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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before we begin the list of speakers, I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that when the clock says "07", the speaker is into his eighth minute. There are now only five minutes to spare in the whole debate.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, the opportunity given to the House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, to discuss the Belfast agreement is most welcome and timely. In asking noble Lords to give attention to the value of the agreement, the Motion allows us all to reflect on the truly magnificent job that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has done since her appointment following the general election in 1997.
The value of the agreement is clearly recognised by the people of Northern Ireland and, I suggest, the whole island of Ireland. It is recognised by many more who live many miles away from those troubled shores. Those who have witnessed the violence that has caused great suffering to so many understand and recognise the value of the Good Friday agreement. It is so valuable that it has to be nurtured, encouraged and supported by all who want to see the hope it represents turned into reality.
In making such a call we must also recognise the dangers inherent in seeking to make progress at a faster speed with the attendant risk of not getting the process of implementation right. We would do well to reflect on the substantial progress made since the agreement, to my mind a truly historic agreement, that was arrived at last April.
Following the strictures from my noble friend Lady Farrington, I shall try not to go into great detail. I shall draw attention to a number of important issues, two of which were touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew: first, the establishment of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. A few years ago such a thought would have been unspoken; we would not even have considered the possibility of getting a new Northern Ireland Assembly. We have had the election
Reviews of policing and criminal justice are under way. Those of us who have made visits to Northern Ireland and have friends in various sections of its community welcome with open arms a review of policing and criminal justice and the progress that has been made in setting up the human rights and equality commissions. That is real progress which a few years ago would have been unthinkable. All of this progress, and more, is made possible by the Belfast agreement of last April. If implementation takes more time than any of us would like we would do well to remember the almost three decades that preceded the agreement. No one can pretend that implementation will or can be an easy process. Hearts and minds must come to terms with the new situation that the agreement heralds. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, I recognise how difficult that is for people who have suffered family tragedies and witnessed the mutilations to which reference has been made. While that is very difficult, families who have suffered so much have hope. Understandably, that is not easy for them but that hope is there.
Throughout the past 30 years there has been a bi-partisan approach in this Parliament to the difficulties and suffering of the people of Northern Ireland. It would be a tragic mistake if that joint approach was put at risk at this vital moment of history. I earnestly hope that the prize of long-term stability and peace will be sufficient for all of us to give wholehearted support to those who at this very moment seek to overcome the very real problems that remain to be resolved.
The value of the Belfast agreement is recognised by the people of Northern Ireland who have so much to gain from the hope that it holds out for them. The price of failure is too dreadful to contemplate. It is the duty and responsibility of all of us to see that it does not fail. If that means that we must follow the example of the patience shown by the Secretary of State and many others who are working to make progress, surely that is a small price for any of us to pay.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I too thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate. As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he can take credit for helping to pave the way for the Good Friday agreement. As some of us will remember, in 1996 in particular he showed immense courage in pursuing what at the time was a highly controversial policy. It can be truly said that he is one of the several architects of the Good Friday agreement who deserves the commendations of this House. Northern Ireland has never been short of men and women of outstanding courage. Clearly, the names of Mr. Hume, Mr. Mallon and Mr. Trimble spring to mind, but there are many other unknown and unrecorded heroes and heroines who have done their best to try to bring about reconciliation in that country. My noble
I remember long ago, as Minister of State responsible for Northern Ireland, visiting the Province and becoming dimly aware of how deeply divided were the two communities in tradition, culture and history. When one looks at the Good Friday agreement one should never forget what a huge gulf of history has been bridged by it. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, that this is a pearl without price.
Having said that, I should like to say a few words about one aspect that is not normally touched upon in Northern Ireland debates. I address my remarks particularly to those in the nationalist community who still have the vision of a united Ireland. One of the most striking features of the Republic of Ireland is the way in which it has managed to put the past behind it and to build a future that is much more promising than the past. The remarkable economic achievement of the republic clearly displays the way in which that country looks to the future and has in the past 25 years moved from a gross national product per capita that is 60 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom to one that is equivalent to 90 per cent. I believe that that was one of the bonuses of the Republic of Ireland moving on from its very troubled history and addressing and making the most of the prospects that lay before it.
