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An observation was made in the American context—that irony in politics is just hypocrisy with panache. There were ironies in some of what went on yesterday, and, to give credit where it is due, there was certainly panache as well. I will leave it at that. What we have to do now is make the most of the opportunity and the responsibility—and a real sense of responsibility certainly came through yesterday. We want to take things forward: we have to refit our economy, rebuild and renew our public services and completely upgrade our infrastructure. I believe that all the parties will set their faces to that task—not just in the work with the Chancellor, but in the decisions and choices that will be made, some of which, when devolution returns, will be hard. Then we will move from divided grievances to shared government, and complete the journey from paying the price for growing apart to reaping the rewards of growing together in both the north and the
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south. As we do that, we will build a new country and a new society, and we will restore faith in politics—a new belief. Northern Ireland will be known for positive things. We will start to appear at the right end of the league tables rather than always being at the wrong end. We will no longer be a byword for instability, stagnation, political difficulty and political crisis. This generation will have the chance to write its own history in a very positive light.

I welcome the fact that people have belatedly embraced the point that the only way forward is power sharing and inclusion. We can put up with six weeks. Although I sympathise with some of what the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has said, the Secretary of State would not have been in a strong position if he had come here today and said, “I have kept my word, but I have lost my marbles.” We know what the deadline was for—it was to ensure an outcome—and I hope and believe that we have that outcome, so let us get on with it.

4.51 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): We can all agree with the last words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan).

I have gently chided the Secretary of State about the deadline, and he knows that I would rather that it had been slightly more elastic—for example, it could have been “the end of April”. However, we are here today because he was insistent. I do not want to be churlish—this is not a time for churlish speeches; this is a time for hope and determination. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State, with whom I have always been able to talk confidentially and properly about events in Northern Ireland. In my experience, he has never betrayed a confidence. He has not always done the things that I would have liked him to do, but he has always been determined to see the day that we now see. I pay tribute to him and to the Prime Minister. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said in a splendid speech from the Front Bench, we would not be here today without the Prime Minister. I also pay tribute to John Major, because the personal chemistry between John Major and Albert Reynolds helped to get the show on the road. There are many people whom we can thank, such as previous Secretaries of State and previous Prime Ministers—Baroness Thatcher played her part—but this is a day for Northern Ireland.

I pay particular tribute to the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the First Minister designate who will soon be First Minister. I hope that he will have many years in office and that he will be able to lead, with the other parties at his side, the people of Northern Ireland to a brighter future. The best memorial that the right hon. Gentleman could have will be the pulling down of those strangely called peace walls in Belfast and Londonderry. If he can lead the people of Northern Ireland towards that consummation devoutly to be wished, then he will earn the undying gratitude of the people of the Province of Northern Ireland.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman well. He spoke with real statesmanship today, as he did yesterday. I
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remember sitting on the Government Benches in the summer of 1970, when we came to this House as new Members. I literally sat under him, and I almost had to send for earplugs, so resonant was the voice. In a spirit of charity and friendship, I say to him that he has moved a long way since then. He is now the elder statesman of Northern Ireland politics, and so much depends on him. We wish him and all the others, including, although it sticks a little to say it, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) and his colleagues, well.

I entirely approve of what the right hon. Member for North Antrim said about the handshake. A handshake is a gesture, and there is always a time for gesture, but what he and the hon. Member for Belfast, West must do is work together. They come from different backgrounds and have different legacies, but if they can work together alongside the other political parties in Northern Ireland—the Ulster Unionist party and the SDLP, for which I have a lot of time—there will indeed be true hope, and a real chance of taking Northern Ireland to a condition of real normality alongside the other parts of the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Member for North Antrim is, understandably, a great one for biblical texts, and one thinks of beating spears into ploughshares and lions lying down with lambs, although he is certainly not a lamb. One also thinks of another First Minister, although differently designated, who stood on the steps of a certain house and read the prayer of St. Francis. We all need to remember the context of that prayer, because it applies to Northern Ireland. We need a time of determination and a time without bitterness, which is the most corrosive of all emotions. There is plenty that one can be bitter about: there are those in Northern Ireland who have lost loved ones and suffered, and we have discussed that many times in the House. Like the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), I wish that we had reached this stage a few years ago, but we are here now, and we must therefore look forward.

