Council of Ireland

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr Michael O'Halloran Mr Michael O'Halloran , Islington North 12:00 am, 13th December 1973

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is now in a position to make a statement regarding the Council for All Ireland.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made at the tripartite talks towards forming a Council of Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I would refer hon. Members to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the House on 10th December, and the text of the agreed communiqué which was printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date.—[Vol. 866, c. 28–41.]

Photo of Mr Michael O'Halloran Mr Michael O'Halloran , Islington North

First, I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new appointment. I wish him every success. I also congratulate all those who took part in the recent discussions. Can he give an assurance that the new Council of Ireland will have free powers and will be allowed to evolve? When will its first meeting take place?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I thank the hon. Gentleman for those kind words. Many people were involved in the conference, and what he said was a proper comment to make on their work as a whole. The position about the functions of the Council of Ireland is referred to in the communiqué, but studies are being put in hand to report on areas of common interest in relation to which the Council of Ireland could take executive decisions and, in appropriate cases, be responsible for carrying those decisions into effect. Further studies will be made within the Council of Ireland but when it will meet for the first time has not been decided. The Assembly will have to appoint its representatives and the Government of the Republic of Ireland will have to do the same before they can consider, together, how and when to proceed.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and wish him and all those who took part in the tripartite conference every success. Has the Secretary of State also considered where the Council of Ireland should meet—whether in one place or in various places alternating between Northern and Southern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

Again, I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The position is that when representatives of both sides have been appointed they will decide where the first meeting might be.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

Are there any plans to put the proposals for the Council of Ireland to the test of public opinion in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the agreement now reached, and referred to in the communiqué, has been made possible on the basis of the support given to it in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Gentleman has followed the whole process with great interest. Following the elections and the agreement between the parties we have now decided that this is how we should proceed. It is the case that the majority of people in Northern Ireland are behind the proposals.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Since a considerable proportion of the members of the Assembly were not invited to send representatives to the full conference, how can my right hon. Friend say that it has the full support of Northern Ireland? Since the 1925 Anglo-Irish Agreement—which was registered with the old League of Nations—was repudiated seven years later by Mr. De Valera and 12 years later replaced by the Eire Constitution, which claimed jurisdiction over Northern Ireland; can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Eire Government will not do the same thing again?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

The second part of my hon. Friend's question will be for the Eire Government to express a view about. On the first part, there is a later Question on the Order Paper this afternoon dealing with that matter.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

I also join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend. I hope that the recent talks will introduce a new era in the relationship between North and South. Will the Secretary of State say something about the method of working of the expert working parties? Presumably they will be at Civil Service level. When are they to meet? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Northern Ireland civil servants will be involved?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I think that is so, but this work will be done under the auspices of the Council of Ireland when the Government of the Republic and the Assembly have appointed members. It will be under their auspices and responsibility that these studies will take place.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland why he refused membership in the recent Irish talks to certain groups, in view of the fact that they represent over one third of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I invited the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, together with Mr. Craig, the leader of the Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party, to put their views to the conference, but this offer was declined.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The Secretary of State will note that the Question is concerned with membership of the conference and not with an invitation to a deputation to attend and simply put its views. Will he now confirm that over two thirds of Unionists voted against the White Paper? Will he also confirm that when an application goes before the Health Services Board in Belfast the question is asked "Are you a Protestant?". and if the answer is "Yes" the applicant is told that he will not be employed? Can that be taken as the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to Protestants?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's attitude to this matter. He well knows that the progress of these matters, which was difficult, could be achieved only by consent, and that was included in the White Paper. We undertook to invite certain people, including the party leaders, to participate. If my invitation to the hon. Member was not an invitation to do that, I do not know what it was.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Will the Secretary of State note that Her Majesty's official Opposition at Westminster quite properly were not invited to Sunningdale, and that we would not have talked about punching anybody on the nose if we had been there?

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

Would not the groups to which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred have been entitled to attend the original Stormont talks? If they had attended these talks, would not the hon. Gentleman now be in a better position to argue as he does?

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

However that may be, I nevertheless sent an invitation.

Photo of Mr James Kilfedder Mr James Kilfedder , North Down

Is it not a fact that the White Paper laid down that the leaders of political opinion in Northern Ireland would be invited to those talks and that that invitation was not given to those groups? If people such as myself are attacked as extremists merely because we assert our constitutional rights to criticise legislation—just as the Labour Party criticised the Industrial Relations Act—there is no point in my remaining here this afternoon.

Photo of Mr Francis Pym Mr Francis Pym , Cambridgeshire

I think the House knows the basis on which the whole exercise was conducted. I also think that the way in which we carried it out has the support of the House.