Reconciliation: Role of British Foreign, Defence and International Development Policy

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Friday 14th December 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, with a little bit of trepidation and surprise, it is my pleasure to speak after the most reverend Primate. I assure noble Lords that I will keep to a fairly short compass in the matters I am going to refer to. Three or four words that the most reverend Primate used remain with me: “local”, “inclusive” and “bottom up” are important elements in developing reconciliation. “Bottom up”, in particular, was a key element in the process that led to the Belfast agreement, also known as the Good Friday agreement, in 1998. Too many previous attempts to resolve the problems in Northern Ireland had come from the top down. They failed because they were not based in the local communities. That was essential to the process that did succeed. Even though it was rocky at times, and has been since, I can say quite confidently that the principles of the agreement we made in 1998 survive and that we have no doubt about the stability of our institutions. I know that in recent weeks and months, some people have suggested that the situation in Northern Ireland may not be as stable as I am representing it—but I think that I am correct on this matter.

With regard to being local, my comments today will be very local because of my own experience; I apologise in advance for that. The third term the most reverend Primate used was “inclusive”. A huge part of our process was that it was designed to be inclusive. That had caused difficulties from the onset of the Troubles right up until then, but the inclusive nature of that process has been important to the degree of reconciliation we have achieved in Northern Ireland. I know from my own supporters about the idea of finding ourselves sitting down beside Republicans, who in some cases had been guilty of violence and all the rest of it. Here I will add something in parenthesis. Only a few days ago we had a little ceremony in Queen’s University Belfast to mark the murder of Edgar Graham, a lecturer in law and an elected representative in the Stormont Assembly. It comes back that that murder was set up by another law lecturer at Queen’s University who was responsible for facilitating several attempts at violent actions by Republicans, including the attack which was designed to murder the Lord Chief Justice.

To come back to the concept of being inclusive, the Administration we formed held within it all the major political elements in Northern Ireland, and during the time that I was First Minister we worked together successfully. That system continues today. Unfortunately, the Assembly and the Administration are not functioning because the two major parties in Northern Ireland now, the DUP and Sinn Féin, have fallen out, and we have not yet got to a position where we can re-form that Administration. However, I do not doubt that it will happen, and I certainly hope that it may now happen fairly soon.

Again on the theme of reconciliation, I will dip into a couple of bits of history in Northern Ireland that are not terribly well known. The first involves James Craig, who was the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. In 1922, at the point where powers with regard to security, policing and criminal law were about to be devolved to Stormont, Craig made a significant decision. At that time, despite the difficulties they had—in 1922 there were about 500 fatalities; there was no safety or security at the time—he decided that there would be no recourse to capital punishment in the situation he was dealing with. For that to happen in 1922 was quite remarkable—and it was adhered to. Through all the Troubles in the 1920s—as I say, a significant number of people died as a result of them—there was no capital punishment at all. Indeed, for the whole of the existence of Stormont there has been only one execution, which was in the 1940s during the Second World War, when the circumstances were slightly different. Craig did not get any thanks from people for what he did—but that is not unusual in this sort of situation.

One of the keystones of the agreement was the question of early release of prisoners. Again, it was quite controversial, and I know that many of my supporters did not like it. I knew that we would have been on very weak ground had we tried to oppose that. We would then have been reminded that in 1956, towards the end of the Troubles known as the Border Campaign, when Viscount Brookeborough was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, he released prisoners early. However, it was not done publicly and consequently did not go into the popular mind. But I knew that it was there, and that it would be appropriate for us to follow that.

I omitted to say that James Craig’s reason for not resorting to capital punishment was that, if he had done so, greater bitterness would be engendered by that, and it would be easier to bring people together again after peace had been restored if there had not been a resort to capital punishment. So in 1922, James Craig clearly had reconciliation in his mind.

I will get a bit more personal. Reference was made to the fact that John Hume and I received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998. We went to Oslo for that, and one of the significant things that happened then was that a significant number of Ulster Unionists were there, as well as members of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Social Democratic Party. I am not quite sure who proposed it, but we decided to party together; after the event we would go back to the hotel and, instead of each going into our own little area, we would all party together—over two nights, I think I am right in saying. I suppose it was a bit of an achievement to have a second night after the first—but we did, and I am glad to see that a noble Lord who was present there is nodding in approval of what I am saying. That was useful, because we knew that we would have to work together closely, and it was a significant help in forming good relationships along the way.

