Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, despite judicious leaks to suggest that Sinn Fein/IRA is ready to try to persuade the IRA (as one Siamese twin to another) to decommission something sometime, the IRA remains loudly silent when it could so easily have spoken. That loud silence does nothing to reassure Unionists who are being urged from every side to take the leap of faith when all they have heard for the past three years is the repeated statement that the IRA will never decommission, though it demands the demilitarisation of both Army and RUC.

What is the relative score in the game of Sinn Fein/IRA versus the civilised world as a result of the Belfast agreement? The political goal they share with the SDLP is greater power in Northern Ireland for the Catholic minority and the creation of cross-border institutions which could lead to a united Ireland. Though those last have created some disquiet for the majority, they are perfectly respectable aims, and less alarming

14 Jul 1999 : Column 381

than they might once have been because of the Dublin Government's commitment after a referendum north and south to accept that so long as the majority in Northern Ireland so wish, Northern Ireland will remain a part of the UK. But the legislation to abolish Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution will only be, as I understand the Belfast Agreement, put through the Dail on the day the d'Hondt procedure triggers the creation of the new Northern Ireland Executive, where Sinn Fein/IRA expects two ministerial seats because of the 16 per cent vote it secured in the North.

So the Unionists have no guarantee yet of that vital quid pro quo. Sinn Fein/IRA meanwhile achieved three other vital objectives; the release of prisoners largely complete, many of them highly skilled terrorists with no other skills; a review of the RUC with the object at best of replacement with the people's police of paramilitaries, allegedly more closely attuned to the community, and at least of reducing and disarming it, in the name of the organisation. They also secured an inquiry into Bloody Sunday and a significant withdrawal of British forces from British soil. What quid pro quo has there been?

Martin McGuinness was named last year as Sinn Fein's link to the de Chastelain commission. We might have thought he would be talking about decommissioning. In fact it is said that he has never talked to the IRA about decommissioning. What then has he been discussing all these months with the general? I hope we shall now see the de Chastelain report. The Prime Minister said after the Belfast agreement, reassuring the Unionists who found nothing but vague and pious hopes about the end of violence and decommissioning in the Belfast agreement, that there would be no fudge with terror. But there has been. He said that the factors to be considered when deciding whether the terms of the agreement were being met on the release of prisoners should include an end to bombings, killings and beatings, the progressive abandonment and dismantling of paramilitary structures actively directing and promoting violence and full co-operation with the Independent Commission on Decommissioning to implement the provisions of the agreement.

The beatings, the killings and the exiles have continued, even though the IRA could have stopped them completely in the run-up to the election. Can anyone wonder that the Unionists cannot believe that anything will change just because the Prime Minister now believes in a seismic change and Mr Ahern tells us that there has been a deeply important change in the Sinn Fein position and a hugely positive contribution to the search for compromise? Could we not be told by the IRA now that it is thinking again? Why does that have to be a secret? Why do we have to legislate when we do not know? What are we to make of the fact that over this critical weekend Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were not in Northern Ireland, but were talking to the National Security Council in Washington?

The leaders of Sinn Fein/IRA have an agenda that they have put through with great success. It does not include decommissioning and they have said so. They

14 Jul 1999 : Column 382

have recently demonstrated to their people and to the world that they have been able to force two sovereign governments to abandon their duty to law and order and to give an amnesty to murderers. While claiming to be caring terrorists, they have not delivered the bodies of innocent members of their own community--not opponents killed on the field of battle.

I do not know whether the Unionists will take yet another of the steps that they have been urged to take by three governments and by many in Northern Ireland of all persuasions. I deeply admire and respect what my noble friend Lady Denton of Wakefield said. She knows far more than I do about the feeling of the Province. I am looking at the issue from the outside, but we and the Government have a responsibility.

It is essential that the two governments put as much pressure on the SDLP as they have put on the Unionists to stay in government if Sinn Fein/IRA fails, as it surely will, to deliver on decommissioning. I understand that Mr Hume has so far said neither yea nor nay. He needs to be persuaded to say that he is going to stay. The Sinn Fein/IRA leaders must not be allowed to get away with murder yet again or with destroying the agreement now that they have got all that they want and their pay-off time has come.

