Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Northern Ireland Talks.

Peter Barry

Question:

5 Mr. Barry asked the Taoiseach if the Government intend to take any initiative to help promote talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland.

Proinsias De Rossa

Question:

6 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Taoiseach if he has any plans to meet with the British Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to discuss the current attempts to initiate dialogue between the democratic parties in Northern Ireland; if, arising from his recent speech at Bodenstown, he will indicate the point at which he considers it appropriate for the Irish Government to become involved in the proposed dialogue; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Peter Barry

Question:

7 Mr. Barry asked the Taoiseach if the speech he gave on Sunday, 7 October 1990 indicates a change of attitude by the Irish Government in relation to the initiative being pursued by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Dick Spring

Question:

8 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will elaborate on the briefing he gave to journalists in New York recently, which gave rise to the impression that the Government were willing to change their position in relation to the so-called timetable of talks in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 8, inclusive, together.

The Deputies will recall that as early as last January I said that while continuing to work the Anglo-Irish Agreement fully, the Irish Government would be prepared to contemplate, in agreement with the British Government, a new and better structure, agreement or arrangement to transcend the existing one. That has remained the position of the Irish Government. It is also our position that as co-signatories of the agreement, the Irish Government must be directly involved in discussions about any new arrangement to transcend it.

I should like to emphasise again that it is our wish that a sound basis should be agreed as soon as possible on which talks offering a prospect for progress can take place. Obviously, because of the extremely sensitive nature of the subject I do not wish to recite the details of the discussions that have taken place or say anything that would impede the process. However, the Deputies can take it that the Government's position on the talks has been clear and consistent throughout and that we have been doing everything possible to enhance the prospects for progress. The whole process is the subject of continuing discussions between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Deputies Dukes and Spring rose.

I am calling first Deputy Spring whose Question No. 8 refers and who is present in the House.

What about my Question No. 6?

And Question No. 5 in my name, Sir?

It is in Deputy Peter Barry's name.

Question No. 6 is in my name and I am present in the House.

I am aware of that, Deputy.

I do not mind in what order you call us, Sir, but there is a question I should like to ask the Taoiseach.

I am calling first the Deputies who are present in the House. I am calling Deputy Dick Spring.

Surely you should call me first as Question No. 6 comes before Question No. 8.

Question No. 6 comes before Question No. 8.

The unity of the left is at risk?

(Interruptions.)

I do not want to make an issue of this, particularly as it affects my colleague on my right, but if a precedent is to be established, as it has been established in this House that you call the Deputies who are in the House in the order in which their questions are listed, Question No. 6 comes before Question No. 8.

I also have regard to the precedent in respect of the leaders of the larger parties.

I am the leader of a party, too.

I acknowledge that point and you will be called next.

I seek clarification from the Taoiseach in regard to Question No. 8 and his answer. Does the Taoiseach not consider that the direct intervention by the Minister for Foreign Affairs before the statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the House of Commons last July has led to the perception that this Government intend to pursue a policy of vetoing the progress of talks on the future administration of Northern Ireland?

I have no hesitation in saying that that is a total and complete misrepresentation of the position. I fail to see why Deputy Spring should take that attitude when this Government, probably of all the parties concerned, are pursuing the most constructive role in regard to these talks. We are a bit inhibited because we do not wish to rush to the newspapers every day giving our side of the affair: we think the process is more important than defending our role in the negotiations. I can assure the Deputy that what he said is a travesty of what happened. Naturally the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sought agreement all round on his statement, and not just from the Irish Government. There were very good reasons why there were a number of objections to the statement of the Secretary of State. One of our criticisms was that the Secretary of State unfortunately put a deadline on himself. That has not interfered at all with the process and in spite of the contretemps which happened at that time in regard to that statement which was not vetoed by us in any way — neither did we attempt to stop the Secretary of State from making it — we and, to be fair to him, the Secretary of State have made every effort and have been successful in keeping the process going.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that there appears to be two basic problems in so far as the Irish Government's involvement in this process is concerned; one is the point at which the Irish Government would become involved in the series of talks and the other is the question of the objective of the talks, that it concern the establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland? Will the Taoiseach confirm that those are the two problems? Will he indicate what his current position is——

They are not.

They are not the problems in so far as the Irish Government are concerned?

Will he confirm that from his discussions with the SDLP, which I know he has on a regular basis, it is the SDLP who have a problem with either or both of these issues?

The SDLP will have to talk for themselves but from what I know the second one has certainly not arisen on any side.

The Taoiseach must be aware——

I want to call Deputy Dukes also.

——that documents were released to the newspapers which clearly indicated that the SDLP were unhappy with Mr. Brooke's statement on the basis that it incorporated a reference to the objective of establishing devolved government and that the draft which Mr. Hume suggested to Mr. Brooke did not include any reference to that matter.

As I say, I am not in a position to comment on the SDLP's position. The Deputy should deal with them directly. They are in a position to speak for themselves but I can tell the House that, as far as the Government are concerned and, indeed, my understanding of the general situation is the second point made in this question is not an issue.

The Taoiseach began by recalling a statement of his last January and I would like to take the liberty of drawing his attention again to a statement I made in this House in October last year which I think was a part of the beginning of that process. May I ask the Taoiseach if it is the case that the main difficulty facing those involved in the talks now is the question as to at what point the Irish Government will become involved in a particular segment of those talks? If that is the case has the Taoiseach given any consideration to the following proposition, which is, as I understand it, accepted by all the parties involved in the talks; nothing can be agreed unless everybody agrees to it? If that is the case, has the Taoiseach given any consideration to what the implications of that might be for the point at which any particular party gets involved?

I am aware of that and I certainly take it fully into account but I do not want to make any further comment at this stage. There are negotiations going on at this very moment and a conference is being held tomorrow. I really do not want to say any more at this stage about these matters because it is not desirable that I should be conducting these negotiations and discussing through the vehicle of this House. What I said in my reply indicates perfectly good faith on the part of the Government, a very considerable approach, an anxiety to see these talks succeed and our determination to assist the process as much as we can.

Deputy Spring for a final and, I hope, brief supplementary.

It is widely believed, as Deputy Dukes has outlined, that the difficulty from the point of view of the Taoiseach and the Government is the point at which our Government would get involved in the talks. As we have not been afforded the courtesy of a briefing in recent months by the Taoiseach, despite requests, we can only take the information we require from the newspapers. In New York recently the Taoiseach seemed to indicate to journalists that he was prepared to change his position, and that of the Government, on the so-called timetable for talks in Northern Ireland. Will the Taoiseach clarify, as reported by journalists at that press briefing, if he is prepared to change his position as outlined by the Minister for Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State in July?

We have changed our position several times. We have advanced a number of issues. On our side we have gone to great trouble to accommodate and get around a number of difficulties which were put up one after the other. We are the people who have advanced most.

What about the timetable?

We have not changed our position on any timetable. We will continually seek to find a formula, what I describe as a sound basis of agreement, which will enable talks to proceed. That work is going ahead at this very moment. We did not have to change our views at all on the timetable.