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Lord Healey: My Lords, the noble Baroness has made it crystal clear that the tragic dangers now faced by the peace process were brought about by an operational decision of the chief constable to reverse a clear decision he had previously taken--because of the threat of violence from the Unionists in the area, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland as she has now told us.
That decision was seen by the Catholic community throughout Northern Ireland, represented by the head of the Roman Catholic Church there, as a reversion by the police to its traditional role as the supporter of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. I am living in the past to this extent. Twenty-seven years ago I was Secretary of State for Defence when the sectarian behaviour of the B Special police compelled the Government of the day to put security under the British Army and to reform all the local police forces in Northern Ireland.
This was the clearest possible demonstration that the use of police forces in Northern Ireland is not automatically always simply an operational matter. It may have profound political implications, even for our relations with foreign governments, and those political implications require consideration and decision by a Minister. Incidentally, I found that this was equally true of our Armed Forces in Aden and Borneo, as several of my noble colleagues here may remember.
Last week's tragedy stems essentially from Ministers forgetting this central fact as regards the situation in Northern Ireland. If we are to get the peace process going again, they must never forget that fact again. The use of police forces in Northern Ireland, in situations such as occurred last week, must be for decision by political Ministers.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, a situation likely to occur in your Lordships' House is that one finds oneself in disagreement with someone who has many years' experience and knowledge. However, I believe that it is important to maintain a constitutional situation in which the decision on such matters as maintenance of order is for the chief constable.
When the chief constable required further troops to support him, the Government were happy to ensure that that happened. The battalions were provided, as was required. But it is important that the law which Parliament has provided to guide the chief constable is maintained. I would suggest that the responsibility for the violence of Northern Ireland in the past days was entirely that of those people who rioted and challenged the rule of law.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, these are dire days for Northern Ireland and it is quite right that we should weep for all the people in Northern Ireland, whether they be members of the public, members of the RUC or indeed, anybody else.
I am particularly glad that this review will now take place. But I notice that there have been several very strange articles in the press recently, both in this country and, indeed, in the Irish Republic. Will the review be able to take account of the activities of the press which, of course, have an effect both in Northern Ireland and on thinking over this side of the water? Headlines such as "Government orders RUC volte-face" simply do not help in any of these situations.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I am pleased to agree with my noble friend that the media brings little help in these situations. The images that were flashed round the world in the past week will have a tremendously detrimental effect on the economic future of Northern Ireland and on the impression of the people of Northern Ireland, because it is a warm nation who welcome strangers and we saw transmitted pictures of that minority who do not.
I believe that the issue is not the media in this instance; it is to cure the problem. The review will concentrate on ensuring that there is no repetition of the incidents that happened throughout the Province on this occasion.
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I agree with much of the Statement? I also agree with the decision of the chief constable. I thought at the time that he was in a very difficult, dangerous position. However, he decided, in order to save life, that he had to be responsible for a volte-face. I backed him.
Is the Minister aware that it is essential, first, that the Stormont peace talks continue because they are holding the ring between most of the political parties? Secondly, we must strive to restore the ceasefire. Those are the two imperatives.
However, we must remind ourselves that the Provisional IRA shattered the ceasefire with the Docklands bomb, the Manchester bomb, and the bomb on a London bridge. It has even been shattered in Northern Ireland in the past 48 hours. The so-called Republican Sinn Fein is still part of the Provisional IRA. Is the Minister aware that the Protestant paramilitaries are now teetering on the brink of revenge? Noble Lords who have already spoken have appealed to them for restraint, for one incident by them could be the last straw before the outbreak of civil war in the Province.
Is the Government aware that I and, I think, the majority in the Province, feel that they have gone too far in speech and deeds, alarming the Protestant community? They feel that their link with Great Britain is being totally eroded by the constant whittling down of what was the position prior to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They are also worried that there is too much Republican interference in Northern Ireland affairs. Of course the comments made by the Taoiseach this weekend did not help. The majority community in the Province needs to be reassured and calmed. If only the Government would convey the message that there will not be a united Ireland; that there is no surrender to the South; and that there will be no more concessions to the IRA, the tension in the Province might be eased.
If there is another bomb outrage, would the Government not consider, in view of the anger of the nation in its wake--that was certainly true of Manchester--carrying out a sweep of arrests of suspects in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain, and, with the assistance of the Taoiseach, in the Republic, to shatter their system, their command structure, their proposals and their plans? We can hold them, and within the law. I believe we just cannot continue to sit back waiting for bombs and deaths. A round up ought to be considered.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, like all of us who have been Ministers in Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Mason, has suffered the frustration of trying to work towards peace, but failing so far to attain it. He asks us to make it clear that there is no role for the violence of the IRA. I should have hoped that was entirely clear. There has been no negotiation by Ministers with it since the breaking of the ceasefire in the aftermath of the Docklands bomb. We could have asked for no greater support than we received from the Taoiseach in Ireland and from the President of the United States in condemning the IRA's violence. No one was allowed to continue discussions while the ceasefire was broken. The noble Lord asked us to reassure the Unionists that there is no intention to break up the Province. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and all of us who represent the Government, have made it clear time and time again that the future of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the people in Northern Ireland. There is a triple lock on that process.
The noble Lord commented on our security activity, should there be a further bomb. We must hope and pray that that situation will not arise. I am grateful to your Lordships who, with Members of another place, have made it possible to retain on the statute book the possibility for the security forces to take the appropriate action, should that be necessary.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I add my tribute to those paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, for the work that she has done in a most detailed and painstaking way to try to create links for peace in Northern Ireland. I have appreciated the tremendous efforts that she has made to bring the communities together. I thank her for the clear Statement. I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government have made it clear time and time again that no decision about the future of Northern Ireland will be made which is contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. If I may say so, I was a little surprised at the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, because I cannot think that anything could have been more clearly stated than that. I think the noble Baroness might agree that the problem with Northern Ireland is to try to persuade both communities that neither triumphalism on the one side nor terrorism on the other will lead to a successful move towards peace. When the review considers the routeing of marches, will it also consider whether the whole role of marches does not express more about the history of Northern Ireland than about its future? Will the noble
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. Living together, working together and sharing together is the future for Northern Ireland. It is quite obvious that much work needs to be done. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the past few days was to note how close to the surface the bitterness still was. I agree that living in the past and taking too much account of history means that history becomes the future. We must avoid that. It is worth considering that last week was also the week that President Mandela paid a visit. We can all learn much from him as regards looking forwards rather than backwards. I believe the noble Baroness will agree with me that we need to bring more women's voices to these discussions.
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