HC Deb 12 December 1985 vol 88 cc1057-8
9. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the public response so far in the United Kingdom to the terms and implications of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on consultation on Northern Ireland matters.

11. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received opposing the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Mr. Tom King

The Prime Minister and I have together received comments from 662 members of the public in response to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The majority of them expressed reservations about or opposition to the agreement, and come mainly from correspondents in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Dykes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that our impression of British public opinion in the United Kingdom as a whole is of a strong commitment to the sense of the agreement, and of a hope that the Government will not be deflected from pursuing it resolutely, despite what happens in the Province? In that context, and in the context of yesterday's riots and disturbances, could someone in the Province take the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) aside— he is a busy member of three parliamentary institutions—and suggest that he must be too busy to indulge in demonstrations with street hooligans, which can do nothing to further the cause of peace in Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

I hope that the House will deplore the scenes of violence yesterday and the injuries suffered by several RUC members. There is widespread support for the agreement on the mainland. I recognise also — I have said it frankly to the House—that there is great anxiety among Unionists in Northern Ireland about the implications of the agreement. However, those anxieties are exaggerated. The agreement has merit and will operate in a way that is not detrimental to the majority. I trust that the majority do not oppose the views of the minority being heard. If that is the case, I hope that we can achieve a better understanding of the agreement and greater sympathy between the views of some in Northern Ireland and those in the rest of the United Kingdom on the merits of the agreement.

Mr. Parry

The Secretary of State will be aware that many Labour Members who voted against the agreement did so because it legitimises the border for the first time in international law. Will he explain his recent statement on the stance of the Taoiseach on Irish unity and partition?

Mr. King

Both Governments affirmed in the agreement the principle of consent: that there would be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the agreement of the majority. I have made absolutely clear my judgment that its consent for change will not be forthcoming and that it will be the desire of the majority to remain part of the United Kingdom. Others take a different view, to which they are entitled. I stand by my previous statement.