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Column 1044In Britain, we also need an understanding of the rights of the people of the north who are nationalists and who rejoice in their Irishness, every bit as much as of the rights of unionists who have pride in their Britishness. We must end the way in which we have treated Northern Ireland issues in this place and move as quickly as we can to a devolved and decentralised system of government. There are also issues that must be addressed by the paramilitaries. Two weeks ago, when I was last in Northern Ireland, I visited the university of Ulster at Coleraine and spoke to young people from both traditions. They showed extraordinary enthusiasm and optimism about the future, but they were also hard-headed and realistic about the problems which must be overcome. After that, I met representatives of FAIT--Families Against Intimidation and Terror--in Belfast. I intervened on the Secretary of State to point out the continuing problems of operations which are conducted without fear or favour against vulnerable people, some of whom have been driven out of Northern Ireland. We hear much about freedom of movement within the United Kingdom or in the United States of America, but let there be freedom of movement as well for families who have been exiled from Northern Ireland and required to live in the United Kingdom on pain of death if they should return to Northern Ireland.
I want to hear more from the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA about what has happened to those families. I want to hear more about such cases as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) has recently raised. Despite the ceasefire, there have been continued assaults on people who might have committed minor offences in Northern Ireland, but the IRA has set itself up as a quasi-judicial authority. The Belfast Telegraph of 20 September states:
"This youth had known for weeks that the IRA was pursuing him. Then one night last week, he was hiding in a friend's house in the Whiterock area, when six men raided the house and took him out. They laid him down on the ground and broke his wrists and fingers with a metal bar. They beat him about the legs with a hurley stick with a nail through it and punctured the flesh by his shin bone. He had a black eye."
Ms Short: Obviously, we are revolted by such events. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a real challenge to us here? There are areas of Northern Ireland where the police's writ has not run and the IRA has taken on the policing role at the request of the community.
Ms Short: I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there was a lot of noise which was preventing me from making my point, and I was responding to that. Surely, the challenge to us--this is the point that I want to put to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton)--is to improve the policing in Northern Ireland to win the trust of those communities. Of course, we must denounce
Column 1045all these evil actions, but that is the real challenge to the United Kingdom Government, in co-operation with the Irish Government.
Mr. Alton: I shall give way in a moment. Articles which have appeared in the press, and the human rights updates regularly produced by FAIT, demonstrate that these cases of intimidation continue daily. Once again, I quote from the Belfast Telegraph : "Since the IRA ceasefire, Provo punishment squads have been beating their victims with iron bars, hammers and baseball bats instead of kneecapping them."
Recently, the hon. Member for Belfast, West raised the case of a 16-year- old who was viciously assaulted with a crowbar; I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised that issue with the RUC.
Such cases are not confined only to one side of the community. Clearly, many of the loyalist paramilitary organisations have become heavily involved in drugs, which is an increasing problem in many ordinary families in the north of Ireland. We also have such problems in our urban areas in Liverpool and drugs can be one of the most powerful pressures for crime. The racketeering, profiteering and Mafia-style activities which have been part and parcel of terrorism must not be regarded as a side issue; they must be central to the future that we are trying to create in Northern Ireland. Military violence may have ended, but violence per se has certainly not ended.
Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As the Member of Parliament who represents the area of Crossmaglen, I wish to make it clear that the people of Crossmaglen have not asked the IRA or anyone else to police on their behalf. The people of Crossmaglen and south Armagh have no time whatever for the type of thuggery involved in the incident identified by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). My own research assistant was subjected to such a beating by thugs in the IRA. Everyone should understand that no one in south Armagh asked the IRA to do that. Did the IRA do it in the name of anyone in south Armagh?
Mr. Alton: The hon. Gentleman has made a powerful and eloquent intervention. He makes the point effectively that no one wants to see a quasi-judicial organisation established with a de facto policing power under the aegis of the IRA. That is not the way forward. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) said--the House must recognise that this is a problem--that the nationalist community, the Catholic community, was alienated from the Royal Ulster Constabulary. For good reasons, many Catholics and nationalists have felt unable to join the RUC because of the consequences that would follow if they did.
