Taoiseach's 1974 statement on Northern Ireland and UK response

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Taoiseach's statement to the Dáil[edit]

This is the text of the statement of the Taoiseach on 13 March 1974 to the Dáil concerning the status of Northern Ireland.

At the Sunningdale Conference the following declarations were made:

The Irish Government fully accepted and solemnly declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change in that status.

The British Government solemnly declared that it was, and would remain, their policy to support the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. The present status of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the United Kingdom. If in the future the majority of the people of Northern Ireland should indicate a wish to become part of a united Ireland, the British Government would support that wish.

The Government are aware that their declaration has been the subject of some controversy and that misconceptions have arisen in relation to it. The Government were advised that as the declaration was the subject of legal proceedings firstly in the High Court and later on appeal to the Supreme Court it would not be proper for them to comment on the matters that had been raised until the issues ceased to be sub judice. The judgments in the Supreme Court have now been delivered and the Government are glad of the opportunity which is thus afforded to them to clarify misunderstandings and correct certain misconceptions.

All the parties at the Sunningdale Conference were fully aware of the divergent political attitudes which were represented at the conference. They were concerned however not to accentuate those divergences, but to find ways to bring about accord in this island. With this end in view each Government in making its declaration was concerned to assist in the process of reconciliation which the conference was endeavouring to promote.

Instead of indulging in essentially arid and potentially divisive arguments as to the rights and wrongs of historic events now long past, the Irish Government considered that they should concern themselves with the present and look to the future, and see how best they could serve the common cause of securing peace and justice in Northern Ireland. The Government were well aware that differences exist in the constitutional law of the Republic of Ireland and of the United Kingdom as to the status of Northern Ireland but they considered that it would not be helpful to debate those constitutional differences.

They considered that peace and progress could best be secured by allaying fears which, however unjustified the Government felt them to be, were nonetheless very real. Their object therefore in making their solemn declaration to the conference was to reassure those in the majority community of Northern Ireland who were apprehensive of the new institutions which were being created—the power sharing Executive and the Council of Ireland. The Government therefore declared that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland desired a change in that status. The declaration was of course referring to the de facto status of Northern Ireland, that is to say the factual position, to which reference is made in recent judgments in the High Court and the Supreme Court. The factual position of Northern Ireland is that it is within the United Kingdom and my Government accept this as a fact.

I now therefore solemnly reaffirm that the factual position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom cannot be changed except by a decision of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This declaration, I believe, is in accordance with and follows from the resolve of all the democratic parties in the Republic that the unity of Ireland is to be achieved only by peaceful means and by consent.

The declarations of the Irish and British Governments, and the arrangements agreed at Sunningdale, will be incorporated in a formal agreement to be signed at the formal stage of the conference. This formal agreement will be brought before the Dáil and registered with the United Nations.

I believe that what I have said here today represents the view of this House. I hope it will also be heard across political and community divisions by all who want to see an end for ever to conflict and dissension in any part of Ireland.

All of us who live today in the island of Ireland have inherited an immensely difficult and complex problem which has brought suffering and death to innocent men and women in each generation. It is a problem which no previous generation in our history— whatever else it may have achieved— was able to resolve. The way is open to us who live in Ireland at this particular time to begin to resolve it. The House can be assured that this work, pursued in recent years, will be carried forward by my Government with energy and resolution.

Statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland[edit]

This is the text of the statement of the United Kingdom Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr Rees, made on 13 March 1974.

I have read with interest the statement made by Mr Cosgrave today on the status of Northern Ireland: Her Majesty's Government have made it clear in the Queen's Speech that they will play their part together with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of the Republic of Ireland in developing cooperation in matters of mutual interest and in bringing violence to an end. It was a matter of regret to her Majesty's Government that misunderstanding arose on that part of the paragraph of the Sunningdale communiqué in which the Government of the Irish Republic stated its views on the status of Northern Ireland.

I very much welcome, therefore, the statement which has been made by Mr Cosgrave, which recognizes that the factual position of Northern Ireland is that it is within the United Kingdom and solemnly affirms that this position cannot be changed except by a decision of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. This is the position which is clearly set out in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act.

We must now all work together to give effect to the proposals in the Sunningdale communiqué. The communiqué covers many areas which are vital to future progress and stability in the two parts of Ireland and not least to achieving an end to violence.

It rests upon a willingness to work together in friendship and with a clear understanding that the implementation of all parts of that agreement can contribute very significantly to the restoration of real peace and prosperity throughout Ireland.

Statement by the UK Opposition Spokesman on Northern Ireland[edit]

This is the text of the statement of the United Kingdom's Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, Mr Pym, made on 13 March 1974.

I am very glad that following the judgments in the Supreme Court in Dublin, it has been possible for Mr Cosgrave to reiterate and reaffirm the Irish Republic's position on the status of Northern Ireland namely that Northern Ireland is and remains part of the United Kingdom. This status permits of no alteration unless and until a majority of the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise. I have no doubt that this reaffirmation by Mr Cosgrave should allay the unjustified fears that have been expressed by some people in recent months. There can be no cause for anyone to doubt the good faith of the Government of the Irish Republic.