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Northern Ireland

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : With permission, I will make a statement about messages between the IRA leadership and the Government.

There has for some years been a means of communication by which messages could be conveyed indirectly between the Government and the IRA leadership. Clearly, such a chain could only function if its secrecy was respected on both sides.

At the end of February this year, a message was received from the IRA leadership. It said :

"The conflict is over but we need your advice on how to bring it to a close. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion for the volunteers, because the press will misinterpret it as a surrender. We cannot meet Secretary of State's public renunciation of violence, but it would be given privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked".

That message came from Martin McGuinness. I have placed in the Library and in the Vote Office all consequent messages that Her Majesty's Government received and dispatched.

The Government had a duty to respond to that message. I will read to the House the substantive response that, after an intermediate exchange, we despatched on 19 March. The text published yesterday was no more than instructions as to how this was to be transmitted. The message was in these terms :

"1. The importance of what has been said, the wish to take it seriously, and the influence of events on the ground, have been acknowledged. All of those involved share a responsibility to work to end the conflict. No one has a monopoly of suffering. There is a need for a healing process.

2. It is essential that there should be no deception on either side, and also that no deception should, through any misunderstanding, be seen where it is not intended. It is also essential that both sides have a clear and realistic understanding of what it is possible to achieve, so that neither side can in the future claim that it has been tricked.

3. The position of the British Government on dealing with those who espouse violence is clearly understood. This is why the envisaged sequence of events is important. We note that what is being sought at this stage is advice, and that any dialogue would follow an unannounced halt to violent activity. We confirm that if violence had genuinely been brought to an end, whether or not that fact had been announced, then dialogue could take place.

4. It must be understood, though, that once a halt to activity became public, the British Government would have to acknowledge and defend its entry into dialogue. It would do so by pointing out that its agreement to exploratory dialogue about the possibility of an inclusive process had been given because and only because it had received a private assurance that organised violence had been brought to an end.

5. The British Government has made clear that :

no political objective which is advocated by constitutional means alone could properly be excluded from discussion in the talks process ;

the commitment to return as much responsibility as possible to local politicians should be seen within a wider framework of stable relationships to be worked out with all concerned ;

new political arrangements would be designed to ensure that no legitimate group was excluded from eligibility to share in the exercise of this responsibility ;

in the event of a genuine and established ending of violence, the whole range of responses to it would inevitably be looked at afresh.

6. The British Government has no desire to inhibit or impede legitimate constitutional expression of any political opinion, or any input to the political process, and wants to see included in this process all main parties which have sufficiently shown they

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genuinely do not espouse violence. It has no blueprint. It wants an agreed accommodation, not an imposed settlement, arrived at through an inclusive process in which the parties are free agents. 7. The British Government does not have, and will not adopt, any prior objective of ending of partition'. The British Government cannot enter a talks process, or expect others to do so, with the purpose of achieving a predetermined outcome, whether the ending of partition' or anything else. It has accepted that the eventual outcome of such a process could be a united Ireland, but only on the basis of the consent of the people of Northern Ireland."

[Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."]

"Should this be the eventual outcome of a peaceful democratic process, the British Government would bring forward legislation to implement the will of the people here. But unless the people of Northern Ireland come to express such a view, the British Government will continue to uphold the union, seeking to ensure the good governance of Northern Ireland, in the interests of all its people, within the totality of relationships in these islands.

8. Evidence on the ground that any group had ceased violent activity would induce resulting reduction of security force activity. Were violence to end, the British Government's overall response in terms of security force activity on the ground would still have to take account of the overall threat. The threat posed by Republican and Loyalist groups which remained active would have to continue to be countered.

9. It is important to establish whether this provides a basis for the way forward. We are ready to answer specific questions or to give further explanation."

It is clear that that message was consistent with our declared policy : namely, that if such people wanted to enter into talks or negotiations with the Government they first had genuinely to end violence [Hon. Members :- - "Hear, hear."] not just temporarily, but for good. If they did, and showed sufficiently that they meant it, we would not want, for our part, to continue to exclude them from political talks. That remains our policy.

