Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:47 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , East Londonderry 9:47 pm, 26th June 1985

I apologise again, Mr. Speaker, I am so engrossed in the interruptions that I tend to forget that we are honoured by your presence and that the House is under your control again. I am sorry, Sir, I do go on putting my foot in it.

We have had explained to us by the hon. Member for Antrim, North the consequences of power-sharing between the SDLP and Sinn Fein, but that should cause us no surprise whatever, because the SDLP has consistently refused to give clear support to members of the security forces in the difficult task that they have.

The hon. Member for Foyle said that all elected representatives should be treated exactly the same. If elected members demand that they be treated the same, they must also be prepared to operate within the same civilised framework that all other constitutional parties accept. We do not support those who murder those with whom they disagree.

The plain truth of the matter is that the IRA and Sinn Fein are not two separate organisations. They are exactly the same organisation. If one of my hon. Friends should catch your eye in this or a later debate, Mr. Speaker, I think that he will give a clear instance which will illustrate the truth of what I have just said. Sinn Fein is the political arm of murder. Therefore, it cannot be seen or treated as a normal political party, because it is not a normal political party at all.

Sinn Fein referred to the cutting edge. Its cutting edge is murder, arson and violence, perpetuated by the IRA not only in Armagh but elsewhere. We are dealing with the renewal of the direct rule legislation for Northern Ireland, a system that has been operating for many years. It has not worked very well. Nobody is willing to say that the Government have made a very good job of it. Let me examine a few of the things that have happened during the last year. I deal first with the legislation governing the attempts to stop personation, carried out primarily by the Sinn Fein electorate at the local government elections and the wonderful claims that have been made since then about its success.

When the Bill was debated one might have thought that about half of the Sinn Fein vote was personation. I remember pointing out that it would be impossible for any party to organise personation on such a large scale as to personate more than 10,000 or 12,000 people at the maximum in Northern Ireland. I still believe that my assessment was correct. It was also pointed out during the debates that, historically, the Sein Fein vote had varied from 70,000 to 155,000 since the end of the last war. Its vote has now settled at around 100,000. If Sinn Fein had fought in all areas during the local government elections, I have no doubt that its vote would have been 15,000 to 20,000 higher than it was. There has been no drop in the Sinn Fein vote and the Government's claim has been proved to be false. My estimate that the Sinn Fein vote amounted to about 100,000 has been proved to be correct.

The matter was made worse by, among other things, insistence upon a medical card. The House will recall the long debate on medical cards. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) pointed out that his medical card was about 30 years old and had been signed by a doctor who is now dead. He had also moved house about four times. During the debate he asked whether his medical card was still in order or whether he ought to get a new one. He was told that either would do.

I have read all the letters that have been sent to me on this subject. I have also read everything that has been said in the House. Both the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Under-Secretary of State, who piloted the Bill through the House, must have a dictionary that is different from mine. The meaning of many words seems to have changed. I should like to have a copy of that dictionary before the introduction of the next Bill so that we on this Bench will be able to understand what the Government's words mean. We should not like to get it wrong again. We should like to know exactly what the words mean.

During his speech the Secretary of State referred to the meetings between the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and pointed out that they had said that the identities of both communities in Northern Ireland had to be recognised. He also said that it would be necessary to remove some of the problems that irritate the minority. I did not hear him talking about removing irritants to the Protestant majority. Perhaps if he had said that, he could also have been called even-handed in the debate this evening.

The debate has already attracted some comment on the banning of various Orange parades in Northern Ireland. Of course, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) will be perfectly well aware that the net was originally cast very much wider than Castle Wellan and the Tunnel. A number of other places were looked at, but wiser counsels have prevailed in the vast majority of cases, because 99 per cent. of the parades, by both factions, that take place every year in Northern Ireland pass without incident and in most of the cases where there are incidents they are created by a very small number of people.

It is equally true, as has already been said, that it is far more difficult to stop a traditonal parade than it is to keep it moving through the area. I have had some experience of controversial processions and parades over the years and I think that I know rather more about such things as far as Northern Ireland is concerned than any hon. Member on the Government Front Bench. My advice is similar to that of the hon. Member for Antrim, North—that a traditional parade should not be stopped. It should be brought together in as orderly and disciplined a fashion as possible and taken as quickly as possible through the area in question. Occasionally there are jams, but they do not happen very often, and it is very much easier to recognise people's right to continue to do what they have been doing for many years than to cause confrontation, which is desire by no one but which will almost certainly result in certain areas.

I can recall very clearly some difficulties in my own constituency last year. There was a problem, but it was largely overcome by the police keeping things moving in difficult circumstances. I do not believe that even that parade, which does not enjoy a high reputation, could easily be stopped. It is better in the long run to get these things over and done with and everyone away home as soon as possible.

I read with interest the comments of the Home Secretary yesterday, when he told the House that he was going to get the police to brief hon. Members on the difficulties in their constituencies as a result of IRA activities. I have been a member of the House since 1974 and I do not recall the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State ever asking me and my hon. Friends to come along and be given a detailed brief on the terrorist situation in our constituencies. Of course, I have my own means of finding these things out when I want to, but we have to do our own digging. Perhaps we could be told what is so peculiar about the present situation caused by the IRA bombing campaign in England that makes it necessary that all hon. Members who might possible have an involvement should be given a detailed briefing when it has not been found necessary to do this, in far more difficult circumstances, in Northern Ireland.