I turn to the Good Friday agreement and the issue of decommissioning, which was dealt with by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. The most difficult dilemma faced by the Government is that described by Gerry Adams (rather unexpectedly) as the division between those who are pro-agreement and those who are anti-agreement. The very issues that have placed the Good Friday agreement under strain are ones which are pursued by those who look for nothing so much as the failure of the agreement. Those responsible for the terrible mutilations--and the whole House will share the outrage expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, at the most recent of those mutilations in Beesbrooke--will also be conscious that there are many evil men and women whose greatest desire is to destroy the Good Friday agreement because it does not serve their purpose. The difficult road down which the Government have to travel is, at one and the same time, to encourage those who have signed the agreement to carry it out not only to the letter but also in the spirit while yielding nothing to those on both sides of the communities in Northern Ireland who wish to destroy it.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, noble Lords may take some comfort from the decline in the number of, yes, mutilations rather than punishment beatings that has occurred recently. They will also ask themselves whether this is a continuing and steady decline or merely a short incidental alteration in what has been a very frightening escalation in recent months. I urge noble Lords to consider very carefully those who are responsible for these terrible acts and do not wish to see the rule of law re-established in the Province. I also echo the comment of the noble and learned Lord in
Northern Ireland has an amazing tradition in both communities and has the potential to become an example not only to itself but, in a world troubled by profound religious and ethnic conflicts, to other parts of the world that have also embarked upon peace processes. That is why the Good Friday agreement is so crucially important not only for Northern Ireland but far beyond. I commend the Secretary of State and the Minister for the ways in which they have continually pressed forward with the Good Friday agreement.
I very much hope that some of the recent intimations suggest that more and more people begin to understand how vital it is to ensure that this agreement survives and is then built upon. I hope that in the good spirit in this House for the establishment of a stable and lasting peace in Northern Ireland we shall be able today to give strength and hope to those who have so courageously fought for that agreement and are now trying to build upon it.
The Belfast agreement has set in train many seminal social and political changes. What the two governments and the Assembly can do they are doing. The major change without which nothing will really work is the removal of paramilitary weapons from Northern Irish politics. That, alas, is the one thing which is not set in stone in the agreement as a pre-condition. It was an assumption which was expected to have the same force but which does not. The parties are merely committed to using their influence but, as Martin McGuiness pointed out only a month ago,
It is not of course impossible that the IRA might, as a gesture, then order one of its surrogates such as the Continuity IRA to give up some token weapons. I hope that we shall remember then the dangers of believing such a token gesture. I hope, too, that the opportunity will not be lost at any White House meeting to ask what,
However, Martin McGuinness said something ominous which should give us cause to consider whether another most important part of the Belfast agreement--security, policing and justice--is being neglected. He said that the key was the removal of the causes of conflict and gave warning of "big trouble" if the Patten Commission fails to recommend the disbandment of the RUC. He said:
Now that Sinn Fein/IRA has secured the release of a significant number of prisoners, and apparently the Government as a matter of principle will not use the release of prisoners as a lever, I fear that its next and most dangerous objective will be the abolition of the RUC and the creation of a series of regional/sectarian people's police forces manned by former paramilitaries. Gerry Adams has already said that,
Concessions on that front today might easily seem a small price for the Government to pay for a promise to take the guns out of politics at some time. But it would be letting the Trojan horse within the gates and would be a monstrous betrayal of ordinary people, the victims of paramilitaries. I realise that Ministers undoubtedly understand this. My concern is that the Americans may not.
