Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Like others, I join the Secretary of State in fondly remembering Gerry Fitt and Mo Mowlam. Gerry Fitt was my predecessor as the leader of the SDLP. He was its founding leader, and in founding the party, he built it on the principles of standing for partnership in Northern Ireland, co-operation north and south, and reconciliation and harmony between Britain and Ireland. Those are principles with which he helped to inspire the SDLP, and we have continued with them to this very day. He was a warm character, not at all reluctant to let people know when he disagreed with them, and a man who was ready to proffer all sorts of advice and criticism. When I spoke to him in July, we agreed that we would meet here this month—he obviously planned a very convivial meeting—and I regret that, unfortunately, that was not to be. Gerry Fitt is fondly remembered not just by those with whom he served in politics or by those with whom he agreed, but by people with whom he disagreed. I think he disagreed with us all on very many occasions.

Likewise, Mo Mowlam was someone who brought enormous humour and character to her time in Northern Ireland. She did not always take herself seriously, but she always took her responsibilities seriously. She left Northern Ireland a much better place than she found it.

One aspect of Mo Mowlam's approach in Northern Ireland was that she knew that, if people are to build trust and confidence, they do not create the impression of a deal one way today and a side deal another way tomorrow or next week. Although many people find it tedious to do things inclusively and on a round-table basis, things can be got through an awful lot faster and an awful lot of suspicion and angst can be saved if the same thing is said in the same terms at the same time to everyone. I hope that the Government will learn some lessons from that.

I believe that the process has got into a lot of trouble by deviating from the inclusive approach that gave us the agreement in the first place. I understand why that has happened, and I shall not go into all that now, but we know that it ended up centring on the question of decommissioning. A fundamental mistake was made soon after the agreement by the Governments not using their authority to declare that decommissioning was a requirement of the agreement no matter who said it was not, and that decommissioning was not a pre-condition for the establishment of the institutions. The failure to do that and, instead, to try to focus on the problem parties and to do side deals, sub-deals and pseudo deals meant that we have waited for years. Some of us predicted that Sinn Fein and the IRA would spend years milking not doing something until such time as they decided that they could milk more by doing it. That has been the story of this process.

This summer's developments on decommissioning are very welcome. The failure to decommission was the boulder that was blocking the agreement road. That stone has now been rolled away. On one side of the boulder were painted the words, "Not a bullet. Not an
13 Oct 2005 : Column 460
ounce", and on the other were painted, "No guns, no Government". As that stone moves away, the veto on the institutions that the IRA's failure to decommission represented should be removed as well. I hope that we can all work on the basis that we are now on the countdown to restoring institutions in which we can all share.

I know that some colleagues on the Opposition Benches took exception to suggestions that I made elsewhere that, when parties come with demands to Downing street, they should be told where to go with those demands—into the institutions and to make them the agenda there. Some parties thought that I was talking about only one party; I am talking about any party coming in. We should all be told where to take our shopping lists and that is, with our mandates, into the institutions into which we were elected: the Assembly, the Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council and the Policing Board.

I wish to make a further point about the Policing Board. The Secretary of State has indicated today that he is moving to reconstitute the board. I join him in underscoring the success of the Patten vision for policing and I join the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in applauding the role and the work of the Policing Board in that regard. It confounded low expectations; it has succeeded in delivering; it has succeeded in carrying all the disagreements that there have been within the board and even all the disagreements in and around Patten; and it has worked. Why has it done so? It has worked because the parties have to take the decisions within the board. We cannot run to Downing street or Dublin with the decisions that fall to the Policing Board. We have to face each other and face our responsibilities and mandates. Therein lies the lesson.

Finally, I note that the Secretary of State has said that he will appoint a victims commissioner. The joint declaration in 2003 said that the Government would consider establishing a victims and survivors forum, and I would like him to move on the propositions for both a victims commissioner and a victims and survivors forum. Victims and survivors have waited for far too long in this process. We keep patting them on the shoulder and then the process shrugs its shoulders when basic questions are asked on behalf of victims. We still have not delivered the promise to victims in the Good Friday agreement, and that is why, when victims see measures coming along for on-the-runs and are very worried about what happens in relation to the cold cases and the process of certificates that are being talked about, they feel very much that they are seen as second best. Victims can no longer be ghettoised; they can no longer be patronised; they have to be championed; their interests must come first; and they must be allowed to speak for themselves in a victims and survivors forum.

Mr. Hain: I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman that victims must no longer be seen as second best. We can all agree to that, and I am sure that it will be agreed across the political divide in Northern Ireland. I ask him to be a little patient. When I am in a position to make an announcement on the way forward for a victims commissioner—which I hope to do sooner rather than later, because the matter has been delayed for too long—I will certainly explain all the details and take account of what he has said.
13 Oct 2005 : Column 461

The hon. Gentleman spoke with tremendous elegance and eloquence about Gerry Fitt, and I agree with him. It is probably easier for me than the hon. Gentleman to say that the SDLP under the leadership of Gerry Fitt, then John Hume and now the hon. Gentleman has always displayed tremendous courage. We would not be where we are now were it not for the SDLP's role.

I agree that we need to learn lessons from the past and that an inclusive approach is important. As we move forward in the coming months, that should be the bedrock on which we engage between Government and the different political parties. I also agree that restoring the institutions is absolutely vital. We cannot put that off for ever; we must do it sooner rather than later.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Policing Board. We must maintain the commitment to the Patten reforms, update them when necessary and take account of new developments while maintaining the absolutely crucial ethos in the board that he mentioned and that has been the main reason for its success. I welcome the points that he has made.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The House can probably anticipate what I am about to say. This is a ministerial statement on which questions may be put. May I now appeal for brevity? There is other important business to be considered this afternoon, so I hope that hon. Members will respect that fact.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): In genuinely wishing the Secretary of State well in the challenging and difficult days ahead, may I ask him to concede that in Northern Ireland there is a great deal of perplexity about and hostility to the fact that he continues also to have responsibility for Wales? There is a feeling that, at this of all times, a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should be that and nothing else. He is the first to hold a dual role. I wish him well, but I hope that he will reflect on those words.

Mr. Hain: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's good wishes. I congratulate him on being appointed Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. He will do an outstanding job as one of the most outstanding parliamentarians in the Chamber.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a structured return to devolved government in Northern Ireland provides the best and possibly only opportunity for peaceful economic growth and development and an equalisation of social opportunities in Northern Ireland? As such, it should be a goal that is embraced by all involved political parties.

Mr. Hain: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. Getting the devolved institutions up and running is absolutely crucial to the future stability and political success of Northern Ireland. My aim as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to do myself out of a job. It is to make sure that we can get devolved institutions up and running. [Interruption.] I am talking about the devolved areas of my responsibilities.
13 Oct 2005 : Column 462

I want the elected politicians in Northern Ireland—the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and all the other elected politicians in Northern Ireland—to take responsibility for the decisions that I now take and that are necessary to take Northern Ireland forward.

Next Section IndexHome Page