§ 4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield)
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat the Statement on Northern Ireland which has been made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend Sir Patrick Mayhew. The Statement is as follows:
"With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a Statement about the events of the past 10 days in Northern Ireland. Throughout this period massive and completely unacceptable civil disorder has occurred on both sides of the community, totally wrongful in character and unjust in its consequences for all its victims.
"In the course of this period two men have tragically lost their lives. The RUC has been stretched to the limit of its ability to maintain order and preserve life. Violent manifestations of sectarian antagonism have occurred. Intimidation, including intimidation of RUC officers and their families, has been rife. The Killyhevlin Hotel at Enniskillen has been gravely damaged by a bomb, with many people shocked and injured.
633 "All this represents, without doubt, the worst set-back for many years: a return to what so many people in Northern Ireland, and far beyond, had prayed was over for good. This has been a black period for Northern Ireland, with deep fears and anxieties generated on all sides. Trust and confidence have suffered greatly.
"In this Statement I will examine briefly with the House what has happened and what the way forward from here now should be. At the outset, however, I wish to say three things.
"First, I warmly commend, as I think the whole House will, the maintenance by the loyalist paramilitary organisations of their ceasefire. It is of critical importance that this should be sustained.
"Secondly, if the people of Northern Ireland are to be helped to move back from the abyss and forward to a better future, all of us who claim a right to speak on these matters must seek to be objective and fair. To seize on what is no more than a partisan perception and to proclaim it as an established truth without examination is immensely dangerous and damaging.
"Lastly, I want to say that the scene, grave though it undoubtedly is, does have a crucially positive element. We have in place a democratic process of political talks, for which a large majority of the electorate has voted. I shall return to this and to its paramount importance.
"Sir Hugh Annesley, the chief constable, yesterday gave an extensive interview to the BBC. He described the background to these events and the events themselves. I have placed a transcript of that interview in the Library. I commend it strongly to the House. It sets out the facts.
"Unprecedented efforts had been made by the Government, by Church leaders, by the RUC and by others, to secure an accommodation at Portadown. The chief constable makes it clear that ever since January he personally, and his Deputy Chief Constable, Mr. Flannigan, had tried with both sides at Portadown to negotiate a compromise. I pay special tribute to the entirely independent efforts of the Church leaders, who strove for two days and two nights to bring the two sides together, sadly without achieving success.
"The chief constable is required by law to consider the likelihood of serious disorder if a notified march proceeds. He has to make an operational, professional and impartial judgment. That judgment, under our clearly established constitutional arrangements, is for him alone.
"On Saturday 6th July the chief constable had duly decided to order that the return stage of the Orange Order parade at Portadown, to take place the following day, should be re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road. A lawful order was accordingly made to that effect. That decision was made because he anticipated serious organised disorder, not limited to Portadown protesters, if the intended return stage of the march went ahead. A counter march planned by the Garvaghy Road residents also had restrictions 634 placed upon it, although in the event it did not take place. I wish to make it clear that in taking that operational decision at that time and in those circumstances the chief constable had, and retains, the full support of the Government.
"Over the next four days there occurred serious disorder both at Drumcree and in many other parts of the Province. There was a clear and reprehensible intention to overstretch the capacity of the RUC to maintain public order.
At Drumcree itself the chief constable has said, in his own language, that the most insidious, despicable and disgusting threats to his officers in the front line were made, to the effect that their wives or families would be got at. Elsewhere the RUC were fiercely engaged. There was intimidation of their families and other civilians, with widespread blocking of roads and attacks upon property.
"The RUC, with full support from the Army, did its duty with great resolution in responding to this critical situation. At the request of the chief constable, two further battalions were brought into the Province in support of his force. However, despite the sustained efforts to which I have referred, it proved impossible for the two sides within the local community at Drumcree to reach an agreement.
"On the morning of 11th July, after considering a number of options and having awaited the outcome of the ongoing attempts at mediation, the chief constable decided that a limited parade down the Garvaghy Road was the option most likely to prevent loss of life. He has made clear that it was foreseeable that by the night of the 11th July some 60,000 to 70,000 Orange marchers would be invited by the Orange Order to converge on Drumcree, and an attempt had already been made to get through the fence. In that event he foresaw that they would overrun the wire, obliging the police and the military to withdraw and to attempt to protect the Garvaghy Road estate.
