HC Deb 12 March 1987 vol 112 cc456-8
15. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to promote the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the Province.

Mr. Tom King

Ministers take every opportunity to explain why the agreement is of benefit to everyone in Northern Ireland, and to remove misapprehensions about it.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer, but he may be aware that there is an impression that since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was passed by the House and by another place with overwhelming majorities, the Government have been inclined to sit on their hands and not go out to the people of Northern Ireland to explain the benefits of the agreement. How many public meetings have he and his Ministers addressed in the Province? What sort of advertising campaign has been carried out? Has an attempt been made to send a leaflet to every household in the north explaining the benefits of the agreement?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestions. We do not believe that a massive advertising campaign would be helpful, although we have placed certain advertisements to deal with clear misapprehensions. We have sought to discuss the concerns of political leaders and unfortunately, as my hon. Friend will know, they have felt unwilling to discuss them with us.

Mr. Porter

Does my right hon. Friend accept that advertisements must be based on fact, that it is a fact that over the months since the introduction of the agreement the majority of the population of Northern Ireland has seen little in it, and that, therefore, advertising would do little to promote it?

Mr. King

The agreement will not produce benefits that will lead to instant improvement. We are tackling difficulties and problems that have lasted over decades. I am certain that the population of Northern Ireland, especially the majority community, will regard a real improvement in security as a benefit stemming from the agreement, but my hon. Friend knows well that that is not something that we shall achieve overnight.

Mr. Mason

Is it not true that if the Secretary of State wishes successfully to promote the agreement in the Province, it must be understood that the most crucial aspect of it concerns security, including security for the Province as a whole and border security? What examples can the right hon. Gentleman give to the House or the Taoiseach, when he next meets him, that the agreement has worked in that regard? Can he prove to us that cross-border security has been improved?

Mr. King

Foundations have been laid, undoubtedly, for much closer co-operation. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the joint threat assessment, for the first time ever, agreed between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana, the agreement on the need for close co-operation and the meetings that are taking place between senior police officers and police officers at all levels. There have been a number of individual successes. I accept entirely, however, that there have been outrages committed across the border, and it is our continuing ambition to improve our record in that respect.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been an increase in the campaign of terror, especially by the IRA, and that in 1986, 61 people lost their lives and 1,450 were injured, including 622 policemen? Does he agree that it is most important to bring in more regular border patrols? If there is to be any cross-border incursions, does he agree that there should be give and take on both sides.

Mr. King

I certainly agree with the last point that my hon. Friend raised. On the matter of violence, it is not all IRA violence to which he referred.