As the House will be aware, the Taoiseach and I agreed a joint declaration this morning. Copies of the declaration have been placed in the Vote Office. I know that the whole House will wish to hear what lay behind this declaration and what it may mean for the future.
For the past 25 years, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered levels of violence that any civilised community would find intolerable. No community, and especially no part of the United Kingdom, should have to endure the murder and destruction that have afflicted the Province. That is why successive British Governments have sought to find a solution to these terrible problems. We must care as much about violence in Northern Ireland as about violence in any other part of the Union.
When the Taoiseach and I met at Downing street two years ago, we both agreed on the need to work together to try to bring about peace in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. We were both well aware of the pitfalls and dangers which have wrecked so many previous attempts, but we both knew that, after 25 years of killing, we had to make it a personal priority both to seek a permanent end to violence and to establish the basis for a comprehensive and lasting political settlement.
The declaration that we have agreed today shows the commitment of the two Governments for peace and democracy and against violence. Its objective is to set a framework for peace, a framework that reflects our responsibilities to both communities in a way that is fully compatible with the undertakings that we have both given and with the objectives of the talks process.
Copies of the joint declaration have been placed in the Vote Office. I urge all hon. Members to read it carefully. It deserves careful study. It has required detailed and painstaking negotiations between the two Governments. It addresses the concerns of both sides of the Community and it is totally consistent with the principles that this Government have repeatedly confirmed to the House. It may help the House if I set out the main elements of the declaration. I will, where possible, quote directly from the text of the declaration so that there can be no misunderstanding about what it says.
First, paragraph 2 expressly reaffirms the British Government's commitment to Northern Ireland's statutory constitutional guarantee. This guarantees that, as long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Government will uphold their right to do so. That pledge is rock solid. That is set out most clearly also in paragraph 4, which reaffirms that the British Government will
"uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland."
Later in that paragraph, the British Government agree
"that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish."
Column 1072This is a crucial sentence, and one about which there has been much misleading speculation. So let me repeat that it says that a move to a united Ireland can take place only
"by agreement between the two parts respectively"
"on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South".
This fully protects the position of the majority in Northern Ireland, and means that change could come about only with their consent.
In line with previous undertakings, the British Government also reaffirm that if a future majority in Northern Ireland desired a united Ireland, we would introduce the necessary legislation to bring that about.
For his part, the Taoiseach accepts in paragraph 5 that "it would be wrong to attempt to impose a united Ireland in the absence of the freely given consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland."
Later in the same paragraph, he accepts that
"the democratic right of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland".
Those are important commitments by the Taoiseach which I know will be widely welcomed by the House. The House will also welcome, in paragraph 7, the Taoiseach's confirmation that, in the event of an overall settlement of the talks process,
"the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland."
The joint declaration fully backs the three-strand talks process involving the main constitutional parties and the two Governments. It says that it is the two Governments' aim
"to foster agreement and reconciliation, leading to a new political framework founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island, and between these islands." I believe that the passages that I have quoted, and the other language in the joint declaration, set out a clear framework under which differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by peaceful political means. But that can come about only if the men of violence end the killing and commit themselves to the democratic process. The joint declaration sets out the way in which this can be brought about.
Paragraph 10 says that both Governments
"reiterate that the achievement of peace must involve a permanent end to the use of, or support for, paramilitary violence. They confirm that, in these circumstances, democratically mandated parties which establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and which have shown that they abide by the democratic process, are free to participate fully in democratic politics and to join in dialogue in due course between the Governments and the political parties on the way ahead."
Let me make it plain on behalf of the British Government what that undertaking means. If there is a permanent end to violence, and if Sinn Fein commits itself to the democratic process, then we will be ready to enter into preliminary exploratory dialogue with it within three months. But, first, it must end violence for good.
I understand the fears and concerns of Unionists about the prospects of the British Government's entering into talks with Sinn Fein. This period has been a worrying and uncertain time for them. Although they have the primary interest in seeing an end to violence, they are rightly concerned lest this be achieved by selling out the fundamental constitutional principles which the
Column 1073Government have always upheld. If they fear that, then they should be reassured by this declaration. It reaffirms the constitutional guarantee in the clearest possible terms. The Taoiseach fully accepts the principle that any constitutional change could come about only with the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland.