The IRA sent a reply on 10 May which did not constitute the unequivocal assurance of a genuine end to violence on which we had insisted. Clearly, a temporary ceasefire would not do.

Substantive contact was resumed on 2 November. The IRA sent the following message :

"This problem cannot be solved by the Reynolds Spring situation, although they're part of it. You appear to have rejected the Hume Adams situation though they too are part of it.

Every day all the main players are looking for singular solutions. It can't be solved singularly. We offered the 10 May. You've rejected it. Now we can't even have dialogue to work out how a total end to all violence can come about. We believe that the country could be at the point of no return. In plain language please tell us through the link as a matter of urgency when you will open dialogue in the event of a total end to hostilities. We believe that if all the documents involved are put on the table including your 9 paragrapher and our 10th May that we have the basis of an understanding."

Our reply was despatched on 5 November :

"1. Your message of 2 November is taken as being of the greatest importance and significance. The answer to the specific question you raise is given in paragraph 4 below.

2. We hold to what was said jointly and in public by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach in Brussels on 29 October. A copy of the Statement is annexed. There can be no departure from what is said there and in particular its statement that there could be no secret agreements or understandings between Governments and organisations supporting violence as a price for its cessation and its call on them to renounce for good the use of, or support for, violence. There can also be no departure from the constitutional guarantee that Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom will not change without the consent of a majority of its people.

3. It is the public and consistent position of the British Government that any dialogue could only follow a permanent end to violent activity.

4. You ask about the sequence of events in the event of a total end to hostilities. If, as you have offered, you were to give us an unequivocal assurance that violence has indeed been brought to

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a permanent end, and that accordingly Sinn Fein is now committed to political progress by peaceful and democratic means alone, we will make clear publicly our commitment to enter exploratory dialogue with you. Our public statement will make clear that, provided your private assurance is promptly confirmed publicly after our public statement and that events on the ground are fully consistent with this, a first meeting for exploratory dialogue will take place within a week of Parliament's return in January.

5. Exploratory dialogue will have the following purposes : (i) to explore the basis upon which Sinn Fein would come to be admitted to an inclusive political talks process to which the British Government is committed but without anticipating the negotiations within that process ;

(ii) to exchange views on how Sinn Fein would be able over a period to play the same part as the current constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland ;

(iii) to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence.

6. The attached Annex summarises the sequence of events and provides answers to the procedural questions concerning exploratory dialogue which have been raised.

7. If, in advance of our public statement, any public statement is made on your behalf which appears to us inconsistent with this basis for proceeding it would not be possible for us then to proceed. 8. If we receive the necessary assurance, which you have offered, that violence has been brought to an end, we shall assume that you are assenting to the basis for proceeding explained in this note and its attachment."

Hon. Members will appreciate from what I have read out, and from the other messages when they have had time to study them, that our main objective has been to reinforce and spell out in private our publicly stated positions.

It is for the IRA and its supporters to explain why they have failed to deliver the promised ending of violence. They should do so at once. Murder in Northern Ireland is no more tolerable than murder anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We must never lose sight of the fact that it is the terrorists who must answer for the deaths, destruction and misery of the past 25 years. It lies therefore with the IRA, and with it alone, to end their inhuman crimes. It is for them and those who support and justify them to explain why they have wickedly failed to do that.

I promise the House and the people of Northern Ireland that, for our part, we shall not cease our efforts to bring violence to a permanent end. As my right hon Friend told the House on 18 November :

"if we do not succeed on this occasion, we must ... keep exploring again and again that opportunity for peace." [ Official Report , 18 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 28.]

Peace, properly attained, is a prize worth risks.

