HL Deb 17 October 1994 vol 558 cc11-25

3.8 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Much has happened over the past few weeks in Northern Irish politics. It is, therefore, clearly useful that the House should take the earliest opportunity to discuss the latest developments. They are important and, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for his initiative in suggesting that the House should discuss such matters— a sentiment with which Her Majesty's Government wholly agree.

I also hope that the late change in the business has not unduly inconvenienced too many of your Lordships. I shall try to be brief. There are many who wish to speak and there is other business for the House to consider this evening. Therefore, if your Lordships will allow me, perhaps I may suggest that we ought to try to impose some sort of self-denying ordinance as to the length of speeches. I shall try to set a good example in that respect.

As noble Lords know only too well, the past 25 years have seen spilt an horrific quantity of United Kingdom blood and United Kingdom treasure. Neither has the Irish Republic emerged from the troubles entirely unscathed. It is only right that any British Government should put the peace of Northern Ireland at the top of their agenda. After all, Ireland has been the graveyard of many a Westminster political career. Therefore, I am sure that the whole House will admire the courage of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister for ignoring that uncomfortable historical fact and seizing an opportunity when he saw it. The Joint Declaration by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach last December created the conditions to achieve an end to all paramilitary violence. It set out the principles which both governments believe can provide a basis for peace and for a political settlement—the principles of democracy and consent. The Joint Declaration indeed received widespread support. Sinn Fein and the IRA have been unable to achieve their objectives militarily and the Joint Declaration left them isolated. It showed them that the only way forward was by peaceful means—by persuasion through political argument. Her Majesty's Government therefore welcomed the announcement by the IRA on 31st August of, a complete cessation of military operations". But I feel that nevertheless we ought to be clear what peace means. It does not mean giving in to the IRA, for one very simple reason. The majority of people in Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and Nationalist, believe in parliamentary government rather than political change brought about through violence. When they committed themselves to parliamentary government those people renounced other means of achieving their political objectives, whether the club, the flintlock, the Armalite or indeed high explosives. If ever the affairs of the Province were to be settled with Semtex instead of the mere acrimony of party politics, no good reason would remain for the people of Northern Ireland to continue to put their faith in our traditions of representative government.

That is surely one reason why it was so important for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to make the commitment he did to holding a referendum, to give the people of the Province the chance to accept or to reject the terms of any political settlement that might emerge from multi-party talks. Without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland the Government will not adopt any proposals that emerge from such talks. Had such an undertaking not been given, I have to tell the House that I, for one, should have been most unhappy. What is clearly more important indeed is that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister would himself have been most unhappy.

Her Majesty's Government have been criticised in some quarters for moving too slowly towards accepting the bona fides of the IRA. I must say I am astonished that such criticism should be made. After all, subjects of the Queen, police, soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Queen have been subjected for 25 years to the horrors of a particularly nasty guerrilla war conducted by at most a very few hundred gangsters wrapping themselves in the Irish tricolour and in doing so defiling it. It is entirely reasonable for us therefore to exercise due caution and to ask for some evidence that they accept that the only way the Province should be governed should be by peaceful and parliamentary means. Not to be cautious would be to raise perhaps false hopes needlessly and would be to play a cruel trick on the people of Northern Ireland who after all, as this House knows perhaps more than most, have endured so much, so courageously for so long, and indeed on the security forces whose skill, bravery and restraint are, as I am sure the House will agree, beyond praise. It is only fair too that we should apply the same degree of caution to last week's declaration from the Loyalist paramilitaries, which nevertheless I believe saw another extremely important part of the jigsaw falling into place.

We ourselves of course have begun to respond to the encouraging calm that has descended on the Province. We have opened a number of border crossing posts; our soldiers now wear berets instead of helmets; and, perhaps more important still, we have lifted the broadcasting ban so that now supporters of terrorism must expose themselves to what I believe Mr. Enoch Powell has called "the power of debate". Indeed, before any party can take part in the processes of parliamentary government we would expect it to comply, too, with the accepted canons of the Westminster model of parliamentary government. This means not just that electors should vote, late or early, only once. It means that parties and their associates should not hold stocks of weaponry stashed away in case the voters do not support them. It means that they should leave the maintenance of law and order to the police and to the courts and should themselves support the law.