In summary, let me make it clear what is in the declaration and what is not. What is in the declaration is a renewed commitment by the British Government to Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee ; an acknowledgement by the Taoiseach that a united Ireland could only be brought about with the consent of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland ; a willingness on the Taoiseach's part to make changes in the Irish constitution if an overall settlement can be reached ; and a confirmation that if Sinn Fein renounces violence, it will be able to participate in future democratic discussions. What is not in the declaration is any suggestion that the British Government should join the ranks of persuaders of the "value" or "legitimacy" of a united Ireland ; that is not there. Nor is there any suggestion that the future status of Northern Ireland should be decided by a single act of self-determination by the people of Ireland as a whole ; that is not there either. Nor is there any timetable for constitutional change, or any arrangement for joint authority over Northern Ireland. In sum, the declaration provides that it is, as it must be, for the people of Northern Ireland to determine their own future.
All the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland will wish to study the document very carefully. I should like today to extend an offer to meet each of the parties regularly in the future, so that I can hear at first hand their concerns and ambitions, and can set out to them the British Government's position. If we can work together to quell ancient fears and suspicions, we can help to build a better future for Northern Ireland.
I have made it clear that if it renounces violence, the way is open to Sinn Fein to join in legitimate constitutional dialogue. That is a political route which it now has no excuse not to follow. That is the opportunity offered by this joint declaration--and it has been obtained without compromising any of the constitutional principles that this Government have consistently espoused. The onus is now on Sinn Fein to take advantage of that opportunity : I urge it to do so.
Mr. John Smith (Monklands, East) : On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the joint declaration with enthusiasm. We fervently hope that it will be an important first step in a peace process that will lead to a new political settlement. It was necessary for the two Governments to take the lead, but it is vital that the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland now take part in new discussions which the British Government should promote.
There was never any excuse for violence and terror on the part of any paramilitary organisation, but there is now an opportunity for both the permanent cessation of violence and the involvement of Sinn Fein in constitutional dialogue--provided that it is clear that the path of violence has been abandoned. We hope that the new opportunities that the declaration creates are seized by both traditions in Northern Ireland.
May I ask the Prime Minister two questions about the detail of the declaration? First, in paragraph 9, both Governments commit themselves to seeking to create institutions and structures which would enable the people
Column 1074of Ireland to work together in all areas of common interest. What kind of institution, and what areas of policy, have the Governments in mind?
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman referred to what he described as the "crucial sentence" in paragraph 4, about consent being "freely and concurrently given, North and South".
Does that passage mean that a constitutional settlement arising from the talks process could be put to the people of Northern Ireland and those of the Republic in separate referendums on the same day? Finally, may I endorse the appeal for an end to violence that the Prime Minister made in his concluding sentence? That must be the overwhelming desire of all the people of the British Isles--not least those in Northern Ireland--who have suffered the appalling violence of the past 25 years.
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman both for his support for the joint declaration and for the continuation of talks which necessarily must proceed beside it. I believe that he is right that it is an opportunity to move from a violent path. It is an opportunity which no one can compel the men of violence to take. It is an opportunity which lies there and it is in their hands now to decide whether to take that opportunity and move towards a legitimate political path in future. I repeat : I hope that they will take that opportunity.
As to the right hon. and learned Gentleman's two specific questions, the reference in paragraph 9 refers specifically to the three-stranded talks that are continuing at the present time, and there would be a large number of areas of common interest that are being identified in these talks that would be the subject of the structures referred to. So far as "freely and concurrently given" is concerned in terms of referendums, it certainly need not necessarily mean referendums on the same day. What it does mean is that that could be the situation. It is a matter for agreement in the talks and beyond, but they certainly need not necessarily be on the same day. It does imply that consent would need to be given separately north and south.
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : Has the Prime Minister noticed that this morning's statement is already being termed the Downing street declaration? Those of us who remember the earlier Downing street declaration in the time of the Government of Lord Wilson will remember that it was very specific in saying that the affairs of Northern Ireland were an internal matter for the Parliament of the United Kingdom. May I, in a constructive fashion, ask the Prime Minister to assure us that the drift from that position over the past 20 years will be halted under his premiership?
