§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are their early reactions to the report from the New Ireland Forum.
§ The noble Lord said: my Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. It may be asked by noble Lords why I am putting this Question to Her Majesty's Government as I have not been particularly involved in the issue of Northern or Southern Ireland in recent years. In fact, I was asked as long ago as 1968 to involve myself in the problems then developing, having had a little experience in mediation behind the scenes, shunning publicity, in Cyprus, Nigeria and the Caribbean and having many very dear friends who had been doing similar work, and have since been doing similar work, as many noble Lords will know, behind the scenes in Northern Ireland.
§ At the end of last year I was persuaded to take some interest in this problem and during this year alone I have made 10 visits to Northern Ireland—visits, I may say, which have been entirely engaged in listening to what is being said there. One immediate and universal complaint which I have heard on all sides in Northern Ireland is of the paucity of public discussion over the issues there, both in Ireland and over here. It is for this reason that I have initiated this debate, in the hope of maintaining the momentum that was begun by the publication of the report to which I refer, leading to next month's debate in another place. Let me make it perfectly clear to the House, and particularly to the Minister who is to wind up, that my intention in this debate is purely exploratory, to give an opportunity to Members of this House and to the Government to air their views and to discuss the issues raised in the Forum report.
§ During my visit to Northern Ireland, like many other noble Lords who have much longer experience of such visits, I came across what is now a daily experience in that troubled Province: having a machine gun pointed at one's stomach outside Derry; talking to brave men (I will only mention those names which have already been publicised) like Father Murphy of Coleraine, who was kept in detention for three days; or like the magistrate I talked to behind bullet-proofed windows and steel mesh with a spotlight on the doors. This is no new experience. I know that there are other noble Lords who have had those and much more severe experiences, and I particularly pay my tribute to the bravery of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who I am glad to know is to speak in this debate, and who, with his family, has suffered so much for his beliefs.
§ Like other noble Lords who have had these experiences, I have had the very depressing experience of returning to this country to hear people imply that that is exaggeration, before they insist on continuing with their social dinners, country weekends or trivial conversations. We all encounter self-obsessed, insensitive people without imagination or concern for what is happening to their fellow human beings. But my point here is that there is a lack of concern—a lack of that concern which is very deeply felt among caring, 398 intelligent people in Nothern Ireland—a lack of concern that is apparently broken only when personal danger is highlighted, as in the bombing of Harrods.
§ Here is a community of 1½ million people suffering from a massive haemorrhage, which will be terminal if it is not stemmed. There have already been 2,500 deaths, injury to many more people, disruption to families and there is the cost of £1½ billion a year. The election results of last week cannot bring us a great deal of comfort. We are glad to see that the Provisional Sinn Fein, which believes in the Armalite gun, as well as the ballot box, lost some votes, but it still has 91,000, and 91,000 is a huge number of votes for the Armalite and illustrates the alienation which has overtaken so many people in this Province. It is matched by the intransigence of the Loyalists, who are also accustomed to using arms. Surely the cause of the Loyalists has not been helped by the judge who complimented the constable on his good aim when he had killed two unarmed men.
§ This is a story of violence, of death, of destruction and of the danger of social collapse. We are entitled to ask what Her Majesty's Government's policy is in the face of this terrible threat. We are particularly entitled to ask this—and we are pleased to ask it—when we have a Minister in this House from the Northern Ireland Office who has the authority to speak for the Government and to answer our questions. I hope that the Minister—and I hope that the Government—will not contemplate the phrase, "Let us leave well alone". This is not well. It is anything but well. We are entitled to ask the Government what their policy is now that the nationalist parties have produced the Forum report.
§ I believe that there is an opportunity here for a policy which offers some hope—some hope to the generation who we hope will grow up without the bitterness and without the despair which has been so characteristic of that community. I know that there is no quick or perfect solution. These are problems of human relations dating back 800 years. There is no easy solution. There is in fact no immediate solution to such problems. What we have to do is to seek the means to reverse the trends that I have been describing—the trends towards more violence, more destruction and eventual social collapse.
§ I believe that, with this Forum report, as well as—and I stress this—the Unionist document, The Way Foward, there are glimmers of hope, which I trust that the Government will seize and build upon. I would ask the noble Lord the Minister to concentrate tonight on Chapter 5 of the Forum report, because it is that chapter which is the crux of the whole report and is the crux of the situation in both parts of Ireland.
I would ask him to tell us whether the Government do not agree with the analysis that is presented in Chapter 5. I should like to quote from that chapter simply those sections that seem to me to hold out more hope than we have been able to glimpse in the past, more hope that there is the beginning of an understanding across the divide between the two cultures. I refer first to Chapter 5.1(1):
Existing structures and practices in Northern Ireland have failed to provide either peace, stability or reconciliation. The failure to recognise and accommodate the identity of Northern nationalists has resulted in deep and growing alienation on their part from the system of political authority".
Chapter 5.1(3) states:
One effect of the division of Ireland is that civil law and administration in the South are seen, particularly by unionists, as being unduly influenced by the majority ethos on issues which Protestants consider to be a matter for private conscience and there is a widespread perception that the South in its laws, attitudes and values does not reflect a regard for the ethos of Protestants. On the other hand, Protestant values are seen to be reflected in the laws and practices in the North".
I suggest that that recognition provides a new dimension to the imaginative thought now, I hope, beginning to percolate the mists of dogma and fanaticism on both sides of the border. My third quotation is from Chapter 5.2(2), which I shall read in conjunction with (3):
It must be recognised that the new Ireland which the Forum seeks can come about only, through agreement and must have a democratic basis. Agreement means that the political arrangements for a new and sovereign Ireland would have to be freely negotiated and agreed to by the people of the North and by the people of the South".
§ That is surely the most pregnant of all the propositions put forward in this report and the most hopeful sign that it is now being recognised on both sides of the border that there are cultures and deep cultural traditions that have to be respected by those who do not hold them.
Finally, in this series of quotations from Chapter 5, I give what is, again, one of the most hopeful and forwarding-looking possibilities for Her Majesty's Government to take up. The last paragraph of all, 5.10, states:
The Parties in the Forum also remain open to discuss other views which may contribute to political development".
§ Other views, my Lords. We wait now to hear those other views. We hope that those other views will be put forward to the nationalist parties that met in the Forum. On the other side, the Official Unionist document The Way Forward does recognise the validity of the minority culture in the North. It does propose a Bill of Rights. It does suggest the participation in Stormont of the elected representatives of all parties that oppose violence. I would submit that, on taking these two documents together, there is cause for hope, provided that that hope is reinforced by action—and by action before it is too late. I would suggest two proposals to the Government for their consideration, and I stress again for their consideration. This is an exploratory debate alone.
§ I would suggest that the most promising of all responses to these documents would be for Her Majesty's Government to prepare—and I emphasise, prepare now—along with the parties on both sides of the border in Ireland, a constitutional conference to which should be invited all the major political parties which reject violence and are committed to constitutional progress. I believe that this could reflect the weight of political opinion, in both the Republic and the North. Those who refuse to attend such a conference should be told quite firmly that they will not be allowed a veto, on either the conference or its findings. However, if, unfortunately, such a conference is rejected, then I believe that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to act in conjunction with the Government in Dublin—a Government-to-Government dialogue.400
§ There are many things that most Irishmen and Irishwomen should like to see done, and they recognise that their social and economic life will be weakened until these things are done: common tourism, common agriculture, common security, common energy, common transport, and common industry, together with a joint Anglo-Irish parliamentary council to administer such activities. Surely it is apparent—certainly it is apparent on the other side of the channel, and surely it is apparent in this House—that to divide these essential foundations of economic and social life can lead only to disaster on both sides.
§ I should like the Minister to tell us specifically: do Her Majesty's Government intend to do anything following the report? It is not enough to talk about studying it, or giving it consideration. What action do the Government intend to take, or what action are the Government considering taking now? I believe, as I stress in my Question, that this House has a right to hear what are the Government's early reactions to this report. I believe that, along with, The Way Forward, it offers some hope for the future, but it offers that hope only if action is taken on the basis of the analysis as shown in Chapter 5. I invite the Minister to address himself in particular to Chapter 5 and to the Government's reaction to it.
§ 9.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, for some time now, over the last year or so, Irish members of all the four political parties have, in various fora, been drawing attention to the situation in Northern Ireland. First of all, they put down several resolutions in the European Parliament and asked for a report on the situation in Northern Ireland. Similarly, they met to draw up this programme in the New Ireland Forum. Of course, it is not addressed to the British Government; it is merely a consultative document putting forward, quite legitimately, certain ideas for, as they consider, the future of Northern Ireland.
