HC Deb 12 November 1987 vol 122 cc543-6
7. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the last meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference established by the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

14. Sir John Biggs-Davison

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the working of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

15. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Tom King

The last meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference took place on 21 October. A joint statement was issued after the meeting, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. As that records, the conference discussed a range of matters, including extradition, the administration of justice, cross-border security and economic co-operation and religious equality of opportunity in employment.

Mr. Corbett

While thanking the Secretary of State for that reply may I ask him to confirm that the barbaric events in Enniskillen underline the critical importance of the co-operation of the Irish Government in all areas, and that that is best achieved under the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Will he accept that many of us in the House wish to play our part in the parliamentary tier envisaged by that agreement? Will he advise us when action will be taken on that to open the door so that every hon. Member of the House can play a constructive role in that process?

Mr. King

Those who consider the position today will recognise the vital importance of closer co-operation between the United Kingdom and the Government of the Republic. There is great merit in closer understanding between hon. Members in this House and the Houses of Parliament of the Dail Eireann. However, it is for hon. Members of this House to decide the ways in which they want to achieve that.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

After two years, cannot Ministers be honest, humble and courageous enough to admit that the agreement has outraged most people in the Province, including moderate people, without achieving its aims and that it should be reviewed, as is provided in the agreement? How can my right hon. Friend continue to treat Northern Ireland as a colonial condominium? Is riot the surest safeguard against any sectarian domination, of which the Social Democratic and Labour party speaks, to treat Northern Ireland as truly part of this Kingdom, under this one Parliament, because that is the surest guarantee of minority rights?

Mr. King

I advise my hon. Friend, whose interest in such matters I greatly respect, that the slogans that address this matter are not the most helpful way forward. However, I congratulate him on being prepared to put forward ideas, sit down and discuss them. What Northern Ireland now needs, above all after the events of recent days, is leadership from the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland to consider whether there is some way in which we can work to find ways in which there could be improvements. There is a later question on the Order Paper in the answer to which I make it clear that, although the Government support the concept of devolution, there may be difficulties in the speed of progress that can be made towards it. Obviously there is a case for looking at whatever alternatives can be considered as well. What I hope we can say and what I hope is the message from the people of Northern Ireland to their elected representatives, is, "Let us start talking constructively about the way forward."

Mr. Rowe

My right hon. Friend is aware that I passionately support the cause of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. However, at a time when the two nations are, quite properly, determined to establish their separateness and their sovereignty, is there still a case for extending to the citizens of Southern Ireland so many privileges that are uniquely extended to them compared to other citizens of the European Community?

Mr. King

Of all the problems and issues that we have at the moment, that is a particular area in which I would not propose to trespass. However, it is true to say that, as my hon. Friend is aware, the particular and unique privilege regarding voting has been reciprocated by the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Secretary of State accept that. in my constituency; the Anglo-Irish Agreement has not produced the smallest vestige of improved security? Does he recall that the murder of Corporal Thomas Hewitt occurred when a sniper from the Irish Republic killed that young soldier in Belleek? Will he also give a detailed account to the House of the circumstances surrounding the bomb at Tullyhommon, which was placed in an area where young people were assembling for a church parade? The bomb was intended to wipe out an entire generation of young people in the Tullyhommon area and the attempt to detonate it was made from a hill in the Irish Republic.

Mr. King

In respect of the first illustration that the hon. Gentleman has given of the murder of a British service man at Belleek, he will be aware that the Garda Siochana subsequently arrested one person in the Republic who has now been charged, although not initially, with murder. Obviously, co-operation in such matters is extremely important to us. In respect of the second matter, I have made extremely clear my views on the outrage that was attempted at Tullyhommon. The hon. Gentleman's account is accurate and I entirely share his feelings on that matter.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Secretary of State answer the question that is on the lips of the hundreds of people from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are lobbying the House today? After two years of an agreement, the declared aims of which were to produce peace, stability and reconciliation, but which instead has increased the death toll, polarised the community and caused political and economic instability beyond that that we ever had before, when will the Secretary of State end the agony, bury the agreement and get a satisfactory alternative?

Mr. King

The hon. Member talks as though the problems of Northern Ireland started two years ago. He knows perfectly well that the troubles of Northern Ireland and the terrorist campaigns go back very much longer than that. He knows very well that the scale of murders in Northern Ireland was vastly higher some years ago than even the existing appalling level, which I find quite unacceptable. May I say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have said to the House, and as I have said to the elected politicians of Northern Ireland, that Ulster cannot just say no. Ulster must say yes to something. The hon. Gentleman has a responsibility in that matter, if I may say so—a responsibility which he and one or two others have sought to address. I hope that others will be willing to look constructively at constructive solutions.

Mr. Loyden

Does the Secretary of State agree that the continuance of the present divide in Northern Ireland will only result in hopelessness and cynicism about what is happening in mainland Britain concerning the Irish problem? Does he agree that the only way of dealing with the problem over the long period during which Ireland has been in this state has been through positive initiatives towards Ireland as a whole? The only way to soften the divide between the different parts of Ireland is to recognise it as an entity, so that we can move towards a proper unity of the Irish people and nation.

Mr. King

If I understood that question correctly, I think that my answer is no.

Rev. William McCrea

Will the Secretary of State take it from me that none of the eleven people who died in the massacre at Enniskillen wanted to be associated with the Anglo-Irish Agreement? They did not die — [Interruption.] I know that, because I know that the people of Northern Ireland have completely rejected the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It has brought nothing but death and destruction.

Will the Secretary of State also take it from me that it is a tragedy that it took 2,500 people to die in Ulster before certain hon. Members were willing to condemn the IRA?

Mr. King

It is most unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman has introduced those elements of argument into a tragedy and outrage that has united people in condemnation. I do not know of his right to speak for every single individual in this. All of us who believe in democracy know that we shall stand united against terrorism. We are all determined on that course. It is the most united message that the House can give.

Mr. McNamara

May I return to the issue of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and say that if hon. Members did not understand the Secretary of State's difficulties before, they will now, after the last supplementary question? We believe that the Government are to be congratulated on the way in which they have been able to defy the bomber and the constitutional wrecker in maintaining the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We want it to go ahead and be extended to include not only security matters but others of economic and social importance for the benefit of all the people of Ireland. In many ways, the last declaration of the Anglo-Irish Conference was one of the most helpful and constructive that there has been for a long time.

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have made it clear to the House that the agreement is a sensible basis on which to co-operate in a number of matters of benefit to the people north and south of the border in the island of Ireland.