HL Deb 22 November 1999 vol 607 cc190-202

3.46 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, before we move to the Statement on political progress in Northern Ireland, I take the opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on the Statement should be confined to very brief comments and questions for clarification. Noble Lords who speak at length do so at the expense of others.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

"I would like to make a statement on political progress in Northern Ireland.

"In July my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach asked former Senator George Mitchell to facilitate a review of the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. The review was to focus on breaking the deadlock over devolution and decommissioning which has prevented progress for many months.

"Senator Mitchell concluded his review last Thursday, after 11 weeks of intensive negotiations. I would like to pay tribute to his balanced, persistent

approach which was good-humoured, evidently fair and respected on all sides. For nearly five years he has devoted his time and energy to helping resolve the most intractable of problems. Whatever now happens in the coming days, the whole House will want to join with me in thanking the senator for a job extremely well done.

"The review has not produced a single text like the Good Friday agreement. Instead, it has concentrated on building trust and confidence by means of a number of important steps forward—rather than waiting for one giant leap that might never be made.

"As a result, last week saw a series of statements by the decommissioning commission headed by General de Chastelain, by the parties, by the IRA, by the British and Irish Governments and by the senator. None of those was in itself decisive but cumulatively, I believe, those statements, together with the further steps that are planned, have created the conditions in which the agreement can now be fully implemented.

"I draw the House's attention in particular to Mitchell's belief that, 'a basis now exists for devolution to occur, for the institutions to be established, and for decommissioning to take place as soon as possible'; the assumption of a more active, assertive role by the decommissioning commission in circumstances which it recognises will be transformed by the full implementation of the agreement; Sinn Fein's acceptance that decommissioning is an essential part of the peace process, to be brought about under the aegis of the decommissioning commission in accordance with the agreement, and its acknowledgement that conflict must be a thing of the past; to the Ulster Unionist Party's recognition of the legitimacy of the peaceful pursuit of nationalist aspirations, and its commitment to the principles of inclusivity, equality and mutual respect; and to the IRA's acknowledgement of the Sinn Fein leadership, and its willingness to appoint someone as an authorised representative to enter into discussions with the decommissioning commission.

"I plan to call a meeting of the assembly on Monday 29th November for the purpose of nominating Ministers in the new Northern Ireland executive. Assuming that Ministers have been nominated, Parliament will be invited to approve a devolution order under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 on Tuesday 30th November and powers will be transferred on Thursday 2nd December.

"Like Senator Mitchell, I believe that with the institutions established and everything up and running, decommissioning will happen as a natural and essential development of the peace process. Sinn Fein has previously argued that decommissioning must take place in the context of full implementation of an overall settlement. It now has this in prospect as a result of the review. We are, therefore, planning for success, not failure. But if there is default either in implementing decommissioning or, for that matter, devolution, it is understood that the two Governments, British and Irish, will take the steps necessary to cease immediately the operation of the institutions: the executive, the assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council, the British Irish Council, the Civic Forum and the North-South implementation bodies.

"Nobody should doubt my resolve to ensure that no party profits from preventing progress in all aspects of the Good Friday agreement. Of course we are talking about voluntary action by all parties to achieve devolution and decommissioning. None the less, in terms of the steps taken and those in prospect, a heavy political price will be paid by those who default. Unionists, and indeed Nationalists, can be assured of this. It would pain me to do so, but I would not shrink from suspending the institutions if it proved necessary, thus restoring the status quo so as to consider how to rectify the default. But, as I said, we are planning for success, not failure.

"Whether the agreement can move forward now depends on the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council which has been called for this Saturday. I pay tribute to the courage and leadership of the right honourable Member for Upper Bann, who is advising his party to seize the opportunity which these developments present. For the Ulster Unionist Party it is a decision of historic importance. A great responsibility rests on it. I cannot take that decision for the UUP.

