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Sir Patrick Mayhew : I dealt with that matter at Question Time yesterday. It is perfectly true to say that during the exchanges which were carried out through the channel of communication in the years going back to 1990, the Government did clarify their thinking and sought clarification in return. That is a very different position from that which applies today when, after many months of discussion, the two Governments have made a declaration which sets out constitutional principles and the political realities which govern--in their view--the future of Northern Ireland.
If that document, which has been fashioned after consultation on a wide scale, were to be glossed, or if it were to have interpretations placed upon it, it begins to unravel. It is then induced that the process inevitably becomes one of negotiation when clarification, thus defined, is entered into at the request of an outside party. That is why both Governments have said that they do not propose to do that.
Mr. Benn : This is the core of the current argument, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State. If the Downing street declaration was, as he said, a framework and not a solution--the means by which a solution could be achieved--is it unreasonable to suppose that the framework should be fully understood before it is entered into by those who are parties in the matter? I am trying to assist, and not to obstruct, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. Will the statement, "This is the declaration and there will be no explanation--take it or leave it" increase the prospect for a positive response which everybody in the House would like?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : Of course, everybody hopes for--indeed demands- -a positive response. However, the document is substantial and sets out a framework for peace in a way which makes it clear that only the absence or the
Column 1180giving up of violence is required before there would begin a process of exploratory talks. Those talks would begin within some three months, within which three separate factors can be discussed. I will come to those in a moment. I suggest that that is when clarification could be appropriate.
That would be the time when it would be possible to clarify what is to be done to ensure that Sinn Fein may enter into the political process. That is a way in which clarification can be obtained of the consequences of giving up violence. However, it is violence alone that prevents that from happening at the moment. The first stage of the route to participation in politics is already as clear as it possibly could be, and it is that stage which it should take now. I do not want there to be any doubt about it. We cannot add to, take away from, gloss or interpret that text. We shall not clarify it, because it speaks for itself and, so far as we are concerned, it will continue to do so.
So I say to Sinn Fein and its leaders address the issue that counts. They should heed the overwhelming desire among the people of both traditions of Ireland, north and south, to see an end to terrorism. If they call for it to end now and for good--they claim they want to--then, once their good faith is plain, we will engage in exploratory dialogue within three months. We will not negotiate before they have disclaimed violence.
It is already in the public domain what the purpose of that explanatory dialogue would be. It has been there since my statement of 29 November, and there is nothing new in it. It would be threefold : to explore the basis upon which Sinn Fein would come to be admitted to an inclusive political talks process, to which the British Government are committed, but without anticipating negotiations within that process ; 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 ; and to examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence. It is in this exploratory dialogue that clarification, as I have said, could be appropriate--not clarification of the joint declaration but of the three processes. It is significant, when testing whether the claims that clarification of the declaration is needed are bona fide, that I am aware that there is no specific particular of which clarification has yet been sought.
The first stage of the route into political dialogue lies straight and clear before Sinn Fein. It cannot be made more clear, and that is the route Sinn Fein should take if it truly wishes to represent, in political dialogue rather than by violence, those who have voted for it.
As has been said in the debate, if the violence were to end, it would create a new era for Northern Ireland, an era in which opportunities which have been denied it for the past 20 years again become available. It is difficult to put a limit on the possibilities if violence were to end. Paramilitary violence has cast such a cloud--a pall would be a better word- -over Northern Ireland. It is only in response to that violence that troops are on the streets of Northern Ireland in such numbers. It is the response to violence in Northern Ireland that requires gallant young men and women to accept the risk that their lives may be taken in an instant by less than heroic villains, who take over people's houses and who treat them with ruthless cruelty. They hit and then run, and they sully disgustingly the cause of Irish nationalism. It is to enable the forces of law and order to combat violence that
Column 1181Parliament renews our very necessary emergency legislation. However, were violence to come to an end for good, the need for all of those measures and for other responses to violence would also end. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham rightly attached much importance to whether there should be an amnesty as some settlement price or inducement to bring violence to an end. Whatever happens, the rule of law must be upheld. So I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said on the subject. There must be no misunderstanding. There are no political prisoners in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom.
Terrorist crime, both past and future, will continue to be vigorously investigated by the police with the aim of bringing the perpetrators to justice. That must be so. There is at present no let-up in this, and there will be none. Those convicted after due process of law must expect to serve their sentences according to law. One vital feature of any peaceful and civilised society is respect for the rule of law, which means the consistent application of the legal process to all its members without partiality. There can be no compromise on this.
