§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are their views on the Independent Inquiry (the Kilbrandon Report) on Northern Ireland.1179
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name. I wish to thank in advance those noble Lords who have intimated their intention to speak in this debate.
§ Prior to the summit, relations between Britain and Ireland were in a happier state than for some time. I think it will be generally agreed that much of the New Ireland Forum report gave grounds for encouragement, as did the Unionist documents in reply. Since the summit and the communiqué and the subsequent Parliamentary Statement on 20th November, comments and observations have been made which, to say the least, were most unfortunate. The Irish press illustrated the unhappy situation created with such comments as, "Humiliation for Dr. FitzGerald" and "Constitutional nationalism received a humiliating setback". It is not my intention to add anything to what may be regrettable discordance, but this debate is most fortunate in its timing. It presents the Government with an early opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings that there may be, and I trust that in his reply the Minister will grasp that opportunity.
§ In April, the British Irish Association invited the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, to chair an inquiry into the New Ireland Forum, and I am certain that noble Lords will share my pleasure that the noble and learned Lord is present tonight with the intention of taking part in this debate. The inquiry is wholly independent of the association or any other body, and that is why it is called the independent inquiry. The 12 members represent a wide cross-section and I and my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs considered it a privilege to serve on the inquiry under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. My noble friend regrets her inability to be present tonight because she has another important engagement. She would have wished to take part in the debate but I think I can say with some safety that I doubt whether she will depart from any of the views I propose to express.
§ I will not deal with the terrible cost in fatalities and suffering arising from the continued violence, nor the economic and social problems accompanying it. These are all dealt with in the independent inquiry, as are aspects of the historical background. It is not my intention to give a full and comprehensive review of the inquiry, but I hope that the points to which I shall refer will enable the Minister to give a definite reply to my Question.
I have said that much of the Forum was encouraging. In Chapter 3, the Kilbrandon inquiry set out its own assessment of the present realities and future requirements. Some 13 realities are set out and I should like to quote three of them. The first of these is:
Whatever the strength of their aspiration, most nationalists do not regard a unitary state of Ireland as a practicable proposition in the foreseeable future. But the great majority demand substantial change within Northern Ireland, together with concrete recognition of their identity and of the Irish dimension.
The second is:
Equally, whatever nostalgia some may retain, most unionists no longer regard as practicable any return to the Stormont system which obtained in the first 50 years of Northern Ireland's existence. But many are reluctant to accept substantial change, partly for fear that it will lead to yet more demands for change.
The third reality is:
There can be no realistic prospect of peace and stability unless there is substantial political change within Northern Ireland. But political change will not by itself eradicate terrorism, for those who use the armalite and the bomb will not readily abandon them.
§ I will return later to the reality of the need for political change.
§ Ten points which the inquiry regards for future requirements are then set out in the same chapter, aimed to bring about the overall aim of peace, justice and stability for the people in Northern Ireland. We believe that all these points are essential, and, therefore, I propose to deal with all the points. Some I will précis, and others I will paraphrase. They are:
"Britain must now regard Northern Ireland as one of the most important items on the political agenda."
"The Republic must maintain the spirit of the Forum."
"The United Kingdom and the Republic must redouble their efforts in the struggle against their common enemy of terrorism."
"The indentity of the minority community must be fully recognised in practical terms, without subtracting from the recognition of the majority's identity."
"The fact that the majority do not want to leave the United Kingdom must be fully recognised."
"At the same time, the minority's aspiration to Irish unity must also be fully recognised."
"A system of democratic government must be devised …"
" …changes must be introduced to make the security system more acceptable to the minority and thus more effective for both communities."
"The fact of the Irish dimension, or Irish aspect, must not be obscured, for it will not go away … "
"Both the Republic and the United Kingdom must take practical steps to recognise that the people of these islands are inescapably bound together by geography, history and common interest."
In her Statement on the summit, which was repeated to your Lordships, the Prime Minister said that the discussions took into account,
the position of the two Governments, the report of the New Ireland Forum and the proposal of the constitutional democratic parties in Northern Ireland as set out in documents published in recent months.
§ At the press conference following the summit the Prime Minister held that the three main solutions offered by the Forum were ruled out. I will pass no observations on the Prime Minister's statement because that is not the purpose of my remarks tonight, but the Kilbrandon inquiry, after giving most careful consideration, could not itself recommend the proposals for a unitary state. As I have said already, the inquiry faced the reality that,
"most nationalists do not regard a unitary state of Ireland as a practicable proposition in the foreseeable future."
§ The inquiry looked also at other proposals for federation or confederation, and the report sets out why neither could be recommended—primarily because central government would be responsible for foreign policy and external security, but Ireland is committed to a policy of neutrality and the United Kingdom is equally committed to NATO.
§ The inquiry considered it appropriate also to look at other proposals suggested: independence, integration and repartition. However, it decided that these could not be recommended. The inquiry also looked at various proposals for law reform, and these are set out in Chapter 8. In my view, these should present no difficulty whatever in being considered in future bilateral discussions.1181
§ A sub-committee of the Forum suggests that there should be also a comprehensive and enforceable Bill of Rights. I note that the OUP, the DUP and the Alliance Party are all, in various degrees, in support of a Bill of Rights, and the entire membership of the Kilbrandon inquiry thinks that the case for an immediate Bill for Northern Ireland is a strong one, irrespective of what may happen elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
§ This leads to the important issues of law enforcement and the possibility of joint security measures. The inquiry comments on the increasing professionalism of the RUC and comments that the great majority of its members display discipline and courage under conditions which are more testing than those experienced by any other police force in the British Isles. At the same time the inquiry members have been convinced that there are areas where the RUC does not enjoy the confidence and support of the population that it exists to protect, and some areas where the RUC is able to operate only with the support of the British Army.
§ Members of the inquiry are also convinced that there is alienation of the nationalist community from the security forces. However, the inquiry considers the suggestion that the Garda should be invited to assist policing in parts of Northern Ireland to be impractical. We also decided against the establishment of a new and separate police force to operate in selected areas, with the RUC continuing in other areas. The inquiry concluded that the best way to remedy the alienation is to take various steps to make the RUC more acceptable to the minority community. Various points for doing that are set out in Chapter 10 of the inquiry report.
The Prime Minister's Statement on the summit referred to discussions on co-operation on matters of security. I think that we all hope that any future discussions will develop that co-operation, but I must stress what is said in paragraph 10.19 of our report:
We all agree that a Joint Security Commission would stand a far greater chance of success if it was part of some wider attempt to recognise the Irish identity of Northern nationalists. We all therefore feel that other forms of Anglo-Irish political co-operation merit consideration".
§ Talks on joint security without political change will not be good enough.