Whatever the eventual conclusions that one may draw from this rather tortuously worded statement with its many contradictions--I am referring to the statement, not the one just made by the Prime Minister--it appears to give some finality to the secret discussions that have destabilised the Province over recent months and which the Prime Minister has recognised just now. Does the Prime Minister share my expectation that we can now proceed to govern Northern Ireland in accordance with the wishes of 85 per cent. of the
population--Protestant and Roman Catholic--who were greatly reassured by his remark to the House that
"The future constitutional position of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine and for no one else to determine."--[ Official Report, 18 November 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 29.]
Column 1075Finally, can the Prime Minister confirm that the joint declaration does not assert the value or legitimacy of achieving a united Ireland without majority consent ; commit the people of Northern Ireland to joining a united Ireland against their democratic wishes, establish any form of joint authority over Northern Ireland, even by phasing ; establish any joint mechanisms such as a permanent convention ; or give Sinn Fein an immediate place at the talks table? Can the Prime Minister also confirm that the statement does not sideline the very valuable round of meetings between the parties convened by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland--the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram)--which are now drawing towards a successful conclusion and which have been supported just now by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition?
The Prime Minister : On the right hon. Gentleman's specific point at the end, I can confirm to him that the joint declaration does not assert the value of achieving a united Ireland ; does not assert the legitimacy of a united Ireland in the absence of majority consent ; does not either, for I think that it was implicit in what the right hon. Gentleman said, commit the British Government to joining the ranks of the persuaders for a united Ireland. That is not the job of any British Government. It does not set any timetable for a united Ireland. It does not commit the people of Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland against their wishes, and it does not establish any arrangements for joint authority. I can confirm each of those points to the right hon. Gentleman.
As to the talks process undertaken by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes, we anticipate and expect that they will continue and intensify. They are, I believe, becoming extremely valuable. We wish to proceed with them with all speed so that we can make further progress in the talks, which will run alongside the declaration that I have just set out to the House. As far as the consent principle is concerned, I reiterate again, because I wish no one to be in any doubt about this, that the future constitutional position of Northern Ireland lies now, and will continue to lie, within the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. For so long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain within the Union, they will have the total and complete support of this Government in doing so.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Would the Prime Minister care to comment on the fact that the great difficulty and the field of controversy between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic--Northern Ireland being a member of the United Kingdom, although the document never once mentions the United Kingdom ; that phrase has been entirely jettisoned from the document --involves articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution ? Surely that is the very nub of the controversy. Why does this paper not even mention that ?
A member of the Government said to me outside, "Oh, yes, but look at page 5." I have read the document carefully. In fact, I was able to receive from Dublin 24 hours before this document was available to other people all the information that I put in my letter-- [Interruption.] It is very important that the Prime Minister should answer this question. He confirms that, in the event of an overall settlement, according to the Taoiseach,
Column 1076"the Irish Government will, as part of a balanced constitutional accommodation, put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish Constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland."
But it is not the principle of consent in Northern Ireland that has anything to do with articles 2 and 3 ; it is the principle of the territorial claim. However, that most important matter has not even been referred to.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what the statement on page 2 really does to the present position ? Paragraph 4 states that the British Government agree
"that it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self- determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish."
How is that different? Is it not different from the present situation when the entity of self-determination in Northern Ireland is the people of Northern Ireland? Why must the people of Northern Ireland now be linked with the Irish Republic on a question of their own right to remain within this United Kingdom?
Finally, may I say to the Prime Minister, that, as a public representative, I find it very offensive to be told that, in three months' time, if the IRA ceases its violence without any conditions for handing over its weapons or its bomb-making material or any of its military prowess, the IRA will be invited, as constitutional politicians, to sit down at the table. That goes to the very gut of the resentment of the people of Northern Ireland who have been slaughtered, butchered and murdered-- [Interruption.] I do not mind what the hon. Gentleman says. His constituents have not been murdered or butchered. Perhaps he would like to sit down with the godfathers of the IRA and others who have done such things. What I have described goes to the gut of the people of Northern Ireland. They look on this as a sell-out act of treachery.
The Prime Minister : Let me touch on the last part first. The hon. Gentleman makes the point that some of his constituents have been murdered by terrorist activities over the past 25 years. I acknowledge that and I understand the misery that that must have caused to his constituents, their families and to the hon. Gentleman himself.