This political activity was joined also by Mr. John Hume, of the SDLP of Northern Ireland. As your Lordships will know, he is also a Member of the European Parliament. I should like to take this opportunity, on a personal basis, and as a colleague in the European Parliament, to congratulate him on the success he has had in the European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland, defeating so effectively Provisional Sinn Fein. I think that everybody, of all parties, will be extremely pleased that he has done this. He is very much admired, certainly on a personal basis, for his courage and for the contribution he makes to the political life of Northern Ireland.
Tonight, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, we are again being asked to consider the situation in Northern Ireland in the context of a report which has been produced by politicians of the Irish Republic. I was slightly surprised when the noble Lord asked for a conference to be set up. I think I took down his words correctly when he said that those who are committed to constitutional progress should take part. The noble Lord will know that at least a million people in Northern Ireland are not committed to constitutional progress; they wish the constitution to remain the same. Therefore, in my view such a 401 conference would be difficult to get off the ground if it were to represent the majority of the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I think that she has misunderstood. I was contrasting constitutional progress with violence. I was referring to those who are committed to constitutonal progress and who have rejected violence.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am still not quite sure how constitutional progress would fit in with that million of the population of Northern Ireland who do not want constitutional progress. Indeed, we have just seen again in the European parliamentary elections the most massive support—I think over 230,000 votes—for Mr. Ian Paisley. I do not think that anybody would accuse him of wanting constitutional progress, and so I think that we are going to be in a slight difficulty there.
Nevertheless, I should like to proceed rather briefly with one or two points which have arisen in view of the Question that the noble Lord has put to the House. I understand that of course there is concern. In the Irish Republic they naturally have their own beliefs and their historical perspectives as regards the current situation in Northern Ireland. I respect those views in the same way as everybody else would. But neither in the case of the New Ireland Forum nor in the case of the report which was requested in the European Parliament, have those requests for initiative had the results which their initiators would have desired. In the European Parliament the Haagerup Report, as it is known, contained the following conclusions. The rapporteur maintains that:Irish unity taking the form of a unitary Irish state cannot be brought about for the foreseeable future".He also concludes, three or four lines further on, that:a British withdrawal would not still the violence in Northern Ireland but rather increase it to civil war proportions in view of the desperate opposition of the great majority of the 1 million Protestants to becoming citizens in a united Ireland".Those propositions were quite clearly not acceptable to the Irish Members of the European Parliament. Although they all voted en masse (except for one Irish Member of the European Parliament) for this report and the resolution, one or two of them said that they did not agree with all the contents of the report.
But I want to point out that discussion on Northern Ireland in a forum which is not connected directly with Northern Ireland, does not always bring about the desired effect, certainly not the effect desired by those who initiated the discussion in the European Parliament. The report very carefully eschewed any constitutional proposals which, of course, it was agreed were outside the competence of the Parliament.
On the other hand, the proposals on economic and social assistance have already been taken up by the European Commission, and for that we can be extremely thankful. The integrated programme of £65 million for Belfast was already agreed before this report was produced, and the second allocation of this measure is already under way. That is very positive and will be of help to the economic situation in Northern Ireland.
402 But the resolution touched on mutual co-operation in security matters, and that is something with which most people would agree. The resolution also mentioned—and I say this in particular because of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch—that the rapporteur:calls upon the British and Irish Governments…to bring about a political system with an equitable sharing of government responsibilities, which would accommodate the identities of the two traditions, so upholding the ideals and the concept of tolerance vis-à-vis minorities practised in the two countries and in other EC Member States".In fact, that proposal does not conflict with the Northern Ireland Assembly. I would regard it as an inducement for all parties elected to it to make it work. It is good news for the Assembly that the official Unionist Party is now back in the Assembly and perhaps a Member of your Lordships' House might be able to tell us whether John Hume is now prepared to take his seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly, so that everyone can work together to produce a system of devolution for the Province.
I mention this paragraph in particular because there is no reference to any such proposals in the New Ireland Forum. I suppose it could possibly be one of the alternatives to the three proposals set out in the document and might fall into paragraph 5.10 of Chapter 5. Indeed, noble Lords may have seen the "Weekend World" programme, which I thought was a very significant programme, of an interview between Brian Waldren and Dr. Garret FitzGerald, who appeared to be saying that the three propositions were not the only alternatives and he appeared ready to consider other alternatives. Undoubtedly this was one of the good signs that came out of that interview.
However, the document seems far removed from political reality, which is confirmed, as I mentioned earlier, by the massive vote for Mr. Paisley in the European elections. The reference on page 5 of the New Ireland Forum document to the study of DKM Economic Consultants shows that air of unreality which pervades so much of what is written and talked about in relation to Ulster. Although I have had some experience of the Province myself, I know that there are many noble Lords—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—who have far greater and longer experience of the Province than I. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will also know that so much unreality is written about the Province by those who do not actually live in it and deal with it on a day-to-day basis.
On page 5 of the report it says:in the absence of a political settlement leading to an end to violence, there will be virtual stagnation in the economy and a further substantial increase in unemployment.We are all aware of the very high level of unemployment in the Province. It is about 20 per cent. and is a very dramatic figure. On the other hand, there is very little industrial strife and certainly productivity is improving. But there will be no political settlement until—and violence will only end when—the Republic manages to control support for terrorists, outside financial assistance is withdrawn, and those in the Province continue to defeat terrorism, as they have been doing systematically over the past few years.
Of course, there has been a tremendous number of tragic deaths. Statistics never cover the tragedies; they show that acts of violence in the Province have gone 403 down dramatically in recent years. Certainly from 1972 to date there have been very dramatic differences in the figures. Therefore, it looks as though some control is beginning to emerge. But in the end terrorism will only be crushed when both communities recognise that it is in their joint interests for their economic and social prosperity to combat the terrorism which is in their midst. The New Ireland Forum seems to live under the illusion that the formation of a unitary state would end terrorist violence. I do not believe that that is the reality, and therefore this is not the way to solve the problems of Northern Ireland.
I hope that the reply of Her Majesty's Government tonight will be to the effect that as members of the European Community we can work together to break down the barriers between us which impede or distort our economic relations, that we recorgnise Dr. Garret FitzGerald's genuine desire for a peaceful solution, but that the three alternative proposals set out in the New Ireland Forum document—a unitary state, federation or joint authority—are not acceptable either to Her Majesty's Government or to the people of the United Kingdom.
People's perceptions of history cannot be overturned by a constitutional proposal. It takes long years of patient individual effort of reconciling the two communities in Northern Ireland, and much work is going on quietly and effectively through schools and churches and by dedicated individuals. It will be the demands and needs of the people themselves, with of course financial and administrative backing from the Government, which I believe in the end will bring the greatest prospects for peace for the Province of Ulster.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I am sure that we all thank the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, for raising this matter, and I have listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness had to say partly from a European viewpoint. While we look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for the Government, we believe that these can be only early reactions. I also look forward with particular interest to hearing the noble Lords who know the Province intimately.
I propose to speak just briefly. The Liberal/SDP Alliance is considering the report carefully, and I can only at present attempt to summarise an initial reaction. First, it is good that the New Ireland Forum has at last completed its deliberations. Somewhat as in an American presidential election, there has been a period of expectancy and anticipation rather than action for some time past. It is to the credit of the authors that there has not followed a total sense of hopelessness and anti-climax that some people thought was inevitable. But I note with concern today's headline in The Times, "Paisley victory casts shadow".
Secondly, it is good that nationalists, in a spirit of goodwill, and under the courageous leadership of Dr. Garret FitzGerald, have seen, I believe, that there are no simplistic solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland and that to bring about a United Ireland "by consent" is hardly possible at present.
Perhaps I might just remind your Lordships of an 404 article in The Times of Tuesday, 12th June, under the heading "Uproar at Belfast meeting". I quote:The public gallery was cleared by the RUC after interrruptions culminated in shouts of abuse at Provisional Sinn Fein members.Mr. George Seawright, a Democratic Unionist Party councillor, refused to withdraw his comments about incinerating Roman Catholics and their priests and shouted "There will be no retraction, no apology, no compromise, and no surrender".That is the end of the quote, which demonstrates, if we need it, yet again the vicious bigotry of the extremists. Just redrawing the border between North and South will not eliminate such bitterness and division.
To return to the report, thirdly it is very helpful that all acts of violence and terrorism have been condemned out of hand. And fourthly and lastly, it is good that while the report may seem unfairly critical of British Governments over the past 15 years it does go so far as to admit that there has been at least some error on the nationalist side. They refer to the negative effect of IRA violence. They mention that in the New Ireland there will have to be a new constitution, and they emphasise the need for mutual recognition and acceptance of each other's legitimate rights.