"He concluded that there would be serious risk of lives being lost, including on the Garvaghy Estate, and he has said that he would not in any circumstances have 'traded one life for the Garvaghy Road'. In that decision also the Chief Constable has the full support of the Government. We also share his regret at what he has described as an outrageous attempt by one side to impose its will on the other by the sheer weight of force.
"I recognise, of course, that the nationalist community, or many of them, are bitterly critical of this decision, but it was taken very much with the safety of the Garvaghy Road residents in mind. I am in no doubt, however, that under the circumstances it was the right one. The violence which followed in many nationalist areas was no more justified or acceptable than that fomented by loyalists earlier in the week.
"Once again, the security forces came under intense attack, from gun fire as well as petrol bombs and other missiles. The police have responded proportionately and with great courage and professionalism to these attacks.
635 "The police investigation into the bomb attack on the Killyhevlin Hotel is now under way. While it is too early to say which organisation was responsible, it seems clear that preparations for this attack began well before the events of Drumcree.
"These events surrounding Drumcree, and those surrounding the march on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast on 12th July, have underscored the potential destabilising effect of controversial parades. There are no immediately obvious answers. My right honourable friend the Minister of State, the Member for Westminster, North, has over many months been seeking to help the avoidance of conflict in this year's marching season. As I said in the House last week, I now have in mind a general review that will make recommendations about the better management of future controversial parades. I therefore confirm today that the Government intend to establish a review based on evidence which any interested party will be free to submit. I envisage that the review would examine the current arrangements for handling parades and marches in Northern Ireland. I shall announce later further details of the review, including the name of the chairman and detailed terms of reference.
"Recent events are, however, but a symptom of the much deeper divisions which plague Northern Ireland. We must, along with all politicians committed to a peaceful solution, continue to seek to overcome those. This can be done only in a talks process in which all these issues can be addressed and which is committed to securing an agreed outcome which respects the aspirations and principles of both parts of the community. I referred earlier to the democratic process of talks which is in place. It is now more imperative than ever that it begins to address the substantive issues that lie at the heart of the divisions which have had such terrible consequences. I am pleased that this process continues tomorrow.
"For our part the Government are fully committed to the talks process. I and the Prime Minister will be meeting with the leaders of each of the parties involved over the coming days to hear their views of the way forward and to emphasise our commitment to the talks process.
"I shall also be making arrangements in consultation with the Irish Government to meet them in an intergovernmental conference to discuss the mutual security interests between our two countries and to demonstrate the reasons behind the decisions taken last week. We intend on this basis to rebut very firmly quite unjustified and unwarranted criticism which has been made of the Government and of the RUC. In particular my purpose will be in the presence of the chief constable to rebut any suggestion of political interference in his operational decisions.
"All those who wish to lead Northern Ireland towards a more peaceful future—and they certainly include the Government—must now work together to re-establish trust and dialogue. None of us can accept 636 a return to the violence of the past 25 years. All of us have a responsibility to do what we can to avoid that and to demonstrate beyond all doubt that it is truly possible to find political and peaceful means of resolving Northern Ireland's profound problems. That is the challenge that confronts us now."
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, as always on these occasions, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is a profoundly depressing occasion for us all and I believe it to be a time of potential great danger in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
We all condemn the murder of a taxi-driver, killed for no greater sin than being a Roman Catholic; the destruction of the hotel in Enniskillen; and the mindless violence and intimidation of these past days. We particularly congratulate those responsible for this morning's success in discovering what seems to be a bomb factory as close to us as south London.
It all seems to be so sad—the hopes and dreams of thousands shattered in just a week of madness. I agree as emphatically as I can over the importance of trying to secure the continued ceasefire by the loyalist paramilitaries.
