Dáil Éireann - Volume 333 - 24 March, 1982

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Taoiseach's US Visit.

3. Dr. FitzGerald asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his discussions with President Reagan.

4. Dr. FitzGerald asked the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

5. Mr. Spring asked the Taoiseach if he will outline the pledges, guarantees and constitutional arrangements he envisaged when he referred to these matters in his address at the White House, Washington, on Wednesday, 17 March 1982.

The Taoiseach: I propose, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to take Questions Nos. 3, 4 and 5 together.

Accompanied by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, I visited the United States from 15-17 March, in response to the kind invitation of President Reagan to meet him and to join him for luncheon in the White House on St. Patrick's Day.

I was glad to avail of the opportunity while in the United States to pay a visit to the Secretary-General of the United [330] Nations, Senor Perez de Cuellar, address the Economic Club of New York, hold separate discussions with Governor Carey, Senator Kennedy and other political leaders, and meet a representative group of the Friends of Ireland organisation in the United States Congress, headed by Speaker O'Neill and Congressman Foley.

Accompanying the President at our meeting in the White House, were Vice-President Bush, Secretary of State Haig, the National Security Adviser, Judge Clark, and the newly designated Ambassador of the United States to Ireland, Mr. Peter Dailey. During our discussions we had a useful exchange of views on a range of subjects, including the links between Ireland and the United States, the situation in Northern Ireland, United States investment in Ireland and aspects of international affairs. I invited the President to pay a visit to Ireland and he indicated a keen desire to do so at a mutually convenient time.

I saw my visit in the context of the intention, to which I referred here on 9 March, of seeking international backing for the Government's efforts to bring together all the parties involved in the tragedy of Northern Ireland, in an endeavour to bring about a durable settlement in a spirit of peace, reconciliation and accommodation for all the traditions in this country. I wished to dispel any doubt or confusion that might exist on Irish Government policy and to set out clearly what that policy is.

I indicated my belief that Britain should be encouraged to seek more positively and persuade more actively a change in attitudes and outlooks which would pave the way for the unity so ardently desired by the vast majority of the Irish people. I said that we had pledged ourselves to overcoming the obstacles to the further reconcilement of the two great traditions on our island and that, for our part, we would give, to that end, any pledge that may be sought, any guarantee that may be thought necessary and make unassailable constitutional arrangements for those in the Northern part of Ireland who may feel a special need for such provisions. I expressed the [331] hope that the great fund of goodwill for Ireland that exists in America would enable the objectives I have mentioned to be reflected in American policy.

The extent to which that ideal is already widely shared in the Congress of the United States may be seen from the St. Patrick's Day statement of the Friends of Ireland group. I welcome the renewal of their commitment to the goal of Irish unity, through reconciliation and on the basis of consent. Let me here welcome the declaration of support for the Friends of Ireland in America, included in the statement issued by President Reagan on the occasion of our meeting.

The president's statement also contained a number of other elements that will be a source of encouragement. I refer in particular to his words of support for the widening of Anglo-Irish co-operation instituted by my meeting with the British Prime Minister in December 1980. The President saw this as contributing to a process of reconciliation between the two traditions and between the two countries which he saw as the only basis for a lasting solution. The President also indicated the readiness of the United States Government to contribute in any way they can to such a solution. He also reiterated his appeal to all Americans with Ireland's interest at heart to refrain from assisting those who perpetuate violence. Finally, I welcome his strong and unequivocal support for American investment in Ireland—to the benefit of all our people.

I know that this latter statement will be of great assistance to the Industrial Development Authority in the stepped-up campaign they are mounting to attract industrial and services investment. I was glad to have the opportunity, through my address to the Economics Club of New York, to inaugurate this fresh effort. I am satisfied, and am happy to assure the House, that my speech on that occasion helped to correct the damage done by some unfortunate impressions conveyed on previous occasions and re-established Ireland as a country which offers a stable, welcoming and profitable environment for investment.

My discussions with the Secretary-General [332] of the United Nations, in addition to touching on Northern Ireland, ranged over a wide range of current topics in international affairs, including the role of the United Nations generally and in peace-keeping, the Middle East, Namibia, Afghanistan, Cyprus, the hostilities between Iran and Iraq, the problems of South-East Asia, especially Kampuchea, the problems in Central America, with particular reference to El Salvador, and the Law of the Sea Conference. In the course of what was a valuable exchange, I reiterated Ireland's total commitment to the role of the United Nations in the resolution of international conflict and in the advancement of human welfare throughout the world and informed him of the Government's positive response to the request for additional Irish troops for the UNIFIL force in Lebanon. The Secretary-General, for his part, paid tribute to the Irish commitment to the United Nations and its peace-keeping operations and to the work of Major General Callaghan, as Commander of UNIFIL.

