Mr. Hurd

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman, who is usually fair in his comments and criticism, should take up that theme. I shall, with great pleasure, send him the transcripts of the press conferences of both my right hon. Friend and myself, and with his usual fair-mindedness he can judge for himself. I am not in the least complacent—no member of the Government is—about the situation in the Province. The levels of violence are unacceptable, the levels of unemployment are deeply tragic and disturbing, and the political institutions are obviously not normal.

Mr. Archer

I welcome the Secretary of State to his first Northern Ireland Question Time since assuming his present high office. Has he grasped the catastrophic change in atmosphere which has taken place since the summit, with parties which were previously prepared to talk and exchange proposals now expressing bitterness and frustration, and with everyone adding his three penn'orth of petrol to the fire? Is the right hon. Gentleman not appalled at the fact that this change has stemmed from the crass insensitivity of the Prime Minister following the summit meeting, and is there any reason to hope for anything better from the February summit?

Mr. Hurd

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the February summit, because there is work to be done along the lines that I indicated—but not altering the constitutional status of the problem—on which we need the co-operation of the Irish Republic. I do not agree with the rest of what he said. I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to the communiqué issued after Chequers, which sets out the lines of work which the two Governments agreed to follow. That is what we are doing.

Forward to