Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 3:38 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament 3:38 pm, 2nd May 2007

I have a view, but I would not want to propose it to either side in Sri Lanka as a solution to things. I suggest that the Northern Ireland peace process was ultimately successful because it was held in Northern Ireland. There was also international chairmanship from three different countries. People were constantly working on a peace process. Members will recall that people were elected to be negotiators in Northern Ireland, and that they were, in effect, locked up in Castle buildings in Belfast for almost three years, and they were paid, and had support, to do nothing but negotiate. It is important that there is that constant working at a peace process—as is the fact that in negotiations people inevitably come together. They have to come together because they are physically together and they are talking together.

That issue of talking is very important. My hon. Friend Mr. Love touched on that. Even at the most desperate times over the last 30 years in this country, there were lines of communication between those in Northern Ireland who were engaged in the strife there and our Government. We should read the history books about what happened over the past 30 years. At no time did the lines of communication cease. That is missing in Sri Lanka. The British Government and our allies should constantly press for there always to be a proper line of communication. There is a line of communication with the Norwegians, but another could be set up.

In Sri Lanka, I met the people who had been displaced in the eastern part of the island. That dramatically brought home the appalling tragedy for ordinary human beings of situations such as that in Sri Lanka. We are talking in this nice Chamber this afternoon, but the reality is that there are men, women and children who are constantly and severely suffering because of the lack of peace, and the lack of a proper peace process, such as there was in Northern Ireland.

There is an issue to do with the diaspora which is also comparable to the Northern Ireland situation. We have talked about what happened in our case. One of the key reasons why the Northern Ireland process was successful was that the attitude of the Irish diaspora—in Australia and other countries to an extent, but most importantly in the United States—changed towards what should happen in Ireland. Nowadays, almost everybody in the USA—such as Irish-American politicians and business people—has signed up to the Good Friday agreement. If we can get the Sri Lankan diaspora across the world to have a similar frame of mind—if they begin to think that they can sign up to a process and then help the people of Sri Lanka economically and commercially—that will be a considerable improvement. However, that cannot happen unless there is a proper ceasefire.

The other great lesson that people across the world, and particularly in Sri Lanka, can take from our experiences in Northern Ireland is that a ceasefire has to be meaningful. Only when violence effectively ended in Northern Ireland did we see success. Of course, sporadic violence occurred, and to a certain extent it will continue to occur among criminal elements in Northern Ireland, but when the fighting stops and the ceasefire is effective, everything is possible. To me, that is the first and most important thing that should happen.

There is another, political issue. In the past 30 years in this Chamber, there has been a bipartisan approach and unanimity among all political parties on the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland. That has not happened in Sri Lanka, but we should applaud the fact that it is beginning to happen. If the political parties do not adopt a unified approach, the issue of peace will become a political football, which is the last thing that should happen.