That must change, and that will require us to reform both the policing and judicial arrangements in Northern Ireland. I hope that we shall not do that by a series of knee-jerk reactions or piecemeal reforms with emergency powers, prevention of terrorism orders, or whatever. I hope that these matters will be legitimate questions for the talks process, and that we shall examine all the questions
Column 1046together and try to provide an ordered way of moving forward. That is surely what the people of the north want. They want the same freedom of movement that we enjoy in the rest of the United Kingdom. People should not be forced to become exiles in their own land. It would be a move of extraordinary importance if Gerry Adams were to say-- never mind the persiflage of whether he speaks for the IRA and/or Sinn Fein --that he has no intention of resuming violence, whatever gains or defeats he has in the talks process. That would go a long way to reassuring the cynics and pessimists who wonder precisely where the future is leading. It is not good enough to come out with ambiguities and obfuscation about whether violence will be resumed, depending on what happens in the talks. That is holding a gun to people's heads and it will not do.
The Government have shown courage, vision and determination. They are entitled to the support of the whole House, and on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I can say that they will continue to receive it.
Mr. Nicholas Scott (Chelsea): First, I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for not being present for the whole of his speech. In the same breath, I congratulate the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) and welcome her to her responsibilities on the Opposition Front Bench. She takes on those responsibilities at a challenging and important time and I am sure that we all wish her well.
It was 13 years ago when I arrived in Belfast as a Minister. I arrived when the hunger strike was still in progress, a number of hunger strikers had died, the streets of Belfast were littered with debris, the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary were under tremendous pressure and one almost despaired at the prospect of movement towards peace in Northern Ireland.
We seemed to be in a stand-off position, yet patient negotiation behind the scenes and understanding of the feelings on both sides managed to bring the hunger strike to an end. Patient, understanding work--much of it behind the scenes--led to the situation where we have a ceasefire in Northern Ireland. I have the highest hope that its permanence will soon be recognised.
Those of us who follow the cartoonist Matt in his light-hearted interpretations of current events will remember the cartoon of the two ladies waiting at a bus stop in Belfast with one expostulating to the other, "Typical. We wait 25 years for a ceasefire and now we get two coming along at the same time." We have two ceasefires and I hope that they will last.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his vision and courage to go down a route where there was no success guaranteed at the end. He would have been severely criticised by a variety of quarters if the whole thing had failed. However, the Prime Minister, in co-operation with the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has brought about a remarkable success. I know that hard-working people in the Northern Ireland Office and elsewhere have played their part, and they also deserve our gratitude. We can celebrate--hopefully, not prematurely--the progress that has been made so far. We
Column 1047all recognise that there will be pitfalls ahead, but I remain an optimist, not least because of some of my experiences when I was a Minister in Northern Ireland.
After all, it was the Prime Minister's predecessor who signed the Anglo- Irish Agreement. The workings of that agreement, which was not welcomed whole-heartedly in all quarters of the community in Northern Ireland, proved that it was possible for those holding ministerial offices in London and Dublin to work against a background of constructive understanding between the two Governments, to develop habits of mutual co-operation without the surrender of sovereignty on either part in the discussions that took place. As each Government began better to understand the position of the other, they made adjustments in their policies and approaches to the issues that confronted us in Northern Ireland.
There was no question of executive power being transferred or sovereignty eroded, but there was a steady development of mutual understanding, which has been immensely beneficial and which may well have laid the foundations for what has been achieved in the latest accord between London and Dublin. If there are new bodies to be formed under the terms of the latest arrangement, I think that they can learn a great deal from the work that followed the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
We stand on the threshold, as it were, of historic steps affecting the future of the island of Ireland. At such a time, we should look back and pay tribute to the security forces which have borne such an immense burden over the years of the emergency. I was privileged to be security Minister in Northern Ireland for a number of years, and I recognised the pressures that those forces were under: I was in no doubt that terrorist organisations, especially the Provisional IRA, set out to do their best to provoke the British Government and the security forces to react--to over- react, it could be said--to the terrorism with which they were being presented.
