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Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), I had the great privilege of having a mandate from some of the people of Northern Ireland. In September 1993, I stood against a good colleague from Omagh to be elected as the first national chairman of Unison's national policy committee. That mandate was renewed biannually as I stood as a representative of local government workers in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Part of my remit at the beginning of that term was to bring together the three partner unions that had merged two months previously and to reconcile their different views on organising in Northern Ireland.
One partner union basically believed that there was no role for our union to organise in a non-united Ireland. It had refused, as a matter of principle, for more than 60 years to organise there. Another believed that members in Northern Ireland should be left alone and not influenced in any way by decisions that we made in Great Britain. The third partner was somewhere in between. To confuse matters further, the two partner unions that had organised in Northern Ireland were affiliated to the British Labour party, even though it did not organise there. The one partner that did not organise in Northern Ireland was not affiliated to the Labour party.
To say that emotions were strained is an understatement. Feelings ran high and people with long-held, passionate beliefs were not prepared to change easily just because some canny lad from Geordieland wanted them to change. However, through hard work and positive engagement, we developed a process that
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led to my union being one of the first organisations in Northern Ireland to sign up to the Good Friday agreement, despite some serious reservations.
We achieved that by refusing to accept the concept of partisanship. We coined the phrase, "non-partisan agents of change", which we would be. We developed an agenda that did not take a position on the constitutional arguments. We refused to be drawn into the argument between those who wanted a united Ireland and those who were committed to ensuring that that never happened. We chose instead to focus on issues that reflected the day-to-day lives of our membersthe working people of Northern Ireland.
We supported civil rights issues from all sides and worked with the often-ignored ethnic minority community in Northern Ireland. We argued for security at work and for better terms and conditions, and against the privatisation of jobs. We acted as a catalyst for people to come together. We shared experiences with other parts of these islands that were seeking to develop their own devolution and self-determination. We put peace and stability on the agenda of the Labour party and we supported politically, practically and financially the work of the shadow state of Northern Ireland while Labour was in opposition. We promoted the equality agenda and condemned attacks on innocent people at home and at work.
We did what many in this Chamber did: we did our best. In particular, we tried to bring people together. We engaged with various political parties and one of my proudest moments was in early 1996, just five days after the Canary Wharf bombing, when we hosted a weekend seminar in Newcastle, County Down. Representatives of almost every political party in Northern Ireland came and talked about trying to develop a shared future. I am very proud of the work that we did in those years and of the attempts that we made since 1998 to push for a place in which the members of my union could live in peace and security.
We welcomed the Good Friday agreement as the best deal on offer in 1998 and as a step in the direction away from the path of self-destruction that had been trodden for the previous 30 years. The lack of success since that time has been frustrating for people in Northern Ireland and for the members of my union, and we in the House must do all that we can to start the process to allow those people to move forward again. I am not so naive as to believe that that will be easy, but I am realistic enough to ask, "What other option do we have, if we do not pursue this one?" People are likely to ask, "Why should we not see power back where it belongs? Why should not our elected representatives do the job that we gave them to do? Why should we go on paying out public money if we are not getting the representation that we need and deserve?"
Sadly, this process has been neither happy nor straightforward, but things are getting better, as everyone here today has conceded. I can remember when Belfast was almost a no-go area for people from Great Britain. Now, at weekends, there is an immense transfer of people from my part of the country to Belfast, and vice versa. It is almost impossible to get a plane from Newcastle to Belfast or vice versa on a Friday night, and thank God for that. In economic and
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security terms, we have seen a massive change, and we should all be proud of that. We should acknowledge, however, that we have much more to do.
People are engaging in the process, and it is great news that some hon. Members attended the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body this week. They went and made their case and played their part, and I hope that they will continue to do so. It is also good news that the IMC report has given us some hope that things have improved, and that the leadership of the Provisional IRA is committed to a peaceful path and is trying to stop its followers engaging in criminal activity. Let me make it clear: the leadership must realise that those involved in crime and terrorism are not welcome in our democratic institutions, and it must do everything in its power to ensure that they do not become involved in that way.
Let us also move away from the debate about saying that the organisations should sort out their criminal malcontents. Let us give our security forces the message that they should be doing that. They should act decisively against those who are identified as being engaged in criminal activity. The organisations that want to become involved in our democratic institutions should help the police and the security forces to carry out that work. That is part and parcel of the job of being a democratic politician.
In every dispute, every war and every battle, the time comes to move on. That time is now. Unlike most disputes, wars or battles, no one has clearly won this one, although many people have lost so much that it is untrue. But we must make progress. The choice is ours. The debate is about all of us, not just about Northern Ireland.
