Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Miss Bernadette Devlin Miss Bernadette Devlin , Mid-Ulster 12:00 am, 7th April 1970

Before making my own contribution to this debate, I should like to answer the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) simply by sugguesting to him that in his impeccable logic he will not deny the existence of a third form of violence in Northern Ireland. But, coming from the party that he does, he saw fit to overlook the violence which leads in Northern Ireland to the highest infant mortality rate in Great Britain, the highest incidence of tuberculosis and the highest incidence of most of the illnesses and diseases associated with poverty. The violence of class, the violence of the party represented by the right hon. Gentleman, the violence of property and land owners in Northern Ireland, mean that working-class children die slowly, quietly and respectably in damp houses unfit for human habitation.

The number of times that we have discussed Northern Ireland in this House have been few. It is almost a year since this House decided that it was time to have another emergency debate on Northern Ireland. A common feature that runs through our debates on this subject is on the lines, "Do not inflame passions." It may surprise hon. Members, though it is not due to the fact that I have lost an appendix, that I am not going to inflame anything. I do not intend to make any provocative statements. I simply intend to state a number of cold facts.

Sometimes one cannot help it if facts prove to be provocative to people who deny the truth of their very existence. For fifty years in Northern Ireland we have been ruled by the Unionist Party. The Unionist Party is not simply a party of the Protestant people. It never was. It is a party of Toryism. It is bungling and bigoted, much like the party that sits opposite at present. Fifty years of that Government have given the people of Northern Ireland slum housing, high rents, unemployment, low wages and a divided working class.

That Government are now asking us to believe that road-to-Damascus conversions are possible. It is a Government which for fifty years have said to the Catholic working class, "You are disloyal. You are entitled to nothing." It is a Government which for fifty years have openly been making statements in line with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West; namely, "If you do not like it, clear off to the Republic." It is a Government which have said to the Protestant people, "You cannot have anything either, because of the Catholic population." By playing one section against the other, the Government have given nothing to either. They now feel that half a dozen sentences in a Government communiqué will change the face of Ulster and make it a happy place to live in. But a couple of sentences will never change our problem.

We need solutions. We have had all the usual chat today, as on every other day. The first day I sat in this House my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that I had offered no solutions. I have been here almost a year, and nobody else has offered solutions. Therefore, I am going to offer some. They are solutions which do not go as far as I would like to go, because I believe one cannot reform the Northern Ireland situation. It needs a much more radical and permanent change. There are meaningful reforms which can and must be carried out if we are to stop rioting. Catholics and Protestants not because they live in slum houses, or because they live in council houses whose rents they cannot afford. They cannot afford them because those who work are paid low wages, and many are forced to live off the employment exchange.

What we need in Northern Ireland is not General Freeland running around telling the working-class hooligan that he will be instantly shot if he shows his nose on the streets, while a hooligan like Dr. MacDonald is able to clear off to the Bahamas with £16½ million made out of the sweat of the labour of the people of Northern Ireland. What we need is work and homes. We can have that kind of reform immediately. We can immediately have legislation to provide the workers in Northern Ireland with a minimum living wage. This is simple, social democratic legislation.

We can have immediately in Northern Ireland legislation demanding equal pay for women. This is a very important matter. In an area like Derry and Strabane there is 25 to 30 per cent. male unemployment since female labour is cheaper. The private enterprise scoundrel who comes to Northern Ireland, where labour is cheap anyway, gets his labour even cheaper by employing our women and leaving our men sitting at home. Therefore we, even more than the people of this country, need equal pay for women.

We need legislation to ensure that the profits made in Northern Ireland go back to the people who make those profits. We have heard about the economic progress of Northern Ireland. Members of this House on this side would do well to remember the various definitions of wealth. True prosperity is not the amount of money one accumulates but how that wealth is distributed among the people who produce it. It is not being properly distributed in Northern Ireland. We work for low wages. We produce the profits that made Dr. MacDonald rich, with the help of British taxpayers' money.

Dr. MacDonald, for the benefit of Members who are somewhat puzzled, was Chairman of B.S.R. and recently cleared off to the Bahamas with £16½ million of untaxed money since his shares were registered outside the country.

We are the people whose hard labour for low wages produced the profits for Cyril Lord who, much to the embarrassment of a bungling Ministry of Commerce, diddled the Government of Nortern Ireland and cleared off with his profits leaving the taxpayers to pay his debts.

That is why we need that kind of legislation, and it can be brought into effect.

We need a massive injection of work, but we are not likely to get it from private enterprise. Many hon. Members of this House and too many people in Northern Ireland believe that there is no industry west of the River Bann simply because the majority of people there are Catholic. That is not a reason which is 100 per cent. true. Private industry does not go west of the River Bann because there are not massive profits to be made there. We are told that there could be profits there for private enterprise if there were better roads and better communications; but then the Government tell us that there is no justification for better roads and better communications until such time as there is industry. So we run in ever-decreasing circles, and the prospects of industry and agriculture decline west of the River Bann. We need State investment in State-owned industry under the workers' control. We need industries set up west of the River Bann for the purpose of providing employment, not profit.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may ask, "What would you make, what would you build and what would you produce?", and say that it is essential to look at the technical side of marketing. We are so short of houses that we could employ practically the entire population in such State-owned factories making housing components in order to house our homeless people.

Dealing with our housing problem, we are told that people, the good moderate men, condemn the Bombay Street burners and the Ballymurphy house grabbers. No one takes much account of the amount of interest taken every year by City of London bankers from the Northern Ireland Housing Trust. In financial terms, it amounts to more money than that body collects in rents. That body is prevented from increasing the number of houses that it builds. In order to provide capital for more houses, it raises rents which people cannot afford to pay because their employers do not raise wages. We must have that debt cancelled. It can be done. The City of London banks and the central clearing banks can afford to do without the money. We cannot afford to do without the homes.