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 right hon. Gentleman is right to say that 30 per cent. — the vast majority of the nationalist community—are members of the Catholic Church and the Alliance party make up slightly less than 10 per cent. of the total vote. Obviously I accept that some Catholics vote for the Unionist party. However, I repeat that the numbers are incidental. If the hon. Member for Foyle were present, he would tell the House that considerable numbers of people who are not of his faith or background also support him. Whatever the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) may say, that will not alter the basic truth that the nationalist community in the North will remain, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows.

My point is that Northern Ireland is one of those situations, not entirely unique but nearly unique, in which it is perfectly possible for both sides to argue their legitimacy and to say that God and justice are at their backs. But, as Dean Swift remarked 300 years ago, We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. That has been evident in tonight's debate.

The real question is, is there any way forward, or must Secretary of State after Secretary of State be driven to madness in his quest for a solution? I still believe that there are grounds for at least believing that the position in the Province need not go on endlessly, as it has.

The Forum report was not one of the least biased documents that I have read, in terms of its analysis or description of the problem. However, for the first time a fundamental tenet was accepted on behalf of the constitutional parties of the South which is necessary if there is ever to be a solution: the people of the South and their representatives accepted that without the support of the majority of the people of the North there would be no solution of any sort.

It has surprised me for a long time that the Irish, who are renowned for their charm, wit and powers of seduction, have never made any serious attempt to use those attributes on their northern cousins. Why they believe that the heavy-handed English would be more adept in persuading Unionists to reach agreement with the South is beyond me.

If it is accepted that the constitutional parties of the South are prepared to look towards an agreement through compromise rather than through threat or fear, in the long-term—not in the short-term—there may be some hope. Hon. Members on the Unionist side have accepted through fair employment and civil rights legislation and through that admirable booklet "The Way Forward" that there is, and must be movement towards an agreement.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) asked why there was no coalition in Britain in view of the unemployment here. That is not the parallel. The parallel is to compare the problems of society in Northern Ireland with what happened here during the last war. If one multiplied the number of deaths, murders and the amount of mayhem that exist in Northern Ireland, the position is very different from the one that exists here. All party political leaders would have to consider carefully whether they should join together to find a solution to an unconstitutional party, such as Sinn Fein-IRA, if it threatened to destroy us. I thought that the right hon. Member made a case for the type of discussions that the Secretary of State said were so important.