When as a result of their words and deeds, and more particularly in this instance their lack of deeds, and when we can be confident that the IRA has given up violence for good, we are prepared within three months to enter into exploratory talks with Sinn Fein. These talks would examine the practical consequences of the ending of violence. They would examine the basis on which Sinn Fein would be admitted to political talks and they would be a means of exchanging views on how, over a period, Sinn Fein might play the same role as the existing constitutional parties in the public life of Northern Ireland.

Your Lordships will also be aware that over the past 12 months we have been engaged in two parallel sets of discussions. The first set has been with three of the main constitutional parties in the Province. The second has been with the Government of the Republic with the object of reaching a shared understanding of what characteristics a settlement should possess if it is likely to attract broad support in the Province.

The latter set of discussions has, I know, set all sorts of alarm bells ringing in unionist minds. I use the word "unionist" with a small "u" to cover many members of my own party, as well as others. I, perhaps more than many Englishmen, understand that. After all, there is no point in hiding the fact from your Lordships that I was one of those very few who voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in another place in 1985. However, I remind your Lordships that the Government's interest is to find common ground between the interested parties that can form the basis of a settlement we can put to the people of Northern Ireland. We are not—it is worth emphasising this—in the business of cooking up deals or seeking imposed solutions. The Ulster Unionist Party and other parties will be participating in any talks leading up to any proposal for a settlement. The Ulster Unionist Party has been engaged for the past 12 months in the bilateral discussions to which I have just referred. It has an opportunity to resist proposals it regards as unacceptable, and the people of the Province will have what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister called "the cast iron guarantee" of the referendum. Indeed, my right honourable friend the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was quoted last week as saying, there is no possibility of us being betrayed". I do not know about your Lordships, but I hope that reassures the unionists with a big "u" and a small "u".

Finally, many who support the Union—my noble friend Lord Tebbit I think is one and I am sorry to see he is not in his place today—have expressed the fear that all this is a smokescreen. Under its cover we are thought to be proceeding down a slippery slope of small concessions to the Nationalists which, when the smoke clears, will reveal us to have conceded de facto joint authority in Northern Ireland as a half-way house to complete unification. I was delighted therefore when on 25th April last Mr. Spring, the Irish Foreign Minister, said, Joint authority is not being considered". Indeed such an authority cannot and will not form part of any settlement, covert or otherwise, so long as the people of Northern Ireland reject it. And indeed there appears to be no foreseeable prospect of their accepting it.

The House will know—many of your Lordships better than I —that the people of Northern Ireland have made a great contribution to the United Kingdom in both peace and war. Most of them undoubtedly wish to remain a part of the United Kingdom, a desire which I believe is by no means limited to the Protestant side of the Community. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said at a certain party conference in Bournemouth last week: we are glad of it: it is a strength and an inspiration". We are not indifferent to those sentiments. However, if the people of Northern Ireland come to want to leave, although nobody would be more sorry than I, we would wish them Godspeed and would not stand in their way.

Meanwhile, Her Majesty's Government will do everything in their power to secure a lasting peace; but it must be a peace which is properly obtained. I have tried to emphasise this afternoon that there have been no secret deals. However, for such a peace to last it must be acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland as a whole, both Unionist and Nationalist. Both parts of the community must feel that they have a proper stake in society and a fair say in decisions that affect their lives. The principles of even-handedness, agreement and consent which are exemplified in the Joint Declaration will continue to be our guide.

We have made a start. We can only hope for success. We ask for the prayers of all to help us towards that success in the weeks and months to come.

Moved, That this House takes note of recent developments in Northern Ireland.—(Viscount Cranborne.)

3.21 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, when the noble Viscount the Leader of the House started his speech, he referred to the fact that I had asked for this debate. That is true. It seemed to me to be sensible that at this stage this House should examine what has happened and the prospects for the future.