Gordon Banks: I come from a Scottish constituency where we have enjoyed devolution since 1999 and seen the real benefits of it. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a real opportunity to deliver to Northern Ireland the benefits that the rest of these islands have enjoyed since 1999, and that such an opportunity should not be missed?
Mr. Anderson: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and I wish that the people of the north-east had been given a chance similar to that which Scotland has enjoyed and that has been on offer to our friends from Northern Ireland today. Had we be given such a deal, we might have voted for it.
We must accept our responsibilities. In doing so, we must accept that we do not always get what we want. I say to Members of the House that we should take up the challenge, make it happen and make it work. The alternative is the continuation of direct rule, with which everybody, I believe, is unhappy. We can give my former colleagues and some close friends much greater control and say over the way in which their lives are directed. Since I entered the House, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has discussed constantly how direct rule stops the things that ordinary people believe in happening. I am not happy that, at times, we do things that are not the wishes of the Northern Ireland people. If we move forward in this way, it will give them a much greater chance and say to influence their lives and those of generations to come.
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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson), who serves on the Select Committee and has a real and deep affection for Northern Ireland, which is obvious whenever one travels there with him.
I am also glad to be the first Opposition Member to speak after the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who made a highly significant speech, as people will realise when they read it in Hansard tomorrow. He and his deputy, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), have both contributed significantly during this month. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who spoke eloquently from the Front Bench, referred to the two speeches made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East, one in the United States on 6 April and the other at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body on Monday. The substance of the speeches of both the leader and the deputy leader of the DUP was that, for all the difficulties that they face in doing so, they are prepared to sit down with and serve with those of very different political persuasions so long as those people play by the democratic rules and make it abundantly clear that that is what they are doing.
I, like the right hon. Member for North Antrim and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, support the Bill. I wish the Government well over the next few months. I hope that the negotiations will succeed. I am worried about deadlinesI realise that they must be there, but I would rather have the end of the year than 24 November. People in the rest of the United Kingdom do not fully face up to the difficulties that there will be and the daily burden of those who practise democratic politics in Northern Ireland if there is to be a restored Assembly. Those daily burdens have been referred to obliquely in this debate in many ways.
First, as I said in Question Time todayand the Secretary of State agreedit is inconceivable that anybody who is engaged directly or indirectly in criminality should be involved in the government of any part of the United Kingdom, whether this House, a district or parish council or a devolved Parliament or Assembly. It is absolutely crucial that those who say that they have renounced the bullet for the ballot box prove that in every possible way.
Like the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who spoke splendidly earlier, I greatly welcome today's IMC report and what it says. However, we must not make the mistake, because we are encouraged by the good bits, of neglecting the others. There is a clear indication in that report that leading figures on the undemocratic republican side, while they might have renounced terrorism and engaged in a massive act of decommissioningthe latter I accept, and the former I hope that I can acceptare still benefiting from the ill-gotten gains of some pretty horrendous crimes and are still involved in those crimes. It would be wrong for me, as Chairman of the Select Committee, to pre-empt a report that has not yet been drafted, let alone published, but there are several
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members of the Committee in the Chamber who have listened with me to evidence that we have received from a variety of people and organisations. Some has been heard in public and some in camera because of its sensitivity. We have been told clearly that there are those who have been involved with IRA-Sinn Fein who are deeply implicated in acts of criminality, who have been so implicated in the recent past and almost certainly are at present.
There must be an absolute renunciation. When I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury to say that the best thing that Sinn Fein could do would be to disband the IRA, I meant what I said. That would send those who want Northern Ireland to have a proper democratic future a real signal that Sinn Fein was indeed seeking to turn its back on the past.
We cannot make hatred historywhich is what we must do in Northern Irelandwe cannot engender trust, and we cannot properly embrace the doctrine of forgiveness in which the right hon. Member for North Antrim made clear that he truly believes unless there is a proper understanding that those who wish to sit down with the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Democratic Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party are putting themselves in a context of what I would call democratic equality.
Even when that happens, there will still be real difficulties in making the Assembly work. The right hon. Member for Torfaen touched on them, amusingly, when he said that he would find it difficult to enter into a coalition with Tories or Liberal Democrats. I would find it difficult to enter into a political coalition with friendsof whom I have manyon the other side of the House, not because I do not trust them and not because I would for a moment impugn their democratic credentials, but because we have very different political beliefs. Yet we in the rest of the United Kingdom are asking the democratic parties in Northern Ireland to sit down with Sinn Fein, whose political beliefsas I said earlierare inimical to those of most of us in the Chamber, wherever we come from. Sinn Fein's economic and education policies are closer to those of Cuba than to those of the United Kingdom.
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