At the heart of that constituency lies a middle town, Ballymena, where there is a mixed housing estate. A young man therea Roman Catholicdesired to join the new police organisation. He applied and was accepted and appointed. IRA-Sinn Fein commenced a campaign in that estate with posters and leaflets to every house, depicting the new police service as another Royal Ulster Constabulary and branding it for murders, discrimination and other activities. The result was that the IRA came to destroy that young man. Its leaflets called on the people to treat new recruits of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the same way that the police had treated the IRA. It was a miraclean act of Godthat the bomb did not go off and that that young life was not destroyed, and his father and mother as well.
How can any organisation say that it is for peace when its chairman was asked, "Do you condemn what happened in Ballymena", and he refused to condemn it? I have before me a statement from the IRA and I shall read from it in the light of that. Why should I not? It is an up-to-date reference to what has taken place. Indeed, in Rosslea, there was a vicious attack on the police station and Gildernew, a leading member of Sinn Fein-IRA, defended and justified it. She was elected to this place and has an office here, but does not take her seat. She refused to condemn that attack.
The Mitchell principles stated that there must be a total and absolute commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues. The IRA signed up to that but they do not keep itthey break it. There must be total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. I was amazed to hear people in this House say how terrible it was that we should thinkhow could we possibly?that all decommissioning could take place and all beatings could finish overnight.
We expect the Government to do what a Government are supposed to do: to make people subject to the law. All men equal under the law. All men equally subject to the law. That is what we are asking for tonight.
I must say that I take it rather hard from the Secretary of State because he read a statement by Ambassador Haass, who changes his attitude to terrorism when he leaves America. I am glad that I am telling the House tonight what I told him face to face. When he leaves America, he does not suggest war to the death against terrorism. America is not going to declare war against other countries because of terrorismOh, no!and he told me and my party that he believes that IRA-Sinn Fein must be in the Government.
The idea that the Americans broadcast for the good of their people is that they cannot have terrorists about the place at all, but when they come to Northern Ireland they suddenly say that IRA-Sinn Fein must be in the Government. Why do they say that? They do so because they want to keep the Prime Minister of this country on their side.
I say in closing that no one was more relieved than the people of Northern Ireland about the comparative quiet that we had on 12 July. I was certainly very pleased when an SDLP Member of the Assembly congratulated the independent Orangemen in Ballycastle on the way they ordered their march. Although there was great antagonism at the beginning by people in the street, nothing happened to cause a breach of the peace. I am glad that even our opponents acknowledge that. Long may that continue in Northern Ireland.
I want to give the House some background to my interest in Northern Ireland. It started in 1985 when I made a visit as a student journalist to Northern Ireland, along with half a dozen or so of my colleagues. We visited Connolly house in Belfast and spoke to Sinn Fein members who had served time for arms offences in the Maze prison. We visited Knock barracks and spoke to officers of the RUC. We spoke to members of the UUP and the DUP at their headquarters, to the SDLP and to trade unions.
Three things occurred to me at the time and shortly afterwards. First, everyone in Northern Ireland at the time had their own idea of how the troubles could be resolved if only everybody else would listen to them and be persuaded of their point of view. Secondly, everyone to whom we spoke was very keen to listen to our perspective on the troubles in Northern Ireland, coming from mainland Britain. They were just as keen to listen to us as we were to listen to them until we said something with which they did not agree, in which case they would say, "What do you know? You don't live here!" Thirdly, the metaphor of an immoveable object being acted on by an irresistible force was never more accurately used than when describing Northern Ireland politics.
One of the most moving tributes that I have ever seen to victims of violence in Northern Ireland was at Knock barracks. I do not know whether it is still thereUnionist Members may be able to tell me. There was a book encased in glass, and on each page of that book was the name of an officer of the RUC who had been killed by terrorism during the troubles. Every day, the glass is lifted, and one page is moved on. I found that a very simple but incredibly moving tribute, and the image has stayed with me. Whenever I show friends, relatives or constituents around the House of Commons, I am always careful to point out the shield above the main door as we enter the Chamber bearing the name of Airey Neave, a genuine world war two hero who was murdered by terrorists in 1979.
I have no intention of going through a long list of the many victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years. What I believe is that the peace process is not simply about addressing long-held political grievances; it is primarily about ending the dreadful waste
I understand completely why Members representing both Unionist parties have reservations about the way in which the peace process has developed. When I voted for Sinn Fein Members to have offices in this place, I did not do so with a spring in my step. I did not enjoy seeing convicted murderers being released from the Maze and being welcomed home as if they were conquering heroes. I am extremely worried by the fact that many terrorist organisations are still sitting on a stockpile of lethal weapons. Any assessment of the Good Friday agreement must go beyond a simplistic score chart, however, on which so-called concessions are listed in one column or another as a plus or a minus.
The question that we must answer tonight is this: is Northern Ireland today a better place to live? What are the poverty and unemployment levels? Do young people in Northern Ireland now have an opportunity to pursue a career, to thrive, to marry and to have a secure life in Northern Ireland instead of moving out? For the first time in 35 years, I think that we can answer yes to that.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned, in the three and a half years up to the IRA's first ceasefire in 1994, there were 343 killings. In the past three and a half years, there have been only 50. I will not adopt the position of Reginald Maudling, a former Home Secretary, who said that there was such a thing as an "acceptable level of violence", as, clearly, there is not. I will mention, however, this one factor: the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has seen a 22.8 per cent. drop in unemployment between May 1997 and May 2002; every one of the 11 constituencies represented by official Unionist and Democratic Unionist MPs in the House has seen a far greater reduction in unemployment. Surely that is something that we should value in this debate.
Time is pressing on me and I do not want to detain the House any longer, as colleagues want to speak. I want to make one comment, however, on something that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) mentioned. He spoke of deadlines. I am not aware of a single occasionI certainly know of no recent occasionon which imposing a deadline helped. I do not believe that deadlines are helpful at all. Surely it is better to drive slowly and reach a destination than to drive fast and be unable to manoeuvre at the next bend.