Finally, I should like to express to President Reagan and to all those I met in the United States, my deep and sincere gratitude for the warmth of the welcome, and the generosity of the hospitality extended to us in the United States. I know that these are a token of the bonds of kinship that exist between Ireland and that great democracy.

I have had copies of my speech to the Economic Club of New York, my address in the White House, the statement made by President Reagan on St. Patrick's Day and the Joint St. Patrick's Day Statement of the Friends of Ireland laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Dr. FitzGerald: I should like, at the outset, to say, on behalf of my party, that we were glad that the Taoiseach, despite all the pressures on him in the immediate aftermath of his election to this office, decided to accept the invitation originally extended to me to lunch with President Reagan on St. Patrick's Day.

Of great practical importance, too, was his attendance at and speech to the dinner of the Economic Club in New York, [333] which club had originally asked me to address a distinguished audience of almost 1,000. Very many of these were directly or indirectly influential in the location of American investment outside the United States. The Taoiseach took full advantage of this opportunity to present to this audience the positive aspects of investment in Ireland and the unique capacity of this country, amongst the States of Northern Europe; for further development. I am ignoring his comments which, as everyone knows are without any foundation, suggesting that there was any failure on the part of the previous Government to pursue this course.

In the days before the Dáil met to select a Taoiseach, I was concerned that he should be aware, not only of the well-publicised invitation to lunch at the White House on St. Patrick's Day but also of this important opportunity in New York on the previous Monday. I am sure that he was informed of it so that, when he was making tentative plans to visit the United States, in the event of being elected Taoiseach, he might make provision for this important event also.

The Taoiseach: A question.

Dr. FitzGerald: With regard to events in Washington I want to say at the outset how delighted I am that President Reagan in his statement and the Friends of Ireland in their's condemned violence in the North and specifically asked Americans not to support violence, echoing the message brought to the United States from Ireland by elected politicians from both parts of the country throughout the past ten years. I was very pleased also to see the emphasis given in both statements——

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy FitzGerald, I realise there is a misunderstanding about this. Unfortunately, a statement made by the Taoiseach is followed by a statement from the Leader of the Opposition or a person nominated by the Opposition, but the Taoiseach must give prior notice when he intends to make [334] such a statement. There is a misunderstanding in that it was put down by way of a parliamentary question. I recognised this and I ensured there would be some flexibility to enable you to make a statement. It would be better if you could make it by way of a question, which would conform to the Standing Orders of the House.

Dr. FitzGerald: I am grateful to you for permitting me to make a statement, as agreed with you beforehand.

An Ceann Comhairle: I thought the Taoiseach would make a statement after Question Time.

Mr. Cluskey: On a point of order, is it the situation that the Taoiseach in the form of a reply to a question has made a statement as is the normal practice except during Question Time? It is the normal practice that a member of each party would have an opportunity of replying. Is that the position?

An Ceann Comhairle: No. The Taoiseach is answering a parliamentary question and he was asked to make a statement, but this is different from a situation where the Taoiseach might give prior notice to the Chair that he intended to make a statement. He did not give prior notice to that effect. Deputy FitzGerald came to me to see if arrangements could be made for the Taoiseach to make a statement at 3.30 p.m. today or 10.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, we were not able to arrange that because of the few minutes available and I exercised a little flexibility with regard to the reply by way of supplementary question by the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy FitzGerald. That is the issue at the moment.

Mr. Cluskey: I take it your flexibility will extend to this party.

An Ceann Comhairle: If I could do so without transgressing the rules and regulations, I would be very happy to do so.

Mr. Cluskey: You have already exercised [335] some flexibility with regard to Fine Gael.

The Taoiseach: I see this situation entirely differently. I have addressed to me Questions Nos. 3, 4 and 5 and I have answered them. We are at Question Time and I do not see any scope for statements by anybody. I suggest, A Ceann Comhairle, that you must adhere to the rules of Question Time.