§ We therefore looked at the further proposal in the forum—that for a joint authority. The forum envisaged that under such a joint authority the London and Dublin Governments would have equal responsibility for all aspects of the government of Northern Ireland. We took the view that such an all-embracing joint authority would be joint sovereignty in all but name and would be a significant alteration in sovereignty which would require the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland.
Therefore we rejected what we described as,
the Forum's favoured models of Joint Authority";
but in doing so we observed:
we recognised the historic significance of the fact that these proposals have been considered in a document prepared by the nationalist parties".
§ That is why the present unhappy exchanges must be ended and bridges must be built as speedily as possible.1182
§ It is made clear that all members of the inquiry believe that co-operation in law enforcement must be accompanied by co-operation in other aspects of political life in Northern Ireland. In my reply to the summit Statement in your Lordships' House I asked whether the Government accepted that there may be other possibilities for political initiatives which they were prepared to consider. In asking that I had in mind that it is made quite clear that the forum provided an agenda, but not a blueprint. The noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council replied that, of course, that was possible but always in the context that the initiatives were likely to be broadly acceptable to both communities.
Of course, mutual agreement is highly desirable, but two points must be stressed. First, direct rule cannot continue indefinitely. I believe that all noble Lords will agree on that. That was mentioned earlier today when we dealt with the two orders, which would have been parliamentary Bills but for direct rule. Secondly, I must quote what the Kilbrandon Inquiry concludes at paragraph 6. 5:
It is one thing to say that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland will not be changed without majority consent in the province; it is quite another thing to say that this means that the majority have a veto on all change in the system of government of Northern Ireland within the UK …In our view, there need be no breach of the guarantee if the British Government were to invite the Irish Government to co-operate in well defined ways in specified areas of the administration of Northern Ireland … Whether, and if so in what way, the Irish Government should take part in the administration of Northern Ireland should be a matter for the two governments to determine in the light of the interests and wishes of all the people of the United Kingdom and Ireland".
§ That is where members of the committee divided: how far should the Government of Ireland be involved in matters of administration of Northern Ireland? A minority considered that what is called "functional co-operation" is the way. Those proposals are set out in detail in Chapter 13 of the report. But the majority of members started from the premise that if direct rule is to end, there must be some form of devolved government, but one which is not seen by the minority community to place too much power in the hands of the majority, or vice versa. All the proposals for cooperative devolution are set out in Chapter 12. They cover eight pages; so I can only paraphrase what is proposed.
§ Instead of power sharing, we propose a model of co-operative devolution which is a modification of the joint authority concept and which is within the progamme of rolling devolution. It is suggested that there should be a five-member top tier executive, consisting of a Northern Ireland Office Minister, a Minister from the Republic and three members democratically elected in Northern Ireland. There are further proposals in the report to ensure that it is boycott-proof. We looked at the possibility of an inter-parliamentary body, but did not regard that as a suitable devolved legislature.
§ In the view of the majority of the Kilbrandon Inquiry, the Assembly should continue and have at least the responsibilities of a top tier of local government; but there must be safeguards for full minority participation. It is also suggested that the Assembly would act as the legislative and scrutiny body under this proposal for co-operative devolution.1183
The majority of the committee believes that it is absolutely imperative that the Dublin Government should be closely involved but in a structure which gives a considerable amount of devolution and decision-making to the people of Northern Ireland. Of course, the attitudes of the communities in Northern Ireland are of the utmost importance, but much depends on relations between London and Dublin. There must be mutual trust, close understanding and a joint commitment to work towards a solution. The Leader of the Irish Labour Party said recently:
We will not and cannot allow dialogue between the two Governments to break down".
§ I understand that there are to be further talks in the new year. The Government's reply could be of interest in those talks and in the future developments. It is in that spirit that I put the Question to the Government.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbrandon
My Lords, I am very glad indeed that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has raised the Question, for this reason. I think that the report of the New Ireland Forum has in a sense brought us face to face with an emergency. What I mean by that is that my experience on the independent inquiry leads me to believe that we are at a juncture right now. What we do may have a tremendous and decisive effect on the peace and security of Northern Ireland. That is even more true of what we do not do. If we do not do something now, at this juncture, we may be throwing away an opportunity, and the consequences of that may be irreparable.
The noble Lord has gone into the details of our report with such thoroughness that I do not propose to do anything except speak very briefly. But I should like to group the matter in two ways, if I may be forgiven for using a piece of modern jargon. I would say that the parameters of the Forum report really dictate both the possible action and also, at the same time, I think, the permissible inaction, if I may call it so.
First of all, the report approaches the Northern Ireland problem and the future of British/Irish relations with what I can only call a remarkable piece of generous statesmanship, particularly as it is attributed to both sides of the Irish House. The Forum's fresh approach to Northern Ireland is very like the responsibility which we have to take towards Northern Ireland. Speaking of "the existing identities, North and South", the report emphasises thatthose identities and ethos must be protected and fostered".Again, in the same context it speaks of,maintaining and protecting their separate beliefs and way of life".From that frank attitude we can take it that they are in agreement with the policy which we have stated: that a unitary state, which I will concede is the natural ambition of the Republic and most of the Roman Catholic population in Northern Ireland, cannot come about without the free consent and agreement of the majority.
This accords with the Northern Ireland Constitution Act of the British Parliament. I should add that such a state would have to have built into its constitution some protection for the rights of minorities, probably of the nature of a Bill of Rights. If that demand for a 1184 Bill of Rights rubs off on Great Britain as well, perhaps so much the better.
I think this consent has two aspects. One I have just mentioned—the obvious one. But the second is this. It has limits to its effectiveness—and this has already been dealt with by the noble Lord in his speech. This idea that there can be a veto of British Government proposals made for the better government of Northern Ireland is not tenable. By no means do all Protestants make such a claim—it would be unfair to say that they do—but the claim has been made. I think that it is because of this that we turned back in 1974. We may have muffed our chances then, and I hope we do not do it again.
The second parameter is what I will call the limit of inaction. It is quite impossible, in our view—and I recommend this to Her Majesty's Government—to refuse to allow the Republic any real part in the restoration of the Northern Ireland community. This is called (I think this also comes from 1974) "the Irish dimension". That, I think, is the jargon expression.
What part is to be allotted to the Republic? This, of course, is for the most anxious consideration. This is where the independent inquiry members were not altogether able to agree; they split eight to four. I am bound to disclose to your Lordships that the noble Lord and I were in the majority. They split on this question: just how far is there a part to be played? But they were unanimous in saying this:The fact of the Irish dimension must not be obscured, for it will not go away. It must in fact be given some substance".There have to be quite plainly three partners in this enterprise: Great Britain, the Province and the Republic. I cannot help illustrating this from an experience I had a month or two ago in Belfast. I was talking, as one always does, to a loquacious taxi driver. They get everything out of you in no time as to what you are doing and who you are. They are prepared to give you their views on any subject. They are very well worth listening to, even if you do not accept all they say quite literally. In the course of conversation he said, "I am a Protestant. I was born in Belfast"; and then, proudly, "I am an Irishman." I think this would surprise some foreigners who see fit to provide weapons for murderers. They seem to forget that these weapons are used by murderers south of the Border as well as north. Of course, this is why a joint authority for security demands such very serious consideration.