It was only on Tuesday last week in this House that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, answered a Starred Question on Northern Ireland. As the House will recall, I assured her of our bipartisan support, and she very generously, as always, recognised that. It was only Tuesday. I asked her whether Her Majesty's Government were content with the arrangements for security and peacekeeping at Drumcree and Portadown. Something went very badly wrong. The threat of violence succeeded. The chief constable, in the quotation which the Minister herself adopted, described this as "outrageous". I agree.
The honourable Member who speaks on these matters in another place, Dr. Mowlam, and I have been deeply concerned about the flashpoint which we knew would come. Because of that, we started discussions about what should be done in July of last year. This is a bleak and unfortunate story. Dr. Mowlam wrote to the Secretary of State on 17th July 1995 saying:Could you let me know what preparations are being made to establish a mechanism for discussions between the community groups in advance of the marches next year?".That was a year ago. She wrote again on 19th February of this year. The Secretary of State replied that the operational handling of parades was for the chief constable. On 1st April of this year, Dr. Mowlam wrote:The Northern Ireland Secretary should, as a matter of great urgency, seek advice on mediating local solutions rather than landing the RUC with the problem".What she foresaw is exactly, I regret to say, what happened: the RUC were landed with the problem. As the chief constable said, he is sick of being between a rock and a hard place.
637 Dr. Mowlam wrote again on 10th June of this year, when she said:You may recall I proposed the establishment of an independent commission to take in the wider views of the communities living where marches take place; to advise on possible ways to reduce tensions. Both Archbishop Eames and Sir Hugh Annesley, the Chief Constable, have indicated their support for independent advice".On 25th June Dr. Mowlam wrote again saying:I am concerned that unless the questions are tackled on a larger scale, the potential for these situations to deteriorate each year will escalate".She asked for a commission to look at guidelines for the conduct of parades; how to ensure that decisions about the routing of parades should be fair and consistent; and an inquiry about how effective is the existing law relating to parades.
The Secretary of State said that he had accepted advice that the disadvantages of such a commission outweighed the advantages. That was his view on 26th June 1996. I am sorry to say that I believe the advice was wrong and the acceptance of it deeply mistaken.
There are at least three important aspects on which we must focus our minds. I am grateful to see that the Secretary of State, in the Statement which was repeated, is now going to appoint a commission. It seems to us that that must report before the end of this year at the very latest.
Secondly, the closest co-operation is called for between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic. Of course I welcome the Secretary of State's decision to meet the Irish Foreign Minister tomorrow. We welcome the intergovernmental proposals referred to in the Statement. I shall be grateful if the Minister will indicate what sort of timescale the Government have in mind.
I repeat that no terrorist or malcontent will get any opportunity to destroy our bipartisan support. But if this weekend's events have demonstrated anything, it is that imaginative forward thinking and planning on a political basis is the only key. I believe that no one can blame the Chief Constable; but there are questions about the political decisions which were made as a background to the disasters that have befallen us. I entirely agree with the Minister. Although this is a dark time, there is some light. However, the problems are becoming more difficult by the day.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, the last time that I addressed the House on a ministerial Statement on Northern Ireland, I warned that it would be a long and bumpy road and that there would be hopeful times and bleak times. This is certainly a bleak time. We have just gone over the most enormous bump. All Members of your Lordships' House will share the sadness that so many hopes have been dashed and so many good efforts thrown away. In that context, and in view of the painstaking work that she has put in on economic progress in Northern Ireland, I am sure that the noble Baroness will be particularly saddened today.
It is terrible to see old bitterness which had been silenced for nearly 24 months freely expressed again with bombs exploding and fires burning in Northern 638 Ireland. We should not delude ourselves: what we are seeing here is not the peace process at risk, but the very ceasefire itself. I do not believe that it is a time for recrimination because, like those on the Benches to our left, we have tried and have not found it too difficult throughout the developing peace process to adopt a bipartisan approach.