I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the agreement and the document is to make sure that, 25 years from now, his successor does not sit there saying that to the Prime Minister of the day. I wish to take action to make sure that there is no more bloodshed of that sort and no more coffins carried away week after week because politicians do not have the courage to sit down, address the problem and find a way through. I am prepared to do that. If the hon. Gentleman believes that I should not, he does not understand the responsibilities of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. On the hon. Gentleman's three questions, the declaration does not specifically refer to the United Kingdom ; it specifically refers to the Union, which I think that the hon. Gentleman himself cares about. If he reads the document carefully, which, alas, he had not done when he made his remarks this morning and issued his letter, he will see that reference to the Union. As for articles 2 and 3, the quotation answers the hon. Gentleman's own question. That is clearly intended to refer to articles 2 and 3 in due course, and does so refer. On the hon. Gentleman's third point on paragraph 4 about freely expressed consent, the specific point of
Column 1077paragraph 4 is to mention the freely expressed consent north and south respectively. It is saying to the hon. Gentleman that he, his constituents and all the other people in Northern Ireland have themselves, by their own actions, in their hands the future constitutional position of Ulster.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : May I express to the Prime Minister and to Mr. Reynolds my deep appreciation for the enormous amount of energy that they have put into trying to grasp the hope of peace--a hope which is shared by the masses of people on both islands? Having read the joint declaration, I think that it is one of the most comprehensive declarations that has been made about British-Irish relations in the past 70 years. My appeal to all sections of our people is to read the entire statement in full and to have no knee-jerk reactions but to study it carefully and in full before responding.
As the House will be aware, it has been the consistent position of my party that the British-Irish quarrel of old, the quarrel of sovereignty, has changed fundamentally in the evolution of the new interdependent and post- nationalist Europe of which we are members, but the legacy of that past is the deeply divided people. I welcome the fact that the declaration indentifies the problem as the deeply divided people of Ireland. I also welcome the fact that it recognises that that division can be healed only by agreement, and by an agreement that earns the allegiance and agreement of all our traditions and respects their diversity. I welcome also the fact that the Government have committed themselves to promoting such agreement and to encouraging such agreement, and whatever form that agreement takes, the Government will endorse.
Does the Prime Minister agree that the joint declaration is a challenge to all parties to come to the table in a totally peaceful atmosphere to begin the very difficult process--it will be a difficult process--of reaching agreement? If it takes place in a peaceful atmosphere, we will have much more chance of reaching such an agreement. My appeal to everyone who comes to that table is to come armed only with the strength of their convictions and not with any form of coercion or physical force.
Let us remember at this time that it is people who have rights, not territory, and that humanity transcends nationality. May the House share with me at this moment the hope of all our people that today will be the first major step on a road that will remove for ever the gun and the bomb from our small island of people.
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comprehensive support. He is right ; the declaration is a challenge to all parties and to all people concerned with finding a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland. I have to say to all parties that I think that we have no moral alternative but to take up that challenge and see whether we can find a satisfactory outcome. The hon. Gentleman has shown his personal commitment to a settlement in Northern Ireland for many years and, on that basis, his support today is doubly welcome.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the genuine and serious work that he has done in producing the declaration for the House? Is not it evident that no such declaration could give everybody
Column 1078everything that they wanted? Is not it evident also that there is nothing in the declaration that genuinely and seriously threatens anybody's vital interests in the matter?
Is not there a heavy responsibility on all hon. Members, including the elected Members in Northern Ireland, not to react in a way which could destroy the best opportunity for peace that we have seen since the trouble began? Is not the message from the House--we hope that it will be repeated later from the Dail Eireann--to those who have been responsible for violence that, because there is now a joint offer from both Governments of access to the democratic process, violence should cease immediately?
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He speaks, of course, with the experience of having been a distinguished Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He is right that this is a balanced document which now offers opportunities that were not there before. I share my right hon. Friend's hope that those opportunities will be taken up.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) : Will the Prime Minister note that he has our sincere and heartfelt good will in all his efforts and in the personal commitment which he is devoting to the task? Does he note also that we welcome the concurrent referendum possibility and the emphasis on human rights in the Taoiseach's own statement? Is not the real question for the terrorists? Why should anybody else die and why should any more families be torn apart when it is possible to seek change without obstacle by a peaceful process, and when there are guarantees, which are underwritten by both Governments, that those changes cannot be enforced against the will of the majority in the north of Ireland?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There is now no justification whatever for terrorism. There is now a clear and identifiable alternative for those people who seriously wish to engage in discussions in Northern Ireland. If terrorism were to continue after the statement and after the declaration, with the support that that has been given, it will be clearly understood by everyone that those people who engage in terrorism do not in any way genuinely seek a settlement, but simply wish to inflict murder and terror continuously.
