HC Deb 24 March 1988 vol 130 cc495-9
3. Mr. Parry

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet the Irish Prime Minister.

5. Mr. Flannery

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next hopes to meet the Irish Foreign Secretary; and what matters will be discussed.

6. Mr. Grocott

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what items will be on the agenda of the next Anglo-Irish Conference.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

I have no present plans to meet the Taoiseach, but I expect to meet Mr. Lenihan in a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference tomorrow. It is not normal practice to disclose the whole agenda in advance, but it will certainly include cross-border security co-operation.

Mr. Parry

I am sorry about the right hon. Gentlman's reply. When he meets Mr. Lenihan, will he discuss the recent murders in Gibraltar and the Province? How can the Anglo-Irish Agreement reduce this violence? I voted against the agreement, for reasons which differed from those of Ulster Members. Many people, including myself, are concerned that the recent slaughter and carnage may spill over into the mainland, to cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

Mr. King

Obviously, every hon. Member shares the concern about recent violent events: the attempted terrorist outrages, such as the one in Gibraltar, the terrorist attack at the funeral in Milltown and the various killings that have occurred. No amount of signing of agreements will abolish evil men. Our duty is to work together as Governments and people to try to isolate and deal with the men of violence.

Mr. Flannery

If and when the Secretary of State meets leading figures of the Irish Government and discusses the recent killings in Northern Ireland, will he discuss with his opposite number the killings in Gibraltar, which sparked off a series of killings? [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman remember as clearly as most of us that the Republic of Ireland Government immediately raised these issues, which deepened divisions between the two Governments? Therefore, the Irish Government are bound to want to discuss those matters as well as the murders in Northern Ireland.

Mr. King

That was an outrageous supplementary question. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question would have been if 200 people had met their deaths in Gibraltar that day. As has been said in a letter to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the bomb which was discovered in the car park in Malaga was said by the Spanish police, with their experience of terrorism, to be the most powerful bomb that they had ever seen in their lives. They had never before seen anything in Spain to compare with it. Obviously, no one welcomes death, but I have no hesitation in recognising the problems faced by the security forces in preventing outrages of that kind. I would not compare that with terrorist attacks.

Mr. Grocott

Rather than restating the established position, does the Secretary of State not think that the agenda for tomorrow should be as wide and as open as possible, with a willingness to learn some lessons from the events of the past few weeks? There should be openness and acceptance that there really has been a sudden and dramatic deterioration in relations between London and Dublin and between the communities in Northern Ireland.

Mr. King

I have spent most of my life learning about issues and events that arise. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) is nodding agreement. Certainly I would be the first to say that I bitterly regret the sequence of incidents that have taken place. Every sensible hon. Member would rather that they had not happened—most recently, and most obviously and tragically, the events of Saturday. There are lessons to be learnt from all of that by every single person involved, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, within the communities in Northern Ireland and within the Governments of the Republic and of the United Kingdom. I hope that we will not disappoint the hon. Gentleman. We do not wish in any way to restrict our discussions tomorrow. We shall have as open and as wide-ranging discussions as we can.

Mr. Hayes

Will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear to the Irish Government that the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholics in this country find it deeply offensive—[Interruption.]—I speak as a Catholic—that Roman Catholic priests in the Province officiate at masses and funerals with paramilitary overtones? Will he ask the Irish Government to use their good offices to make it quite clear to Cardinal O'Fiaich that it would greatly help ordinary men, women and children in Northern Ireland if he stopped that action?

Mr. King

The Catholic Church has made it absolutely clear that it does not accept any paramilitary trappings or associations within its churches or in their grounds. Of course, there is a problem after funerals have left the churches and are no longer within their jurisdiction.

I have said to the House that I regret some of the phrases and comments of certain priests, but I would not want to make that comment without coupling with it the warmest respect and a certain humility at the courage and outspokeness of Bishop Cahal Daly and the clear statement that he made.

Mr. Wilkinson

When my right hon. Friend meets the Irish Foreign Minister, will he express in the strongest possible terms his regret at the decision of the Irish Government to allow the bodies of the terrorists killed in Gibraltar to land in Dublin and the solemn propaganda procession from Dublin to Northern Ireland thereafter to take place? Will he also make it quite clear that Her Majesty's Government reserve to themselves alone the right to police Northern Ireland and every other part of the United Kingdom according to their own lights and interests?

