HC Deb 04 July 1985 vol 82 cc537-44

4.6 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I beg to move, That this House invites the Government, in view of the destabilizing effect in Northern Ireland of conflicting unofficial reports consistently circulating in the Press, to bring its current discussions with the Government of the Irish Republic to an early termination and publish a White Paper setting out the several matters discussed and the conclusions reached.

Mr. Speaker

I must announce that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The general concern of the motion is expressed in the caption, Restoration of Stability in Northern Ireland. It is therefore useful at least to be clear-headed about what we are thinking. The dictionary defines "stability" as, stable, firmly fixed, or established, not easily to be moved or changed or destroyed. We move the motion because it is the conviction and desire of the Ulster Unionist party and the people of Ulster at large that Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom, as well as its institutions of government, should be stable. We recognise that Her Majesty's Government have tabled an amendment which raises the question whether the Government have contributed to stability.

Only last week we debated the Interim Period Extension Order. Does the very title itself knock the concept of stability when we talk about something being stable and fixed as we bring forward an interim period extension order? That in itself suggests that the purpose of the Government is not stability. In that debate the Secretary of State said that the identity of the Protestant community must be respected by both Governments. That was in keeping with a conclusion reached by the two Heads of Government. Last week, the Secretary of State said: This, as the two Heads of Government agreed at Chequers, must be respected, as must the wish of the majority in Northern Ireland to retain its British identity and to remain a part of the United Kingdom."— [Official Report, 26 June 1985; Vol. 81 c. 974.] In that same week the Secretary of State added to instability in Northern Ireland by being insensitive towards Loyalist aspirations by curtailing traditional Protestant marches which have been held in the Province for centuries.

I want to put on record my own view, which reflects the view of my party and of many in the Province. We are not talking about restricting marches, like those which have taken place recently and which appear to be provocative. We are not saying that undisciplined parades should not be curtailed, but there should be a different judgment on marches that have taken place for at least a century and a half without the coat trailing that is so often referred to in these discussions.

Together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of our party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), I met the Secretary of State. We emphasised the serious consequences of interfering with the expression of Loyalist regard for our place in the United Kingdom and our civil and religious liberty which we wish to uphold. We stressed the serious risks involved in banning or curtailing traditional parades. We conveyed to the Secretary of State background information about certain localities. The Government did not seem to be fully aware of that information.

During the past week it has been stated that there has been no involvement of Dublin in the banning of parades. We have been assured that banning involves only the Government and that the rerouteing of parades is strictly a matter for the Royal Ulster Constabulary. However, it is not what is, but what appears to be, that matters. In our country the statement that Dublin has not been involved falls on deaf ears.

In a written answer to a question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said: The Irish Government made representations about the control of a St. Patrick's Day parade in Portadown. Her Majesty's embassy in Dublin has explained that the control of parades is primarily a matter for the operational judgment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary."— [Official Report, 1 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 486.] Perhaps some hon. Members know that many people in the Province feel deeply about parades. By and large the Loyalist community has observed the law.

A predecessor of mine, William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, was elected to Parliament in the late 1800s. Because the Orange men had abided by the law on party processions, which law was not being enforced impartially, on a July day in 1867 William Johnston led a march from Bangor to Newtownards. Subsequently he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for breach of the law. That is what is involved in cross-bearing — being prepared to take the consequences of following through one's conscientious actions. After his release from prison he was returned to this Chamber, and he continued to be a Member of Parliament for many years. In view of that background, I should have thought that any responsible Minister would think twice before curtailing or banning a parade that has taken place for 150 years. We have been told that one section of the Northern Ireland community is alienated, but growing numbers are being alienated by ham-fisted actions by Her Majesty's Government and by those who serve as Ministers.

The Secretary of State fails to recognise our fears when he repeatedly invites spokesmen of a foreign country to weigh in on Northern Ireland affairs, as he did again in last week's debate when he said: It is natural that Ministers in the south should, as they do from time to time, feel and express views about what happens in the north. My predecessors and I have differed from other hon. Members and some elected representatives in the Province on that point. However, I have already stated the conclusion that the Government have reached on it." — [Official Report, 26 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 975.] The right hon. Gentleman also said that Dublin dialogues were no substitute for a solution within Northern Ireland. The Ulster Unionist party and I believe that the Northern Ireland Office has not tried to move forward within Northern Ireland and that it is busily engaged, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in undermining confidence and stability within Northern Ireland.