I turn lastly to the consequences for building on the progress already made in the talks process, if violence comes to an end.
Mr. Corbyn : Does the Secretary of State think that a useful step in the peace process might well be to lift the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, as the Government of the Irish Republic have done, and, as a gesture towards negotiations, to lift the exclusion order against the president of Sinn Fein to enable him to travel to London to put his views and perhaps further the peace process?
Sir Patrick Mayhew : If Sinn Fein announces that it no longer justifies the use of violence and turns away from terrorism, there will be no need for special legislation that spares the people of the United Kingdom the humiliation, indignity and gall of not only suffering terrorist attacks but seeing the perpetrators of those attacks justify them, with their words broadcast into every sitting room in the land. That could go. As I made clear yesterday, the Government's position is that the justification for introducing that legislation in 1988 is no less strong today than it was then.
Mr. Benn : The right hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken greatly as a lawyer about the rule of law and so on. If Mr. Adams is guilty of an offence, why is not he taken before the courts and convicted? If he is not guilty of an offence, why is not he allowed as a member of the United Kingdom--which the Secretary of State proclaims as a democratic country--to travel to any part of the United Kingdom? The denial of civil liberties in Britain is the price that we are paying for the policy that has been pursued.
Sir Patrick Mayhew : The right hon. Gentleman speaks as if each of those matters derogates from the rule of law. But each of those matters is a factor by reason of the will of Parliament. Exclusion orders have been made available by Parliament in the emergency legislation in response to the need to counter terrorism. That is the first instance. The broadcasting legislation is also the will of Parliament.
Column 1182Those matters derive solely from terrorist attacks in this democracy. If the terrorist campaign ceases and a party ceases to justify terrorism, the need for those matters falls.
I was speaking about the political talks and the talks process. I believe that we can build rapidly on the progress that has already been made. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke of the progress that had been made. I am grateful for the words that he used in that regard. The declaration complements and underpins the talks process. We are determined for our part that the talks process covering all three strands should be carried forward intensively, and with additional focus and direction which we will be minded to provide. The need to develop political consensus in Northern Ireland and to create institutions that command support from both sides of the community, within a stable framework of wider relationships, grows ever more urgent.
I have long thought it unsatisfactory that the Secretary of State should hold so many of the reins of power in Northern Ireland. I have said so almost from the beginning of my term of office. I judge that there is growing impatience within the community at the lack of arrangements that would increase local accountability and give Northern Ireland's own political representatives a greater say in the running of the Province's affairs. That is what strand one of the talks is about.
There is also, I believe, increasing recognition of the interests which all the people of Ireland, north and south, have in common. And so, where it is to their mutual advantage, it makes good sense to work closely together and to have arrangements that make this possible. That is the substance of strand two. Finally, there are important issues that only the two Governments can address. They are doing that now, at official level, in strand three.
The Prime Minister and the Taoiseach stated on 29 October last year that the two Governments would work together on a framework to carry the process forward. I attach great imortance to developing a clear understanding with the Irish Government. For that reason, I very much welcome the Taoiseach's call on 10 January for
"an early restart to the wider talks process, in order to pursue agreement".
The contribution of the Irish Government is vital if we are to achieve a comprehensive agreement covering all three strands.
Mr. Peter Robinson : Will the previous maxim stated in the March agreement, which was the basis of the previous talks process, that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed, be the basis of the new talks process ?
I am convinced that the talks process, involving the two Governments and the main Northern Ireland parties in Northern Ireland, and based on a broad agenda, offers the best hope of achieving an agreed, durable and comprehensive settlement. The talks process must therefore press forward with all urgency, based on the statement of 26 March 1991. I continue to agree with the view of the independent chairman, Sir Ninian Stephen, that the objectives of the process remain valid and achievable.
There can be no question of allowing the momentum to drop. There is a momentum for agreement ; a hunger for the dignity and responsibility of deciding and governing local affairs ; a determination to work together throughout the
Column 1183whole island. The people of Northern Ireland want peace and agreement : the joint declaration provides the framework in which this can be achieved. The talks process offers the way forward. Sinn Fein can join in, or stay out, but it cannot stop the process. It has only one rational choice.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North) : On 15 December my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, speaking on behalf of the Labour party, enthusiastically welcomed the joint declaration as an important first step in the peace process which will lead to a new political settlement. But it is just that--a first step. The declaration represents a framework for peace in Ireland. We hope that it will provide the basis for a just and lasting political settlement for the people of Ireland.