There has been some criticism from the Republic, as one might easily have expected, of the fact that the independent inquiry's report turns down two of the leading proposals of the Forum; namely, the unitary state and federalism. I think this was inevitable once the first parameter had been accepted, because both these proposals, look at them how you will, are not consistent with British sovereignty—and that is what I have called the first parameter.
But the Forum's third proposal, joint authority, is what we must work at. I will not repeat myself, but joint authority is the clue. In my opinion that is what the British Government ought to be working at. We are at the crossroads now. We must go forward. Let us hope we take the right road.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for setting down this Question. I pay tribute to the work of the Kilbrandon Committee and to the noble Lords involved in the production of the report. I look forward with very real interest to the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and have been glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, in person. My noble friend Lord Donaldson has asked me to apologise for the fact that he may not be with us as he is involved in chairing a committee.
The New Ireland Forum report was a brave attempt to seek a solution to the problems that face Northern Ireland and the Republic. It had two important factors to recommend it. Firstly, it was produced and presented in a spirit of goodwill. I met members of the Forum who sincerely held out the hand of friendship. It was emphasised then, and has been repeated since, that it is not meant to be a blueprint laying down the law, but an agenda for discussion. Secondly, it totally condemned terrorism and the use of violence to achieve political ends.
The Forum report offers no magic solutions, and its criticism of British Governments of both parties may be felt to be decidedly unfair. In this context I applaud the words of Mr. Peter Barry, Irish Foreign Minister, speaking at Cambridge in September. He said:Both nationalists and unionists in Northern Ireland and, let me say it, in the South, have all contributed our share to the tragedy today".In a mood of conciliation we seek to move forwards.
The Kilbrandon report is, if I may humbly say so, an intelligent and perceptive document. The committee are to be congratulated on taking the debate on a stage further. But that either of the major recommendations by the majority or the minority in turn is fully workable is open to question. However, the original New Ireland Forum report is treated with the consideration it deserves, and there are many shrewd comments. The report sums it up:We believe that the conflict in the North of Ireland is one of the most serious evils in the British Isles at the present time".And the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, has just said that we are face to face with an emergency.
As has been said, the Thatcher-FitzGerald summit seemed to go off well but with sad recriminations afterwards. We must hope that the next meeting can be more productive of results. The Alliance parties in this country are often in sympathy with the Kilbrandon report and I seek now to put forward our present position. I should welcome comments on the proposals from the Minister. In a spirit of give and take, we believe there should be, first, serious consideration of an inter-Parliamentary Council between the Parliaments of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and including representatives from Northern Ireland. Secondly—and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the Kilbrandon report both touched on this—we believe that there should be proposals for Bills of Rights in both North and South based on the European Convention of Human Rights.
Thirdly, the government of the Republic should initiate a referendum in the hope of modifying Articles 1186 2 and 3 of its 1937 constitution so as to replace its provocative claim to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland with, as it has been expressed, "words more aspirational in tone". Fourthly, the British Government should repeal its current disqualification of individuals who are also members of the Senate of the Republic standing for election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Lastly, urgent encouragement should be given to all the Province's constitutional parties to participate in the Northern Ireland Assembly on the basis of the Prior proposals concerning devolution.
As is not always recognised, both North and South have a very real common interest in security. The problem is how to make the forces in Northern Ireland acceptable to Nationalists while increasing Unionist confidence in the effectiveness of anti-terrorist measures. We believe, first, that the RUC should be placed under the control of a more clearly representative police authority. But I should, at the same time, like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in a tribute to its work. A greater effort should be made to recruit Catholics and it should adopt a community policing role as practised in England in cases of bad community relations.
Secondly, greater co-operation should be sought between the RUC and the Irish Gardai with the possibility of a joint security commission. There could perhaps be a cross-border security zone in which both the RUC and the Gardai could operate in hot pursuit and surveillance. Thirdly, existing provisions for reciprocal criminal proceedings should be more widely used so that those charged with serious offences could be tried in the North, the South or in Britain.
It is accepted widely that the Northern Ireland economy is seriously distorted by high unemployment and by an unusually high level of public expenditure in the Province. Urgent action is needed to achieve economic regeneration, and a greater level of tranquillity would greatly help the measures we propose. Finally, can the noble Lord the Minister give confirmation that the Government will not allow an almost unique opportunity to act to pass by without response?
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I would like to thank my noble friend Lord Underhill for having addressed this Question to Her Majesty's Government. I, too, pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his distinguished colleagues on producing this report, even though we have a majority and a minority report. It is undeniably easy to be negative about any Northern Ireland constitutional issue. In fact, it is the message of the last decade. That is possibly because, in Northern Ireland, we are dealing not with a nation with a traditional sense of unity but with an artificially created province containing opposing forces. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, has made abundantly clear, a durable constitutional solution has to take account of those who espouse total integration with the rest of the United Kingdom while at the same time it recognises the Irish identity. It is very easy to state those objectives in abstract terms. They are not objectives which are easily reconcilable.
1187 The majority on the Kilbrandon report called for a system of co-operative devolution that has been described to your Lordships this evening. That is, as I see it, the central message that comes out of the majority report—that we ought to be moving forward with the creation of a joint authority. I find myself among those who believe that a solution along these lines could offer an opportunity for progress. I notice that the concept of joint authority for Northern Ireland, as advanced in the majority report, was criticised in an article recently published in The Times on the grounds that it is a form of colonial or semi-colonial rule, treating Northern Ireland as a dependency incapable of self government. That may or may not be true. But, even if such an authority is a form of colonial or semi-colonial rule, that should not of itself be accepted as a sufficient reason for rejecting the inquiry's major recommendation. What one must be aiming at is a sound and efficient system of government which will enable both communities to participate together in the government of the Province. I suggest therefore that the test in Northern Ireland is not whether a proposed solution is colonial or not. Indeed, that could obscure the issue. The test is whether or not it can be made to work. This is a point, I think, that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. Is the solution workable?
The majority on the Kilbrandon Committee considered that their favoured solution has a fair chance of being successful. Some of us believe it could be a workable solution, provided—and the proviso is critical—that there is a willingness on the part of the majority to accept that the present system is not eternal and unchangeable. Indeed, that cannot be true of any society. If the majority, possibly a self-assured majority, do not see the need for change, then there must be a willingness on the part of the Government to press the need for change. Without a desire on the part of the majority or the political will on the part of the Government, one fears that progress is impossible.
