I am continuing to explore, with the main constitutional parties, the possibility of formal talks encompassing all the issues that they consider relevant. My aim is to establish a basis for such talks that would safeguard everyone's essential interests, and I plan to have further exchanges in the near future to take matters forward.
May I and, I am sure, the whole House join in congratulating my right hon. Friend on the recent happy news of his engagement? May I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend's skill and patience in trying to ensure that the talks with the constitutional parties about future political developments in Northern Ireland move ahead? Is he more optimistic now than he was last autumn that some progress may be made?
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his congratulations. I do not know whether there is any interaction between the two processes in which I have been involved. I remain firmly convinced that all those people with whom I have had talks are seriously committed to the discussions, on the basis that if formal talks can be launched in a framework satisfactory to all, the process could make a major contribution to the peace, stability and good government of Northern Ireland.
On a day when the world is having the most vivid and terrible reminders about where claims to a neighbour's territory can lead, is the Secretary of State aware that we are happy that he is engaged in these talks, especially as the people of Northern Ireland have endured so much over the years because of similar claims being legitimised in the eyes of terrorists? May we express the hope that he will listen to wiser counsel than some of his predecessors have done?
Does the right hon. Gentleman further understand that unionists are deeply disappointed that Dublin's intransigence blocked the progress that he was making to such a swift end last July? Is he aware that many people in the unionist community are worried that this is simply a spinning out of the talks until the next general election? Therefore, will he try to move the matter ahead as quickly as he can?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial remarks and his welcome for the talks that are taking place. The approach that we have been pursuing in recent months has been dictated by the fact that political parties on both sides of the community divide in Northern Ireland want discussions to cover matters that must necessarily involve the Irish Government. Any talks intended to address all the relevant relationships must be set up on a basis with which all concerned are comfortable. It is not a question of one side or the other having preconditions or creating obstacles. Conflicting positions have yet to be reconciled.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his engagement and also on the patience that he has demonstrated in pursuing these talks? I am sure that people in Northern Ireland will wish to join me in thanking him and wishing him all the best for both reasons. Has Dublin agreed to any conditions for beginning its involvement in discussions or talks on political developments in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes and hope that they extend to the talks in which we are now engaged.
I think that it is generally understood that there is a difference of view over the circumstances in which the north-south strand of any talks should start. That impasse has not yet been resolved, but I hope that it will be.