Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 26th June 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Richard Needham Mr Richard Needham , North Wiltshire 10:15 pm, 26th June 1985

The job of parliamentary private secretary to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland — I can say this because the present PPS is not in his seat—is rather like playing the part of the fool in Shakespeare's "King Lear". One must do one's best to keep the Secretary of State happy while the complexities, problems and vagaries of Ireland slowly drive him mad. However, a PPS has one unrivalled advantage over Ministers in Northern Ireland, in that he has the opportunity to get to know the parties and their supporters without being surrounded by security.

As well as making many friends during my time in Northern Ireland, I was left with two certainties. The first was that the Unionist people will not give up their link with the United Kingdom without a fight. I cannot believe that coercion from Britain, the pressure of world opinion, and least of all the terror perpetrated by the IRA will alter that fact. In any event, it is impossible to coerce more than 1 million people against their will and, as the Secretary of State said, it is not an option for the foreseeable future.

The second certainty was that the vast majority of the Republican people of the North will not give up their dream of a united Ireland in the foreseeable future, and that no amount of civil rights legislation or arguments about the right of the majority to decide who rules will change their minds. It is surprising that members of the Unionist party, including the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who came to the problem as fresh as I did, do not appear to see the self-evident truth of this determination among the Catholic community.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) made an astonishing speech. He spent most of his time attacking the Government's business managers and the rest of the time explaining that he would not talk about Labour party policy because he had discussed it somewhere else on another occasion. Indeed, he was so effective that neither the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) nor the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) stayed to hear him. However, it is evident that, whatever the Labour party might be, it is not integrationist. I repeat that the Irish nationalism that exists in the community will not wither or die. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said, it has been there for the past 60 years and it is likely to remain there for the next 60 years unless we can find a way of providing some form of expression of the Irish identity for that community. I also accept that there will be Catholics who will vote for the right hon. Member for South Down. I know some of them. I also accept that there will be Protestants who will vote for the SDLP. But there will not be many in either case, and they will not matter.