Dr. FitzGerald: I do not propose to be silenced by the Taoiseach's manoeuvre. I had discussed the position with you beforehand and the question of whether a statement would be made now or later. It was on the basis of your telling me I could make a statement in reply that I decided not to postpone the question, the possibility of which we had discussed. My proposal to postpone the question if there was any doubt about my right of reply was on the basis that you would allow me to make a statement, which you assured me of in this House immediately before I spoke. Therefore, on that assurance I did not postpone the question. I must now continue with my statement.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy FitzGerald, when you consulted me about it, which was at 2.27 p.m., I said I would endeavour to find out if the Taoiseach would make a statement at 3.30 p.m. today or 10.30 a.m. tomorrow morning. My secretary endeavoured to find that out but in the time available before the Dáil resumed it was not possible to do so. I got a message to the Taoiseach and he said he would make a statement in answer to Question Nos. 3, 4 and 5——

The Taoiseach: I did not say anything about making a statement; I am answering questions.

An Ceann Comhairle: We are locked in this difficult situation.

Mr. Sherlock: The whole matter could be clarified now if the Taoiseach would say if he will make a statement either at 3.30 p.m. today or at 10.30 a.m. in the morning.

[336] Mr. Blaney: On a further point of order, may I request the Chair to adhere to what has been the time honoured practice of the rules of this House, regardless of the inconvenience it may cause due to misunderstandings or otherwise. If the rules are not adhered to, Deputy Cluskey and the Labour Party, Sinn Fein The Workers' Party and each of the three Independents will claim the same right. A statement was requested, a statement was made and questions may be asked about it but statements referring back to it may not be made.

Dr. FitzGerald: A Ceann Comhairle, I clarified with you beforehand before deciding whether or not to postpone the question that if the question were allowed and a statement made you would allow me to make a statement——

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Taoiseach will make a statement——

Mr. G. Collins: He has answered questions.

Dr. FitzGerald: The question I put to you was if the Taoiseach made a statement in reply to the question could I make a statement and you said you would allow me to do so. There was no ambiguity about it. I then said I would not postpone my question. That was the exchange between us and I am not going to accept a situation where the Taoiseach is allowed to make his statement and I am deprived of making a reply. I do not think you intended that and, on reflection, I think you will want to honour the undertaking which you gave me.

An Ceann Comhairle: There was no attempt on my part to thwart your efforts here. I tried to accommodate you where I could, but we were confronted with this situation at 2.27 p.m. We had not time to ascertain whether the Taoiseach would make a statement at 3.30 p.m. today or at 10.30 in the morning. That is under Standing Order No. 38. A parliamentary question was put down asking him to make a statement. A parliamentary question [337] does not give the questioner the right to make a statement. I thought I could accommodate you by asking you to phrase your statement by way of a supplementary question——

Dr. FitzGerald: The question was not as you have stated; it was to ask the Taoiseach if he would make a statement and that required an answer yes or no. It then transpired that the Taoiseach was contemplating making a statement in reply to the question. I then suggested I would postpone my question in those circumstances so that the matter could be considered as to whether the Taoiseach would be making a statement today or tomorrow. It transpired the Taoiseach was not prepared to do that and he was going to make a statement in reply to the question. I then asked you if I could make a statement in reply and you said I could. On that assurance I allowed the question to stand because, as you know, I intended to withdraw the question if there was any possibility of my not being allowed to reply. I took your assurance I could make a statement and I think the House can only proceed on the basis that assurances of that kind, given in accordance with the Ceann Comhairle's powers, should be honoured. I must ask that I be allowed to complete my statement as authorised by you.

Mr. Sherlock: There is a question on today's Order Paper to ask the Taoiseach if he will make a statement on his discussions with President Reagan and I understood that a reply was needed either in the affirmative or the negative.

The Taoiseach: The three questions on the Order Paper today by Deputy FitzGerald are in the normal form in which these questions are put down. They are simply questions addressed to me at Question Time. This form of words “if he will make a statement” are included in questions here day after day. I am answering Questions Nos. 3, 4 and 5 on the Order Paper. I have taken them together, answered them at some length and this is Question Time. I must ask you, [338] a Cheann Comhairle, to abide by the rules of Question Time. For instance, on the Order Paper to-day there is a question by Deputy Creed “To ask the Minister for Agriculture if he has any plans to restrict the export of live cattle; and if he will make a statement on the matter”. That is a normal question at Question Time in this House.

Mr. Cluskey: There is considerable confusion as to what transpired between you and Deputy FitzGerald. In the interests of the House and in trying to restore some sanity to the proceedings, would the Taoiseach state whether he will avail of an opportunity at 3.30 p.m. of even repeating his reply in the form of a statement to the three questions and allow an opportunity, as is normal, for a reply to be made?

