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House of Commons

Thursday 12 January 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill

(By Order) Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 19 January.

Avon Light Rail Transit Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 19 January.

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Maginnis : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

2. Mr. Flannery : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

4. Mr. Barry Field : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the work of the security forces over the Christmas holiday.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King) : During the past year 93 people died as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland. These included 39 members of the security forces and 54 civilians of whom one third were believed to have been terrorists. The remainder were civilians with no connection with the security forces. There have been no deaths so far this year. During the recent period, including Christmas, as throughout 1988, the security forces continued to act with determination and courage. This has resulted in a significant number of people being charged with serious offences, while some 550 weapons, over 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 10,500 lbs of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland.

The Garda Siochana has recovered over 300 weapons, about 140,000 rounds of ammunition, 1,000 lbs of explosives and 380 gallons of nitrobenzene. In addition, a substantial find was made in county Offaly on 4 January which included over 35 mortar bombs containing a large amount of Semtex explosive. The House may know that

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there was a further significant discovery this morning near Dundalk of an amount of ammonium nitrate and nitrobenzene.

Mr. Maginnis : The Secretary of State, like many of us, will be aware that the figures that he quoted give very little satisfaction to the people of Northern Ireland. There has been a steady increase in the number of deaths in the past three years. The "significant" finds of more than 500 weapons are less significant nowadays in comparison with the weapons now available and those that were available in the past. Following the Secretary of State's visit to the west of my constituency earlier this week, will he ensure that no change is made to the permanent vehicle check points there? I hope that any changes that he proposes will be discussed properly with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and receive its support, as I am certain that the removal of check points would not.

Mr. King : Obviously I endorse the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. Although the number of deaths is the same as the figure for the year before, that figure is far too high. At the same time, as he knows, we are in the teeth of what the IRA intend to be a sustained campaign, of which the chief constable of the RUC made mention. It would be right to pay tribute to the efforts of the security forces over the past few months in preventing what could have been, and what was forecast to be, an appalling end to the year. That did not actually happen, but that does not mean that there is any room for complacency. It is right to recognise the significant number of finds of arms and explosives and the significant number of arrests where charges have been preferred as well.

As to the hon. Gentleman's particular point, he knows that I will not give him a blanket answer from the Dispatch Box, but it is vital that we make the very best use of available resources. That may not always mean leaving security checks in a static position, which takes up a lot of manpower and can often be easily bypassed.

Mr. Maginnis : What will happen if the security check points are removed?

Mr. King : The security forces may be more effective and more able to bring help if they operate in a mobile fashion. I take seriously the need for the closest possible understanding on any such matters. Mr. Maginnis rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am the first to appreciate the seriousness of Northern Ireland questions, but I ask right hon. and hon. Members to make them brief so that we may progress more quickly through the Order Paper.

Mr. Maginnis : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I have few opportunities to speak as a Member of Parliament for Northern Ireland. The security situation is extremely--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to challenge me. I am anxious to call as many right hon. and hon. Members aa possible. Long supplementary questions lead to long answers, which slows our progress through the Order Paper.

Mr. Flannery : During the many years that several right hon. and hon. Members have been in the House, whenever security questions have been asked a state of deadlock has been revealed and we seem to get no further. It is always

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said that we shall defeat the IRA militarily, but politics are never discussed. As one who is deeply frustrated at that situation, may I suggest that the Minister call together the political parties of Northern Ireland--for example, the church groupings--at a conference to discuss not only defeating the IRA but the political situation as it is viewed by the various Northern Ireland groupings? Is that not the right way forward rather than sterile discussions about what armaments will be deployed?

Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the pointlessness of the campaign of violence, which only damages the prospects for peace for all the people in the Province and brings misery and sadness in its wake. I am anxious to encourage the maximum dialogue, in whatever form is possible, between all constitutional parties supporting the democratic route and not subscribing to violence.

Mr. Field : Do the numbers of those killed in Northern Ireland given by my right hon. Friend include the innocent grandfather and granddaughter who were murdered returning home from a game of bingo? Do they include the two elderly people who were rewarded by an IRA bomb for their kindness in calling on a neighbour? Do they include the two people killed outside the swimming pool in the Falls road? How many innocent victims are included in the figures given by my right hon. Friend?--[ Hon. Members :-- "They were all innocent."] How many innocents were killed by what the IRA obscenely calls a mistake?

