HC Deb 15 July 1998 vol 316 cc395-8
4. Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

If she will make a statement about the development of the peace process. [49021]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

In considering an update on the development of the peace process, I am sure that the House will want to join me in offering support and condolences to the family of Richard, Mark and Jason Quinn.

Sadly, the violence continued at Drumcree last night and the police were caught up in that when blast bombs and missiles were thrown. I pay respect to the RUC for what they have done in the past week in very difficult circumstances. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are beginning to work to see what can be done to ensure that everything is in place for the assembly in September. Civil servants and others are working to make different options ready for the assembly in two months.

Mr. Canavan

I join my right hon. Friend in conveying the sympathies of the whole House to the family of Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn, who were so brutally murdered at the weekend. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any child's right to life is far more precious than any adult's right to march? Will she therefore appeal to all members of the Orange Order to listen carefully to the words of the Rev. William Bingham, the Orange Order chaplain for Armagh, who said that a walk down the Garvaghy road would be a very hollow victory because it would be in the shadow of the coffins of three little boys?

Marjorie Mowlam

No one across the whole of Northern Ireland does not agree with that sentiment in respect of the Quinn family and the difficulties that they face as a result of what has happened. However, we must look to the future. Whether it is this year, next year or the year after, unless we deal with the competing rights and the underlying sectarianism, we may face an equally difficult situation again. Whether it is the right to march, to live free from fear and intimidation or the very basic right to life, we can move forward only if people talk. It is only by finding a way together that we shall find a way through the current difficult situation.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

As has been said, we in the Ulster Unionist party are absolutely aghast at the terrible tragedy that occurred in Ballymoney and the deaths of the three Quinn children. We are also ashamed of the blatant sectarianism that we have witnessed in the past week in Northern Ireland. The greater number of people support the Stormont agreement, as it is properly called. However, I am astounded that, although this question refers to the peace process, the Secretary of State has failed totally to mention the main threat to peace in Northern Ireland. This has been lost sight of in light of the tragedies of the past week. A 1,400 lb bomb was intercepted on its way to Armagh city centre at the weekend, a 600 lb bomb was placed outside Newry courthouse at the weekend and the centre of the village of Newtown Hamilton has been smashed since the last Northern Ireland Question Time. The Government refuse to mention those republican terrorist attacks on Northern Ireland. Let us concentrate on the real threat to peace in Northern Ireland.

Marjorie Mowlam

Violence from whatever source is roundly condemned in the House. I fully acknowledge that many in the Orange Order at Drumcree do not want to see violence, but they are providing a front for others who are keen not just to cause violence but to destroy the Good Friday agreement. They are causing the problems. Whether it is at Drumcree or in the bombing and destruction of cities, people on the fringes and in fringe groups are indulging in that behaviour. We all condemn it, but, as my hon. Friends said earlier, we must see what we can do to build an alternative route for people to find a way forward.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

Would it not help the peace process if all political and religious leaders showed the sort of leadership that some have shown in the past few days? That would take the process forward and be a leap away from the sectarianism of the past. May we express the hope that, in future, three young children will not have to die in order that adults may learn the virtues of mutual respect and tolerance?

Marjorie Mowlam

I support the comments made by my hon. Friend. I should like to add that I believe that many leaders, across the spectrum of political parties in Northern Ireland, have shown leadership. They have shown a degree of determination and courage in a very, very difficult situation. I acknowledge that, and thank them for it.

Recalling the Good Friday agreement and the referendum, let us remember that the consent of the people of Northern Ireland is there to find an alternative way; I believe that life after Drumcree will be searching for that other way forward.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

The Liberal Democrats share, with the whole House, the agony of the Quinn family following the very sad events of last Sunday. May we, however, urge the Secretary of State not to deflect from the path that she and the Government have taken in terms of the Belfast agreement? Despite its critics, that agreement is the way forward in terms of peace and hope for Northern Ireland. Will the Secretary of State make a statement today on the progress that has been made regarding strand 2 of the Belfast agreement and those conditions that need to be put in place by the end of October?

Marjorie Mowlam

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support. All aspects of the agreement—he refers especially to strand 2—are being worked on. Strand 2 refers to the North-South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. The North-South Ministerial Council will be in place in the autumn; the implementation bodies by 31 October. The preparatory work for that is being done now. As I said, First Minister Trimble and Deputy First Minister Mallon will lead that work, in consultation with others, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that all aspects of the agreement are moving in parallel.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

On behalf of my party, I join the Secretary of State, and indeed the entire community of Northern Ireland, in expressing condolences to the Quinn family. It was an horrific, terrifying experience for them and for the entire community. Although there have been very many other instances of such sectarian terrorism, fortunately many did not result in tragic death. Does the Secretary of State agree that many civic and Church leaders, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister designate have set an example of the way in which the community in Northern Ireland can work together and can evolve toward a future?

Does the Secretary of State also agree that, in the circumstances that we have had in Northern Ireland—10 days of mayhem, disruption, intimidation, brutality—the answer is quite simple: that the intention to stage an illegal march down the Garvaghy road is the cause of this mayhem? Does she agree that a decision by the Orange Order not to carry out that illegal march would be not a defeat for it, but a massive contribution to the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, these islands?

Marjorie Mowlam

I agree with my hon. Friend's first point about acknowledging the work that the First and Deputy First Minister have done. It has been an incredible progress. I should like to acknowledge publicly that it has taken them both a lot of guts to do it, and I pay public tribute to them.

My hon. Friend spoke of the mayhem that has been going on for 10 days. People in Northern Ireland were shocked and stunned to a degree that was not experienced here. People here were shocked, but across the water it was amazing. As I said in answer to the previous question, there is still determination to ensure that the shadow North-South Ministerial Council is in place, and that the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and all the other bits of that agreement are still moving forward.

In relation to my hon. Friend's final point, what is important is that the Parades Commission's recommendations are followed. It has the law behind it. A parade went down the Lower Ormeau road in line with the Parades Commission recommendation, and the people on that road watched it go down in silence. There are lessons there to be learned by everyone.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, in what has been a very bleak few weeks for the Province, when three innocent young children have been incinerated to death in what can only be described as a sectarian killing, an ethnic cleansing, there are two positive observations that the House can make? The first is that, yet again, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has held the line and ensured that the rule of law is upheld, at great personal cost to its members, and that, yet again, we owe the RUC a very great debt of gratitude. Secondly, the axis between First Minister Trimble and Deputy First Minister Mallon has held in the most difficult circumstances. That bodes extremely well for the future.

Marjorie Mowlam

I agree. I would add that a tribute is due not only to the RUC, but to the Army in support and to their families, many of whom faced intimidation and were driven out of their homes during this period.

Mr. MacKay

Will the Secretary of State look to the future, so that we may all learn the lessons of the past few weeks? Clearly, the civic forum will be important in Portadown, but can the right hon. Lady assure the House that the future of the Parades Commission will be examined? Everything must be open to further consideration, in light of what has happened.

Marjorie Mowlam

The civic forum is under discussion in our attempts to find an accommodation in Portadown and Drumcree.

The Parades Commission was set up by the previous Government and given legal authority by this Government. It is an independent body which makes decisions on almost impossible situations. We ought to acknowledge the public service rendered by the people who have served on it. It is not easy, and it is not a job which many people wanted. I thank them and their chair for what they have done.

When one is dealing with competing rights in Northern Ireland, there is no easy answer. What matters is that might is not right but the rule of law is right, and that is what the Parades Commission is upholding. I am sure that, at the end of the marching season, we will take stock, along with the commission, and see what lessons we can all learn for the future.