The Taoiseach: When this matter came up first, a question was addressed to me by Deputy FitzGerald and I took it to be the normal procedure that I would explain to the House about my American visit. I have been following that procedure. The suggestion has been put by Deputy Cluskey that I would avail of the normal statement procedure. I would certainly consider doing something like that, but not today — perhaps tomorrow morning.

Mr. Cluskey: Tomorrow morning then.

The Taoiseach: It would be the same statement again.

Mr. Cluskey: The Taoiseach has told the House that he will give serious consideration to making a statement, say, tomorrow morning?

Mr. Harte: Is is not normal procedure that when the Taoiseach goes abroad he makes a statement to the House when he comes back? In these circumstances would it not be in accordance with normal courtesy to the Opposition to have answered today's questions with a “yes” or “no” and then, at half past three, to [339] make a formal statement? That would have been the normal courtesy we would expect from the Taoiseach. However, for reasons perhaps known to himself, the Taoiseach decided to do it differently.

Dr. FitzGerald: If we have the Taoiseach's assurance that he will make a statement tomorrow morning, I am prepared to waive my right now.——

Mr. G. Collins: The Deputy has no right.

Mr. Blaney: The normal practice, to facilitate the orderly conduct of the business of the House, is to refer such matters to the Whips for their consideration.

Dr. FitzGerald: No.

Mr. Blaney: Such statements have been asked for in the past, they have been given and there has not been debate.

Mr. Spring: I put down Question No. 5 but I am not satisfied that the Taoiseach has dealt with that question in his reply. I ask him once again to answer it. In his reply today he repeated what he said in the White House last Wednesday — indeed he used the very same words, the same text. I am asking him to outline the pledges, the guarantees and the constitutional arrangements he envisaged when he referred to those matters in the White House?

The Taoiseach: Really, I must ask you to decide where we are going. In replying to Questions Nos. 3, 4 and 5, I followed normal procedure. I gave a fairly lengthy reply to the three questions. If we wish to proceed by way of supplementary questions now, I am perfectly prepared to do it. Alternatively, I am prepared to accept Deputy Cluskey's suggestion and consider between now and tomorrow morning whether I should resort to the other procedure of making a statement to the House; but I cannot answer questions here, have supplementaries on them and then make another statement [340] tomorrow morning. That would reduce procedure to a farce.

Dr. FitzGerald: As long as the position is that the agreement to make a statement will be vindicated tomorrow morning, that is all right. However, I could not now stop on the basis that the Taoiseach will consider doing something, because if the Taoiseach then decided not to, I would be left in the position of not being able to carry out what I was assured I would be able to carry out.

An Ceann Comhairle: You have been misunderstanding me about your parliamentary question. A parliamentary question is not covered by Standing Order No. 38. I think the mistake was in putting in a parliamentary question to get the Taoiseach to make a statement. It should have been arranged under Standing Order No. 38 for the Taoiseach to make a statement and persons nominated by the Opposition could then make statements in reply.

Dr. FitzGerald: I came to you and suggested that if there was any question of the Taoiseach having misinterpreted this question and having decided to answer it by making a statement, I would withdraw the question. The only reason I did not withdraw the question to enable that procedure to be followed was that you assured me that if the Taoiseach decided to make a statement in reply to the question I would be allowed to make a statement in reply. I then said to you, on the basis of that assurance, that I was prepared to let the question stand. I will not accept being trapped in a position where, having got that assurance, and having allowed the question to stand, I am precluded from either raising the matter with the Whips directly or persisting for a reply. It must be one thing or the other: either we get an assurance there will be a statement in the morning or I will seek my reply now.

An Ceann Comhairle: A reply to your satisfaction could not be obtained in time.

[341] Dr. FitzGerald: I got a reply to my satisfaction when you said, “I will allow you to make a statement if the Taoiseach makes a statement in reply to the question”. I accepted that and said, “Right, I will not withdraw the question”.

An Ceann Comhairle: There is a misunderstanding between us. I am not in a position to decide that, to break the rules of the House by allowing a statement in reply to a parliamentary question. I am not trying to enter into a controversy with you. We have a little misunderstanding. In the few minutes of discussion we had we could not get clarification in time.

Dr. FitzGerald: Can I now withdraw the question retrospectively? You led me to believe that if the question were answered by way of statement I could make a statement in reply. That is clear to me. On that basis I said to you, “I will then change my mind and not postpone the question”. You knew that and you allowed me to proceed on the basis that the Taoiseach would make a statement and that I would be allowed to make a statement in reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: It occurred about a second after 2.30 p.m. It was a very difficult situation. I will ask the Taoiseach now if he will give an assurance that he will make some kind of statement tomorrow morning. Already we have wasted 35 minutes. Perhaps we could resolve the matter.