The Liberal/SDP Alliance is, as I say, considering the possible options carefully, but sees the immediate position as this: first, it is vital to reply with goodwill where goodwill has been shown, and maximum cooperation between the Republic and Britain should be sought. Secondly, action as soon as possible would be good while we have two dedicated and widely respected leaders in Dr. FitzGerald and Mr. Prior. Thirdly, we believe that discussion could well be carried out in a parliamentary tier of the Anglo-Irish Council; this to include Members of Parliament from Dublin and Westminster and Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It would be most helpful if the SDLP would take their seats in the Assembly, and consequently be entitled to participate. The Democratic Unionists have at least been trying to make the assembly work and it is good that the Official Unionists are now back.
My right honourable friend and leader Mr. David Steele has re-emphasised that the vital need is to get rid of the bigotry that breeds violence. Too many people—and the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has mentioned this—have voted for the violence of Sinn Fein in the recent election for the European Parliament, but we can at least take some comfort that the figure was not higher, and it is encouraging indeed that there is substantial support for Mr. John Hume. I look forward with interest to hearing the speakers to come, and to what the Minister is able to say.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Lord Fitt
My Lords, as we traverse the corridors of this House, in particular the corridors that lead to the Library, we are constantly reminded of the Irish problem, which is still with us. Two of the most famous paintings in one of the corridors of this House depict the scene as it was in this House in 1912 when nearly 500 Lords voted on the Irish question. Today, 72 years later, we are no further on in trying to find a solution to the conflict.
First, we have to look at the reasons for the conflict in the island of Ireland. In Ireland there are two tribes: one is Unionist and British, and the other is Catholic, Republican and Irish. There are two nationalities. I 405 have found through my lifetime that nationalism is one of the most potent factors that can affect mankind. It can make people do the most irrational and bloodthirsty things. If there is any way to try to make this House understand this point, it is perhaps by explaining that it was Argentinian nationalism that decided to bring about the invasion of the Falkland Islands. It was British nationalism which decided to send the fleet to the South Atlantic to evict the Argentinians from the Falkland Islands. To a certain extent it was British nationalism which led to a low poll in the European elections last week because we did not feel that we had any great thing in common with the continent.
In Northern Ireland there is Irish nationalism within the Catholic community and there is Ulster nationalism within the Protestant community; and these two forces are in total conflict 24 hours every day. How can one reconcile two such opposing forces? I cannot think of an easy way to do it.
If we consider any other country in the world where there has been such competing forces, we see that the conflict was always resolved by one side beating the other. The nearest parallel that there might perhaps be to the Northern Ireland situation is Cyprus. We do not read about Cyprus any more on the front pages of our newspapers. There was a time when we did, but eventually the Greeks and the Turks settled the conflict by force. There is now a Turkish sector on the island and a Greek sector. Within the Turkish sector the vast majority of the people are of Turkish descent, and there is the reverse situation on the Greek side of the island.
In Northern Ireland we do not have that. In Northern Ireland we have 65 per cent. of the Protestant Unionist British community and 35 per cent. of the Catholic Nationalist commu[...]ity. These two communities are always in conflict. One wants to maintain what it has—the Ulster Unionist community—and the minority wants to take away from that community its domination of Northern Ireland political affairs.
Once again, I pose the question: can it be resolved without force? I do not know. I am inclined to believe that it cannot be resolved but by force, and that one side must eventually beat the other. I say that with a good deal of regret.
Throughout this document the words that one sees repeated time and time again are "agreement" and "consent". It must be settled by agreement and consent; but what happens if that agreement and consent are not forthcoming? What happens if the Unionist Party said that in no circumstances will it agree with the three proposals which are put forward in this document?
So far as the unionist is concerned, be he elected or otherwise, he sees three issues in that proposal. He sees, first, the recommendation of the leader of the largest political party in the republic, Fianna Fail, and its leader Charles Haughey, that there must be a unitary state. Nothing else was to be considered. Then we have the more accommodating view put forward by Garret FitzGerald that there could be a confederal or a federal solution to the problem. Then there is the last one, which nobody seems to talk very much about, 406 the joint authority proposal. None of those proposals is in any way acceptable to the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland.
We hear repeatedly, "Consent, consent". If that consent is not forthcoming, can the Unionists be coerced into consenting? And who does the coercing? Are the British Government expected to coerce the Unionists into consenting? I remember very vividly taking part in one of the greatest political developments, one of the most hopeful political developments, that there was since the creation of the Northern Ireland State. As one who believes in a united Ireland brought about by agreement and consent—and I still believe that, irrespective of what my ultra-nationalist or IRA opponents may say in Northern Ireland—I remember taking part in the conference at Sunningdale when all those who took part in the conference had their priorities right.
They were trying to create a set of political structures in Northern Ireland which would gain the allegiance and support of both the Protestant community and the Catholic community. And we succeeded in a very large way in creating those structures. In the five short months which we had in that executive, representing, as it did, both traditions—and I was deputy chief executive—there were many discussions with many people of the Protestant tradition. They told me clearly: "We are prepared for, and indeed many of us welcome, the setting up of this executive which will allow Catholics and Protestants to work together in the interests of Northern Ireland. But in no way, in any circumstances, at any time now or in the future, will we contemplate going into an Irish Republic".
They said it with such vehemence that I would be the last to say that they did not mean what they said. Again, we come back to the question that people hold those views with such vehemence and such concern. Are you prepared, then, to force them against their will?—and when you force in this context, force means dead bodies, force means blood on the streets. That is what the use of force means if you are to attempt to bring about the unity of Ireland by force. Dr. Garret FitzGerald—and I have a great deal of time for the man and a great deal of respect for him because he understands the feeling of the Protestant population in Northern Ireland, and some of his own family are from that tradition—is not going to be the Taoiseach of the Republic for ever and a day and, given the history of elections in the Republic (where we had three elections in a period of 15 months),it is highly likely that the next Taoiseach of the Republic will be the Leader of Fianna Fail, Charles Haughey.
I do not trust the man. And I would not expect any Unionist to trust the man. How can the people in Northern Ireland, Protestant representatives, sit down and have any meaningful discussion with a person such as the Leader of Fianna Fail who has told the Unionist population," Whether you like it or not, you do not have the right to keep partition in this country and you are to be forced into a republic"? He does not say whether it will be by agreement and consent.
At Sunningdale, in the five months we had the Sunningdale agreement. Here let me put on record that of all the Prime Ministers that I have known throughout my political life—I have to say it; and it 407 may not be a popular thing to say in some quarters at the moment—I think the then Prime Minister, Ted Heath, showed a great deal of integrity and honesty and endeavour and lost many nights' sleep in trying to work with us in Northern Ireland. He, much more than any other Prime Minister who has lived during my lifetime, and that Conservative Government, tried to grapple with the Northern Ireland problem. I think it was very unfair that this report did not go out of its way to give some support to that Government for what it tried to achieve. I think it was totally unfair in its assessment. It is all right to say that all British Government policies fared badly and were not successful, but it was not for want of trying.
Again, I think the report has been very unfair in paragraph 3. 15, beginning on page 12. It gives a whole list of all the incidents and developments which alienated the Catholic community. I would not disagree with them: all these incidents as they are listed certainly did bring about alienation within the Catholic community. But the report completely disregards all the incidents that brought about the alienation within the Protestant community as well. When 10 Protestant workmen coming home from their work were stopped in their mini bus and asked their religion, they were put up against the mini bus and mown down, just like the Germans did with the Jews. There was no mention of the La Mon inferno which burned so many innocent people, the countless explosions and murders which were used and directed at the Protestant population. The Protestant population has suffered grievously in this conflict as well. I think it was very unfair that this report did not point it out as specifically as it did in relation to the incidents which brought about the Catholic alienation.
At Sunningdale, the Executive failed because of things which happened after the agreement of which the people in the Republic were not entirely innocent. I remember at Sunningdale one part of the agreement was that we would recognise the Irish dimension. We would also recognise the existence of Northern Ireland. At a very solemn moment we signed our names to this: it was the development when the South, the people in the Republic, were going to recognise that the North existed. This was a step forward. But, as soon as they went back to Dublin with their agreement, Kevin Boland, who was then a political figure in the Republic, took an action in the courts and said that it was unconstitutional for the Irish Government to recognise the existence of Northern Ireland.
The publicity that that court case received brought about a great deal of Unionist opposition and they said, "What do they expect us to believe in now in this document?" There is no Unionist in Northern Ireland who would have any hope or belief in any undertaking given by a government under the leadership of Charles Haughey. The elections in Northern Ireland last week were not about the common agricultural policy or the social and economic fund in Europe. Paisley nailed his colours to the mast and said he was fighting the election on an anti-Forum, anti-IRA ticket and he got 230,000 votes. Were those votes given to him because he was the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, because he was more militant than the official Unionist Party?
