HL Deb 20 May 2003 vol 648 cc691-4

3.2 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland concerning proposals to allow elected representatives from Northern Ireland to participate in debates in the Irish parliament.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, an all-party Oireachtas committee made recommendations on this issue last year which are currently the subject of consultation within the Oireachtas. There have been no discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government on this issue.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. In so doing—with no offence intended to the Minister—I regret that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is not in her place today. I understand that she is ill in hospital.

The Minister will know that the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, intends to take forward the Sinn Fein request that Northern Ireland's politicians should be allowed to participate and vote in certain debates in the Dublin parliament. Does the Minister agree that this rather offensive proposal is intended to undermine the reality of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland? Does he further agree that such a proposal is in complete conflict with the Belfast agreement, central elements of which are the principle of consent and the acceptance by all sides of the legitimacy of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom? As such, will Her Majesty's Government undertake to make strenuous representations to the Irish Government that this would be an unwelcome move on their part?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's remarks about my noble friend Lady Farrington. We all share his feelings. I have read the transcript of the debate in the Dail to which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. refers. Her Majesty's Government are not responsible for what the Taoiseach says in the Dail and are in no position to answer for him. However, as I understand it, what is proposed would be a voluntary arrangement. It could not and would not intrude on the territorial and constitutional integrity of Northern Ireland. If the Irish Government were to reach a conclusion together with all parties in the Oireachtas, we would expect them to consult us when they arrive at such a position. They have not done so.

Lord Laird

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one commodity that is missing in Northern Ireland at the moment is trust? We are short of trust on every side. Does he agree that this kind of activity by the Dublin Government, on top of their changing of the Belfast agreement in the Dail on 19th November to allow them unilaterally to cut budgets for cross-border implementation bodies, is a very serious breach of trust? Does he further agree that if we wish to bring trust back into the equation in Northern Ireland, then the less talk we have of Dublin running an agenda which is contrary to the Belfast agreement the better?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I can hardly disagree with the observation that we could do with much more trust in Northern Ireland. That is clearly the case. But we are talking about a proposition within the Oireachtas which is the result of an all-party committee on the constitution which reported last year. It is a matter for them how they respond to the report of the all-party committee. As I say, if they reach a conclusion on the matter we would expect them to consult us. In anticipation of that, I cannot comment on the other points made by the noble Lord. Lord Laird.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, we associate ourselves with the concerns expressed for the indisposition of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I was reassured when the Minister said that this is a matter for the Dail. Does he agree that, in the meantime, one of the best steps forward would be to do everything possible to encourage the Ulster Unionists to participate in the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the issue of participation in the inter-parliamentary body is separate from the Question on the Order Paper. I prefer not to comment on it.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, one of the items in the Good Friday agreement is the need for human rights legislation north and south of the border and east and west of the Irish Sea. We have kept our part of that bargain very well. In negotiations with the Irish Government, will representations be made to ensure that the human rights legislation promised in the Good Friday agreement will be enacted in Ireland so that there is equal protection in both islands?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, that question, too, is clearly wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, would it not be a good idea and prudent—to remind the Irish Government of the disastrous intervention of a previous Irish Government who wrecked the Sunningdale agreement and destroyed the possibility of stable devolution in Northern Ireland for all time?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, if and when we have a communication from the Irish Government on the issue the subject of the Question on the Order Paper, we will respond appropriately. I cannot speculate on what that response would be or on the wider issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the concerns about this issue are much exaggerated? Can he confirm that, in the past, persons living in Northern Ireland I can remember at least one instance—have been appointed as full members of the Senate in Dublin? There seemed to be no objections to that at the time.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, appointments to the Senate by the Taoiseach have indeed been made in the past. Indeed, there is a member from Northern Ireland in the Senate at the moment. That is why I referred to the committee of the Oireachtas and not simply to the Dail. It is true that this has happened for a number of years: it is true that an extension of the practice is the subject of a recommendation by the Committee on the Constitution chaired by Mr Brian Lenihan—the subject of the Question; and it is true, I believe, that the matter has not been the subject of very great controversy.