HC Deb 17 March 1994 vol 239 cc1009-10
6. Mr. Austin-Walker

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further plans he has to bring about peace in the north of Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I propose to continue to enlist and engage to the full every means whereby it is appropriate for a democratic society to defend itself against those who assault its principles and its people.

Mr. Austin-Walker

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is the Government's view that, apart from the unification of Ireland by coercion or the expulsion of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, no constitutional political party has any veto on political progress, including the establishment of institutions agreed by the two Governments?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Of course it is a matter of constitutional reality that no one has a veto. It is something that has passed into the current language at the instance of people who object to the fact that the numerical majority of people living in Northern Ireland do not wish to end the Union. That is what is objected to and it is then described as a veto at the suit of some political parties. It is quite untrue.

Sir James Kilfedder

I bring greetings from North Down, where St. Patrick landed 15 centuries ago. He was a distinguished Briton who returned to northern Ireland. Is not it appropriate that, on St. Patrick's day, we should remember St. Patrick's utter and unqualified condemnation of the murderers in Ireland in his day? He described those people as wishing to "gorge themselves on blood". He condemned to eternal damnation not only them but those who acquiesced in such slaughter. Does not the Secretary of State agree that St. Patrick's words are as applicable today as they were 15 centuries ago?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Of course that is right. I cannot claim to represent the place where St. Patrick landed or the various places where he is buried. I can claim only to be named after him and I am very glad about that, among the other things to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention.

Mr. Canavan

Is the Secretary of State aware that this is indeed an historic occasion? It is the first time that a Secretary of State called Patrick has answered Northern Ireland questions on St. Patrick's day. Bearing in mind that St. Patrick is the patron saint of the entire island of Ireland, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman try to live up to his name by ensuring that any constitutional settlement contains a meaningful all-Ireland dimension that will help to reconcile and unite all the people of Ireland? Will he remind his good friend the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that if Ireland were united, St. Patrick's day would almost certainly be observed as a public holiday throughout the 32 counties, instead of in just 26 of them?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

St. Patrick's day is a public holiday for the Northern Ireland civil service, and probably rather more generally. If there is to be an all-Ireland connotation in anything that is agreed, at any time, it will be only because, for a start, that is the wish of a numerical majority of the people living in Northern Ireland. That is recognised by the Irish Government in the joint declaration. Everything must be based on consent. However, anything that serves, by way of tradition or example, to concentrate upon those things that unite, rather than those that divide, people in the island of Ireland is to be welcomed. I regard as felicitous my good fortune to be answering Northern Ireland questions on St. Patrick's day. It seems to have got me along all right so far.

Mr. Spring

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in welcoming the remarks of Speaker Tom Foley of the United States House of Representatives? Does the Secretary of State agree that, in retrospect, Gerry Adams's visit to the United States, far from being a spectacular propaganda victory for the IRA, drew attention to the isolation that that organisation's espousal of violence is causing not only in the Republic of Ireland and in the United Kingdom but in the world at large?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

I entirely agree. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I, too, express my greetings to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) on her arrival in the Chamber on this felicitous day. From the other side of the Atlantic there has come a chorus of condemnation of the Provisionals for the continuance of their wicked and inexcusable violence. That is down to the two Governments' standing side by side with the constitutional parties in rejecting violence for political ends. I very much agree with what my hon. Friend said.