"I would not for a moment overstate the merits of the deal which has now been secured. I would, however, say this. First, the Good Friday agreement is by any standard a good deal for Unionists. As the right honourable Member for Upper Bann said at the time, it secures the Union for as long as a majority of the people of Northern Ireland continue to support it. It brings government closer to the people in local institutions which will be responsive to local needs. It ends the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement and removes the territorial claim in the Irish constitution.

"Secondly, I have already said I believe that in the new situation which devolution will create decommissioning will take place. No longer does the IRA rule out decommissioning by either the front-door or the back-door. I do not believe that the Republican movement would have raised expectations as it has if it did not intend to deliver.

"Let us be clear about one thing. The process so outlined may not be perfect but if it is not attempted there will be no chance whatsoever of any decommissioning. The right honourable Member for Upper Bann's critics have offered no alternative way of meeting their objective, and it is certainly not for want of asking. We will know before long if the IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries are engaging constructively with the decommissioning commission. Their representatives should be appointed within hours of devolution. The commission will arrange early meetings with all the representatives of the paramilitaries. They will issue a further report within days of these meetings. General de Chastelain is an internationally respected figure. We can be sure that he will tell it as it is and will set the highest standards.

"Finally, let me say to those who are embarking on this journey in good faith that they will not be left on their own. If all our expectations of the Good Friday agreement are not met, I will be seeking a way forward in co-operation with those committed to the process based on the principles of this agreement. We stand on the brink of a remarkable transformation in Northern Ireland. There are already signs of growing economic confidence. The security situation, while not perfect, has been transformed. Bombs and barricades no longer interrupt daily life and people once again are able to lead a normal existence. We must not go back to the bad old days, and, with a settled political future in which the needs of both communities are met in a fair and equal society, we will not have to.

"The alternative is to hold back, to risk the renewal of instability and all that that brings, never to know whether decommissioning would have occurred and to create an overwhelming sense of disappointment and uncertainty which could not be more harmful to Northern Ireland's interests now and in the longer term. In my judgment, that is no real alternative at all. People in Northern Ireland are demanding a safe, secure future for their children. It is the job of politicians to create that for them. We must give peace a chance. I commend to the House the steps that are being taken."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in another place earlier this afternoon. Like him, I pay a real and full tribute to the work of Senator Mitchell who has unstintingly given his time to help hold together the peace process in some very difficult times. Without his seemingly limitless patience we would not have made anything like the progress that we have, not only over the period of the latest review but ever since he was first asked to look at the issue of decommissioning in 1995.

Will the Minister acknowledge that throughout we, too, have been strong supporters of the Belfast agreement and that our overriding objective since April of last year has been to see it implemented in full? Will he also appreciate that our disagreement with the Government has been when we believe that the agreement is not being implemented in full, with no decommissioning, no end to violence and, at the same time, the early release of 300 prisoners?

However, we believe that in the past three months real progress has been made in the review that we hope will lead to the achievement of our twin goals of devolution and decommissioning. We welcome the encouraging statements by Sinn Fein and IRA as far as they go. As my right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition said last week, we have always made clear that we can support the establishment of the executive so long as it is accompanied by the beginning of a credible and verifiable process of decommissioning.

Does the noble Lord accept that devolution and decommissioning must take place virtually simultaneously and that this means that the IRA must appoint an interlocutor as soon as the executive is set up? Does he also share our concern about the reported comments of senior Republicans, Pat Doherty and Martin Ferris, over the past few days in the United States? Will he echo the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party in calling on Mr Adams totally to disassociate himself from these comments and clarify the situation once again?

We are being asked to take much on trust. Does the Minister agree that, in the words of the Anglican Primate, the noble Lord, Lord Eames, if arms decommissioning does not take place within the timescale that is being mentioned at the moment, then the world's condemnation will rest on those who have not delivered"? Will the Minister state clearly that in the circumstances of non-delivery of product by the IRA he will give his full backing to Mr Trimble, whom we admire for his courage and applaud for taking such a huge political risk? Furthermore, does he agree that the appropriate course of action would be for the Secretary of State, supported by the Irish Government, to invite the formation of a new executive composed only of those parties who have committed themselves, in the words of the agreement that we all support, to, exclusively democratic and peaceful means"? We dearly want this peace process to succeed. But we might still all be wrong. We might yet be let down. If that happens, will the Minister agree that it should be the paramilitaries and their political mouthpieces who face the penalties, not those who have courageously followed the democratic process?