I would agree—many of us would agree—with my noble friend Lord Underhill and with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, that the status quo is not a realistic option for Northern Ireland. Likewise, we believe that a minimal solution to the difficulties of the Province is out of the question today. But the solution favoured by Kilbrandon is a substantial middle solution. Given a desire on the part of the majority or the will on the part of the Government, we believe that it could be made to work. We have been told, and we know that there has been widespread expectation in the Republic since the publication of the report of the New Ireland Forum, of a fresh approach by Her Majesty's Government. We ought not to be frustrating that legitimate expectation by seeking to lock Northern Ireland into a kind of time prison in an ever-changing society.
When the Minister comes to reply to the debate, I hope and trust that he will be able to assure the House that the Government are not dragging their feet. If the Government are not prepared to move forward—maybe cautiously, but moving forward—if they are not prepared to battle for the hearts and minds in Northern Ireland, then that Province will continue to live with the tragic results.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, the British Irish Association has for many years attempted to bring together British people and Irish people—reasonable people—at an annual function to see whether it would be possible to find some way forward with the intractable problem of Northern Ireland. At some of their gatherings there have been some very unreasonable people, and I think an attempt was made to show the unreasonable people who were there how reasonable other people could be, in the hope that an atmosphere would be created in Northern Ireland which would allow for further progress. Indeed, I seem to recall that people from both the Unionist community and the Nationalist community who had associations with paramilitary organisations were brought to the British Irish Association to see if any move forward could be made. Unfortunately, the attempt was not successful.
The Kilbrandon Committee was set up at the behest of the British Irish Association. It was composed of very reasonable men and women who were trying to find a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. And yet, given the background of the men and women who comprised this committee—men and women who had nothing personally to gain, who were not on one side or the other, at least at the beginning of the committee's deliberations—at the end of the day they could not reach a unanimous report. There was a majority finding and there was a minority report. All these reasonable people could not come together and come out with a unanimous report. The names of those who made the majority report and those who made the minority report have not been mentioned, but I would take it—I may be wrong and I may be corrected—that the two Northern Ireland men, the two Northern Ireland personnel, were on the minority side of the minority report. As I say, I stand to be corrected.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, I would suggest that the Northern Ireland members of that committee would certainly have had some objections to the minority report.
On the very first page of this report we have the names of the personnel who comprised the committee. On the other side of that page there is a paragraph headed "Words", and how true is the beginning of this paragraph. It says:Words can be a minefield in Northern Ireland. We have conscientiously tried to avoid the use of words which cause offence to any section of the population; if we have failed, we regret it".Well, they did fail, because throughout this report there is that terribly emotive word which is now in circulation throughout Northern Ireland—the word "alienation", which is translated in Northern Ireland to be a Catholic word, a Nationalist word; not a Unionist word and not a Protestant word. Yes, it is quite true that words can be lethal, and nothing is more lethal within the context of present-day feelings in Northern Ireland than that particular word, because the vast majority of the Protestant population in Northern Ireland will say that there is no alienation in Northern Ireland; that the whole thing is exaggerated; 1189 that Bishop Cathal Daly is totally and absolutely wrong when he claims that the minority population is alienated.
On the other side of the religious and political divide you will have Bishop Cathal Daly, you will have the SDLP and all brands of Irish nationalism saying that there is total and absolute alienation. Let me put my views on record. I have been a tremendous admirer—and I still am a tremendous admirer—of Bishop Cathal Daly. I think he is the greatest ecclesiastical figure of all religions in the island of Ireland. I think he should have been cardinal; I do not think there is any secret about that. I believe that the 15 years that he was out of Northern Ireland, when he was Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois, were 15 wasted years. I believe that if he had been in Northern Ireland, things possibly might not have got as bad as they are today.
But—I am sorry that there has to be a "but", a "however" or an "on the other hand"—I think that Bishop Cathal Daly is wrong when he says there is total and absolute alienation of the minority population in Northern Ireland. I know many of the minority population in Northern Ireland. I represented them for 18 years in another place and in the Northern Ireland Parliament as well. I talk to them every day on the telephone. One of the privileges of being a Member of this House is that you have a free telephone, and I am not making any apologies for putting it to full use. I talk to many people in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland every day—people who this report and other agencies would claim are alienated.
No longer ago than one or two hours I was told by very prominent Catholics in Northern Ireland, "We're not alienated, and you can stand up and say that you're speaking on our behalf". The thing about it is that if I were to mention their names—they are very prominent figures in Northern Ireland and they come from all classes; they are working class, they are middle class, and they are upper class—and say that they had told me they were not alienated, they might be subjected to the same type of attacks that I was subjected to for many years in Northern Ireland because I did not happen to be going along with and agreeing with the tribe.
So I do not think anyone can do as I tried to do for many years, both in Stormont and in the other place. I used to stand up and say—I honestly believed it when I was doing it—in the other place and in Stormont, in speech after speech, when the occasion arose, "Speaking on behalf of the minority". As events subsequently proved, I was not able to speak for the minority. I do not believe anyone can speak for the political minority in Northern Ireland. Father Denis Faul is a cleric who I have not always agreed with because of some of the attitudes which he has shown, which were completely contrary to my own. He has said, as reported in the Irish Times just a few days ago—last week—that only 20 per cent. of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland would vote, if they were given a chance tomorrow, to go into the Irish Republic. I do not know where he gets his figures, but I am inclined to believe him because I know many people who are of the Catholic religion—the minority 1190 population in Northern Ireland—who do not want a political tie-up with the Republic.
So we come back to words. "Alienation", as I have already said, is like a red flag to a bull to anybody who espouses Unionism or Protestantism in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, quoted, I think in a complimentary sense, the words of the Irish Foreign Minister when he was speaking at the British Irish Forum in Cambridge. He said:Both Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland and—let me say it—we in the South all contributed to our share of the tragedy of today".I think that that is quite true and that it is a very reasonable sentiment to express. But Mr. Barry speaks with a different tone of voice when he is not at Cambridge. Mr. Barry went to Drogheda where he made his original statement and he said, in effect, "We the Government of the South are going to make certain that the nightmare of the Catholic minority in the North will end". He said that they had been living through a nightmare.
There are a great many people in Northern Ireland, particularly on the Protestant side of the community, who do not accept that Catholics in the North have been living through a nightmare. It has been said to me over the past 48 hours when I have talked to Protestant people in Northern Ireland, "Gerry, if you want to be honest about it, it is the Protestants who are living through a nightmare at the moment, particularly if they live on the Armagh or Fermanagh borders and their sons or their fathers happen to be members of the RUC or the UDR. Every time they go out there is no certainty that they will ever return". At the moment the Protestant population would be more entitled to be classified as living through a nightmare.
I recognise that when my speech is printed and heard possibly in Northern Ireland the tribal drums will be out. The tribal drums will say, "He is a unionist, didn't we tell you so? He is putting up a case for the unionists". The remarks of those noble Lords who have preceded me in the debate will be interpreted as having been in favour of the nationalists.