The Taoiseach: I am under no obligation to do anything. I have answered Questions Nos. 3, 4 and 5 on the Order Paper. If you so wish, I am ready to answer supplementary questions but in response to a reasonable suggestion by Deputy Cluskey I am prepared to consider making a statement on my American visit tomorrow morning. That is as far as I will go.

An Ceann Comhairle: Will Deputy FitzGerald accept that?

Dr. FitzGerald: What am I to accept? [342] The Taoiseach said he will consider making a statement. In that event, if I withdraw my question and if the Taoiseach does not make such a statement, I will have been precluded from making the statement you said I would be allowed to make. May I point out that I went to you some time before the beginning of Question Time and I was asked to remain in your office while the matter was being investigated. I remained there for ten minutes. My understanding was that an official would come back to me before the beginning of Question Time. I came down and found that Question Time had begun while I was still in your office waiting for a reply.

An Ceann Comhairle: We endeavoured to meet your wishes. I am not trying to thwart you in your work in this House. Far from it, I will facilitate you in every way, but you leave me in a difficult situation. I have asked the Taoiseach if he will consider making a statement tomorrow morning. That would satisfy both Opposition parties. Deputy Fitzpatrick, is it a point of order?

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): It is as much a point of order as a lot of other points of order that have been made here today. I am suggesting that the Taoiseach might do the big thing. He sees that there has been a misunderstanding between you and the Leader of Fine Gael which he can resolve if he will say he will make a statement tomorrow morning.

Mr. Blaney: May I ask the Ceann Comhairle to request the Leader of Fine Gael to read the rules of this House? He does not seem to know whether he is coming or going.

An Ceann Comhairle: It is more my fault than that of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Harte: Could we have some order, including order from yourself?

An Ceann Comhairle: I am aware of Standing Order No. 38.

[343] Mr. Harte: When the Taoiseach is considering the statement he will make tomorrow morning will he explain to the House his statement in the United States saying that he was elevating Northern Ireland to the——

An Ceann Comhairle: That is not a point of order and it is not relevant to this issue at the moment.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: We have to go on to Question No. 6.

Mr. Sherlock: On a point of order, when your were referring to the matter of the right of reply you referred to both Opposition parties.

An Ceann Comhairle: I am sorry, Deputy. I may have said that but I recognise there are three Opposition parties.

(Interruptions.)

Dr. FitzGerald: We are waiting for a reply by the Taoiseach to Deputy Fitzpatrick's question.

Mr. Cluskey: On a point of order, having availed of several——

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): I made a suggestion——

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling on Deputy Cluskey to make a point of order.

Mr. Cluskey: Having availed of several points of order over the last 20 to 25 minutes, could I ask the Chair a question in regard to the ruling of one of his predecessors? Are points of order in order during Question Time?

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: They are not. Deputy Fitzpatrick asked a question on which we have reached an impasse.

[344] Mr. Fitzpatrick (Cavan-Monaghan): The Taoiseach is the Leader of the House. He is the Leader of the Government. He sees that a crux has arisen here due to a misunderstanding. I have made what I think is a reasonable suggestion. He has not answered. I would ask him to accept it.

The Taoiseach: I will consider it favourably.

(Interruptions.)

An Ceann Comhairle: I am calling Question No. 6. We will have no more supplementary questions.

Miss Flaherty: A Cheann Comhairle, this is a genuine point of order.

(Interruptions.)

Dr. FitzGerald: I wish to put on the record of the House that the misunderstanding that occurred between us was due solely to goodwill on your part in trying to be helpful. I hope nothing I have said suggests the contrary. But it has created a situation where, as the Chair recognises, I was led not to withdraw the question but to allow it to stand. I rely on the Chair to protect my right to continue with this statement tomorrow at 10.30 when it arises again.

An Ceann Comhairle: If I may say so, the fundamental error was in putting down the parliamentary question.

(Interruptions.)

Dr. FitzGerald: That is an improper remark. I came to the Chair on the matter. I asked for guidance and suggested I would withdraw my question if there was any possibility of it being misinterpreted. Following that discussion I was left sitting there with the House meeting without my being told, through a misunderstanding. I then asked the Chair if the statement were made in reply to questions could I reply and the Chair said “I will allow you to make a statement” and I am relying on that assurance and will continue to rely on it. I am willing at this stage to let Question Time proceed. But [345] I am relying on that assurance and will seek, whatever the circumstances, to have it implemented tomorrow morning.