What other interpretation can we put upon the lack of information from the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on their discussions with the Republic? It is the easiest thing in the world to laugh, but, as a psychiatrist or a psychologist would say, that is a cover-up, because there is no argument against that inference. We have asked questions, but we find it difficult to get answers. Ministers from the Department of the Secretary of State and from other Departments have been meeting Ministers from the Republic about every two weeks since 1983. That is shown in a written answer in column 413 of the Official Report of 1 April. I do not think that there is any significance in the fact that the question was answered on 1 April.

The range of Departments involved in the meetings has been wide — Education, Energy, Agriculture, Justice, Transport, Environment, Wales, Social Services, Employment. One can imagine the number of meetings that take place between officials of the Departments concerned in the United Kingdom and the Republic. I said, "One can imagine." One has to, because the right hon. Gentleman has refused to give information about meetings between officials. There is no information to disabuse us our ignorance or to confirm our views.

Officials from the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been attending conferences in Dublin on Irish culture, organised by a group funded by the British taxpayer to the tune of £24,000 in the current year. That was shown in the Supply Estimates, class II, vote 1. People in Northern Ireland wonder what is going on. It may be the promotion of Irish culture at the expense of our British identity. We should like to think that money was being spent also on our British identity.

We are told that the two communities have to live together. We had a classic illustration of a name that brought the two communities together — Londonderry. "London" indicates the British tradition and "Derry" the Irish tradition. But the Government decided to do away with "London" in the name of the Council.

There is a constant erosion of our British culture, but we spend fair sums of money upon promoting Irish culture. I can find no evidence of the Ulster identity being studied in schools. Can the Secretary of State find time to tell us whether those groups in Northern Ireland which seek to promote the concept of an Ulster identity will receive the same funds as those which promote what is glibly called the Irish identity?

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to a six or a nine-county Ulster identity?

Rev. Martin Smyth

I am not unduly worried.

The Secretary of State takes a constant interest in and regularly speaks about what is commonly called the Irish section. The Irish section joined Dean Swift in saying that everything English should be burnt, apart from English coal. I hope that the miners do not object to that quotation.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) represents those who constantly refer to the English imposition upon Ireland. The nine counties are historically an English imposition, but that was not the old Ulster. That is more akin to the Northern Ireland which we represent. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was aware that this is a debate about Ulster's identity.

The report of the Anglo-Irish Encounter Group says: It was hoped that Oxford university would establish a chair of Irish Studies. An Institute of Irish Studies, offering a BA in Irish Studies, was being established by Keele University, Crewe and Alsager College of Education and North Staffordshire Polytechnic. When a number of such degree courses existed, it should be possible to get Irish Studies accepted at A level. It was surprising, she said, that options in American, French and many other studies existed, but not in Irish studies. I would add that they do riot exist for Ulster studies.

It is too much of coincidence that the daughter of Garret FitzGerald teaches Irish studies at Crewe and Alsager college of education. I doubt whether, despite her father's proud boast of having an Ulster ancestor, she will be telling her students about the Unionist side of the argument. It is conveniently and regularly forgotten. We talk about the English imposition and English misrule instead of referring to the quality of life that has characterised the north-east of Ireland since long before the plantation.

There is one stable factor which Ministers, the Opposition and others ignore and to which they seem determined to remain blind: the vote for the Unionist parties which has been signified at every election in Northern Ireland, whether by the strict first-past-the-post system or by the manipulation of proportional representation. The people of Northern Ireland vote consistently and clearly for the Union.

Hon. Members refer to a head count, as though the British Government had drawn a frontier to protect the Union. An honourable agreement was reached between the three consenting parties on the best way forward, but that was not at the behest of the Ulster Unionists. In our heart of hearts, most of us would have preferred, instead of the secession of the 26 counties from the United Kingdom, the old Unionist position: that the best hope for the future is to be found in a relationship with the United Kingdom. If we want stability, that is the way forward.

Those who gave evidence recently to the Northern Ireland Assembly's devolutionary committee made it plain that the community should have been given a voting opportunity which demonstrated that fewer than 50 per cent. of the Roman Catholic community was in favour of a United Ireland. This was done in the border referendum. No matter how one does the sums, even allowing for intimidation it showed clearly, as subsequent opinion polls have shown, that this is not simply a question of Roman Catholic versus Protestant, but a question that divides those who want to be in the Union and to live in a stable community and those who want to latch on to the United Kingdom, through Europe and other subventions, instead of taking their place within the overall structure.