I recognise, of course, that over the past 25 years mistakes have been made in security policy, but I find it difficult to imagine another Government in a liberal democracy who would have reacted more calmly and steadfastly in the face of such provocation. As I said, undoubtedly mistakes were made, but overwhelmingly we preserved the values of a liberal democracy in the face of immense provocation from the terrorists.
Let us translate the statistics for those 25 years of violence in Northern Ireland into a Great Britain equivalent. That would mean our having incurred about 1 million casualties and nearly 100,000 deaths--figures that put into perspective what the people of Northern Ireland have suffered. To their immense credit, they have endured it; they deserve our understanding and our continued support as the peace process develops.
A number of problems must be confronted if that peace process is to continue. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) mentioned weapons: I think that they will pose a very difficult problem. If I were a member of either side of the Northern Ireland community, perhaps on the fringes of the paramilitary organisations, I should be very reluctant to hand over weapons that many people--perhaps doubting the good will of the other side--may regard as personal protection. I believe that the heavier weaponry, the Semtex and
Column 1048detonators, should be first on the agenda. I hope that an arrangement can be made with the paramilitary organisations to ensure that that happens.
There is another problem, in which I took particular interest when I was in the Northern Ireland Office: the prisoners--men and women, many of them young--who have been caught up in terrorist activities over the years, and are now serving very long sentences, life sentences in some cases. The life sentence review board could help us to resolve that problem. The board assesses when it would be possible to release those sentenced to life imprisonment in Northern Ireland. I recall that one of the major factors in the decision was the risk that released prisoners would reoffend. Given recent events and the constructive atmosphere that seems to be developing in Northern Ireland, I hope that the Ministers will examine the workings of the board and consider how it might play a more proactive role in considering which prisoners could be released into the community. I am certain that, during my time in the Northern Ireland Office, the board's activities had a profound effect in the Northern Ireland communities: it was possible to release a number of people into the community, and I hope that we can build on that achievement now. I was particularly pleased to note that Mr. Gusty Spence--a loyalist former prisoner; I was able to use my influence to secure his release--had played an important part in bringing about the loyalist ceasefire.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): Does my right hon. Friend understand that some Conservative Members see no distinction between someone blowing up a three-year-old in the name of a united Ireland, and someone blowing up a three-year-old just because he is plain evil? They would find it impossible to follow the route that my right hon. Friend suggests.
Mr. Scott: My experience was that examining the background of offenders who had probably been sentenced by the courts in Northern Ireland, the possibility of their reoffending if they were released and the part that they could play in persuading others to turn away from the path of violence was a constructive contribution to the process of bringing about a change of mind and heart in the paramilitary organisations. Again, I mention Mr. Augustus Spence in particular.
Let me say a word about the economy. Over the past 25 years, we have spent a vast amount on security in Northern Ireland. I hope that, if peace endures, the extra resources spent in recent years will not suddenly be clawed back by the Treasury and denied to Northern Ireland Ministers; I believe that at least some of them should be deployed in trying to ensure that both Northern Ireland communities have job opportunities in the future. We have seen some remarkable economic successes in Northern Ireland, and the peace dividend--as it is sometimes called--should be reflected in more job opportunities throughout the Province.
Of course, we still face--in the words of the Tanaiste--a great conundrum in bringing about a final arrangement in Northern Ireland. The competing claims of nationalists and Unionists still strike many as incompatible; the Governments of both the Republic and the United Kingdom bear a heavy responsibility in taking the process forward. I hope that they will not be persuaded to rush fences--that they will be patient, take small steps in the right direction and not allow themselves to be panicked
Column 1049into sudden action that may leave them face downwards in the mud. Patience, I believe, is the key to a final solution to the problems that we are trying to solve.