Mr. King : I confirm that the figures include just those cases to which my hon. Friend refers and many others--including Gillian Johnston, and the schoolgirl on the school bus who, fortunately was not killed. They were just some of the casaulties of the totally callous campaign being waged by the IRA. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the evilness of that campaign of violence.

Mr. Mallon : Is the Secretary of State aware of the blanket searches currently taking place in Armagh, Derry and Belfast? If so, will he confirm whether individual searches are the result of reasonable suspicion, or are those blanket searches being used to cover up targets and sources of specific information? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is outrageous that innocent people should suffer and flies in the face of every precept of natural and legal justice?

Mr. King : No, I confirm that there is no question of searches being made on a random basis. They are made only when there is good reason to relieve that there is cause for concern. Recently I received a complaint about the searching of a number of houses in west Belfast. Unfortunately, it was necessary to search 43 houses, but seven hides were found in them. In five of those hides nine mortars, 1,500 rounds of ammunition and 400 lbs. of home-made explosives were discovered. I make no apology for those searches. If they will save a grandfather and granddaughter going home from bingo from being mutilated and being blown clean across the road and into a nearby field they will continue to be made.

What is absolutely outrageous--I agree with the hon. Gentleman--is that innocent people are having their homes uprooted because evil men are intimidating and

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threatening them and forcing them to hide explosives and weapons in their houses. That is what is outrageous, and the House must stand as one against such practices.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the question put to him by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and give an unequivocal assurance today that he will not overrule the recommendations of the RUC, which knows better than the Army how to safeguard the lives of individuals on the border? May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the serious situation arising as a result of the closure of part-time police stations? As he is well aware, when the police withdraw from them those police stations become assault targets--two have been bombed already--and much manpower is needed to search them before they are re-occupied. Will the right hon. Gentleman study the position? Will the right hon. Gentleman also consider the dates of the two coming elections? Why should the security forces have to be employed on two days when the elections could be held on one day, thus easing the burden on the security forces?

Mr. King : On the first point, I cannot add much to what I said to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). I take seriously the RUC's concerns in any such matters. At the same time I know that how best to use available resources is a matter of real concern to those involved in security so as to create maximum uncertainty for terrorists, which in turn creates maximum security for the people whom the security forces are seeking to protect. Having said that, however, I take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously.

I also take seriously the hon. Gentleman's point about part-time police stations. None of the issues is easy. It is a matter of deciding on the best use of manpower, which stations it is most sensible to man on a full- time basis and where stations are needed. We are looking at that matter carefully.

I see no prospect of changing the dates of the elections to make them coincide, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about the additional burden placed on the security forces.

Ms. Mowlam : I am sure that the Secretary of State will acknowledge the difficulties when a street is searched and everybody becomes confused and upset, but in view of his acknowledgment of the increased number of house searches will he clarify what he means by non-random?

Mr. King : Non-random means when the security forces have good reason to believe that a house may contain hidden munitions. For instance, I hope that the hon. Lady will understand the outrage felt by any resident in the Creggan in Derry at the death of the two good neighbours and the way in which terrorists deliberately intimidate ordinary people into hiding weapons, insisting that they do so. That is intolerable and I hope that the House will not hesitate to make it clear where the blame for the problem really lies.

Sir Antony Buck : Is my right hon. Friend aware that it will be a matter of gratification to hon. Members on both sides that he has paid such a full tribute to our security

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forces? Does he agree that probably no forces but ours could sustain the burdens that they have sustained over such a long period with such amazing forbearance?

Mr. King : Any holder of my office must be careful as one never knows what problem or tragedy may occur. None the less, it is right to pay tribute to the achievement of the security forces in the past few months. All the intelligence indicated that the IRA was determined to step up its campaign. Its members tried a whole range of different attacks of one sort or another, and the efforts of the security forces were beyond praise.

Although we cannot be certain about the future, I can assure the House that morale is high and that the security forces will do everything in their power to ensure that their performance is maintained.

