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Mr. John Baron (Billericay): I fully accept that progress has been made, but the Secretary of State will also accept that the situation is far from satisfactory. If the IRA was truly sorry, would not the best way of showing that to the people of Northern Ireland be to agree to disarm totally and unequivocally?
Dr. Reid: I would not disagree with that sentiment, and that is what we want to see. We want all paramilitaries in Northern Ireland to disband completely, and I shall in due course comment on the other side of the coin, as it were. Here, I am merely trying to give the balance for which the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford asked, by saying that we have come a very long way indeed. Yet the risks, challenges and dangers are there for all to see. In a sense, if what has been achieved so far gives succour to those who hope for the best in Northern Ireland, the blemishes and the imperfections that remain are all too often a portent to those who fear the worst in Northern Ireland.
How is it, then, that we have come as far as we have, and yet still face a future clouded in uncertainty and in threat? One analysis argues that moving any long-standing conflict towards settlement requires at least four elements. First, there has to be leadership that is willing to compromise for peace. Secondly, that leadership has to be sufficiently courageous and strong enough politically to make the compromises, to make them stick and to sell that agreement. Thirdly, the outlines of the settlement have to enjoy wide support across the dispute. Fourthly, there has to be a process that people are willing to enter intoa process that is sufficiently robust and resilient to stand the setbacks. At times, there will be setbacks, violence and other backward steps, because of circumstances, or because there are opponents of the entire process itself.
The republican leadership took considerable risks by entering into and participating in a partitionist Government, moving into the arena of decommissioning, and taking responsibility for making Northern Ireland work, rather than simply destroying, or attempting to destroy, it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and his colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party showed great courage and leadership by opening up dialogue with republicans when others were not prepared to do so. I also pay tribute to the previous Prime Minister, John Major, who took tremendous risks and showed tremendous courage in opening discussions with the IRA not at a time when there were some imperfections or local orchestration of violence, but when that organisation was in the process of murdering innocent civilians through terrorist activity. John Major's action was heavily criticised in many quarters at the time, but I pay tribute to him for his courage and his leadership, for withstanding that criticism, and for recognising the historic immensity of the opportunity that had opened up to him and the then Conservative Government.
However, it was not easy to authorise secret contacts with the IRA in the course of an active terrorist campaign. The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford made an emollient speech. I hope that, in recognising that we are perhaps taking risks and making judgments, he also recognises that we are at least doing so after a prolonged ceasefire. The courage required by his own former party leader some years ago to take such action in the midst of a terrorist campaign was even greater, but perhaps the criticisms of him would also have been even greater. It was not easy for John Majorand nor was it easy for this Governmentto agree to the early release of prisoners, or to try to tackle the problem of the "on the runs".
None of this has been easyespecially, of course, in Northern Ireland. Leadership there has traditionally been of the exclusive typespeaking for one's own communityrather than the inclusive type that is demanded, almost by definition, by this peace process. However, in a very real sense this process will work only if one person's problem becomes everyone's problem.
Of course, it is not just Governments and party leaders who have had to show leadership; hundreds of thousands of people throughout Northern Ireland have done so in their own communities. I believe that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford was in Londonderry yesterday, speaking about some of the problems, and I welcome his regular visits. The accommodation that the Apprentice Boys and the residents in Londonderry have reached in recent years has required real local leadership and a willingness to accommodate conflicting aspirations.
I understand the anxieties of those who express concern about a current imbalance in the process and about its underlying moral integrity. There are genuine and legitimate questions that the Government must answer in that regard. We have all faced some tough decisions, and I will continue to do so. On occasion, there is real anguish involved in making such judgments. However, it not good enough for serious politicians who wish to change history to will the ends without having the courage to confront the means of reaching them. Anyone who seriously wishes to change our country and the future in a major way must not merely pay lip service to outlining and supporting some
We will not change the course of history simply by wishful thinking or risk aversion; nor will we do so by being fastidious over every step required along the way. General de Gaulle once wrote that achieving the right outcome sometimes necessitates[Interruption.] I am asked to read the quotation in French. It sometimes necessitates
Dr. Reid: D'accord, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The rough translation of General de Gaulle's contribution is, "It is worth putting up with some imperfections and rough edges if it's the only way to achieve a worthwhile objective." Roughly translated too, my later comment was that it is very easy for Glaswegians to speak French because they also use the back of the throat when speaking.
The difficultyand I freely admit that it is a difficultyis determining how much it is legitimate to accept by way of imperfection. Let me say clearly that the Government do not believe that there can be peace at any price. I want to clear up some misconceptions. It is simply not true that the Government have been prepared to turn a blind eye to continuing illegality, or to regard any level of violence as somehow acceptable, depending on who carries it out. The police continue to pursue with vigour all those responsible for sectarian violence, on both sides of the community. Any imputation that the police in Northern Ireland would respond to political directives or persuasion and stop doing what they do best reflects badly not on the police, but on those who make it.
Since 4 May, there have been 30 arrests in connection with violence in north and east Belfast. It is not the case that no one is ever arrested. There has been a thorough investigationand it is continuingsince the break-in at Castlereagh, and it will follow the truth wherever it leads, irrespective of the outcome. The police will be correct in acting in that way.
Our efforts against organised crime are overseen by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for security. Those efforts also cover organised crime linked to paramilitary groups, and they have been stepped up considerably over the past 12 months. They have achieved considerable success, and that will continue.
It is not true either that we apply a double standard to Sinn Fein, or that we will be content if the IRA's transition from violence to democracy for some reason gets stuck part way through. Ultimately, there can be no half-way stopping house or comfortable staging post between violence and democracy where people can rest indefinitely.
Full rights carry full responsibilities, and participation in the Government of Northern Ireland carries particular responsibilities. I believe that the republican leadership understands that, and that it is committed to the completion of the transition. However, we accept that otherssome of them are in this Househave concerns, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has indicated that he will say more on this issue before the House rises.
I wish to make it clear that neither the enemies of this process, nor our partners in it, should misjudge our motives or our resolve in completing that transition. They should not misjudge our commitment to the process. Some people portray the process as one of appeasement, and suggest that there is something weak-kneed, lily-livered and intrinsically appeasing about engaging in a process of talk, words and jaw-jaw. I remind them that the person who coined the phrase that jaw-jaw is better than war-war was no appeaser. People who have suffered from the conflict know more than anyone else what price has to be paid when politicians fail to solve problems through democratic means. Our security forces and armed forces have suffered more than anyone else, because they are the ones who have been asked to try to solve those problems with their lives.