I believe that the nationalist community in the north of Ireland should take some satisfaction from the progress that has been made since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and the recognition of the legitimacy of the nationalist aspiration. We in this country, however, must understand the depth of feeling in the Unionist community. John Hewitt--who could, I suppose, be called the poet of unionism--once said:
"This is my country, nowhere else.
I shall not be outcast on the world."
Those who seek a solution, within the island of Ireland, to the problems of Northern Ireland must bear in mind the depth of passion among Unionists about their identity. It is essential that whatever solution we find can accommodate both traditions; otherwise, we shall write ourselves a recipe for a return to violence and disaster. The future of Northern Ireland should provide no role for facile slogans such as "No surrender" or, indeed, "Ourselves alone". We must find ways in which the two communities can work together and build confidence. That will not happen overnight; it will take years, if not decades. But we need to maintain the momentum, keep our nerve and keep our vision of peace. We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland, as well as to the people of Britain and the Republic of Ireland. 5.59 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East): The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) served as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on Northern Ireland for several years, and while I must confess that as far as the Ulster Unionist party is concerned, we never really reached a shared understanding, we can say that the hon. Gentleman put his opinions with clarity and force.
One of the reasons for the hon. Gentleman's departure is the fact that the present leadership of the Labour party has decided to upgrade the Northern Ireland post to shadow Cabinet level, so we have a double reason for congratulating the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam). The hon. Lady is the first woman in that post, and she will no doubt make clear the Labour party's views on Northern Ireland as they develop in the coming years. We offer her our sincere congratulations.
We are also looking forward to the further clearing-up of the problems that some of us have in trying to define defensive weapons in the hands of terrorist assassins and fellow travellers. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) raised that matter, and some of us found a measure of difficulty with it.
I have had the same measure of difficulty since 31 August with the degree of euphoria that clouds the judgment of so many in Northern Ireland, and indeed further afield, in regard to the present ceasefire, cessation of violence or truce--whatever one cares to call it.
The Government have been refreshingly wise in the way in which they have dealt with the evolving situation in Northern Ireland. I can use that description, because this Administration have come to understand that they do not need any selfish, strategic or economic reasons to stay
Column 1050in Northern Ireland, because the people who live there have a vast array of good reasons to remain within the United Kingdom and not a single good reason to leave it. Thus, Ulster's constitutional position depends upon the will of its inhabitants, so it will stay within the United Kingdom.
However, I must say to the House--and particularly to the Government--that the unity of the kingdom is best secured when the central authority also has the wit to understand that it has a role to play beyond a benign neutrality while leaving others to defend the integrity of the Union and the realm. In the long run, of course, the people of Northern Ireland need to know that their constitutional position is secure. The Secretary of State's rejection of the comments made by Martin McGuinness at the weekend as arrant nonsense was both necessary and clear.
More needs to be done, for that exchange highlighted the need to convince people by taking action to restore local accountability. The Prime Minister's carefully constructed speech in Belfast last Friday deserves the most detailed analysis by all who are trying to move Northern Ireland towards real peace and stability, and that careful consideration will take into account all that he and his Government colleagues are saying and have said in the past few months. The Prime Minister must not be under any illusions as to the complexity of the situation, and clearly he is not. Great dangers are still present as we proceed down the difficult road to stable institutions of government in the Province. In the light of that, he does well to exercise due caution and to say that the Government will judge the situation by the deeds of terrorist organisations, as much as by their words.
In his speech, the Prime Minister said that he now had sufficient evidence of the IRA's intentions for him to proceed on the "workable assumption"--as he called it--that violence by the IRA had come to an end. The noble Lady Baroness Denton of Wakefield, who speaks for the Government in another place, said last week that the time lapse before accepting that violence had ended was to
"enable commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic methods to be demonstrated."--[ Official Report, House of Lords , 17 October 1994; Vol. 558, c. 80.]