Most of all, we must not be euphoric, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said. This is a time for determination, and a time when we must hold in our hearts—and if we so believe, in our prayers—all those who are working for the good of Northern Ireland. We must recognise that the road ahead will not be easy. There will be moments of verbal conflict and raging rows, when people will feel like throwing in the towel, slamming doors and walking out. I say to the right hon. Member for North Antrim and to all my colleagues in Northern Ireland that the temptations to turn their back must not be succumbed to. The greater good of the greater number must be recognised as the goal for all. It matters not whether a man or woman’s background is Protestant or Catholic, or which part of Northern Ireland they come from. Each one is individually important, and each one must be able to look to the power-sharing Executive as representing them, irrespective of their own political views and prejudices, of which we all have both.

There is a yearning in Northern Ireland for true peace and normality. I have had the good fortune to chair the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs for almost the past two years. When we conducted our inquiry into organised crime, we saw the
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black side. When we conducted our inquiry into tourism, we saw the bright side. We toured Northern Ireland, and saw what an incomparably beautiful part of the United Kingdom and the island of Ireland it is. The people who live there deserve—no less than the people who live in England, Scotland, Wales or the Republic— a bright future. It is my earnest hope that they will have a brighter future now.

We look to the right hon. Member for North Antrim and all his colleagues from all parties to help to deliver that bright future. We in the United Kingdom have a moral responsibility to do all that we can to assist. The Government have a real role. It must be possible for the people of Northern Ireland to determine the future of their education system, as they want it. It must be possible for the people of Northern Ireland to decide how the vexed question of water charges will be worked out. If we truly believe in devolution and in giving responsibility, we must give responsibility to those who have now shown themselves to be willing, and big enough, to take it. When that is done, that part of the United Kingdom will truly be as normal as the rest of it.

I again offer my congratulations to all who have brought us to the point that we have now reached, but most of all I offer my good wishes to those who will lead us into tomorrow.

5 pm

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale) (Lab): I add my congratulations to those of other Members for everyone who was involved in the discussions that led to yesterday’s historic agreement at St. Andrews, so that we are now passing emergency legislation to ensure that we consolidate the peace process in Northern Ireland.

My interest in Northern Ireland dates back to when I was first elected to this House. Members will recall that in March 1993 the IRA tried to blow up gas holders in Winwick road in Warrington. That is my home town, and I was Member of Parliament for Warrington, South. Fortunately, the IRA failed on that occasion. I would not like to speculate on how many casualties there would have been if it had succeeded. Sadly, two weeks later on 21 March—the day after mothers’ day—the IRA set off two bombs in Bridge street in Warrington. They immediately killed a young boy called Johnathan Ball, and on 25 March Tim Parry’s ventilator was switched off after he had been injured by the explosions in Bridge street.

Wendy and Colin Parry are very close friends of mine. They have made a unique contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. They never dwell on the past and on the tragic death of their son. I should add, for the record, that Bronwyn Vickers, who was also injured in the explosion, died some time later. Colin and Wendy Parry never look back. They always look forward and they have striven to contribute to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Through the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball peace centre in Warrington, they have established and developed links with the communities in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and attempted to take forward the reconciliation process.

Colin Parry said today that he invited the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McGuinness) for dinner at the
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peace centre in Warrington, but that he found it very difficult to sit opposite Martin McGuinness and to eat food with him. However, he also said that if it was possible for him to do that, it should be possible for the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) to sit down and play their part in taking forward the peace process in Northern Ireland. He congratulates them both on reaching yesterday’s historic agreement.

My hope for the peace process is that the next six weeks are used positively, that we reach the deadline of 8 May and that power sharing once again takes place in Northern Ireland, so that we can use that and build on the foundations of the peace process that were laid by John Major in a previous Government, and then taken forward by our Prime Minister and by those on all sides of the divides in Northern Ireland who have sought to reconcile their differences. I hope that we consolidate the peace process. To borrow Colin Parry’s words, if that happens, the death of his son Timothy and the death of Johnathan Ball will not have been in vain.