408 My noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby has quite rightly pointed out to the House tonight that there was some progress in the Unionist document, The Way Forward. This was a big advance for the Unionist politicians, at a very late stage in the game, to sit down and recognise that the Catholic minority should be given a place in the administration of Northern Ireland. But in last Thursday's vote, the Official Unionist Party lost over 100,000 votes. Was that because they were going to be so accommodating to the Catholic minority and the Protestant population did not want to have them? Why did Paisley get so many votes? I do not know, but I know what he will be saying. He will be saying that the vote he got last Thursday means a total rejection of the Forum.
The job of a politician in any society is, first, to get elected, so in Northern Ireland you stay with the tribe, whatever tribe you happen to be in—be it Unionist and Loyalist or Catholic and Republican. Anyone who stands outside those tribes cannot be guaranteed any great success at the polls. This was discovered last week by the Alliance Party, when a very significant number of their electors, probably Catholic, voted for John Hume, not because they agreed with John Hume and the policy of the SDLP, but because they were scared to death that Danny Morrison might get more votes. So it was not a vote for the policies of the SDLP last week.
We are now talking about "agreement" and "consent"—the words in this document. The other most popular words are "initiative" and "positive response". In the Irish political vocabulary, they mean that the British Government must produce an initiative. I said that 15 years ago, in another place. An initiative, in the political vocabulary of Ireland, means something that suits you. If the British Government come up with some suggestion and it does not suit you, then it is not an initiative. A positive response is exactly the same—something which suits my tribe.
The two tribes are asking Britain to do their work for them. The Catholics and the Nationalists and the people who were involved in the Forum want Britain to coerce. What vocabulary do you use? They want Britain to make the Unionists do what the Nationalists want the Unionists to do. On the other side, the Unionists want Britain to do exactly the same. They want Britain to get the IRA men, put them all in gaol, hang them, flog them, build more gaols, catch all the IRA men and keep down the Catholics.
But Britain has to do it, because they cannot do it themselves. And whatever Britain does in the long run she will be blamed for, whether it is for doing something or for doing nothing. If Britain does not do anything now, she will be charged with letting this conflict continue. If she does something but does not lead one or other of the tribes, again she will be in great difficulty.
Only last year or the year before in another place, there was an initiative: that was the setting-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I agreed with that initiative. I was the only MP representing a Northern Ireland constituency who voted for the setting-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly, because I had high hopes that, if the Assembly was set up, the elected representatives of both traditions would meet each other in the corridors, in the tea rooms or in the bars and start building up confidence among themselves, 409 and eventually they could have asked for further powers to be granted from Westminster.
As I said, I had experience of Sunningdale and I am still of the fervent belief that only something like Sunningdale, however it may be reconstructed, has any hope of success. But the SDLP refused to go and Sinn Fein said that they were not going to go. Let us be realistic. An initiative, or a positive response, by this Government will be totally thrown out of the window and rejected by Sinn Fein. There is only one response that Sinn Fein and the IRA want from the British Government, and that is for them to pack their bags and go. When the leader of Sinn Fein—my successor in West Belfast—was asked on a "Panorama" programme, was it not likely that there would be a civil war if the British were to depart from Northern Ireland prematurely, he replied: "Well, there might be, but that's nothing to do with Britain: if we want a civil war, that' s a matter for ourselves. "So they do not care how many people—be it hundreds or thousands—would be killed in the ensuing conflict in the event of the British Government leaving Northern Ireland.
And so we have this report. Garret FitzGerald says that it is an agenda to discuss everything that is in the report: I hope the British Government will treat it that way. Charlie Haughey says," No, it is not an agenda: it' s that bit there which says that there must be a unitary state, and we have to wait and see what the British Government' s response to that is."
I say that this report cannot be ignored. The nationals, the Protestants in Northern Ireland, would say it is a Catholic forum, and we have got a Protestant Assembly. But at least they did put a lot of work and heart searching into the problem as they see it, affecting Ireland.
And so we have this report. Garret FitzGerald says that it is agenda to discuss everything that is in the report: I hope the British Government will treat it that way. Charlie Haughey says, "No, it is not agenda: it's that bit there which says that there must be a unitary state, and we have to wait and see what the British Government's response to that is."
I say that this report cannot be ignored. The national, the Protestants in Northern Ireland, would say it is a Catholic forum, and we have got a Protestant Assembly. But at least they did put a lot of work and heart searching into the problem as they see it, affecting Ireland.
There is one other thing, and I think I have to say it to the Irish representatives of the Republic and indeed in Northern Ireland. As I say, the two tribes want the British to settle their war for them. On the economic consequences of a British withdrawal contained in this document, I have taken a note here, and it is money from America. The people of Ireland believe that if the British were to leave Ireland, there would be thousands and millions of dollars coming from America or from Europe or from some other source. The world of 1984 is not like that. People do not give you money for nothing. We can see what America is doing now with the debtor nations of the world, and calling back in its cheques. The world is not waiting with millions of dollars to pile it in and make an Irish Utopia after the British have said farewell to Ireland. I do not think that is realistic at all, in the document, and I do not believe that the economy of Ireland at this time would be made better by the reunification of Ireland. The people in the Republic have got very, very serious economic problems of their own. And in the North it is exactly the same. The North could not exist without the massive subventions of money coming from this country. So there are some unrealities in this document as well.
This is the first occasion I have had to welcome the new Minister to this job, although I do not know whether to welcome or commiserate with him in the position which he now has. May I say, by the way, that this debate is not going to be the last that we shall hear about the Northern Ireland Forum, When the 410 Minister is discussing it with the Government, I ask them to take this report seriously and not to describe it as being of no consequence, because this is the first time it has been done and there will not be a second time. There will not be a second time if the nationalist parties get together and point out the problems and the realities as they see them. This document should be treated with the seriousness it deserves; but I myself am very realistic. The problems of Ireland are with us and they are going to be there for a long time, and it is going to take one long, hard, uphill struggle before we begin to see the end of the conflicts in Ireland.
§ 10. 34 p. m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, I knew my noble friend Lord Fitt long before I had met him. His reputation had gone before him. I admired him for his strength and his fortitude. Obviously the House must listen very carefully to what he has to say. He belongs to that community, and he has experienced the chaos of that community, and therefore we must listen carefully to what he has to say.
However, I have been a little saddened by his speech this evening. He has referred more than once to the hold of the tribes. I would have thought that we ought to be seeking (and it is a very difficult task) the affirmatives in that community and endeavouring to bring them together. The report of the Forum attempts to do just that. It is an important document.
My noble friend who opened the debate drew our attention to Chapter 5 of the report in particular. That chapter makes it clear that the nationalist parties in the Republic do not seek a solution by force. They acknowledge the existence of the two identities and of the two cultures. The report, in the opinion of many people, has been viewed as a great step forward. At the same time, we must acknowledge also that great efforts have gone into numerous United Kingdom initiatives by successive governments since at least 1968—but with cruelly disappointing results. There has been very little to show for our efforts, and that is a tragedy. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is very conscious of that.
But the report does not propose unalterable tablets of Moses. It does not do that. It only makes one firm proposal. It is that the two Irish traditions and identities must be satisfactorily accommodated on the basis of equality in a new structure. I believe the report is saying that we ought not to be looking to the past but that we ought to be looking forward. The only proposal the report makes is that the two identities ought to be brought together and accommodated in one structure.
I believe that opinion in Ireland and moderate opinion in Northern Ireland hopes that the Government will make a clear and adequate response to the report. It must be our hope and prayer that the Government will respond without undue delay. The unyielding and terrible problems of Northern Ireland will not go away. They have been present throughout the passage of the centuries. I believe the evidence indicates that the position is deteriorating—although I accept that the noble Baroness did not interpret the evidence in the same way. But I believe that the position is deteriorating—and, as I understand it, it 411 could be that forces not confined to Northern Ireland and the Republic may be engaged already in the chaos.
For the time being at least, we are the custodians of Northern Ireland and we therefore owe it to that Province to try with every sinew honourably to bring peace to its people. Now that the report has been published, the least we can expect is that the Government will look ahead and open up Anglo/Irish discussions.
My noble friend Lord Hatch referred to the importance of discussion and dialogue. One can speak of discussion and dialogue in abstract terms, but I suppose in more detailed terms one wants to encourage discussion between the parties. I think that is good in itself, and the first objective ought to be to try to ascertain on what basis the two communities can be brought together.
I would have thought that the discussion ought also to be accompanied by at least a signal of intent by the Government that they mean business and that they are ready to take new initiatives. If the Government cannot agree with my noble friend and support a conference between the parties, then at least they should give a signal of invitation for co-operation from London.
