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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I must stop the noble Lord. There will be no time for other noble Lords to speak.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, the Government must ensure that nothing is said or done to undermine the morale and capacity of the RUC. They must persuade the Republic Government that it is time they altered their constitution in relation to Articles 2 and 3, and continue to make it absolutely clear to Sinn Fein-IRA that there is only one way--decommissioning and ultimate disarmament. Those measures will go some way to redressing the balance.

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4.13 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, in his opening remarks quite properly described the advantages that will come from this agreement if it follows through. He mentioned the agreement of the South to relinquish its claim on the North. That is most important and is already apparent in that Dublin and London are working much more closely together. That is good news and it is much more likely that, by working together, they will be able to pursue this problem to a sensible conclusion.

Only last week the Taoiseach made very clear that decommissioning must commence before Sinn Fein can be accepted as Ministers. That was an interesting point. He only said, of course, what everybody else knows to be true, but for him to say it was a landmark.

In Northern Ireland we desperately need the Assembly, though perhaps not with the £36 million cost attached to it. We desperately need democratic government. How far do we have to go to find an area the size of Northern Ireland where nobody has been able to vote for their government for almost 30 years? The decline in standards of administration and decision-making are only too clear. If Sinn Fein will not decommission then arrangements must be made to proceed with the Assembly and devolved government with it.

The agreement is designed to move towards peace in stages, in a maximum period of two years with early release of convicted terrorists on licence to recognise that. There will also be staged relaxation of security. It is grossly offensive for the Ulster people that early release of terrorists has been entirely one-sided. There is ample evidence that the main paramilitary groups are still active. The chief constable confirmed that, but it has been ignored and prisoners continue to be released at a fast pace. It is known that some terrorists have gone back to what they know best, but they have not been re-imprisoned. That confirms to the IRA that it can achieve its objectives without giving anything in return; that it pays to retain the threat of arms. Removal of important security check points in advance of any decommissioning sends the message that the Government are no longer interested in defending the citizens of Northern Ireland from terrorist attack, though the threat and capability remain unchanged.

Most people in Northern Ireland, of every religious persuasion, have deeply embedded standards of behaviour; honesty and straight dealing come naturally to us. The failure of the Government to do what they promise, the fudging of issues and what are perceived as lies are having a corrosive effect on beliefs and standards. That is a subject often discussed in Northern Ireland and does not augur well for the future. I am sorry to report that the belief is now widespread that the Government are not concerned about how many people are maimed or murdered in Northern Ireland; that the IRA will be given everything they want provided the threat of bombs in Great Britain is removed.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Is the noble Lord

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suggesting that the slaughter of individuals and those murdered is confined to the Catholics? The Protestants have done their share in recent times, have they not?

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, of course. The present beatings and attacks on people have been criticised equally by both sides. I am merely talking about the decommissioning of arms.

The belief is widespread in Northern Ireland that the IRA and other terrorists will be given everything they want provided the threat of bombs in Great Britain is removed. That is an alarming state of affairs. The majority of those in Northern Ireland expect to be treated as citizens of the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, spoke at length about the police. It is a major concern in Northern Ireland that the report on the police may cause a substantial and totally unacceptable change in the police and it is very important that that does not happen.

I want to pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations which are working hard with the victims of terrorism and others in an attempt to support them. There are many, such as FAIT and others, which have done exceedingly important work and a great deal to destabilise the terrorists on either side and to show them that they do not have support. They are also probably responsible for the present ceasing of attacks which have occurred both by the IRA and the UDA.

With many others, I do not think that the IRA will decommission, but if it did and the agreement is implemented in full is it appreciated that we would not have peace as that word is understood? We would have a dozen splinter groups from the IRA, and probably as many Protestant groups. Those groups will comprise, particularly the IRA, the present hard-line men who will have sufficient arms to do whatever they want. They will continue to attempt to control "their areas"; they will continue to control drug distribution, and so on. The situation will not change. Can the Minister advise the House on whether the Government have thought about that, and what they should do?

4.20 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I add my grateful thanks to those paid to my noble friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden for instigating this debate. I take the opportunity to recognise the powerful part he played during his time in the Province. Perhaps I may add that I pay tribute to my right honourable friend John Major for the tenacity he showed in his approach to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Of course, I salute all those who were involved in the difficult negotiations which culminated in the signing of the Belfast agreement 1998, an agreement I am sure all noble Lords wholeheartedly support.

It is both timely and important that we are debating the situation in Northern Ireland at this most sensitive stage. As we approach 10th March, the date designated as devolution day, and as we also near the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement, it seems appropriate to take stock, to see what has happened since then and how the lives of many of the people of Northern Ireland have been affected.

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Expectations were raised for a calmer and safer society, with violence and misery being a thing of the past. I am sure that the men and women who voted in such numbers to support the agreement did so because they yearned to have the opportunity to raise their children in the same atmosphere that we experience here in mainland Britain. One can imagine the dreams they had of putting the brutal past behind them and the excitement of facing a new dawn and a fresh beginning in the Province. Of course, I am sure that no one was gullible enough to believe that everything would proceed without a hitch but, overall, that life would be better and safer for all families. I only wish that that had transpired.

Many families have had to face the horror of what has become known as "punishment beatings". But, as my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, they are nothing of the sort. They are acts of barbarism where people are viciously attacked, sometimes for hours, and left mutilated with injuries so hideous and shocking that permanent physical disability or even death has resulted in some extreme cases.

Perhaps I may illustrate the horror of the situation by referring to the terrible plight of Mrs. Maureen Kearney, whose son was murdered last July. He was in his flat on that fateful evening nursing his two week-old daughter when IRA men burst into his eighth floor flat and dragged him out into the stairwell while the baby's mother was held down. He was shot through both knees, severing an artery. They then jammed the lift, cut the telephone wire and made their escape. By the time his girlfriend was able to call for help, he had bled to death. His mother was, of course, distraught on hearing of this tragedy. She carries the burden with her and finds the daily round difficult to cope with. Recently, she came face to face with one of those she considered responsible. I do not have to tell your Lordships of her reaction. The baby will be raised without the benefit of having a father around to bestow the usual loving care.

I also wish to mention the case of Andrew Pedon who had both his legs amputated as a result of being "kneecapped". The effect on his wife and three young children has been devastating. His wife has to attend to all his needs, carrying him upstairs and sharing his agony. He was a father who enjoyed such lively pursuits as camping and fishing with his children, but obviously activities of this kind are not possible now. His injuries need daily professional attention. He attends a psychiatrist four times a week and, as a consequence of his injuries, his wife has given up her job to nurse him 24 hours a day. He relives the terrible events every night and rarely sleeps for longer than an hour at a time. As your Lordships can imagine, his children are devastated by what has happened to them all. One can understand why Mrs. Pedon said,

    "It is a living nightmare--it has wrecked our family".
That is five people in that one family whose lives have been wrecked. As my right honourable friend Andrew MacKay said,

    "on many estates paramilitaries are ruling by terror".

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Those are just two examples. This must be a violation of the agreement and I can only wonder whether these people have renounced violence for good. I must admit that I cannot see it and I would have thought that no one else can either.

I understand from FAIT (Families Against Intimidation and Terror) that up to the end of January there have been 15 shootings, 35 beatings, 69 cases of intimidation and 65 cases of people who have had to leave their homes. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House welcome the fact that there have been no incidents since 2nd February. It seems that the organisations can end such activity when it suits them. I believe it has been as a result of pressure on the paramilitary organisations, not least by my right honourable friend William Hague by his persistent questioning of the Prime Minister. However, it is impossible to calculate the effect that that form of terrorism must have on family life. This behaviour seems to go on and on, with the paramilitaries refusing to give up any of their guns or bombs. It appears to me that these organisations are certainly violating the Good Friday agreement, as I understand it.

Perhaps one of the most difficult pieces of legislation with which we had to contend during the previous Session was the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act which gave the Secretary of State the power to accelerate the release of prisoners. The Act also gives the Secretary of State the additional power to halt the early release of prisoners who belong to organisations whose cease-fires are not complete and unequivocal. If the beatings and other unacceptable behaviour should start again, I believe she should take those powers and use them to protect those at risk and stop the slaughter which affects innocent women and children. Once the prisoners have been released a most important bargaining factor will have disappeared.

I see that my allocated time is over. It is with sorrow that I speak today, but I do so because I find the events taking place both profoundly disturbing and upsetting. I am sure all noble Lords would wish to send David Trimble and his colleagues the warmest wishes of support as he tackles the enormous challenges ahead.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, this must be a unique occasion when a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland initiates a debate in your Lordships' House. Normally when they leave Northern Ireland, they come back over here, take a cold shower and hope that they can forget all the events that happened during their term in Northern Ireland. However, I think that it is worth while that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, has given us the opportunity to discuss and evaluate what has happened since the agreement.

The Northern Ireland agreement was complex. It took into account many issues which divided the people in Northern Ireland long before even partition, but particularly since partition, and the creation of the Northern Ireland state.

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The agreement is multi-faceted. Today, we are trying to evaluate its effect. Of all the facets of that agreement, four burning issues continue to tear at the heartstrings of the people of Northern Ireland. The first of those is the release of prisoners. Prisoners are now being released who have committed the most terrible crimes in the history of Northern Ireland.

To realise the truth of that one had only to watch a television programme last Sunday evening on BBC2 in which loyalist murderers actually boasted about the number of times that they had stabbed their victims. I think of one victim, my closest colleague, Senator Paddy Wilson, who was murdered by a man called John White, who faced the cameras and said, "Yes, I stabbed him. I nearly decapitated him--and later I shook hands with the Prime Minister". Can your Lordships imagine what the relatives of that victim must have thought? And that is only one case; there are many others. Indeed, some of those now serving in the Northern Ireland Assembly have been convicted of the most atrocious murders.

This is a very emotional issue. Just think of the 301 policemen who were viciously and brutally murdered by the IRA in particular. Just think of how their relatives in Northern Ireland are feeling. Let us never forget that between 500 and 600 young British soldiers have also been viciously and brutally murdered. Their relatives live in England. How must they feel when they know that such prisoners are being released? Let us consider the brutal and vicious murders of the two British corporals. Their murderers are now to be released. What must the victims' relatives be feeling? That is the first issue: the release of prisoners.

The next issue is decommissioning. I was not involved in the talks, but, if I had been involved, there would have been decommissioning or there would have been no agreement. I could never have signed an agreement in Northern Ireland which said to one party, "You can have the prisoner releases", and to another, "You cannot have anything with regard to decommissioning". The Prime Minister of Britain went to Stormont. He stayed there for two or three days. I was not party to the agreement or the discussions, but that was the time for Mr. David Trimble, the leader of the Unionists, to say, "You cannot have the release of these prisoners unless you ally that with decommissioning". That would have been a very reasonable request in the circumstances. However, I understand that a gun was put to Mr. Trimble's head--perhaps that is an unfortunate phrase--and he was told, "Look, the IRA will not agree to this unless you release their prisoners". That is right; there would never have been an agreement without those releases. Then, when Mr. Trimble asked, "Can we not have decommissioning?", he was told, "No, you can't have decommissioning".

The pressure put on David Trimble then has led us to the position today when we are trying desperately to bring about decommissioning. However, that should have been achieved during the discussions. I ask your Lordships' House: what pressures were put on David Trimble in the discussions leading up to the

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agreement? What were the pressures that were put on him by the Prime Minister of this country and by the Taoiseach of the Republic to force him into an agreement that he knew that he could not carry? That is the second issue.

The next issue relates to the mutilations now taking place. I am glad to see that we have erased from our vocabulary the phrase "punishment beatings". The mutilations now taking place are done for decided reasons. I have with me a copy of a letter from Reverend Father Faul, one paragraph of which states:

    "IRA beatings and expulsions have political purposes: (1) to exclude the police and to replace them or any new force other than themselves; (2) to intimidate the community; (3) to prevent normality in [the] community".

I well remember the former Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, coming to Northern Ireland at the outbreak of the troubles. When he was leaving that evening, it is alleged that he looked out of the aeroplane and said, "What a bloody awful country". He was widely reported as having said that, but he also said something more significant during that visit. He said, "Perhaps we will have to live with an acceptable level of violence". Those words seared themselves into the minds of the people of Northern Ireland. People were prepared to accept "an acceptable level of violence". We now hear two other words which bring those earlier words back to me. I refer to the words "imperfect peace". Those words are substitutes for the words "an acceptable level of violence". Does that mean that we are prepared to accept the greater violence that there is now?

I remember the Labour Party strenuously opposing the Conservative Government's implementation of the exclusion orders, as they were called then. The IRA is opposing exclusion orders.

I realise that my time has now elapsed, but perhaps I may conclude by saying that there are now some very dangerous elements in Northern Ireland and unless both governments--not only this Government, but the government of the Republic also--take a firm stand against them and insist on decommissioning before Sinn Fein/IRA can take up its seats in the Assembly, we could be heading for trouble.

4.35 p.m.

The Earl of Erne: My Lords, I should like to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew for introducing this very important debate this afternoon, especially at this crucial and difficult moment in the life of the agreement.

At home in Fermanagh--and, indeed, elsewhere-- I cannot help noticing that a huge number of people are totally confused by the Government who appear to be making concession after concession to Sinn Fein/IRA without obtaining a single gesture in return concerning the implementation of the terms of the Good Friday agreement. Surely the time has come to say, "Enough is enough".

I should like to ask the Minister just two questions. First, would it not be wise to delay the release of prisoners until the very necessary co-operation has been demonstrated? Secondly, does the Minister not agree that

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his right honourable friend the Prime Minister should now come out and boldly say that he agrees with David Trimble, the First Minister, and his policies, as did the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, and give him the support that he so rightly deserves? If that were to take place, it would bring great comfort to a vast number of people in Northern Ireland who feel completely isolated.

We await the Patten report on the RUC with eager anticipation. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to say that in my opinion--and in the opinion of many others--the RUC is the finest police force in the world. Its courage and discipline over the years have been second to none. What other police force has been asked over and over again to undertake peace-keeping tasks where its members end up being attacked from both sides at once? They carry out those tasks with an "All-in-a-day's-work" attitude. What other police force has lost so many lives in the course of duty over the years?

