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My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate. I am the 20th speaker in it. The first speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made a wonderful speech—if he really wants to be viceroy of Ireland he has my unqualified support and vote.
It is 20 years since the Good Friday agreement was signed. A number of us in this Chamber were present three weeks ago in Belfast when we commemorated and celebrated that occasion. I know that the Minister, when he winds up, will say that both he and the Government fully support the principles of that agreement. But there are some, not just in his party but in others too, who now say that the Good Friday agreement is out of date and not relevant anymore. I wholly and utterly reject that assertion. We have had 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland. If noble Lords cast their minds back to what happened 20 years before we signed the agreement, 3,500 people perished in Northern Ireland and 30,000 to 40,000 people were injured, either physically or mentally, as a result of those Troubles. The principles which were hard fought for and hard won—there are noble Lords who have already spoken in the debate, including the noble Lords, Lord Trimble, Lord Empey and Lord Alderdice, who were present at those negotiations—are still utterly relevant to Northern Ireland, to the United Kingdom and to the Republic of Ireland as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, spoke about the principle of consent. In my view, there is no threat to that principle in the amendment that we shall vote on in some minutes. Parity of esteem for all people in Northern Ireland, from whatever community they come; a power-sharing Assembly and Executive; human rights; equality; a police service which was totally new; criminal justice; north/south co-operation on the island of Ireland and improved relations, to an unprecedented degree, between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom—much of that was underpinned by our common membership of the European Union. We belonged, as two countries, to the same club, and there is no question in my mind that the constant meetings between Ministers and between civil servants over those two decades and before—that constant arrangement and co-operation between Ministers and Governments in Brussels—meant a smoother transition to where we are today. It also meant, of course, that the border became blurred.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, rightly referred, in a great speech, to the fact that the border was more than simply physical infrastructure and that the blurring of it—the softening of that border, if you like—was very much the result of the agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland.