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Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South) : To follow on from the intervention by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), from the way in which my hon. Friend is talking one would think that Sinn Fein-IRA represented the nationalist community. It does not. Is not it time that people were reminded that it has little electoral support in the Province and even less in the Republic? There are some people here and in the Republic who are not enthusiastic about the use of violence and indeed rightly condemn it. We should be reminded of that time and again.
Mr. Hunter : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which reminds us of the argument that is often put forward by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has tried to draw a parallel between Mr. Adams and the Sinn Fein/IRA movement and past colonial situations. The great difference and the fundamental flaw in the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that Gerry Adams is not a prime minister or
Column 1168president-in-waiting of a united Ireland ; nor is Sinn Fein/IRA like the African National Congress--a political party waiting to take over the reins of power. The parallel does not exist. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) reminded us, only a very small minority of extreme republicans adhere to violence. There is no value in indulging in any Dublin-bashing at this time. Nevertheless, the speech of 10 January by the Prime Minister of the Republic has commanded much attention. In one or two respects, it did not help. As we have already referred to questions that were asked yesterday, I shall, if I may, expand on mine, which I tried to get over amid a lot of noise just before questions to the Prime Minister started.
In the speech of 10 January, three or four enigmatic lines have attracted insufficient attention. The Prime Minister of the Republic said :
"It is important to note that the requirement for the consent of a majority is related by the Declaration to the constitutional issue. It does not mean that all forms of political progress or other decisions are subject to a similar block."
It greatly disturbed me to read those lines. They strike me as hard to reconcile with other aspects of the joint declaration.
Mr. John Hume (Foyle) : Is the hon. Gentleman telling me and the House that people who represent less than 2 per cent. of the United Kingdom should be able to dictate to Government what their policy is on everything?
Mr. Hunter : I am delighted with the clarification. Let us continue the debate afterwards. It is certainly not my understanding of the words that I have just quoted, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can meet in due course and he can explain why I have failed to understand what the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland was trying to say.
The other observation that I must make about the speech of 10 January is about the use of the concept of persuasion and persuading. In the joint declaration, the word "persuade" or the words "to be a persuader" or "persuasion" are not used. The declaration speaks in terms of encouraging, facilitating and enabling an agreement. There is a subtle difference between being a persuader to an agreement and encouraging, facilitating and enabling a decision. The former suggests directing towards a certain conclusion, whereas the joint declaration perceives no predetermined conclusion whatever. As for the way forward, I hope that the talks that have taken place, especially between the Minister of State and the constitutional parties, will advance and that something approaching the three-stranded process which was explored a few months ago can be resumed. It is important that the process is not halted by the continued refusal of Sinn Fein/IRA to accept a ceasefire, to accept peace and to renounce violence. I look forward to a meaningful dialogue round the table between the constitutional parties. In that respect, I have noted carefully what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley said a few minutes ago. That dialogue is to be accompanied by the continued remorseless assault on terrorism from both sides of the traditional divide in Northern Ireland.
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Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : In the past 25 years, I have had many traumatic experiences in relation to violence in the area in which I live. The one that touched me most happened when I visited the scene after an incident in my constituency at the very end of the year. It was the period of new year--a period of celebration and joy. When I arrived at Crossmaglen, the body of a young soldier was lying on the ground. It was covered with a blanket. I asked a number of people what his name was, and the thing that touched me most was that no one could tell me his name, not even those associated with him. There was a dead body lying in the street of my constituency, on a part of my country, but no one knew his name, and no one knew he had lost his life.
That affected me deeply, and it affected the people of Crossmaglen deeply. They had read in their newspapers that morning a semantic argument from members of Sinn Fein and the IRA as to what words meant--what "agreement" was or was not, or what "self determination" was or was not--and yet, at the same time as they issued their new year's messages, a body lay there and we could not put a name on it. It is from that point of view that I want to address my words today. I address them to that section of the community from which I come in the north of Ireland--that section of the community which is represented by myself and my hon. Friends in the House. That section of the community has never supported violence or the type of coercion that is inherent in that which has motivated violence down through the years. It has accepted always the democratic right to work for its objectives and its aspirations through the political process, through any forum, be it in the House, in Northern Ireland or wherever it may be.
For that reason, I sought to remind the House yesterday that there was another view, that it is the substantial view of nationalist people in the north of Ireland, and that it is held by much more than 65 per cent. of that population in political terms and much more in non-political terms. That view is that there is no place for violence in the solution to our problems ; that we must solve them through the democratic political process, and that we must do so by peaceful means.
It is from that starting point, and for that reason, that I wish to address my arguments directly to those who would contravene what I believe to be a legitimate political philosophy and a legitimate political approach. I shall refer to two subjects that cropped up in the debate and were mentioned yesterday.
First, I can understand the obvious impatience with the delay in reaching a settlement and a solution to the problem as a result of the joint declaration that was made by the two Prime Ministers on 15 December. I can feel the frustration. I ask hon. Members, however, to remember that it took 18 months of negotiation and discussion for the four constitutional parties in the north of Ireland--or was it five ?--the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party, to decide how to get to the negotiating table. That was with no guns, with none of the baggage that Sinn Fein and the IRA have and with none of the problems that may or may not arise in terms of the matters that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman).
Column 1170In the light of that, I would ask people to be patient and to realise that there will be no quick way of getting to the negotiating table in much more difficult circumstances. If it takes the constitutional parties 18 months to do it, please accept the fact that if the peace process is to work, as I hope and believe that it will, we have to exercise patience.
Let us not succumb to a danger that I have heard so often--"Let us give them until such-and-such a date and then " Then what, Mr. Deputy Speaker ? That is what people should ponder very carefully indeed. The "then what ?" options are very limited and very dangerous and we have had them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) says, for 25 years. I make that point because it is valid and it is worth remembering the difficulties of the political process when one is trying to end what is a virtual war. It is something that we must all deal with sensitively.
Mr. Mallon : The desire for peace among all of us is and was such that we want, did want, and still want peace. If there was a little hyperbole in what any of us may have said, it may be forgiven in respect of that hope and desire to save lives and to create peace. The second point that requires clarification is the difference between the principle of consent in the definition of self determination, as contained in the joint declaration, and a veto over policy. That is a substantial difference. I hope that we have been dealing with the element of self determination and the consent which is inherent in that, deriving not only from the joint declaration, but from the circumstances and realities of Northern Ireland. One cannot have a change in the constitutional position without the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. That is inherent in their position, in their numbers and in the geographical factors as well as in the joint declaration, and we abide by that. Does that mean that that same majority of Northern Ireland has a veto over British Government policy? Does it mean that that same majority has a veto over its relationship with the Republic of Ireland? Does that mean that that veto can aye or nay what the British Government may decide to do with or without the Irish Government? There is a clear distinction between that principle of consent in self determination and the implied or assumed veto over what decisions may be made by a sovereign Government. That should be cleared up carefully, and I believe that the hon. Member for Gillingham would accept that distinction and that it would be intolerable to have anything else.
Mr. Molyneaux : I do not think that anyone would imagine that Ulster Unionists, Democratic Unionists, or SDLP Members, even when they are combined, would claim to have a veto over how the United Kingdom is governed or over British policy. The hon. Gentleman will remember a dramatic demonstration of that when the education order was passing through the House. The three Irish parties represented in the House voted unanimously against it and Her Majesty's Government defied our wishes and went ahead with it to such an extent that bishops of the Catholic Church sought a judicial review to reverse the decision. Surely that was an example of the fact that, in the
Column 1171end, as three minority parties in the House of Commons, we bow to the wishes of the greater number of Members of Parliament in the House.
Mr. Mallon : I thank the right hon. Gentleman for confirming that ; but to take that on to a different plain, I repeat that there is a substantive and crucial difference between the element of consent in the joint declaration and the requirement to meet the political needs and desires of the majority of people of the north of Ireland on every other issue.
Clarification has become almost a weasel word. I have heard it analysed as the difference between analysis and explanation. I shall leave the Secretary of State to speak about whatever clarification may or may not have meant in his fine speech last night. Those who have read the speech and do not seek further clarification or interpretation have not been reading the same speech as I have. I leave it to the Secretary of State to expand on that if he so wishes. Let those who can read, read.
Mr. Frank Field : On the point of clarification, I have not had an opportunity before to say how important I think the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has been. However, I am puzzled in that, when the Downing street declaration became public, great emphasis was put on how similar it was to the Hume-Adams dialogue/agreement. Since then, Mr. Adams has said that he has had substantial difficulties in accepting the Downing street agreement. Would not it help the process of clarification if the Hume-Adams statement, agreement, document, whatever it is, were published so that some of us can consider the differences and draw our own conclusions, both in the name of clarification and in trying to speed the debate along?
Mr. Mallon : I have referred to the fact that, on the issue of self determination, there is not a whisker between what is in the joint declaration and what is in the document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall stand by that statement at all times. It is not for me to publish the Hume-Adams document ; it is for the authors of the document to make it public. I am sure that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) would agree.
[ Hon. Members : "No."]
Mr. Hunter : Would the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) clarify this point? If the Hume-Adams document is so similar to the joint declaration, why did Adams's six principles go so far from the joint declaration a fortnight or so later?
Mr. Mallon : The publication of the Hume-Adams document is not a matter for me ; but the truth and integrity of what is said about the means through which we are trying to get a resolution of the problem is a matter for me. The IRA and Sinn Fein tell us that that centres on the core issue of self determination which is defined in the joint declaration. I emphasise that there is not a whisker of difference between the definition in the joint declaration and what is contained in the document to which the hon. Member for Birkenhead referred.
Column 1172I shall go further than that and say that, in the joint statement issued after the meeting on 10 April between Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams, it became public and was clearly recognised that the problem could be resolved only by peaceful means, that it could be resolved only through agreement and, that the Irish people have the right to self determination--there is a difference of opinion on that--that it can be achieved only by agreement and, for that agreement to be viable, it must have the agreement of all the people and all the traditions in the island of Ireland. If that is not saying the same thing as that contained in the joint declaration, again we are not reading well.
Mr. Peter Robinson : As I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument in relation to the issue of whether clarification should be given to the Provisional IRA on the Downing street declaration, does he view the prize of peace as being of sufficient importance that clarification, if necessary, should be given? If he feels that, although it is not his responsibility to clarify the Downing street declaration, will he give us his viewpoint in relation to whether there should be a publication of the Hume-Adams proposal? Should not there be clarification of that, and has not the hon. Gentleman got a view on that matter?
Mr. Mallon : I have spent the past five minutes trying to provide clarification of that document. Let me repeat what I said in case there are any mistakes : in my view, there is not a whisker of difference between the factor of self determination in the document and the document that is now known as the joint declaration. I am providing the clarification, for which hon. Members have asked, as publicly as I can.
Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : I appreciate that the document is not the hon. Gentleman's and he therefore cannot decide to publish it, but does he not understand that the fact that the document is not in the public domain is adding to the confusion about clarification? As it was the leader of the hon. Gentleman's party who had the discussions, who produced the document and who received the praise of everyone in this House in respect of the document--and rightly so--and for moving matters forward, why can we not see that document? What is so secret? If the document is not published, surely that will give more people ammunition to talk about confusion and misunderstanding. Will not the hon. Gentleman ask the leader of his party to publish the document, place it in the public domain and let us all see it?