If there are changes to be made to the RUC and to the political structure in Northern Ireland, I only hope that Her Majesty's Government will choose the right time to make those changes--and that they will be for the better.

4.38 p.m.

The Marquess of Donegall: My Lords, I should like to speak in support of what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and to emphasise at the same time the relevance to the Good Friday agreement of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Its work was difficult and dangerous enough, in all conscience, but the continued release of criminals, some of whom were convicted of terrible crimes, must increase both the difficulties and the danger. It has been reported that some of the released prisoners have already taken part in so-called "punishment beatings", so we should spare a thought for the police.

If, as we must hope, the agreement brings peace and stability to Northern Ireland, the Royal Ulster Constabulary will have its part to play and, if it does not, the RUC will have a very much larger and more dangerous part to play. So, in the context of the agreement, it is worth examining this police force and its record of public service.

It is unique among police forces in the world. In addition to normal police duties it has had to contend with an illegal but fully-armed army--sometimes active, sometimes dormant, but never wholly absent. That is why, unlike its neighbours the Garda Siochana, who police the Republic, it is an armed force. It has a roll of honour since 1922. Precise figures are hard to come by, but in the past 30 odd years 302 officers and reserve officers have been killed on duty. In addition, many have been seriously injured. Therefore, we could spare a thought for what all this means to their wives and families.

My noble and learned friend's Motion speaks of,

    "the dangers inherent in failing to secure ... the prompt and complete implementation",
of the provisions of the agreement. Not everything that is said encourages one to believe that it will be all that

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prompt. It is probable that not many of your Lordships ever watch broadcasts of the Irish news on television. I do. Two or three months ago I switched on the television while it was portraying the Sinn Fein conference in Dublin. Mr. McGuinness was addressing the conference and concluded his speech by saying that the RUC will have to go. One was left with the impression: to be replaced by gangsters like McGuinness. Judging by the enthusiastic reception from the audience, that was what was anticipated.

Last Friday I cut the following article out of The Times. I quote:

    "Detonators found in an IRA arms cache seized in West Belfast on Tuesday were manufactured last year, when the IRA were supposed to be on ceasefire, the Royal Ulster Constabulary said yesterday.

    "The announcement raised serious questions about the IRA's intentions and caused Unionist and Conservative politicians to redouble their demands for IRA disarmament ...

    "Sinn Fein officials responded angrily, calling the RUC the most discredited police force in Europe and accusing it of 'pursuing a political agenda with the intention of wrecking the peace process'".
Again, one was left with the impression that the detonators are part of the peace process.

One of the major problems in enforcing the law in Northern Ireland is the intimidation of witnesses--a disease which, incidentally, has now spread south of the border in the celebrated case of the murder of detective sergeant McCabe. If the Good Friday agreement could lessen that pernicious practice, though I doubt it, then it all would have been worth while.

We must all hope for the best, but a shadow hangs over the RUC in the shape of the Patten Commission. I do not think that that was part of the Good Friday agreement but somehow it got added on afterwards, probably under pressure from Dublin. If in July the commission brings forward a report--I am not saying that it will--which is damaging to the morale and hence the efficiency of the RUC, and the arms have not been decommissioned, that will be a nightmare situation for all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland.

Given the potentially dangerous situation if any of the various paramilitary forces should, so to speak, break loose, I suggest that this is not the time to run risks with the police. For the Good Friday agreement to be a success, the RUC should be left alone to do its job.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Eames: My Lords, I welcome this debate very much indeed. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for introducing it and should like to pay my own personal tribute to both him and Lady Mayhew for the role that they have played in the life of Northern Ireland in the past. As we have this debate we face a critical period in Northern Ireland in the long walk to stability and peace, with justice for unionist and nationalist, Protestant and Roman Catholic. I would assure the Minister that it is a time for steady nerves; that is, steady nerves by government and by all those who seek to influence public opinion. However, it is also a time for a full and honest understanding of what makes people react as they do to this situation. Each of

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use comes to this debate from differing starting points. We are united in our desire to see a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, but the differences remain. How do we achieve it?

I have 36 years of ministry within Northern Ireland, through years of experiences that I will never forget. I have seen suffering and death, bewilderment and frustration, as well as courage of a very high order. I have had to bury plastic bags because there was no recognisable body left. I have had to go into homes where the reaction to situations was unbelievable. Indeed, only recently--and there have been frequent references this afternoon to these atrocious attacks-- I tried to comfort a mother whose son was viciously beaten almost to the point of death. It was a mercy that he was not killed.

Therefore, as I make a contribution to the debate, I feel that I must appeal for reality in this discussion of what in fact is happening at this moment on the ground in Northern Ireland. When the euphoria of Good Friday engulfed us all, I have to say that in my heart and mind I knew that the biggest battle remained. For it is in the hearts and minds of the people of Northern Ireland that this agreement, made on Good Friday, will either fail or succeed. However, we must recognise that we cannot legislate for reconciliation. Although we can put in place the structures that are necessary for reconciliation to be achieved, I can assure the Minister that we cannot legislate for it.