It is a critical moment. Men and women, victims of both the IRA and the loyalists, are coming together across the sectarian divide in such organisations as FAIT. It is heartening to see that Members of another place have recently recognised the monstrous arrogance that allows the paramilitaries to send whole families into exile. So far as I know, the IRA has still done nothing about telling the families of those it murdered where the bodies lie; and it has certainly not apologised for murdering and beating the wrong people, as it has done. If given real encouragement, I believe that the ordinary man in the street is ready to give evidence to the police. But it must be admitted that it takes great courage and it is difficult for them to overcome the code of "no informing". It was shocking to see that witnesses to the murder, which we must now call manslaughter, of Garda Jerry McCabe refused to testify for fear of what would happen to them. That was in the republic where the Garda are their own, but the IRA still rules.
Let us make sure that we do not allow Sinn Fein/IRA to destroy civil liberties and public peace, not only through sending families into exile and carrying out murderous attacks on individuals, but by damaging, if not destroying, the framework of law and order within which men and women are entitled to live. I believe that the courage being shown by ordinary men and women and their readiness to cross sectarian lines demonstrates that they believe that they are living, or could live, in a different, less violent world. So much in the agreement is good, but people need positive, public support for every act of courage and readiness to use the law as it should be used, to bring evil men to justice. We should also be seen to be upholding the forces of law. I hope that Amnesty International will publicise to the world the hateful deeds of a small minority and destroy their image of brave freedom fighters once and for all.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for providing us with the opportunity to take stock of progress in the implementation of the Good Friday agreement.
The noble and learned Lord correctly compared the rate of progress on sections of the agreement. The most glaring difference is that which separates the two aspects which, more than any others, have disillusioned a vast number of people--possibly the majority of the 71 per cent. who voted for the Good Friday agreement. First, I refer to the amnesty for convicted murderers. I use the term in its correct sense because that it how it is
I have to say with regret that the greater part of the blame for failure attaches to Her Majesty's Government. It was in the power of the Government to establish a firm linkage between the release of murderers and a requirement to dismantle the apparatus of guerrilla warfare in the control of terrorist parties now masquerading as democratic bodies.
I have to say, frankly, that there is no confidence in the capacity or will of Her Majesty's Government to resist a ploy in the form of a token surrender of perhaps a dozen rusty rifles for the purpose of securing immediate access to membership of the Executive. We may hear more on that when it comes to the St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington and New York. Indeed, many who voted yes in the referendum suspect that the sordid deal has already been done and is simply being kept under wraps until next month.
The event will trigger a government initiative codenamed Normalisation; and that is another important matter. Indeed, some of it has already been implemented. I give a few examples: the discouragement, ever so subtle, of effective policing; pressure to dismantle fortified posts in police stations; phasing out security precautions throughout the commercial and industrial sectors; and what appears to be toleration of a campaign of exile. And those are just the beginning.
The bogus justification for the mistaken idea of normalisation is that peace has broken out. We are all thankful that the warfare in its earlier form is for the moment no more, but how can that be the main justification for the mistaken, phoney campaign of normalisation? How can that be when the main terrorist parties flatly refuse to dismantle their capacity to wage guerrilla warfare and when they consider that it might be useful to supply the terrorist muscle to augment their political demands at any given time?
Or how can peace be taken for granted when reconstructed terrorist machines, misnamed "splinter groups", now have the capacity and the equipment to launch a murderous campaign in both islands? And how can peace be assured when we have the most deadly threats in the shape of unidentified terror forces, whose existence I reported to your Lordships on 3rd September 1998? Did the Provisional IRA transfer at that time vast stocks of arms and explosives to those unidentified forces on the understanding that eventually they might be returned to their donors; namely, the Libyan Government? What we have seen of normalisation this
On 8th February 1999 in the debate on the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order (col. 87 of the Official Report) I questioned the wisdom of the increasing number of departments, from six to 11. I venture to applaud the Treasury--I gave it the benefit of the doubt--for its generosity in financing that. The estimated cost of running the Assembly was then some £14 million a year. Therefore, I trust that the Treasury will not be greatly alarmed by the report of a committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly which recommends that the figure be increased--and I gather that that has been authorised--from £14 million to £36 million a year, with, no doubt, costs escalating year by year. In others words, the Northern Ireland Assembly is overtaking your Lordships' House, which last year cost only £39 million to run.