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, in echoing some of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, perhaps I may inform the Minister that the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State carries with it our firm and unqualified support. It is right to plan and hope for success. But it is also necessary to spell out the consequences of failure. In particular I welcome two statements made by Mr Mandelson. First, he said that he would in those circumstances, ensure that no party profits from preventing progress in all aspects of the Good Friday agreement". Secondly, he stated: I would not shrink from suspending the institutions if it proved necessary". In the light of the forthcoming meeting, it is highly desirable to indicate in the firmest terms the price that would be paid by politicians in Northern Ireland if anyone succeeded in undermining this agreement.

Having said that, I again echo some of the words of the Statement. In particular I think it right, first, to pay tribute to Mr Mitchell, a man who has demonstrated extraordinary patience and good humour over a period of weeks in dealing with those with whom he has had to negotiate; and, secondly, to President Clinton because without the commitment of the President of the United States Mr Mitchell would not have arrived in Northern Ireland in the first place. It is right also to pay tribute to some on this side of the Irish Sea, to the former Prime Minister, Mr Major, and the present Prime Minister, Mr Blair; and, as the Minister rightly said, to Mr Trimble who has had an extremely difficult role to play. He must often have found himself in a very lonely position. That being so, he deserves a great deal of credit.

I think that all of us pray that after next weekend we shall be able to make the progress which everyone so fervently desires.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful for the support that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has given on behalf of his party for the Statement today and for the Belfast agreement in general. I appreciate that there have been some differences of view over the past year, but this is a day when essentially we should look forward in agreement to see how we can consolidate peace in Northern Ireland.

I agree with him that the process of decommissioning should get under way as soon as devolution is in place. I support Senator Mitchell's call for paramilitaries to appoint representatives on the same day as devolution. Indeed, the IRA's statement indicates its willingness to appoint such a representative to the decommissioning commission.

On a day like this one does not want to give too much credence to pessimism. I do not say that the noble Lord was being pessimistic; he was being cautious. However, if there were to be default, and if there were to be any move to exclude from the new executive one particular party, that would be a matter for the assembly which alone has the powers to exclude a party under the Good Friday agreement. The Government's determination is that no party should profit from such a default and we have indicated in the Statement how we would proceed if that were to happen.

I deal also with the noble Lord's point as regards the statement recently made by two members of Sinn Fein, Mr Doherty and Mr Ferris. Those statements, quite rightly, have been questioned by Mr Trimble when he heard them. However, let me put it this way. The statement by Mr Ferris was a quotation of something that he is alleged to have said. Mr Doherty, I think, was quoted more directly, but he has put the record straight. He has repeated and endorsed Sinn Fein's commitment to discharge all its obligations under the agreement including those relating to decommissioning. He accepts, like Sinn Fein, that decommissioning is an essential part of the process, and he has confirmed that, Sinn Fein are not in the business of double crossing or misleading anyone. Such a course of action would be disastrous. We arc in the business of making peace". That is a quotation by him. On that basis, I believe that we can now go forward on the understanding that both Sinn Fein and the IRA are totally committed to this process.

I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for his support. I very much appreciate the firm words that he uttered and his endorsement of the part played by Senator George Mitchell, the Prime Minister, and John Major when he was Prime Minister. I concur with all those sentiments.