It is vital to this debate that your Lordships recognise the true situation on the ground. I believe that a new confidence is desperately needed in the political process. Decommissioning is not the only obstacle to be scaled. The real issue is not the agreement. The real issue is not even its terms. Indeed, I believe that the real issue is trust. That trust is lacking on the ground. In fact, in some places it is totally absent. Sectarian attitudes dominate and they run very, very deep. If trust is to emerge, the unionist/loyalist Protestant community needs, despite its current unease, to recognise how far republicanism has come. It needs to recognise the sensitivities of nationalism, constitutional nationalism, placed as it is at present in critical juxtaposition. Each side must be prepared to give a little. But I would be failing the majority of those to whom I minister if I did not warn your Lordships this afternoon of the depth of unease, frustration and discontent within the Protestant/unionist community.

Political point scoring has its own agenda; but that agenda does not necessarily include long-term accommodation. Northern Ireland cannot fade back into the depths from where we have come. Generations yet unborn will read the report of this debate and will ask,"Did you not see the signs; did you not read the signs that were there and act before it was too late?". The reality is that the price of the speed of political progress--the "peace process", as we are told we must call it--is too high for many to pay. But we have to act and ask: is the price for long-term accommodation, the inevitable short-term price that we have to pay, a price that we are prepared to pay?

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The unease and disquiet on decommissioning within the Protestant community is genuine after all the years of the troubles. That unease must be addressed by the Government. The unease within the nationalist Roman Catholic community must be addressed by giving proof that they will never, never again be considered second-class citizens. They must find that they can trust their unionist and Protestant neighbours not because they are told they can trust them, but because they know in their hearts that they can trust them. Unless we are prepared to face that reality post-Good Friday agreement, the outlook is bleak.

Issues such as Drumcree have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. Those issues must be solved, and solved quickly, for they are a festering sore. Drumcree itself is a cameo of the problems that the Belfast agreement came into being to solve. For too long such issues have held ordinary, decent people to ransom. There has to be life after Drumcree.

I recall the words spoken to me only a few days ago by the mother of two sons who were the victims of a sectarian murder some years ago--words that I leave with your Lordships. She said, "I have every reason to distrust, but I have a higher duty. I must find a new trust if there is to be any future for all of us". If the trust to which I refer is created--and I believe it can be--if government can not only act evenly with both communities, but be seen to act evenly with them, the Belfast agreement will not simply survive, but I believe in my heart that it will succeed.

4.51 p.m.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend, Lord Mayhew, for introducing the debate. I support everything he said, with perhaps one exception regarding a tiger changing its spots. That is perhaps the only point on which I differ from him.

I wish to make three points. The first concerns decommissioning. The UK Army and security have seriously demilitarised. Only the LVF of the paramilitaries has made even a token gesture in that direction, but not the UVF, the UFF or Sinn Fein. There is a two year term for decommissioning; we are approaching the half-way stage with little done.

There is a problem, which I hope the Minister can help me solve, for both Sinn Fein and Mr. Trimble. Both have to look over their shoulders to their supporters for fear that the latter will desert them. If Sinn Fein agrees to even a token decommissioning, will it be anxious that its supporters will desert it? If Mr. Trimble accepts Sinn Fein into the executive without any decommissioning on its part, will his supporters desert him? Can the Minister tell me if the Government are working on a formula to overcome the problem? I deliver a serious warning to him. If there is no decommissioning by the time of the European elections, will Mr. Paisley's party sweep the unionist vote on the point that the Belfast agreement is dead? There are some important issues for the future locked up in this matter.

It is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Eames. He talked about trust and relationships. I totally endorse what he said; namely, that there is a battle for the hearts

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and minds of people in Northern Ireland. Consent was achieved by the signatories to the Belfast agreement but there has been no disavowal of fighting by the paramilitaries; maintaining their armour is surely evidence of their intention not to do so at the present time. Are those who have been engaged in violence, whether against their opponents, or against their own people--as we have discussed often--trying for political dialogue today?

I was pleased to read--I believe it was last week--about five unionists and five republicans meeting for political talks. Are those talks continuing? I hope the Minister can tell me that. Any meetings across this divide will help to increase trust and build relationships. I believe that that is crucial. It is perhaps a pity that Mr. Adams is in Australia at this juncture. I am not quite sure how long he will be there, but he is obviously pivotal to any such discussions. People need to treat others as equals and need to spend time building relationships with other people across the divide.

The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland want peace. Are they saying this loudly enough to the paramilitaries? Are the media reporting it? It seems to me that a strong media campaign against the mutilations resulted in a serious reduction in those mutilations. I believe that that was part of a public campaign. That is good. I hope there can be a build-up in Northern Ireland of people saying that peace must flow from the present political process.

