HC Deb 07 February 1985 vol 72 cc1090-2
6. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any new plans to try to bring together the two communities in Northern Ireland to discuss their fundamental differences.

Mr. Hurd

I have recently had further talks with the constitutional parties during which I urged them to seek practical arrangements for a system of government which they can agree to operate.

Mr. Flannery

Has not the killing and maiming—not just from one side—been going on for 16 years? If no initiative is taken, 16 years from now people will be sitting here still trying to solve the same problems. Are we going to bring the two sides together? I do not mean have discussions with them privately; I mean to bring them together in a proper conference to have them air their differences so that we can all share them, discover precisely what they are, and take it from there, otherwise when will there ever be an end to it?

Mr. Hurd

A public conference of the kind that the hon. Gentleman advocates would not do much good, because public positions are frequently proclaimed. It is necessary for the party leaders to find an occasion to meet, two by two, or collectively, to see whether some of the more hopeful things that have been written and said in recent months can be turned into practical proposals. That is what I am trying to encourage.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Secretary of State accept that further polarisation of the communities is undesirable, and that to date the housing needs of the Northern Ireland communities have been well satisfied and good progress has been made on that front? It is now the appropriate time for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to maintain mixed communities where there have been good community relations and where Roman Catholics and Protestants have lived side by side, but where, because of the executive's present allocation there is a real possibility that further single community ghettos will develop, which will hinder progress and reconciliation.

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. On his main point, it is difficult for the Housing Executive or anyone else to generalise too broadly about what is best in each case. If the hon. Gentleman has particular instances in mind which he has not yet drawn to the attention of my hon. Friend, I hope that he will do SO.

Mr. Latham

Is it not clear that sectarian differences are likely to be worsened if representatives of one constitutional party in Northern Ireland decide to meet terrorist representatives?

Mr. Hurd

I have given my view on that several times recently. I do not believe that such a meeting would be wise, not least because of the setback which I believe it would constitute to the edging forward and the progress which I believe has been made towards the leaders of the constitutional parties having serious discussions.

Mr. Hume

Leaving aside the background to that affair, which requires a little more time than that provided by Question Time, does the Secretary of State agree that the reaction of members of the Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party, who have said that they will call off the proposed talks with the SDLP because I have decided to confront a violent organisation about its violence, is dishonest and hypocritical, given that they have been openly sitting down, not to confront violent organisations, but to collaborate with them with the objective of bringing down the power-sharing executive?

They were members of the council of a murderous organisation which murdered more than 500 innocent people in Northern Ireland. They did that not to stop violence but to collaborate with such organisations. It is hypocrisy to criticise me for confronting a violent organisation to get it to stop. Further, will he tell me whether he agrees with the statement that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made yesterday? He described an organisation which has murdered more than 500 innocent civilians as a counter-terrorist organisation and therefore not really a terrorist organisation. Does the Secretary of State agree with that statement? Will the right hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That will be plenty.

Mr. Hurd

It is for Unionist Members to explain their views about that meeting. I have explained mine. The courage of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) in denouncing and resisting violence is, I believe, unmatched in the House. I hope that he will think again about this, as I believe that he and the other elected Members of constitutional parties in Northern Ireland had reached the stage at which definite practical discussions between them were possible and might be fruitful. I should very much regret it if that prospect were put at risk.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Secretary of State aware that the leaders of Unionism in Northern Ireland have made it perfectly clear that the door is open for the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) to come and talk to them provided that he does not talk to the IRA, so it is he who is closing the door, not the Unionist leaders in Northern Ireland? Is the Secretary of State further aware that the hon. Gentleman's accusations today are totally false and that at no time did Unionist leaders sit down with murderers or the Army Council of either the UDA or the UVF, and well he knows it.

Mr. Hume

Practise what you preach.

Mr. Hurd

In my view, it is precisely that kind of exchange, taking place in the earshot of members of the British public throughout the country, from which we must get away if there is to be any real progress in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Archer

Does the Secretary of State agree that whether something might be gained for the cause of peace and reconciliation by speaking to a particular group is a matter of judgment which each of us has to make in good faith and on which we may disagree? Will he try to persuade the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that if we refuse to speak to those with whose judgment we disagree the cause of reconciliation and the prospects of finding a solution will move further away?

Mr. Hurd

I agree that it is a matter of judgment, and we are all entitled to make our own judgments.