Am I right in believing that the Assembly costs--two-and-a-half-times what was estimated only four months ago--will be met from the Northern Ireland (Appropriation) Order and therefore deducted from monies allocated to education, health, social services, agriculture and transport? Does this unexpected demand disturb the Minister and his ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office who will be blamed for the shortcomings? Would it not be prudent to transfer Assembly costs from the appropriation order to the Northern Ireland Vote, perhaps as an alternative to granting the Assembly tax-raising powers?
Lord Beloff: My Lords, unlike the previous speaker, to whom we listened with accustomed attention, I have no particular connection with Northern Ireland. However, I wish to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that, although to us it is the most immediate and terrifying problem faced by the Government, it is only an incident in Europe's long history of ethnic and religious conflicts taking violent forms from time to time. I believe that lessons can be learnt from observing those conflicts.
One of the lessons I would learn is that the protagonists, if they feel strongly, are unlikely to get rid of the means of enforcing their will. Therefore, I have always doubted, and still doubt, whether there was a serious intention on the part of the IRA or its political wing to make it impossible for it, by the surrender of weapons, to recommence the struggle. As my noble friend Lady Park pointed out, it is therefore enormously important that the powers of the state, the powers of the police, should under no circumstances be diminished until there is evidence that the intention to renew an arms struggle has disappeared.
We are told--and it was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Park and others--that the negotiations balancing membership of the executive in Northern Ireland with the decommissioning of arms are to be tackled at a quasi summit in Washington. Indeed, the relations between Britain and the United States,
Therefore, I very much hope that a great deal of attention is being paid by Her Majesty's Government and their representatives in the United States to trying to convey to American opinion--and there is evidence that it has moved over the years--the fact that this is an anxious and delicate moment; that by the demolition of the RUC we are perhaps being asked to give over a population, both Protestant and Catholic, to domination by movements which rely on armed force. As has also been said, we have not yet had a satisfactory explanation as to why it is possible in the United States to raise any funds for any element in Ireland. What would be thought if we in this country were raising funds to assist the curious movements which have now developed in the American West? The United States is our friend and perhaps the key to the solution of the problem, but unless it gets it right it can only make it worse.
Lord Blease: My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this timely and challenging debate. As a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he and his good lady are much respected in the Province. Their strong commitment and sensitive and practical approach to long and deep-seated political and social problems greatly helped the Province survive ugly terrorist sectarian violence during his years there.
In November 1996, when the noble and learned Lord was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he introduced the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Bill. The passing of that legislation in 1997 is an example of the high degree of parliamentary bipartisanship which has largely prevailed throughout Westminster over some 50 years of terrorism, violence, sectarianism and bigotry in Northern Ireland. That bipartisan approach has had a helpful and forceful influence on events.
There is no doubt about the ongoing difficulties and critical political issues that arise out of the 1998 Good Friday agreement. No words of mine today can do justice to the tremendous mental, physical and totally democratic commitment of Dr. Mowlam and her
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, called attention to the value of the Belfast agreement. I would have wished to quote paragraphs 2 to 4 of the Declaration of Support made by 108 elected Assembly representatives but, because of time constraints, I note only the following:
The question is not just one of decommissioning but of the future for all the people of Northern Ireland. It concerns not only politicians, the political parties and their rank and file members. It is the future of our children, our families, our friends, our neighbours and our Province that is important. All peaceable people are at the heart of the present political issues.