If there were to be failure, the consequences would of course be very serious. That again is something that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in his Statement. I hope that we shall not consider failure as too likely an outcome. We believe that the success of the process is overwhelmingly the most likely outcome and we are committed to that success, and to helping it in any way possible.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, the Minister will have been supplied with high grade intelligence warning of a decision already taken by the Provisional IRA to resume its campaign whatever the outcome of the next two weeks, including next Saturday. Can we be assured that Her Majesty's Government will take all the necessary measures to protect lives both in this island and in Northern Ireland, given the likelihood that maverick groups will support the Provisionals' campaign?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I do not have any such information about the IRA. The only information that I have about the IRA is the statement that it made and its commitment to this particular process. But there are dissident republican groups, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA, from which a threat remains. I can assure the noble Lord that the security forces are aware of that threat. Indeed, on a number of occasions, the chief constable has given warning of the possibility of such activities by dissident republican groups. I am confident that the security forces will be on the alert lest any such unpleasant eventuality should happen.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, this is an optimistic Statement. We all wish the process every success and congratulate Senator Mitchell who, I believe, has been most painstaking in his time and energy. His commitment over the past five years has been remarkable.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and the Minister's response to my noble friend who was justifiably cautious about "what happens if". I accept that today is a day when we look forward with great hope that the process will succeed. However, when we legislate the "what ifs" matter. Not to put too fine a point on it, it seems disappointing that should one party default on the agreement all parties should be penalised for it. If one party defaults, the most logical consequence—it avoids the disappointment not only of the other parties to the agreement who are not defaulting but also of the people of Northern Ireland—is that not all the institutions should be closed down but that that party should be excluded from the executive, and that the executive and assembly should continue in the interests of peace in Northern Ireland.

When we deal with the legislation, I hope that there will be a mechanism for addressing that point; and some definition of the deadline for default. Eighteen months of the two years allowed for decommissioning have now elapsed. No one has said anything about the last six months being the deadline. I assume that May is still the deadline. What happens if there is default by May 2000?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Baroness is making, but, under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, exclusion of a particular party from the executive is a matter which only the assembly may decide. It would be wrong in principle for us to depart from the Good Friday agreement having made it the basis of everything we have done since it was developed. It would not be realistic to talk in the terms set by the noble Baroness. However, it is up to the parties in the assembly to make that decision if that is what they choose to do at the time.

May 2000 is the date specified in the Good Friday agreement. We clearly believe that that is the date by which decommissioning should take place. If it were not to happen by then, we shall take a decision in the light of the circumstances prevailing at the time.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I join others in thanking the Minister for putting the Statement before us today. I believe that there are others who should be thanked but this is not the time to do it. Many will be thanked in this House and in the other House for the way in which they have participated in the affairs of Northern Ireland over the years.

The Minister has travelled the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. He has met representatives of the farming community, the business community, local government, trade unionists, business people and women's organisations. No other Minister has come to understand the people of Northern Ireland over such a broad spectrum. Certain factors have been announced during the past few days. There is perhaps no one better able than the Minister to respond to the points that I wish to make. Does he agree that politics must transcend old dogmas that have blocked progress for so long? Politics is not about Nationalist against Unionist, Catholic against Protestant. It is about respect as against intolerance, democracy as against tyranny, peace as against violence. It is about making a palpable difference to people's everyday lives. Has the Minister detected a change in the people of Northern Ireland? The rank and file people have been moving in that direction.

Mr Trimble has said that we now have a realistic chance to enter, a new era of respect and tolerance of cultural difference and expression". Therefore, Mr Trimble tends to agree with me. Only a few days ago Sinn Fein stated that it is now possible, to put behind us the failures, the tragedy and the suffering of the past". I thank the Minister for all his efforts, and I know that it is a weary road that he has travelled on many occasions. I should like to hear his impression of how he perceives that the people of Northern Ireland at this time would like their representatives and others to act on their behalf.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for the point he made in his question. Were I to do justice to the answer and to the people of Northern Ireland, I fear that I should trespass too much on the time of the House. I shall say briefly that we are moving to a position where democratic politics is the way forward for the people of Northern Ireland; not bigotry, intolerance, violence and sectarianism.