There is no middle road in Northern Ireland. I am not a unionist. I have opposed unionism all my life. I believe that unionism, as I lived under it, was an absolute curse in Northern Ireland. I agree with the analysis in the report that, when partition was inflicted on Ireland, if they had to get anything, they certainly were not entitled to six counties—they might have been given four counties. If they were going to have partition at all I wish that they had had four counties before I was born, because we might not have had to live through the years of trouble that we have had since then.
I could speak for hours on the opening words of this document. Let us take, for example, paragraph 4.3 of the Kilbrandon Report which quotes paragraph 5.2 of the Forum report and says:As the Taoiseach"—that is, Garret FitzGerald—has emphasised, the positive proposals conveyed in the Forum are to be found in section 5.2, which states in its second paragraph that 'the new Ireland which the Forum seeks can come about only through agreement and must have a democratic basis'.".Who would object to that sentiment?—no one in his 1191 right mind could have any objections to that. But it goes on to say:The third paragraph of this section reads 'agreement means that the political arrangements for a new and sovereign Ireland would have to be freely negotiated and agreed by the people of the North and by the people of the South'.".They then say:This has been read by some as meaning that the people of Northern Ireland will be forced, whether they wish it or not, to take part in a sovereign, i.e. unitary, Ireland and will be consulted only about the detailed political arrangemens in the new sovereign state. Taken by itself the paragraph can be read in that way, and has indeed been expanded in that way by some of the participants in the Forum".It was indeed expanded in that way. It was expanded by none other than the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Charles Haughey, who is liable to be the next Taoiseach when the next election takes place. I hope that he is not, but it is on the cards that he will be. The Protestant population listened to what he said after the publication of the Forum report, when he held a press conference which was almost as disastrous as the Prime Minister's press conference last week.
Press conferences do not do much good for the confidence of people either North or South of the border in Ireland. However, the present leader of the opposition made the position quite clear and said that the people in Northern Ireland would not be allowed to impose a veto on the eventual unity of Ireland, but he was prepared to talk to them after they had been incorporated in a unitary state. When that press conference was broadcast on Northern Ireland television the unionist population went absolutely berserk in just the same way as the Catholic nationalist population went berserk last week when the Prime Minister did her "Out", "Out", "Out" business.
So here we are talking about perceptions; we are talking about how people percieve from their tribal background what is being said and what it means. One could go into a great deal of detail on the report, and I think that the findings and conclusions of the majority report have much to commend them. I also think that there is much with which I could agree in the minority report, because I have the experience of Sunningdale 1974. I took part in the Sunningdale conference and the deliberations and conclusions. I left Sunningdale overjoyed at what had been achieved and yet mindful at all times of how difficult it was going to be to sell the Sunningdale agreement.
The Catholic population in Northern Ireland, the minority population, for the first time in the history of the Northern Ireland state achieved, under that agreement, power sharing and equality. I became Deputy Chief Executive in Northern Ireland. Three of my own party members were placed in three of the most important ministries in the Government of Northern Ireland. John Hume took over the Ministry of Commerce; Paddy Devlin took over the Ministry of Health and Social Services; and Austin Currie took over as Minister responsible for housing. Those were three ministries which impinged on every aspect of life throughout Northern Ireland. What a tremendous advance that was. The Catholics and the Protestants, the minority and the majority representatives, could sit down in Stormont and attempt to govern Northern Ireland in the interests of everyone in it.
1192 My fear as I left Sunningdale to come home was the same as the fear that had been expressed to me by Brian Faulkner before he left Sunningdale. He said to me, "Gerry, I think that we can sell power sharing to the unionist population. They aren't going to like it because they have had all power in their own hands since 1920 until 1972. But in no way can I sell the Council of Ireland or the Irish dimension". As I found throughout the first five months of 1974, it was the Irish dimension which killed Sunningdale. It was that part of the Sunningdale agreement which aroused so much fear and suspicion among the unionist population and which allowed men like Bill Craig and Ian Paisley to mobilise people on to the streets because they were told that the Council of Ireland was the thin end of the wedge which was going to lead them into a united Ireland.
I talked to many hundreds of Protestant people, at my home, in Stormont and on the telephone. They all conceded that there would be no return of a unionist one-party government. No unionist with any sense has ever said to me since 1974, or has ever believed, that we could ever return to that situation. It may be that in their wildest fantasies they would like to think that it could happen, but most of them realise that the days of a one-party Stormont are gone, and gone forever. They said to me then, "In no way can we accept the Council of Ireland part of the Sunningdale agreement". This was in 1974. We are now 10 years on from it, and the same situation pertains.
I do not believe that the Unionists should be allowed under any circumstances to wield a veto which precludes the Northern Ireland minority from having a say in the running of their own affairs in Northern Ireland. I shall fight tenaciously on behalf of that Roman Catholic population to make certain that they have a say in a partitioned state, which was an artificially partitioned state and a negation of democracy as we know it in this island. There was a one-party Government there which could never be beaten because of the inbuilt majority which they had been given in 1920. If you had the inbuilt majority, you also had the minority which was going to remain a minority. The Unionists must never be allowed to believe that they have a veto on it.
On the other side, there is a nationalist, SDLP, veto. The SDLP are saying now loud and clear that even if they get power sharing back as they knew it in 1974, they would not take it. The Irish Times of this morning reports a meeting of the SDLP as of Saturday. It refers to,last Friday's speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Peter Barry, in which he repeated his commitment to ending 'the nightmare of Northern nationalism'.I have been in politics for a number of years in Northern Ireland. I had not heard of Mr. Peter Barry until a couple of years ago. For him to be running around now pontificating on nightmares or dreams is far beyond my comprehension. I do not believe that he has all that much credibility in any section of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland.
Again, it is reported that Seamus Mallon of the Haughey wing of the SDLP, commenting on Saturday, has said:the mood was very, very constructive".1193 He said that the SDLP were saying clearly to the British Government that it was not going into any internal settlement in Northern Ireland. That means that they were not going to the Assembly.
This afternoon in this House there was a family law order moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. There was also a traffic order which may not sound to be terribly important or of world shaking importance, but there are all these other orders which are debated in this House. In the Northern Ireland Assembly there is no input from the minority population, except by way of the few who are there representing the Alliance Party.
I believe that the SDLP should be in the Assembly. I believe that at the end of the day this House, Europe, Strasbourg, Dublin, or Teddy Kennedy, will never be able to solve the Northern Ireland problem. The only way that that can be solved is when the two populations in Northern Ireland get together and attempt to solve their own differences. It does not make me a Brits or a Protestant supporter, or Unionist supporter, to say that I think Jim Prior was quite right to set up the Northern Ireland Assembly. He was right to keep it in existence in the hope—maybe a forlorn hope—that the SDLP could in some way be persuaded to go back there again.
