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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I add my thanks to those of the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition for a Statement couched, if I may say so, in uncharacteristically clear and direct language for this troublesome question of Northern Ireland, which so often concerns us in Parliament. I also congratulate the Government on a very positive and energetic approach in these early weeks to these extremely serious problems, particularly against the background of what must be said objectively to be a deteriorating situation on the ground in Northern Ireland.
I am extremely glad that in the Statement by his right honourable friend, great emphasis was laid on the employment of the Mitchell policies and principles, in terms of both Sinn Fein's entry to the talks and subsequent confidence-building measures of decommissioning. If I may be critical of what was generally an heroic uphill task performed by the previous government, I believe that they took a wrong turning in not more wholeheartedly adopting the Mitchell principles. I am glad to see them now at the very centre of the Government's proposals.
Sinn Fein is not noted for its sensitivity, but I imagine that Sinn Fein must now be aware of the universal detestation of its quite repulsive hypocrisy in recent weeks, protesting peace at the very time that it is killing the fathers of young children. But this is a chance, and it is probably the last chance, for Sinn Fein to start again with a clean slate and with a new Government, which, I must say, have today leaned over backwards to try to include it in the talks and have offered terms which are as generous as any British Government of any complexion could possibly offer it.
I should particularly like to congratulate the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on her attempts, to which the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition referred, to get the Orange Order and the Garvaghy Road residents together. I myself met the Orange Order concerned. If they are looking for a solution, it will mean movement on both sides. I am sure that the Secretary of State will be tireless in her efforts to procure that.
I have fewer questions to put than the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition, but I should like to ask two questions. First, after the two meetings between officials and Sinn Fein and the aide memoire to which the Prime Minister's Statement refers, will any more meetings with Sinn Fein now take place? I express the sincere hope that they will not. There is no need for any further clarification. It is quite clear that Sinn Fein now has to make up its mind. Are any more meetings planned and envisaged? Secondly, if Sinn Fein does not get on the train--to use the Government's analogy--does the same timetable apply? Is the aim still that the scheduled arrival time will be May of next year?
Those are my questions. In conclusion, this is, as I said at the beginning, a particularly difficult time in Northern Ireland. All times are difficult, but I believe the stakes are now very high. All of us in this House must urge on both the leadership of Sinn Fein and the IRA, but also on the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, the need to move on. I wish the Government well from these Benches in their efforts.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am grateful for the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition and by the noble Lord, Lord Holme. I entirely agree that bi-partisanship in this area of policy is extremely important and I am grateful to the noble Viscount for acknowledging the efforts that we made when we were in opposition to ensure that politics remained bi-partisan and firm.
I was asked a number of questions by the noble Viscount. I believe that I can answer most of them and I shall do my best. I was asked whether negotiations in each of the three strands will take place simultaneously. They will open on the same day and proceed in parallel. That is our intention and that is how we see them proceeding.
I was asked whether we would be going further with cross-border arrangements. We want what we have described as "sensible" cross-border arrangements. Precisely what they turn out to be is firmly a matter for discussion in the talks themselves. The framework document which the Government support provides one set of ideas for discussion, though not necessarily the whole.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, asked me to repeat that there would be no imposed solution. I thought that it had been said often enough, from both his party's Bench and from this Bench. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was specific in his speech in Belfast on 16th May. I repeated his words today. The triple lock remains in place. There will be no settlement which is not acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland and that test of acceptability will be a referendum.
I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, whether any further meetings would take place with Sinn Fein. The answer is no. After the behaviour, looked at in the round, of the past month or so, there is no purpose in conducting further meetings at the moment. Two meetings took place for the Government to respond to what Sinn Fein had asked for; namely, clarification of the Government's position. Not only did those two meetings take place, but an aide-memoire was sent to Sinn Fein which clearly set out the position. The immediate response was the murder of the two policemen in Lurgan.
No one should underestimate the problems--I am sure that the House does not. Anybody who has looked at the Northern Ireland situation would not be so foolish as to underestimate the problems. On the other hand, the other side of the difficulty is the opportunity. It is the Government's view that an opportunity exists and we should attempt to bring it to fruition.
If Sinn Fein is not on the train, the train will continue on the present timetable. Talks will take place on the dates that we announced, and we hope that they will be completed in accordance with our timetable. The noble Lord is aware that the legal basis for the talks, at least for the forum, comes to an end in May of next year under the Act. Since some of the parties in Northern Ireland have said that they will not participate in the talks unless the forum is in existence, May next year looks like being the crunch legal point.
Finally, perhaps I can say that this is one of those moments where people have to make serious decisions and abide by them. On behalf of the Government, I can say that we felt it was worthwhile to give Sinn Fein one last opportunity and that is what we have done. The matter is now firmly for them to decide whether or not they will accept it.
If we arrive at a settlement in May acceptable to all communities in Northern Ireland and to the Irish Government, will the Leader of the House suggest to his right honourable friend that we need action by the Irish Government against the IRA, if necessary in military terms? Will he remind the Irish Government--in an extremely tactful way--of what happened in 1921 after Michael Collins was assassinated? The Irish Free State Government declared war on the IRA. They killed more people in a few months than the British had ever done during the troubles of 1916 to 1921, among them Erskine Childers, a famous Irish patriot. They drove de Valera's men into the hills, where they surrendered. They achieved peace then in the Irish Free State; and it could be done again.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I do not take quite such an apocalyptic view of the intentions of the IRA as does the noble Lord, Lord Annan. He may be right. I do not suggest that there are not people in the IRA who believe precisely that. On the other hand, there may be people in the IRA who are realistic and who are beginning to accept that they will not get what they want in Northern Ireland by pursuing the methods that they have pursued up to now.
In relation to the Irish history of 1921, I, as a Welshman in the British Parliament, would not dream of instructing the Irish Government to read their own history. As a historical fact, the noble Lord expressed one view of what happened at that time.
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