However, we must ask ourselves how we came to this pass. It is possible to discern some things that have gone wrong over the past few months. There is no doubt that the excessive attention to the demands of the IRA over a long period—a squeaky wheel which has had all the grease of political effort applied to it—has created significant resentment and tension in the Unionist community. But, at the same time, I am amazed that responsible constitutional Unionist leadership should have chosen to inflame rather than to reduce tension over the days of the march. How much of what the Statement describes as,an outrageous attempt by one side to impose their will on the other by sheer weight of force",has been due to the role played by those who purport to be leaders but who, sadly, have behaved more like followers? I am also surprised that we are now proposing to set up a review of marching and parades. As the Labour Party has said, surely the time to have done so would have been after the clearly signalled trouble at Drumcree last year, and on other marches, rather than now.
Then there is the question of the operational nature of the decision made by the chief constable. How can it any longer be a local operational matter when it has become massively politicised with the prospect of a breach of the rule of law that threatens the basis of civilised life in the British Isles? There is also the question of the exchange of discourtesies with the Irish Government which has now, mercifully, stopped. As I am sure most noble Lords in this House will agree, I believe that the Taoiseach expressed himself over-forcefully and, perhaps, imprudently. However, we could hardly dare hope for a Prime Minister in Dublin who is a greater friend of Britain and a greater enemy of terrorism than Mr. John Bruton. This is the time to respond to him in a more generous spirit.
I turn now to the future which is the important matter. It is vitally important that the Governments get together. Can the Minister say when that will happen and at what level? There is a slight vagueness in the Statement in terms of the IGC being reconvened. That is extraordinarily urgent. Whenever the two Governments are apart, we have all observed that the terrorists and men of violence thrive. The centre must hold; and the only centre that we have in this situation consists of the two Governments.
Further—and the Government have done this very wisely in the Statement—perhaps I, like the noble Baroness, may appeal to the former leadership of the loyalist paramilitaries—Mr. Gary McMichael, Mr. David Ervine, Mr. Billy Hutchinson, and others. I have got to know them as, indeed, have government Ministers. I appeal to them for continuing restraint. They now hold the key to this issue not becoming a wider conflict.
639 I should like to ask the Minister about the proposed review. Will it go beyond the technical question of how and where marches are conducted and deal with the fundamental issue of whether those marches are a perfectly legitimate cultural and historical celebration; or whether they are, as they seemed to be last week, the assertion of the supremacy of one community over the other?
Finally, let us try to ensure that we do not neglect the people of Northern Ireland in the equation. They still will for peace. Indeed, the people whom we saw on the streets last week do not represent them: they are being betrayed by the loud voices and the bully-boys. Above all, there is a special responsibility on the constitutional leadership of Unionism. After all, the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Downing Street declaration and the framework document all show that Northern Ireland will not, as many Unionists feared, be merged against its will into a united Ireland.
I ask my Unionist friends what they are going to contribute in terms of positive goodwill and movement now that they have the assurance which matters most to them. It is no good them calling on their gracious Queen and on their British identity unless they, too, are prepared to respect the rule of law and behave like Britons.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for expressing much of the concern that I feel the whole House is experiencing. These were not good days in Northern Ireland. There is no pride to be taken by anyone other than by those people who called for sensibility and for an end to violence. That included many people—for example, families of people who were killed, and others—who sought to build a future. The noble Lord, Lord Holme, rightly praised the people of Northern Ireland. I should like to add that those people went to work and continued to try to do so, despite five diversions on the way. The aim of most of the people in Northern Ireland is to build a future.
Those people were doing just that and, indeed, were leading a normal life. For example, the Catholic couple who were celebrating their wedding in a hotel owned by a Protestant had no thought of what might happen. They were thinking about their future. There were also people who were aiming to bring up their grandchildren at home in Northern Ireland and who had invested much in that peaceful future. We, as Government, continue to do just that.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Williams, in praising the work of the police in discovering the arms cache in south London today. I hope that that reassures the House that the fight against terrorism will be ceaseless and that it will continue day and night. There is a need for mediation; and, indeed, there is a need for people to talk to each other. I hope that the Statement made clear that the Government believe that dialogue is the path to the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, listed some of the correspondence between the Secretary of State and his honourable friend who speaks on Northern Ireland 640 issues in the Shadow Cabinet in the other place. Perhaps I may, first, absolutely reject any suggestion that the Government have sat on their hands and done nothing for the past year. The suggestion made by the honourable lady in July of last year was a mechanism for discussions between community groups. Both mediation groups and the RUC at Drumcree were already well down that road trying to find an accommodation.