The declaration contained the first official recognition by a British Government of the right to self-determination of the Irish people as a whole--a right to be exercised with the consent of the people of Ireland north and south, freely and concurrently given. In his speech today, the Secretary of State made it clear that he agreed with the Taoiseach's assertion that, under the declaration, the nationalist people of Northern Ireland have had their existing rights of self determination, which they share with the rest of the people of Ireland, formally recognised.
The expression of the right to self determination was not imposed on the Irish people by the British Government. The majority of the Irish people, through their elected parliament and with the agreement of the elected constitutional northern nationalists, have chosen to declare that a united Ireland requires the consent of a majority in the north of Ireland. The two traditions within Ireland can never be united by coercion. So the only way forward must be through peaceful negotiation and dialogue.
We welcome last night's clarification--or, if the Secretary of State prefers, "elucidation", "illumination", "promotion of a more full understanding"--of the declaration by the Government. Last night, reading the Secretary of State's speech, I thought that he came perilously close to becoming a persuader. However, it was a good speech and an important one, as indeed was that of the Taoiseach. In his speech, the Secretary of State made it clear that no outcome of any talks is precluded other than a united Ireland achieved through coercion and that, equally, no outcome of any talks is predetermined. All other constitutional possibilities and institutional arrangements are, in principle, open to discussion : they are for anybody to put on the agenda.
The Labour party is happy that the Government have confirmed that this is so, because that confronts Sinn Fein and the IRA with a stark choice. They must either openly reveal whether it is their policy to continue to seek the coerced unification of Ireland, or they must abandon violence, enter constitutional dialogue and seek to persuade the Unionists of the merits of Irish unity through peaceful, practical and co-operative politics.
Thus, the Downing street declaration is entirely consistent with Labour's declared policy and that is why we have supported it. We wish to see the unification of Ireland by consent and we oppose any general veto on political progress being given to any political party or
Column 1184community, other than the right of a majority to veto a united Ireland within the north and the expulsion of Northern Ireland from the Union.
Last night, the Secretary of State asserted that the talks process requires
"ideally, the involvement of the two Governments and the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland committed to the democratic process."
While we welcome the Government's reassertion that no single, constitutional political party can veto the talks process, may I ask the Secretary of State to confirm that he did not mean to imply that the Irish Government could conceivably be excluded from any constitutional talks on the future of Northern Ireland?
The joint declaration reiterates the Anglo-Irish Agreement by making it clear that "as of right" Irish unity would be implemented if a majority so wished--just what we have always sought to support in the House. In the absence of consent for Irish unification, we have frequently expressed our wish to encourage all constitutional parties in Ireland, north and south, to agree institutional arrangements that will enable them to live together in peace and prosperity. That can also be part of the dialogue.
The declaration commits both states to foster agreement leading to "a new political framework founded on consent and encompassing arrangements within Northern Ireland, for the whole island, and between these islands".
The British Government have also committed themselves to reaching an agreement that will
"embrace the totality of relationships".
Those statements recognise what should be plain to all and what the Secretary of State reiterated last night : that there can be no lasting resolution of the conflict in and over Northern Ireland which does not address all the relevant relationships, internal and external, north and south, east and west, between parties in Northern Ireland, between the Republic and Northern Ireland and between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It follows from that, from the declaration and from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, that there are three important matters. First, the Government have said, and the Secretary of State said today, that they still adhere to the three-strand structure of talks agreed in March 1991. Secondly, any attempt to decouple one strand of the talks from the others could be a recipe for failure. Thirdly, the principle holds good that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, because these three strands are inextricably intermingled and if one is pulled out the rest will unravel. Any abandonment or equivocation on those matters will only arouse the deepest suspicions.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Is it the official Opposition's view that Dublin should have a real say in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland? That matter was once relevant to stage one of the talks that ceased.
Mr. McNamara : The Opposition's attitude is that one cannot have agreement on strand one which would be acceptable to all in Northern Ireland unless there is a considerable Irish dimension within it. The Secretary of State signalled last night and said today that he intended to seek a resumption of the round table inter-party talks. While we welcome such a development, we should like the Government to clarify--if I am allowed to use that word--that they do not intend
Column 1185to give focus and direction solely to strand one of the talks. We must never forget that it is equally vital to secure progress on strands two and three.
Last night, the Secretary of State asserted :
"there can be no going back to a system which has the allegiance of, and is operated by, only one part of the community."
We welcome the fact that the Government now appear to preclude any simple majoritarian approach to the establishment of a devolved Government for Northern Ireland under strand one.