I say in no spirit of rancour to the noble Viscount that I wish that he had given us a more generous overview of where the Government now see the prospects. He reminded us that he was one of those who voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. One respects him for the vigour and continuity of his views. Having heard his speech this afternoon, I can understand why, holding those views, he voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

Perhaps I may begin by giving the Government credit (which they deserve) for what has happened so far in relation to Northern Ireland. So far the negotiations, such as they have been, have gone well. I believe that credit deserves to be given, and I am happy publicly to give that credit.

I should also like to give some credit to somebody who was not mentioned by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House; namely, John Hume. We do not know precisely what happened in the discussions between Mr. Hume and Mr. Adams. I have not seen the famous document which both of them are supposed to have signed, and I do not know whether the Government have had sight of it. But there is no doubt that Mr. Hume played a considerable role in changing the atmosphere and in producing a situation in which the IRA could make their declaration.

The only certainty about affairs in Northern Ireland at present is that they are moving. Change is not only taking place, but it seems to be accelerating. Yesterday the sight of Mr. Ervine of the Protestant paramilitaries and Mr. McGuiness for the IRA on the same television programme, although not yet in the same studio, was a sight which I did not expect to see happening quickly. Indeed, it would have been inconceivable a few weeks ago.

The news last week that the Protestant paramilitaries were giving up their campaign of violence was extremely welcome. After all, it is the first time in many years that Northern Ireland can look forward to a period in which sudden death is not the normal day's news. It therefore behoves us now to look at the situation as objectively and dispassionately as we can. We owe the people of Northern Ireland our analysis and our judgment as well as our prayers and our hopes.

The first issue that has to be addressed is the genuineness or otherwise of the ceasefire. It seems to me that, so far as the Protestant paramilitaries are concerned (as, indeed, they have said), provided the IRA ceasefire holds the likelihood of a resumption of violence by them is small. If that is so, the question remains whether one can now accept the permanence of the IRA's cessation of violence. The fact that the word "permanent" has not been used is probably now not very important. Indeed, as time passes and the ceasefire continues to hold the non-use of that word becomes increasingly less significant. Last week the Secretary of State said that there was now a presumption of permanence. I prefer to say that there is now a presumption of the continuation of non-violence.

On the other hand, the statements made by Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuiness, which I found disturbing, are also significant. We must not forget them when we consider the totality of the situation. What Mr. Adams said to the Boston Herald 10 days ago was disturbing. He said that no one could guarantee: that two or three years up the road, if the causes of conflict aren't resolved another IRA leadership won't come along". Mr. McGuiness, when asked whether the ceasefire was permanent, contented himself with saying rather tritely: nothing in life is permanent". That is true, but it does not advance the political process a great deal.

Therefore, I believe that the Government have been right to be relatively cautious in their acceptance of the words used by Sinn Fein. But, as I said earlier, words now matter less than deeds. It may be that within the ranks of the IRA itself the possibility of the use of the word "permanent" had provoked a major political row. We do not know, and I am happy to say that I have no means of inquiring. However, the longer the ceasefire exists the more one is entitled to treat it as being permanent.

The Government have said that exploratory talks will be held within three months after they have sufficient indications that the IRA intends the ceasefire to be permanent and there has been "a period of verification". It has been said that the period of verification has already begun and that the Government are waiting less for a specific form of words from the IRA than for a feeling that Unionist opinion is ready for those talks to begin. If that is so then, again, as more time passes without violence, and particularly after this weekend, that approach becomes less demanding. While the Government were right to be cautious in their response to the IRA ceasefire, it is also right that today we should be cautiously optimistic about the possibilities of those ceasefires holding. We should therefore now look forward to the next stages in the peace process rather than over-analysing what has already taken place.

I should like to say a word about the security forces. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House was right— and I echo his sentiments—to pay tribute to what the security forces have achieved over the past 25 years. It is great, and their contribution has been massive. I do not think that this is the time for scaling down the security forces in Northern Ireland. It is right that the Government again should be cautious as to the way in which they approach the question of how many soldiers are needed in Ulster. I am sure that it is also right that the Government should reject any suggestion of demilitarisation of Catholic areas alone, as some Nationalists have demanded. That would be not only divisive, but I believe that it would be totally unacceptable.