Mr. Mallon : The hon. Lady will recognise that I can give my opinion in terms of what I see on a piece of paper before me as I have done in terms of the document to which the hon. Lady referred and in relation to the joint declaration. I am giving my view and I stand by it. I stand by it because if people use the issue of self determination to kill other human beings, it is my duty to challenge it if that is the reason they give for taking away the lives of other human beings.
Mr. Couchman : I hate to belabour the point, but there were two parties to the Hume-Adams document--the hon. Gentleman's party leader who is sitting beside him today, who presumably is not blocking publication of the document, and Adams and Sinn Fein. Is Sinn Fein blocking publication? Which part of Hume-Adams is blocking publication?
Mr. Mallon : I can say which part of the process is assuring the House that if the IRA believes that the core element is self determination, but it is continuing to kill people because of that core element, that is spurious and cynical because there is no difference between what the IRA agreed in the other document and what is in the joint declaration. Surely that is the importance and the essence of it all.
There are no valid grounds for misunderstanding or misrepresenting the purpose of the declaration as opposed to the text and interpretation. With regard to purpose, the declaration does not claim to be a solution to the Irish problem. If it did, it would rightly be condemned for failing to deal adequately with many aspects, including security and north-south structures. The declaration is not an attempt to provide a solution.
However, the declaration opens the door very widely to a solution. It does that by recognising formally, and in a way without precedent in Anglo-Irish relationships, that the future of Ireland is to be decided and agreed by Irish people alone. British Cabinet papers of the past 30 years that were released recently show how matters have advanced in that regard in relation to what could not be obtained from the British Government even 30 years ago.
If what the declaration states had been said early enough and often enough, we might not have these problems. There would probably not have been an IRA. Indeed, I have gone further and have said that, had that been stated in 1921 during negotiations, there would not have been a civil war on the island of Ireland. However, it has now been said. Let us now all recognise that it places the determination of the future of Ireland for the first time in the hands of the Irish people alone.
The declaration is consistent with that principle and it leaves the shape of the future arrangements for the island of Ireland for negotiation between the Irish people themselves. It confines itself to the essential purpose of offering
"the people of Ireland, North and South, the basis to agree that from now on their differences can be negotiated and resolved exclusively by peaceful, political means."
That is a singular radical step and it could transform the situation in Ireland and open an entirely new political vista free from the straitjacket of violence. It is a challenge for every form of leadership on the island of Ireland, but especially for the leadership of the paramilitary organisations.
The declaration goes further than ever before to offer a political alternative which paramilitaries can operate and acknowledge. It assumes that they resort to violence not from any psychological preference, but as a last resort in terms of their own particular logic. The declaration seeks explicitly to be the starting point for an alternative political approach which will be meaningful for all, as both aspirations are reflected in it with no qualifications or limitations save that which arises from the abiding reality of the other tradition in each case which neither side can wish away. The nationalists cannot wish away the Unionist people of the north of Ireland and they do not want to do that. Nor can they wish away the strength of the Unionist position in the north of Ireland even if they did want to do that. Unionists cannot wish away the substantial section of the population which is non-Unionist and nationalist and, I believe, they do not want to do that. Nor can they wish away our aspiration towards Irish unity, even if they did
Column 1174want to do that. That is the abiding reality we live with and, as we live with it, the declaration becomes crucially more important for all of us.
Coming from the nationalist tradition, I am sure that there is no one within that nationalist tradition who will take upon himself lightly and justify the awesome decision to take people's lives, having for the first time had that clear understanding and recognition formally that it is for the Irish people to decide what the future of the island of Ireland may be.
There are certain basic fundamentals to republicanism which I would like to measure against the joint declaration. Does the island of Britain still assert colonial rights over the island of Ireland--the basis of republican views? The declaration states :
"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" alone, as of right without outside impediment. There is no economic or strategic selfish reason for Britain remaining in Northern Ireland. That tenet of republicanism surely cannot stand up. Are the British Government setting limits to what Parnell, a former Member of this House, called the "march of the nation"? In the declaration, the British Government formally accept that the right of self determination of the Irish people can be exercised
"on the basis of consent freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland if that is their wish." The declaration also states that agreement among all the people living in Ireland
"may, as of right, take the form of agreed structures for the island as a whole, including a united Ireland achieved by peaceful means".
