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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I, too, regret yet another failure, although it was inevitable. It is inevitable that this kind of procedure will continue. In this remembrance season, perhaps we should be mindful of the old military maxim:
After four years of experiments, surely the time has come to adopt the Welsh blueprint, which, if necessary, could be adapted as confidence develops. I am quite certain that those steps would bring nearer an assembly with the necessary modifications in time for its election next year.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for long. My thoughts on the present circumstances have been well and truly articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, so I shall not repeat what he said. I shall speak neither with the benefit of hindsight, because that is not particularly helpful, nor with the pessimism that has been expressed by some speakers today.
I wish to exact a very specific promise from the Government in terms of what will happen over the next four, five, or six months. Whatever may be felt in terms of the shortcomings of the Belfast agreement, I am not in the privileged position of being able to disown it; indeed, I was part of that process. I have been part of public life in Northern Ireland for 30 years20 years of which I spent as an elected representative. Hence, there is no point in pretending that mistakes have not been made, or that, if they have been made, I had nothing to do with them.
The reality is that we made an agreement in 1998 that provided an opportunity for people to move through a transitional process. No one who was realistic thought that it was something that would happen overnight. It was meant to be a transitional process, designed to give people who had been on the very extremes of violence the opportunity to move into a democratic mode, or to give support to those who represented them within a democratic mode.
Government turned a blind eye to that situation. Government treated the two organisations as though they were separate; and, therefore, Sinn Fein did not have to demonstrate that it was operating by "exclusively peaceful" means. The promise that I want to exact from the Government today is that, from here on, no one will try to hide the reality of the two parts of the same organisation. If government do that, we shall stop having concessions made to one organisation while at the same time the Government say, "Of course, we shall get tough with the other side". If I have to prove my case, I can do so. I simply draw attention to the people who were active as terrorists in Colombia and the role that they played in the electoral processes of Sinn Fein prior to that. Noble Lords will know what I mean.
If the Government can give us that commitment today, I believe that the people of Northern Ireland will get over the pessimism that has been articulated in the Chamber this afternoon. I am sure that they will do everything that they can to get behind the Government to achieve progress. Short of thatand here I join the pessimistswe are doomed to another failure.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Government really had no choice in the end but to bring forward these measures, and to close down temporarilyI hope, very temporarilyboth the Assembly and the Executive. I believe that John Reid was a most excellent Secretary of State. In the event of him being replaced, I can think of no person better than Paul Murphy, with whom I had the privilege to serve for about two-and-a-half years in Northern Ireland when we moved towards the first devolution, to take on that role. Paul Murphy had the respect of all sides, not just on the day that he arrived in Belfast but after having served there for two-and-a-half years. He earned that respect because people knew that he understood the issues and had a very balanced approach towards moving forward. If we are to be optimistic, I believe that Paul Murphy is capable of taking the process further.
I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who said that the Government treated Sinn Fein and the IRA as separate. That is not true. When I had such responsibilities, I remember constantly using an expression like, "The Government accept that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked". To my knowledge, we have never said, or accepted, that there
The real problem with the present situation is that there will now be a political vacuum. The danger with such a vacuum is that the men of violence tend to try to fill it. The biggest threat at present is not that some of the people who have accepted peace will take up arms, but that the people who have never accepted a peaceful way forward will use the vacuum that currently exists and fill it with violence. That is the real danger.
The various parties in Northern Ireland, which have been mentioned in today's debate, have a much more limited margin for manoeuvre than has been suggested. I do not believe that it is necessarily fair to make suggestions about what the SDLP could do; nor do I believe that the demands made of the Ulster Unionists over recent months have been realistic. Indeed, people have often demanded of David Trimble more than he could reasonably be expected to deliver. That very limited margin for manoeuvre poses real difficulties for the Secretary of State. However, it has to be accepted as it is inherent in the situation there.
The pay of members of the legislative Assembly has been mentioned. I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, on the matter. I believe that it would be a mistake to say, "We are going to cut off your pay as an incentive to getting on with the peace process". These people have given up their other careers in order to serve their constituencies across the political spectrum. We should allow them to continue to do that with pay, albeit reduced. If we say that their pay should be stopped and that they should return to their other careers, the peace process will have an even more difficult passage and the period of direct rule will be longer than it ought to be. As I say, I believe that it is right to continue to pay those people.
There are real difficulties as regards whether the elections should take place. Part of me agrees with the sentiments expressed by the Liberal Democrats; namely, that we should not stop the process. On the other hand, having an election campaign at a time when the political representatives are somewhat neutered as the Assembly has been suspended is rather difficult. It will add an air of artificiality to the process that is not healthy. I am in two minds about that. I would rather leave that decision to the Secretary of State in the light of the circumstances that arise in the early part of next year.
Finally, there is a success story. We have had a successful Assembly in Northern Ireland for several years. We have had a successful Executive there for several years. Ministers of all parties there have behaved responsibly and have made proper decisions. For God's sake, let us not throw that away.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Glentoran. We on this side of the House very much deplore the continual concessions to nationalists at the expense of loyalists. In our view the Government have taken the easy option of suspension rather than exclusion.
I refer to the remarks about the relationship between Sinn Fein and the SDLP that have been made by several noble Lords. I very much bear in mind the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that is, that there are two sections in Northern Ireland. I believe that he has often used the word "tribalism". We on this side would like to see the SDLP become a more positive influence in the Province and stand up and be counted.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, in his perceptive speech said that the continued violence of the loyalists must not be used as an excuse for the IRA to continue in the same vein. We have questions for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal. What is the Government's strategy? In particular, will the Minister clarify Ms Jane Kennedy's remarks in Dublin which, as my noble friend Lady Park said, suggest that we are to have the implementation of Weston Park almost in one leap? Are we to have elections? The noble Lords, Lord Kilclooney and Lord Fitt, made perceptive remarks in that regard. If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, correctly, he said that the elections should take place to test whether the extremist vote will emerge as we expect.
In conclusion, the view of this side of the House is that the recreation of trust will require leadership, patience, strength, determination and courage. Noble Lords on all sides of the House very much hope that the Government exhibit those qualities. I am encouraged by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, as regards the capability and promise of the new Secretary of State. If the Government can deliver the aim that I have mentioned they will certainly have the support of this party.
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