Northern Ireland (Framework Documents)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 22nd February 1995.

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Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 3:31 pm, 22nd February 1995

I understand the strong feelings that the hon. Gentleman has about this matter, but I beg him to examine more carefully what is in the document, and the way in which the document intends to proceed. I cannot accept that it drives Northern Ireland back 10 years to try to seek a peace which may be entrenched permanently in Northern Ireland after generations of mistrust and hatred. That is the purpose which underlies all the actions in the document.

As far as the Irish Republican Army and a message to it are concerned, I simply say to the hon. Gentleman and to everyone in Northern Ireland that our determination to resist terrorism has always been there, it is there now and it will remain there. That is why we have had British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland for a quarter of a century. That is why I increased the number of British troops in Northern Ireland. That is why I am prepared to say to the hon. Gentleman at this moment that, for so long as I am here, I will keep troops on the streets of Northern Ireland for as long as it is necessary to protect the people of Northern Ireland against terrorism, from whatever source it may come.

If the hon. Gentleman seeks my message to the Irish Republican Army, it is this. While it bombs and kills, it has an implacable opponent in Downing street and in the Government. If it is prepared to talk and return to democratic politics, we will offer it a ready ear. We will discuss with it how it may return to democratic politics, so that the next generation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency may not face the privations, the murders, the sorrows, the hardships, the deaths and the funerals year after year that he and his constituents have suffered in the past.

That is the game in which we are engaged at the moment. Where do I find myself in Northern Ireland? I place myself alongside 100 per cent. of the people in Northern Ireland and believe that it is right to take action to move out of the spiral of despair that existed there and move towards the possibility of a permanent peace. I know that it will be difficult; I know that it cannot be done without difficulty, and perhaps it cannot he done without disagreements, setbacks and problems. But I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is right to try. I do not believe that any Prime Minister of the United Kingdom—Conservative or non-Conservative—could or should sit in Downing street without actively trying to find a way out of the problems which have existed for so long.

As for harmonisation, when the hon. Gentleman studies the document he will not find things in it which will cause him fear. I happily say to the hon. Gentleman that I will sit down with him and go through the document paragraph by paragraph, line by line and word by word to try to reassure him that there is nothing in it for him to fear, and everything in it which may make progress to what he wishes for his constituents and for Northern Ireland and what I and this House wish for his constituents and for Northern Ireland—a permanent peace and a prosperous future.