I need not deal in detail with the sorry tale of the Government's refusal to strike at Sinn Fein. Its entry into local government in Northern Ireland signified the renewal of genocidal war against both Protestant and Catholic policemen and prison officers.

The Labour party has co-operated honourably with us, and this Opposition Supply day debate arises out of an agreement with it. I believe that I detected signs of an improvement in two recent speeches from the Front Bench of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). I pay tribute to what he said in those speeches. Nevertheless, Brecon Beacon is probably calling many hon. Members to dance around it today. That may account for so few Opposition Members being in the House. The Conservative party may be fighting a battle there, too. However, little can be said about Labour party policy for our much maligned Province. Who speaks for the Labour party? Is it the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, or the various groups within the Labour party who lean over his shoulder and trot out their various half-baked and dangerous schemes? The right hon. and learned Gentleman said: If there is ever to be an end to divisions in Northern Ireland, if people are ever to live in peace with their neighbours, and if there is to be any end of the tribalism, the violence, the waste and the tragedy of it all, there must be some arrangement about how people can live together in one island and manage their business and administer their affairs. There is no hope of that unless they can seek agreement through conversations and constitutional processes with those with whom they do not already agree." — [Official Report, 26 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 985.] On that occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman was long in criticism of the Unionists and the Government but short on what he himself would do. We are still awaiting real proposals, rather than colonial style visits that lead to some Members of his party being in dialogue with Sinn Fein, who are proxies for murder.

I prefer to look beyond the Front Bench of the Labour party, where a responsible attitude has been shown at conferences and at other levels, to the activists who have hijacked what was once a great party. In a recent reference to the Sinn Fein vote in the local government elections in Northern Ireland, the magazine of the Labour Committee on Ireland, New Labour and Ireland, said: This must mark the end of normalisation. The six local councils where Sinn Fein hold the balance of power is proof enough. Speaking of the efforts of Unionists to stand up to Republicanism on local councils, it says: Labour activists in Britain will have to campaign against this arrogance, through mutual delegations, links between councillors and pressure on party leaders to make their position clear. Incidentally, the same issue of that publication carried a lengthy article by the Sinn Fein abstentionist from west Belfast about May day. The Labour Committee on Ireland is the Sinn Fein wing of the Labour party, and the attitude of the Labour party to that committee and to Northern Ireland has not contributed to stability, but has undermined good government and good relations in Northern Ireland.

Lest I am told that all I do is criticise and do not put forward views, I shall put forward something of the view that we on this Bench take, though, as many hon. Members wish to speak, I shall be brief. We have attempted to bring a lasting, stable, durable state of affairs to Northern Ireland. As I criticise types of discussion—for example, relationships with the Irish Republic — I am reminded of the famous "Tell Scotland" campaign in church circles, when an elder of the Church of Scotland said, "I do not mind them telling Scotland. It is what they are telling Scotland that I am not so sure about." As one who has been prepared to argue our corner and event to go to the deep south of Ireland to present the Unionist viewpoint, I am not against presenting our case to or having proper relationships with a friendly neighbour. However, I must ask that neighbour to start being friendly. A man who wants friends must show himself to be friendly. One way immediately to start on that process would be to get rid of the arrogant 1935 constitution, which would never have been brought in had there been a desire on the part of the southern Irish people to have one-ness with Ulster.

In considering our position, it is clear that we have counselled caution and calmness, although Conservative Members may not wish to give us credit for having done that. We have preached caution when stories of summits and sell-outs have filled the pages of the newspapers. We have preached responsible responses to provocation from the IRA and INLA and on local councils.

We also acted responsibly when the Secretary of State set his face against our culture and religious freedom in respect of Londonderry and our legitimate right to hold a peaceful march, especially a march to a church service which had gone on annually for 150 years. That attitude of responsibility was summed up well last week by our leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley, when, talking of speculation in the media, he said: Because of all this suspicion, because of all the kite-flying and because of all the projections, all the rumour-mongering and all the deliberate leaks, they can hardly blame Loyalists for being a bit suspicious and, if it comes to that, they can hardly blame the IRA for imagining that, if it gets in on the act, it will expedite affairs along the road that it would wish to choose". — [Official Report, 26 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 990.] We have tried hard to formulate a lasting system of government for Northern Ireland. That is why I was prepared to enter the Northern Ireland constitutional convention, which this House did not debate because a section refused to take part in any such debate, and thereby did not have the opportunity to vote for many parts of the convention report with which Members of that section would have agree. I refer, of course, to the SDLP. Its Members took that view because they were not given a cast iron guarantee of a place in office, no matter how the people voted. We were prepared to provide the structure in which all could participate. However, they wanted a structure in which they could say, "We are in, no matter who else is out." Having given that convention a job to do, this House did not bother properly to examine what it said in its report. Thank heavens that a few of the recommendations of the convention have subsequently been developed, despite the attitude of the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member who represents a Leeds constituency, the proper name of which escapes me.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

