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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, the last time that I addressed the House on a ministerial Statement on Northern Ireland, I warned that it would be a long and bumpy road and that there would be hopeful times and bleak times. This is certainly a bleak time. We have just gone over the most enormous bump. All Members of your Lordships' House will share the sadness that so many hopes have been dashed and so many good efforts thrown away. In that context, and in view of the painstaking work that she has put in on economic progress in Northern Ireland, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be particularly saddened today.

It is terrible to see old bitterness which had been silenced for nearly 24 months freely expressed again with bombs exploding and fires burning in Northern

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Ireland. We should not delude ourselves: what we are seeing here is not the peace process at risk, but the very ceasefire itself. I do not believe that it is a time for recrimination because, like those on the Benches to our left, we have tried and have not found it too difficult throughout the developing peace process to adopt a bipartisan approach.

However, we must ask ourselves how we came to this pass. It is possible to discern some things that have gone wrong over the past few months. There is no doubt that the excessive attention to the demands of the IRA over a long period--a squeaky wheel which has had all the grease of political effort applied to it--has created significant resentment and tension in the Unionist community. But, at the same time, I am amazed that responsible constitutional Unionist leadership should have chosen to inflame rather than to reduce tension over the days of the march. How much of what the Statement describes as,

    "an outrageous attempt by one side to impose their will on the other by sheer weight of force",
has been due to the role played by those who purport to be leaders but who, sadly, have behaved more like followers? I am also surprised that we are now proposing to set up a review of marching and parades. As the Labour Party has said, surely the time to have done so would have been after the clearly signalled trouble at Drumcree last year, and on other marches, rather than now.

Then there is the question of the operational nature of the decision made by the chief constable. How can it any longer be a local operational matter when it has become massively politicised with the prospect of a breach of the rule of law that threatens the basis of civilised life in the British Isles? There is also the question of the exchange of discourtesies with the Irish Government which has now, mercifully, stopped. As I am sure most noble Lords in this House will agree, I believe that the Taoiseach expressed himself over-forcefully and, perhaps, imprudently. However, we could hardly dare hope for a Prime Minister in Dublin who is a greater friend of Britain and a greater enemy of terrorism than Mr. John Bruton. This is the time to respond to him in a more generous spirit.

I turn now to the future which is the important matter. It is vitally important that the Governments get together. Can the Minister say when that will happen and at what level? There is a slight vagueness in the Statement in terms of the IGC being reconvened. That is extraordinarily urgent. Whenever the two Governments are apart, we have all observed that the terrorists and men of violence thrive. The centre must hold; and the only centre that we have in this situation consists of the two Governments.

Further--and the Government have done this very wisely in the Statement--perhaps I, like the noble Baroness, may appeal to the former leadership of the loyalist paramilitaries--Mr. Gary McMichael, Mr. David Ervine, Mr. Billy Hutchinson, and others. I have got to know them as, indeed, have government Ministers. I appeal to them for continuing restraint. They now hold the key to this issue not becoming a wider conflict.

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I should like to ask the Minister about the proposed review. Will it go beyond the technical question of how and where marches are conducted and deal with the fundamental issue of whether those marches are a perfectly legitimate cultural and historical celebration; or whether they are, as they seemed to be last week, the assertion of the supremacy of one community over the other?

Finally, let us try to ensure that we do not neglect the people of Northern Ireland in the equation. They still will for peace. Indeed, the people whom we saw on the streets last week do not represent them: they are being betrayed by the loud voices and the bully-boys. Above all, there is a special responsibility on the constitutional leadership of Unionism. After all, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street declaration and the framework document all show that Northern Ireland will not, as many Unionists feared, be merged against its will into a united Ireland.

I ask my Unionist friends what they are going to contribute in terms of positive goodwill and movement now that they have the assurance which matters most to them. It is no good them calling on their gracious Queen and on their British identity unless they, too, are prepared to respect the rule of law and behave like Britons.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for expressing much of the concern that I feel the whole House is experiencing. These were not good days in Northern Ireland. There is no pride to be taken by anyone other than by those people who called for sensibility and for an end to violence. That included many people--for example, families of people who were killed, and others--who sought to build a future. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, rightly praised the people of Northern Ireland. I should like to add that those people went to work and continued to try to do so, despite five diversions on the way. The aim of most of the people in Northern Ireland is to build a future.

Those people were doing just that and, indeed, were leading a normal life. For example, the Catholic couple who were celebrating their wedding in a hotel owned by a Protestant had no thought of what might happen. They were thinking about their future. There were also people who were aiming to bring up their grandchildren at home in Northern Ireland and who had invested much in that peaceful future. We, as Government, continue to do just that.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in praising the work of the police in discovering the arms cache in south London today. I hope that that reassures the House that the fight against terrorism will be ceaseless and that it will continue day and night. There is a need for mediation; and, indeed, there is a need for people to talk to each other. I hope that the Statement made clear that the Government believe that dialogue is the path to the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams, listed some of the correspondence between the Secretary of State and his honourable friend who speaks on Northern Ireland

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issues in the Shadow Cabinet in the other place. Perhaps I may, first, absolutely reject any suggestion that the Government have sat on their hands and done nothing for the past year. The suggestion made by the honourable lady in July of last year was a mechanism for discussions between community groups. Both mediation groups and the RUC at Drumcree were already well down that road trying to find an accommodation.

The suggestion made in February of this year of an arbitrating or executive body raised a number of difficulties. However, it is hoped that the forthcoming review will have the opportunity to look at the matter. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that the review will look at the overall issue. We doubt that a commission which said, "Thou shalt use the rerouted march", would have been any more effective than any of the statutory and constitutional methods already in place.

In reply to the noble Lord's question on the role of a chief constable and the Government, we believe that in this democracy, following our constitutional arrangement, one does not direct the police as to their operational decisions. Public confidence will not accept a Minister taking a decision as to whether a march goes ahead. But we believe that the review should cover all those issues.

I am pleased to reassure noble Lords that the next meeting of the intergovernmental conference is planned for Thursday; and, of course, it is planned that there will be an Irish Minister at the talks tomorrow. We rightly believe and share the views expressed that the two Governments working closely together, shoulder to shoulder, is the best way to build a peaceful process.

We continue to aim in the future to represent a consensus of the views of people who live in Northern Ireland. There is no question that by talking, by learning about those views, by the elective process which showed that so many people in Northern Ireland wished for the dialogue route, we can work to the future. But we work with the help of our many friends in this House, and with the support we have received from the Opposition Benches for many months now. That enables us to look towards the future with hope--because that is what we must do.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, will the Minister, accept, sad though it may be, that after so many deaths and so many years it is at least possible that there is no compromise solution available? Everybody wishes the Government every success in seeking to negotiate. We have now been a long time doing so. Will the commission be able at least to consider this possibility if it so wishes?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, the review will consider the role of the marching process in this matter. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that over many months in Northern Ireland in the past two years there has been a lack of violence. People have led a normal life, building for their children and for future generations. I am afraid I cannot share his

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depressing thought that there is no solution. I believe that in the past two years we have seen a desire by the majority of people to walk towards this solution although, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, it was always known it would be bumpy.

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