A young man who is in the process of having his bones smashed with an iron bar might not fully share the Government's opinion that the IRA has given up violence. It may well be that such unfortunates will be comforted by the fact that the IRA has construed the term "complete cessation of violence" in a very narrow sense. The IRA has always intended the term to mean only that it has stopped murdering people and exploding bombs. For all its other items of activity, it is simply business as usual--a slogan that we have become well used to in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years.
The IRA is therefore behaving in accordance with the strict letter of the words, and the spirit of good will and common decency that some wrongly detected in the ceasefire statement is simply non-existent. The fact that it has hitherto ensured its continuing dominance of the sections of the community of which it is an integral component--combined with its storage of weapons and explosives, fund raising and all the activities that are needed to sustain, direct and execute a terrorist campaign--is not evidence that it is really dismantling its murderous machine. Rather, it is simply being
Column 1051semi-mothballed for the moment. The rotation from the IRA's version of peace to a full-blown terrorist campaign would take a very short period, should it decide to change.
The present limited peace is self-evidently fragile, and the action taken by the Garda last Saturday is convincing evidence of the danger that still surrounds us. From what was said in regard to that episode, it would appear that dissident elements within the IRA were planning to take over the organisation and its weaponry. We must also assume that any such takeover would not have been bloodless and that there might have been deadly consequences for the leading peacemakers. The Garda's efforts to protect them are therefore welcome, and show the high quality of intelligence that is now available to that force. Had such information been available and similar action taken in the past, many who became the victims of murder and other crimes would be alive and well today.
The IRA has spent 25 years trying to overthrow the will of the people of Northern Ireland, and even it found eventually that violence would not shift them from their fixed desire to remain within the United Kingdom. It has made no secret of the reasons for its new behaviour--it is to get a united Ireland by other means. It has now spent some eight weeks trying to get its new policy off the ground.
The question now is whether the IRA will persist in the democratic debate and persuasion, or whether it will revert to type. I must say that many of us believe that the latter is the more likely course that it will follow in the coming days, weeks and months. It would be extremely foolish to diminish the capacity of the Army and the RUC, in case they are needed rapidly to restore the defences that have been swept away in recent days.
The opening of border roads and the removal of soldiers from the streets give welcome evidence of a slow return to normality, but so long as the possibility and the threat remain that violence will resume, the capacity to restore defences has to be kept intact. I hope that the soldiers will stay--if not on the streets--in barracks in Northern Ireland where they can be instantly available in large numbers.
One thing of which we can be sure: Irish republicans of whatever shade of green will always find some new product from their factory of grievances about which to complain. We had much experience of that 25 years ago. I hope that the House, and especially the Government, have learnt that no matter what concessions Irish nationalists--again of every shade of green-- have been given down the years, they have been received with ill grace, and nothing has ever come back in return.
On the issue of law and order, on which we had hoped to find co-operation-- and where every right-minded person would want co-operation--we find that the Social Democratic and Labour party has still not taken up a place on the Police Authority, even to the point where it recently expelled Councillor Rocks of Cookstown because, as a very brave citizen, he dared to play his part on that body. It is clear to many people in Northern Ireland that that sad rejection of responsibility does the SDLP no good in the eyes of reasonable people, and drives many people in Ulster to ask how it can ever play a responsible part in the Province, a view that we share when it simply refuses to do what it can to make the police service acceptable to
Column 1052those whom it represents. We had some striking evidence of the need for a police service, even in the most republican areas of Northern Ireland, in the early exchanges on Opposition Benches today. The SDLP should have the confidence to stand on its own feet and take the lead, and it should not be tagging along with those who want to dismantle the RUC and replace it with something else, which, in the end, would be acceptable to no one. Such a betrayal of that force would not be acceptable either to my party or to the House. The Prime Minister's speech last week set out a most ambitious agenda, much of which can be put in train regardless of what the IRA does in the coming weeks and months. He set out a considerable programme on the economy, which we warmly support. Four members of the Ulster Unionist party, including myself, were in Washington in September. We found much talk in several quarters about how to help to provide American investment for jobs. It was suggested that there should be a meeting of business leaders to see what could be done. It is notable and welcome that the Prime Minister went much further. He said that he wanted to draw together possible investment from the whole globe. We already have quite a lot of successful investment from many of the areas mentioned in his speeches. The Prime Minister will also know that the Ulster Unionist party estimates a loss of 25,000 to 30,000 jobs in security -related work in conditions of permanent peace. Such a drop in employment would be devastating to many places that currently supply the persons employed in that work. For that reason, my party has already called for resources to be deployed to ensure that unemployment levels equal to those in the worst black spots do not become the norm in many areas of Northern Ireland.