However one looks at the situation in Northern Ireland, the Province is still deeply divided. I was shocked the other day to find that well over half the population of Northern Ireland live in wards that are more than 90 per cent. Catholic or 90 per cent. Protestant. Ever since its creation people in Northern Ireland have been divided in their national allegiances. Those divisions express themselves in voting, culture, education, and also, until recently, in overtly discriminatory treatment of one community by the other. Economic inequality still exists in Ulster and there is no point in denying it. There are strong disagreements over policing and the administration of justice. Thus although the threat of violence may be removed, we are still faced with the realities of those divisions. It will take generations to overcome that legacy of history. However, the best opportunity of so doing almost certainly lies in economic terms. If Northern Ireland were to become more prosperous, if job opportunities were greater and more equally shared, then some of those ancient divisions and antipathies might begin to abate.

There are still far too many arms on both sides in the Province. Somehow in the course of the negotiations such arms have to be brought under better control. Do the Government insist on a surrender of weapons and explosives by both sides, or at least on mutual and balanced disarmament? Do the Government foresee that as an issue to he raised in the negotiations in the short-term; and, if so, how? Indeed, I ask the Government this question: is that insistence to be a prerequisite to the negotiations even beginning? That is an issue upon which we are entitled to ask the question and to receive an answer.

There is still much to be done, but at least now there is a real prospect that some of those issues may be tackled against a background of peace and for that we are, and should be, extremely grateful.

The two Governments are in the process of preparing a framework document. Perhaps I may say this to the Government. They should not expect to be able to please all sides. Indeed perhaps the best outcome—-at least to start with—would be that dissatisfaction with that framework document should be evenly spread. It is far better that all sides should feel mildly dissatisfied rather than that one should feel grossly so. Perhaps I may say one further word of caution to the Government. Do not be too optimistic on the political side. It is unlikely that the problems in Ireland will be solved in the short term. We are at the beginning of a process. We are nowhere in sight yet of a solution.

However, when the framework document emerges— and I shall be grateful for more information about it from the Minister who will wind up—the issue of acceptability of any proposals by a majority of the people in Northern Ireland is, in my view, fundamental. The majority, as well as the minority, in Ulster have rights. One should never forget those rights. The principal right that the majority has derives from the fact that it is the majority community and that therefore it is entitled to have its approval sought. I do not believe that Government could conceivably accept an obligation to persuade the Protestants in Ulster to accept a united Ireland. Mr. Bruton, the Fine Gael leader, writing recently in the Irish Times, stated: The only united Ireland worth having is one that is not only consented to, but is actively desired, without coercion of any kind, by all the major communities on the island. That is what I am working for. Anything less than that would bring tragedy and strife to the whole island. That is why I so strongly object to the Sinn Fein idea that the British should do the 'persuading' for them. Not only is this concept dangerous in its practical implications, it is unworthy of any self respecting Irish person. It is a form of inverted colonialism. It is, quite literally, shameful. We must be men and women enough to do our own persuading, without threat, coercion or outside pressure from Britain, from America or anywhere else". I find that argument totally convincing.

For centuries Ireland has been a divisive force in British politics. Perhaps it is true that the English have never truly understood, or perhaps really tried to understand, Ireland or the Irish. Perhaps it is true that the memory of 1916 is still too alive on both sides of the Border. But it is also true—and that is the importance of today—that for the first time in generations there seems to be a glimmer of an opportunity to produce a lasting settlement. Perhaps this time Ireland really is at one of those crossroads in history about which people talk, perhaps too glibly. But, if it is, I hope that we have learnt the lesson that a settlement in Ireland can come only from the Irish themselves. It certainly cannot be imposed by Westminster or, for that matter, Dublin; and certainly not from Washington. The process is now launched; and for that we should all be profoundly grateful.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, perhaps I may add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, for suggesting the debate, and to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for acceding to it. For those of us accustomed to discussing Northern Ireland in the interstices of parliamentary business at strange times of the night, it is useful to be able to do so in peak time, as it were. It is also a particular pleasure to hear the noble Viscount, with his personal and ancestral interests in the issue, introduce the debate. Many noble Lords will have listened to what he had to say with particular interest, given his long commitment to the affairs of Northern Ireland.

