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10.46 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir J. Molyneaux) and I have worked closely together on many occasions. We had deep divisions but always respected one another, and he knows that well. He and I entered the House at the same time; he is now leaving the Chamber--although I do not think that he is leaving the House; he is going elsewhere and will still be seen in the Corridors as an ex-Member of Parliament. We wish him well. I used to tell him that, if he got married, I would do the marriage ceremony for nothing, but he never took up that offer. That is a pity--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) could have shared it.

Some things need to be said tonight. I agree whole-heartedly with what my deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said: there was

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no need for tonight's debate. Nothing in law makes the Secretary of State come to the House and say that he is exercising those powers, because the forum can go on until the end of May. A new Parliament would then be in existence and it could deal with the issue.

The forum has been severely criticised, simply because Sinn Fein said that it would not be there. How could anybody trust Sinn Fein? It tells us that it wants to look at the whites of our eyes and enter into debate. It could have debated with us every Friday at the forum; we could not have kept it out. It was a member of the forum; why did it not come?

Sinn Fein did not come because the forum is the only representative body in Northern Ireland that mirrors the wishes of the electorate. The crowd that meets at Stormont does not mirror the electorate, because the largest party has three people at the table and the smallest party has two. There is no proper representation at the talks at Stormont. At the last meeting, the two Governments and the SDLP were able to block any discussion about decommissioning. All the other parties wanted to talk about the 17 resolutions that we had on the table, except the southern Government, the British Government--our own Government--and the SDLP, so we were not allowed to talk.

At least in the forum there is a mirroring of the percentage of votes of each party. Of course, I disagree with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). We did not push the SDLP out of the forum. We wanted SDLP representatives to stay. We fought and we adjourned the talks, so that the chairman could shift the Alliance party representatives out of their seats. They had to be shifted out of their seats--the Alliance party that reads us all lectures about good behaviour, law keeping and so on.

I fought to get the SDLP representatives seated, but what thanks did we get? They all went away. They told us tonight that they went away because of what happened. The hon. Gentleman may as well have gone away from the House, because the House has more responsibility for what happened in Northern Ireland than the forum ever had. The Secretary of State took decisions about what happened in Northern Ireland. To go away because one does not get one's own way is childish.

The issue in the forum centred on the fact that we believed that the flag of our country should fly, but others disagreed. That was the bone of contention: should the Union flag be seen on the building? A great deal of rubbish was spoken about whether it was a public building, whether people could object under the present laws and so on. A strange country we live in, when the national flag cannot fly on an elected forum. That would not be said about Dublin castle. If I went there and said, "Take down that flag--it offends me," I would be strung up from the nearest lamp post.

It is a shame that the SDLP representatives do not go to that forum. They should be there and they should be debating with us. If they can persuade us, they should do so. They do not like the forum because it mirrors the percentage of the electorate of Northern Ireland. They are not a majority. Even if they brought Sinn Fein with them, they would not be a majority. That is their trouble.

Those who are in a majority position in Northern Ireland are reduced by boycotts of public bodies. We sat at Stormont. We did good work on the prior assembly.

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The SDLP would not come to Stormont either. The official Unionists boycotted the other talks. My party was at all the talks.

I was amazed to hear the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) speaking about Washington. I got an invitation to the Washington do, and I was amazed. It was in honour of his excellency the Prime Minister of Ireland and Mrs. Bruton. I am sure the hon. Gentlemen did not say in their constituencies that they were away to Washington to honour the Prime Minister of Ireland--not the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic--oh no, the Prime Minister of Ireland and, I am sure, his dear, sweet wife. I had no intention of going.

Mr. John D. Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Rev. Ian Paisley: No, I am not giving way. Did the right hon. Gentleman not get an invitation?

Let us have a little common sense and realise that there are deep feelings in Northern Ireland about the territorial claim of the Irish Government and of Mr. Bruton himself. I will not honour the Prime Minister of Ireland because there is not a Prime Minister of Ireland. There is a Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, but he is not the Prime Minister of the whole of Ireland, and the same applies to his sweet wife.

This Parliament is following the foolish path that it took years ago when it abolished Stormont. I heard the former Prime Minister say, "We have settled things in Northern Ireland. There will now be peace." That was when Stormont was prorogued. I said, "It has been like a Sunday-school party hitherto. Now you will see the real happenings." How true that prophecy was. Look back upon what happened when Stormont was abolished.

I acknowledge that Stormont was not a perfect assembly. I was a member of it only at its end. I was a leader of the Opposition when all the nationalists left. That was when I got a job. I led for the Opposition. It is interesting that all the leaders of the Opposition were nationalists until I came along at the end of the day. I know of Stormont's weaknesses, but it was pulled down when it could have worked. It could have been mended. It could have been helped. Instead of that, the House said, "Wipe it away."

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): That was not my vote.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I know that.

What happened? We had chaos. I say to the Government and to those who think that they are the Government in waiting, but only God knows that, that my party will not be at the talks until the forum has its first meeting. My party will not be bluffed. I am aware of the deals that have been talked about with Dublin. One of the deals is that the forum cannot meet if the IRA declares a ceasefire. That is the IRA's position and its negotiating stance. In effect, it is saying, "We can't have that forum meeting. We never went to it. We don't want it to meet. We don't want the Unionists to be discussing what is happening." If there is to be a move on either side of the

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House to bring back talks without the forum, that will not be on. I am glad that there are signs that some agree with me.

It is not on to say to the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, "We are not going to listen to you." The reasoned majority of the Ulster people must be heard. The election will prove that once again. The people will not have their elected assembly destroyed merely because the Social Democratic and Labour party or Sinn Fein says, "We are not going to sit in it."

It could be that, before the forum returns, Sinn Fein will declare a ceasefire. There are some who say that that will be before the election. I do not think so. I think that the announcement will be made after that. If Sinn Fein does better than is expected in the election, it will say, "We have got our votes and we will now have a ceasefire." Before anyone can say anything in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State, who holds the key, can say, "Yes, we are inviting you." If Sinn Fein is to say to the British Government, whichever party forms that Administration, "Right, we are prepared to return to the previous ceasefire," that will not be sufficient. It was a phoney ceasefire. The Government should be warned of that, whoever that Government may be.

My party will not be sitting with the gunmen who have not given up one weapon. They are engaged in terrorism. There is serious news from Northern Ireland. Shipments of arms and armaments are getting through. We could be in for the darkest and bloodiest of times. Is it thought that any self-respecting Unionist will negotiate with people who can put a gun to his head and say, "I don't agree with the talks at the forum; we shall start up violence again"? They will be responsible. They are responsible, and the Government--whoever they are--must deal with IRA-Sinn Fein and anybody else who has weapons and is not prepared to give them up. Let the House learn that tonight.

It is sad that, at the end of this Parliament, we shall abolish something that does not need to be abolished. Why not let it ride out its time? On a free vote, the forum decided unanimously that it would adjourn. That is how it should have been left. It is a pity that we are having this discussion, which will not help the decent people of Northern Ireland who want peace and liberty, who want, as does everybody else, to do their work and to rear their families in peace and quiet.

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