Is it possible to devolve greater responsibility to the Assembly or a reformed Assembly? I believe that this was in the mind of the noble Baroness, and I also believe that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to an Assembly which would provide for a degree of power sharing; an Assembly which would be at liberty to win the support of the minority critics, and it would be seen to be working for the well-being of the entire Province. That might be looking to a second Sunningdale.
Many of us also think that there is great scope for the two governments—with the help of EEC instruments—to work together on joint projects to assist those disadvantaged border areas on both sides of the frontier which extend 20 or 30 miles on each side and have a population of about 750,000 people (54 per cent. in Northern Ireland and 46 per cent. in the Republic). They are areas which are among the least economically and socially developed in Europe. The problems of those border areas have been identified in a very useful information report, The Irish Border Areas, published last year by the economic and social department of the EEC.
We require a dialogue between the parties, and we need to build up structures for co-operation which will bring the two communities together. I believe that the New Ireland Forum Report gives us that opportunity to move forward, to bring the affirmatives together, and I trust that the Government will grasp that opportunity while FitzGerald is still at the helm.
§ 10.49 p.m.
My Lords, I must make it clear that I am not among the Northern Ireland Protestants who dismiss the New Ireland Forum Report out of hand or condemn it completely. I indeed welcome the report because I regard it as being a genuine attempt on the part of nationalists to take a serious look at the problems of Ireland as a whole.
412 I also welcome the total rejection of terrorist violence expressed in the report, and I think that it represents the most realistic appreciation of the Unionist position, the Unionist aspiration, and indeed the Unionist apprehension, as yet committed to print by nationalist politicians. Furthermore, I welcome it as being a move towards enabling neighbours in the same island to talk to each other rather than at each other, which has so often been the case in the past.
Having said that, it was quite clear that the New Ireland Forum was not in order to consider whether a united Ireland would be desirable, but to consider how a united Ireland could best be brought about. It is for that reason that a majority of my party—the Alliance Party—decided to decline an invitation formally to be represented at the Forum; although I may say that there was a significant minority in my party which felt otherwise. At the same time, I said publicly at the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, that I thought it was right for the Church to be represented, as the Church is not political but its members cover the entire political spectrum.
In the Forum report three possible ways of bringing about a United Ireland are discussed. The one that seems to be the most favoured, certainly by Mr. Haughey, is the unitary state. In the Forum report a number of realities are also listed. However, I am afraid that, like the television series "Jesus, the Evidence", the Forum report began to lose credibility in my eyes when I realised that the realities were selective, as indeed was the evidence in the television series. Among the realities listed, there is not included the most important reality; that which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, in his—if I may say so with respect—brilliantly well-balanced and fair speech. The most important reality of all is that, whereas consent is being mentioned throughout the report, consent for a unitary state is not forthcoming from the Northern Ireland Protestants and Unionists, nor from a number of Catholics, either; nor is it going to be forthcoming in the foreseeable future. Some of your Lordships may deplore that fact. But it is a fact, and it is a reality. No proper appreciation of the situation can be made without recognising that reality. Thus, the logic of the realities listed is not followed through.
Come to think of it, why should those million or more British citizens in Northern Ireland want to join in a unitary state? What earnests of good intent have been seen from the Republic of Ireland? What has happened to Dr. Garret FitzGerald's constitutional crusade whereby he would have a referendum to change the constitution, deleting or amending the articles which at present claim territorial sovereignty over the six counties of Ireland which still remain within the United Kingdom? Why, indeed, should the British citizens of Northern Ireland want to join themselves to an economy which is even more precarious than that to which they presently belong?
Having said that, I add in passing that things are looking up in the Northern Ireland economy with the very gratifying and creditable orders that Short Brothers, the aircraft makers, have recently won, Things are looking up in the shipyards, too, and on other fronts. But why should the British citizens of Northern Ireland want to join an economy which has 413 a higher per capita debt than any other country in Western Europe? I think there are only one or two other exceptions in the world.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the past 25 years the gap in the standard of living between the South and the North has been narrowed to a very small margin? In the North, with a larger industrial population, it would be expected that the ratio would be higher, but the gap is very small now.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his intervention. I quite agree—and that has been done on borrowed money to a large extent.
My Lords, the noble Earl seems to disagree with me, but I think if he were to check the figures he would find that the per capita debt in the Republic of Ireland is substantially greater than it is in any other country in Western Europe. But when it is the noble Earl's turn to speak, I look forward to hearing him demolish the argument that I have just been developing.
My Lords, I am so sorry, but this is an Unstarred Question. May we hear the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath?
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, is the noble Viscount going to act as an arbiter as to who is going to be allowed to interrupt? I was only going to ask one further question, unless the noble Viscount forbids me. Of course if he moves that I be no longer heard, I shall withdraw.
My Lords, I am very happy to reply to any questions put to me by the noble Earl, but perhaps I ought to proceed.
If it does not require one to be a political scientist to realise the mood of the Ulster Unionists, perhaps it does not require one to be a management consultant either to realise why the second proposal put forward in the Forum report would be an administrative nightmare; and that is the proposal for joint sovereignty, I do not think I need say more about that because time is moving on, but I think that can be dismissed as administratively impracticable and also unacceptable to the majority of the Northern population.
The third proposal put forward is that of federation or confederation. This perhaps is worthy of a little more thought. But again the logic is not followed through, because only the proposal of a North-South confederation or federation is discussed. If the report was trying to take an overall look at all the options, why did it not look at the possibility of an East-West federation or confederation—in other words, a federation or confederation of the British Isles? This surely would be the follow-through logically of this approach towards federalisation that it made. Surely 414 the British Isles should be looked upon as a unit which has so much in common when one considers agriculture, fisheries, energy, transport and tourism. Those are all common interests. Would that not be logical? If it is said that that would be unacceptable, this surely should have been a reality quoted in the Forum report. But, no, it was not mentioned.
In the proposed federation or confederation an assurance was given that the Unionist people of Northern Ireland would be able to retain their British-ness. Suppose that there were a confederation of the British Isles, would the citizens of the Republic be equally satisfied if they were given a similar assurance that their Irishness would be retained? If that would not be acceptable, why should they imagine that such an assurance would be acceptable to the Northern Ireland Protestants and Unionists?
In the North-South federation that is proposed it is suggested that residual powers should reside in the central government, and presumably that would be in Dublin, it being the centre of gravity within the island of Ireland. If one had a confederation or federation of the British Isles, presumably then the central government would be in London, It being the centre of gravity within the British Isles. Therefore, if the writers of the Forum report feel that the Northern Unionists would consent to having central government in Dublin, equally, would they consent to having central government in London? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, I would humbly suggest.
If one is to look at this in a balanced way, one has to consider these arguments as well. In such a confederation, the Dail would continue in Dublin, Stormont would continue in Belfast and the Isle of Man would continue to have its own Parliament, the House of Keys, Tynwald, and everything. But all these regions would send Members to Westminster. With Northern Ireland now sending 17 Members to the House of Commons, the Republic would presumably send 35 or something like that, making a total of 52. Would this not be an attraction? Would they not realise that the balance of power could be held? Her Majesty' s Government might not like that. It was an embarrassment when the Irish National Party, 100 years ago roughly, held the balance of power. But would this not give the Irish people as a whole a voice in the government of the British Isles? Might not a situation evolve whereby Unionists would vote with Nationalists in the general interest of Ireland within the British Isles and within the European Community? I am not advocating this. I am merely throwing it out as a suggestion which I am surprised was not considered at the time. It is one that I would have thought that many well-meaning people engaged in the Forum might at least have discussed, or if they did discuss it, might have had the courage to put into print.
I doubt whether any political progress can be made until the problem of terrorist violence has been tackled. While violence continues, extremism feeds on violence and violence feeds on extremism. If I were the Secretary of State—here, I do not need to say, "Please God, I never will be" because I do not think I need divine intervention to avert a disaster that will never happen—I would say to Mrs. Thatcher that treatment has now been applied for 15 years to the security 415 situation in Northern Ireland. It has met with fluctuating results. At times, things begin to look a bit better; then things deteriorate again. The treatment has not worked. Therefore, surgery is needed. Surgery is painful but the longer it is put off, the more painful it is and the more damaging it is. Therefore, let us put it to the Cabinet that we should try to take a grip of this situation once and for all, if necessary, declaring a state of emergency for three months, renewable, if necessary, for another three months, and then for a further three months. But, within a specific length of time, let us try to get a grip of the situation.
It will be hellish for a lot of people. It will mean restriction of movement. It may mean ID cards. It may mean curfews. It may mean sealing off the border to a much greater extent. It will be especially hard on people whose farms straddle the border. However, I can only say that if I were a Protestant farmer in South Armagh, Tyrone, or Fermanagh, I would rather lose a cut of silage than lose my life, as so many have done. If I were the Secretary of State, I would stake my career on it. I would say to Mrs. Thatcher," If I don't make this work, sack me after nine or 12 months, but I am going to get a grip of this situation and knock it on the head once and for all".