The Irish Government should give a formal public commitment that if the Executive is stalled because of Sinn Fein/IRA's failure, they will still legislate on Articles 2 and 3 at once. Why should the Catholic Republicans who do not support the IRA and the ordinary Unionist population of Northern Ireland lose their guarantee of stability?

In the speeches that I have been able to hear, many noble Lords have said that a fixed timetable must be set--not referring to two or three days or two or three weeks--for Sinn Fein to deliver the IRA's commitment. It is undesirable to shelter behind an independent commission. Sinn Fein/IRA should not be allowed to hold out hopes that it has no intention of fulfilling. Sinn Fein's inclusion in government was important to the agreement not because it was a small party with 16 per cent of the vote, but because it spoke for the IRA. It has never mentioned the IRA's subsequent comment that, as the IRA was not part of the agreement qua IRA, it has no obligations to meet the conditions of the agreement. Surely the SDLP can speak and act for all Catholics.

Our Government must stop appeasing the IRA for fear of a bomb in mainland Britain. The Irish Government must stop appeasing it for fear of Sinn Fein members being elected to the Dail. They should also recognise that many in the South are now fearful of the IRA and would love to see something done about it. The American Government should start wondering what the average American would think about the Oklahoma bombers being asked to stand for Congress.

Gerry Adams--that statesman--is the same Gerry Adams who ordered the murder of people such as Jean McConville and who recently told the families of the disappeared that, although they would get some bodies back, they must bury them quietly and without fuss. Does that sound like a civilised statesman?

14 Jul 1999 : Column 383

The Unionists have every right--and indeed duty--to stand for promises being kept and for law and order to be guaranteed for the ordinary citizen. That includes the families who have been forbidden for so many years to speak of the disappeared. That is a shame and a disgrace. They should not be the scapegoats for the failure of governments, North and South, to face down cowardly murderers who have learnt to manipulate democracy for their own ends.

Democracy has to be worked and fought for. If the Executive has to continue without Sinn Fein/IRA, I fear that we can expect a return to violence. We shall certainly be threatened with it. We shall have to be prepared to act against the IRA in any way that is necessary. I hope that our defence forces policy will be amended to recognise the possible need for a return to a major military commitment to protect the population and keep the peace. I do not want that to happen, but it could.

The situation cannot be resolved by spin, particularly as in Sinn Fein/IRA we have the master spinners. I find it hard to understand the point of assuring the Unionists that they can put forward amendments and that they will be listened to and consulted and then voting them down. I was happy to hear that the Minister has given assurances that that grave error may be partly redressed by accepting appropriate amendments in this House. I hope that we can rely on the Government to do that.

6.16 p.m.

Lord Dunleath: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, on her safe, if not speedy, return from Brussels. I thank the Minister for his introduction. Over the past 18 months or so we have debated many Bills relating to Northern Ireland. In the complexity stakes this must be one of the most difficult.

Like many others, I am grateful for all the effort that the Prime Minister has devoted to the Province over the past two or three weeks. I was sorry that he was unable to attend the opening of the Scottish Parliament, the establishment of which was one of the main planks of his party's manifesto. He should have been there. He has since postponed an official visit to Poland. However, in spite of all his efforts, their culmination in the Bill is far from satisfactory.

If the Bill is successful, the Prime Minister will rightly be given the credit. However, if it is unsuccessful, the blame will inevitably fall on Northern Ireland's locally elected politicians. I am not a member of the Ulster Unionist Party and I have criticised its policies in the past. However, over the past year or so I have had nothing but admiration for the courage, imagination and flexibility of its position. I pay particular tribute to David Trimble, Ken Maginnis and Sir Reg Empey. In the short debate that followed the Northern Ireland Statement in your Lordships' House on 5th July, it was said that they had to stop the nit-picking. That is a little wide of the mark and palpably unfair. They are merely seeking to get it right.

Since the Good Friday agreement, the referendum and the Northern Ireland elections, we have had prisoner releases, the dismantling of security installations, the

14 Jul 1999 : Column 384

Patten inquiry into the RUC and, more recently, a form of immunity for the murderers of the disappeared. In return, as I have said before, Sinn Fein/IRA has given nothing--not one rifle, not one bullet, not an ounce of Semtex.