One of the other lunatic things reported from the SDLP meeting was that they were thinking of reconstituting the Forum, the nationalist Forum in Ireland, and keeping it in existence as a counter to the Protestant or Unionist Assembly in Northern Ireland. Here you would have a Catholic Forum and a Protestant Stormont. How ridiculous can you be if you are trying to seek a solution in Northern Ireland?
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, may not have heard of this, but I have memories of it and look back on it with great embarrassment. The SDLP withdrew from Stormont in 1971 and we formed—I was Leader of the SDLP; I had certainly nothing to do with its formation and it was a hell of an embarrassment to me the whole time it was there—what was called the Assembly of the Northern Ireland People. It kept meeting in little, hick villages and towns throughout County Derry. We kept meeting in little little places such as Dungeivan and Maghera. I never did, but some of my colleagues felt very important. One fellow, John Hume, actually called himself President of the Northern Ireland People's Assembly. This was the way he was reported. I was acutely embarrassed about the whole thing.
There is talk now, 10 years afterwards, by intelligent people in the SDLP, that they are going to resurrect it; they are going to dig it up from somewhere. I hope that there are still some intelligent men in the SDLP who will make certain that it does not happen.
The RUC was mentioned. The reason there are not more Catholics in the RUC at the present time is that the Provos would murder them. Catholics are frightened to join the RUC, as indeed are many Protestants. Catholics are identifiable. There were some Catholics in the UDR when it was formed, but it was not very long before either they were murdered or fear drove them out of it.
We are told that the RUC are totally rejected by the minority population. I do not believe that. I speak with the voice of experience. When I was a leader of the SDLP the SDLP was always an uneasy coalition 1194 between 15 per cent. socialists and 85 per cent. nationalists. Paddy Devlin and I and a few other socialists in Belfast were the 15 per cent. wing. There were 85 per cent. nationalists who represented rural constituencies contiguous to the Border. We had a hell of a job to try to keep together. The 85 per cent. nationalist wing to whom I was opposed looked on me with as much distaste as I looked on them. I was regarded as a city communist who was always shouting for Short and Harland and Harland and Wolf to get subsidies from the British Government. I was told time and time again by my nationalist colleagues in the SDLP that I was worrying too much about Protestants having jobs in the shipyards and Short and Harlands. Yes, feelings run just as deeply as that.
There were occasions in 1969 when the RUC brought in their Shorlands and killed innocent people in the Falls Road, but the RUC were never despised and detested in the city of Belfast. I remember when the SDLP used to take decisions about the RUC and I had to give expression, as leader of the party, to the decisions that were taken by the SDLP. The RUC was hated and despised in Derry. But it was not hated and despised in Donaghadee or in Bangor, or in Ballymena, or in Antrim, or on the Antrim Road.
When the troubles were taking place seriously where Catholics felt they were in real danger, and I would make a speech on behalf of the SDLP and say that the party did not support the RUC, I would be innundated with telephone calls and personal approaches by people who lived on the same road as I did on the Antrim Road, saying, "Gerry, you aren't speaking for me. I couldn't see half enough policemen. There are a lot of Unionists living on the Rathcoole estate, and they frighten the life out of me. The more policemen I can see around the happier I shall sleep in my bed at night". That was the attitude of Catholics living in areas where they felt in danger.
In 1973, before we went to Sunningdale, before we had a chance to have power sharing, the SDLP agreed—there were hot and heavy discussions about it—with what was an ultimatum from the late Lord Faulkner. We had a very rough meeting in Stormont, and Brian Faulkner said, "We are not even going to Sunningdale, we are not going to talk about power sharing, unless you recognise the RUC. To the RUC we are a political pawn in the hands of the SDLP". We knew how crucial it was. Brian Faulkner could never have sold power sharing or any agreement with us if we had continued to say that we did not recognise the RUC, knowing how much that force was revered by the Protestant population. We agreed to recognise the RUC, and we went to Sunningdale. We came back with an agreement and a power sharing Executive.
We recognised the RUC for five months, and then the Executive was brought to an end by a whole combination of circumstances, particularly the Ulster workers' strike and all sorts of other elements. The day after we were rid of the Executive we said, "We do not recognise the RUC now". We withdrew our recognition from the RUC on the grounds that we did not have any say in the running of the state.
Was that a legitimate attitude to take? Is it right for the present minority to say, "We are not going to support the RUC unless we get a say in government"? But they are not only saying that. If they were saying 1195 that, I could probably sympathise with it. They are saying, "Unless we get a say in government and have an involvement with the government of the Republic". It is that involvement with the Government of the Republic which seems to be bringing everything to a stalemate.
I should like to think that the Unionist population could dissipate some of their fears and begin to look on the people in the Republic with less hatred, hostility and animosity than they do. But it is a fact of life. Unionists do not read the Irish Times, because it is too dear—it went up this morning—but they read newspaper reports about the economy in the Republic. They know that hundreds of buses come up from the Republic every day to Newry and Strabane to buy goods because they can be bought cheaper there. The Unionists are no fools. They have always had a name for being hard-headed businessmen, so when they see these buses they think that things must not be all that good down there. They also know that the Government of the Republic alternates between a Fine Gael Labour Opposition and a Fianna Fail majority Government.
People are saying that is what would happen if there were an election tomorrow in the Republic—that is why Mr. Haughey was so vindictive against the present Taoiseach after the last summit talks, because he thinks that if there were an election he would be returned as Taoiseach. That would scare the living daylights out of the Republic, but Mr. Haughey also gives the impression that he would scare the living daylights out of our present Prime Minister. He would come over here and say, "I am not Garrett FitzGerald: you do this, that and the other". That just would not happen.
We all remember 1980, when Mr. Haughey was Taoiseach. He came over here with a teapot under his elbow and gave it to the Prime Minister. He went back and told a lot of lies all over Ireland: that he had come to all sorts of far-reaching agreements, to a totality of relationships; that the Prime Minister and Charles Haughey were great buddies; and that we should look at the great things that he had been able to achieve—he was the greatest statesman in the history of Ireland. Such a load of bunkum! If he ever meets the Prime Minister again after the next election, if he is ever in such a position, she will hit him over the head with the teapot that he brought over. I do not think that the election of Mr. Haughey would substantially change attitudes.
The situation in Ireland is that we have two communities: the Protestant community and the Catholic community. I believe that it will be damned difficult but that it will be possible in some way to resurrect the power-sharing arrangements we had in 1974. But I am totally and absolutely convinced—though the fact that I am convinced in my own mind does not make me a Unionist—that any involvement by way of the Government of the Republic would totally kill any hope of the communities getting together in the North.
Over 230,000 people voted for Ian Paisley in the last European election. I think I have said before in this House and I shall say again that that election was not 1196 about the public sector borrowing requirement or the common agricultural policy or super milk levies. Mr. Paisley deliberately ran that election on his opposition to the Forum report. His opposition was because the Forum report had talked about three options: a unitary state, a federal state and joint authority. It was to these three proposals that the Prime Minister said "Out", "Out", "Out", and caused such offence in Ireland.