From speaking to the many people I have met all over the Province, I believe that that is the wish of the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland. They are grateful and pleased that there has been a ceasefire and that the old violence has gone. There is still some violence left but it is on a far lower scale. I hope that even that will soon disappear. The people of Northern Ireland will respond overwhelmingly to the prospects of peace and democratic politics with tolerance and respect for each other.

Lord Monson

My Lords, to someone like myself who lives on the mainland, it appears that for the sake of peace, the Unionists have already nobly given in to at least 90 per cent of Republican and Nationalist demands while receiving few concessions, or even gestures, in return. If the Unionists are now expected to give way even further by agreeing that Sinn Fein may enter government with only a vague promise of IRA and INLA decommissioning, will the Minister say whether the decommissioning—if and when it comes—will be meaningful? By that I mean the IRA handing in their powerful offensive weapons such as surface-to-air missiles and 5 calibre long-range sniper rifles and so on, and not merely a handful of rusty Armalites.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I believe that all the political parties in Northern Ireland have had to settle for less than they might have wanted. Of course the UUP has made concessions, but other political parties have done so also. I should prefer to see the process as one to which all parties have subscribed and in which they have all made concessions fairly equally rather than one in which the burden has been on only one particular party. The noble Lord, from my experience, believes otherwise, but there are also enormous prizes for the Unionists, in terms of the Republic giving up Articles 2 and 3 and a firm agreement being made that there will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless the majority of people want it.

I believe that all the parties have achieved that and that the pressure has not been from only one particular direction. That is certainly the best way forward.

Lord Monson

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he not agree that the territorial claims made in Articles 2 and 3 are illegal under international law?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, all I wanted to say, without entering a complicated debate about Articles 2 and 3 and many other aspects of the Good Friday agreement, was that I believe that concessions and compromises have been made by everyone and that there was pain in the agreement for everyone, but that the parties subscribed to the agreement in the interests of the greater good and of peace. That was confirmed during the recent 11-week discussions under the chairmanship of Senator George Mitchell. I should not want people to accept the noble Lord's view that this process had been all one-sided. All parties stand to gain from it, and above all, the people of Northern Ireland stand to gain from it.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as we all know, the Irish Government have in recent years been very helpful in trying to suppress terrorism in Northern Ireland. Can the Minister tell us to what extent the Irish Government would help with decommissioning on their side of the Border?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, the Irish and British Governments have worked in close unity on that matter. The Irish Government are certainly fully aware of the work of the decommissioning commission and of their responsibilities. My understanding is that the Irish Government are 100 per cent behind us on this issue. Of course, it is probable that the vast majority of arms to be decommissioned are in the Republic and not in Northern Ireland, and the Irish Government have indicated their willingness to co-operate. However, the main responsibility for decommissioning and for verifying that decommissioning has taken place lies with General de Chastelain and his commission.

Baroness O'Caithan

My Lords, I welcome the Statement wholeheartedly and certainly believe that the Secretary of State was right to say that it represents a number of important small steps rather than a great leap forward. We hope and pray that it will succeed. However, I ask the Minister for a point of clarification. In the Statement, the Secretary of State says that: If there is default"— I know that we should not be concentrating on the default aspect— either in implementing decommissioning or, for that matter, devolution, it is understood that the two Governments, British and Irish, will take the steps necessary to cease immediately the operation of the institutions: the executive, the assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council", and so forth. However, towards the end of the Statement, the Secretary of State says, Finally, let me say to those embarking on this journey…that [Unionists] will not be left on their own. If all our expectations of the Good Friday Agreement are not met, I will be seeking a way forward in co-operation with those committed to the process based on the principles of this agreement". It seems to me that, on the one hand, that there will be an absolute cut-off in case of a default, and on the other, that there will be a way forward with the Unionists. Will the Minister enlighten me as to what is the truth?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, if there were to be default, a number of institutions would be suspended immediately—the assembly, the executive, the North-South Ministerial Council, the British Irish Council, the Civic Forum and the north-south implementation bodies. All of those must operate together or none can. So if necessary, the operation of all those institutions would be suspended immediately. That would require the British Government to legislate and such legislation would be introduced within days of any default.

