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Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, my experience in making statements after terrorist outrages--which, 20 years ago, I did with depressing frequency when dreadful incidents in Birmingham, Guildford and the Tower of London followed fast on each other's heels--has led me to the view that little constructive is likely to emerge from such aftermath exchanges. Indeed, they are liable to become almost a competitive exercise in expressions of the horror that we all feel. Therefore, I propose to be brief.
Friday night's bomb was a bitter disappointment, although not, perhaps, an entirely unexpected one. Even if it marks--which I hope it does not--the end of the phase of hope, 17 months without violence has been gained. That in itself fully justifies the effort. But those 17 months have also underlined just how heavy would be the price of returning to the old pattern of intermittent horror. The price for Belfast above all but also for London and other major English cities, and perhaps even for Dublin, would be very heavy. It is not just the threat of death and mutilation, but the return to a whole dreary regime of life under semi-siege, symbolised by the reappearance of armed check-points in the City of London.
I hope and believe that the Prime Minister will make every effort to put the peace process back on the rails. I welcome the assurances to that end in the Statement. However, I am disturbed by the gap which has opened between the British and the Irish governments. The Irish Government are clearly deeply affronted by what Sinn Fein/IRA have done. But that has not brought them closer to London.
When Mr. Major announced his attitude on the Mitchell Report on 24th January, I, together with nearly everyone else, endorsed his proposal for Northern Ireland elections. I believe that I was wrong to do so. At any rate I was wrong to endorse such an exclusive concentration on the electoral route. It was a mistake to single out that one aspect of the Mitchell package, particularly as the problem of Northern Ireland is not that of identifying the majority--everyone knows what the majority is--but the infinitely more subtle and historic problem of getting that majority to live in peace and mutual tolerance with the large minority, and indeed vice versa. In the peculiar circumstances of Ulster, just counting votes will not do that.
Finally, disunity between the Irish and the British governments could be just as damaging to the peace process as bombs and bullets, deplorable though they are and devoutly though I hope that the ceasefire will be renewed.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for the spirit in which they have approached the tragic events of last Friday. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, doubted
I, of course, wholly endorse the condemnation that both noble Lords gave, and I need not report that. However, I wish to underline something which my right honourable friend said in his Statement and to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, drew attention a moment ago. Someone up there was watching over the East End of London. It does not make it any better for the dead and the injured but we were extraordinarily lucky not to have suffered more severely than we did. I wish to emphasise how much we owe to the courage of the police and of the rescue services, particularly of the police who with reckless disregard for their own safety cleared the area and investigated it to discover where the bomb was.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that the House wishes to be associated with those remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, made an important point when he emphasised that it is for Sinn Fein to establish once again its commitment to peaceful methods. Bombs create a reaction. The danger always has to be that if one explodes a bomb one will ultimately encourage other people to start doing so in return. It is not only viciously dangerous for the victims but it is also viciously dangerous for the future of parliamentary government in our country. I am delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Richard, associate himself so eloquently with that principle this afternoon.
The other point the noble Lord made is one that I also wish to associate myself with. Anyone who has visited Northern Ireland since the declaration of the ceasefire will, I suspect, be more struck by one phenomenon than any other; and that is the extraordinary change of atmosphere that has taken place over the past 17 months. It is not only the remarkable economic changes that have begun to occur, many of which have been directly encouraged by my noble friend Lady Denton who is responsible for these matters in the Northern Ireland Office, but also the almost spontaneous way in which those who are responsible for domestic industry, commerce and inward investment have realised what an admirable place Northern Ireland is, without the bombs, for industry and commerce to flourish. It has taken little time for peace to enable that to happen.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, emphasised that the two governments in Dublin and London should proceed together. It is clearly important that that should happen and I wholly endorse that wish. My right honourable friend in his Statement made it perfectly clear that he has been in contact with the Taoiseach since the explosion of the bomb. I can certainly undertake on
I return to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, with regard to whether we were right to place so much emphasis on the electoral route. It might just be worth asking your Lordships what the practical consequences are of no talks happening at all. The practical consequences of no talks are a continuation of the horrors that the Province has endured since 1969. If talks are to happen, they have to include all parties who are committed to parliamentary government and democratic principles. It is no good for--to name names--the SDLP to be prepared to turn up under certain circumstances if the Unionist parties are not prepared to turn up. The same is true--if I may say so--vice versa.