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : May I ask my right hon. Friend to be encouraged by the fact that the British-Irish inter- parliamentary body met in London today, and British and Irish Members of Parliament alike asked me on their behalf to welcome the joint declaration and to give it their support?
May I further ask my right hon. Friend to repeat that the declaration is a framework for peace that represents in many ways an opportunity for a new beginning? Will my right hon. Friend, together with the Irish Taoiseach, continue with all of his strength in his historic work, the end of which can mean only the peace which we all want?
The Prime Minister : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The declaration certainly is a framework for peace. It is an opportunity, but whether that opportunity is taken does not lie in my hands or in the hands of the Irish Prime Minister. It lies in the hands of the people who have bombed and killed for so long. It is they who must come under pressure to make sure that the violence ends.
Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North) : May I, as someone whose constituency suffered from the bombers, ask the Prime Minister to accept that now is the time to give peace a chance? Will he also accept that if anybody involved fails to take that chance, they will never be forgiven?
It is time for all paramilitaries to lay down their arms. If they do, will not that be a fitting memorial, not only to the two small boys who lost their lives in Warrington, but to all who have lost their lives needlessly because of the actions of the people of violence? Let us hope that the words that have been spoken today will be heeded and that peace comes at last. Is not that what is needed if we are to avoid debates about violence in the future?
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Does my right hon. Friend ardently wish that people of Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom? Otherwise, is there not a danger that people will say that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is careless with regard to the integrity of the United Kingdom? In that case, would it be inconceivable that anybody could have said that without the events of the past 25 years?
The Prime Minister : If my hon. Friend looks at the joint declaration and at the words I set out so clearly at the last general election, he need have no doubt about my views on the Union ; they are well known and on the record. I have gone to great trouble to ensure that the constitutional guarantee is firmly enshrined in the joint declaration, so that there can be no doubt that those people who care about support of the Government, to remain within the Union for so long as that is their wish.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Is the Prime Minister aware that so strong is the desire for peace that the overwhelming majority of people in this country have long favoured talks among all the parties concerned? Will he confirm that a round table conference on that basis offers a better hope of a durable peace than simply talks between two Prime Ministers, neither of whom has been responsible for the violence? Would I be right in assuming that the significance of what he said today about the future of the island of Ireland being in the hands of the Irish people is that the British Government are no longer laying claim to an interest in the maintenance of the Union if the people of the north are ready to seek alternative arrangements? Is not that an important statement which ought to be underlined, clarified and emphasised in order to end the violence?
The Prime Minister : On the first point, talks between the two Governments have a place and the joint declaration is the outcome of those discussions. It lies alongside the main talks process with all the consitutional parties, who must play their part in determining what happens, as they are most directly concerned. Self-evidently, that is the best way to proceed. As far as the Union is concerned, I reiterate the points I made a moment ago ; my views about the Union are well known. I said some time ago at the election that it would not be appropriate for any Government--I was talking about Scotland--to hold Scotland within the United Kingdom if a majority of its
Column 1080people wanted independence. The same must apply to the people of Northern Ireland. That does not exclude the fact that I have my own personal views ; it illustrates the fact that, ultimately, it must be for the people themselves to determine.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : While warmly welcoming the joint declaration as a potential positive way forward, may I ask my right hon. Friend to remember that, during the weeks it was prepared, violence continued in Northern Ireland? Will he ensure that there is no let-up in the hunt for those that perpetrated terrorism?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend takes a particular interest in Northern Ireland as chairman of the committee particularly concerned with Northern Ireland. I give him the categorical assurance that there will be no let-up in the security action against terrorists. The co-operation with the Gardai and the security forces in the north is today at a more comprehensive level that we have ever known.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : As I almost lost my life at the hands of IRA terrorism, I fully understand the message inherent in today's declaration and to whom it is directed. Obviously there is much emphasis on Irish nationalist aspirations. However, the Prime Minister will know that 95 per cent. of people in my constituency are more interested in British aspirations. Although he has given some assurances today and specifically referred to paragraph 2 of the joint declaration which states that both Prime Ministers reaffirm "Northern Ireland's statutory constitutional guarantee", the trouble is that both Prime Ministers interpret differently what Northern Ireland's constitutional guarantee really is. Therefore, with the purpose of giving confidence to the British people of my constituency, will the Prime Minister assure us, first, that the declaration in no way weakens Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom and, secondly, that it in no way gives Dublin any further role in the internal affairs or administration of Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister : First, the whole House knows that the right hon. Gentleman was on one occasion very badly wounded by the IRA, and that he showed bravery then and subsequently. I am grateful for what he said. I give him both the assurances that he seeks. The declaration in no way weakens the constitutional guarantee that was first set out in the Northern Ireland Constitutional Act 1973. There is no weakening of that constitutional guarantee and nothing agreed today in the joint declaration gives the Government of the Republic of Ireland any additional say in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
Sir James Kilfedder (North Down) : Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that there will be no talks with Sinn Fein until the terrorists, the IRA, hand over not only all the guns, ammunition and explosives that they have in Northern Ireland, but the material that they have in the Irish Republic?