5.3 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): There is one certainty in politics: when there is an historic moment of progress and promise there will be at least two reactions, one of which is that persons and parties attempt to justify the positions that they have adopted, and the other is that there will be those who seek to ensure that no one forgets the role that they played in events. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and other Democratic Unionist party Members of Parliament care nothing about those issues. The only important factor in any agreement that is reached is the benefit that it will bring to the people of Northern Ireland.

In saying that, I take nothing away from all who have contributed, not least those who have been involved with us in negotiations since we became the largest political party in Northern Ireland in 2003, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State and all of their officials. It is proper that that is put on the record. We have spent many hours on this; I cannot imagine how many drafts of sections of legislation we have looked at. It has been a very long road.

I want to make one point. I am told—I did not hear it myself—that the suggestion was made that the Home Secretary had in some way intervened, and that the DUP had made some agreements with him behind the back of the Secretary of State. I have not been asked to make any remarks on this, so my word will, I hope, be all the more sincere and genuine. No such agreements were ever reached with the Home Secretary. He is one of those Cabinet Ministers who would never pass one in the corridor without having a word—I have often had to console him about the defeats of Glasgow Celtic—and he has an abiding interest in Northern Ireland matters. From time to time, of course, we talk about progress that is being made, but at no stage did the Home Secretary interfere in any way in the responsibilities of the Secretary of State. Lest there be any tension between the two Cabinet Ministers, let me put that on the record.

I want to say something about the position of my party. The DUP reached a decision on its own. It
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decided what the consequences might be. It was not bullied into that position by anybody. No threats from the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister or anyone else would have altered the considered opinion of the DUP. We put our position forward to the Government publicly, as we have in the past, publicly, making it clear that this was what the DUP believed to be the right thing to do. I shall not remind people in any detail of the debate that we had on the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 and the amendment that we put forward, which suggested that there should perhaps be some flexibility on the date of 26 March. If our amendment had been passed, we could have saved ourselves some time tonight and got on with the business of the Budget.

The reality is that deadlines are much less important than agreements. Let us consider the reality for Northern Ireland if we had proceeded yesterday to set up an Executive without all the essential preparatory work that is required. We saw that in our meetings with the political parties yesterday, as we stacked up the issues that we had to deal with between now and May, with barely enough time between now and then to complete those preparatory tasks. It was abundantly clear that to do the job properly and to bring the community with us, we needed that additional time. The substance of what will happen in future will be much more robust because we have that additional time, irrespective of the deadlines.

I have heard what the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has said. She seems to be disappointed that agreement has been reached about the six weeks to a greater extent than she would have been if things had collapsed yesterday. That is sad and disappointing, and she needs to reconsider her position because it certainly is not the position held by her constituents. Indeed, with the same attitude, the leader of her party said yesterday, “Isn’t it a pity—all this could have been done nine years ago.” Of course it could not have been done nine years ago. Nine years ago, the IRA was still killing people. Nine years ago, it still held on to its illegal weapons. Nine years ago, it still continued with its paramilitary activity. Nine years ago, it still continued with its criminal activity. Nine years ago, it gave no support to the police, to the courts, to the rule of law. Nine years ago, there were no accountable structures under which we could operate. Nine years ago, legislation had not gone through this House ensuring a triple lock on the devolution of policing and justice—ensuring that if ever a policing and justice Minister were put forward, he had to be somebody who could command the support of the Assembly.

So, nine years ago this could not have been done. Indeed, nine years ago, without those things being done, some people did enter into government, and it was followed by suspensions, by crisis after crisis and, ultimately, by collapse. It will be no good to the people of Northern Ireland if we simply go for a deadline to get things moving. We need to get things right, and that was the slogan that this party adopted in the elections. However long it took, it was necessary to get things right.

