Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Mar 1991

Vol. 405 No. 9

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

Dick Spring


4 Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will publish a White Paper on Northern Ireland policy in view of the fragile state of the Brooke initiative.

In my reply to Private Notice Questions in the House on 6 February last, I set out the Government's position in relation to the initiative of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have nothing further to add at this time by way of White Paper or otherwise.

From statements made by the Taoiseach over the years in relation to Northern Ireland it would appear that the Government's policy on Northern Ireland has two prongs: first, that the Government wish to be generous towards the Unionists; and second that a unitary State is the Fianna Fáil aspiration. Could I ask the Taoiseach if there has been any updating of Fianna Fáil policy on Northern Ireland in the course of the exchanges that have taken place between the Government and the Secretary of State over the past number of years?

Fianna Fáil policy in its basic principles is the same as it always has been, that is to seek the unity of the people of Ireland, but as to the situation with regard to the implementation of that policy — I am sorry that the Deputy will not be able to attend the Fianna Fáil ArdFheis but if he listens to my broadcast on Saturday night——

There will be plenty of spare tickets.

Will it be hard to get in?

——he will get elaboration of the policy in the present circumstances.

A Cheann Comhairle, I am extremely grateful for the invitation but it is one we have turned down since 1943 and I expect to do so for many years hence.

Nineteen thirty-two?

I do not particularly want to take any bit of thunder the Taoiseach has left for Saturday evening but may I ask him — in a serious vein — if the Government have discussed with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland the question of devolution? I would say to the Taoiseach that it is not enough to say that the Government are open to suggestions in relation to changes in Northern Ireland. Have the Government expressed a view on devolution as a possible interim settlement in Northern Ireland or as a possible means of making progress to end the nightmare in Northern Ireland, which, unfortunately we have been reminded of over the week-end?

A Cheann Comhairle, I think this is broadening the parameters of the question a bit. But the Deputy, I am sure, has on several occasions heard me outline here the Government's position with regard to devolution. With regard to all other aspects of the situation, the whole purpose of the present process is to set up dialogue and conversations with a view to bringing forward some new possible arrangements.

In regard to the Brooke talks, could the Taoiseach say in what significant respects the paper tabled by the Secretary of State Mr. Brooke last November differs from that which was tabled by the Government of Ireland last month? Would the Taoiseach agree that the points of division between the two approaches are very minor indeed and would surely not justify a situation in which the substantive talks between the parties would not commence in Northern Ireland? Would the Taoiseach further agree that there is a safeguard already agreed by all parties that nothing can be agreed finally in any one strand of the talks unless there is agreement in all three strands and that therefore, even if something transpired in the internal talks which the Irish Government do not like, they can prevent that coming into effect by failing to agree in the east-west, British-Irish strand of the discussion. Would the Taoiseach agree that there is more than sufficient safeguard for the interests of the Irish Government and the Nationalist interest in the current proposals as tabled by Secretary of State, Mr. Brooke, and that therefore the Irish Government should take steps to ensure that the talks actually commence now and as the carnage continues in Northern Ireland we cannot afford further delay in a matter of this importance?

This question merely asks if a White Paper on Northern Ireland policy will be published.

In view of the fragile state of the Brooke initiative——

We are having a wide extension of that question now. I merely wish to dissuade Members of the notion that we can debate this very wide matter now.

I agree with you, a Cheann Comhairle. I have, at every stage given the House the fullest possible outline and detail of these discussions and exactly the position and I want at this stage to do no more than reject totally what is implicit in Deputy Bruton's question. The position is that no partner in these whole discussions has been more forthcoming in endeavouring to find formulae which would enable the process to proceed than the Irish Government and the fault certainly does not lie with the Irish Government.

I want to bring in Deputy De Rossa also.

You, Sir, have been most unfair to me by interrupting with an editorial comment essentially before the Taoiseach was allowed to answer the question I put to him.

Deputy Bruton, I repeat that this question asks a specific question and I will not permit a debate on policy appertaining to Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland policy now.

Sir, you are trespassing beyond your province in the Chair. You are not behaving fairly in the Chair.

I will not permit a debate on Northern Ireland policy now.

Sir, this question relates to the fragile state of the Brooke initiative and my question was directed precisely to that matter. May I ask the Taoiseach why he takes this defensive view that I am blaming the Government when, in fact, all I asked was whether there was not very little between the two positions and that an initiative should be taken to bring the two positions together? We cannot afford the continuation of this carnage and a lack of political progress in this matter.

The Taoiseach has, on a number of occasions, indicated in relation to Northern Ireland policy that he expected that there would be a need to change the Irish Constitution following on any such arrangement. Would the Taoiseach agree that it would be appropriate now to establish an all-party committee to review the Constitution in preparation for any such arrangement in relation to Northern Ireland policy?

Surely this is a separate and distinct matter that does not arise now.

Perhaps the Taoiseach might like to offer an opinion whether he believes a review of the Constitution would now be appropriate.

There should be a specific question on that subject. I now call Deputy Spring for a final question.

In relation to my previous supplementary question, may I ascertain from the Taoiseach whether devolution of power to Northern Ireland is considered by the Government as a viable option in these talks?

What I have said on a number of occasions is that devolution does not recommend itself at this stage——

That is not true.

——to most of the parties in Northern Ireland. Let me go on to say that certainly devolution would be one of the matters that would naturally come up for discussion in the context of the talks when they eventually get under way.

What is the foundation for the Taoiseach's statement that devolution does not recommend itself to most of the parties in Northern Ireland? The Taoiseach is not accurate in what he is saying here——

Let us proceed to another question.

The Taoiseach is displaying no sense of urgency at all in regard to this matter. The judgment of history on the Taoiseach if these talks fail, will be extremely severe.

This must be raised at another time.

I am aware the Deputy would like to do that, but on this occasion the overwhelming evidence is totally against him. As I have said, this Government — and most commentators who understand anything about it agree — have been forthcoming and have put forward compromise after compromise, formula after formula to endeavour to bring these talks to a successful conclusion, and it is unworthy of Deputy Bruton to try to place the blame for the failure of this initiative, if it happens, on his own Government, that is disloyal on Deputy Bruton's part.

I will take no lectures in loyalty from the Taoiseach. Furthermore may I say that we have not been given information in this House about what is actually happening in these talks and all we can rely on are assertions from the Taoiseach, assertions that are not substantiated.

Where did the phrase, "a failed entity" come from? How did the phrase originate?