Republic (Constitutional Changes)

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1993.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid 12:00 am, 18th March 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the effects of the proposed constitutional changes in the Republic of Ireland and of the consequent effect on the whole of Ireland.

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The Irish Government have expressed their willingness to initiate and incorporate constitutional change in the context of an overall political settlement. I welcome this. I believe that it provides an encouraging context for fresh political talks.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

In that connection, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that the comments by Dick Spring on 5 March at the Dublin Mansion House were particularly helpful? Does he further agree that the comments by the United States foreign relations committee recently about a possible investigation into human rights in Northern Ireland were particularly unhelpful?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I was much encouraged by the content and tone of the Tanaiste's speech. It was a most substantial speech which plainly had been carefully weighed.

As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I had perhaps better wait to see what may be proposed, but I might properly say that human rights are, indeed, abused in Northern Ireland. They are abused on purpose and with authority. They are thus abused by terrorists pursuing their evil and fruitless campaigns at the behest of their leaders. I sometimes think that if a national of a foreign country were to become their victim—which I would wish on nobody—and were murdered, for example, like woman police constable Colette McMurray at Newry in March last year, or merely deprived of his legs at the hips, like constable Paul Slaine, who was sitting in the car beside her, we would hear rather more about the matter from overseas commentators and rather less unspecific calumny of the brave men and women in the police and Army, who strive to prevent that by every means in their power within the law.

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Secretary of State

When will the British Government challenge the Irish Government's claim over Northern Ireland in an international court, on the basis of article 29 item 3 of the Irish constitution?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

The more promising way to overcome what is without doubt a serious difficulty is to heed what the Tanaiste, Mr. Spring, said recently—that the Irish Government are prepared to put articles 2 and 3 to the Irish people—with a referendum in mind—as part of an overall settlement or accommodation reached during discussions.

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

Is the Secretary of State of the same mind as his predecessor—that articles 2 and 3 are illegal? Is it not a fact that nowhere from the south of Ireland, including Mr. Spring's recent statement, is there any declaration that that is looked upon as an illegal claim and that anyone is prepared to do away with it?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I have just given my understanding of Mr. Spring's speech in that context and I welcome it very much. Naturally, a claim—which has been described by the Supreme Court of the Irish Republic as a constitutional imperative—to bring the six counties that form part of the United Kingdom, known as Northern Ireland, within the jurisdiction of the Republic, is extremely unhelpful. As matters have been developing in a hopeful way, at this stage of our discussions I do not think that the exchange of epithets is very constructive. I prefer to proceed in the way that I suggested.

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

Can the Secretary of State explain the statements in his speech to the area council of the Conservative party in Northern Ireland last weekend? Given the integrationist tenor of the statements, does he repudiate the neutral stance that the Government have been taking over affairs in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I really do not know what the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I said that the United Kingdom is already—

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I have it here, too, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has studied it. If his party committed those who support it in Northern Ireland—there must be a few—to organise as the Conservative party has done, he would have an opportunity to test his policies for a united Ireland on the electorate, but those supporters are not allowed to do so. In my speech, I said that Northern Ireland is already an integral part of the United Kingdom and that I thought that the time had come to move the debate on, away from ill-defined notions such as integration and devolution, and towards considering how Northern Ireland can best be governed, while it remains part of the United Kingdom pursuant to the wish of the majority.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley , Eltham

Most of us would agree with that statement. Could my right hon. and learned Friend pass a message to the Senate foreign relations committee and its sub-committees that the constitutional position is well spelt out in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and that they would be welcome to come here, to Belfast or to Dublin to speak to constitutionally elected politicians and to meet groups such as New Consensus, which are trying to get rid of the killing and to let people live together?

Photo of Sir Patrick Mayhew Sir Patrick Mayhew , Tunbridge Wells

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Anglo-Irish Agreement makes a substantial advance towards a mutual expression of the current status of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend will have noted, however, that both Governments have said that they would support a new and more broadly based agreement or structure, provided that it secured wide acceptance. As we have made clear, we would wish part of such an agreement to be a shared and unambiguous expression and understanding of Northern Ireland's current status.