Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, can the Leader of the House confirm that this initiative offers a real chance of producing a settlement of this longstanding tragic warfare in Northern Ireland? If the IRA and its friends are concerned that the issue should end in peace, they will desist from further violence. Further violence will destroy what looks like being the last opportunity for an early settlement of this tragic issue.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I agree that there is a real chance of a settlement, otherwise the Government would not be pursuing this policy and going down this road. Nobody should underestimate the problems and the difficulties. All we are saying at this stage is that it is worth trying in this direction and we have some grounds for that belief. Further violence by the IRA would clearly mean that Sinn Fein and the IRA have not been prepared to accept the offer that is now being made for participation in the talks. As I said earlier, even if they do not participate, the talks will

25 Jun 1997 : Column 1588

go ahead. However, it would be grossly premature for me to speculate as to what will emerge at the end of the talks.

Lord Blease: My Lords--

Lord McConnell: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, it is a bit invidious for me to orchestrate the questioning. However, we have one question from the Cross-Benches and one from the Conservative Party; it is time for one from my Back-Benchers and then no doubt the noble Lord can put his.

Lord Blease: My Lords, in welcoming the Statement by the Prime Minister, I wish to pay tribute to Senator George Mitchell and his colleagues for their skills and fortitude. I believe the door has been opened to enable the peaceable citizens of Northern Ireland to find a just, honourable and democratic basis on which the accommodation for principal measures for peaceable living and a better life in Northern Ireland can be found.

A question was put forcefully by the Leader of the Opposition. It concerned the necessity to keep the general community in Northern Ireland informed of the political processes. Will there be regular and full public statements on the ongoing discussions and decisions and on the method and timing of the proposed implementation? It is important that the people in Northern Ireland should know from day to day what is going on in the sometimes silent talks and discussions. The public must be made aware of what is happening.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I echo what my noble friend said about Senator Mitchell. He has taken on this task with a degree of enthusiasm and commitment which is thoroughly laudable. We applaud him. My noble friend asked that the population in Northern Ireland be kept fully informed. The answer to that is, yes of course. I merely point out to my noble friend that the participants in the talks are mainly political parties and members of political parties. It is very much for the politicians themselves who are parties to the talks to inform the various constituent parts of their support inside Northern Ireland. Not only is it for them to do it but I should have thought it inconceivable that they could avoid doing it, given the nature of political parties and, dare I say it, the nature of politics in Ireland.

Lord McConnell: My Lords, as an Ulster Unionist, perhaps I may say that I welcome any realistic attempt to establish peace in Northern Ireland. But the operative word is "realistic". The Government must be cautious about the steps they propose to take. For too long the previous government were seeking to appease Sinn Fein/IRA and making all kinds of overtures. The present Government are starting off on that task but I hope that they will not continue it for very long. Cold-blooded murderers will not come in to discuss with decent people of all political complexions in Northern Ireland

25 Jun 1997 : Column 1589

and reach a sensible solution. That is not their mentality and it is a blind alley to chase after it. I note that the Leader of the House talked about a new Anglo-Irish Agreement. Care has to be taken over that. The present Anglo-Irish Agreement has provoked a good deal of disharmony by having representatives of the government of another country taking part in, or at least supervising, the government of part of the United Kingdom. I should like to know the details, as soon as any are worked out, of what the Government propose this should be.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord had to say. Indeed, given his experience, I listened to his words with extra care. It is difficult to see how one could categorise as appeasement a policy which is saying to Sinn Fein, "Either you sign up on the basis of an IRA ceasefire, or you do not sign up, in which case you are out of the talks". My right honourable friend has said very specifically today, "This is the time; they have to make the choice; they are either in the talks if they want to get aboard or they are not in the talks; it is a matter for them". That is hardly appeasement, to use the word the noble Lord used.

As far as concerns an Anglo-Irish Agreement, in these matters, particularly in looking at the difficult question of decommissioning, we have had a great deal of support from the present Irish Government. The outgoing Taoiseach, Mr. Bruton, and my right honourable friend discussed the matter this week and the document which I placed in the Library is there to be read. It augurs well for the future. All we are saying is that as part of a final settlement in relation to Northern Ireland, while the decision as to what happens in Northern Ireland is a matter for the Northern Irish people, it is bound to have some effect on relationships between North and South. The precise nature of those relationships and how they change is obviously way down the road and will have to be explored in the course of the talks.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I welcome not only the Statement but the commendable energy and commitment shown by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, an energy and commitment redolent of the previous Prime Minister and indeed the previous Secretary of State, whom we welcomed to the House today. I and my colleagues in the Alliance Party will respond in a constructive way both in respect of decommissioning and in respect of the talks process. However, I have one question. The Prime Minister said that he has dealt straightly and that he expects straight dealing in return. From my experience I have to say that he may be unwise to expect straight dealing in return. The Republican movement is unlikely to say either yes or no to the propositions put forward but, rather, seductively to inquire after more exploration, more clarification and more opportunities, I suggest, to play the Government like a trout on a line. How will the

25 Jun 1997 : Column 1590

Government respond when Sinn Fein does not deal straightly but, rather, tries to seduce the Government down that line?

Lord Richard: My Lords, we shall be firm in not being seduced and we shall respond robustly to the situations that we find.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, everyone in Ireland will welcome the Statement made by the Prime Minister. However, is the noble Lord aware that in the run-up to the Statement being made this afternoon and within the past 24 hours leaflets have been distributed in an area of Belfast known as "the village" which amount to ethnic cleansing in that they tell one section of the community--the nationalists--to leave the area? How can that create an atmosphere in which anyone can give credibility to the Government's intentions? What I have not heard in the House this afternoon, or indeed in another place, is whether the decommissioning projects will apply to the loyalist paramilitaries. Will we see the loyalist paramilitaries giving an undertaking in the parallel talks that they will decommission their arms? Unless you have decommissioning on one side of the political and religious fence you are hardly likely to have it on the other. It is within the Government's remit to push for decommissioning on both sides of the political and religious divide in Northern Ireland.

Lord Richard: My Lords, my noble friend makes a strong point. Of course the same provisions would apply to the loyalists as would apply to IRA/Sinn Fein.

Viscount Mountgarret: My Lords, has consideration ever been given to the possibility of banning marching for the time being? Marches are provocative in their conception and indeed their enactment. Would that be of any assistance or would it be regarded as in some way giving in to some of the IRA's demands?

Lord Richard: My Lords, the Government have no immediate intention of banning marching and I should be very surprised if such a ban would make any sense at all. We are committed to the implementation of the North Report and in due course we shall be presenting proposals to that effect. As I said in the Statement, as far as concerns the present marching season, we believe that the way to solve the problem is by using the phrase in the North Report--I think it is in Senator Mitchell's report as well--"local accommodation". To that end my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is trying to see whether one can get a local accommodation about the Drumcree march. I think that is the sensible way forward and I certainly would not be in favour of an overall blanket ban on marches.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page