Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Power Sharing in Northern Ireland.


asked the Taoiseach if he has recently had any communication with the British Prime Minister regarding the setting up of a power-sharing assembly in Northern Ireland; if not, if he will take the initiative in bringing about such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

It has not been the practice and it would not be appropriate to say whether any such communication has or has not taken place.

The Government's position on this matter was set out fully by me in my reply to questions on 9 March 1988.

That is well over a year ago. Local elections tend to be highly political or nationalistic. Would the Taoiseach not agree that the results of last week's local elections show a tremendous movement of some voters for extreme parties and that now is the time to take the initiative to ensure that the goodwill which has been expressed by a significant number of people in the North is built upon? Today we are on the eve of the report on the review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Surely this would be a time to express goodwill and for the Taoiseach to state that he is about to take the initiative to see that a power-sharing assembly is set up.

The Deputy will agree that in regard to Northern Ireland the question of taking initiatives is always a matter of great sensitivity. It is also very much a question of timing. I am not sure that taking a particular initiative just now would be beneficial. As the Deputy knows, my standing position is that I would welcome discussions and dialogue on as wide a basis as possible. Perhaps that would be the first necessary preliminary to any initiatives. There is not much point in taking initiatives unless there is some priority work done and unless one can be reasonably sure that there will be a positive response.

Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that in the results of last week's elections there were signs of significant movement where the extremist vote on both sides is concerned?

I would certainly agree that the voting discloses that pattern.

Do you welcome that pattern?

In the Taoiseach's previous lengthy response on the question of devolution he took the view that he had no initiating role on Article 4 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Does the Taoiseach still hold that view as the review of the Anglo-Irish Agreement moves towards completion?

Perhaps I would not put it as badly as the Deputy has. I gave my view at some length on the whole issue of devolution, and I indicated that it is primarily a matter for the British Government and the community in Northern Ireland. That is more or less enshrined in the provisions of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I would not, and I do not think any of us should rule out any initiative or any action we could take from time to time that might appear to be helpful or beneficial in the situation. It is very important to be able to decide at any time whether an initiative or an action or something that one would say would be detrimental or otherwise.

Would the Taoiseach acknowledge that it is essential that talks take place between the democratic constitutional parties in Northern Ireland? Would he take the opportunity he has today to indicate that he would welcome talks of that kind on the question of devolution as one of the options which must be seriously addressed?

It would be better at this stage if I confined myself to saying that I would welcome dialogue and discussion between all the representatives of the constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland, whatever the subject matter might be.

Would the Taoiseach not agree that the position he has set out on devolution and has expanded on here a little today is in fact that he has no position on the matter? Will the Taoiseach not further agree that references to sensitivity and timing on every occasion this issue is discussed simply mean that he is looking for pure stasis on this and not for any movement? Would he not agree also that a form of devolution of some kind is inevitably the next step in development in Northern Ireland, whatever the ultimate objective is? Would the Taoiseach not finally agree, in the context of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, of the review of that agreement, and of the provisions of that agreement in relation to devolution, that he has a role, that he has a perfect right to have a role and that if everybody involved in the process keeps talking about sensitivity and timing, as the Taoiseach does, nothing will ever change?

Has the Taoiseach had any indication from the moderate Unionists, that is the Official Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, that they would take part in talks if it were not feared that they would be undermined by the DUP? Has the Taoiseach had any indication of that? Surely if we had that, it would be a step in the right direction.

I have discussions from time to time with representatives of many different shades of opinion in Northern Ireland.

A Cheann Comhairle——

I am sorry, I am proceeding to other questions. These are priority questions.