I met the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Barry, on 30 May. No date for a future meeting with Irish Ministers has been set. I welcome close co-operation with Irish Ministers in areas where we can work together to our mutual benefit. It is essential that we co-operate closely in dealing with the common threat of terrorist violence. I welcome the co-operation that exists at present between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda and I hope that this can be developed further.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many people regard talks between the British Government and the Dublin Government as crucial, not just in areas of security, but in areas covering the whole range of affairs in Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that, as all that we have to go on are pessimistic newspaper leaks that are causing a great deal of dismay, it would be better if the secret diplomacy came to an end and he were frank about what is going on? It would be better if the Secretary of State said this to us instead of always being scared about what the Unionists might say to him if he revealed something about these discussions.
One or two contradictions are embedded in that question. We have frequent discussions with Irish Ministers within the framework of the Intergovernmental Council, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about those discussions. We are holding serious and confidential discussions with the Irish Government to establish whether the relationship sketched in the Chequers communique last November could be made more substantial. It would not do much good to break off the negotiations at this stage and reveal their contents to the public. It may be a little time yet before we know whether they will succeed in the form of an outcome that would have to be explained and defended in this House.
Has the Secretary of State noticed the good news of the increased recruitment of Catholics — between 10 and 12 per cent. — into the RUC? [Interruption.] It is a good step upwards. Is there any possibility of the two police forces holding joint training exercises and getting together to try to reach an understanding of the problems?
There has been an increase in the proportion of Catholics joining the RUC, which I welcome. However, the hon. Gentleman will accept that there is a long way to go before we can be satisfied about the position. A great deal depends upon what I hope will be a growing understanding between the leaders of the nationalist minority in the north and the police force. As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, I should like to move in that direction, but it has to be a step at a time.
In recent months, 14 members of the RUC have been brutally butchered in my constituency by the IRA. The Secretary of State's words ring hollow in the ears of my constituents. The co-operation to which he refers with the Irish Republic is a sham and non-existent. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that fact?
It is certainly true that the hon. Member's constituency, above all other constituencies in the Province, has suffered grievously in the course of this year. The response of the great majority of his constituents in both communities has been very steady and praiseworthy. I think that the hon. Gentleman went a little too far in his remarks, because I could take him to a place on the border, not far from his constituency, where the local RUC superintendent, if asked about his personal co-operation with his Garda counterpart across the road or across the river, would say that it was good and useful.
Bearing in mind the importance to cross-border security and co-operation between the two police forces of a Royal Ulster Constabulary with a considerable number of Catholics in it—and it needs to have more — and bearing in mind also the apparent ignorance of some Irish Ministers, particularly Mr. Barry, about the facts of the case, will my right hon. Friend take an early opportunity to reaffirm to the Irish Ministers that there is a 10 per cent. Catholic component in the RUC and a 12 per cent. recruitment rate, and that he and his fellow Ministers want to see both figures increased?
Will the Secretary of State accept that the Opposition welcome the fact that the serious and confidential discussions with the Irish Government are continuing? He has not, however, denied the aura of pessimism in relation to the talks to which my hon Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) referred. Can the Secretary of State confirm that Her Majesty's Government will, with the utmost vigour, press the talks to a successful conclusion?
Sometimes in the past few months there has been too much optimism about the talks and sometimes there has been too much pessimism. What I see and experience is a steady negotiation, seriously conducted, on both sides, but I do not yet know and cannot yet tell the House whether it will succeed.
Having had the opportunity of discussing with members of the Garda on one side of the border and with members of the RUC on the other side their practical co-operation, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will accept that at the operational level there is good co-operation, intelligence and information-gathering between the two forces? Nevertheless, will he accept that the recent incident at Killeen has raised some real anxieties among operational members of the RUC, and that there may be a case for some independent investigation into exactly what happened, and whether the four dead officers were set up before they were killed?
There is a police investigation proceeding into what happened and my hon. Friend, with his experience, will not expect me to elaborate on that. I think that the police are the right people to do the investigation and bring to justice, if they can, those responsible for a particularly atrocious crime.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker:
May I ask the Secretary of State, when in discussions with Irish Ministers on cross-border co-operation, to demand that action be taken against those terrorists who are hiding in the South under a cloak of respectability? Will he take steps to demand that they be apprehended and returned to justice in Northern Ireland?
Yes, indeed. When there is proof that we can adduce, or that can be adduced in a court of law in the North, we do not hesitate to ask for the return of those concerned. As the hon. Gentleman knows, often it is not necessarily a question of proof, which may already be available. It is a question of wanting information that could be useful operationally.