The suggestion made in February of this year of an arbitrating or executive body raised a number of difficulties. However, it is hoped that the forthcoming review will have the opportunity to look at the matter. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Holme, that the review will look at the overall issue. We doubt that a commission which said, "Thou shalt use the rerouted march", would have been any more effective than any of the statutory and constitutional methods already in place.
In reply to the noble Lord's question on the role of a chief constable and the Government, we believe that in this democracy, following our constitutional arrangement, one does not direct the police as to their operational decisions. Public confidence will not accept a Minister taking a decision as to whether a march goes ahead. But we believe that the review should cover all those issues.
I am pleased to reassure noble Lords that the next meeting of the intergovernmental conference is planned for Thursday; and, of course, it is planned that there will be an Irish Minister at the talks tomorrow. We rightly believe and share the views expressed that the two Governments working closely together, shoulder to shoulder, is the best way to build a peaceful process.
We continue to aim in the future to represent a consensus of the views of people who live in Northern Ireland. There is no question that by talking, by learning about those views, by the elective process which showed that so many people in Northern Ireland wished for the dialogue route, we can work to the future. But we work with the help of our many friends in this House, and with the support we have received from the Opposition Benches for many months now. That enables us to look towards the future with hope—because that is what we must do.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Marsh
My Lords, will the Minister, accept, sad though it may be, that after so many deaths and so many years it is at least possible that there is no compromise solution available? Everybody wishes the Government every success in seeking to negotiate. We have now been a long time doing so. Will the commission be able at least to consider this possibility if it so wishes?
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, the review will consider the role of the marching process in this matter. I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, that over many months in Northern Ireland in the past two years there has been a lack of violence. People have led a normal life, building for their children and for future generations. I am afraid I cannot share his 641 depressing thought that there is no solution. I believe that in the past two years we have seen a desire by the majority of people to walk towards this solution although, as the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, it was always known it would be bumpy.
§ Lord Healey
My Lords, the noble Baroness has made it crystal clear that the tragic dangers now faced by the peace process were brought about by an operational decision of the chief constable to reverse a clear decision he had previously taken—because of the threat of violence from the Unionists in the area, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland as she has now told us.
That decision was seen by the Catholic community throughout Northern Ireland, represented by the head of the Roman Catholic Church there, as a reversion by the police to its traditional role as the supporter of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland. I am living in the past to this extent. Twenty-seven years ago I was Secretary of State for Defence when the sectarian behaviour of the B Special police compelled the Government of the day to put security under the British Army and to reform all the local police forces in Northern Ireland.
This was the clearest possible demonstration that the use of police forces in Northern Ireland is not automatically always simply an operational matter. It may have profound political implications, even for our relations with foreign governments, and those political implications require consideration and decision by a Minister. Incidentally, I found that this was equally true of our Armed Forces in Aden and Borneo, as several of my noble colleagues here may remember.
Last week's tragedy stems essentially from Ministers forgetting this central fact as regards the situation in Northern Ireland. If we are to get the peace process going again, they must never forget that fact again. The use of police forces in Northern Ireland, in situations such as occurred last week, must be for decision by political Ministers.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, a situation likely to occur in your Lordships' House is that one finds oneself in disagreement with someone who has many years' experience and knowledge. However, I believe that it is important to maintain a constitutional situation in which the decision on such matters as maintenance of order is for the chief constable.
When the chief constable required further troops to support him, the Government were happy to ensure that that happened. The battalions were provided, as was required. But it is important that the law which Parliament has provided to guide the chief constable is maintained. I would suggest that the responsibility for the violence of Northern Ireland in the past days was entirely that of those people who rioted and challenged the rule of law.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, these are dire days for Northern Ireland and it is quite right that we should weep for all the people in Northern Ireland, whether they be members of the public, members of the RUC or indeed, anybody else.
