Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. MacKay: As I am the only hon. Member who has spoken for the official Opposition, will the hon. Gentleman say at what point in my speech I questioned the Government's good faith? I am disagreeing with the Secretary of State on a matter of judgment, nothing else. It is uncharacteristically unfair of the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret me.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman is not conducting a conversation with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). He should be addressing the Chair.

Mr. Öpik: The right hon. Gentleman has made a reasonable request. I am not casting aspersions on his position, but I was unhappy with a specific phrase that he used. He began his speech by saying that this is a very

29 Jul 1998 : Column 493

sad day for this House and for democracy. If he is merely questioning the judgment of the Secretary of State, why is it a sad day for democracy? Ultimately, the judgment may be wrong in his view, but it does not entitle him to imply a failure of democracy in the House.

I am in danger of straying far from my purpose tonight. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is assured of my good will towards him as an individual. I am just concerned that he is mixing up his views on democracy with questions about the judgment of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Let me move on to a point on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The punishment beatings must stop. If they do not, it behoves the Secretary of State to reconsider whether some organisations currently excluded from the list should be included. I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) on that point.

Nevertheless, step by step, yard by yard, we must find ways of making progress. We will have to take some risks as we move forward. Is this order a risk? Yes, it is a risk; but which is the bigger risk: not proceeding in the spirit of the agreement or taking the risk of approving the order? Let us not pretend that there would be no opportunity cost if we voted down the order; of course there would be. Many would feel that we had acted in bad faith with regard to the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Grieve: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Öpik: I do not have the time to do so. I have nearly come to the end of my comments. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will attempt to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is not only a question of the risk. In the real world, we are dealing with people's lives. There is a risk of harming the democratic peace process if we do not act responsibly and attribute good faith to the very people whom we need to convince to stay in the political process.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the hon. Member give way?

Mr. Öpik: I am sorry; I feel that I cannot do so.

The public will take a very dim view if political cynicism is allowed to take over from the profound need to drive this matter forward. The public are also desperately in need of seeing us act in a non-partisan, non-party political way in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. I personally feel that, given the necessarily limited evidence and the Secretary of State's assurances, the best way forward is to take the risk of agreeing to the order.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Öpik: I will not give way.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It is quite clear that the hon. Member is not giving way.

Mr. Öpik: I appeal to the official Opposition to think again about their pessimism concerning the order. I appeal

29 Jul 1998 : Column 494

to all hon. Members to think very hard before they consider voting against the order. Tonight is a sad night only if we make it so. It is only a divisive night if we choose to obscure the issue before us with other considerations. It is a night for sombre reflection, judgment and the courage to see beyond our personal party political views toward the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. Above all, it is a night to remember that, if we fail to create the circumstances for peace, we will also be guilty of obstructing the process.

To break with the past is to take a risk. The Liberal Democrats feel that that risk is worth taking. In supporting the Secretary of State's decision, we hope with all our hearts that she is right. Let us not pretend that anything besides history will prove us either right or wrong.

11.27 pm

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Down the years, I have had a thoroughgoing detestation for the activities of the so-called volunteers of the Provisional IRA. I think that Opposition Members would confirm that they have heard me say that I regard as absurd and obscene the Provisional IRA's claim to be conducting a military campaign in a mature parliamentary democracy.

I know that we Scots Members of Parliament have largely been immune from such activities, even though we have young constituents in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I recently met members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Across that narrow stretch of water that divides the west of Scotland from Northern Ireland, members of families in my constituency have suffered death and injury. However, for some curious Celtic reason, the Provisional IRA took the decision not too extend their so-called military campaign to Scotland. There have been one or two incidents, and we have had lots of incidents of Protestant or loyalist extremists running guns and explosives across to Northern Ireland, as every hon. Member from Northern Ireland knows. Some of those extremists are still--rightly and properly--serving time in Scottish gaols.

I wish to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) that back in 1972--as someone with recent military experience--I knew that something had gone dreadfully wrong on that dreadful Sunday.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that there is very little time left and he is straying rather wide of the matter before us.

Dr. Godman: I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is the easiest thing in the world for the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), to offer comprehensive solutions to problems that appear to bedevil the administrators. The Secretary of State has to make enormously difficult decisions.

I deeply deplore the dreadful punishment beatings that continue to take place in Northern Ireland. We must do as much as we can where those dreadful, vicious people are concerned. I will support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's courageous decision, but I urge her to keep under surveillance the people who are conducting those dreadful beatings.

29 Jul 1998 : Column 495

May I tell the Secretary of State that there is a great deal of sympathy for Guardsmen Fisher and Wright? Many of us deal in our surgeries with people who come to plead on behalf of those two young soldiers. I wish to remind my right hon. Friend of that concern for those two young soldiers, who--as I have said in the past--were rightly and properly gaoled for what they did to that young man, McBride. I shall support the Secretary of State, but we need to keep a close watch on what is going on over there.

11.31 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate the interest of the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) over the years, but I would suggest that if the security services kept a watchful eye on those being released, the media and others would immediately start screaming, "Intimidation". That should be borne in mind.

There is a degree of hypocrisy. The Loyalist Volunteer Force--I have no time for it--has had a ceasefire, and has renewed that claim. It is one of the two bodies that have appointed people as executors who are prepared to liaise with the decommissioning committee. The interesting thing is that the Ulster Volunteer Force is the other. Yet the security forces and the police have said that the UVF has been responsible for the blast bombings.

We have had it reported in the press--without any correction from the Chief Constable--that the culprits around Carrickfergus who have been causing the depredation there were members of the Ulster Defence Association. It seems to me strange, meanwhile, that a judgment is being made about other organisations which are not to be acceptable--the LVF, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Continuity IRA and the real IRA. We accept that judgment, but the Provisional IRA battalion in Ardoyne was clearly responsible for the murder of a person in Belfast. The UDA is continuing its depredations--elements of the UVF likewise--and it has been judged to have been acting in a way that would allow the release of its prisoners.

Some people outside may be acting as calmly as they can and trying to keep a lid on the situation because they have already heard from some of those in the prisons that, if they do not get out, their throats will be slit. That is not scaremongering; it is the reality of what is going on. We should not convey the message that we are prepared to let convicted offenders out without any prior response from them.

I am speaking from my conscience and for my people. Most of my people did not vote for terrorists to be released or for their representatives to be in government in any shape or form. Those who keep talking about the Belfast agreement as the Good Friday agreement might have a point of connection: Good Friday was when the innocent was crucified and the prisoners were released.


Next Section

IndexHome Page