Lord Brookeborough rebukes Eire PM Lemass (1959)

Lord Brookeborough declared at Stormont, during this week in 1959, when asked about a recent request by Eire Prime Minister, Mr Sean F Lemass, for economic co-operation, that he was not prepared to lead Northern Ireland to its destruction.

Left, Terence O'Neill, and right Sean Lemass
Left, Terence O'Neill, and right Sean Lemass

Subsequently, Lord Brookeborough remarked: “Having failed to bully us and blackguard us to join up with the Republic they are now trying to woo us, but neither honeyed words nor bombs will brings us in.”

The Northern Ireland Premier had been asked by Mr Diamond (Republican Labour, Falls) whether his attention had been drawn to a plea, made at a recent Oxford Union debate, by the Prime Minister of Eire for a practical system of co-operation between north and south to minimise economic hardships arising from the division of the country. He also inquired whether Lord Brookeborough was prepared to co-operate to minimise those hardships.


Lord Brookeborough said that he did observe that on the occasion in question the Eire PM had made clear his hope that economic co-operation would lead to re-unification of north and south.

He said: “Co-operation might be possible in the future as in the past where practical benefits ensured, but it must be without prejudice to Northern Ireland’s status within the United Kingdom.”

Mr Diamond asked whether Lord Brookeborough was aware that “no political principle was involved at the time of the invitation”.

“The request was for co-operation to remove hardships. Is he not prepared in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland to take steps to remove those hardships and produce an era of goodwill in the country?”

Mrs McNabb (Unionist, North Armagh) suggested that the greatest contribution towards co-operation would be for the Eire government to “take effective action to stop the IRA terrorist attacks on Northern Ireland”.

Lord Brookeborough said he we was prepared to “live in neighbourly friendliness – an undertaking which was given by the Irish Free State in 1925 but which was never carried out by them”. He added: “It is not likely at present, with the attacks on Northern Ireland, that the relationship which I hoped for will come about.”

The NI PM said: “I am not prepared to take any action which would weaken Northern Ireland’s link with Great Britain. That is our economic strength. To join with Eire would not solve any of our problems.”


Mr Stewart (Nationalist, East Tyrone) referred to cheaper coal in the south, and the NI Prime Minister’s retort was: “The people of Northern Ireland would rather pay more for their coal than join up with the Free State.”

Mr Diamond asserted that the “bitter uncompromising attitude of the Unionist Government and Party was consistently weakening relations”.

If Lord Brookeborough, he said, was prepared to meet Mr Lemass “the bitterness and hostility that had existed between the people of Great Britain and Ireland could be ended”.

Lord Brookeborough said that he did not agree with Mr Diamond “for one moment”. He said that his attitude had been “one of a desire for friendship”.

“Instead of that, Northern Ireland has to suffer attacks which have been going on for three years at a cost of life and money,” said Lord Brookeborough.

“If the Eire Prime Minister will do as I suggest, accept the constitution of Northern Ireland, then I am quite prepared to meet him, but I am not prepared to weaken our links with Great Britain.”

Mr Diamond as if the Prime Minister was aware of the Lord Justices, as the opening of the assizes in the border counties, had paid tribute to the long period of peace.

Mr Faulkner (Unionist, East Down) asked of Mr Diamond: “What about Lord Justice Black?”

Mr Diamond suggested that raids had been prevented by the Civic Guards at the behest of the Eire Government, and he asked: “Does the Prime Minister not feel that there is a contribution towards the peace of this country, and that he is merely grasping at straws in referring to these raids and in refusing to give a constructive reply to Mr Lemass?”

There was no further reply from Lord Brookeborough.