Does that tenet of republicanism stand up when it is put beside the declaration?
Would the British Government thwart the process of agreement between the people living in Ireland? According to the joint declaration, the two Governments formally pledge
"the role of the British Government will be to encourage, facilitate and enable the achievement of agreement"
between all the people of the island of Ireland. They
"make a solemn pledge to promote co-operation at all levels" and to
"create institutions and structures which, while respecting the diversity of the people of Ireland, would enable them to work together in all areas of common interest."
There is nothing to say that the British Government will thwart the wishes of the Irish people.
Is it that the declaration does not determine and advance what the new arrangements for the island might be? One of the ironies of what are euphemistically called community activists in Northern Ireland has been that the document has been criticised because the British Government do not decide what nationalists will have. Surely, if the British Government were to decide what the Irish people would have, it would be a contradiction of the self determination that the very same community activists have been demanding for so long. It is a contradiction of the very essence of self determination.
The declaration also holds out prospects for a forum for peace and reconciliation to heal the divisions caused by violence over the past years. The persistent taint of atrocity has caused many people, particularly in the Republic of Ireland, to reject not just violent nationalism but nationalism itself. A border reinforced by public opinion in the south would be a formidably permanent one.
Column 1175Let me send clearly a message to the IRA and Sinn Fein. They have done more damage to the cause of Irish unity in the past 25 years, through their violence, than any other single factor. Let me assure them that they have gone a long way to creating within the Republic of Ireland a partitionist point of view which, in many ways, has become anti-national and anti-nationalist. If the IRA and Sinn Fein want partition to continue, they are going exactly the right way about it. That message must go out to them very loud and clear. I, as a nationalist and as a republican in the true sense of the word, want to take this opportunity of again saying that to them, straight from the Floor of the House.
We have debated self determination at length, but I make one basic observation about it. The vast majority of people in Ireland, north and south, Unionists and nationalists, self determined long ago that there should not be violence on the island of Ireland. Who is standing in the way of that right to self determination? It is those who are carrying out violence. We have the right as Irish people, north and south, to determine that our problems cannot be solved through violence. Yet those people who make issues of self determination are the people who are negating the right that the Irish people have already taken on that issue, that violence should not be the way in which we pursue our objectives.
I am conscious of the time, but I make one further point. We have heard about confirmation, elaboration and interpretation, but I finish by asking for clarification, or asking others to clarify. In this case, I do not request the Government for clarification. I shall ask the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA now to have the courage to give three elements of clarification to their supporters, voters, members and activists. First, I ask them to be honest enough publicly to say to them, "Violence will never achieve the objective of a united Ireland." They must say that to them. If they have the courage of their convictions and the integrity of leadership, they must spell out the reality that we can never unite people by killing them and that Irish unity will never be achieved by violence. I ask the leaders of the IRA and Sinn Fein to make that public declaration to their own members, not to the rest of the people of Ireland who already believe it. That is what leadership is about.
Secondly, I ask them to tell their own membership, supporters and voters that, in essence, they have agreed to the principle of self determination for the Irish people, with the consent of the majority of the people of the north of Ireland. That is another piece of honesty which I should like to see instilled. Also, I ask them to explain and clarify that self determination without that principle of consent is not self determination but coercion. There is a little bit of clarification, interpretation and elaboration which might help the situation.
Thirdly--and this is very important--I ask them, as with the role that my hon. Friends and I have chosen, to become the persuaders of those who do not agree with Irish unity and do not want it. The logic is that if I accept the principle of consent in self determination, my role as a nationalist is to persuade those who are not that their future would be better in a country which was unified in whatever form that unification might take. That is the role of nationalists if we wish to pursue the noble objective of creating Irish unity. Will Sinn Fein and the IRA join us in becoming the persuaders, through the political process, through peaceful
Column 1176means, through persuasion and through every form of political action that will not and cannot entertain or include violent action against anyone on the island of Ireland?
