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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, in speaking to the first group of amendments, and in opposing them, I shall begin with an observation. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has pointed out, debates on Northern Ireland issues in your Lordships' House inevitably lack an important dimension. While the concerns of the Unionist community are given a full airing--and quite properly so--those of the nationalist community, almost axiomatically, are not so directly heard. The other place has at least the constitutional Nationalist opinion expressed by the three SDLP Members of Parliament. There is no authentic nationalist voice in our debates, in the same way that the British-Irish interparliamentary body is deprived of any direct unionist contribution to its debates because the unionists decline to participate in its activities.
I am neither pro-unionist nor pro-nationalist, but I think that it is important to stress the disadvantage under which noble Lords labour by not having nationalist opinion directly reflected in their debates in the same way as that of unionist opinion. As I have said, I am not in any way partisan as between any legitimate aspirations, be they unionist or nationalist, but I recognise the objective fact here; namely, the strength of nationalist feeling on the issues of policing in Northern Ireland.
In my time in Northern Ireland, I can honestly say that I never came across either a Catholic family or a Catholic authority that would encourage younger members of their community to consider a job in the RUC. I accept the fact of intimidation, but that is by no means the whole story. The name, with its distant
A number of noble Lords have already said that a change of name is a necessary prerequisite for the new start for policing in Northern Ireland, based on the consent of both communities. Such a change need in no way detract from the achievements of the RUC in the recent past, but a change of name addresses the future purposefully and positively.
Lord Monson: My Lords, the noble Lord deplores the historical legacy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but does he realise that the RUC stems from the Royal Irish Constabulary, the great majority of whose members were Roman Catholic?
Lord Vivian: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. Your Lordships may remember that I spoke to this issue at the Committee stage. I rise to speak to it again because I was not satisfied with the Minister's statement at the end of the previous debate.
With due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, let me say at the outset that it is the Government who have turned the policing issue in Northern Ireland into a political football. However, I can assure the House that I shall confine my remarks to the amendment.
As has been said repeatedly, a survey in the Belfast Telegraph some time ago indicated that 61 per cent of the Catholic community are not offended by the name and identity of the RUC. Many of this community strongly support being a part of the United Kingdom. It is intimidation that stops many Catholics from joining the RUC; it has nothing to do with the title.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, the key to this debate is the assertion by those noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the amendments that if the name is changed to the one in the Bill, and if the "Royal Ulster Constabulary" is abandoned as the name, that will have no impact on the composition of the police force in Northern Ireland thereafter. If that be true, I would have to vote in favour of the amendments. I am sure that most noble Lords would feel the same.
However, it seems to me an improbable assertion--and it is an assertion. It is improbable in one obvious particular--namely, that the very passion with which the argument that there must be no change in the name is advanced, must surely beget in the Catholic community an equal and opposite sense that there is a great significance in the continuance of the name "Royal Ulster Constabulary".
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. My discussions, such as they have been, with Sinn Fein have led me to believe that it has little or no intention of recommending to members of the nationalist community that they should join the police force should the name be changed. Despite much persuasion and discussions with the Roman Catholic Church, its response has been the same.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful for that information. I would not seek to deny it. However, I would suggest that the view of Sinn Fein and the view of the Catholic Church are not all commanding in Northern Ireland. The fact that 7 per cent of the RUC at the moment are Roman Catholics is evidence of that; the fact that the numbers applying to enter the RUC have risen from 11 per cent to 22 per cent since the Belfast agreement is evidence of that.
I suggest that the best thing we can do in this House is to reach out to the majority of reasonable Catholics in Northern Ireland who have some mind of their own; who are influenced by the efforts being made on all
I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who made the point that there is at present in Northern Ireland a massive amount of fraud, intimidation and criminality. Plainly, one element in the amelioration of that dreadful state of affairs has to be a more effective police force in the province. For those reasons, I am afraid that I shall have to vote against the proposed amendments.
Lord Shepherd: My Lords, at the Committee stage we spent some two-and-a-quarter hours debating this difficult subject. The debate so far today seems to have followed very much the same pattern as the debate in Committee. One does not make any criticism of that--it is a difficult issue--but I wonder whether it is in the interests of the Bill. There is still much to be done. Your Lordships will certainly wish to see that it is done and that there is a reasonable amount of time in which to discuss these matters, but perhaps the House believes--like me--that we should gracefully bring this particular discussion to a conclusion.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House can suggest any procedure under which this can be achieved. I do not think so. I think it is a matter for the assent of the House. If we were to proceed in this way, I suggest that, after the Minister has spoken, those noble Lords who have brought forward the amendments should make their final remarks and that we should then reach a conclusion one way or the other.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the noble Lord said that he would like to draw the debate on the amendment to a close. I should make some little contribution on this issue. I have said before in the House that I am a Catholic. I hope that I continue to be a Catholic for many years to come or for as long as I live. So this is not particularly a Catholic and Protestant issue in relation to the RUC.