Anglo-Irish Agreement

3. Ms. Short : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will list the reforms introduced under the Anglo-Irish Agreement which have improved conditions for the nationalist community in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : Many programmes and measures have been introduced of value to all the people of Northern Ireland, including the minority, since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. Among the items which have benefited from discussion through the conference are the establishment of an independent commission for police complaints, the repeal of the Flags and Emblems Act, new legislation aimed at securing full equality of opportunity in employment, the establishment of the international fund, the extension of the franchise for assembly and district council elections and the publication of the RUC code of conduct.

Ms. Short : The question for this House is what political strategy we have to end the bloodshed in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members seem to think that they have made a contribution when they denounce it, but it has been going on for 20 years and the prospects are that it will continue for another 20. Do we have a political strategy to bring peace to Northern Ireland? The Anglo-Irish Agreement was meant to be the strategy to reduce support for the men of violence by bringing in serious reforms for the disaffected community. Blanket searches create disaffection and support for paramilitary activity--that we know.

The Government seem to have given up. If they give up on any political strategy of reform and improvement and go for repression, things will get worse-- [Hon. Members :-- "Ask a question."] You are a fine lot to talk about that. What is the hope in the long term? Do the Government believe that this level of violence will go on indefinitely?

Dr. Mawhinney : In keeping with your injunction, Mr. Speaker, I will tell the hon. Lady that the Government are not embarked on any act or policy of repression. The acts and policies of repression in Northern Ireland are carried out by the Provisional IRA, not by the democratically elected Government backed by this House. The surest way of making the situation in Northern Ireland worse would be to take the hon. Lady's advice and take the security forces out and the British troops back home.

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Mr. Nicholas Baker : Does my hon. Friend agree that the progress made by the Anglo-Irish Agreement is constructive and useful? Will he confirm that the policy recommended by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) of removing the security forces from Northern Ireland- -

Ms. Short : That is not my view.

Mr. Baker : --would be especially inappropriate in the light of the present need to remove the explosives and discover the ammunition dumped and hidden by terrorists in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney : Yes, indeed. It is obviously for the benefit of all the people in Northern Ireland that the British and Irish Governments should have good relations, that those relations should extend to co- operation in security--as was demonstrated by my right hon. Friend's answer --and that the legitimate concerns that both Governments share be dealt with to the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland.

Ms. Short : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister and the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) suggested that my view--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I cannot be held responsible for what Ministers or hon. Members say. I know that the hon. Lady feels aggrieved and misinterpreted, but I cannot help her.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Pursuant to the question asked by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), as the Anglo-Irish Agreement was intended to bring peace and stability will the Minister tell us what actions and reforms have brought benefit to the British people in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney : The list that I gave in my main answer-- [Interruption.] --contributes to the answer that the hon. Gentleman seeks, as did the information given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the first answer. The House should note that the hon. Gentleman is showing an unwillingness to accept that security co-operation, as evidenced by the information that my right hon. Friend has just given to the House, is of benefit to the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder : Is it not correct that since the date of the Anglo- Eire Agreement the extradition arrangements with the Irish Republic have worsened?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman knows that we have extradition arrangements with the Irish Republic but that from time to time we have certain difficulties over them. [Interruption.] However, the understanding which underlies them and will make them more effective is well in place.

Mr. McNamara : Is the Minister aware that those hon. Members who are catcalling at his attitude towards the Anglo-Irish Agreement have, as their natural allies, the Provisional IRA and that both groups who adopt that attitude have no real interest in conciliation between the communities in Northern Ireland, which is the basis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? What every hon. Member should want, need and desire for the people of Northern Ireland and for the safety of our security forces--because it

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represents the best hope for the island of Ireland and for our relations with the Republic of Ireland--is the proper strengthening and pursuit of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Dr. Mawhinney : It is obvious that what will benefit the people of Northern Ireland, and it will emerge from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, lies both in the security realm, which the hon. Gentleman has recognised, and in the political realm, whereby we can devise arrangements for the future of Northern Ireland which command the widespread support of the substantial majority of people on both sides of the community. That is what we are aiming to achieve and that is what this House supports.

Mr. Leigh : In view of the controversial views of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) on the "Troops out" movement--

Ms. Short : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I know that the hon. Lady is aggrieved because she thinks that she has been misinterpreted, but I cannot be held responsible for what hon. Members say.