I have talked about political issues and about relationships, but I believe that there are also spiritual issues involved. They constitute a strong element. I suggest to all the Churches of Northern Ireland that they plan a day of prayer on St. Patrick's Day, 17th March. I believe personally that the Almighty is one person who can be a real influence for change in Northern Ireland. Whether or not "D-day" slips from 10th March to 10th April--which would be one year on from the Belfast agreement--I believe that the Churches of Northern Ireland should plan for a day of concentrated prayer. That should be open to all people of good will and to all people who want to see total peace develop in Northern Ireland.

There will be a meeting in the Speaker's apartment in the Palace of Westminster and I believe that we shall have the privilege of being addressed by Lady Eames on that occasion. If we can do that here, I hope that people in the Churches in Northern Ireland will do so also. I believe with all my heart that all people of good will need to pray for the success of the Belfast agreement and for a solution to these problems.

4.57 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, I have been advised that I may say a few words with regard to the speech that I made late last night during the debate on Lords' reform. With your Lordships' permission, I shall do so. It is clear that I misjudged the mood of the House in that I crossed that invisible line when I made mention of a Member of another place. My breach of the Companion was entirely due to inexperience and not to intent. I cherish and respect the institutions and

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conventions of your Lordships' House and for that reason I apologised privately last night to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He was gracious enough to accept that apology. I now wish to take this opportunity to apologise unreservedly to the whole House.

I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating this debate on the Belfast agreement this afternoon. I am not surprised that he has done so. He was, as a Secretary of State--and continues to be--a good friend to Northern Ireland. He laid the foundations upon which the present Government were able to build the peace process.

I have consistently supported the Belfast agreement since it was accepted on Good Friday last year. I supported it on the ground during the referendum in the Province and I supported it in your Lordships' House during the many debates on the subsequent Bills that cascaded through as a result of that agreement.

The Prime Minister recently said that the peace that it brought, whilst imperfect, was far better than no peace at all. Certainly in the 90 per cent. of the Province which incredibly managed some semblance of normality during nearly 30 years of terrorism, life, with the exception of the atrocity at Omagh, is more normal than ever.

However, the peace dividend has not struck deep into the republican and loyalist heartlands in Belfast, Strabane, Newry and elsewhere. The savage punishment beatings, mutilations and enforced exiles have continued for those unfortunate enough to cross or fall out with the local godfathers; all this culminating in a particularly brutal murder in Newry a few weeks ago.

Now we have a more or less cessation in these inhumane activities due to the unlikely, perhaps, intervention of Amnesty International. I do not believe that the republican cessation is a mere coincidence. I am in no doubt that it was instigated by Sinn Fein, worried about the effects that the damning report from Amnesty would have on their supporters, particularly in the United States.

However, the position is far from secure, largely as a result of the IRA at present refusing to decommission a single weapon. Sinn Fein says that it is powerless to persuade them so to do, but I find this hard to believe as it seems to have such influence over the mutilations.

Mr. Trimble and his security spokesman, Ken Maginnis, are, I believe, offering Sinn Fein and the IRA every opportunity. They say that they will sit down with Sinn Fein in an Executive within minutes of decommissioning commencing. Indeed, yesterday, Ken Maginnis went further, suggesting that a cast-iron, underwritten guarantee of a programme, leading to total disarmament by June 2000, would unblock the deadlocked peace process.

While I agree that the Belfast agreement does not specify a start date, I wholeheartedly support the Taoiseach in his recent unequivocal statement that decommissioning had to start some time, and that it was realistic to suppose that an Executive could be formed until such a start had been made.

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One of the aspects of the agreement that was anathema to me and to many others was the early release of terrorist prisoners. We accepted that they had to be released under the terms of the deal struck by the agreement. While the agreement set a deadline of two years after the commencement of the release scheme for all prisoners to be released, it did not set a start time. However, the British Government and the Secretary of State, quite rightly, realised that a start had to be made.

We are now in a position where a very considerable number of qualifying prisoners have been released. Recently, there have been calls for the releases to be suspended in view of the mutilations, the lack of progress on decommissioning and so on. I find the equation of prisoner release linkage to decommissioning unattractive, and I do not for one minute expect the Secretary of State or the noble Lord the Minister to tell us that such an option is currently under consideration. However--and in extreme circumstances--I hope that the Secretary of State may be aware that she will have support if she does decide to suspend releases.

A further element of great concern is the question of the Patten Commission on police reform. I do not for one moment believe that Mr. Patten's report will be widely critical of the RUC, a force for which I have total respect and admiration. But while the chief constable, quite rightly, remains upbeat and confident, the rank and file of the RUC feel depressed and concerned about possible recommendations: not, I stress, through any feelings of guilt or inadequacy on their part, but because of inexorable demands from certain quarters for a somehow more democratic, community-based police service. Of course, there are some who would love to see the destruction of the RUC, the only body capable of preventing them from indulging in a life of organised crime and gangsterism.

