Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Reunification of Ireland.


asked the Taoiseach if the Government had given consideration to Mr. Harold Wilson's proposals for the reunification of Ireland; and if he would make a statement on the matter.


asked the Taoiseach whether he would be taking any further initiatives as a consequence of Mr. Wilson's House of Commons speech on the North question.


asked the Taoiseach if he would make a statement on Mr. Wilson's blueprint for a united Ireland; and if he would state his reservations on the matter.


asked the Taoiseach if he would make a statement concerning the Government's reaction to the speech made by Mr. Harold Wilson, Leader of the Opposition at the British House of Commons, on the current political situation in Northern Ireland.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 together.

I regard Mr. Wilson's statement at Westminster last Thursday, 25th November, as a serious contribution to finding a way forward by political action. I particularly welcomed his recognition that the right aim of politics is the unity of Ireland by agreement in independence within a measurable time.

Some of Mr. Wilson's proposals refer to short-term matters and already have been publicly discussed by, among others, elected representatives of the non-Unionist community in the North; they are the best judges of what they regard as inadequacies in that part of Mr. Wilson's proposals.

Others of his proposals refer to long-term matters. Some might be criticised in whole or in part, particularly those that run against the course of history — re-entry to the Commonwealth is obviously unacceptable — but the Government's view is that, together, they form a useful basis for further discussion and, as I said, a serious contribution to the subject.

May I ask whether the Government will take initiative now on those discussions?

As the Deputy is aware, the proposals that were put forward by Mr. Wilson, in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition, have not met a very satisfactory response, as far as we can see, by the British Government but I take it that the immediate initiative in that respect would be with the British Government. We certainly will do what is necessary on our part to ensure that these discussions are given a reasonable chance of success.

Could the Taoiseach tell us — accepting that Mr. Wilson's proposals for a solution — I understand that the Taoiseach in his television address last night said he could consider all as practicable apart from that of re-entry to the Common-wealth——

I did not say "all".

The Taoiseach can correct that in the reply but since Mr. Wilson's proposals have been followed by the setting up of an inter-party committee in Westminster on the Northern question and, more important than that, since Mr. Heath in winding up the debate on Monday night in the House of Commons said:

The responsibility also lies on the Republic to show the North the sort of united Ireland which they themselves want

would the Taoiseach now consider the advisability of setting up a Dáil committee composed of all parties in this House to consider the economic and constitutional implications of a united Ireland, which we all seek, by consent? Would the Taoiseach consider this a worthy initiative in the light of these inter-party developments in Westminster?

I did indicate last night that I would favourably consider the setting up of a committee of the parties in the Oireachtas. I do not think I would go as far as the Deputy suggested — an economic committee and a committee that would deal with other matters, with a secretariat and all kinds of constitutional and other advisers. I think the purpose of the Wilson proposals would be met by a less formal committee.

Can the Taoiseach say if his willingness to set up a committee of all parties in the Dáil is an indication that he has changed his views on the proposal that was made earlier?

The responsibility for policy is a matter primarily for the Government and we propose to maintain that responsibility but, in so far as there have been initiatives now from Mr. Wilson which would seem to suggest the setting up of inter-party committees in Britain and in the North of Ireland, there is every good reason why we should do something along the same lines.

Does it not seem odd that the Taoiseach has acted in this matter on the initiative of Mr. Wilson whereas the proposal was made here over two years ago and it was rejected by the Government?

The proposal the Deputy made two years ago was not on all fours with the proposal now made because there was not reciprocal action on the other side. If there is reciprocal action I think the setting up of a committee here would be probably worth while.

In the general context of Mr. Wilson's proposals and the Taoiseach's comments on them, would the Taoiseach state whether he intends to reply to the comments on Mr. Wilson's proposals of Mr. Ian Paisley and whether he has any action to propose on that matter?

That is a separate question.

I do not propose formally to reply to Mr. Paisley.

The Taoiseach says that policy here is a Government matter. True. Would the Taoiseach accept that there is a job to be done by all elected representatives, including the Government, down here, to fill out the implications of the United Ireland that we wish to achieve by consent and that that must include the economic as well as the constitutional implications and that we should start on that work right away? Does he accept that this duty devolves on all of us here?

It certainly devolves on the Government and we have been carrying out that duty in recent years. We have an inter-departmental unit which directs its time solely to that particular purpose.

Is the Taoiseach now saying to the Dáil that he is willing to co-operate with the other parties in this House in the establishment of an all-party economic and constitutional committee that would explore the implications of a united Ireland to be gained by consent?

The Deputy is putting questions in a comprehensive way that is not absolutely acceptable to me. I am talking about the setting up of a committee that would, as a reciprocal measure, examine the possibility of discussions leading to the united Ireland that Mr. Wilson envisaged in his proposals.

The Taoiseach stated that policy is primarily a matter for the Government. Would the Taoiseach not agree that the time has come for him as head of the Government to spell out his blue print in an effort to stop this drift and to end violence and lead to reconciliation? Does the Taoiseach not believe that the time has come for him to give a lead and not to sit back and do nothing, as the Government have been doing for the last few months?

Would the Taoiseach say whether or not he is aware that Mr. Paisley represents a significant sector of opinion in the North which we have to reach if we seriously and really want a united Ireland? How can the Taoiseach simply dismiss his remark as if it was not worthy of the attention of a Prime Minister in Ireland?

Mr. Paisley made a very comprehensive statement last Sunday or Saturday — I forget which — in which he said many significant things. He said also that, if our Constitution was changed, then we might attract people in the North. He was asked then if that meant that he would consider becoming part of a united Ireland and he said that was a different question altogether.

He is a good politician.

I want to say that I am perfectly willing to consider constitutional amendment in conjunction with proposals for a united Ireland.

No — there is work to be done.

Remember, if we have a united Ireland, we will have to have a Constitution to embrace the whole country and the people of all Ireland will have to endorse that Constitution.

Would the Taoiseach agree, however, that we have work to do now, before we achieve that?

Yes, we have.

And, therefore, we should go about the setting up of this all-party committee?

I am interested in that suggestion, certainly. I am not going to go along with every line of the Deputy's proposal. If the Deputy wants to get on a band wagon, in spite of his leader, that is a matter for himself.

In view of the Taoiseach's latest comment there, would he be prepared to consider the setting up of such a committee?

I have answered the question as fully as I can.