I think that then the prospect of political progress would be very much greater. But the Southern Government would have to act in parallel with that. They would have to take the same emergency measures, and if they were not prepared to do that, how can we expect the Forum report's recommendations of joint action in other fields to be implemented? This is a test of the sincerity and good will of the Government of the Republic of Ireland. If they were prepared to join with us in taking identical measures and have a joint security effort to beat terrorism, then I would have much more confidence that the provisions in the Forum report are realistic and would work.
§ 11.6 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I have such a high regard for the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, that I apologise if I have said anything that hurt his feelings. I thought his grasp of the economics of Southern Ireland was a bit flimsy, but it is a bit late in the evening—we started this debate at 9.40—for me to take him up along that line, I have also a great admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, who has been little short of a hero—in fact, in no way short of a hero. The fact that he has quarrelled with the SDLP seems to me a great pity. I would have looked upon him as the champion of the SDLP, but he has quarrelled with them and he speaks only for himself, which is a great pity. Still, he is a man of enormous courage.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Lord had better be careful, because it is rather hard to gain the attention of the acting Leader of the House. We had an interruption just now. I was calling it to the attention of the acting Leader of the House, but he will not listen.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, he assumed that role a minute or two ago. At any rate, he is not going to listen, so I will pass on to the main subject of debate.
We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch. He called for more discussion here. I am sorry that this discussion should have been launched at 9.40. Perhaps the acting Leader of the House would convey that to the other authorities and make a remonstrance, because it is really hard on people who have given a great part of their lives to these subjects to be told that they have only a few minutes in which to speak.
I must leave out most of the things I was going to say. I will come to the proposals of the Forum report—the three solutions. I will say nothing about the solution of the joint authority. I do not say that it could not work, but nobody seems to have taken that up very strongly and I will leave it over for the moment. Then we come to the unitary solution. Those who for many years have preached the cause of a united Ireland, whether they were Protestants, like Wolfe Tone or Parnell, or Catholics, like O' Connell or de Valera, or smaller people, always talked initially of a unitary state. But in recent years, and for a long time now, it has been well understood that a Belfast Government might occupy some sort of devolved position.
In 1921, at the time of the negotiations for the Irish Treaty—it is not for me to say who has written the standard book on that particular treaty—the Irish delegates and the British Government were anxious to see what would now be called a kind of federal solution. That was rejected by the Unionists. So this idea of a federal solution is not exactly new; it has been around for a considerable time.
But the confederal solution does seem to me to be new. That is the solution for which I personally would plump. Although I appreciate the exploratory attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and others, I am afraid that after all these years it would be difficult for me to come at these matters with quite such a fresh mind, even after his 10 visits to Northern Ireland in the last few months. I am afraid that I must be allowed to have arrived at my own conclusions and to lay them before the House.
I want to quote, very briefly, what the Forum says about a confederal arrangement.
It says at paragraph 7.6:In a confederal arrangement, the powers held at the centre could be relatively limited (for example, foreign policy, external and internal security policy and perhaps currency and monetary policy), requiring a less elaborate parliamentary structure at the confederal level.It then says that:A federal/confederal arrangement would allow the retention"—and this is important and my main point tonight—within the North and South of many laws and practices reflecting the development of both areas over the past 60 years. All the cultural traditions in Ireland, North and South, would be guaranteed full expression and encouragement".There we have the essence of the matter. People ask: "Why don't the Northern Protestants like the idea of being included in the South?" That is the British aspect of the matter, but we are told that it is not by any means the only aspect. We are told that theirs is a 417 different culture, and it is worth pausing on this matter for a few minutes.
As regards the culture that exists in the North, I hope that the authorities on the North will bear me out in the view—and I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, would agree with this from his own point of view—that the Northern Protestants are not great champions of the permissive society. In the South, the Liberals who are rather similar to Liberals everywhere, are very keen to see all the laws about abortion, divorce and so on reformed in a liberal direction—in other words, in the direction of Britain.
There is no reason to think that the permissive society particularly appeals to Mr. Paisley. Some of the old hands will remember Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. Even Mr. Paisley was not more hostile to Roman Catholicism than my revered chief, as he then was, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough. But I do remember how, when a Roman Catholic was making a speech about conventional morals, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough—then the Leader of the Opposition—turned to Lord Lawson and with reluctant approval said, "You know, Jack, these Roman Catholics are the only nonconformists left". That was Lord Alexander's reaction to hearing some old-fashioned morals. So the idea that there is some tremendous cultural difference between the two is phoney. I do not think that there is that cultural difference although, of course, the fact of wanting to belong to Britain is undoubtedly a very important point.
We must see that confidence is somehow built up between the Protestants and the Catholics. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is very well qualified to speak on this because, as he told us, he was the deputy of the Executive. I thought that he was a little hard in that part of his speech, because he seemed to imply that the main fault lay with the South of Ireland and that that was why it came unstuck. The truth was—as he remembers all too well—that it was the Ulster workers' strike, it was the Protestant workers, who destroyed it.
I remember very well meeting Lord Faulkner before his experience of life with the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and before he worked with him in the Joint Executive. He never believed in the years before that, that Protestants and Catholics could work together. Protestants and Catholics worked together in that Executive and a few months later, when I met them both at the British/Irish conference in Oxford, Lord Faulkner had his arm around Lord Fitt's neck—and he had to reach up a bit—and he said, in effect: "I wouldn't have got anywhere without Gerry". Once they worked together, the Catholics and Protestants were perfectly capable of trusting each other and coming to respect each other in the way in which Protestants and Catholics are capable of trusting and working with each other in all other parts of the world.
So it seems to me that the way forward is to build the confederal arrangement with the minimum interference by the state in the Six Counties and gradually this confidence will be built up. No one can say where it will lead. I doubt whether I shall be here to see the end of that process. But it is necessary to build up this confidence. The Protestant distrust of the 418 Roman Catholic Church is pathological. I am at least able to speak with a certain amount of expertise having been brought up as a Protestant and my brother having become a Protestant senator under Mr. de Valera's arrangements.
So I know what it is like to have been brought up a Protestant and become a Catholic. It is nonsense to say that they cannot work together; it would be as absurd as saying that they could not work together here. So it is all fantasy based on regrettable history. Somehow it must be overcome. It must be realised that it is a psychiatric problem, and that somehow it can only be overcome by working together. That is what we must think about. I am all for consultations. conferences, and the like. But in the end it is only the repetition of the sort of experience which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, conducted in company with Lord Faulkner which can solve the problem.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, first, may I say how impressed I was by the wide-ranging, realistic, perceptive and fair-minded speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I was also very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, had to say and I look forward to reading his interesting suggestions in Hansard at leisure tomorrow. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, was critical of the RUC, or at any rate of two members of the RUC, for being trigger-happy. I wonder whether he realises that proportionately more policemen have been murdered in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the Western world.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that I must intervene here. I said nothing about two members of the RUC. I made a comment about an observation which had been made by a judge, but I never mentioned the RUC.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I think that if the noble Lord checks in Hansard he will see that he did mention them, although perhaps he was not being quite as critical as I inferred. However, I am sure he will agree that nowhere else in Europe would the police he as restrained in similar circumstances as they have been in Northern Ireland, given the incidence of policemen killed.
I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, was not after all able to be present tonight, because as I understand it—and, of course, I have not seen a text of his speech—he was intending to be as critical of the Forum' s recommendations as I am, and even more critical of any suggestion that Her Majesty' s Government should treat the report too reverentially than I intend to be. I stress this because I would not want the media to get the impression that this House has gone largely overboard for the Forum's report.
If we were in a seminar or a university lecture hall, I could willingly talk for half an hour or more on the report, having read it through twice paragraph by paragraph and line by line. The report is a clearly written and well-produced document, conceived by a committee which evidently ranged in composition from men of goodwill to men of a rather different disposition. The contents range from one-sided rhetoric where historical matters are concerned to 419 sweet reasonableness as far as the present fears of the Unionists are concerned: here I agree with one or two other noble Lords. The contents also extend to what I believe to be head-in-the-clouds unrealism as regards future options. These might have been possible in 1924 where hearts and minds were concerned and where the idea of forging a common national purpose was concerned, but what was possible in 1924 is totally unrealistic in 1984. Too much water—and not only water—has flowed under the bridge.
However, we are not at a seminar or in a university lecture hall; we are speaking in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and the essential message of this document is that sooner or later the United Kingdom in its present form should be broken up: that part of it should be detached and handed over to another sovereign nation. Although this demand is qualified by the proviso that consent must be forthcoming before such a change in national identity occurs, the report nowhere indicates the precise degree of consent which it deems to be necessary, nor precisely how such consent is to be obtained.