In the way in which some people in Northern Ireland object when their names are not known, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman should be told that my constituency is Morley and Leeds, South.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making that clear. He will recall that at the time when we were lobbying about the report of the convention in respect of extra seats at Westminister, he said, "Never." I reminded him then that his Leader had said that seven days was a long time in politics. "Never" is a word that one should not use in politics. That is the view I take of the convention report. Little by little the light may dawn on people.

We have acted within the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was set up by this Chamber, to perform an impossible task on impossible terms, for it was certain from the beginning that one of the parties would stay out. We said that the system would have to be changed, and subsequently the Assembly has been looking at the whole matter through its devolution committee.

I need not remind the House of the invitations that have been extended to the absenting party, which is represented in this Chamber by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)—who is absent again today — and of our attempt to persuade the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Dr. Cahil Daly, to come before us to give his views on the alienation of the community so that we might at least have the opportunity to speak to somebody with a point of view to express.

Having said that, let us consider the view of my party, as expressed in "The Way Forward", in which we said: The time is now ripe for both communities in Northern Ireland to realise that, essentially, their problems will have to be solved in Northern Ireland by their political representatives and that any future prospect for them and their children is best provided for within the Northern Ireland context. This will require a mutual recognition of each other's hopes and fears. Only rights can be guaranteed, not aspirations, but it is the responsibility of the majority to persuade the minority that the Province is also theirs. Some of us have been doing our best to get that across. It is a hard task, especially when some stay out of the ring. While the metaphor may not be altogether apt, it is nevertheless real.

In that document, we recognised the problems and conflicts in Ulster. We also pointed out that present arrangements were shackled by impossible conditions, which demanded that those who wished to wreck the system should be handed the levers of power. Instead, we asked that limited powers over basic local government functions be devolved to Stormont, so that perhaps at that level a degree of trust and a working relationship could be built up.

I admit, frankly, that the time to act on the issue may have gone and that a good opportunity was lost in the welter of bitterness generated by Sinn Fein and the IRA since 15 May. However, we are asking the Government, the Labour party and all parties in this House to look again at the whole issue and to recognise that the conditions imposed by the current system in Northern Ireland must be changed to allow direct accountability by politicians and public servants for their actions.

An aspect that has caused tremendous unrest is the fact that the self-appointed protector of the minority in Northern Ireland has never properly defined that minority. The definition alters according to whom one is debating the matter with. It is normally defined by Mr. Barry as "Nationalist", though on some occasions he defines it as "Roman Catholic".

When a person from outside our country appoints himself as the protector of minorities, we must be careful how we deal with that person. History recalls that an individual named Hitler appointed himself as the protector of minority interests. The concept of power-sharing was introduced into Austria to preserve the interest of the minority, and that ultimately led to the anschluss of 1938.

We would deny the right of any Ministers or Government to set themselves up as the protecting power within Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the lamentable spectacle of the terror and the tears caused by the then Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, who ordered the troops to the border at an earlier time.

In closing, I wish to take up one point that was made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) in winding-up the debate on 26 June. He assured us then that, if we had not been talking to the Government of the Irish Republic, there would, for example, have been no arms find on the Marita Anne. I may be an innocent abroad, I may be naive, and I may be getting my information from the wrong sources, but I understood that the arms for the Marita Anne were discovered in the United States and that it was through NATO shadowing operations that they were traced being transferred to the Marita Anne. As a result, the southern security forces could have done very little but get them. Perhaps it was because there was no conversation going on in the last week or so when the Marita Anne was at sea again and an Irish fisheries protection boat challenged it, because it suspected the Marita Anne of doing some illegal salmon fishing, that masked gunmen on the Marita Anne repelled an attempt to board her. The sea-to-shore communications were so excellent that the Marita Anne was able to dock and the crew to scarper before anybody could come to see who was on board. If that is the sort of security co-operation that has been going on between the north and south, between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic, some of us would say that we need a little bit more to bring stability to Northern Ireland.