If a genuine end to violence is promised, the way would still be open for Sinn Fein to enter the political arena after a sufficient interval to demonstrate that they mean it. Our message of 5 November spelt that out again. The key to peace is in the hands of the IRA.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : Is the Secretary of State aware that the House is grateful for his explanation of events over the past few months, and welcomes the opportunity to study carefully his statement and the accompanying documents which are now available in the Vote Office ?

Any sensible British Government must not, in the words of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, be afraid to take risks for peace. Risks are necessary if the peace process is to be brought to a successful conclusion. We hope that the Government's recent mishandling of these matters will not deter them from believing that risk-taking is essential if progress is to be achieved. It is, in our view, essential to explore the

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sincerity of the claims of the Republican movement that it wishes to be brought into the political process and to contribute to an end to the violence. This the Secretary of State has sought to do. We know that the Government have said that all parties must make concessions if the peace process and the ambition of a constitutional settlement are to be accomplished. The Government have rightly said that concessions must be forthcoming from the Government of the Republic and from the Republican movement. The Government must also recognise that they too must make concessions if those ambitions are to be realised.

Moreover, the Government must call upon the Ulster Unionists to play their part in achieving peace and settled democratic government in these islands. That requires the Government to address two fundamental issues which the Ulster Unionists have refused consistently to address. First, we need an institutionalised Irish dimension in the government of Northern Ireland which the nationalists in Ireland could feel addresses their aspirations, just as article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement rightly recognises and protects the constitutional status of the majority in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, we need institutions of government which allow both communities to share power and responsibility in Northern Ireland. Any new agreement between the British and Irish Governments and the parties in Northern Ireland must meet the aspirations of northern nationalists for institutions of Government with which they feel they can identify and which connect them with the Republic of Ireland. If the Government intend to demonstrate their sincerity and show that they are prepared to take risks for peace, we expect to hear from the Government about concrete proposals which will satisfy the aspirations, needs and interests of both communities. I will remind the Secretary of State of the words of the Prime Minister : "No party and no organisation can exercise a veto on progress." [ Official Report , 18 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 28.]

Provided that the Government hold firmly to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the need for an Irish dimension and institutions which share power and responsibility in Northern Ireland, they should not be inhibited in the search for peace and a settlement which would be acceptable to all the peoples of these islands.

The Opposition trust that it has been thinking of that nature which has motivated the Government's interactions with the Republicans, and that is why we seek to make no party advantage today. The pursuit of peace is more important than anything else. We understand that 3 December is a date which remains open for both Governments to meet, if they wish. We hope that such a summit can take place.

We believe that the Prime Minister is right to say that the best opportunity for peace exists now. That opportunity must be grasped. We trust that the Government's courage will not now be dissipated, despite the criticism which they are likely to encounter later this afternoon. The pursuit of peace is more important than anything else.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial words in welcoming the statement. It is with the IRA, and with it alone, that the key to peace lies. It is for the IRA to decide whether it brings to an end violence that should never have been begun.

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The hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow him in the observations which followed his opening remarks. They seem to me to be related not so much to a statement about messages between the IRA and the Government, as to the agenda for those constitutional political talks which took place last year between the four main constitutional parties and the two Governments, and which have resumed under a different format under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram).

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the summit. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will be discussing together, over the next few days, the date for the next summit meeting. I cannot conclude without observing that I shall base my reaction to the hon. Gentleman's denial of any desire to take party advantage on the fact that no such advantage offers itself to him.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : I hope that the Secretary of State will agree that, if Mr. Adams feels that he ought to have a spokesman in the House, he need look no further than the Opposition spokesman. It remains for those who sit beside and behind that hon. Gentleman to decide whether he speaks for them.