It talks a lot about the carrot in the form of a liberalised, secular and pro-British republic, which few objective observers give much chance of materialising in the foreseeable future. But it keeps rather quiet about the stick, briefly touched on in paragraph 4 of Chapter 5,which involves depriving United Kingdom citizens in the North of the right of self-determination, a right which will continue to be enjoyed by their fellow citizens in England, Scotland and Wales.
As a gentleman from Dublin, himself clearly a man of nationalist sympathies, wrote in yesterday' s Irish Times,The Report [is] a programme for extinguishing the national liberty of the Unionist people".It does not stop there. In paragraph 7 of Chapter 3 the report claims that "the country as a whole" has suffered from partition, thereby effectively claiming that the North legally forms part of the Republic.
It repeatedly claims, especially in Chapter 2, that conflict is inherent in partition: that violence has stemmed from arbitrary division of the island. I think that they have put the cart before the horse. It is not partition itself that necessarily causes violence but the fact that some people—not everybody—refuse to accept it and are constantly encouraged not to accept it by the sentiments expressed in documents such as this one.
After partition, over 60 years ago, those people in the South with strong Unionist convictions either had to shut up or get out. A large number did get out but most decided to keep a low profile and to get on with making the best of things, and no British Government encouraged them to do otherwise. In contrast, the refusal of the leaders of the Northern minority—and I stress "the leaders", I do not think that this necessarily applied to the average man in the street as the interesting survey by Professor Rose in the mid-1960s reveals—to accept the status quo, encouraged from outside (not only from the Republic of Ireland but from elements in the United Kingdom and the United States, and fortified by the 1937 Constitution), provoked insecurity among the majority which reinforced the majority' s existing tendency to inflexibility. I fully accept that the majority needed no 420 encouragement to be inflexible, but offhand I cannot think of any country or of any group in which a feeling of insecurity has not bred inflexibility.
What would one think of politicians in Pakistan who encouraged Indian Moslems not only to be proud of their Islamic heritage but to think of themselves as Pakistanis? What would one think of Austrian politicians who not merely encouraged the German speaking people of the South Tyrol to be proud of their language and their culture but encouraged them to wave the Austrian flag and sing the Austrian national anthem rather than wave the Italian flag and sing the Italian national anthem? What would one think of members of the Chinese Politburo in Peking who encouraged the Chinese minority in Malaysia, who form 42 per cent. of the population, constantly to declare themselves to be Chinese and, by implication, to be disloyal Malaysians?
I like to think that in all the discussion on the subject of Northern Ireland over the past 15 years my views have been coloured by the concept of fairness. I have always believed that those people in the island of Ireland who dislike the whole idea of being British are entitled to be as anti-British and as republican as they wish within their own part of Ireland, which is by far the larger part, covering five-sixths of the land area of the island.
Conversely, I believe that the 25 per cent. of the population of all-Ireland which wants to remain British is entitled to be as wholly and unequivocally British as it wishes within its own very much smaller part of the island. If there have to be a few minor border adjustments to facilitate this process, so be it.
But we live in a free country, in a free Europe, and people are entitled to their own opinions, however objectively unfair and however practically unrealistic we may consider them. I do not consider it correct or seemly for any British Government, least of all a British Government comprised of members of the Conservative and Unionist Party, to treat suggestions that they should deprive some British citizens of their rights to self-determination in order to pave the way for a break up of the United Kingdom with anything other than a polite but frigid thumbs-down.
§ 11.26 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, it is difficult to decide how to deal with this debate at this stage in the evening. We naturally want an answer to the Question which my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby has posed as to the attitude of the Government to the New Ireland Forum report. But equally if we are to do justice, despite the fact that so few noble Lords are present, we need to put certain facts on the record so that they will be in Hansard. I have listened with respect and attention to all noble Lords, and, in particular, those who are more closely associated with the problem, such as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath.
No reference has been made to the other reports which were produced specially for the Forum: such as the cost of violence since 1969—time does not permit me to go into the facts. It is horrific to read in the report confirmation of the facts that many of us knew, of the deaths, the maimings and also the economic costs of violence since 1969. There is another 421 document on the economic consequences of division since 1920,and another on the comparative descriptions of economic structures North and South, which are well worthy of discussion. It is not my intention to deal with those as time does not permit.
References have been made to possible disagreements about the historical account which appears in the Forum report, but that is the account as the nationalists see it. A somewhat more balanced account appeared in the Haagerup report, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, referred. But most people have forgotten the Haagerup report. It would be a tragedy if this report meets the same fate.
I am pleased that a number of our national newspapers have stressed that although the initial reaction may be to reject the report out of hand, that would be wrong. The general view is that it deserves examination and consideration. I certainly do not want noble Lords to go overboard with its acceptance as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested that some noble Lords have done. It deserves serious attention.
In paragraph 2.4 I find,The immense challenge facing political leaders in Britain and Ireland is not merely to arrest the cancer but to create the conditions for a new Ireland and a new society acceptable to all its people".I think those are aspirations with which very few would disagree.
As other noble Lords have said, the report rejects firmly paramilitary organisations and all those who resort to terror and murder to achieve their aims. It also urges that any new form of Ireland must be one where all cultural, political and religious beliefs can be freely expressed and practised. These are aspirations which will encourage all of us.
In paragraph 2.6 it states:It is essential that any proposals for political progress should remove nationalist alienation and assure the identity and security of both unionists and nationalists".I should like to know whether the Government accept the position that there is alienation among nationalists in the North. It is very important that that be answered. If the Government say, "No", then there has to be a lot of thought given. If the Government say, "Yes", then it is a question of how one moves to remove that alienation.
The report closely recognises that there is Unionist majority in the North and that there are two communities. That comes out quite clearly. I was interested to see an editorial in the Irish Times on 3rd May which pointed out that, for the first time, Ireland has put its mind to the problem, and perhaps for the first time has studied the Unionist dilemma thoroughly rather than arguing about it. My noble friend Lord Fitt emphasised that he thinks it is the first time that the Republicans in the South have given serious attention to these points. That leads me to look at paragraph 4.15:So long as the legitimate rights of both Unionists and Nationalists are not accommodated together in new political structures acceptable to both, that situation will continue to give rise to conflict and instability.Reference has been made to the Unionist document, The Way Forward, which I believe presents a new attitude by at least one body of Unionists in Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Hatch referred to 422 Chapter 5 and he quoted a number of extracts. May I quote another in Point 10:Political action is urgently needed to halt disillusionment with democratic politics and the slide towards further violence.That was echoed in an earlier chapter in paragraph 4.12:Constitutional politics are on trial and unless there is action soon to create a framework in which constitutional politics can work, the drift into more extensive civil conflict is in danger of becoming irreversible, with further loss of life and increasing human suffering.Some may feel that that is exaggerated. Others may feel that there are distinct possibilities. If the Forum report helps to mitigate that and to move forward, then it should be welcome.
I am not going to discuss the three alternative proposals and the constitutional change put forward. I believe that it is too early a stage to have serious discussion on those points. I echo what has been said in Chapter 5, that the parties in the Forum remain open to discuss other views which may contribute to political development—a view which was reinforced by Dr. Garret FitzGerald in that weekend TV interview to which reference has been made.
The view of the Leader of the Labour Party and the view of the Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland in the other place is that nothing should be ruled out of the agenda if we are going to use the New Ireland Forum report as a possibility of discussing movement forward. It is essential, in my view, that the British response should not be concentrated on the three alternative options. I think that would be wrong. The report should be looked at as a useful base for discussion of all possibilities. I fervently hope that the Government do not believe that we can just leave things as they are and concentrate solely on security measures. That, I think, would be a great tragedy and I hope that that is not the response—I feel sure it is not the response—that we shall get from the Minister tonight.
I have said that I do not expect an immediate response from the Government. But how do the Government propose to consider the report and all the issues arising from it? I think it would be generally agreed that any initiative would need to come from Dublin or from Westminster. Reference has been made to a possible constitutional conference. A statement was issued by the Leader of the Labour Party jointly with the Leader of the Irish Labour Party only yesterday making that same proposal: that there should be a constitutional conference either of all the constitutional parties, or it may have to be government to government. But, whatever happens, there needs to be a constitutional conference.
Frankly, I realise the problem but one cannot say that we are not going to do for the people of Northern Ireland that which we believe should be pressed upon other parts of the world—Lebanon, Cyprus, even Zimbabwe—a conference to get together to solve these issues. We have pressed it on other parts of the world, surely we cannot say it should not be attempted in the problems of Northern Ireland. We should press forward with a regular British-Irish Council which can consider constitutional issues but also move towards the maximum possible co-operation in other spheres. There needs to be understanding built up, there needs 423 to be confidence and trust built up, and some of the points which have been mentioned can be followed up for the maximum co-operation.