I will be honest with the House: there was no joy in the hearts of members of this party at having to take
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the step that we took yesterday. There are people on these Benches who have suffered considerably at the hands of Republicans. There are people on these Benches who have lost members of their families—some many members of their families. There are people on these Benches whom the IRA has attempted to kill—and everyone on these Benches has had constituents butchered by the IRA. So there was no joy or enthusiasm in going forward in those circumstances.

It was a difficult decision to take; no doubt it was too difficult for some. I understand that it will be too big a decision to bear for some in the Democratic Unionist party. I accept their decision. I wish that they continued to walk with us. I wish that they could continue to use their talents for the benefit of the community in the only way that they can properly do so now, given the party sizes and structures in Northern Ireland. I am sad that people will leave and I hope that in time they will see that the decision that we have taken has been vindicated, but I recognise that many will find it too long a step to take.

There has been much history in Northern Ireland and the House has seen many events unfold over the years. The responsibility that we have, which was outlined by my party leader yesterday, was to ensure that no matter how great our own personal sadness about, or loathing of, all those events, we did not allow that sadness or loathing to become the stumbling block to ensuring that there is peace and stability in the future.

We have taken a decision based on our own judgment as to how we can move forward, but that is based entirely on all parties keeping the commitments that they have made, including an end to all paramilitary and criminal activity; to exclusively peaceful and democratic means; to the support of the police, the courts and the rule of law in every tangible way; and to demonstrate that in their daily lives and to encourage others to do so as well.

We have given our commitment to enter into an Executive, and when the Democratic Unionist party gives its word, the Democratic Unionist party keeps its word. Therefore, we will move between now and 8 May to ensure that all of the necessary work is completed. In that respect, I say to the Secretary of State that when we were working in the transitional Assembly, in the Programme for Government Committee, the members of that committee sought details from the Departments about the present circumstances on several issues, but the answers were less than forthcoming. If we are to do our job properly in the preparatory period, the Secretary of State must give instructions to ensure an opening up of the inside details of each Department—

Mr. Hain: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s speech and the eloquence with which he makes his contribution. I wish to give him, from the Floor of the House, an absolute and categorical assurance that I discussed yesterday with the head of the civil service, Nigel Hamilton, exactly the terms that the hon. Gentleman asks, which have also been requested by other parties. We will make our officials available. Whether the parties choose to indicate which individuals might assume ministerial posts or just wish to put individuals forward, they will be able to have access to the Departments so that they may properly
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prepare for government without hindrance. They will be able to discuss with ministerial colleagues any joint decisions that might come up in the future, so that they are not taken unilaterally by the present Government, but with consensus on them from the incoming ministerial team.

Mr. Robinson: I am very grateful to the Secretary of State, whose intervention will be welcomed by all the parties that will form the Executive. We trust that we can have the unusual relationship that he described in the weeks that lie ahead—although I am not sure whether it means that we will be blamed for some of the decisions that will be taken in the next few weeks. However, it will be helpful to have a greater knowledge of the position in each of the Departments.

I do not want to burst the bubble of enthusiasm in the House and outside it about the events that occurred yesterday. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim said that there would not be a love-in—I think that that was his term—but a work-in. Those who know the different backgrounds of the two lead parties in the Executive will recognise that there is a massive difference between them in their ideology and goals, and in how they see the political future of Northern Ireland.

Gerry Adams once said that an Executive with Ian Paisley would be a battle a day. I was attacked during the recent elections for agreeing with him, but that does not mean that we will be thrust into conflict over every issue that arises, as all the parties will be able to agree on many of the matters that come up. However, nothing changed yesterday in Gerry Adams’ desire to bring to an end the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and neither did anything happen to alter the determination of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim that that link should be retained and strengthened. With two such constitutional opposites in an Executive, there is bound to be tension. If Gerry Adams really believes that there should be a united Ireland, that is what he will work towards. It will be the job of all Unionists in the Executive to ensure that Northern Ireland goes in exactly the opposite direction.

I believe that Northern Ireland’s best interests remain with the UK, and the DUP will continue to put that at the forefront of all its policies and strategy. I recognise that some do not share that view, but the big difference now is that the blood of people who disagree will not be spilled: instead, we can deal with such matters politically and allow the electorate to make their decisions in a democratic fashion.

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