Jim Molyneaux – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Jim Molyneaux, the then Leader of the Ulster Unionists and the MP for Lagan Valley, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Spence) will not expect me to follow him on the subject of Sunday trading hours. He will not expect me to support what he said. I imagine that we shall find ourselves in opposite Division Lobbies in the coming Session.

I make no complaint against the Prime Minister for her omission of any reference to that section of the Gracious Speech which mentioned Northern Ireland, because I appreciate that she would not wish to go beyond what is carefully set out in the Gracious Speech. I trust that her silence and failure to refer to that section—again I am not blaming her—is a sign that she does not have a closed mind, especially on the outcome of the Anglo-Irish talks. The Leader of the Opposition and I are in the same ​ position in one regard: we are not in the know about those talks. I trust that the Prime Minister will not disregard our views, or those of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who I hope will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or any advice that we may give in the coming critical days.

We welcome the sentence in the Gracious Speech at the opening of the paragraph on Northern Ireland which pledges the Government’s support for the security forces. There is a matching statement in the international section of the Gracious Speech, in which the Government promise to

“make vigorous efforts to combat international terrorism.”

As terrorism in Northern Ireland is plainly one element in the international terrorist scene, Her Majesty’s Government have a right to expect unconditional support for their efforts from all civilised nations without price tags being attached.

We trust that there is no truth in the report that during the Anglo-Irish discussions earlier—I emphasise “earlier”—the two Governments considered a barter arrangement under which the quid pro quo for the United Kingdom would be the promise of some co-operation from the Government of the Irish Republic in return for significant concessions at the expense of the people of Northern Ireland.

I repeat that that may have been discussed earlier, but it can hardly be a factor in the light of the known assessment by the Army and the police that any such undertaking by the British Government would be worthless and meaningless. That is not intended to be a hostile comment. I say that because one of the obvious defects in any such undertaking—and only one—is the obstacle to effective joint action between the Irish army and the Irish police, because the Irish army does not have powers which would make co-operation with the Gardai effective, nor does it want those powers.

People talk glibly about effective co-operation between the security forces on either side of the frontier. It is nonsense which no one should attempt to deny because of the defect I have mentioned. It is sheer folly to imagine that any Dublin Government could deliver on anti-terrorist promises. That is now recognised by all involved, because, given the proportional representation electoral system in Dublin, no Government have a stable base in the Parliament of the Irish Republic.

The Gracious Speech says that the Government

“will seek to improve further their co-operation with the Government of the Irish Republic.”

We assume that that means bringing up to a level which would be regarded as normal relations between two neighbouring sovereign, friendly nations. If that is what is meant by that phrase, Ulster Unionists will agree, and the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I said so in a document which we delivered to the Prime Minister. We recognise the enormity of the task of bringing relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic up to what we, and I believe all civilised nations, would regard as the norm.

It might be prudent to take as a guide an earlier phrase from the Gracious Speech, because it is a more modest suggestion. The phrase is contained in the international section and it talks about trying to establish “more normal relations” with another foreign sovereign state. That more ​ modest objective would be prudent, because there are so many obstacles to remove before we can have a normal relationship with the Irish Republic. I shall list some of the problems. The first is the territorial claim by one neighbouring friendly state which is unique in western Europe and the Western world. The second is the habit and practice of the Irish Republic consorting with unaligned states on, for example, major international issues such as the Falklands war. The third is a regrettable tendency to drag Her Majesty’s Government, whether it be Labour or Conservative, before international courts, usually on trumped-up charges. The fourth is the fact, which makes some of us despair, that they make rather hysterical protests over accidental, minor frontier infringements.

Those are but a few of the obstacles to the normal relationship, which must be removed before we can start to talk about the unique relationship beloved by Mr. Haughey. We are prepared to support Her Majesty’s Government in removing those road blocks, and removed they must be before anyone can contemplate a degree of interference or influence in another’s internal affairs.
We have never sought to interfere in the internal affairs of the Irish Republic. Criticisms are made by others, but we have taken the view—I think that I speak for Unionist parties, in the plural—that whatever is decided by the people of the Irish Republic is good enough for us, that it is a matter for them, that they are free to make their choice, and that we respect their freedom to do so.
Internal affairs are mentioned in the phrase of the Gracious Speech to which I previously referred. The words used are:

“widely acceptable arrangements for the devolution of power”.

It is obvious that all democratic arrangements and structures have to be acceptable to a given majority, or, to put it in another way, to the greater number of people. But I trust that we can assume that the words “widely acceptable” do not in any way imply or suggest that any relatively small group or party has the right to veto the granting to the people of Northern Ireland of the same rights as are enjoyed by their fellow citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. Who could object to that proposition? Were Her Majesty’s Government to concentrate on that laudable objective, and were they to step off the treadmill of initiative after initiative, much good would follow.

The latest example of what not to do is the current Anglo-Irish discussions. It has been one of the longest running ventures. Although it is believed by some that the talks began about 10 months ago, the initiative dates back to at least early 1982. In that year, one of the designers of the project was good enough to reveal that the next time they would have to be much more devious—that was the word used by a person in high places—than in certain other ill-fated experiments, in the hope that the majority of people in Northern Ireland would not spot the hidden traps. I am not quite as naive as that person would appear to think.

The initiative, dating from January 1982, was interrupted for six short weeks after the Prime Minister’s realistic response to questions on the evening of the last Anglo-Irish summit in November 1984. Much criticism has already been heaped on the head of the Prime Minister by some speakers in the debate. She has been accused of choosing presentational options rather than solid proposals for legislation. I would not fault the Prime Minister on her ​ presentation in November 1984, because it achieved something that was very important—stability in Northern Ireland.

Unionists, Nationalists, Catholics and Protestants said to themselves, “At least we now know where we stand. There is no point in haggling and squabbling over something that is not going to happen. Let us get on with working together and living together.” That was one of the great achievements of the Prime Minister’s presentation, and if she would keep up that good work I would find no fault with her. But there were those, even at that time, in the governmental machine—I use that term deliberately—who resented her words to a greater extent than they were resented by the Dublin Government. By the end of the six weeks the tram had been put back on the rails, and it has trundled along ever since, jumping the points occasionally, but still lurching in the same general direction.

It would be a gross understatement to say that all the attendant suspense and suspicion have seriously damaged confidence, and nowhere is that truth more evident than in the economic and employment fields. The Gracious Speech concludes its reference to Northern Ireland with the stated intention

“to create and sustain employment”.

The present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has rightly declared that those aims can be achieved only if stability is restored. Only yesterday the Northern Ireland Economic Council advised, or warned, him that on present form the situation will get worse, not better, in an economic sense. What else could one expect, given the present political and constitutional uncertainty?

That uncertainty will be increased if Her Majesty’s Government yield to the pressure to establish a structure to give any foreign nation a role in administering or governing Northern Ireland—a device which would demolish completely any written or verbal assurance that the status of Northern Ireland would not be affected. It would be clear to anyone with any common sense that the act of setting up a structure, with a permanent secretariat, was a clear contradiction of all the earlier assurances. Any such device would have a disastrous effect on the Northern Ireland economy, on security and, worst of all, on relations between the two sides of the Northern Ireland community. The effect, dare I say, would be utterly devastating for the political parties upon which so much will depend in the future.