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Ending Suspension

Part of Orders of the Day — Northern Ireland Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 8th February 2000.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry 10:15 pm, 8th February 2000

I have occasionally listened to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) speak on Northern Ireland and Irish affairs, but I rarely find myself in agreement with him. However, I agree with all those who complain about rushed legislation. In the years that I have been in this place, I have seen that every time a new piece of legislation is rushed through, we have lived to regret it in one form or another.

In this case, I believe that the Bill is the inevitable consequence of the IRA failing to live up to the commitments that it appeared to give. IRA spin doctoring did good service. In Northern Ireland, however, people like clarity, and one cannot get away with trying to conceal reality in ambiguous language. Eventually, reality breaks through.

I regret that we have not managed to examine the rest of the Bill's clauses and amendments, few though they are. Various issues were raised in the amendments that should have been debated. I do not believe that this is a happy day for anyone. To some extent, I also regret it. However, my reasons for regretting it are different from those that have been expressed hitherto.

My regrets stem from the fact that we are in this position today because we did not at the very outset address the hard issues of weaponry and IRA objectives. If those issues had been settled initially—three, four or five years ago—we would not be debating this Bill. We would have come up with a totally different agreement and a totally different Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Although we probably would have had something at a much lower level, it would at least have been workable and provided us with a sound foundation for the future in Northern Ireland—with that part of the United Kingdom remaining firmly within this Kingdom. That, of course, is the crux of the matter. Republicans of all stripes seek to destroy the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within this Kingdom. It is around that political and constitutional issue that all the battles have been fought and all the violence has taken place, and from which all the horrors that we have suffered have flowed.

Unless and until certainty is introduced, and unless and until doubt is removed about the long-term political and constitutional future of Northern Ireland, we can expect violence to come back in one form or another. That old, old sermon has been preached in the House for many years by me and by many other hon. Members, but I fear that it has not yet been absorbed. I think that, in any Parliament, we get to the stage when people start to absorb the lesson, learn from it, understand it and accept it. Then, we have a general election and a new group of hon. Members have to be taught all over again. It is a learning process, perhaps, for many right hon. and hon. Members, but it is a learning process that the people of Ulster have paid for in blood.