The Prime Minister : It may be rather difficult in practice to find out precisely where it is and who has it ; that is the practical difficulty that we face. We have said, beyond any doubt, that there must be the clearest possible public renunciation of violence and then a decontamination period-- [Hon. Members :-- "Both sides."]--so that it is clear
Column 1081that that renunciation of violence will be held and there will be no violence. Then one can determine whether Sinn Fein can enter into discussions.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : The Prime Minister will be aware that, in Dail Eireann today, there will be a similar reaction to the joint declaration. I welcome that, as I welcome the reception that it has received in the House. Does the Prime Minister accept that the intrinsic value will be recognised only if the same acceptance is gained where it counts--in places like my constituency in west Belfast, on the Shankill road and in the districts which have been beset by the violence of the IRA and of loyalist paramilitary groupings?
The Prime Minister said in his statement that the British Government's role will be to encourage, facilitate and enable agreement among all the people who inhabit the island. Does he include in that the further persuasion of those in the IRA who are carrying out violence? He has recognised that there are channels for achieving that. A logical conclusion of that part of his statement must be to pursue that type of persuasion with those people, to try to ensure an end to violence.
I am consistently impressed by the reassurances that the Prime Minister gives to Unionists in the House. Those of us of a nationalist persuasion believe in pursuing our objectives by peaceful democratic means. When the Prime Minister speaks about the north of Ireland, he should recognise that 44 per cent. of the population follow that view and are entitled to some prime ministerial persuasion and reassurance at some time.
The Prime Minister : I do not think that there has been any occasion when I have suggested that everyone who held nationalist aspirations was inclined to pursue them in a violent manner. That is certainly not my view. The IRA has pursued its activities in a wholly unsatisfactory and brutal manner. That patently does not apply to every nationalist and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have thought that any hon. Member could conceivably think that it did. As for persuasion, it is not in my mind to offer concessions to people. What we have to say to all parties is now said clearly and in the open. They know what lies there ; they know what opportunity awaits if they are prepared permanently to renounce violence. That is what lies there and there is nothing further to be offered.
Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) : Now that the brave efforts of both Prime Ministers and of the Ministers and officials, who worked so hard, have brought the declaration to a successful conclusion, does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest cause for hope and satisfaction is that although there has never been the slightest excuse for violence, killing and bombing, if that course is pursued by the terrorists it will only show that they are not the slightest bit interested in any part of the democratic process? Has my right hon. Friend further agreed with the Taoiseach that if violence continues, both Governments, working together, will make concerted efforts to do whatever must be done to defeat the terrorists?
Column 1082right to say that there is no conceivable excuse for a continuation of violence. If it were to continue, I do not have a shred of doubt that we would continue to receive good and enhanced co-operation from the Government of the Republic of Ireland in tracking down those engaged in terrorism.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Do not we owe a particular debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) whose dedicated work for peace should be appreciated by all? Many attacked him, and I hope that they will realise now what he set out to achieve. Would it be useful to let friendly western democracies know what has been agreed between Ireland and the United Kingdom not least the United States, where there seems to be some
misunderstanding of the long and justified campaign waged by this country against terrorism? Should not the people of western Europe know and understand that the joint declaration has the overwhelming support of the people of Ireland and Britain and that continuing terrorism from either side has no support from the people whom the terrorists claim to represent?