642 I am particularly glad that this review will now take place. But I notice that there have been several very strange articles in the press recently, both in this country and, indeed, in the Irish Republic. Will the review be able to take account of the activities of the press which, of course, have an effect both in Northern Ireland and on thinking over this side of the water? Headlines such as "Government orders RUC volte-face" simply do not help in any of these situations.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I am pleased to agree with my noble friend that the media brings little help in these situations. The images that were flashed round the world in the past week will have a tremendously detrimental effect on the economic future of Northern Ireland and on the impression of the people of Northern Ireland, because it is a warm nation who welcome strangers and we saw transmitted pictures of that minority who do not.
I believe that the issue is not the media in this instance; it is to cure the problem. The review will concentrate on ensuring that there is no repetition of the incidents that happened throughout the Province on this occasion.
§ Lord Mason of Barnsley
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I agree with much of the Statement? I also agree with the decision of the chief constable. I thought at the time that he was in a very difficult, dangerous position. However, he decided, in order to save life, that he had to be responsible for a volte-face. I backed him.
Is the Minister aware that it is essential, first, that the Stormont peace talks continue because they are holding the ring between most of the political parties? Secondly, we must strive to restore the ceasefire. Those are the two imperatives.
However, we must remind ourselves that the Provisional IRA shattered the ceasefire with the Docklands bomb, the Manchester bomb, and the bomb on a London bridge. It has even been shattered in Northern Ireland in the past 48 hours. The so-called Republican Sinn Fein is still part of the Provisional IRA. Is the Minister aware that the Protestant paramilitaries are now teetering on the brink of revenge? Noble Lords who have already spoken have appealed to them for restraint, for one incident by them could be the last straw before the outbreak of civil war in the Province.
Is the Government aware that I and, I think, the majority in the Province, feel that they have gone too far in speech and deeds, alarming the Protestant community? They feel that their link with Great Britain is being totally eroded by the constant whittling down of what was the position prior to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They are also worried that there is too much Republican interference in Northern Ireland affairs. Of course the comments made by the Taoiseach this weekend did not help. The majority community in the Province needs to be reassured and calmed. If only the Government would convey the message that there will not be a united Ireland; that there is no surrender to the South; and that there will be no more concessions to the IRA, the tension in the Province might be eased.
643 If there is another bomb outrage, would the Government not consider, in view of the anger of the nation in its wake—that was certainly true of Manchester—carrying out a sweep of arrests of suspects in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain, and, with the assistance of the Taoiseach, in the Republic, to shatter their system, their command structure, their proposals and their plans? We can hold them, and within the law. I believe we just cannot continue to sit back waiting for bombs and deaths. A round up ought to be considered.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, like all of us who have been Ministers in Northern Ireland, the noble Lord, Lord Mason, has suffered the frustration of trying to work towards peace, but failing so far to attain it. He asks us to make it clear that there is no role for the violence of the IRA. I should have hoped that was entirely clear. There has been no negotiation by Ministers with it since the breaking of the ceasefire in the aftermath of the Docklands bomb. We could have asked for no greater support than we received from the Taoiseach in Ireland and from the President of the United States in condemning the IRA's violence. No one was allowed to continue discussions while the ceasefire was broken. The noble Lord asked us to reassure the Unionists that there is no intention to break up the Province. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and all of us who represent the Government, have made it clear time and time again that the future of Northern Ireland is in the hands of the people in Northern Ireland. There is a triple lock on that process.
The noble Lord commented on our security activity, should there be a further bomb. We must hope and pray that that situation will not arise. I am grateful to your Lordships who, with Members of another place, have made it possible to retain on the statute book the possibility for the security forces to take the appropriate action, should that be necessary.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I add my tribute to those paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, for the work that she has done in a most detailed and painstaking way to try to create links for peace in Northern Ireland. I have appreciated the tremendous efforts that she has made to bring the communities together. I thank her for the clear Statement. I should have thought that Her Majesty's Government have made it clear time and time again that no decision about the future of Northern Ireland will be made which is contrary to the wishes of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland. If I may say so, I was a little surprised at the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Mason, because I cannot think that anything could have been more clearly stated than that. I think the noble Baroness might agree that the problem with Northern Ireland is to try to persuade both communities that neither triumphalism on the one side nor terrorism on the other will lead to a successful move towards peace. When the review considers the routeing of marches, will it also consider whether the whole role of marches does not express more about the history of Northern Ireland than about its future? Will the noble 644 Baroness once again advocate the significance and importance of sharing responsibility and power between both the communities that together make Northern Ireland both the difficult but also the remarkable place that it is?
