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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the point he made in his question. Were I to do justice to the answer and to the people of Northern Ireland, I fear that I should trespass too much on the time of the House. I shall say briefly that we are moving to a position where democratic politics is the way forward for the people of Northern Ireland; not bigotry, intolerance, violence and sectarianism.
From speaking to the many people I have met all over the Province, I believe that that is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland. They are grateful and pleased that there has been a ceasefire and that the old violence has gone. There is still some violence left but it is on a far lower scale. I hope that even that will soon disappear. The people of Northern Ireland will respond overwhelmingly to the prospects of peace and democratic politics with tolerance and respect for each other.
Lord Monson: My Lords, to someone like myself who lives on the mainland, it appears that for the sake of peace, the Unionists have already nobly given in to at least 90 per cent of Republican and Nationalist demands while receiving few concessions, or even gestures, in return. If the Unionists are now expected to give way even further by agreeing that Sinn Fein may enter government with only a vague promise of IRA and INLA decommissioning, will the Minister say whether the decommissioning--if and when it comes--will be meaningful? By that I mean the IRA handing in their powerful offensive weapons such as surface-to-air missiles and .5 calibre long-range sniper rifles and so on, and not merely a handful of rusty Armalites.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I believe that all the political parties in Northern Ireland have had to settle for less than they might have wanted. Of course the UUP has made concessions, but other political parties have done so also. I should prefer to see the process as one to which all parties have subscribed and in which they have all made concessions fairly equally rather than one in which the burden has been on only one particular party. The noble Lord, from my experience, believes otherwise, but there are also enormous prizes for the Unionists, in terms of the Republic giving up Articles 2 and 3 and a firm agreement being made that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless the majority of people want it.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, all I wanted to say, without entering a complicated debate about Articles 2 and 3 and many other aspects of the Good Friday agreement, was that I believe that concessions and compromises have been made by everyone and that there was pain in the agreement for everyone, but that the parties subscribed to the agreement in the interests of the greater good and of peace. That was confirmed during the recent 11-week discussions under the chairmanship of Senator George Mitchell. I should not want people to accept the noble Lord's view that this process had been all one-sided. All parties stand to gain from it, and above all, the people of Northern Ireland stand to gain from it.
Lord Renton: My Lords, as we all know, the Irish Government have in recent years been very helpful in trying to suppress terrorism in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister tell us to what extent the Irish Government would help with decommissioning on their side of the Border?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the Irish and British Governments have worked in close unity on that matter. The Irish Government are certainly fully aware of the work of the decommissioning commission and of their responsibilities. My understanding is that the Irish Government are 100 per cent behind us on this issue. Of course, it is probable that the vast majority of arms to be decommissioned are in the Republic and not in Northern Ireland, and the Irish Government have indicated their willingness to co-operate. However, the main responsibility for decommissioning and for verifying that decommissioning has taken place lies with General de Chastelain and his commission.
Baroness O'Caithan: My Lords, I welcome the Statement wholeheartedly and certainly believe that the Secretary of State was right to say that it represents a number of important small steps rather than a great leap forward. We hope and pray that it will succeed. However, I ask the Minister for a point of clarification. In the Statement, the Secretary of State says that:
Lord Dubs: My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, if there were to be default, a number of institutions would be suspended immediately--the assembly, the executive, the North-South Ministerial Council, the British Irish Council, the Civic Forum and the north-south implementation bodies. All of those must operate together or none can. So if necessary, the operation of all those institutions would be suspended immediately. That would require the British Government to legislate and such legislation would be introduced within days of any default.
There are other aspects of the Good Friday agreement; for example, the equality commission, human rights, the work carried out by the Patten commission, the criminal justice review and so on. But if there were to be default which we could not rectify--our first aim would be to rectify it--we should have to see how we move forward. I repeat that some of the institutions would not be part of that move forward. Others would be because they represent good government and are, in this Government's view, in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the Minister has said that Sinn Fein has agreed that the IRA will decommission. However, has the IRA itself said that it will decommission because, in the past, Sinn Fein has disassociated itself from the IRA and said that it is a totally separate body? I should have thought that it would be essential to have someone from the IRA to say that the IRA will decommission.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, the IRA issued a statement a few days ago--and that was the first time that it had issued such a statement. That statement makes a number of important remarks. It states, for example:
The first eight speeches which I made in your Lordships' House were on the subject of Northern Ireland. My main tutor then was the late Lord O'Neill of the Maine. I wonder whether he ever envisaged what we are discussing today. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me on that.
I spent five years across the water. Whatever the esteem in which my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, the Minister and I were held during our time in post there, nobody ever thought that we may not have been, in any way, equal in esteem because of the churches which we attend on Sundays. I believe that 27 years ago, that might have been different. Will the Minister enlighten me on that now or perhaps bear it in mind for the future?
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