It is sometimes said in Belfast that an optimist is someone who has not heard the news. I believe that this is one of those occasions when the news is good. We are allowed to be hopeful, and to feel a sense of opportunity not just for Northern Ireland but for Anglo-Irish relations, which have been bedevilled for so many centuries in the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, described.

We should give credit to the paramilitaries who have stopped shooting. We should give even more credit to those intermediaries, some highly visible like Mr. Hume—the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to him— and many more who remain invisible but who have worked so hard to bring about this truce—this cessation of violence which we hope is something more. This development has been a great success for the two Prime Ministers. From these Benches I should like to pay a quite unqualified tribute to what the Prime Minister and Mr. Reynolds have achieved together. They have advanced a long way along the path to peace. It would be appropriate, too, to mention the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his team, and Mr. Dick Spring who has played such a notable role as Irish Foreign Minister.

I emphasise the understanding between the Governments. No negotiation—we now look forward to a process of negotiation—works unless there is a centre at the heart of it which holds together. That is the lesson of South Africa and the Middle East; it is the lesson that we should learn. Negotiations cannot succeed without a centre—a place where the agreement that has been constructed matters more than the misgivings of the nervous and the militant on the respective wings of those concerned.

In Northern Ireland that centre should be constituted by Mr. Hume and Mr. Molyneaux, the leaders of the SDLP and the official Unionists, and by the coming together of the Unionist and nationalist positions in realistic discussion and realistic negotiations. But, of course, both those gentlemen face outward to the world, to their respective sponsors, to the United states and to their respective communities. We have not yet reached the point where they face towards each other to talk to each other and become the centre about which I speak. The only centre of these putative negotiations is the two Governments. In that context it seems to me more important than anything else that the two Governments hold together.

I am one of those who takes the view that the Joint Declaration is a major step forward in Anglo-Irish negotiations. I believe that the declaration is more realistic than the Anglo-Irish Agreement which preceded it. It seems to represent a firm basis for progress. However, it is worth while spelling out what that declaration means because it is the deal that dare not speak its name. It needs spelling out to avoid the negotiating process becoming one of mutual misrepresentation.

I believe that the Downing Street Declaration means that the unity of Ireland becomes a legitimate but long-term aspiration which is achievable only peacefully, by consent. Mr. Reynolds himself has put the timescale at more than 20 years, but it may be much longer than 20 years; it may never come. It may be achieved so far ahead that the context, both European and global, will have totally changed by the time that it does come.

Those who want the unity of Ireland as an immediate objective have a painful step to take, which is to accept that it has become, instead of an immediate objective, a long-term aspiration. But—and this is an enormous "but" —the Unionists, safe behind their referendum, to which the noble Viscount referred, have themselves to come to terms not only with the legitimacy of the aspiration for the unity of Ireland but with sharing power in Northern Ireland, protecting the rights of the minority in Northern Ireland and finding new forms of pan-Irish co-operation, particularly on the economy and infrastructure where there are such great steps forward in prosperity to be achieved, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said.

One only has to voice that obvious trade-off as explicitly as I have done to see how steep the hill ahead still is. It is good that we have reached this point, but anyone who now gives way to optimism has not heard the news, has not heard the entrenched attitudes that exist to be overcome. They have not realised that the Joint Declaration, in the terms in which I have just described it, presents hard challenges to both communities. So we need all the more convergence and initiative at the centre between the governments.