Ms. Short : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Very well. What is the hon. Lady's point of order?

Ms. Short : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. This is the third attempt wrongly to describe my views on Northern Ireland. Like the majority of British people, I believe that there should be a political settlement and that Britain should politically withdraw from Northern Ireland. It is not my view-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I know what the hon. Lady said.

Mr. Leigh : I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Clearly I was not heard the first time. In view of the controversial views on the "Troops out" movement that have been tendered by the hon. Member for Ladywood--

Ms. Short : That is not what I said.

Mr. Leigh : Can my hon. Friend think of any policy less likely to help the nationalist community than withdrawing the troops unilaterally? Can he think of any responsible nationalist politician who supports the hon. Lady's views on that matter?

Dr. Mawhinney : There is no doubt that the vast majority of people in the nationalist community, who are law-abiding people, have most to fear from the activities of the IRA and that they owe an immense debt of gratitude to the security forces in Northern Ireland.


5. Mr. William Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which functions of local councils in Northern Ireland he is considering for privatisation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : The consultative paper on local government recently published by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland asks for comments on compulsory competitive tendering for the following district council activities : refuse collection and street cleaning, cleaning of buildings, grounds maintenance, vehicle maintenance, catering services and

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recreation and leisure services. Some construction and maintenance work may, in certain circumstances, also be put out to tender.

Mr. Ross : Within the past hour I have re-read the paper, just to ensure that my eyes did not betray me on the first occasion. Councils in Northern Ireland look after the burial of the dead when the churches do not look after it. Councils look after about half the burials in Northern Ireland. Their two other main functions are refuse collection and recreation. If those functions are privatised, what will be the point of having councils--or do the Government intend to givem them increased powers in some form or another?

Mr. Needham : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman's eyes do not deceive him on one issue. They certainly deceive him on the other issue. We are not talking about privatisation but about competitive tendering. It is a quite different matter. It may well be that large numbers of council activities will remain with the present staff once they have been looked into. But it is right that ratepayers should know that they are paying the proper price for the services that they get.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Before the Minister considers measures to encourage financial prudence in local government, will he consider the record of his own Department? In the past seven years the district rate of Castlereagh borough council has increased by only 17 per cent. whereas his Department's regional rate has increased by 53 per cent. Perhaps he should get his act in order first.

Mr. Needham : The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland does not set the regional rate in Northern Ireland. It is set by the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland. The House should have the correct facts. Of course, all Government spending must be examined most rigorously and we must ensure that the taxpayer gets the best possible value for money.

Mr. McCusker : In view of yesterday's announcement on privatising water supplies in Great Britain, does the Minister intend to privatise the water service in Northern Ireland, and if not, why not?

Mr. Needham : We shall certainly consider whether we can privatise the water service in Northern Ireland, although the circumstances and the way in which water is delivered in Northern Ireland is different from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bellingham : While privatisation is important, does my hon. Friend agree that it is equally important that additional functions are devolved to the district councils to give them extra teeth and a more constructive role? Does the noble Lord agree with me that there has been disappointment since the Anglo-Irish Agreement in terms of the number of functions-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Minister is a commoner here, I believe.

Mr. Needham : I agree with my hon. Friend on a great deal. I am only sorry that he did not ask his question in front of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

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Anglo-Irish Agreement

6. Mr. Ashdown : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received concerning the inter-parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Agreement ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Tom King : This is, of course, a matter for Parliament and my right hon. Friend the Lord President has been taking a close interest in it. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for forwarding to me his party's views.

Mr. Ashdown : Is the Secretary of State aware that during my visit to Dublin before Christmas I discovered a wide cross-party enthusiasm to push forward the provisions made in the Anglo-Irish Agreement for the inter -parliamentary tier and a wide belief that the British Government are holding up that progress? Does the Secretary of State recognise that the distressing events which have occurred in the past three or four months have done severe damage, which he regrets as much as I do, to the Anglo- Irish Agreement? One way of giving that agreement new impetus and direction would be for the Secretary of State to press forward with the inter- parliamentary tier provided for in the agreement.