Even now there are some who would claim that the RUC is the armed wing of the Unionist party. It is tragic, but well worthwhile to remember, that the first RUC officer to be killed, Constable Victor Arbuckle, in 1969, and the last, Constable Francis O'Reilly, in 1998, were both murdered by loyalist terrorists. For 30 years the RUC has been the thin line that has stood between democracy and anarchy. Shortly, another marching season will be upon us, when the RUC's resources and expertise will again be taxed to the limit.

In conclusion, my support for the Belfast agreement and for the Government remains firm. The euphoria of last spring has long gone and numerous questions--punishment beatings or mutilations, decommissioning, prisoner releases, reform of the RUC and the marching season--have yet to be resolved. However, we must press on if we are yet to see a bright and stable future for Northern Ireland.

5.4 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for initiating the debate. My good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, drew attention to the exceptional, if not unique, work involved in initiating the debate. I have noticed the noble Lords, Lord Prior and Lord Merlyn-Rees, sitting

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in the Chamber. The people of Northern Ireland are indebted to the good sense shown by politicians in sending to Northern Ireland people who not only do a very good job but who try to keep in their minds and in their hearts the objective of improving the situation.

I have been enormously humbled listening to the debate over the past two hours. I appreciate that, as I do not live in Northern Ireland, I cannot remotely sense or feel the impact of living there on either side of the divide.

There is a general welcome for the agreement. Any criticisms have been not so much of the agreement but of its implementation. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, it is very complex. It is very complex, and we have a problem.

Noble Lords know of my strong connection with the co-operative movement. The first time I went to Northern Ireland was to visit the Belfast society. I landed on a Friday, a day when a co-op shop was held up and the takings stolen. But my deepest impression was when, on Saturday, 13 or 15 people were blown to smithereens at a place called McGurk's Bar. I may be different to others, but when I hear of an atrocity I do not remember whether it was republicans blowing up loyalists or loyalists blowing up republicans; all I remember is that it was an atrocity.

I can think of events in the past year. There were the three little children who were burned to death. They were neither loyalists nor nationalists; they were tiny little children. They were blown up simply because of bigotry and venom.

When I was again in Northern Ireland about 10 years later--which was about 10 years ago--I represented my party and spoke on Northern Ireland matters. I went to the Maze and Magilligan prisons. I went from Magilligan Prison to Derry and sat on the steps of the city hall--the same steps where Tom King, when carrying out his responsibilities, was struck to the ground by elected councillors who were there, ostensibly, to meet him and greet him.

It is very difficult for someone like myself--a British politician who lives here--to understand or appreciate what causes people in Northern Ireland to do that sort of thing to each other. We hear about absolutely awful atrocities. I cannot conceive of a situation which would lead a group or sect of people to do that sort of thing to other people living over here.

Northern Ireland is unique and exceptional. I would say to the politicians of Northern Ireland who sit as Members of your Lordships' House but who are active in politics over there that the people of this country cannot understand why--hundreds of years after a wrong that has not been righted--there is still a determination to persist in keeping the clan, the tribe and the hurt alive.

More than once today, noble Lords have said that the people of Northern Ireland want peace. I know they do--but, having listened and having had a taste of Northern Ireland, I also realise the enormous dilemma that ordinary people are in through living in enclaves where thugs, terrorists and murderers have a grip on the community. I understand that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in the Chamber. We know that the noble Lord

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literally had to fight for his life because he was a politician. That does not happen here. Looking at the agreement I realise what an enormous amount of help in achieving it came from the former Prime Minister, John Major, from the present Prime Minister and from politicians in the United States. They recognised that this was just a beginning to what may blossom into something we have been denied for 30 or 40 years. No one who is involved is under any illusion that, having achieved the agreement, we have peace. That has been proved.

Today is a special day for Northern Ireland. Not only are we having this debate but there was Northern Ireland Question Time in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam--we all love her--addressed a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this morning. She gave us the latest news. She has the job of trying to make progress. She is an optimist, which in my view is better than being a pessimist, even though the record shows she is more entitled to be a pessimist than an optimist. Questions were raised about the release of terrorists. She said--it is not a secret but a fact of life--that more than 200 have been released and not one of them has broken the conditions of release. They have all, under pressure, I am sure, from their parties or groups, abided by the conditions of release. I noticed that John McFall, my parliamentary colleague, was listening to the debate earlier. I know what a terrible job he and my noble friend Lord Dubs have. They know what we want and the people they are dealing with are able to deliver, but for many reasons, which I cannot fathom, those people are not prepared to deliver.

