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Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the amendment that is before us has no other purpose than to scupper the Bill. The Bill makes further progress in the closer ties being forged between the two countries. It constitutes a natural evolution following the progress, admittedly sometimes halting, that has occurred since the Good Friday agreement. If only one or two people take up this measure, it could be of help to the fragile and delicate nature of that agreement. I can envisage circumstances in which it could help tremendously for someone from the unionist tradition to be present at debates in the Dail. But it is up to electors in constituencies, both North and South, to decide whether or not to vote for candidates who are also representatives of another body.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I know nothing about the background of this Bill but I believe that noble Lords are going a little over the top. I have heard expressions such as "united Ireland by stealth" or "betrayal of Northern Ireland". Frankly, these seem disproportionate to what we are discussing here. There is no question of a united Ireland by stealth. The Belfast agreement made it perfectly clear that a United Ireland would come about only if the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wished it. That is not a process by stealth; it is part of an explicit process. I do not see how Northern Ireland would be betrayed if a politician representing a constituency in Northern Ireland were also to be elected to the Dail or were to be in the Senate in Dublin. I do not consider that a betrayal. It may not be as tidy as some noble Lords would wish, but I do not consider that it would be a betrayal of Northern Ireland and I consider it mischievous to construe it as such.
What we are talking about surely is the uniqueness of Northern Ireland in terms of the relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic which are explicitly recognised by a variety of structures which arose through the Belfast agreement. All we are doing here is to recognise the uniqueness of Northern Ireland. I appreciate that there is an anomaly at present as regards Commonwealth countries and Ireland. However, I prefer to put the argument in terms of the unique position of Northern Ireland. If John Hume were to be elected to the Dail while retaining his seat in the other place, would that be the end of Northern Ireland? I do not understand why that is considered such an anomaly. If Seamus Mallon were to be elected to the Dail while retaining his parliamentary seat in the other place, would that be the end of Northern Ireland? I do not see that those are such enormous matters that the whole House should say that they constitute a betrayal of Northern Ireland.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who has tried to put the debate into a reasonable context. There has been an edge to much of what has been said this afternoon that will not help the process in Northern Ireland. I always listen to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, with great regard and I believe that he has a significant contribution to make to these debates. However, on this occasion his talk of betrayal has not done us a great service.
His noble friend Lady Thatcher took the first historic steps in 1985 to try to engage the Dail and the authorities in Ireland in a constitutional programme for change so that people in these islands could live alongside one another. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I supported the Conservative Party's brave initiatives, led by the noble Baroness, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, and their right honourable friend Mr John Major, in trying to engage Sinn Fein/IRA in the constitutional process. We all knew that that would lead to many dilemmas.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, was right to remind us that we have duties. It is not just about affections or loyalties. Those who are elected to the House of Commons or to the Irish Dail have duties, but it is not impossible to reconcile the different duties. After all, Rev. Ian Paisley sits in the European Parliament and the British House of Commons. Some Members of the Irish Parliament are British citizens and have sat previously in Northern Ireland.
Our objective should be to engage Sinn Fein in proper constitutional dialogue. When I was a member of a political party--for some of those years I was an Irish affairs spokesman--I refused adamantly to engage with Sinn Fein. I refused to meet them at any stage. I took on my own political party at a party conference when there was an attempt to mandate the Irish affairs spokesman to meet Sinn Fein. Quite properly, conference refused to pass that resolution. It was improper to seek such a requirement and I would not have been prepared to do it while Sinn Fein was engaged in a process that also relied on violence.
I recognise that, as the Unionists and others have said, the decommissioning process has not been transparent enough to determine whether violence has been totally disavowed. That issue is still on the table. Any return to violence would undoubtedly ensure that the process stopped. That would be an historic tragedy, leading to the return of violence on the streets.
If the worst result of this provision was that members of Sinn Fein took their seats in the British House of Commons and started to put their arguments where they should always have put them, I cannot see why that would be a betrayal of the people of Northern Ireland.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the longer that we engage in this discussion, the more glaringly obvious it becomes that it will be impossible to work the legislation. What does it mean to be an elected Member of Parliament? A Member of Parliament is elected to represent the voters of a constituency. It would be impossible for anyone to represent the interests of their constituencies in both the Dail and Westminster, because their electors would want a constituency service from their representative. The two Parliaments have different electoral systems. The Republic has proportional representation.
Can anyone imagine any member of the major political parties in the Republic--Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or the Democratic Left--coming over to Westminster to ensure that they had a residence qualification? They are not going to be elected to Westminster. The provisions will apply only in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The main parties in the Republic have had adequate opportunity since the Bill was introduced at the other end of this building to voice their support for it, but they want nothing to do with it. Why has no elected Member in the Republic--Back-Bencher or otherwise--stood up and spoken in favour of it? I asked the same question in Committee. The Minister has said that he has had consultations with Dublin. I should have preferred to hear a voice from the Irish Parliament saying that they wanted the Bill. So far that has not happened. Only this afternoon did I hear that, at this late stage, the SDLP has expressed its support for the Bill. I have not yet read that officially and I would be more satisfied to see it in print. Why did no SDLP Member speak or vote in favour of the Bill when it went through the House of Commons? If the Bill is so important, the three SDLP Members should at least have voted in favour of it, even if they did not speak.
The only party that can gain from the Bill is Sinn Fein. If the Government start appeasing and placating Sinn Fein, they do it to the disadvantage of the other constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. That is a very dangerous road to travel.
As a learned member of the Bar, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, knows the value of words. He would probably deny this, but I think that he is probably highly embarrassed at having to push the Bill through the House, because he cannot muster a logical argument in favour of it. If he cannot do so, I do not think that many of your Lordships can do so either.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I have three comments to make. First, many of those who support the Bill have suggested that, by moving against it, we are endangering the links that are developing. That is an extraordinary argument. Are they seriously saying that opposing the Bill would damage a set-up that includes the Council of the Isles, North-South agreements and many other discussions in which
Secondly, the only people who will benefit from the Bill are Sinn Fein/IRA. Gerry Adams has already been elected to a UK constituency in Northern Ireland. If he is also elected to the Dail, he will be able to say that he represents the whole of Ireland. Other members of Sinn Fein/IRA would do the same. None of the rest of the Dail could do that.
Lastly, only yesterday the Irish Times reported that there had been a good deal of discussion in the Dail on a proposal to ban the dual mandate that allows TDs and Senators to hold local authority seats. That was recently opposed by Fianna Fail. One TD said that the Dail should reform itself first. He said:
Might we not expect that the implications of the Bill would also be of interest to the Dail during such a debate? Nothing was said about it. It is a non-event for everyone in Dublin except Sinn Fein/IRA. I suspect that the reason that we are hearing nothing from Ministers is that in Dublin there is considerable anxiety lest there should be rather a large number of Sinn Fein/IRA people elected at the next election. The Bill is a threat to Dublin as well as to us.
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