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 wonder where the Government obtain their advice. They are certainly not taking advice from hon. Members on these Benches. The advice that they took on electoral law has proved to be wrong. It did not achieve the results that the Government wanted. They are leaving themselves open to pressure from the SDLP, the IRA and Dublin. Instead of listening to advice from those quarters, they should listen to advice from these Benches—they might then find that they have better legislation.

If we are to improve the governance of Northern Ireland, what advice can we give the Government? They should stop trying to buy off the IRA by giving it concessions. They should stop trying to buy off Dublin. They should stop trying to buy off the SDLP. At the end of the day, they all want the same political and constitutional things. What is given, regardless of reason, will be claimed by each and every one of them for his own purposes.

The only way to undermine any claims is to ensure that there is no victory to claim. The Government and the Opposition talked at the beginning of the debate — as they have done for many years—as though the people and the politicians in Northern Ireland did not know what each other wanted. The truth is that we do know. On the fundamental points we are poles apart.

The Government are trying to drive us together and have a power-sharing set-up in Northern Ireland, which simply could not work, and that is leading us into difficulty. If only the Government would realise that we do not have to sit holding hands all the time trying to find out what each other thinks because we already know, we might then get somewhere rather than waste our time in endless jaw-jaw and no action.

The time is long overdue for Governments of both parties to begin returning power to the people of Northern Ireland. We formerly enjoyed three levels of government—local councils, county councils and Stormont. None of them remain, but a large part could be recreated, without any difficulty and to the great advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland., in a relatively short time.

If we are to get anywhere, if we are to start down the road that will lead back to control by the people over their own affairs, we should start now — indeed, we should have started long ago. The Secretary of State said that there must be power-sharing. He is trying to get the Assembly to go on talking until there is a power-sharing structure. He will be disappointed because it will not happen. He has said that the Assembly will continue at least until the end of the year, and will probably let it run out its life in October 1986 and not have another election.

The Secretary of State has managed to keep the Assembly going for two and a half years but, in that time, it has not done the job that it was set up to do — to produce a power-sharing executive. It will clearly not do so, and as long as it remains, he can use it as an excuse for doing nothing. On the evidence that has been presented to us by the events of the past two and a half years, and the words of the Secretary of State tonight, it appears that the sooner he winds it up, the better. Then he can start to make proper decisions. There is no point in continuing the Assembly if he knows that it will not produce the goods that he wants it to produce. Indeed, it will produce the one thing that he says he will not accept.

The Secretary of State talked about excuses. Although he is not present now, I must say that his excuses for reducing democracy and tougher security have worn right through. The sooner he forgets about making excuses and starts doing something about the problems, the better it will be for all of us.