HC Deb 26 November 1992 vol 214 cc975-8
4. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement on the talks with Northern Ireland political parties and the Government of the Republic of Ireland about the future of Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

I am glad to be able to provide a little competition for my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

I have nothing at this stage to add to the substantial statement that I made to the House on 11 November. I remain encouraged that the parties that participated in the talks agree with the two Governments that further dialogue is necessary and desirable and have committed themselves to engage in informal consultations about the way ahead.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be a general welcome for his assurance that, whatever the result of the Irish general election, he will do everything possible to ensure that dialogue between the British and Irish Governments—and also, it is to be hoped, between elected representatives representing various views on both sides of the border—will be resumed? Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that such talks would be more meaningful if it were made clear at the outset that the ultimate aim is to negotiate democratically new constitutional arrangements embracing the whole of Ireland, and that such negotiations should continue even if certain politicians decide not to participate?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the desirability of talks taking place after the election is over. In general, that opinion is shared throughout Northern Ireland—and, I am sure, in the Republic. We should continue with the task of trying to establish a new beginning for the totality of relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the south and between the two islands. That is what we are about. It is bound to take time, but, as long as people are talking, there is value in it, and I believe that we have made valuable progress.

Mr. Peter Robinson

When the complexion of the new Government in the Irish Republic is known, will the Secretary of State determine whether they are prepared to work towards the withdrawal of their territorial claim to Northern Ireland? If he feels that the Irish Government are prepared to work in that direction, will he assure them that the Unionist community in Northern Ireland would be delighted to see a Government in the Irish Republic who want to take the first and basic step towards a friendly relationship with Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I realise the significance of articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution to many people in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I think that I must leave it—and I can do so with some confidence —to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland to make its views on this matter clear to the incoming Government.

Mr. Trimble

Does the Secretary of State agree that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland is and can be a matter for the people of Northern Ireland and the House only? Does he agree that any questions about the future institutions of government in or affecting Northern Ireland should, similarly, be a matter solely for the people of Northern Ireland and the House? Does he appreciate that our anxiety to remedy the democratic deficit in Northern Ireland with regard to those institutions should be addressed by him and the Government as soon as possible?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The House knows about what has come to be called the constitutional guarantee, and I need not recite it. The guarantee relates to the opinion of the greater number of people living in Northern Ireland and their wish to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Questions of democratic status which relate to political structures within Northern Ireland are part of what we have been addressing in the past six or seven months. They are an important part. Of course, any changes that may be necessary are a matter for the House. It is also necessary to examine the question of north-south relationships as well as internal relationships to see whether we can reach an accommodation of all the legitimate interests in the affairs of Northern Ireland. That is what we have been trying to do for the past six or seven months. That is what the people of the Province have told me that they wish to see continue. It will take some time.

Dr. Hendron

I know that the Secretary of State is aware that the talks are very much to do with peace and the historic conflict between the two communities. Above all, the talks are to do with the preservation of human life and law and order on our streets.

The Secretary of State is aware that yesterday afternoon a young man named Pearse Jordan was shot dead on the Falls road in the heart of my constituency in circumstances which are causing great concern to my constituents. Therefore, I ask the Secretary of State to set up an independent inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the death of Pearse Jordan, bearing in mind—

Madam Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman would hold his fire for a while he would see that we have security questions later on the Order Paper. At present his question is not appropriate to question 4 with which we are now dealing. If the hon. Gentleman will relate his question to question 4, of course I shall hear him. However, if he looks at the Order Paper, he will see that it contains specific questions about security.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I understand the hon. Gentleman's deep concern. If we do not reach the security questions, I undertake to see him and deal fully with the question that he has asked.

I slightly take issue with what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning—that the talks are about peace. The talks are not essentially about peace; they relate to the resolution of an ancient quarrel that has taken place over many centuries and which is still unresolved. We need a resolution of the conflicts between competing interests in Northern Ireland. I shall come to the important point that the hon. Gentleman raised if I can.

Lady Olga Maitland

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to reassure President-elect Clinton, following his remarks during the election campaign that he proposed to send a peace envoy to Northern Ireland? Will he inform President-elect Clinton that serious discussions are going on between all political parties and that they will continue to do so?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I know that President-elect Clinton has been made well aware of the matter by our ambassador in the United States and by other means. It is important to make a distinction between what may be said in the heat of the contest of a presidential election and what may become the steady policy of the incoming Administration. I share my hon. Friend's concern. We had better wait and see how things develop.

Mr. McNamara

It might be a good idea if people read the letter that was sent. There was no mention of a peace envoy as such. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he welcomes any constructive help, aid, assistance and investment from the United States—such as the investment that has gone to Derry from Boston? I come back to the talks and the opportunities that they will provide for the new Government of the Republic in the new year. The Secretary of State has said that the talks are informal, bilateral discussions. At what time and at what point will the Secretary of State think it possible to have more structured discussions within the context of seeking that solution?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

We must wait to see how things develop. I know that the parties want to talk to each other bilaterally and that the Governments want to do so. I hope that we shall do so before Christmas. We shall have to see how we get on. Procedures, structures and the rest of it are the servants of the participants. We do not want to hold to one format or another, simply for the sake of it. The main thing is to get down to the business and keep talking business until we reach an agreement.

Mr. Hume

Given that 42 million people in the United States declared that they were Irish in the last census, and that those 42 million have roots in Ireland both north and south, does the Secretary of State agree that a powerful relationship can be cultivated on behalf of the people of Ireland, north and south? In particular, we could develop an economic relationship with a view to marketing the products of our small and medium-sized enterprises and securing inward investment. Does he agree that an envoy appointed for that purpose would be a positive appointment?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

An envoy appointed for that purpose would certainly be helpful. However, I pay tribute to the American ambassador here, who takes a great deal of trouble over Northern Ireland. He comes frequently and knows a great deal about it. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. Yesterday I visited the Ulster American Folk museum near Omagh. Last year 130,000 people visited the museum. A great majority were from the United States. I am glad to see that that tourist interest is beginning to be matched by commercial interest. There are hopeful signs of continuing American investment in Northern Ireland, which is an extremely good place for anyone to invest.