The Bill would mean that the Ulster Unionists and others had to form an Executive with Sinn Fein without any guarantee from that party or the IRA that decommissioning would happen. Sinn Fein now claims that it is a separate entity from the IRA and that it cannot force the IRA to disarm. That view appears to find some favour with the Irish Taoiseach and the SDLP. An Executive could soon be formed and power devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is easy to be seduced by the vision that in two, three or four months the Assembly and the Executive will be up and running, the guns will be silent and the war will be over. Let us not upset the applecart, in that decommissioning has yet to begin. It is surely just around the corner.

The time to fudge must stop. The line in the sand must be drawn at this late hour. There must be cast-iron guarantees in place if decommissioning does not take place. At the moment, the effect of the Bill will be that if decommissioning does not take place, the whole Assembly and the Executive will be suspended. After the review, the Assembly may vote to reconvene and to exclude one or more parties from the Executive. However, it would appear unlikely that the SDLP will support an Executive without Sinn Fein's presence. We heard some trenchant remarks on that issue from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, earlier this afternoon.

As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, so perspicaciously put it in the debate last week,


    "that would act as an impediment to the process".--[Official Report, 5/7/99; col. 614.]

I agree with him wholeheartedly on that. Thus, we should have the Alice in Wonderland situation of a democratically elected government being toppled not by the use of the gun, but by the possession of the gun.

We must have safeguards in place to strengthen the Bill and to render it more watertight. The refusal of Sinn Fein and the IRA to decommission must not be a reason to bring down the Assembly and the Executive. The Bill should, as an alternative, introduce measures whereby Sinn Fein is locked out of the Executive if the IRA does not decommission, but at the same time, the Assembly and the Executive should continue.

It should also be remembered that, apart from a token gesture last Christmas, the Loyalist paramilitaries have not decommissioned either. The exclusion measures currently in the Bill are no incentive for them to do so, as they do not have any representation on the Executive. For that reason, the Bill should include specific linkage between decommissioning and prisoner releases. In other words, if decommissioning does not commence in a very short and specified time, the release of prisoners from any non-complying organisation will be halted. The short specified time should be incorporated into the Bill, possibly in the form of a timetable drawn up by General de Chastelain and the decommissioning body.

Those measures and others in a similar, probably far better, vein, will make the Bill more secure. I hope that they will end, once and for all, the machinations of all

14 Jul 1999 : Column 385

those who do not wish Northern Ireland well. If such amendments are put forward tomorrow--and I sincerely hope that they will come from the Government, although I share some of the views of my noble friend Lord Cooke of Islandreagh about the difficulties therein--I shall support them.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I have been more or less silent on the subject of Northern Ireland for about 17 years since I spent a spell there as a Minister. I had almost decided to remain silent tonight, to your Lordships' great relief, no doubt, until I heard my noble friend Lady Denton speak. It seemed to me that she made points of such fundamental importance that they ought to be endorsed.

She said that Northern Ireland cannot be run from Westminster. That is perfectly true. Peace will not be made in Westminster; nor will it be made in Dublin. It will be made in the Province, and in the adjacent parts of the Republic of Ireland. It will not be made by Westminster and Dublin politicians. It will be made by the politicians who actually live in the Province and the parts adjacent to it, and by the shadowy figures who lurk behind them and threaten them. All we can do is to try to facilitate that process. We have been asked to do so by taking a leap of faith--a fairly considerable leap of faith in view of the state of the Bill as it comes before the House.

The Bill is intended to produce machinery whereby the process of peacemaking can be conducted in the Province. Those who have not lived there do not realise the huge task that that is. It is a great deal more difficult than it appears to those who read the newspapers in this part of the United Kingdom. We do not wonder whose footstep is passing us at midnight, and what is the sound of rattling metal at the end of the cul-de-sac where a body may be found the following morning. That is not part of our daily life. It happens in parts of Northern Ireland. People who have suffered bereavement--we mostly have not, but some here have--at the hands of terrorists, cannot imagine the difficulty of reconciling themselves to it. Let us not forget:


    "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God".