Mr. Mallon : I do not put time scales on the matter. Time scales have no place in politics. I made my position clear when I said that it took the constitutional parties 18 months to get started, even to get to the table, never mind obtain any type of agreement. I make my point about persuasion. There are those within the process who have said to me, "But that is a pipedream ; you will never get Unionists to agree to any form of Irish unity." I finish with two very pertinent quotations. The first is : "There is no one in the world who will be more pleased to see an absolute unity in Ireland than I would."
I do not want to enter into the game of "Who said that?", but it is relevant. It was Sir Edward Carson, a former Member of this House, in January 1921. The second quotation is :
"In this island we cannot live always separated from one another. We are too small to be apart or for the border to be there for all time. The change will not come in my time but it will come." I will not enter into the business of saying, "Who said that?", but it was James Craig, Lord Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Persuasion can, will and must work.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : It might be for the convenience of the House if I now make what I hope will be a reasonably brief intervention to offer a Government view of the issues that have been addressed to eloquently so far. The motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) invites the House to assert
"its abhorrence and rejection of all violence, from whatever quarter, perpetrated in place of democratic persuasion."
We have just listened to a devastating examination of the claim of the IRA and Sinn Fein to justify the perpetration of violence in the circumstances that apply now, after the joint declaration by the two Governments. We listened to a penetrating examination of those claims by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members--indeed, all who have spoken in the debate so far. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend not only on his choice of subject but on his most careful and, if I might say so, perceptive and moving speech.
My hon. Friend mentioned the meeting of the British-Irish interparliamentary body, which he was attending when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach signed the declaration in Downing street on 15 December. I was to have answered questions before that body that morning and was looking forward to it, but I had to withdraw at the last moment in order to be present at Downing street. I regret that, and perhaps there will be another occasion when I can attend that body. But I entirely agree with my hon. Friend when he describes the declaration signed that day as an historic agreement--it patently is--which offers a real opportunity to see an end to the inexcusable violence which has so marred the image of Northern Ireland.
Column 1177My hon. Friend described the joint declaration as a declaration for peace. That is exactly right. It is profoundly for peace and profoundly against violence. Peace--not peace at whatever price, but peace properly attained--and an agreed political settlement are the Government's twin objectives in Northern Ireland. Each of the objectives supports the other, and we share them with the Irish Government.
To my mind, the motion's reference to the "insistent demand" of the people accurately captures the present mood for peace that is so apparent in Northern Ireland today. Violence leads nowhere ; in a democracy, it is wrong, inexcusable and always revolting. Last year, 84 human beings were killed in Northern Ireland alone--murdered. All of them were killed by terrorists ; none by the police or Army. Hundreds more were injured. We do not and will not forget in particular Tim Parry or Jonathan Ball, the children of Warrington, or the victims of Shankill or Greysteel. They and the other victims were not mere statistics. Sometimes, we give the impression that we treat them as mere statistics as we compare one year with another, but we do not mean to do so. They are not mere statistics ; they are flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone.
People demand that the violence stop now. There is a great yearning everywhere to hear that the days of the bomb and the bullet are over for good, and that those who wish to seek political change in Northern Ireland- -and why should they not?--will now follow the democratic path, and only the democratic path.
The joint declaration sets out in full public view a clear framework for peace provided by both Governments. As my hon. Friend said, it is not a settlement in itself. It is a framework in which a settlement can be achieved, and it removes any doubt that violence can somehow be justified. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and the leader of his party have made that abundantly clear. On 4 January, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said : "past reasons given by the republican movement for armed struggle no longer exist."