I want to say to those in Northern Ireland that most if not all of the people on the mainland yearn for the time when they get rid of the people who are terrorising them and causing the potential in this country for a revisit of that terrorism. We have a vested interest in solving the problem in Northern Ireland because if we do not it will come here. I wish the agreement well. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dubs for all that he is doing. I am certainly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for giving the House an opportunity to put on record our appreciation of the many people who are working hard for the peace and solitude we enjoy in Britain.

5.12 p.m.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for initiating this debate. I am delighted to be positive about the progress of the Good Friday agreement. To be otherwise would be out of order, considering the consensus of agreement not only in the parties but among the people of Northern Ireland. Even Paisley and the DUP, who have opposed everything, are careful to ensure that they are not left outside the day-to-day activities in Stormont. When the executive is formed noble Lords will find that the DUP will reap its share of the benefits accruing as a result of the sheer dedication, hard work and sacrifice of others. What is new?

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I want sincerely to pay tribute, as other noble Lords have done, to all those who have brought us this far. However, in the race against time and against the wrath of the Government Front Bench, I would merely endorse what has been said by others. But we have one last step, and that is for decommissioning to start. It is clear that the vast majority of people, not only in the Province but also in Great Britain and around the world, back the stance of the First Minister designate on this issue. It is also a fact that a "downpayment", as Ken Maginnis said in The Times yesterday, of weapons would be sufficient for an executive to be formed. If there is no decommissioning, we are stuck because public opinion, especially in the unionist camp, will, and I believe quite rightly so, not permit the executive to be formed.

Being speaker number 18 in the debate, I hope your Lordships will forgive me for tackling the issue of decommissioning from a slightly different point of view. I want to look at another reason why decommissioning is not taking place. An assumption I would dare to make is that if republican terrorists decommission, the loyalists will also do so. Sinn Fein/IRA ask us to agree with them that a handing in of any weapons is surrender. We are told that this is so firmly embedded in history and the republican psyche that there is no way round it. That is unreasonable and flawed.

I will look at it through their eyes for a moment. This was a just war and their efforts--"our efforts" in that case--have achieved the Sinn Fein/IRA aim shown by Sinn Fein when they accepted the Good Friday agreement, even if Gerry Adams says that it is only a step on the way to a united Ireland. There is hardly a case in the world of achieving a goal by armed force where there has not been demobilisation to some extent afterwards. After previous conflicts, did we or any other country portray demobilisation as surrender? Service personnel have gladly over centuries handed in weapons and uniforms and have thankfully returned to civilian life.

Surrender is an unsustainable interpretation of decommissioning. Demobilisation takes place as a result of instructions from a leadership. We know that the leadership of Sinn Fein/IRA are capable leaders when it comes to stopping or turning on violence. That brings us to paragraph 3 of decommissioning on page 20 of the agreement. All participants in this agreement, including Sinn Fein, agreed and signed up to,

    "use any influence they have",
and so on.

It is my contention that Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and other senior Sinn Fein/IRA leaders are fostering the misinterpretation of decommissioning as surrender. They do this because to surrender is a degrading defeat when weapons are taken by the victors. In the human character, since Adam and Eve, this is the last and most humiliating option. The Sinn Fein/IRA leadership are not, and I say it unreservedly, carrying out their obligations to use "any influence", to which they signed up in the Good Friday agreement. They often ask for a quid pro quo from the security forces. They have no right to do so because they have not held

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weapons for the same purpose. Their only reason for being armed is to threaten and take life. The security forces' only reason for bearing arms is to save life.

Having said that, there has been significant demilitarisation, as we have heard. The paraphernalia of the fight against terrorism has been greatly decommissioned and yet no one is talking about surrender or victory. So why do Sinn Fein talk about surrender? This term binds in the most lowly terrorist activist with the fear of surrender and it suits the Sinn Fein/IRA leadership not to support decommissioning at this moment. They are wrong and it will be a tragedy for all of us if it is to continue.

For one moment I should like to look at one other aspect of the agreement, the future of policing in the Province. Initially there was great anxiety both inside and outside the RUC. However, due to the leadership of the Chief Constable and the senior ranks and the lengthy public discussion following the setting up of the Patten Commission, we are looking forward to a constructive report on reforms to the RUC.

Every police force needs to move forward. It is not just the RUC, as we have seen recently in London. It is no shame to say that the force should be reformed or at least modernised. To put it simply, the RUC has developed into the most competent and high tech anti-terrorist police force in the world over the past 30 years. Times are changing and more traditional policing is required. For example, RUC officers used to go on patrol only with military escorts. They could not even deliver a summons in some areas without a helicopter escort. Now, 20 per cent. of their recruits come from the nationalist minority. It is amazing that they have managed that in such a short period of time.

I conclude on an optimistic note. I believe that there is a small pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel where the executive is waiting. I am encouraged that there are no leaks from General de Chastelain's decommissioning discussions. I am a firm believer that where there are no leaks there is hope, if there is a will on the part of Sinn Fein/IRA.

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