Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Act 1974

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 26th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr John Hume Mr John Hume , Foyle 8:48 pm, 26th June 1985

I intend to deal with the position of the SDLP on all these councils. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's chronology, but I shall deal with that later. Cookstown council acts in the same way as Craigavon council, except that it does it more legally; it delegates its powers to different committees but makes sure that nobody serves on the committees who disagrees with the Unionists. Lisburn council made a mistake. It allowed one member of the SDLP to serve on a committee. Later its leader apologised to the electorate for having allowed an SDLP member to serve on the committee.

I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will ensure that the imbalance on area education boards is corrected. Not a single representative of the minority communities has been nominated to serve on the area education boards of Armagh, Dungannon, Cookstown and Craigavon councils.

The SDLP approach was set out before, during and after the election. We fought all corners. In particular, we fought the men of violence. It did not go unnoticed by anybody observing the political scene in Northern Ireland that the party most targeted by the political wing of the IRA was the party that I lead. Mine is the party that it wants to destroy. We fought the political wing of the IRA in every part of Northern Ireland. We fought their violence and their violent actions. We also fought the bigotry that lies at the heart of most of our divisions. We said that because we fight elections under the system of proportional representation we would do as we had done before: once the election was over we would try to ensure that, in every area where we had a major say, proportionality, in terms of membership of committees, would be the order of the day. We carried out that policy. In Northern Ireland, the SDLP has five chairmanships and Sinn Fein two. That is almost identical with their proportional vote. Furthermore, in those areas where we have a major say we have offered positions to representatives of other parties.

Before somebody tells me that the fact that one supports somebody from a party that one opposes and does not like for the chairmanship of a council or a committee where there is not an overall majority means that one supports what that party stands for, let me say that in that case no local government would work. We put into office in Newry as chairman Mr. Graham. The Secretary of State no doubt recognises the name because yesterday he refused to talk to Mr. Graham.