HC Deb 15 January 1987 vol 108 cc400-2
10. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to visit the Republic of Ireland to discuss the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

11. Mr. Flannery

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

Mr. Tom King

We regularly meet representatives of the Government of the Republic of Ireland within the framework of the Intergovernmental Conference. The last meeting was on 8 December and I have placed the joint statements issued after this and other meetings of the conference in the Library.

Mr. Parry

Does the Secretary of State agree that the agreement legitimises the border for the first time in history and that it is the cause of a wave of violence by paramilitary groups? Does he also agree that the conduct of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and his colleagues recently bears out the fears of Labour Members who voted against the agreement?

Mr. King

I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the agreement legitimising the border and I know that that is a view advanced by many. It confirms the position of the majority in Northern Ireland, in that they are not at any risk of being dragooned into a united Ireland against their wishes. That reassurance of the majority is an important component of the agreement, and, coupled with respect for the traditions and interests of the minority, is the right basis on which a better long-term understanding can be reached within Northern Ireland.

Mr. Flannery

Was the question of the unsatisfactory nature of the Diplock courts or the question of having three judges instead of one, which surely would be more satisfactory, raised? What is transpiring in that general direction?

Mr. King

The Diplock courts and the problems of terrorist trials which must be conducted without a jury, as is the position in a current case in Dublin, have been discussed. I made clear the Government's position on those matters in an earlier reply, to which I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention.

Mr. Gow

Do Her Majesty's Ministers and Ministers of the Government of the Irish Republic believe that it is possible to govern one part of the United Kingdom differently from the rest, save with the consent of a majority of the people who are to be governed differently?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will know that there has been no change in the arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland during the course of this Government. It is precisely one of the strengths of the agreement that it does not affect the method of government of Northern Ireland, while at the same time respecting the interests and traditions of the minority.

Mr. Winnick

There is certainly a curious alliance in the House against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Has it occurred to the Secretary of State that there might be a case for having a referendum on this unique situation, both in the Republic of Ireland, if that was the wish of the Irish authorities, and in Britain and Northern Ireland? If that referendum secured, as indeed it would, a large majority, would it not strengthen the agreement?

Mr. King

I agree that there can be curious alliances in matters affecting Northern Ireland, and perhaps I know that as well as anyone. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, because he will know that there have been suggestions of an application for some form of referendum, and one of the questions that it would raise is what should be the constituency for that referendum.

Mr. Bell

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Anglo-Irish Agreement had the full support of this House, as it had the full support of the Irish Dail? Therefore, it has the full support of two sovereign peoples. Is it not a fact that the Anglo-Irish Agreement provides as much opportunity for the Unionist community to reflect its traditions and history as it does for the Nationalists? There is something in the Anglo-Irish Agreement for both traditions. Is that not the case?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I certainly endorse his remark that the overwhelming majority both in this House and in the Parliament of the Republic, and the much wider international community, welcomed this measure. The tragedy is clearly that at present Unionists do not recognise that the real beneficiaries of a more willing acceptance and understanding of the fairness of their position in relation to the minority community would be the majority community in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Alton

Does the Secretary of State agree that the reconciling process which the Anglo-Irish Agreement is about is not helped by inflamatory language such as that deployed earlier this week by Viscount Brookeborough when he described Cardinal O'Fiaich as "an evil prelate"?

Mr. King

There is a responsibility on all people in positions of influence to take care not to inflame passions. It is the easiest thing in the world to excite hatred in Northern Ireland, which often leads in other circumstances to extremely nasty acts and incidents. Everyone in positions of responsibility needs to exercise great care in the language that they use.