In the debate and in his speech last night, the Secretary of State spoke about the need for local political institutions and about giving power back to local assemblies and councils. There may be an argument for that, but I caution the Secretary of State to remember the history of Northern Ireland and the fact that it was precisely in those areas that much of the discrimination and unhappiness that led to the civil rights movement had their origin. If any powers are to be given back, it must be done in a way that will prevent the possibility of the abuse of any of those powers at local level. It is of particular importance to bear in mind the carryings on of some local authorities in Northern Ireland. It would be a brave man who would be prepared to return powers to some of those councils. I realise that it can be argued that the very absence of powers may make people operate in that way because they lack the ability to take responsible, authoritative decisions. There may be some substance in that argument, but I repeat that when the councils had power to make important decisions, many of them used those powers arbitrarily in the interests of only one group. One must look carefully at any proposals for returning power to local authorities without adequate safeguards.
The Secretary of State will have noted from my reply to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that we think that it is wrong to try to get one internal settlement in Northern Ireland which does not have the full support of all the parties and which lacks a substantial Irish dimension.
In a letter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition on the question of the Northern Ireland Select Committee, the Secretary of State said that it had been agreed in the talks on strand one that such a Committee should be established. That may or may not be so, although if it is correct it would seem to be contrary to the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. More importantly, there has been a constant drip of comments on what has or has not been agreed earlier in strand one. It is important to have some understanding of what was or was not agreed, because there are conflicting statements from the different parties. I realise that it is important that the parties negotiate as much as possible in confidence, knowing that statements that they make will not be immediately relayed to the enemy or its supporters-- sometimes one is not certain which is which--but statements made since the Brooke talks on the basis of what the Secretary of State said about Sir Ninian Stephen suggest that the information should be more widely distributed.
We welcome the fact that the Government have also fully understood the stark realities of the existence of the two national communities, which look to their respective nation states for protection and the institutional expression
Column 1186of their identities. That is particularly important given the Prime Minister's gloss on paragraph 9 of the declaration in the Newsletter of 4 January. The relevant paragraph says that the two Governments will work to create through agreement
"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."
The Prime Minister said that that was simply
"two countries sharing a border on an island"
"for ways to work together that made sense to both."
The message that such language conveyed was that a future Irish dimension would be minor and almost derisory. There should be no preconceived and narrow perception of the future of north-south institutions. Part and parcel of the apparent narrowing down of the agenda by such matters as the Prime Minister's minimalist interpretation of paragraph 9 of the declaration have caused people to ask for precise clarification. So we welcome again the point made clearly by the Secretary of State yesterday evening that there were no inhibititions or preconceived solutions whatever and that any matter could be discussed.
The onus is now on Sinn Fein to respond to the declaration and the clarification that has been given by both Irish and British Governments. Like the British Government, we are and will remain steadfastly committed to encouraging, facilitating and enabling agreement among the people of Ireland through a process of dialogue and co-operation based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland.
The challenge is now for Sinn Fein and the IRA to enter that dialogue and seek that co-operation, based on full respect for the rights and identities of both traditions in Ireland, which means ending the violence.
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater) : The theme on which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) ended his speech has echoed through the debate. It is the absolute justification for my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) having chosen this subject for debate today. It has enabled the House to speak clearly on the matter and, in the case of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), to ask direct questions that must now be addressed by the Sinn Fein leadership. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State made clear, no amount of wriggling or trying to find ways to avoid addressing those questions will last. Sinn Fein must now say whether it is prepared to accept the challenge.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh gave a moving description of the murder of a soldier in his constituency. As he described that event, I reflected that what had also shocked the people of Crossmaglen was their knowledge that, whatever excuses had been made for violence in the past, they no longer existed. That death was an outrageous act. Such murders are always outrageous, but that one was even more outrageous because there was simply no excuse for it. I believe that the possibility of peace still exists. I agree with the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) that there was an unhelpful over-optimism at the start of the process. That is often followed by over-pessimism that the opportunity no longer exists. Clearly, difficult questions must be addressed by the
Column 1187leadership of Sinn Fein. It must admit that the path on which it set out is not only a dead end but is increasingly recognised as hostile and positively damaging to the cause of nationalism. It is an obstacle to achieving a united Ireland, not a way of advancing it. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh made that point clear. Another obstacle that has worried me greatly since the publication of the joint declaration is the approach of the media to the subject. The enterprise is a difficult one which needs careful handling, leadership and quiet discussion and I worry that the media's handling of it will not be helpful. I listen to the ever-active Mr. Peter Snow, the persistent Mr. John Humphrys and Sue MacGregor trying to drive people to make statements and corner them on various issues. It will take considerable leadership of Sinn Fein to deal with some of the issues. Bringing the subjects out into the open, shining a blinding light on them and calling for categorical statements is seriously inimical to the chance of quiet discussion and persuasion that is necessary. I hope that my comments will be taken in an entirely constructive spirit. Newspapers do not have anything like the force and power on this subject as on others. However, when the principal protagonists are challenged on such issues in front of television cameras it raises real difficulties. Every hon. Member listening to me knows the difficulty of facing such interviews. We all wish the peace process well and I hope that the media's responsibility will be recognised in those quarters where it matters.
