Anglo-Irish Agreement

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th January 1988.

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Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North 12:00 am, 28th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next plans to meet Ministers from the Republic of Ireland for discussions under the provisions of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

First, I thank the Secretary of State, his Parliamentary Private Secretary and the Northern Ireland Office for arranging the visit to Northern Ireland for those hon. Members who had no previous experience of Northern Ireland. I hope that I speak on behalf of those hon. Members of all parties who went on the visit in hoping that that educational experience can be extended so that we can speak from first-hand knowledge rather than from reflex.

On the Anglo-Irish Agreement, will the Secretary of State place on the agenda of future meetings the question of fair employment? When we were over there, we heard that some progress had been made on electoral boundaries and housing, but that one outstanding factor was fair employment, allowing Catholics and Protestants to have an equal say in employment in the major industries in Northern Ireland. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what progress has been made on that?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I welcome those hon. Members who may not be familiar with Northern Ireland but who are willing to acquaint themselves more clearly with the situation there. I think that I speak for every hon. Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency when I say how much we welcome the interest of other hon. Members in such matters. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for taking the time.

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, fair employment and equality of opportunity in employment have been a live subject in discussions in the Intergovernmental Conference. There is no doubt that as our proposals develop that will continue to be the case.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood

Will my right hon. Friend point out to the Irish authorities that if they continue to boycott ministerial meetings under the Anglo-Irish Agreement following the Attorney-General's statement, they could find that that boycott is a two-edged sword? If such meetings resume, will my right hon. Friend make it clear to his Southern Irish counterparts that the defeat of the IRA is the first priority and that any political tinkering or change can come only after the campaign against the terrorists has been won?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

There is no question of a boycott. In fact, we have arranged an extra, special meeting and, as I said in my original answer, we hope that it will be held shortly. I certainly look forward to close and continuing co-operation. Furthermore, I would not wish to strike such a note today, when we have heard welcome news of a very substantial arms find on the shore of Donegal. We pay tribute to the Garda's work in that respect. I know that every law-abiding person in Northern Ireland will welcome the news.

Photo of Mr Seamus Mallon Mr Seamus Mallon , Newry and Armagh

At the next meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference, will the Secretary of State explain to the representatives of the Irish Government how the Attorney-General's decision is compatible with articles 7 and 8 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which the British Government signed? In more immediate terms, what advice has the right hon. Gentleman to offer to all those young people — both Catholic and Protestant — who, through force of circumstance in their own communities, are sitting in gaol? How does he intend to persuade them to have confidence, not just in the police, but in the whole process of justice?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I should like to think that the hon. Gentleman recognises the progress that has been made in that respect. I have been the first to say that the events of 1982 and the problems that they have posed have undoubtedly cast a shadow over recent attitudes. These are very difficult issues indeed.

On compatibility with the agreement, Irish Ministers well understand that it is implicit in the agreement that issues of national security have to be borne in mind. That is one of the difficult challenges that we face. I do not think that hon. Members will challenge the integrity of the Director of Public Prosecutions—who, I repeat, set up the inquiry in the first place — in his determination to ensure that he was privy to all the facts, or, indeed, that of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the extradition issue has now been sorted out? If not, will he pursue the issue again when he next meets Irish Ministers so that we can all be sure that there will be no haven for terrorists as a result of technical complications in extradition matters in the Irish Republic?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

We are working very closely indeed with the Irish Government on these matters, and we have made progress. No two cases are ever quite the same and different issues arise from them, but I hope that there will be a continuing improvement in these matters, to which we attach the greatest importance.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

May I make it clear that no one denies the integrity of the Director of Public Prosecutions? However, we say that his decision was based upon evidence, given to him by the Attorney-General, from which he could reach no other conclusion. It is that evidence that we seek to examine. Will the Secretary of State now confirm that what he said in reply to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) represented a denial of what Mr. Dukes stated—

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

That is right, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Dukes said that at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on 8 December 1986 the right hon. Gentleman did not say, or give the impression, to Mr. Peter Barry or to Mr. Dukes that charges would be preferred against senior officers of the RUC following the receipt of the Stalker inquiry and that, on that basis, those Ministers did not press for the matter to be published. Will the Secretary of State also tell the House, on this, the 300th anniversary of the arrival of William of Orange and the declaration of rights, why the Government are breaking the concordat between Parliament and the Crown by suspending and dispensing with the law?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I shall not respond to the last part of the question, which took the hon. Gentleman into confused waters. As to the first part of his question about would-be prosecutions, which was slightly different in phraseology from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), he knows perfectly well that that is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General.

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Irish Foreign Minister and the Irish Minister for Justice, will he comment on, or put forward views and proposals about, the administration of justice in the Irish Republic?

Photo of Mr Tom King Mr Tom King The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

We have no present proposals to do so.