There are other aspects of the Good Friday agreement; for example, the equality commission, human rights, the work carried out by the Patten commission, the criminal justice review and so on. But if there were to be default which we could not rectify—our first aim would be to rectify it—we should have to see how we move forward. I repeat that some of the institutions would not be part of that move forward. Others would be because they represent good government and are, in this Government's view, in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, the Minister has said that Sinn Fein has agreed that the IRA will decommission. However, has the IRA itself said that it will decommission because, in the past, Sinn Fein has disassociated itself from the IRA and said that it is a totally separate body? I should have thought that it would be essential to have someone from the IRA to say that the IRA will decommission.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, the IRA issued a statement a few days ago—and that was the first time that it had issued such a statement. That statement makes a number of important remarks. It states, for example: We acknowledge the leadership given by Sinn Fein throughout this process". That can only mean that the IRA accepts the position taken by Sinn Fein as regards decommissioning.

Secondly, the IRA indicated: The IRA leadership will appoint a representative to enter into discussions with General John de Chastelain and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning". I believe that the total IRA statement and the elements in it represent a commitment by the IRA to decommissioning in the same way that Sinn Fein has indicated its commitment to decommissioning.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will enlighten me on something which was mentioned during the course of the Statement. I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General is present because if this becomes a matter for legislation, I shall certainly seek clarification. I was mistakenly going to refer to the Anglo-Irish agreement, which is chiselled in my mind since I happened to be across the water when that took place in November 1985. Of course, I should refer to the Good Friday agreement. Ever since the Good Friday agreement, we have been hearing a good deal about parity of esteem. I find that term difficult. If that term is in the legislation, I hope that the Minister or the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General may be able to enlighten me about it.

The first eight speeches which I made in your Lordships' House were on the subject of Northern Ireland. My main tutor then was the late Lord O'Neill of the Maine. I wonder whether he ever envisaged what we are discussing today. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me on that.

I spent five years across the water. Whatever the esteem in which my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, the Minister and I were held during our time in post there, nobody ever thought that we may not have been, in any way, equal in esteem because of the churches which we attend on Sundays. I believe that 27 years ago, that might have been different. Will the Minister enlighten me on that now or perhaps bear it in mind for the future?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, first, I make it clear that unless there is default, we are not talking of new legislation in relation to the Good Friday agreement, apart from obtaining parliamentary approval for devolution, which we hope will take place next Tuesday.

Therefore, the parity of esteem point arises in relation to the terms of the overall approach based on the Good Friday agreement rather than anything stemming directly from today's Statement. However, as regards parity of esteem, I believe that we are talking about respect by one community or religion for the other; equality of treatment of both communities and members of both communities; and respect for the human rights of all communities. Such an approach reflects what is meant by "parity of esteem". Moreover, taking further the point made by my noble friend Lord Blease, I believe that there is an overwhelming wish on the part of the people of Northern Ireland to show respect for each other in the future.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Minister explained parity of esteem extremely well. But how much parity of esteem is there for the Unionist tradition South of the Border?

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am not sure that I am qualified to comment on that. Indeed, I do not have sufficient knowledge. The noble Lord must address that question to the people who live in the Republic in order to learn their views.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, the Statement refers to what will happen if there is a default in implementing decommissioning. From what the Minister said about what the IRA has put in its statement, I do not understand that that encompasses implementing decommissioning rather than merely giving an assurance to discuss the matter.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I do not believe that I can go further other than to say that the IRA made a statement, some of which I quoted. It says that: The IRA is committed unequivocally to the search for freedom, justice and peace in Ireland". It has said also: In our view, the Good Friday Agreement is a significant development and we believe that its full implementation will contribute to the achievement of lasting peace". I believe that that statement plus, of course, the overwhelming support for this process at which George Mitchell arrived and George Mitchell's statement to that effect all point the way to an extremely positive way forward.