I can understand what has gone on over the past seven weeks, the case for role-playing, with the Taoiseach "cementing" Mr. Adams into the peace process and with Mr. Major reassuring Unionists and Loyalists. But the definite sense of caution in the United Kingdom is now palpable. I for one, as spokesman for my party, have been anxious to support the Government in their caution. I think that there has been every reason to be cautious about the IRA; but the time has now come when the Government should use a little less caution and be prepared to move the momentum forward. After all, it is now nearly seven weeks since the IRA ceasefire.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that if people do not voice the right words, then one must judge them by their actions. Their actions have been of maintaining the ceasefire. Now, crucially, the Loyalist paramilitaries have followed suit. The Loyalist paramilitaries must themselves have made their own judgment of the seriousness of the change of strategy by the IRA. Mr. Molyneaux has clearly made that judgment because he thinks that the time has come to move on to the next stage. So I think that the Government ought now to consider changing gear. First, they should accept that however natural the suspicions we all share about Sinn Fein and the IRA leadership, the ceasefire represents a serious change of strategy, at least on their part.

If the Government decide in the near future that the IRA and Sinn Fein are serious, could they not wind the clock back and take the time which has already passed into account so that talks can start in five weeks from now? That would mean talks before Christmas, rather than losing momentum with a further three months' probation. Let us just dwell on that. The point of the three months was to establish that they were serious. Let us not double count. Once we have decided that they are serious, once we have decided that this is for good and for real, why can we not get ahead and get the process moving before Christmas?

Thirdly, and I think most important, is that Mr. Major and Sir Patrick Mayhew should move on from questions of process, which have consumed us ever since the ceasefire was declared, to issues of substance—the disarming of paramilitary organisations to which both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord referred, matched by prudent, step by step measures of demilitarisation. I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said about the IRA not becoming the de facto civil power in Nationalist areas. It is vital that that should not happen. But by the same token, the Government need to look carefully—as I know they have over many years without much success—at the composition of the RUC which is so overwhelmingly Protestant in its membership that many Catholics doubt it. Of course, we all know the reason for that: Catholics who tried to join it have been lent on by the paramilitaries, the terrorists. Now, in the situation of the ceasefire, any activity which tends to deter people from joining their own civil police force in a civil society should be looked on particularly askance.

Further, the time has come to consider a comprehensive review of all emergency security legislation which impacts on human rights. The great danger is that we take the security issues one by one; they seem to be concessions to the IRA rather than being a response to the new situation. There is a great danger in this country, as several noble Lords know: the Official Secrets Act was introduced as a temporary measure during the First World War and yet it is still with us. The danger is that after some of the emergency legislation is needed, it hangs on in a perpetual twilight. How much better that the Government should look at it comprehensively, rather than item by item in response to the new situation as it develops.

Most important of all, I believe that a draft of the framework document for the future government of Northern Ireland should be published for early discussion by the politicians and people of Northern Ireland. We should recognise that the name of the game is not enthusiasm. Again, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Richard, we cannot expect either community to respond to the framework document with enthusiasm. We are not seeking enthusiasm, we seek acceptance. If we are to have peace in Northern Ireland, pretty well everyone will have to accept what is from their point of view the second best. The sooner they are able to accept that reality, the better.

What will that framework document say? It will say something, I hope, about devolution. It is preposterous that we are considering the detailed governance of Northern Ireland in this House and another place late at night, as we do. Those are issues that should be decided by Northern Irish people in Northern Ireland. We need devolved government in Northern Ireland. We need devolved government on the basis of some system of sharing power between the two communities. Let no one tell us that it cannot be done, it has been done in Holland and Belgium and it can be done in other places. We need a Bill of Rights that enshrines the legitimacy of both traditions and protects minorities. When the noble Baroness replies, I should be interested if she would address herself specifically to the prospect of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. I speak as someone who has long been committed to a Bill of Rights in the United Kingdom; but I do not think that that argument should be used on this occasion. It is one of the few measures that unites all parties in Northern Ireland, it is generally acceptable in Northern Ireland and could form part of the solution there. I should be interested to know whether the Government are prepared to act on the matter.

What we are really looking for in the framework document is the outline of a constitutional settlement for Northern Ireland. Rather than going down the path, which is a cul-de-sac, of joint authority and involvement by the Irish Republic and the government of Northern Ireland, I wonder whether we should rather think of the role of the Irish Republic being that of guarantor of the new constitutional settlement.