When the Secretary of State came to the Northern Ireland Office, did he consider dismantling the links with the various paramilitary bodies, which links have existed since 1973 under successive Governments and 10 Secretaries of State ? Were those links necessary to distribute what are called the bomb warning recognised code words, on a weekly or monthly basis ? Finally, were those links used a year ago to convey the existence of the 51-point contingency plan described by the former security Minister, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) this morning to deal with an extended ceasefire over last Christmas ?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question relates to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself. Perhaps that occasionally gets him into some difficulty [Interruption.] No doubt the hon. Gentleman speaks for his party as well, but I would not wish to follow further the right hon. Gentleman's point. As to the second and third part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the answer is no in each case.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Why has the Secretary of State not taken up the point that has aggravated and exacerbated the situation in Northern Ireland ? It is not a matter of whether there is a channel conveying messages to the provisional IRA or whether the Government have had contacts in the past, or have in the present, but that those statements have been denied by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has rubbished any suggestion of such talks. He has rubbished anyone who dared, at a press conference, to put questions on that to him. When we met him and the Prime Minister in the past week, he rubbished the suggestion again and said that there was no such thing. The people of Northern Ireland today demand that the Secretary of State explains why he issued falsehoods himself, got officials to issue falsehoods and got Downing street to back up those falsehoods.

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Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is being as restrained as he can be at this moment. However, falsehoods mean one thing to the Chair lies. I would be obliged if he could rephrase what he is saying.

Rev. Ian Paisley : I would like to ask the Secretary of State a question that everyone in Northern Ireland is asking. Even if the message that he got in February, and to which he responded, said that the conflict was over, surely he would have known after one exchange that the conflict was not over. What has happened ? Those talks were going on, but we had Warrington. The talks were going on while the bombing was going on in this city. Even when the bombing took place in the Shankill road, the lines were still open. Surely the Secretary of State cannot think that, after his behaviour, he can have any trust with the Northern Ireland people. If he wants a settlement, the only honourable thing that he can do is resign.

Sir Patrick Mayhew rose

Madam Speaker : Order. I really must seek a withdrawal from the hon. Gentleman of the word "falsehood". I am sure that he has tried to couch his words very carefully this afternoon, but I ask him to reflect for a moment while I am speaking so that he may withdraw and allow proper order in our exchanges and our questions. Dr. Paisley, I am sure that you will oblige.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Because of the seriousness of the situation, I cannot oblige you, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would reflect. It is very important to me and to the House that he is able to question the Secretary of State. I do not want to have to use the powers that are given to me by Standing Order at this time. I would ask him to reflect in all sincerity. I want him to be in the House to hear the exchanges. I ask him, as a long-standing Member of the House, senior statesman and parliamentarian, to oblige the House and the Chair by withdrawing the word "falsehood". I should be most obliged if he would do so.

Rev. Ian Paisley : I would like to stay in the House, but there are far too many issues in Northern Ireland that weigh on me at this time. The people of Northern Ireland would say to me, "Why did not you stand by what you said outside the House ?", and I stand by what I said. It was a falsehood : it was worse, it was a lie.

Madam Speaker : In accordance with the power given me by Standing Order No. 42, I order the hon. Member to withdraw immediately from the House for the remainder of this day's sitting. [ Interruption .] I am not naming him ; I am using the Standing Order that is open to me, which is No. 42 and which requires the hon. Gentleman to withdraw from the precincts of the House for the remainder of this day's sitting.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : There is no point of order at this stage. I am dealing with a Standing Order.

Dr. Paisley, I should be obliged if you would see that the order that I have just given you is carried out. Dr. Paisley, I require you to leave the precincts of the House for the remainder of the day's sitting. In that case, I name Dr. Ian Paisley.

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Motion made, and Question put,

That Rev. Ian Paisley be suspended from the service of the House.-- [Mr. Newton.]

The House divided : Ayes 272, Noes 25.

Division No. 5] [3.59 pm


Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Aitken, Jonathan

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Alton, David

Ancram, Michael

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Arbuthnot, James

Armstrong, Hilary

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

Ashby, David

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Atkins, Robert

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)

Baldry, Tony

Barron, Kevin

Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Bayley, Hugh

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Blair, Tony

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bowden, Andrew

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