The declaration is clear for all to see. As the Taoiseach said last night, it is not open to renegotiation.
Let me make it clear that the declaration places nobody's interests at risk. It represents the shared view of the two Governments on how to pursue peace, stability and reconciliation through agreement. It represents a balanced statement of the constitutional principles and political realities that safeguard the vital interests of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland--and I stress the word all. The words of Cardinal Daly have already been cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter). Cardinal Daly said : "The Declaration excludes no-one and pre- determines no single political or constitutional future. Nothing is excluded except the use of violence for political ends".
That is precisely what the two Governments intended.
In the past, the use of violence in one form or another on many sides has led to much of the pain and division that we see today. This is a cause of real and general regret. Today, both Governments and most people believe that the way to break this vicious circle is to stick rigorously to the principles of agreement, consent and democracy. The declaration is founded on those principles. I suggest that its most important characteristic is its balance.
Column 1178For those who support the Union, the declaration offers real reassurance. In it, the Prime Minister reaffirms the constitutional guarantee and declares that the British Government will uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the specific issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland. The wishes of the people of Northern Ireland on this point are and will remain decisive for the reason given by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh--self determination that is not based on consent is not self determination at all ; it is coercion.
Elsewhere in the declaration, the Taoiseach states :
"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",
and he accepts, on behalf of the Irish Government,
"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 of Northern Ireland".
In the event of an overall political settlement, the Irish Government undertake to put forward and support proposals for change in the Irish constitution which would fully reflect the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. The declaration therefore offers the key reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland that their future lies in their own hands.
Today, I reiterate that while Northern Ireland, by its own volition, remains part of the United Kingdom, all its people can continue to count on the whole-hearted commitment of the British Government to upholding them in that status, with all the entitlements and obligations that that entails.
On the other side of the coin, to those who hope to see a sovereign and united Ireland, the declaration gives reassurance that their aspirations, when pursued by peaceful means, are fully legitimate. Reassuring those who are encouraged to believe that the British Government have narrow, colonial or strategic ambitions in Northern Ireland, the declaration says that, on the contrary, they have no selfish strategic or economic interest there. Our primary interest is to see peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland established by agreement among all the people who live there. Accordingly, no single outcome to the process of agreement is ruled out in advance. Nor will any be ruled out in the event. We accept a binding obligation to introduce the necessary legislation to give effect to any measure of agreement on future relationships in Ireland. That is for the people living in Ireland freely to determine without external impediment. But, equally, the outcome cannot be predetermined.
The declaration commits us to encourage, facilitate and enable all the people living in Ireland to achieve agreement not agreement of a particular character, but simply agreement--through a process of dialogue and co- operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland. The declaration provides explicit recognition of the aspirations of both the main traditions. Above all, it emphasises the need for agreement and consent, and for devising a stable future.
It specifically asserts :
"The British Government agree that it is for the people of the island of Ireland as a whole, 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 1179Both Governments will stick by the declaration. We have laboured to produce it for many months, and it is going to stand.
We want to know, together with millions of people around the world to say nothing of these islands, whether all those who are now engaged in violence will recognise that there is clear encouragement to end the violence, and to open the way to political dialogue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister rightly pointed out that talk of clarification is but a smokescreen to distract attention from that crucial question.
The House should know that the Prime Minister has today placed in the Library a letter, unsigned but written on Mr. Adams's headed notepaper, together with the reply which was issued yesterday. The letter talks of clarification of the joint declaration, but does not give particulars of anything that needs to be clarified. Instead, it seeks to reopen issues for negotiation by pointing back to a position that was attributed to the Irish Government in June last year.
Mr. Benn : Would I be wrong in thinking that all of the correspondence with Sinn Fein that the Secretary of State published during last year was, in effect, the British Government seeking clarification from them about what might be done? Is the word clarification quite such a problem when, in fact, we are discussing talks about talks? Is not that a very familiar procedure in any peacemaking process?