HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 cc542-3
6. Mrs. Ann Winterton

What assessment she has made of the Unionist community's reception of the progress and direction of the all-party peace talks. [32133]

Marjorie Mowlam

My assessment of the Unionist community, as with all communities in Northern Ireland, is that change is difficult, but we must all change and no one can have 100 per cent. of what they want. I know that it is not easy, but together we can build a future of non-violence that is different from the past.

Mrs. Winterton

Will the Secretary of State concede that the Unionists in Northern Ireland must feel betrayed and devastated that the peace process, which they joined in good faith, has been hijacked by Sinn Fein-IRA and could now correctly be described as the appeasement process?

Marjorie Mowlam

No, I obviously do not agree with the hon. Lady's interpretation. The Unionist community in Northern Ireland feels a lack of confidence, and fear, because of the bomb at Moira, the bomb at Portadown and the deaths of Mr. Trainor and Mr. Allen. That is what creates fear. We are trying to create a future that does not include such events. I have already referred to last week's poll. The Unionist party leaders who are in the talks had much greater support in that poll than those outside. That is what the Unionist community thinks.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Is it not alarming and disappointing that the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) has used such language when the Secretary of State, the Government, the Irish Government and the constitutional parties are trying to work for a settlement? Is not the key the fact that the majority of both communities want peace? Should not that be the driving force? Should not Members of Parliament support the Government in what they are trying to achieve?

Marjorie Mowlam

I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Consent is the over riding principle in our policy in Northern Ireland. I hope that my hon. Friend spoke for the whole House.

Mr. William Ross

Is the right hon. Lady not yet aware that by far the greater bulk of the population in Northern Ireland are astonished, dismayed and horrified that the Government seem unwilling to accept the plain fact that the terrorist wings of some of the parties participating in the talks in Northern Ireland are still engaged in terrorist violence, including murder as the ultimate form of intimidation? Is not she also aware from what has been said today and in recent days that there is great concern in Northern Ireland that the sentence for murder appears to be a three-day exclusion from the talks process? What does she intend to do to increase the confidence of the great bulk of the population of Northern Ireland in the Government listening to the democratic voice of the people rather than the guns of murderers?

Marjorie Mowlam

We have backed wholesale the security forces—they have done an excellent job—in trying to find the people responsible for the terrorist activity that has gone on since Christmas that has been carried out by splinter groups that are not part of the ceasefire and do not support the talks process but, in fact, want to destroy it. It is clear that if any party violates the Mitchell principles in relation to the talks—and we have concrete evidence that paramilitary groups associated with parties in the talks have behaved contrary to the Mitchell principles—we will act. We excluded the Ulster Democratic party when that happened; we excluded Sinn Fein. If it happens again, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will act accordingly.