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. Living together, working together and sharing together is the future for Northern Ireland. It is quite obvious that much work needs to be done. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the past few days was to note how close to the surface the bitterness still was. I agree that living in the past and taking too much account of history means that history becomes the future. We must avoid that. It is worth considering that last week was also the week that President Mandela paid a visit. We can all learn much from him as regards looking forwards rather than backwards. I believe the noble Baroness will agree with me that we need to bring more women's voices to these discussions.
§ Lord McConnell
My Lords, I begin by saying that I deplore violence and terrorism in all its forms, no matter by whom it is committed. There has been great resentment over the past few days about the part that the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic has played in interfering in Northern Ireland, and—if newspaper reports are correct—of being somewhat abusive to our own Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has said—again I go by press reports—that Northern Ireland is as much a part of the United Kingdom as Surrey. Would he like Mr. Bruton, or any other prime minister, to interfere in things that happen in Surrey? It should be made plain that that kind of interference should not be tolerated in the future, despite the notorious Anglo-Irish Agreement. I agree with what has been said by two noble Lords; namely, that great resentment is felt at concessions being made to the excessive demands of the IRA. That destabilises the majority population in Northern Ireland. I also felt rather ashamed when I noted that the Government said that they could not do anything about the events of the past few days or the past week because that constituted an operational decision of the chief constable. Admittedly there are many events that call for operational decisions but, when a situation becomes so grave, the Government have to take responsibility for governing the country.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, I stress to the noble Lord that part of the Statement where my right honourable and learned friend said that he intended to take the next meeting with the Irish Government as an opportunity to rebut very firmly the quite unjustified and unwarranted criticism of the Government and the RUC. There can be no doubt that in the past we have seen co-operation between the security forces of north and south and the support of the Taoiseach in condemning violence and taking all the necessary steps to ensure that the situation is kept in that way. I say to the noble Lord that concessions are not being made to the IRA. We are trying to work for the people of Northern Ireland to bring forward their own solution to their future.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I recognise that time is running short. I welcome the Statement and I sympathise with those who expressed concern about the victims killed and injured in the upset of the past few days. However, I should like to have heard a little more self-criticism in relation to the major obstacles to whatever progress will be made. In relation to progress on peace, we ought to be critical of our own Government and ourselves for frittering away 18 months of a ceasefire when we were told at the very beginning that if it lasted three months there would be peace talks. It lasted 18 months before there was any move. But in between, one obstacle after another had been raised to make sure that the peace talks did not take place. We were then faced with the current situation.
On the recent events in Drumcree, the whole world saw on television how the Orange Order gradually overruled whatever decisions were made by chief constables or governments, resulting in the surrender at Drumcree. The whole world saw how the RUC then lashed into the Catholic population of men, women and children with batons and other weapons to make sure that the Orange Order's decision was maintained. That was a disgraceful state of affairs. We ought to be critical of it and not try to excuse it.
Thirdly, I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks in southern Ireland. I understand his frustration and the anger that is felt among the Catholic population in the whole island. Of the 32 counties, he governs 26 counties where Protestants and Catholics live and work in peace together. Noble Lords on the other side shake their heads. I have forgotten more than they will ever know about the situation. It is about time that we were a little more self-critical. Then, we could become constructive.
§ Baroness Denton of Wakefield
My Lords, it is possible for Catholics and Protestants to live together. It is possible for people who do not box themselves in by their religion but treat each other as people to live together. We have not frittered away the time. We have taken many actions in the 18 months of peace which we hope will stand in good stead. We have treasured that. We do not wish to see the efforts now ruined by intemperate language and criticism. We build for the future.