I have here a cutting from last Saturday's Irish Times—a paper which I believe brings a lot of reason and sense to the Irish political problem. There is a little column there run by a former political correspondent of that paper, Connor O'Clery. In it, he says:Overheard in … Nesitt's public house in Dublin: What's the difference between a disaster and a catastrophe? A disaster is when Mrs. Thatcher turns down all three Forum options. A catastrophe is when she doesn't".That is exactly the position. Had the Prime Minister accepted any one of those options, it would have been Loyalists who were alienated and out on the streets in Northern Ireland.
I agree with what has been said by my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies. It may be that my contribution here tonight is negative; it may be that it is pointing out the impossibility of doing anything at the present time. But I cannot be anything less than truthful. I am saying that any attempt to try to involve the Government of the Republic will meet with very serious opposition from the Unionist population in Northern Ireland.
I repeat that when Paisley got 230,000 votes—the highest vote given to any candidate in Europe, and it had nothing at all to do with the EEC—it was an anti-Forum vote, and he made damn sure that that was the issue, and the only issue, in the election. I have spoken to people since then—moderate Unionists, people who used to think that the DUP was a corner-boy party, that it comprised a crowd of thugs, bigots and extremists—who have told me that that is still their view. But they vote for the DUP because when, and if, the crunch comes in this atmosphere of uncertainty, they know the DUP will not let them down. So the DUP got 230,000 votes because of the insecurity which now exists in the aftermath of the Forum deliberations and conclusions.
Therefore, I accept that my contribution here tonight will not bring about any optimism, and probably it is very pessimistic. But I do not think that it is beyond the bounds of optimism to believe that, even at this late stage, the SDLP should use the political structures which at present exist in Northern Ireland to go into the Assembly to represent their people, to bring themselves in from the political wilderness in which they now find themselves. If, after a period of time of the SDLP standing up in the Assembly and putting forward the views of their electors, they are still running into the intransigence of Unionism, if no concessions are to be made, if the Unionists have their back to the wall and wish to treat the Catholic population, through its representatives, as second-class citizens, allowing them no part in the political structures of Northern Ireland, then the SDLP can walk out of that Assembly with their heads held high because they will then have proven to themselves and to everyone else that you cannot make 1197 an arrangement with Unionism, that Unionism will reject the whole attitude of the minority population.
If the Unionist Party were to do that, I would throw my full weight against any initiative that may be brought forward by the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, by this House, by this Government or by the Government of the Republic, because in such circumstances the Unionists would deserve that type of opposition.
So again I commend those who took part in drawing up this report. It is a reasonable document—that is why it is not accepted in Ireland: because the more unreasonable you are over there, the more success you are guaranteed electorally. The Forum was not the last chance. This is not the last chance. There will be an on-going process. But I believe that at the end of the day it is not this House, Dublin or anywhere else in the world that can solve the problems of Northern Ireland. That can be done only by the majority and minority communities within the present six county borders of the Northern Ireland state.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, I wish to rise for just a moment or two before the noble Lord the Minister replies. It is always a pleasure to follow my noble friend, who knows more about Northern Ireland than any other Member of your Lordships' House, though it is rather difficult tonight when, in the course of his speech, he has said practically everything there is to say on the subject. I usually agree with him, and tonight I agreed with much that he said. However, I could not agree with the point of view that he put over, or tried to express, that only a very few Catholics—he mentioned the figure of 20 per cent., and tried to give that credence—or, at any rate, relatively few were in favour of the unitary state or of abolishing the Border. I certainly would agree with him that some Catholics do that, but I do not see how either the voting figures—those who vote for the SDLP or those who vote for Sinn Fein—can possibly indicate that more than a insignificant number would after all be Unionists in that they wanted to retain the connection—
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, my noble friend said that they were the words of Father Faul; but by quoting them in this House he was promulgating them, and I think seeking to give credence to them. But because they have been given by Father Faul does not mean that we have to accept them, and I do not think they would be accepted by the Catholic population as a whole in the North.
The noble and learned Lord, my near-namesake, Lord Kilbrandon, to whom we are most indebted for his report, recommended one of the possibilities suggested in the Forum—that of joint authority—as being one that the Government should consider. That is why I think it is a very great pity that the Prime Minister dismissed all three courses, including that 1198 one, so very bluntly, so very irrevocably and so very outspokenly, in those three "outs" that are now becoming a part of Irish folklore. I wonder whether she realised the extent to which she was embarrassing and undermining the present Taoiseach, Dr. FitzGerald, by making a statement of that kind at a press conference when the Summit seemed to have gone reasonably well.
Dr. FitzGerald is in an extremely difficult and weak position in the Republic. His party, Fine Gael, is a minority. He relies on Labour support to keep in power: he can never be sure how long that power is going to last. Public opinion polls show Fianna Fail now have well over 50 per cent. of the electorate behind them and there is every possibility, unless he is sustained and helped, that there will be a general election, that the Government will collapse and that Fianna Fail, as my noble friend Lord Fitt said, will be returned to power. But here again I must say that I disagree with my noble friend because if that were to happen as he suggested, Dr. FitzGerald would be replaced by Mr. Charles Haughey, and I do think, whatever one's personal opinion of Mr. Haughey may be, that the Prime Minister would find him a very much harder nut to crack than Dr. FitzGerald. There would be far less hope of reaching some kind of compromise agreement, and therefore I hope very much that while the Prime Minister is in Dublin on this occasion at the European Communities Summit, she will seek some opportunity to talk to him again and to give him what sustenance she can.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, it was some while ago that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, rose to ask his Unstarred Question about the Government's view on the report on the independent inquiry chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, which reported in November 1984. I think we are all immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for asking this Question and I believe your Lordships will agree that the debate this evening has drawn forth several notable speeches.
I should like to reiterate the view of the Government in replying to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. First of all, the report must be seen from two points of view. In the first place, it must be seen in the context of political developments in Northern Ireland; and here I have no hesitation in saying that the report has been both useful and stimulating. But, as for the specific proposals contained in the report, I am afraid that the Government must be more circumspect, for reasons which I will explain.
The report of the independent inquiry is one of a number of recent documents which have addressed Northern Ireland's political problems. The best known is, perhaps, the report of the New Ireland Forum drawn up by the main constitutional nationalist parties in both parts of Ireland, which inspired the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon. But there have also been useful documents from the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and other bodies. The Government's view of all such documents is guided by two principles: first, that there can be no change in the constitutional status of 1199 Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority there; and, secondly, any new arrangements for a devolved administration must secure widespread acceptance throughout the community. These principles need to be kept in mind when looking at Lord Kilbrandon's report.
