Deputies will be aware of the efforts made over a period of six months by the British Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, to achieve political progress in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Government have consistently supported the Secretary of State's initiative. We have been as helpful and as positive as possible. We have engaged in an intensive programme of discussions and at least eight meetings have been held at ministerial level with the British in recent months.
To a large extent there has been a common approach by the two Governments. The key element of this common approach was that there should be three sets of talks within the same timeframe: (1) internal between the political parties in the North of Ireland; (2) North-South between the political parties in the North and the Irish Government; and (3) East-West between the British and Irish Governments.
It was generally acceptable on all sides that the ultimate outcome of the exercise might well be some new agreement or arrangement which would transcend the existing Anglo-Irish Agreement. There was also a general acceptance that the three relationships, internal, North-South, East-West, would be the essential subject matter of the talks.
Various formulate governing the operaction of the Intergovernmental Conference and the Secretariat have been proposed and discussed. While substantial progress has been made on a number of important aspects — progress which we believe can be built on at an early date — a satisfactory basis which would avoid problems later and ensure success has not yet been fully established. Further consultations with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are necessary at this stage but we are confident that a satisfactory formula and basis for meaningful discussions can be found.
The Secretary of State has referred to the constitutional question even if only, to use his words, in the hope of putting it to one side. In the same spirit, I will confine myself to saying that my view on this matter does not correspond with that of the Secretary of State.
I have, through the courtesy of the Secretary of State, been able to secure for Deputies a copy of the relevant part of the Secretary of State's statement in the House of Commons today which I hope they have now in their hands.