We especially welcome the Prime Minister's statement that European Community money will be in addition to the Government's expenditure plans over the next few years. In the past, such sums have always been subsumed in United Kingdom Government spending plans. I am glad that the Prime Minister, as First Lord of the Treasury, has persuaded that institution to be a little more like Scrooge at the end of "A Christmas Carol" rather than the individual whom we meet in its earliest passages.
The fact that the Prime Minister also intends to consult at council level to hear local opinion on what is needed to rejuvenate and regenerate those council areas is very welcome. For the first time, local voices will be heard where it really matters. We have every confidence that the varying needs of the different council areas will be made clear to the Government by the leaders and chief executives of each council.
The Prime Minister has made it evident that he intends to move ahead on a wide front to reinforce the demand for a peaceful Ulster and, as far as possible, to make it impossible for anyone to return to violence. He is well aware of the great responsibility that he carries as he works patiently to construct a system of governance in Northern Ireland that will command the respect of all
well-intentioned people. We all know that universal acceptance is a bit like the holy grail--long sought, but never found. Frankly, it will never be found. Nevertheless, methods of administration and representation acceptable to the great preponderance of the population in that part of the country can be created. The acquiescence of more
Column 1053will be certain and only the tiny number who are totally blinded to reality by their detestation of all things pertaining to Britain will oppose those methods.
The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on his cautious advances so far. We wish him well in future and we hope that his efforts and those of many others involved will eventually be crowned with success.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): I join right hon. and hon. Members in welcoming the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) to the Opposition Front Bench. I assure her that my colleagues and I will be happy to meet her at any time to express our views not only on the general constitutional position, but on social and economic matters where there may be more of a meeting of minds.
In saying that, I also acknowledge the deep interest that the hon. Lady's predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), showed in his post. Undoubtedly, there has not been much common cause on constitutional matters between the hon. Gentleman and my colleagues and myself, but we recognise that he was sincere in his interest in Northern Ireland--indeed, so much so that, when I came to the House in the 1970s, he regularly expressed his views, different though they may have been from mine, although he did not have a Front-Bench post.
I welcome the opportunity that this debate provides. Like the Secretary of State, I believe that it is high time that we had a debate to consider many of the recent developments in the Province. I recognise that I may well be swimming against a popular tide in the House, although I share many of the hopes and desires expressed for Northern Ireland by other hon. Members. It will not be a surprise to the House to learn that I do not have the expectations that other hon. Members have expressed about the prospects for this process. I certainly have greater fears and concerns than those expressed by others.
I believe that the Provisional IRA has punctuated its activities with what appears to be more a comma than a full stop. However, over the past weeks, the weary and hard-pressed people of Northern Ireland have been enjoying a taste of life without the thud of the bomb and the crack of gunfire.
Much has been said about Northern Ireland and its prospects for peace. Newspaper editors, some politicians, some Churchmen and some people who should know better have been using expressions such as, "Peace is the most precious pearl. Nothing is more important than peace." I expect that many hon. Members share my belief that that statement is not valid. Although peace is undoubtedly a precious gem, to be sought after and cherished, there is a more precious gem than peace. That gem is, of course, freedom, and the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland.