The report is an impressive document, the product of much hard work. I pay my tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and his team—if I may call them that—for the tremendous efforts they have put into it. The first two chapters of the report are largely analysis of the history of Northern Ireland and the present political situation. The third chapter sets out the realities and requirements. There is much that the Government could accept in these chapters, although clearly not all of it. It would not, I think, be fruitful if I were to comment on each point. But the "Future Requirements" in Chapter 3 are, I think, an interesting analysis of how we might go forward. Again, I should stress that the Government could not necessarily agree with every word; but your Lordships may wish to compare this section with the joint communiqué issued by the Prime Minister and theTaoiseach after their meeting on 18th and 19th November this year. Much of the underlying analysis in both documents is very similar and I would say that it is heartening that the Irish and the British Governments have the support of such a distinguished committee. In particular, the Government accept—as the summit communiqué said—that the identities of the two communities should be recognised, respected and reflected in the structures and processes of Northern Ireland.
The next three chapters of the report deal with the three models in the New Ireland Forum Report. The Government have made their views on the New Ireland Forum known on several occasions and it was I who spoke of this to this House on 20th June this year. There is much of value and interest in the New Ireland Forum Report. In particular, I would commend to your Lordships its serious examination of nationalist aspirations, its emphasis on the importance of consent, its unequivocal condemnation of violence, its attempt to understand the Unionist identity and its openness to discussion of other views.
But in the light of the principles that I set out earlier, the Government have had to make it clear that they cannot accept the three models in the Report, and Lord Kilbrandon's committee agree. I doubt whether it would be helpful to labour the arguments here; they have been set out on a number of occasions and the committee have added their own analysis. I would just add that, because we cannot accept the particular options outlined, it does not mean that we see no value in the Forum Report or the process that it helped to start.
Chapter 7 marks the transition in the Kilbrandon report from analysis to prescription and it is here that I want to be a little more circumspect. I have good reasons for this. There is a good deal of discussion going on at present and I do not want to make that sensitive task more difficult or to appear to foreclose possibilities that have yet to be explored. As your Lordships may know, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently encouraging the political 1200 parties in Northern Ireland to talk to each other and to see whether there is a way forward which would be acceptable to both sides of the community. The Assembly Report Committee is considering plans for devolution. Both the British and the Irish Governments will be continuing their dialogue following the summit. Clearly, many of the ideas which the report puts foward may be discussed in one or all of these contexts, but each will no doubt be rigorously tested against the two needs of acceptability and practicality.
Of course it is perfectly possible to design schemes for the administration of Northern Ireland which might be consistent with the principles which I set out earlier. This exercise may well be valuable and certainly would have the useful effect of stimulating discussion. Nor is the design of such a scheme an easy matter because the fact that the committee does not find itself able to agree on the central recommendations is indicative of the difficulties. In this they perhaps reflect the sorts of divisions and difficulties that exist elsewhere. It is notable that the disagreement was over exactly how both sides of the community could be brought into the decision-making process, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was referring. This has remained the most difficult problem in Northern Ireland.
Your Lordships will all have your own views on the separate proposals put forward by the majority of the inquiry which we find in Chapter 12, and by the minority report in Chapter 13. I would only say now that it is difficult to see how the majority proposals in Chapter 12 could be implemented without some derogation of sovereignty. Of course that would be contrary to the constitutional position which I described earlier. Equally, we find it necessary to ponder carefully whether the elements in the minority report in Chapter 13 are likely to provide a sufficient basis for an acceptable way forward. Your Lordships may appreciate why I cannot say that this part or that part of the report is acceptable, or that perhaps another part is unacceptable. If I were to do so that would be to design, in what would turn out to be a fairly incoherent way, a model for Northern Ireland. I have to say that the Government do not have a blue print for a devolved government; but at the same time that is not to say that we do not have views on particular issues, but we really do not think it would be helpful to set these out this evening.
I should like to answer some of the points that were raised by your Lordships in the course of the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, raised the question of the Bill of Rights. Of course the Government have considered the prospect and the possibility of a Bill of Rights and we are also aware of the views of the Assembly on this particular issue. However, we have to say that there seems to be a lack of clarity on the value that a Bill of Rights would have; and, secondly, on the precise form that it would take. In addition, the introduction of a Bill of Rights for one part of the United Kingdom would pose very serious technical problems. I have a great deal of sympathy with the desire and indeed the thought of having a Bill of Rights but I stress to your Lordships that it is really not a straightforward matter.
1201 The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, also raised the question of a parliamentary body. I would stress to him that of course it is a role for parliamentarians in both the United Kingdom and in Ireland to take forward and indeed to probe. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, raised the question of joint authority. I would stress, and draw your Lordships' attention to, chapter 6, paragraph 8, where indeed the inquiry rejects this option as formulated by the Forum. So, I hope that the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, will take it from there.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to what had been said after the summit meeting. I am sure that the noble Lord and all your Lordships will agree that it would not be helpful for me to add to the controversy which followed the summit. I think the important point which emerged in the communiqué, which was jointly agreed—and this is a vital message—is that the talks will continue. That is the important message among the words that were spoken after the summit.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in the course of what I found to be a fascinating and notable speech, mentioned the word "alienation". That word has been bandied around and certainly seems to have been used about Northern Ireland since I have been involved, for the past seven-and-a-half months. I am sure that all your Lordships will agree that recent discussion has perhaps shown that this particular word is not helpful because it does one thing which is most destructive—it divides the community. What we, the Government, want to do with, I am sure, the support of your Lordships, is to reconcile; that is the great message. We want to reconcile by, above all, recognising the interests of the minority.
The noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Hampton and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, were keen to see some movement from the Government. Of course, we are ready to make a full contribution to any movement, but I am sure that the noble Lords will agree, as will all your Lordships, that we simply cannot act alone because we do not believe that movement for its own sake is the best way. Above all, it must be well-judged and it must be timely. Your Lordships may believe that there is no time like the present, but we certainly believe that it is, above all, a question of judgment.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, asked about the Republic having an interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland, We noted the noble Lord's views. We and the Republic have many interests and concerns in common; not least the position of the minority. I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that co-operation is essential. Indeed this dialogue will continue.
I especially enjoyed the noble Lord's comments about the 15 per cent. and the 85 per cent., particularly in the light of his comments to me about his views on the rural constituencies and what they felt about his contributions when he was in another place. However, I shall not regale your Lordships with that this evening, as the rules of order would draw me to a close.
I conclude in this way. What we all seek is an acceptable and practical way forward. The report, with 1202 the Forum report and other documents, are all encouraging signs that people are thinking deeply about these issues from their various standpoints, and all of us are thinking about what can be done to improve the situation. The Government will play their full part in taking forward this thinking and, above all, in seeing what practical steps—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and all noble Lords will agree—can be taken in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. We welcome the contribution which the report and, indeed, the many other recent reports, have made to this process.