Mr. King : There is certainly no truth in the suggestion that the Government are holding up discussions on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Lord President has been taking a keen interest in it and so have I. But it is a matter for the House and for the Houses of Parliament. A number of hon. Members have been involved in discussions on various approaches.

Mr. Marlow : Would it not be more helpful to the situation in Northern Ireland to give more power to the elected representatives of Northern Ireland rather than to involve the parliamentarians of a country whose Prime Minister, although he might not like the methods of the IRA, certainly shares its objectives?

Mr. King : I must make it absolutely clear that my hon. Friend's last comment was quite unwarranted. Anyone with any knowledge of the history of IRA terrorism and the Irish Government's responses to it will know that there has been a very effective response while Mr. Haughey has been Taoiseach on this and on the previous occasion. The list that I read out of the number of Garda arms finds, the recent redeployments that have been taking place and the communication and relations that now exist between the RUC and the Garda are certainly most encouraging.

Mr. Bell : Is the Secretary of State aware of the series of discussions that have taken place between hon. Members of this House and Members of the Irish Dail, under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris)? Will he confirm that there is wide support in the House for an inter-parliamentary tier, based upon the--

Hon. Members : No.

Mr. Bell : It has its origins in the Anglo-Irish summit of 1981, rather than the Anglo-Irish Agreement 1985. Is it not a fact that we would all benefit from a dialogue with fellow

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parliamentarians in the Irish Dail, and that that benefit would be shared equally by all people of the islands of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. King : I was sorry to hear hon. Members on the Unionist Benches shout "No" before they had even heard what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. He was talking about discussions being under the auspices of the IPU and how the matter might be pursued under the Intergovernmental Conference of 1981. It is a matter for the House, as to which forum hon. Members wish to go forward, and the Government will view it with interest.

Political Reform

7. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he is considering to enable Northern Ireland political parties represented at Westminster to play a more constructive role in the administration of the Province.

14. Mr. Gow : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he is making towards his declared aim of devolution in the Province.

Dr. Mawhinney : All the main constitutional political parties have said that they support a policy of devolution. The two Unionist leaders put to my right hon. Friend nearly a year ago outline proposals about devolution. As he told them at the time, and on several subsequent occasions, he found their proposals constructive and suggested that the next step should be to move to inter-party dialogue. He has since repeated his call for further talks, without preconditions, and I confirm our hope that the Unionist and other party leaders can respond positively to my right hon. Friend's invitation.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : My hon. Friend will be aware of the promise in the Queen's Speech to give local politicians greater involvement in the affairs of Northern Ireland. What proposals has he for making that promise come true?

Dr. Mawhinney : My hon. Friend will know that the proposals that were put to my right hon. Friend were seen not only by him but by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as a constructive basis for discussion. I confirm that we would wish to do what we could to encourage party leaders and members of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to seek ways to enable them to sit down together without pre-condition and, if necessary, outside the framework of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, to consider how best to carry forward the governance of the Province.

Mr. Gow : If it was right in 1979 for our party to propose that we should seek to set up a regional council or councils in Northern Ireland with widely devolved powers over local matters, why is it wrong for us to implement those proposals in 1989?

Dr. Mawhinney : Because, as my hon. Friend knows, the other part of our manifesto commitment in 1979 was to seek to move towards devolution. The part that he quoted was in recognition of an inability to do so. I must repeat to my hon. Friend what I said in my original reply. All the main constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland have said that they support a policy of devolution, as does Her Majesty's Government. It is to that end that we are continuing to work.

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Mr. John D. Taylor : As a better alternative to the failed Anglo- Irish Agreement is required, hon. Members will welcome the Minister's statement that he wants talks without any pre-conditions. Am I to assume that that means that his previous pre-condition that the Anglo-Irish Agreement remain in operation, has now been dropped?

Dr. Mawhinney : The right hon. Gentleman must understand that every political party in Northern Ireland can find some reason in history for not looking towards the future. In some cases it may be three years into history, in some cases it may be 30 years, and in other cases it may be 300 years. This Government believe that it is time for political parties in Northern Ireland to fix their eyes on the future and to find ways that will enable them to come together to put that into effect without pre-conditions and, I repeat to the hon. Gentleman, if necessary, outside the framework of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

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