I urge the British and Irish Governments to be positive and clear with Mr. Molyneaux and Mr. Hume respectively. I urge Mr. Molyneaux and Mr. Hume to determine to make the compromises that are necessary for peace.

One of the sad aspects about Northern Ireland of which the noble Baroness will know is the extent to which so many active middle-class people have given up politics and dropped out, upset by the raucousness of the political debate and the extreme sectarianism. They have gone to enjoy contented professional and business lives in suburbs where they do not see much violence. If nothing else, let us hope that now the process of rational discussion is moving forward, they will be attracted back into the political process, both in local government and in government for the Province. It is particularly important that the voice of non-sectarianism be heard, as well as of the formal representatives of the two communities. The Alliance Party has made such a contribution. We should think of the role of integrated education. We should address ourselves to people who do not care to be lined up forever in a column that is labelled "green" or "orange".

Peace, power-sharing and mutual respect will not in the end be created in Northern Ireland by politicians or by constitutional devices, however fundamental those are. They will be created by a change of culture, by a gradual, long-term, incremental sense of moving away from the culture of victimhood that is shared by both communities and by starting to create the new era of confidence and co-operation which I now believe is within our reach.

3.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for making this debate possible this afternoon.

As an Ulsterman and a native of Belfast, I find it somewhat moving and a cause of great thanksgiving to be able to speak in such a debate as this, which for the first time in 25 years is being held against a backdrop of non-violence in Northern Ireland. It is personally moving for another reason, and I hope your Lordships will recognise the unique position in which I find myself. As I look round this House today, I see many noble Lords who, as former Secretaries or Ministers of State for Northern Ireland or as Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland, have served my homeland with political distinction and personal courage. I welcome the opportunity that is provided by this debate of expressing genuine gratitude to them, and indeed to all those who for the past 25 years have been working tirelessly for peace in Northern Ireland.

The cessation of violence on the part of the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries is to be warmly welcomed, but it is, as it were, the "copper bottom" on the strenuous efforts for peace on the part of trade unionists, industrialists, Church and community leaders and those small but significant communities, like Columbanus and Corrymeela, to name but two of very many, which have not only held the vision of peace but have practised it across the political, sectarian and religious divide.

It is not my intention to make a lengthy speech. Such is the experience of Northern Ireland affairs contained within the membership of this House that I want to listen eagerly to, and learn from, the wisdom that will be revealed during the course of the debate. I shall restrict my comments therefore to just two matters about which I feel most strongly. The first concerns what I believe to be the wider context and true perspective in which this debate is being held. I refer to the Downing Street Declaration, which other noble Lords have already mentioned.

Misguided people in the USA may project onto the Sinn Fein leader of the role of peacemaker and miracle worker. But to my mind the true miracle workers in this matter are the Prime Ministers of this country and the Republic of Ireland. They are the true focus of hope.

The media has tended to emphasise the so-called "Adams factor". But the truth of the matter is that in Northern Ireland Mr. Adams, as president of Sinn Fein, represents only 10 per cent. of the voting population and in the whole of Ireland less than 5 per cent. Unlike John Hume, who, whatever reservations some of us may have (and some of us do have reservations), will come to the forthcoming discussions with an honourable and consistent record of seeking peace, Mr. Adams, by contrast, carries in his pocket the coinage of violence.

"Give peace a chance" has been a repeated refrain and an avowed aspiration over the years. The British Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach have responded positively, skilfully, sensitively and, I believe, successfully to such an aspiration. It is they who represent the feelings and hopes of the people of these islands. For the vast majority of the population and all the political parties, with the exception of Sinn Fein and the DUP, support the Downing Street Declaration.

What now needs to happen is a commitment on the part of all people of goodwill to make that declaration work. It needs to be clothed with some form of local assembly. It needs to be clothed with certain necessary reforms, for instance in the realm of law and order. It needs to be clothed with a non-threatening North-South co-operation—with both sides co-operating under the umbrella of consent. Along with the promised framework document, it needs to be implemented without either undue haste or unnecessary delay and with the sensitivity and skill that will forestall the twin dangers of pan-nationalism and pan-unionism.

