HC Deb 17 June 1998 vol 314 cc352-3
6. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What representations she has received on the Northern Ireland agreement from individuals and organisations in (a) mainland Britain, (b) Crown dependent territories and (c) Eire. [44745]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

I have received a range of representations—mostly supportive of the agreement—wishing the people of Northern Ireland a better future built on the foundations of peace and reconciliation laid by the agreement, and free from the division and misery that marked the previous decades.

Mr. George

I thank the Secretary of State. The agreement says: A British-Irish Council will be established … to promote a harmonious and mutually beneficial development of the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands. As I come from Cornwall, a part of these islands that has its own distinct identity, culture and language, I offer my congratulations to the Secretary of State on the progress made towards the essential British-Irish council. If she wishes—rightly—to ensure that the council reflects the totality of relationships among the peoples of these islands", will she ensure that minority ethnic groups are included on that council to contribute to the celebration of diversity within our nation?

Marjorie Mowlam

I thank the hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt that when the body is set up, it will deal with questions of commonality across different regions in these islands on health, education and transport, which clearly cross the whole of the islands. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's specific interest in the south-west can be fully taken into account.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which to secure support for the Northern Ireland agreement would be to make sure that the House continued with its policy of bipartisanship? Does she also agree that the shadow Secretary of State, who could not be bothered to be in the United Kingdom when the agreement was being negotiated, should at least be able to stop yet another petty internal split in the shadow Cabinet from leading the Conservative party down the dangerous road of possibly breaching that policy?

Marjorie Mowlam

My hon. Friend makes his point strongly. For my part, I should be very disappointed if the bipartisan approach that has served both sides of the House— Government and Opposition—so well were to come to an end. I sincerely hope that it does not, but that is not totally up to me.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

The Secretary of State will be aware of special provisions in the agreement to allow British citizens living in Northern Ireland to carry Irish passports. Has she received any representations from persons living in the Irish Republic who want to carry British passports, and will the Government consider granting those who live in the Irish Republic and consider themselves British the right to those passports, to provide equality under the terms of the agreement?

Marjorie Mowlam

I agree that equality under the terms of the agreement is a positive end to aim for. I have received no such applications, but if I did, I would certainly consult the Home Office, which would have a direct interest.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

Given that the agreement mentioned parity of esteem and equality, has my right hon. Friend received any representations, or does she have any views, on the recent decision of the Gaelic Athletic Association to refuse membership to anyone who has been a member of the security forces? Does she agree that that is a reprehensible step and shows that some people are still not prepared to make that extra effort to bring about peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland?

Marjorie Mowlam

I would like everyone to make that extra effort. As my hon. Friend well knows, the GAA said that it was willing to move, but only if there was clear movement to introduce change in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. As usual in Northern Ireland, we have to wait for someone to take the first step. I hope for changes in a number of dimensions, and I agree that it would be good for people to spend more of their leisure time together, but that will be up to the members of the GAA, who will have heard what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. James Cran (Beverley and Holderness)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that she has received representations to the effect that, of those elected to the Northern Ireland assembly, only those who have renounced violence and fully committed themselves to co-operation with the decommissioning commission will be appointed as Ministers? Does she agree that, if that does not happen, Ministers will exercise executive power with one hand while retaining the means of violence with the other?

Marjorie Mowlam

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, Ministers will have to sign a pledge of office, committing them to complete and unequivocal ceasefires and to peaceful, non-violent options. Co-operation with the independent commission is one of four stringent factors that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined in May. These are written into the Northern Ireland (Elections) Bill.

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