On behalf of the Government and of the Irish people I would like to convey deep regret and sympathy on the sudden death of the British Labour Party Leader, Mr. John Smith, to his family, party colleagues and friends. It is a sad day for everyone in these islands.
He was a political leader of outstanding ability and stature. He came to politics from a Scottish professional background in Edinburgh. He was impressive in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate, and had a great sense of humour. He won the trust and confidence of the financial and business community, as well as his own more natural supporters, because of his clear commitment to prudent and sensible economic policies as a framework for his party's social concern. He also took on courageously the task of party reform as vital to its future progress.
The British Labour Party has for many years been sympathetic and helpful to Ireland. I had the privilege of meeting John Smith on a couple of occasions in the last year. I always found him accommodating and helpful. He was committed to the achievement of peace in Ireland. He gave his enthusiastic support last December to the efforts of the two Governments in the Joint Declaration to achieve peace, without calculation of party political advantage. We will always be grateful to him and his colleagues for adopting a responsible and statesmanlike attitude during potentially difficult moments in the emergence of the peace process.
He was very clear on matters of principle. When he was here last June, he told me that the bombing campaign in Britain was totally counterproductive, in terms of the aims of its perpetrators. He said at a press briefing, on 11 June 1993, that a peaceful resolution of the Northern Ireland problem would be high on his agenda when he came to office. He disagreed with the view that a time limit should be set for the completion of talks between the political parties. Governments had to be patient and maintain their persuasive approach, because the problems of Northern Ireland would not be solved quickly. On a visit to Belfast in December 1992, he stated that a renunciation of violence was essential for participation in negotiations, and that political change could never be achieved through violent means.
The Labour Leader, helped perhaps by his Scottish background, was unequivocally committed to Europe, and took a positive and forward view of European integration, including economic and monetary union and the Social Charter. This represented a significant new departure from previous British Labour Party policies. Undoubtedly, a harmony of outlook on European policy between Britain and Ireland, such as existed when both were members of the ERM between 1990 and 1992, is very beneficial to Ireland, just as a divergence of outlook can create difficulties for us. Obviously, though, both countries have to decide their own policy, on the basis of what they judge to be in their own best overall interests.
By his early death, John Smith and his party have been deprived of the opportunity of a democratic contest for Government under his leadership. I am certain that in whatever capacity, he would have continued to be a good friend of Ireland. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.