HL Deb 23 May 1974 vol 351 cc1627-30

Following is the Statement referred to earlier: I will, with permission, make a Statement. I must express regret for its length but it deals with matters arising from, or connected with, the Sunningdale agreement which, as the House will know, left a number of matters for later resolution. I am sure that I should inform the House fully of the developing situation regarding the Council of Ireland, policing, detention and the report of the Law Enforcement Commission. The House will be aware that the Northern Ireland Executive issued last night a statement on the basis upon which it is prepared to proceed in relation to a Council of Ireland. The proposals that they put forward have emerged from lengthy discussions which have taken place over a period of many weeks within the Northern Ireland Administration. I am making arrangements to have this statement placed in the Library of the House. I have, on behalf of Her Majestys Government, welcomed this statement which provides a realistic and sensible basis on which the North and South of Ireland can work together. The proposals now put forward carefully protect the interests of both communities and are consistent with the over-riding requirement in the Constitution Act that there can be no change in the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. It is good sense that there should be institutions in Ireland as a whole so that the people there work together in co-operation with one another, in the interest of all. The Sunningdale agreement also provided for a limited, and carefully defined, role for a Council of Ministers in relation to policing. In particular, Her Majesty's Government undertook that appointments to the Northern Ireland police authority would be made after consultation with the Northern Ireland Executive, which would consult with the Council of Ministers. I propose to lay before the House immediately after the Recess an Order reconstituting the police authority. In addition, steps have been taken to set up an all-Party Committee from the Assembly to examine how best to introduce effective policing throughout Northern Ireland with particular reference to the need to achieve public identification with the police. That committee will meet shortly. At Sunningdale, Her Majesty's Government gave a firm commitment to bring detention to an end in Northern Ireland for all sections of the community as soon as the security situation permits. That remains Her Majesty's Government's policy and, alongside this, urgent thought is being given to the best way in which persons released from detention can be helped to re-establish themselves in their local communities. The problem of fugitive offenders was left unresolved at Sunningdale and, following the conference, Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government jointly set up a Commission to advise them on the most effective means, from a legal point of view, of bringing to justice fugitive political offenders in Ireland. The Commission completed their work and presented their report to both Governments on April 25. I have today laid the report before the House, and copies are available in the Vote Office. I should like, first of all, to place on record my gratitude, and the gratitude of the House, to the members of the Commission, for the care, skill and speed with which they performed their complex task. Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government re-affirm the view expressed by all parties at Sunningdale that persons committing crimes of violence, however motivated, in any part of Ireland should be brought to trial irrespective of the part of Ireland in which they are located. Agreement has been reached by both Governments on the action to be taken on the Commission's report and a statement in similar terms is also being made to the Dail this afternoon by the Irish Minister for Justice. The Commission considered, but rejected, the establishment of mixed courts comprising judges from Northern Ireland and the Republic and also, as not offering a practicable immediate solution, the setting up of an all-Ireland court. The Commission agreed that it would be legally feasible to confer power on the courts in both parts of Ireland so that the courts in each part would be able to try certain specified crimes wherever in Ireland they were committed. All the members recommended this as a method which could be introduced quickly. The United Kingdom members made it clear that they would have preferred the extradition solution, but the members from the Republic could not advise that an agreement or legislation purporting to extradite fugitive political offenders would be valid under the Irish Constitution. Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government have accepted the agreed recommendation contained in the report and, whilst retaining existing extradition arrangements, will introduce reciprocal legislation so that the courts in each part of Ireland will have jurisdiction to try under their own domestic law certain offences wherever committed in Ireland. It is a matter of regret to Her Majesty's Government that the Commission disagreed about the legality of amending the Irish extradition law, but it is clear from the report that all the members of the Commission are confident that the extension of jurisdiction is not open to any valid objecion in law. The effect of this proposed legislation will be that in future those suspected of having committed certain specified terrorist offences in Northern Ireland but who have escaped to the Republic can be tried in the Republic, and those similarly suspected of such crimes in the Republic who have escaped to the North can be tried in Northern Ireland. The existence of the legislation should in itself deter those who commit such crimes in one part of Ireland from seeking refuge in the other part. It will remain open to both Governments to continue to seek extradition whenever they consider it appropriate as a means of dealing with fugitive offenders and, where extradition is sought but not achieved and sufficient evidence is available, prosecution will be undertaken by the authorities of the part of Ireland in which the alleged offender is. The two Governments have agreed that there will be the closest co-operation between the police forces in the investigation of offences. My right honourable and learned friend and the Irish Attorney General have agreed that there will need to be the closest cooperation between the two Attorney Generals and their staff in conducting prosecutions based primarily or wholly on evidence obtained in the other jurisdiction and that this presents no difficulties which cannot and will not be overcome. The two Governments have also agreed to accept the proposals in the report that special security arrangements should be made to encourage witnesses to travel into the other jurisdiction to give evidence; and to include in their respective legislation provisions to enable, in cases where witnesses are unwilling to travel, evidence to be taken on commission in the presence of the court, and of the accused if he wishes, in the way in which the Commission recommended. I am confident that the agreement I have announced today will be an important contribution towards bringing to trial those responsible for terrorism in Ireland. Equally important, however, is the prevention of acts of terrorism and the apprehension of those who are responsible. Both Governments believe that there is scope for improving Border security to deter terrorists from exploiting the Border and to increase the prospects of catching those who do, and I shall very shortly be meeting Mr. Cooney, the Irish Minister for Justice, to discuss what can be done to improve further the existing co-operation between the security forces on both sides of the Border. The tragic strike, which affects the life and welfare of every ordinary man and woman in Northern Ireland, must be in the forefront of all our minds. But this must not deter us from proceeding with measures which offer the best hope for the future of Northern Ireland and to which I have referred in the Statement.

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