I shall remind you of what various noble Lords have said, which I believe also and which frankly are stressed in the Forum report: the possibilities and consequences of an integrated economic policy and planning; the development of common tourism; coordination of all modes of transport; integration of fuel policies. Some of these will be discussed tomorrow when we are on the appropriation order, the common farming policy and maybe also a move towards aspects of joint security; maybe a move also to consideration of human rights. All these points can help to build confidence and these are the things we ought to be striving for. We should not only be believing that we need to have discussions now on the various constitutional alternatives, there are ways of cooperation which should be built up which may lead to discussion of constitutional matters. Incidentally, we ought to give a welcome to the referendum vote in support of the suggestion that British citizens resident in the Republic should have the same voting rights as we give to Irish citizens in this country. That is a step forward, one that should give us some encouragement.
Nobody will believe—I certainly do not—that the Forum report offers a complete blueprint for the way out, but it is a move forward from the nationalist opinion in the Republic which we have not had before. We ought to accept it as a basis for discussion. Unless we do that, I do not believe—nor will many noble Lords believe—that we can solve the problems of Northern Ireland only by more rigorous security measures. History proves that does not happen, there must be other measures, and the Forum report gives a basis for discussion. I hope that the Government will also accept that and will tell us how they propose to proceed to discuss the various proposals.
§ 11. 37 p. m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)
My Lords, I rise after a fascinating and really stimulating debate this evening. I am sure that everybody who has taken part—and indeed those of your Lordships who have not spoken—would agree that in Britain public—and frequently political—opinion on the subject that we have been dsicussing this evening, Northern Ireland, is very often superficial, and occasionally it is even misguided. What, we like to call informed debate on the complex and often intractable issues involved—especially to the standard that we have been accustomed to this evening—is of the greatest importance where knowledge and understanding are of the essence.
Many of your Lordships, and many people in the United Kingdom, may justifiably ask what right the Republic of Ireland has to pronounce on the future of Northern Ireland; never mind why the United Kingdom Government are willing to consider their views. I should like to suggest that the Government feel that we have to bear in mind that the United Kingdom shares its only land boundary with the Republic of Ireland, and we share, or are divided by, a common history, as has been hinted at by the noble 424 Earl, Lord Longford. Our institutions are similar; our economic, social and cultural interests are intertwined. Our joint membership of the European Community has deepened the ties between us and has increased the areas of common interest. I am sure that we all wish to congratulate my noble friend Lady Elles on her victory in the European elections, and we are delighted that your Lordships have one more representative in the European Assembly.
But both our countries have experienced the common threat of violence and our close co-operation in matters of security is a vital element in the defeat of terrorism, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will concur in regard to everything that we have been doing in that area. For all these reasons, the Government have tried to ensure that the Irish Government are kept in touch with our thinking on Northern Ireland and, above all, that we know their views.
The problems of Northern Ireland demand that we give attention to all responsible views which may help us to improve the political prospects of the Province. Failure to take account of the views put forward by the Forum would be purblind and would leave the United Kingdom rightly open to international censure, and to the justified criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I think your Lordships will agree with me that we have once again been privileged to hear a particularly brave and distinguished speech. The noble Lord was kind enough to congratulate me on my first speech from this position. I thank him for his welcome and would stress to him, to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and to every noble Lord in your Lordships' House how thrilled I am to be able to serve in Northern Ireland. The welcome that has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, is typical of the welcome that I have received from all sections of the community all over Northern Ireland.
Equally, we should not ignore other proposals, such as the interesting paper which was published in April this year by the official Unionists, to which several of your Lordships referred, called The Way Forward. There is, I believe, widespread concern shared by these two documents, and shared also by your Lordships, about the continuing problems in Northern Ireland. We share, also, a desire to leave no avenue unexplored in the search for ways to restore greater peace, stability and prosperity to the Province.
The early reactions to the Forum report, which the Question of the noble Lord, Lord. Hatch, seeks to establish, were set out in the statement issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 2nd May on behalf of the Government. The Government are presently studying some of the issues raised in the Forum report and reactions to it, not least from those who represent the views of the people of Northern Ireland. We were especially interested to hear comments from the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, who, I am sure your Lordships will be aware, serves with considerable distinction in the Assembly. I think he is the Deputy Speaker and, from all that I have heard and read, he serves with eminent distinction. His knowledge of Northern Ireland is especially valuable in your Lordships' House this evening.
425 I am afraid that the Government are not in a position to make any further substantive comment until all the deliberations to which I referred have been concluded. Therefore, to my regret, I am not able to go as far as I should have liked down some of the avenues which have been opened up in the debate this evening. I am sure that your Lordships will understand if I do not respond in detail to every point which has been made, but I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and others of your Lordships, that the Government will consider more than carefully the points which have emerged from the debate this evening. All the points will serve as a useful gauge of parliamentary opinion, and I have no doubt that they will be taken into account in the preparation of our considered response.
Our discussions this evening have clearly highlighted some of the contradictions inherent in the report. While I should not wish to rake over old embers, we can agree that attention has rightly been drawn to the biased and one-sided historical sections and the frequently undeserved criticism of Her Majesty' s Government's efforts to deal with the problems in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the fact that the report represents a considerable effort on the part of the constitutional nationalist parties of the island of Ireland, North and South. to address the problems of political instability and violence.
In doing so it is a disappointment that the parties to the Forum did not carry the principle of consent—which the report fully accepts in Chapter 5 and elsewhere, and which is the touchstone of Her Majesty' s Government' s policy—to its logical conclusion. Sadly, the report does not recognise the reality that consent to a change in sovereignty in Northern Ireland in any of the three forms suggested in the report will not be forthcoming for the foreseeable future. The report therefore did not address the basic reality of the present situation—that it is necessary to face up to the immediate problems of division and profound disagreement in Northern Ireland.
For their part, the Government will continue to strive to provide a basis on which all the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, Unionists and Nationalists, can live more securely—and I would stress this particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, since he rightly made great play of the security situation—peacefully and prosperously together in the future, giving appropriate expression to their identities and aspirations, and playing their proper part in public affairs. To secure this objective, the Government would like to restore to the people of the Province a degree of responsibility for their own affairs. Close involvement in the governmental process will foster responsibility, and it will allow the people of the Province a say in their own affairs. But to be durable and, above all, effective, the structures and arrangements arrived at will have to be widely acceptable throughout the community. Only in this way can the people of Northern Ireland begin to work together for the common good, each respecting the other' s identity and traditions.
As many of your Lordships have pointed out tonight, the report of the New Ireland Forum does not face up to these key questions. But that does not totally detract from the value of the report. We should certainly not overlook the fact that, in setting out their 426 principles, the parties concerned have stated their willingness to consider other views; nor should we overlook the many important, positive and helpful elements in the report which have been welcomed by the Government. In the first place, it confirms the established position of successive Irish Governments that unity is sought on a basis freely negotiated and agreed to by the people of the North and by the people of the South. Secondly, and commendably, it unequivocally opposes violence and all who advocate it. Thirdly, it fully illustrates the participants' commitment to seek progress through the democratic process. And, not least, it makes considerable efforts to recognise and respect the distinctive identity and tradition of Ulster Unionists.
I have no doubt that your Lordships will agree that the problems of the Province demand that we take full cognisance of all these positive elements and consider how they can best be utilised in the search for a peaceful and, above all, a lasting solution. I urge all of us here this evening to judge the report in the positive spirit in which it has been presented to us—as an agenda, rather than a blueprint.
In a similar manner the Government are giving careful consideration to the Ulster Unionist Party discussion document, The Way Forward, which has already been referred to. We have welcomed, first, its recognition that the minority should have a role in the structures of government in Northern Ireland; secondly, its acknowledgement of their distinctive cultural and social traditions; thirdly, its recognition that the minority community considers that it is discriminated against and that remedies should be sought to deal with this belief. It, too, leaves the way open for discussion.
Many people looking at the problems of Northern Ireland perceive it as a hopeless situation, where negative attitudes are matched by negative reactions. All those of your Lordships who have participated in this debate and those of your Lordships who have been present and have listened will appreciate the genuine fears and frustrations which lie behind this perception. But I hope that that view can soon be confounded, and that we shall gradually see the degree of confidence and reassurance necessary to create a more positive climate.
Recent signs of flexibility, however limited, do give some grounds for hope. But let it be our role to encourage people on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland to maintain their efforts to achieve some workable accommodation in the interests of the peace and the prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland—and indeed of these islands as a whole.