Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 Jun 1974

Vol. 78 No. 6

Order of Business.

It is proposed to take business in the following order: Nos. 1, 2 and 3. It might suit us better not to break for tea. We can have a look at that situation later.

On Tuesday, 28th May, I raised the problem of arranging for a debate in this House on Motion No. 12. The motion is concerned with Northern Ireland. I should like to raise this matter again in the hope that the Leader of the House can see his way to giving us a debate on this very critical issue, at least before the Summer Recess. I do not intend to go over the points that I made the last time, but it seems to me that the main argument against debating this motion is that the situation is too grave or too critical at any specific time. It may be too grave or too critical for this House to debate the Northern Ireland situation, but it does not seem to be too grave for Westminster to spend two days debating it. It was not too grave a subject to be discussed in the Northern Assembly. It was discussed during the time the Assembly was in operation. It is about time there was a straightforward, open and clear debate in the Parliament in Dublin on the Northern situation.

As an Independent Member—and the motion has been signed by five Independent Members—I realise that it is up to the Government of the day to decide whether or not such a debate will take place. This Government have a very healthy majority in the Seanad; if they decide that such a debate will take place it will take place, and if they decide otherwise, it will not. However, I would make my plea to the Leader of the House and ask him to recall that it took the Independent Members four years of pressing in this House—pressing two Governments—before there was a debate on the up to then unmentionable subject of family planning. When the debate took place it was a constructive and clear statement of different opinions. It did everybody both in the Oireachtas and outside a great deal of good. It cleared the air. This was our duty in this situation.

Now we have the unthinkable subject of Northern Ireland, and it seems we are playing the same sort of game: when we have a problem of this magnitude it is better not to discuss it at all, to sweep it under the carpet rather than discuss it in the Oireachtas. I feel that it is our clear duty to arrange for a debate on Motion No. 12 before the Recess. Seeing that this problem is discussed in every other forum in the country it is time that it was discussed sensibly, soberly and clear-headedly in the Oireachtas. Seanad Éireann is the forum in which sensible, sober and clear-headed debate on the situation could be held. It can only do good; it cannot do harm. Apprehension seems to rest not just with the present Government but also with the previous Government. We tried with the previous Government to get such a debate but we did not get the opportunity. I hope the present Government will take a new look at this. After consultation with members of the Government, the Leader of the House can give us an undertaking that such a debate will be held before the Summer Recess.

I should like to support quite unambiguously what Senator West has said. It is not the first time that he has said it. When the history of modern Ireland comes to be written, the history of the years that we are living through at the moment, it will seem very strange if there has been no debate here on the extraordinarily important subject of the North of Ireland, the terrible travail through which the people of Northern Ireland are going, the various efforts being made in various forums throughout these islands to solve these problems. It will look extremely odd in the history books if Seanad Éireann has never been given the opportunity of putting on record any views on this subject whatsoever. I should like to support Senator West in the sense that we have a chance of discussing things free from the cut and thrust of the Dáil where immediate party political interest is more urgent and necessarily present. All of us have gone through a number of traumata with regard to the North. Many of us have changed our opinions. We have become very sobered by the reality of the situation. All of us have thought a great deal about it. It is not inconceivable that our thoughts might be of use to the framers of legislation and those who engage in negotiation on this subject. It is no use saying, as has been suggested, that we must not rock the boat, that the time is not opportune, the wisest way is the way of silence. That is a counsel for children: it is not a counsel for the Upper House of the Irish Oireachtas. I should like to add my voice to that of Senator West who has repeated this many times. It would be a terrible judgment on us in time if everything that has happened in the North of Ireland were to pass without this Assembly having contributed a single word of commentary or of suggestion towards a solution.

I, too, agree with the two previous Senators. It looks to me, as a Northener on that geographical border, who has been here for no less than 14 years, that the opportunities to express ourselves have been few and far between. We usually sit here clothed in a garment of hypocrisy when it comes to the north-eastern counties. It is not often in my time here that a thing has become so serious that I entirely agree with the two previous speakers. This House which, I suppose, in theory at least measures up to the House of Lords in England should be able to discuss problems of this nature. I know the Leader of the House may laugh and scoff at this if he likes. That is his affair. I would remind him that his forebears were the architects of what we have today.

It may seem very strange for me to speak as I do this afternoon. It is more than the House or I could explain that there was so little discussion on this at times when things were not as hectic as they are today and that an opportunity was never offered to this House to discuss in cold sobriety what every Member of this House knew: that one day we would be confronted with what we are confronted with today, whether we like it or not.

Of course I know Nos. 1, 2, and 3 as on the Order Paper today are very important. But when blood is flowing in the north-eastern counties I have grave doubts if the other Twenty-six Counties of the Republic are as interested as we are. I happen to be from one of the nine counties of Ulster. From time to time I travel through the Twenty-six Counties and I had the audacity, or the privilege, if you like, to travel very recently through Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. I must say I enjoy the Leader of the House laughing at the speaker but I will tell you this: I went to these particular areas and I am sorry to say that the people could not care less about what was happening in the north-eastern counties.

I think the Senator——

I knew that stage would be reached. There is no trouble about my understanding you because I know what you are at. I know what you will do. I visited pubs, hotels and clubs. They did not think it even worth their while to turn on the radio or the television to see what was happening up North. I am afraid I feel exactly the same here today. The Government side are not worried or thinking in terms of that at all. They are thinking of something of a petty political nature.

Senator Trevor West has asked for something here. Will the Leader of the House say if he will give him exactly what he asks? I do not know whether he will or not. There is an overriding hand which will drive the Leader of the House to do it whether he likes it or not.

As far as points made by Senators West and Martin are concerned, I explained on the previous occasion that the wording of this motion is so set that it requires the attendance of a Minister to discuss it. Obviously I am not a free agent and it must depend on when a Minister—either the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs—will be available to attend.

I am not quite sure what Senator Brennan wants me to reply to. He finished with some kind of threat which I did not understand. He referred, in the course of his remarks, to petty political matters which, apparently, were on the Order Paper. I think there is only one new motion added to the Order Paper. That was added by his own party. I would agree with his description of it as a petty political matter, if he is referring to that particular motion. However, I have explained the position with regard to this motion. I will ensure that the remarks of the Senators are brought to the attention of both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I would be only too happy to have the motion debated whenever it can be arranged.