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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, for allowing me to repeat and underline some of the points which were made more explicit in the Statement than in previous media interviews. It is the case that if the de Chastelain process records a default by one member or one party to the executive, the organisation is suspended. Indeed, the Government would encourage other parties to the executive to go forward. Perhaps I may repeat that the Prime Minister said that we should be back to where we are now, but with the two vital differences. First, the blame for default would be clear, which is not particularly relevant to the noble and learned Lord's point but is still in the text; and secondly, all the parties would then be free to move on in an executive without the defaulting party.
I am happy to repeat what my right honourable friend said in another place. The Government would encourage them to do so. But, as he also said, he cannot make people sit down in the executive and he cannot force them to form a government. However, it is his position that the UK Government, working closely with their Irish colleagues, will do what they can to encourage the process to continue. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for drawing attention to the role of a Taoiseach in that process.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House clarify that point? Have the Government had any indication from the SDLP whether it would support the exclusion of Sinn Fein because of an adverse report from de Chastelain either in September, December or May? I understood that exclusion would have to be voted upon under the
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot offer any insight as to the position of the SDLP. However, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to its significance, particularly in terms of the possible vote within the executive. I can only say to the noble Lord that if the black scenario which he projects were to occur, the fail-safe proceedings on which there will be legislation would kick in. Although the situation would be less productive than the one I suggested in response to the question asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, a view could be taken about proceeding with the executive without Sinn Fein.
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: Perhaps I may join the admiration which has been expressed on all sides of the House for the Prime Minister's dedication, patience and skill in pursuing these negotiations. He has made a remarkable effort and I believe that it should be recognised as such by everyone.
May I also add to that my expression of admiration for the work of the Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr Mo Mowlam, without whose skill and charm the Good Friday talks might never have been held? We should not forget that, because she has not had an easy task in trying to be number two to a Prime Minister who is so obviously shining in his success. Would the Leader of the House not agree with me that it is time to stop the nit-picking? Every time she is asked a question, "Would the Prime Minister dot that 'i'; Would the Prime Minister cross that 't'" and "Is the Prime Minister being misled here and fooled there?", it counteracts the impression we have all been giving of belief in his sincerity. We are in fact saying that we do not trust his word and we do not trust what he has achieved. Is it not true that all the verbal safeguards that anybody can devise will be no guarantee that the peace process will in effect lead to a peaceful Ireland unless there is a change of heart on both sides of the sectarian divide? I think that we have enough evidence of that change of heart on one side and I hope the Unionists will parallel it on theirs.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for what she said about the Prime Minister's efforts, re-emphasising, as it were, our personal congratulations to him. I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, used the expression "Herculean" about the undertakings in which he had been involved last week, and I think that is quite appropriate. I am also very grateful to her for what she said about my right honourable friend, Dr Mowlam. We all seek to congratulate her. The combination of skill and charm to which my noble friend rightly referred has been unparalleled and extremely important at difficult moments in this long process.
My noble friend referred to nit-picking. We have to be a little careful about how we distinguish between what we regard as irritating attention to detail and appropriate anxieties, to which I was hoping to refer
The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, I join other Members of the House in most warmly welcoming the Statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon and in asking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether she agrees that the form of argument which might be used with Loyalist politicians would be strengthened if it were admitted that they were faced at this moment with a forced choice between the lesser of evils? On the one hand, there is the evil that people of violence appear not unequivocally to have renounced the use of violent means before their nearest political neighbours sharing the same political aims benefit from, or apparently benefit from, the campaign of indiscriminate terror that has been waged. On the other hand, there is the greater evil that the process itself, which was begun on the richly symbolic day, Good Friday, should grind to a halt and the Province return to the appalling circumstances of the past 30 years.
My mother was an Irish woman--born in County Sligo--and was separated a child from her father because of the religious politics of her day. I am therefore passionately concerned for the future of Ireland. If ever there were a just case for warfare, it only presents itself in the form of a choice between evils. Is it not conceivable that the making of peace at this moment too involves such a choice, but may we not ask the Unionist community to make it and thereby enjoy the support of very many other people of goodwill, both on the mainland and much more widely throughout the world?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure the whole House is grateful to the right reverend Prelate for putting the whole situation in Ireland, both historically and today, in such vivid terms. I think he made a very important plea for a non-sectarian future for Northern Ireland and I am sure that that is one that the House would echo. I simply say to the right reverend Prelate that we would hope that the choices he presents are less bleak than the ones which he outlined in his vivid contribution, and would hope that the twin aims of decommissioning and the inclusive devolved assembly would bring people together in that non-sectarian venture which requires courage on every side but, as he rightly says, is probably the only way forward.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that 30 years ago next month, her father, the then Home Secretary, was responsible for sending British troops into Northern Ireland in the wake of the trouble which had broken out then. At that time, I think around
I have said repeatedly in this House and outside it that the one big mistake made in the Good Friday agreement was not to have contained the issue of decommissioning. It has been hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles every minute since then. Now we must answer and try to grapple with the circumstances which have arisen because that issue was not contained.
Is it a question of 24, 48 or 72 hours on which this whole process hinges because Sinn Fein has said that, unless the executive is formed, it is not going to give any undertaking on decommissioning? The Unionists say, "Our manifesto, our party policy, is that you must enter into the process of decommissioning before you are admitted into the executive". Is it realistic that the whole process of peace in Northern Ireland should hinge on 24, 48 or 72 hours? Again, I have to support what has been said by many people in Northern Ireland. There is a good deal of confusion as to how the fail-safe device will work. It looks at the moment that if Sinn Fein does not give an undertaking to General de Chastelain that it will decommission--people will interpret it to their own satisfaction--then the whole Assembly could be brought to an end. I think it would be very, very unfair if democrats elected to that Assembly should be cast out to the wilderness because the members of Sinn Fein, the perpetrators of murder, have not agreed to disarmament.
I have not read in any great detail the commentaries which have been given by the Loyalist paramilitaries. At least the Sinn Fein representatives who are to be appointed to the executive have not been convicted of murder. There are Loyalist representatives in the Assembly who have been convicted of murder and have served a long time in prison. What happens if their ceasefire breaks down? Are they to be excluded from the Assembly? Are the Sinn Fein representatives on the executive to be banished from the executive but still maintain their positions in the Assembly?
Over the past two or three days, there has been an absolute avalanche of criticism mobilised against the Unionist party. There are two communities in Northern Ireland. I believe that David Trimble has gone out of his way to do all he possibly can in this process and the Government should go out of their way to assist him. Otherwise, he will be abolished by his own party and the whole agreement will fall into the abyss.
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