Today, and in an excellent speech last night, my right hon. and learned Friend echoed the phrase that was used when I was Secretary of Northern Ireland, when we first received approaches, which go back to before 1990. It was said that we did not really mean what we said about the principle of consent in the Anglo-Irish Agreement because there was a secret, strategic reason why Northern Ireland had to remain part of the United Kingdom. That argument went back to the U-boats and Winston Churchill--indeed, some people still thought that it had something to do with the first world war. It illustrated the awful time warp in which some people in the republican movement live. People still thought that there was a secret agenda.
Hon. Members may have seen Mr. Adams's recent comments following the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. He said that we were hearing the language of Lloyd George all over again. I do not think that many hon. Members live on the speeches of Mr. Lloyd George, as they feel that the world has moved on in some respects, but for some people in Ireland it has not. Such views are still very much part of their mythology.
Lloyd George wrote an interesting letter, dated 29 May 1916, to Sir Edward Carson when it was proposed to implement the 1914 legislation. It stated :
"My dear Carson,
I enclose Greer's draft propositions.
We must make it clear that at the end of the provisional period"-- when the 26 counties would have home rule and the six counties of Ulster would be excluded--
"Ulster does not, whether she wills it or not, merge in the rest of Ireland."
Lloyd George's comments made it clear that, regardless of the views of its people, there were reasons why Ulster should remain part of the United Kingdom.
I first made the statement that there was no selfish strategic or economic reason that could override the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. It is
Column 1188due to the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland that it is proud to be part of the United Kingdom--we welcome and value that.
Some people in Sinn Fein are still in a time warp. They believe that we need desperately to keep trade routes open from America to allow corn to come in. They have not heard that Great Britain is now a food and grain exporting country and that, unlike in 1916, the port of Liverpool is no longer regarded as the vital link for the nation's commerce and trade-- Southampton, Felixstowe and a few other ports would say that time has moved on. Air travel may have made some small contribution to the change in the position.
"Prisoners of the past" was the phrase that echoed through my right hon. and learned Friend's speech. Sinn Fein must realise that the situation has changed. We are in 1994 ; 1916 or 1921 are not being fought all over again.
Mr. King : Not those negotiations--they were a little earlier. I noted an amusing commentary that the letter to Carson is signed, "Ever sincerely, D. Lloyd George". Sir Edward Carson may have greeted that with certain reservations.
People still seem to believe that we are in the Lloyd George era, but the situation now depends on democratic choice. As the Taoiseach said in his excellent speech last night, no fairer statement of the nationalist ideals could have been made in the Anglo-Irish declaration. As we said in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, although it seems to have taken a little time to sink in, and as we have repeated in the declaration, the future of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for their consent.
As the Taoiseach said last night, partition may be considered by many to have been wrong, but that wrong, if that is how it is seen, will not be righted by another wrong of coercion. Under the principle of self determination and the generally accepted principles of the United Nations, any transfer of sovereignty must have the consent of those concerned. The idea that sovereignty can be transferred against the wishes of those concerned is clearly unacceptable.
That is why the Taoiseach was right to say to those who wish to achieve Irish unity that there is no short cut to agreement and consent. I respected his comment last night that the agreement must be freely entered into. He added that the agreement might involve an united Ireland, but he accepted that any other form of agreement might be reached between the north and south of Ireland. That is precisely the point. Those who believe in self-determination and in the principle of consent must accept whatever the people wish to achieve.