We would not want peace if it was a peace of slavery or a peace of surrender. Who better than this nation to say that, if peace had been the most precious gem, if peace had been the ultimate objective and if peace had been the most important factor, this nation would have stood aside to Hitler, it would have offered no resistance to Galtieri, and it would have bowed before Saddam Hussein. Indeed,
Column 1054it would have surrendered to the Provisional IRA several decades ago. Peace, therefore, is a priority, but it is not the main priority. The main priority must be the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland.
When the Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland a few days ago--I welcome his regular visits--he said:
"Seven weeks after the IRA ceasefire, seven days after the Loyalist paramilitaries' ceasefire, Northern Ireland is at peace." Those words have been uttered many times before and since his visit, so I must address the question whether Northern Ireland is at peace. Many commentators who have used those terms have not entered certain caveats as carefully as the Prime Minister did in his speech. For me, peace signifies more than the silencing of guns, more than the stilling of bombs, and more than the easing of the sorrows of war. Peace must be a permanent, enduring and lasting end to violence. It means stability in terms of our political structures. It means that the causes of the conflict have been addressed. What we have is not peace; it is at best a peace process. By definition, if a peace process is real, it may achieve peace at the end, but it is not peace at the beginning.
I shall now look at the prospects for the present process, based on the recognition that the cardinal principle to be observed is the protection of the rights and liberties of the people of Northern Ireland and the acknowledgement that it is yet to be determined whether this process can achieve peace.
As the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said, we have two ceasefires. First, let us look at the stated reasons why those have been announced. On the part of the loyalist paramilitary organisations, the combined loyalist military command said that it called its ceasefire because "the Union is safe". The Provisional IRA said clearly, and has said since its statement, that its ceasefire has been called because it believes that the Union is to be dissolved. It hardly requires me to point out to the House that we therefore have ceasefires called by two of the paramilitary groups on a contradictory belief as to the outcome of the process.
Secondly, let us look at the nature of the ceasefires that have been announced. The loyalist paramilitary ceasefire is conditional and depends entirely on the Provisional IRA and republicans maintaining a ceasefire. The Provisional IRA ceasefire is clearly conditional on achieving its goals. So if the IRA does not have the concessions necessary to maintain its ceasefire, not only does its ceasefire end, but the loyalist ceasefire ends as well.
The Provisional IRA's announcement did not meet the criteria which the Prime Minister set out on a number of occasions for the basis on which he would engage the Provisional IRA in dialogue in exploratory talks. The Prime Minister had consistently declared that he needed to be satisfied that the ceasefire was permanent. I remind the House that, on 8 October 1993, the Prime Minister said:
"No Government which I lead will negotiate with those who perpetrate or support the use of violence."
On 1 November 1993, in this House, he said that, if the implication of the remarks by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) "is that we should sit down and talk with Mr. Adams and the Provisional IRA, I can say only that that would turn my stomach and those of most hon. Members; we will not do it. If and when there is a total ending of violence, and if and when that ending of
Column 1055violence is established for a significant time, we shall talk to all the constitutional parties that have people elected in their names. I will not talk to people who murder indiscriminately."--[ Official Report , 1 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 35.]
In the Downing street declaration, the Prime Minister made clear the position of his Government and that of the Irish Republic. Section 10 says that the involvement of Sinn Fein and, indeed, any other paramilitary organisation, in the democratic process and the exploratory talks depended on a permanent end to the use of or support for paramilitary violence.
On 31 August this year, the Prime Minister said:
"We need to be sure the cessation of violence is not temporary." And on 7 September, he said:
"I must be certain that this is not just a short-term ceasefire but a credible, long-term, permanent cessation of violence." So I am looking for the Prime Minister's reasons for determining that the ceasefire is not temporary but long-term, lasting and permanent. When the Provisional IRA called it several months ago, the IRA official newspaper, An Phoblach , described it as a suspension of the armed struggle. The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) said that the chairman of Sinn Fein used the same terms this morning on radio.