That brings me to the second of the two matters on which I wish to speak. Over the years successive Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland have declared that the ultimate resolution of the so-called Irish question has to be found among the Irish people. I believe that to be the case. But those who watched the brief American television clash between Mr. Adams and Mr. Maginnis will have seen a preview of the difficulties that are likely to be encountered in the discussions that will follow the publication of the framework document

. Despite what Mr. Adams says, Britain needs to be a facilitator rather than a persuader in these matters. And, to be frank, the task ahead is an onerous one. So far as the IRA is concerned, the armed struggle may have exhausted itself but the struggle itself is not over. There are very many unresolved issues. How easy, for instance, will it be for the Official Unionist Party (let alone the DUP) to sit down with Sinn Fein after what has happened in the past 25 years? If mainstream unionism and mainstream nationalism (in the form of the SDLP) have found it impossible to work together in the past is that situation likely to improve when Sinn Fein is added to the mix?

That is the measure of the task. That is why all who are engaged in it will need our prayers, understanding and practical support. It is an immense challenge. Both communities will be in need of constant reassurance. When unrealistic objectives are not met there will be the usual rhetoric of betrayal. (Dare I mention who will make the rhetoric?) Real interests and possibilities for constructive ways forward will need to be found. Progress will not be possible without change and compromise. Ahead are dangers, risks and wonderful opportunities for creative ways forward. As a senior Irish Church leader has said: A new situation exists. We are moving on and we need new maps and new compasses". But, at the end of the day it is the people of Ireland who will create the environment that will lead to a lasting peace. It was Archbishop Robin Eames who said, a few weeks before the IRA ceasefire was declared, An end to violence is a vital step—but only a step, so much more remains to be done. Attitudes will have to change, grievances real and imagined will have to be faced honestly and openly and people will have to learn that the real healing of our community is about much more than an absence of violence". Sectarianism has been a poison that has seeped into every part of life in Northern Ireland—and the Church has not been free from it. If the present opportunities for lasting peace are to be grasped and built upon, the evils of sectarian attitudes, actions and words must be faced with an implacable determination to eradicate them as fully as possible from the Ulster scene.

It is sectarianism that has permitted and encouraged the politics of confrontation. It has warped the minds of paramilitaries. It has hindered community growth. It has fed fear and uncertainty about the future. It is a problem that cannot be solved by governments. It is a challenge that must be faced by every section of Ulster society. It is certainly a challenge that must be confronted by the Churches in Northern Ireland.

They will find every encouragement to do so through the competent, passionate and courageous leadership of Archbishop Robin Eames, Cardinal Cahal Daly and their fellow Church leaders. They recognise, as we must, that the real mountain to climb is the establishment of the peaceful and just society, to which an end to violence is a wonderful beginning but still only a beginning.

There is a generation of work to be done. There is a spiritual, practical and political task to be accomplished. The prize of lasting peace is a vital one. The spectre of a return to the horrors of the past 25 years is too terrible to contemplate. As the Archbishop of Armagh said in a recent statement to the people of the Province: It is a time for Christians of all traditions to renew their faith and confidence in Almighty God that peace with justice for all their traditions can become a reality, if under God we can step forward with a new confidence in each other. We are only too aware of the complexities and difficulties of the days ahead. There is little room for complacency. There is every need for realism; but our realism must be balanced by hope.

In the days immediately following the ceasefire a message was faxed to the Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches from his counterpart in South Africa. It was an expression of goodwill and prayerful support. It spoke of the grace of God experienced in the midst of the frustrations and difficulties as they set about the task of reconstruction in that land. It ended with the words: We can wish our fellow Christians in Ireland no more than to wish for a similar experience of the grace of God at work among the people of that split nation. For this we shall continue to pray. May God strengthen the hands of the peacemakers". We have seen one miracle this year in South Africa. Just possibly we may be seeing another in Ireland. I am sure that all people of goodwill will join in the prayer: "May God strengthen the hands of the peacemakers".