HC Deb 05 June 1986 vol 98 cc1072-4
2. Mr. Yeo

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about progress in implementing the Anglo-Irish agreement.

4. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent talks he has had with representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Tom King

The Anglo-Irish agreement has now been in force for six months. During that time the Intergovernmental Conference has met five times. The last meeting took place in London on 9 May. The joint statements issued after each meeting have been placed in the Library of the House.

Mr. Yeo

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the vast majority of the people of the United Kingdom strongly support this agreement and recognise that it will take some considerable time for its full benefits to be felt? Is he further aware that if there had been any doubts about the wisdom of the agreement they would rapidly have been removed by the apparent attitude of hostility and concern which the IRA and other men of violence express towards the agreement?

Mr. King

There is no doubt that the IRA is the organisation which most fears this agreement. It sees the agreement as a major threat, and it is right to do so. It is our determination to smash terrorism, and through that agreement it is now the joint determination of the Government of the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic. However, it is also an approach that recognises in the agreement that while the majority has its rights and traditions, there is also a minority which has its rights and traditions which also deserve to be respected. Therefore, the Anglo-Irish agreement seeks to deal fairly in both respects by giving the reassurance, with the acceptance of the Republic, of the principle of consent in the position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, subject to the majority view in Northern Ireland and to give that reassurance to the minority community as well.

Mr. Canavan

As the perfectly justifiable demand for Irish reunification is considered to be too sensitive a subject for inclusion on the agenda for talks with representatives of the Republic, is there at least some hope of discussing other issues of possible agreement, such as the abolition of the killer plastic bullets and the abolition of the supergrass trials, which are an absolute travesty of justice? They would be abolished under the private Member's Bill introduced on Tuesday of this week by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).

Mr. King

The Anglo-Irish agreement not only confirms the acceptance by the Government of the Republic of the rights of the majority in Northern Ireland and the principle of consent against being compelled into a united Ireland against its wish, but recognises that no wish to be so compelled exists at present. That is an important confirmation by the Government of the Republic, and that is why the matter is not on the agenda of the conference.

The hon. Gentleman suggested other matters which he believes should be on the agenda. We are discussing measures which might enhance confidence in the administration of justice. Any honest person looking at the problems of terrorist trials, where intimidation makes it impossible to have juries and where many witnesses are intimidated, recognises that there are real problems in seeking to bring terrorists to book. We in the United Kingdom have sought honourably to set up the best system of justice we can, but we have also been prepared to discuss those issues fairly and openly. We shall continue to do so, I hope in a constructive way, and I hope that we will be able to find improvements.

Mr. Gow

In the absence of any prospects for devolution in Northern Ireland on a basis that would be widely acceptable throughout the community, is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a growing body of opinion in the Province which believes that the best way forward now is through integration, which would offer proper safeguards for the minority in Northern Ireland? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that integration is not inconsistent with the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. King

The Government have made clear their commitment to seeking to achieve devolution and devolved government in the Province. I do not accept my hon. Friend's initial premise that there is an absence of any possibility of achieving that. I hope that it will be possible to sit down and discuss ways in which this could be achieved. I make it clear that while the Government are always willing to consider ways in which legislation might be handled, carrying that forward into some concept of total integration would raise difficult issues.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

In recent discussions with representatives of the Irish Government, did the right hon. Gentleman raise again the question of kidnap insurance? Is he aware that the publication Lloyd's Underwriting Syndicates revealed that the Lords Norfolk, St. Helens, Marlborough, Davenport, Romsey, Peel and Freyberg are all names in underwriting firms which are managed by managing agents Cassidy Davies? This firm offers kidnap insurance and has made payments to the IRA. Does the Secretary of State intend to intervene to ensure that the terms of section 10 of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act are complied with and to stop the sale of this kidnap insurance?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Dr. FitzGerald agreed with an RTE radio interviewer on 18 May that Nationalist lives had been put under threat as a result of the agreement, and that that was expected? Was that also expected by Her Majesty's Government when they entered into the agreement?

Mr. King

If Nationalist lives have been put under threat, the threats presumably come from the majority community. I know that my hon. Friend will join me in deploring any threats, whether they come against the police or the Nationalist community, in the present situation in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Archer

Does the Secretary of State recall that those of us who said that the agreement should be given a chance also argued that it should be known by its fruits? After six months, will the right hon. Gentleman enumerate the fruits that are ripening? Have there been any consequences for the provision of jobs, for community welfare or for civil liberties? Can he make any forecast as to when we may expect a harvest?

Mr. King

As I made clear earlier, it will take time for the long-term changes and improvements in attitudes and reconciliation to be apparent. It is already apparent that the groundwork has been laid in the increasingly close cooperation on security, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that a whole series of meetings are taking place, and that a programme of work has been established, not just between the Chief Constable of the RUC and the Commissioner, but right down the line.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that since the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement the Irish Government have signed the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. He will have welcomed, as I did, the significant shift of votes from Sinn Fein to the SDLP in the by-elections as a further illustration of the growing confidence of the Nationalist community in the constitutional approach. A programme of work has now well advanced confidence in the administration of justice and will bring some useful benefits which will be recognised by the Nationalist community as a real prospect of progress.