Indeed, those individual people are being asked to do something astonishingly difficult. It is not up to us to blame them if they find it difficult or want assurance.

The assurance is in the Bill in the form of two processes. The first is the decommissioning process; the other is what happens if it fails. If it is to give reassurance, it must be simple, so that it can be understood; it must be dependable, so that it can be trusted; it must be transparent, so that people can see that it is happening. That means that there must be timetables and also definitions, as my noble friend Lady Blatch said, so that people will know when the process has failed. It must be believable, which is where the "totem" referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees, comes in. It is not we who must have confidence in the process--I must say that I myself have

14 Jul 1999 : Column 386

very little--but the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on the result. It is up to us to provide the criteria in which they can have confidence.

If the decommissioning process is stalled, it must be known to be stalled. The necessary next action must be automatically and immediately taken, not debated. That means that we must know when, and that must be on the face of the Bill. I said that we were asked to give the Bill a Second Reading as an "act of faith". Indeed we have, because we have been told that there will be amendments, but we know not what those amendments will be. They must be substantial because we must try to stand impartially between those engaged in the struggle in Northern Ireland. We have seen many concessions given by one side and I, for one, find it very difficult to know what concessions have been made by the other. I hope that the noble Lord, in his reply, will answer that question which has been asked by many of my noble friends and others during this debate. I hope that the reason for not revealing the amendments is that they are still being discussed with Dublin. What we do must be on all fours with what is done in the Republic and what will be accepted in the Province.

I shall not go on longer. I should like to put on record my admiration for the huge amount of energy which has been put into the search for peace. I should like to endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lady Denton. There is a great mass of people in Northern Ireland who desperately want peace, but often, demonstrating that fact in conversation or in public can put members of their families at risk. I therefore ask the noble Lord to give us every possible assurance that the process will be transparent; that the amendments will be effective in the way that I have described; and, moreover, that if the Bill fails, the remedy will be not to punish one side only, and that one group of terrorists shall not have the power to stall the whole process. I believe that if IRA and Sinn Fein are indeed a single organisation, and if the SDLP is said to be unable to separate itself from Sinn Fein, it should demonstrate that fact itself. There should be no provision in the Bill that devolved power is withdrawn if the IRA does not decommission on its own. There must be another party to that.

I have spoken for too long. I repeat that we should give this Bill a Second Reading. But what we do at the end of the day depends on what is in the amendments that the noble Lord will bring to the House tomorrow.

6.29 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches support this Bill, but I warn the Minister that we plan to table a number of amendments. However, I am in somewhat of a quandary because I believe that our amendments have merit but, as the Minister said, some amendments will be brought forward by the Government. However, I believe that ours will be taken on board by the Government.

The purpose of the Bill is quite obvious; namely, it is a confidence-building measure as the process has reached an impasse. It seeks to give the Ulster Unionists the confidence to take the next step; that is, for Mr Trimble to set up the Executive. I believe that the

14 Jul 1999 : Column 387

impasse has existed ever since the Good Friday agreement was signed. The nature of the wording of the Good Friday agreement has led to the difficult scenario that we face at the moment; namely, no inclusion without decommissioning. However, on the other hand, the Good Friday agreement does not include the proviso of decommissioning for the Executive to be set up.

The Bill is an amendment to the Good Friday agreement. We should not forget the purpose of the Good Friday agreement. It is easy to look too closely at its detail and forget the purpose. I believe that the Good Friday agreement is the only path to a devolved and inclusive government in Northern Ireland, and that inclusive government is the only way to attain a sustainable peace in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Denton, in a particularly fine speech expressed her confidence in the views of the majority of the people who live in Northern Ireland and their wish for peace. It is perhaps time that the politicians of Northern Ireland started to listen to the views of the majority rather than sticking to the particular wording of agreements.

The Bill has been brought about, and would only be enacted, in a worse case scenario. It will allow the process to continue and it allows other parties to enact the process. However, I do not think that anyone in this House or anyone in Northern Ireland believes that if the Bill is enacted the peace process will not have been dealt a heavy blow. The issue which has attracted the most attention this afternoon is that of decommissioning. A deadline has been set for May 2000.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page