How are we in practical terms to find a way for all-party talks to occur? There may be other ways than the electoral process. If there are other ways which can produce that result, we as the Government are entirely prepared to look at them in the most constructive way possible. As my right honourable friend constantly says, there is no question but that we are open to all suggestions. However, one thing is perfectly clear. If we are to produce a settlement, it must be a settlement which enjoys the consent of the people of Northern Ireland--the people of both main traditions. We have a way in this country by which we have managed in the past--not always perhaps elegantly, but on the whole successfully--to secure that consent by which governments have acquired the authority to govern, and that is through the ballot box.
If an elected body, which is elected through the ballot box, were to come into existence--as I made clear on the previous occasion that I stood at this Dispatch Box talking about Northern Ireland matters--and if options are open to negotiation about how we should proceed to negotiate from the existence of that body, and just supposing that the body itself agreed to mandate certain delegations from among its membership to take part in all-party talks, then at least those who negotiated would clearly have the consent of those who had elected them. I would merely say to your Lordships that that consent is one which I, for one, would be much happier to stay with than the consent which had been bludgeoned out of people by the explosion of bombs made of semtex.
Lord Eames: My Lords, I assure the House, in line with the Statement we have just heard and the comments from the noble Lords, that nowhere in the United Kingdom has the disgust, the anger and the frustration at the events of Friday been more obvious than in Northern Ireland. I wish to assure this House that from a Province which for 25 years has suffered the hardship, the cruelty and the unending hurt of terrorist attack, that is a sentiment which was spontaneous. It came from Roman Catholics, Protestants, nationalists and unionists, and it came from north and south of the border. I wish to
Secondly, on behalf of so many to whom reference has been made perhaps I may use this opportunity to express feelings of sympathy and sorrow to the relatives of those who lost their lives and to those who were so horribly injured. However, as we were so rightly reminded a few minutes ago, we must look ahead. I do not believe that the peace process is dead. I base that remark not just on political niceties but on what I know from my day and night ministry in the Province to be the yearning and feeling of ordinary people who, for a considerable number of months, have enjoyed a sense of freedom that some of them had never known.
Behind the headlines so much that is good and worthwhile has been achieved across the traditional gaps in society. Many noble Lords who have served in Northern Ireland or who have had contact with it will know that incredible cross-community contacts have been made possible during the period of peace. Because of that and because of the overwhelming feeling of disgust and disappointment at this moment, I am absolutely convinced that the House must be reminded that there are two sides to the peace process. First, there is that referred to by the Prime Minister in terms of contacts between governments and political parties. Secondly, there is the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the people. To a large extent, that battle has been won. I plead with the House to give every encouragement to the peacemakers who, with great personal courage, have achieved so much.
I echo the plea that the British and Irish Governments do everything possible to ensure that they are perceived to be acting in concert. Nothing plays into the hands of those who wish to dissuade the process of peace so much as the perception of division. There will be differences of approach; I beg and pray that they are minimised.
As expressed so frequently in this House with compassion, knowledge and understanding, trust has been the real casualty of the past 25 years. I appeal to paramilitary organisations which have made certain statements, particularly over the weekend, not to be drawn into the trap that is being set for them of retaliation or of becoming involved in attacks elsewhere. Through their political representatives they have shown surprising political knowledge and foresight. I beg, on behalf of so many people in Northern Ireland, that they do not fall into that trap.
In thanking the Prime Minister for his Statement, perhaps I may ask that, if it turns out that an elected assembly or forum is the right process to adopt, the formula for it will be definite, clearly stated and full of reassurance to the nationalist community, and that it will be elected for a limited, set period to do its task.
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