When speaking on the subject of the ceasefire, the well-known Sinn Fein spokesman, Mitchell McLoughlin, made it clear that, unless the British Government came up with the goods, the ceasefire was, to use his term, "doomed". It is also worth pointing out that he laid down a number of demands in that statement: that talks must begin with the Government and Sinn Fein--that condition is on its way to being met; that the electoral and democratic mandate of republicans must be recognised in every area--we saw that starting yesterday; that the broadcasting ban must be lifted--that has been met; that exclusion orders on Sinn Fein members must be lifted-- that is already under way; and that the demilitarisation process must begin immediately--that is also under way. But his remarks clearly showed that, unless the Government made concessions, the ceasefire would not be permanent. Speaking in Boston, the leader of Sinn Fein, Mr. Adams, said once more that, if the reasons for violence had not been addressed in two or three years' time, a new leadership would come along. Whatever one may think about the truth of that, it is clear that he does not think that this is a permanent cessation of violence.
Only last week, the former IRA leader and present Army Council member, Joe Cahill, told republicans in America that violence had not been renounced, and said that the position would be re-evaluated at Christmas. Depending on what concessions had been made by that date, he said that they would go on until Easter, at which time they would take a decision on whether to end their violence permanently. All those remarks have been accompanied by a break-out at a prison, when the IRA attempted to shoot its way out. That hardly demonstrates a wish for a permanent ceasefire. Members of the IRA have consistently challenged the police and the Army on the streets of Northern Ireland, removing in the first instance cross-border blockages, and trying to pull down the security outside police stations. On the Falls road, Mr. Adams told his supporters that the conflict was not over,
Column 1056and that they would be called out on to the streets if the Government did not make the concessions that he required. The punishment beatings continue. Exclusion orders on young Catholic men whom the IRA deems not suitable to remain in its areas are still in force. Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness have had their exclusion orders removed, but they still hold them on young Catholic men, who have been forced to leave Northern Ireland.
A report has appeared in a national newspaper that the Provisional IRA is keeping open its supply lines from America, and the flow of arms is continuing. Indeed, we had an unusual day when my colleague, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who is currently in the United States, said that he had information that a containerload or so of arms had entered the island. The FBI managed to put out three statements in the same day, two of which confirmed my hon. Friend's statement.
All those factors do not point to a permanence in the IRA's ceasefire-- quite the opposite. Yet in spite of them, the Prime Minister made the statement he did. He sometimes wonders why some of us are so cautious about assurances that he gives us. I believe that that is a further lesson to Unionists not to depend on assurances for their political salvation.
A year or more ago, we were assured that there would be no contact with the Provisional IRA. There was. The Government then explained that it was not really contact: it was simply a channel of communication--but, to the people of Northern Ireland, it was a promise broken, or, at best, a promise diluted. We were then assured that there would be no clarification of the Downing street declaration for the Provisional IRA. There was--21 pages of it. The Government explained that it was not clarification; it was a commentary--but, to the people of Northern Ireland, it was another promise broken, or, at best, diluted.
As I said, the Prime Minister promised us that there would be no move to bring Sinn Fein-IRA into exploratory talks until it had permanently ended its violence--but again, there was. The Government now explain to us that, although it is not permanent, they will make a working assumption that it is intended to be permanent. There is a double dilution for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker: another promise bites the dust.
I therefore advise people who are holding on to promises from the Government to look carefully at the bottle of promises they have, because they will see clearly on the label the words, "to be diluted".
Mr. Robinson: That must be one of the most absurd views for anyone to take. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being deliberately obtuse--at least, I hope that he is being deliberately obtuse, and that it is not part of his nature.
How on earth could anyone assume that I am worried that promises are being broken because I would prefer violence to occur? I would prefer that the promises were kept. That is the obvious conclusion for anyone to draw from my remarks.