Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Meeting with Northern Ireland Premier.

1.

asked the Taoiseach if he will make a full statement to the House regarding his recent visit to Belfast and the subjects which were discussed by him and the Northern Ireland Premier.

2.

asked the Taoiseach if he will indicate to the Dáil the matters discussed between him and Captain O'Neill at his recent meeting in Stormont.

3.

asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement to the Dáil on his meeting with Captain O'Neill and on events subsequent to this meeting; and if he will deal in particular with the suggestion that his visit to Belfast involved recognition of the constitutional status of the Northern Ireland Government.

4.

asked the Taoiseach if in his recent discussion with Mr. O'Neill at Stormont he sought any assurance that equal voting rights and equal opportunities in employment, housing and education will be afforded the nationally-minded people in the Six Counties; and, if not, if he intends to raise these matters in future discussions to be held with Mr. O'Neill.

I propose, with your permission, Sir, to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4 together.

As the House is aware, I have on many occasions urged the desirability, in the national interest, of achieving, between the two areas into which Ireland is now divided, the maximum possible measure of co-operation in practical matters of public concern and expressed the conviction that this was possible without sacrifice of principle.

I accepted Captain O'Neill's invitation with the intention of exploring this possibility. I found that he also was of the opinion that action such as I had in mind would be practicable and beneficial. Our discussions were confined to this subject, and no political or constitutional topics were touched upon either at our meeting in Belfast, or at the meeting yesterday in Dublin. We have agreed that the scope for practical co-operation is extensive and should be further examined. As the House is aware, arrangements for this examination in respect of matters of trade and tourism were later considered between the Ministers concerned and further discussions at specialist and official levels are now being arranged.

I have urged that these meetings should not be given a greater significance than they warrant. Nevertheless I regard them as the beginning of a process which has considerable potentialities for good.

As regards the suggestion that my visit to Belfast involved recognition of the present constitutional status of the Northern Ireland Government, if by recognition is meant approval, I did not regard it as implying this, nor should it be so considered. I have just mentioned my conviction that practical co-operation could take place without sacrifice of principle and it was in this spirit that my meetings with Captain O'Neill took place. In this connection I should remind the House that, on a number of previous occasions, members of the Government have visited Belfast——

Hear, hear.

——in the course of negotiating agreements with Northern Ireland Ministers relating to transport, Foyle Fisheries, and other matters.

Hear, hear.

For my own part, I would regard as an honourable solution of this national problem, an arrangement on the lines of the proposal put forward on behalf of Dáil Éireann prior to the Treaty negotiations of 1921 and repeated on many occasions since, involving, subject to safeguards, the confirmation of the position of the Northern Ireland legislature with its existing powers within an all-Ireland constitution, for so long as the people of the north-eastern counties might desire it.

I have no hesitation in restating our purpose in this regard honestly and frankly, nor do I consider that it can prejudice or restrict the scope for practical co-operation as now envisaged for the benefit of the people living in both areas.

On behalf of this Party, I want to say that we welcome the meeting of the Taoiseach with Captain Terence O'Neill. We welcome anything of that nature which will provide for greater co-operation for the greater benefit of the people on the two sides of the Border. I want to make it clear also—I think the Taoiseach has made it clear—that, as far as the Labour Party are concerned, the ultimate objective is the re-unification of the country as a 32-county Republic. In saying this, I appreciate the efforts being made and I hope they will be for the greater benefit of the two peoples on both sides of the Border.

The Taoiseach referred to the negotiations that have taken place from time to time between the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of Ireland in relation to matters like the Foyle Fisheries, Córas Iompair Éireann, and relative matters in regard to which daily exchanges have taken place between the respective Departments of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, and so on. Will the Taoiseach be in a position at an early stage to indicate to the House what other matters it is intended to discuss with the Government of Northern Ireland that have not been habitually under discussion during the past 30 years?

As I have explained, the scope available for active co-operation is now being considered and at some stage, no doubt, the possibilities revealed in this regard will be announced.

We shall await with interest an announcement.

Would the Taoiseach say when the invitation to visit Captain O'Neill was given? On what date?

About a week before the actual meeting. Offhand, I could not say the exact date.

There may be an appreciation of the reason for the non-notification of the public that such a meeting was to take place, but surely there was no reason for not having a prior announcement in relation to Captain O'Neill's visit to Dublin?

In my view, the possibility of beneficial results was increased by not having any prior announcement.

Was the question of Partition discussed at any stage?

Oh, no. No political or constitutional topic was discussed.

The Cumann na nGaedheal Party put up the Border. Why not ask them to knock it down?

(Interruptions.)