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 think what needs to be done as far as the paramilitaries are concerned—the IRA and, indeed, the Protestant paramilitaries as well—is to disattach them from the legitimate support of the people of Northern Ireland; to disattach those who legitimately wish for a nationalist future from the violent men of the IRA. I think that that has significantly happened in the period since the joint declaration.

It is certainly equally the case that the joint declaration has made a remarkable difference in the support that the IRA had previously received from many sources outside Northern Ireland. There is a changing tide of opinion towards those who wish to pursue by violence an end that is not legitimate.

The other great change, of course, is that the change in the Irish constitution actually enshrines the legitimacy of Northern Ireland's position. It is not easy to over-emphasise the significant changes that we have seen in Northern Ireland during the past few years. It is not all that long ago that the only people who would have agreed with the principle of consent in Northern Ireland would have been the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland and the British Government. The principle of consent is now accepted almost everywhere. That is one illustration of the changing nature of debate in Northern Ireland that I believe will meet the point that my hon. Friend raises.