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Mr. Robert McCartney: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that Sinn Fein, fronting the IRA and exercising the violence that had a precipitating effect on the agreement, has not signed up to the agreement or accepted the principle of consent, such as it is? It has not agreed through its alter ego, the IRA, to decommission a single gun or a single ounce of Semtex. In those circumstances, is it right to say that this agreement heralds the peace that has produced hysteria and euphoria among many uninformed sections of the community, both on the mainland and in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Mallon: The hon. Gentleman is tempting me to stray into other considerations. I should like to answer his question, but I will finish the point that I was making.

When I was demonised over the assembly, one of the allegations was that I was giving power back to the Unionists. Another allegation was that it was a partitionist settlement--that it was reinforcing partition--and that the assembly would, in effect, be an old Stormont. One of the great satisfactions I feel is that it does none of those things. If the aim had been to do any of those things, this legislation would not have come out of the talks.

I shall now deal with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney). I note the position of Sinn Fein and have done so for a considerable time. I note also that had its representatives taken their seats in the House today, they would not have been able to give an opinion. I also note that, if they were standing where I am, they could not say, "Yes, we support it" or "No, we do not support it." I have no doubt that there will come a time when not only will Sinn Fein be giving its opinions, but, unless I am sadly mistaken, we will find that it will be claiming enormous credit, even for the vilified assembly. Knowing the organisation as well as I do, I believe that that will happen.

The hon. and learned Member for North Down also referred to decommissioning. That is an area which we will debate in greater depth on another occasion.

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However, I have a sincere point to put to the main Opposition party. We all remember Washington 3. It took the Conservative Government many years to wriggle around and somehow get away from that precondition. Would it not be tactically wrong, at this stage or any other, to reinvent Washington 3 mark 2 and end up giving not a disadvantage but a negotiating advantage to those who hold the guns and an advantage in terms of public perception?

I make that point because I know of the sensitivities involved in the issue--I share them. I would be wary of giving any tactical advantage on that issue at this stage. We are setting up a democratic institution. The assembly will be democratic because, for the first time, it will provide an opportunity in the north of Ireland for all people, be they nationalists or Unionists, to work together on the basis of consent and to begin to deal with the problems and divisions of history that have caused us so many problems in the past and in the present. Is anyone seriously saying that it is not a good thing that this legislation would provide for nationalism and Unionism to work together in the same assembly, in the same Cabinet, in the same Administration at all levels, so that the strengths of each community can be jointly used by the entire community in a unity of purpose--this is the unity that counts--which will allow us to create something absolutely new in the north of Ireland?

Mr. Robert McCartney: I respect the sincerity with which those latter views are expressed, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that, for nationalism and particularly for Sinn Fein, this agreement is purely transitional--the final objective is a united Ireland? Within an assembly, that will be the objective of pan-nationalism, just as, within the same assembly, the objective of Unionism will be to prevent that from occurring. The assembly will be a constant unstable battle of political attrition that will render the prospects of peace and reconciliation highly unlikely.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. This is a very important debate and I do not wish to stifle the spontaneity of exchanges, but there is also a programme and limited time, therefore, for everyone to make a contribution.

Mr. Mallon: It is no secret to the hon. and learned Member for North Down that I want and demand the right, by peaceful, democratic, political means, to change the status of the north of Ireland. What this agreement does is allow the means whereby, by peaceful means alone, I and others like me can pursue that objective. Can anyone dispute that?

Mr. Peter Robinson: In the Cabinet.

Mr. Mallon: Yes, in the Cabinet, because never again will people who represent the nationalist community come in the tradesmen's entrance in any assembly. Never again are we going to find that we are permanently excluded from influence, power and responsibility at the highest level. Yes, in the Cabinet and, yes, at every level because that is surely what the essence of consent is. Consent is

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not just a Unionist requirement in constitutional terms. Consent is also there as an important part of the nationalist community's position.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Does that apply to Sinn Fein as well?

Mr. Mallon: The hon. Gentleman should talk to Sinn Fein. He has had the opportunity over two years. I will not act as a surrogate to take messages for him. I have no doubt that Sinn Fein will read them, but I take the point that was made, I think sincerely, by the hon. and learned Member for North Down. Every generation has a right to write its own history and no generation has the right to predetermine the future generation's position, in terms either of Unionism or, indeed, of nationalism.

One of the great disservices that has been done to Unionism over the years is that people have tried to impose the past on a changing present and to cater for the future in terms of that antediluvian past. There is the difference. This element of consent does allow people to work in that way--within Northern Ireland, yes; in this Parliament, yes; in the north-south bodies, yes; in the east-west bodies or the council of the isles, yes. Within that, people have a right, and will exercise it, to try to push and to state their political views, while recognising their duty to fulfil the responsibilities in terms of this legislation and agreement.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is that not the very point that has been made repeatedly over the years to Sinn Fein and, indeed, to the IRA? They have a perfectly legitimate political right to argue for a united Ireland, but they do not and will never have a right in law to try to achieve that by terrorism and violence.

Mr. Mallon: I agree with my hon. Friend. That surely is the essence of a democratic process. It rules out for ever any concept of the unification of Ireland by force, which is absolutely unacceptable and wrong. It also rules out for ever any notion that Unionism in any set of circumstances can be defended by force. Consent to that very important principle is a two-way process as well. I hope that that will be honoured in all ways by all those who agree that consent is very valuable.

Inclusivity is the other very important factor. The day the Sunningdale agreement and the arrangements that were set up there fell was one of the saddest of my life. One of the reasons why the agreement fell--there were many--was its lack of inclusivity. There is always a price for inclusivity. The question is: does the net result that is to be gained by it outweigh the price that has to be paid?

In those talks, I found myself sitting beside someone who had murdered the founding member of our party, a close friend of mine--not across the table, but next door. That is difficult for anyone, Unionist or nationalist, but that is what inclusivity means. Inclusivity does not mean that things can be staged. Inclusivity means that if people get the required electoral mandate, they are members of that assembly. What is more, it means that they are members of that Government.

The interesting thing is that not one party in the talks did not adopt and recommend the d'Hondt system of inclusivity, so, when we debate this further down the line,

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let us remember that that is the system which was recommended by every single political party. It will have its price in terms of sensitivities, but the net gain in terms of the well-being of people--all people--in the north of Ireland will be seen further down the line.

The ethos of political life in Ireland north and south will change substantially. One has to look only at the constitutional change that will be undertaken by the people in the Republic of Ireland when they go to the referendum to see the extent to which a new ethos will be accommodated in Irish political life.

I think that it is there for all of us to make the adjustments. There are things in this that I do not like. There are things in it that I would have preferred otherwise, but we have all got to live with the parts that we do not like for the greater and, indeed, wider good of everyone we represent.

Mr. Stott: My hon. Friends the Members for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and I have been members of the British-Irish inter-parliamentary body for a number of years. It has made remarkable progress in understanding our positions both on the island of Ireland and on Great Britain. There are two empty chairs and those chairs have not been filled by our Unionist colleagues on the Opposition Benches. It is a tragedy that they have not been there over the years to try to facilitate greater understanding between all our parties and our two nations.


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