The challenge, as the House has said with impressive clarity, is that the declaration offers the best opportunity for the cessation of violence that has arisen certainly in the past 20 years, but Sinn Fein finds itself in a catch-22 situation. It has become wedded to violence to achieve its objective, yet the perpetration of that violence is now counterproductive to the objective that it seeks to achieve. With all the history and suffering for its own communities, as it would see it, with the legacy of tragedy, with the number of boys behind the wire, and with whatever
Column 1189mythologies exist, it is not easy for Sinn Fein to recognise that that road is leading nowhere, that times have moved on and that there is now an agreement.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North made the point extremely well. The democratic voice of those in the island of Ireland who pursue the cause of nationalism--the cause which they claim to support--has spoken and has determined the way in which that cause will be pursued : either now, as very much a significant minority, Sinn Fein decides to use the force of coercion and continue its path, or it accepts the democratic route. The question then is, can it accept the challenge of argument? Every act of violence is an admission that it does not believe that it can achieve its aims by persuasion. That is the challenge that it faces. Each atrocity that is committed, each further death, is further confirmation of lack of confidence among members of Sinn Fein in their ability as Irishmen to persuade other Irishmen of their cause. The House has spelt out the matter clearly. We stand absolutely together across the Chamber--in the parties and among the overwhelming majority of those who speak for the people of Northern Ireland--in saying that the opportunity is there. The question is whether Sinn Fein will release the island of Ireland from the pall of violence from which it suffers and give it a chance to enjoy the future that it deserves.
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : I agree that the debate should be set against the background of the historical perspective. There was a debate in the House of Commons in November--November 1641. I looked at the record and it said :
"Monday in the House of Commons they received letters from Ireland, intimating that theire troubles are so great, that they have scarce time to write the Rebells doe much increase and presse hard towards Dublin "
and that they
"expect Armes and supply from England, France and Spaine." A letter was sent to ask what the trouble was about. It was, of course, the time of Charles I. The rebels sent a remonstrance, because they were not allowed to worship as they wished. The Government of the day--presumably the then Secretary of State--answered that
"if they would lay down their Armes and repaire to theire owne dwellings, they should have pardon and that they would bee a meanes to the Parliament for the satisfaction of theire demandes." I am not for going over every atrocity and every horror of Hamar Greenwood and Lloyd George and the rest, but the House of Commons must discuss this in a proper, historical context, because Sinn Fein is a relatively new body. The Fenians were not there all the time. The one consistent element throughout that period is that Britain has governed Ireland, or a part of Ireland. The only contribution that I want to make to the debate--it is not without importance--is that there is a deep British interest in peace in Ireland, apart from the interests of the Irish people themselves. The war, and it is a war, between the British Army and the Irish Republican Army, however small and unrepresentative it may be, is costly in lives, money and the civil liberties of the British people.
Mr. Benn : No ; I am going to continue my argument. The hon. Lady will have to listen. I have no doubt that she will be called. I feel that the British people have scarcely been brought into the argument, even by the Government. We have been told about the discussions between the constitutional parties, and there have been the so-called Hume-Adams talks. There have been contacts or exchanges with Sinn Fein. But the British interest has hardly been mentioned. I feel very strongly about the denial of my civil liberties. I was in the Jubilee Room on Monday when at my suggestion Mr. Hartley, the chairperson of Sinn Fein, presented his version of the exchanges. The room was crowded with television units--Americans, Australians, Swedes and the French--including one from Radio Telefis Eireann. I knew that British television units would be committing a criminal offence if they broadcast the words of a Belfast councillor about an exchange with the British Government.
I felt that my rights were being taken away, as I do when I enter the House and see people being searched. It is about security-- Lady Olga Maitland rose --
I invited Mr. Adams to come here to present his side of the peace argument. I announced it in the House after meeting the Speaker. There was a debate-- the Secretary of State was present--during which I referred to the visit. Although the right hon. and learned Gentleman knew that the Home Secretary had already banned Mr. Adams, he did not mention it during that debate.
I want to bring the denial of our rights into the argument. Where have we got to? I agree with the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) about the importance of the Downing street declaration ; the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) emphasised that importance. For the first time, we are saying that the United Kingdom Government are not committed to the Union because a part of the United Kingdom could leave it, with the consent of that Government. That is a very important change and the right hon. Member for Bridgwater made much of it, saying that it was no longer a case of trade and Liverpool, U-boats and so forth and that we must get up to date.
If we--the British people--do not have an interest in maintaining the Union, why do we maintain it? Is it simply to protect the people whom we drew out of Ireland and placed in a partitioned state? Why are we there? My argument is that once a United Kingdom Government have solemnly announced that we have no interest in the Union--something that a former Secretary of State with great knowledge of the matter has emphasied--there is no going back.
Mr. King indicated dissent.