I want to address noble Lords on this side of the House. I do so with a great deal of sensitivity. For many years, as a Member of another place, I was involved in numerous controversial issues. On some matters about which I felt passionately, I was able to enlist many of my friends, some of whom were Left-wing and some of whom were middle-of-the-road. Many times, against the wishes of the government--a Labour government--we took our attitudes to a Division. People did not like it; they were very annoyed that we did so. Sometimes it involved 20, 30 or 40 Members.
That does not happen in this House. I say this with a good deal of regret--and I shall probably not be contradicted. There are many Members on this side of the House who agree with the amendments that have been proposed, and who would have agreed with the attitude I advanced on the Disqualifications Bill. But there is a Whip on this side of the House. Many of
The same is true of the Liberal Democrat Party. I spoke to a Liberal Democrat yesterday who told me that he agreed with the speech that I made on the Disqualifications Bill. He said: "I should like to support you"--and he put it very crudely--"but we are in bed with Blair". Therefore, the support for the Bill on the Liberal Democrat Benches does not surprise me.
On this side of the House, there is the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Lord, Lord Desai--who takes an interest in Northern Ireland affairs; and I am grateful for some of the very reasonable statements that he has made. But apart from those two, there must be many Members on this side of the House who have an opinion one way or the other on this great controversy that has been brought about by the proposal to rename the RUC.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has had some service in Northern Ireland. I do not know whether he had his tongue in his cheek when he said: "Isn't it a pity that there is no constitutional nationalist voice in this House?" I will tell him why. Although they have been offered seats here, constitutional nationalists will not come to this House. When I was a member of the SDLP, a constitutional nationalist party, there were some members of that party who took MBEs and OBEs; and, once they accepted them, they were dismissed and thrown out of the SDLP. That is one of the reasons why there is no constitutional nationalist party member in this House. I only wish that there were. I should relish sitting here with some of my former colleagues or other members of the SDLP who could advance the constitutional nationalist point of view. I do not blame this House for not being able to hear them.
I am a Catholic, as I keep repeating. But even my intervention in this debate will be grossly misconstrued by nationalist politicians in Northern Ireland. I recently made a speech in Committee on this Bill and the next morning I was the subject of nasty cartoons in the press. I was classified as a Unionist. I was almost classified as anti-Catholic, because I supported the retention of the name of the RUC.
Perhaps my reason for supporting the retention of the name is a heart-over-mind matter. I am prepared to admit that that may be so. But I have carried the coffins of so many RUC men who were killed by terrorists, both loyalist and so-called IRA. I met their wives and children, and I know how deeply they feel that they are being humiliated and demonised by Sinn Fein/IRA. I know how they feel. I was in their houses 10 minutes after their husbands were killed and sometimes five minutes after their fathers and their brothers were killed. I repeat--and, again, I received a headline in a nationalist newspaper for stating this--
Who is to deny that, without the courage and resolution of the Northern Ireland police force throughout these terrible 30 years, civilisation as we know it in Northern Ireland would have gone by the board? Only last week, a bomb went off outside a police station in Castlewellan. Two RUC men were grievously injured; one lost a leg and is in danger of losing the other. At the time, everyone jumped to the conclusion that it must be the work of the Real IRA, a dissident republican group. But the police were able to issue a statement that the type of device used in the bomb was from the loyalist community. So loyalist dissidents, representatives of loyalist murderers, are now intent on killing the RUC.
Seamus Mallon, who is a former colleague of mine, has said that if the SDLP does not get its way in the Bill, he will not call upon Catholics to join the new police service. I can tell Seamus Mallon--who is no fool--that whatever he may say, it will not determine one way or another whether Catholics will join the RUC. Sinn Fein/IRA control many areas of West Belfast, parts of Crossmaglen and many other areas of Northern Ireland; and the loyalists are in control of their areas in the Shankill Road in West Belfast. They are the people who will determine who will join the new police service. It will not be determined by any siren call by constitutional nationalists.
All the recommendations in the Bill could easily have passed a Committee stage in this House in half an hour. The RUC itself recommended many of them. No one is objecting to the reform of the RUC. It has been in existence since 1920. I think I have illustrated in this House how it came to be demonised by so-called republicans. But its name has a symbolism.
One Liberal Democrat Member has said that the symbolism of the RUC is offensive to Northern Ireland Catholics. But taking away that symbol will be offensive to Protestants--by removing the alienation of one community, we alienate the other. What does it mean to take away the name of the RUC? There will be many widows, sons, daughters, fathers and mothers who will be grievously offended if the name is taken away.
Again, when I spoke in Committee, letters were sent to nationalist newspapers saying: "Does he forget that the RUC hit him over the head with a baton when he was leading a civil rights march on 5th October 1968?". I do not forget that at all. O thought it very wrong of the RUC to attack me and others when I was engaged in demanding civil rights for everyone in Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants. But it is 30 years since that happened. Many changes have taken place in the RUC over that period.
I believe that the RUC as presently constructed, together with these reforms when they are implemented, will turn out to be a totally different force from what it was under unionist domination over many years. On Monday of this week, a Catholic ombudswoman opened up her office in Northern
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