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I certainly welcome this Bill, because I think it a very valuable contribution to the co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
This is not the first occasion on which this co-operation has taken place, because it will be within the recollection of the House that we passed a Bill in regard to the waters of Lough Erne and the provision of electricity, which was a very good example of such co-operation. Only recently, there have been negotiations between the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic, and the Minister of Commerce from Northern Ireland has visited Dublin and been warmly entertained there, while the Minister of Commerce from the Republic has visited Belfast. These negotiations have now resulted in an agreement for the purchase of the Great Northern Railway.
I congratulate very heartily my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his very lucid statement and his very clear explanation of the Bill, and I would also express my gratitude to the former Home Secretary for the very skilful way in which in the past he has presided over these negotiations. He was certainly very helpful in bringing them to a satisfactory conclusion. I think we should also pay tribute to the Honourable the Irish Society for having sold, for what I consider—and I am sure is the case—a very moderate sum, its rights in this matter.
These rights are very ancient. They were conferred on the Society by King James I, and they have always been exercised with extraordinary moderation and generosity. I have visited the schools in Londonderry and Coleraine, which are not merely national schools, but also secondary schools, which have been built and subsidised by the Honourable the Irish Society. Every year, the Society send a deputation to Northern Ireland to cary out an inspection of their property, and they are always ready to listen to any appeal to their generosity.
For instance, it is only a very short time ago that, when they saw that the gates of Londonderry Cathedral were in a rather parlous state, they immediately made a generous offer to provide new gates for the Cathedral of Derry.