The very nature of the Belfast agreement is its complexity. We are, as a community, required to build a climate of trust. Is it not the duty of every politician to declare wholehearted commitment to parliamentary democracy and to pledge to uphold the principles of justice in all aspects of community life? There should be full implementation of social equity and a commitment to a quality of mercy in the exercise of redress and in the face of human failure. The greatest contribution politicians and all in authority in our Province can make to lasting peace in the community is to work humbly and earnestly to build a better life for all in the Province.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for initiating this debate. I know he does not need me to make points for him, but I was particularly disappointed to read the rather arrogant letter from the Minister in today's Daily Telegraph in
The political process is in a dangerous stalemate caused by what is euphemistically referred to as the "decommissioning process" or, rather, the lack of it. Last year over 70 per cent. of the population in Northern Ireland voted "Yes" in the referendum because it offered hope of a better way: devolved government, power-sharing and a return to the democratic process, with the bomb and the bullet out of play. They did not, however, vote for peace at any price.
Those republicans who support Sinn Fein and the IRA and who voted "No" believe that a 32-county Ireland governed by their own particular brand of republicanism could be delivered by the bomb and the bullet. Their overall objective has not changed, but their strategy has moved from bomb and bullet to ballot box supported by bomb and bullet. The challenge today is the same as it has always been: to persuade Sinn Fein/IRA that this strategy can never work. They must wait for however long it takes for the demographic evolutionary process to deliver their objective.
Adams and McGuinness say that they cannot deliver decommissioning. I do not think that they can, even if they want to, which I do not believe they do at this time. The Secretary of State has at times recently--unwisely, in my opinion--allowed herself to appear to be far too close to the "Gerry and Martin" show and too soft on Sinn Fein/IRA. We know that she has always had their guns in her back, metaphorically speaking, but that is precisely why she cannot, and should not, expect David Trimble to share executive power with Sinn Fein/IRA without disarmament--I use that word advisedly--being well and truly under way; otherwise the majority of the population--namely, the unionist voters--will soon believe that David Trimble is suffering from the same treatment and he will lose their support and confidence, which he needs for his power base. Fortunately, at this time the Secretary of State has the full support--or so we are led to believe--of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister of Ireland and the President of the United States in resisting this expectation. And she must resist it.
However, delaying devolution will create more problems. Some might have been avoided; others not. A look at the calendar of projected events shows a date for devolution of 10th March 1999. I understand that that is likely to be put back. There is no date for the removal of Clauses 2 and 3 from the Irish Constitution. Perhaps I may quote from the Irish News of 27th April:
The marching season opens at Easter--it may be a bit early, but that is when it starts--and Drumcree has not gone away. Not only has it not gone away, but there is strong support for the Orange Order's right to march across all Loyalist terrain.
The Patten report on the RUC is due in June or thereabouts. Again, many of the unionist population and the forces themselves are intensely suspicious of its outcome. It is a pity it was not delayed a little. The date set in the agreement by which decommissioning is to be completed is two years from the date of signing on Good Friday 1998--I presume April 2000--but, as we know, there is no start date. Prisoner releases started immediately after the signing of the agreement. We all understand why they had to start, but their triumphalism has certainly sickened us.
I am a little concerned about the process and transparency of the prisoner releases. For example, I am told that the commission has little authority. The decisions as to who is released and when are almost always made by the Northern Ireland Office. What tests are carried out to see whether those being released have any dangerous personality disorders? Are they prone to pyschopathic behaviour? Have they criminal tendencies? Are they involved with drugs and so forth? Will they be good members of the community when they come out? And perhaps most importantly of all, what proof is available to show that they comply with the agreement and no longer have any affiliation to any paramilitaries?
The aim of my speech this afternoon is to try to point to what might lie ahead this summer if the miracle of decommissioning--I pray that it does--does not happen. David Trimble and the unionist majority are under seige while the Parades Commission tries in vain to manage the marching season. The RUC will be under seige, on one side from Patten and its side effects; on another from policing marches and trying to control the ever-increasing organised and local crime; and on the third, and perhaps the most sinister side, from the strategy of Sinn Fein-IRA and its campaign to discredit and embarrass the RUC whenever it can, particularly in areas it wishes to control.
I believe that the Government are doing their best to deliver, but they must prepare for the worst and the difficult summer ahead. That means winning back the confidence of the unionist population.
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