Mr. King

In regard to the second half of the question, of course is correct. That is precisely why in the Anglo-Irish Agreement the operational independence of the Chief Constable is clearly defined. That is regarded as an important and indeed essential element within the agreement.

I hope my hon. Friend recognises that the Irish Government certainly did not seek the arrival of the bodies of the terrorists in Dublin. As to whether they had the power to refuse them, the decision ultimately was for the families, who made their own arrangements without any Government support. Certain hon. Members suggested that the British Government should take responsibility for them, but we did not think that that was right. It was a matter for the familes, and they made their arrangements.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to report to the House on the progress that he feels has been made under the Anglo-Irish Agreement in real terms? The Prime Minister set the goals of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of peace, stability and reconciliation. Have the deaths decreased during the 28 months of the agreement? Is there more stability in Northern Ireland? Are the communities less polarised than before? Would the Secretary of State comment on that?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman is a master of the destructive intervention. He seeks to destroy. I had hoped, building on the contribution that he made to earlier exchanges on Monday, that his thoughts were turning to how we might build a constructive relationship. Of course, he knows the answer to his own questions. He knows that at present we are facing an acute terrorist threat —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) should listen. I am answering the question. There has been sectarian violence, and the deaths caused by Loyalist and Republican extremists are far too high. It must be the determination of all hon. Members to seek to reduce the level of violence.

Rev. Martin Smyth

When the Secretary of State meets representatives of the Irish Republic, will he explore, in the light of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the comment of the Irish Prime Minister that there is no place for devolution in Northern Ireland, and that of the Irish Government's representative in America at the St. Patrick's day celebrations that the Hillsborough agreement is going to work?

Mr. King

I think that there is wide misunderstanding of what the Taoiseach said about devolution. Under the agreement, the Irish Government are in no position to put forward proposals about devolution involving the majority community. Their role is to comment on the position of the minority community. If the hon. Gentleman cares to consult the agreement, he will find that that is the position. What Mr. Haughey made clear in his statement to the Dail—and I should have thought that all hon. Members would welcome it — is that it is a matter for the British Government and for the parties within Northern Ireland to consider ways forward. It is certainly an opportunity for the Irish Govenment to comment, and I should have thought that that was the right way forward.

Mr. Gow

Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Social and Democratic Labour party in Belfast and the Irish Government in Dublin have both expressed their disagreement with the welcome announcement yesterday by the Royal Ulster Constabulary that in future funerals are to be properly policed? Is my right hon. Friend aware that tomorrow at the Intergovernmental Conference there will be further disagreement between himself and the representatives of the Irish Government, because the Irish Government have been given the right to put forward views and proposals about how policing should be carried out in Belfast? Is he aware that after the meeting tomorrow there will be further disagreements between Dublin and London?

Mr. King

I do not share my hon. Friend's pessimistic approach to these problems. The Irish Government can put forward views and proposals on a whole range of matters, but it is for us to take the decisions. It will be an opportunity to discuss different aspects. My hon. Friend, in paraphrasing it, said that there had been opposition from both the SDLP and the Irish Government to a statement by the RUC that funerals will be properly policed. I think everybody agrees that funerals should be properly policed, but the question is: in what way? My hon. Friend will have seen the Chief Constable's statement. He is carrying out his review against that background as a matter of urgency. I assure my hon. Friend that his concerns and those of some of my hon. Friends, as I made clear at this Dispatch Box on Monday, about the incidents that occurred are proper concerns. The incidents that occurred were wholly unacceptable and require an immediate review of the policing to be followed at any future funeral. That review is being carried out.

Mr. McNamara

When the Secretary of State meets Mr. Lenihan tomorrow, will he discuss with him both the security issues involved in west Belfast and the great amount of social deprivation that exists there? Would not this be a marvellous occasion for the International Fund for Ireland, the two Governments and the European Community to deal with an area which Mary Holland said had largely been bypassed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement and which Bishop Cahal Daly, to whom he rightly paid tribute, said was a social desert?

Mr. King

I certainly recognise the problems that are faced by west Belfast, including the problem of unemployment. I wish to see what can be done to improve employment generally in the Province. West Belfast is one of the worst and most difficult areas. The hon. Gentleman will agree with me that what makes west Belfast acutely difficult to tackle is the problem of terrorism and the fact that the IRA and Sinn Fein, while pretending to be concerned about unemployment, blow up factories, intimidate employers and make it acutely difficult to provide more chances of employment for the people whom they claim to represent.