Another thing that happened there was that my wife and Pat Hume, John’s wife, got together and started thinking about what they could do to help advance the process. On returning to Belfast, they approached the Northern Ireland Office, and from those discussions, Pat and my wife Daphne were added to the board of the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund. The memorial fund was created to be a means of reconciliation, and after joining it, they were able to quickly advance its work. It was focused on trying to deal with the people, communities and families who had suffered in the Troubles, and the memorial fund made a significant contribution to that. Interestingly, the strapline it used was, “Peace, Reconciliation, Support”. That was offered to those who, as I say, had suffered from the Troubles in one way or another, and it was done on a fairly broad level. It excluded perpetrators, but not their families. Consequently, people were drawn from across the community as a whole to participate in the activities, particularly those of a more recreational kind, such as holidays and visits to various places. That was a beneficial aspect of it. The Administration who followed us changed the nature of the provision for victims. I will not comment on those changes: my wife and I have mixed feelings about them, but it is not appropriate to deal with that today.

I will make another couple of points. One of the things that developed from the Troubles in Northern Ireland is what are called heritage issues—dealing with the consequences of the violence—and there is a fair amount of controversy around this. Proposals have been made, but there is no consensus over what has been done, and part of the reason for the absence of consensus is that republicans are trying, in effect, to rewrite history by saying, “We might have done bad things, but the British Army and the police were just as bad; there is no difference between one and the other”. That proposition is not acceptable to the unionist community, or indeed to a broad sector of public opinion in Northern Ireland.

We have a problem hanging over that—which is ironic, because we did not have this sort of problem with regard to previous stages of the Troubles. The reason we did not have it in earlier times is that one of the main means that the authorities used to deal with the Troubles was to intern people, not to put them through the courts. That was a significant tool in dealing with terrorist organisations. It meant that they were in a special category in a sense, by virtue of having been interned—but when they go through the courts and are convicted they want to try to undermine that conclusion by rewriting history.

Another important factor in improving reconciliation in Northern Ireland comes from the work of Her Majesty the Queen. What she has done in Northern Ireland and in Ireland generally has helped us to change the atmosphere very significantly indeed. During the Jubilee celebrations there was a service in Enniskillen to mark the Jubilee on the same basis as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. A significant thing happened immediately after that service: the Queen left the Anglican cathedral in Enniskillen, crossed the road into a Catholic church and was met there by Archbishop Brady, then leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, with his fellow bishops and other members of that faith. I think that this was the first time the Queen had been in an Irish Catholic church.

Because of the security arrangements, we found ourselves having to wait for some time before we could get a car, but eventually the Queen left and people started to come away. I noticed a priest who had come out of the church and was standing outside. I crossed the road and asked him how things had gone. He was floating on air. You could see how he felt about what had happened: the symbolic recognition of the place of that church in the society of Northern Ireland. That helped to change the situation. Around that time, I remember hearing another Catholic priest in Northern Ireland make the observation that in the United Kingdom there is a recognition by the state of the position of the churches. He contrasted that with the position of the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland, where its status within society has been diminished quite considerably. He compared that with the position we have in the United Kingdom. On that point, I will conclude.

Tax Credits (Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Lord Trimble Excerpts
Monday 26th October 2015

(8 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, eight Conservative MPs—some of them senior MPs; former Cabinet Ministers, indeed—have put their names to a cross-party Motion disagreeing with the Government or seeking information that the Government will oppose. The Government majority is 13, following the death of my former husband last week. I am quoting only what I know. I am not quoting what I do not know. I agree that that is extremely important.

I emphasise again that the justification for this amendment is that there will be an opportunity for the elected House to hold the Government to account. It will not be a legislative vote, and that is why this vote is very important. By supporting the Motion this House will support the democratic process. It will leave the situation open. It will leave this set of regulations on the Order Paper—unlike a fatal Motion—and then the Government can listen to the elected House. I am not asking the Government to listen to this House.

Lord Trimble Portrait Lord Trimble (Con)
- Hansard - -

If I understand her correctly, the noble Baroness is saying that a significant number of Conservative people might support this Motion. This Motion will have no legislative effect and the legislation will continue. What is happening here is of a different order.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is exactly the point I just made. The important point is that if we pass these regulations the debate in the House of Commons—the elected House—will be an irrelevance. The Government can say, “We have got our regulations. We can press ahead with our cuts. The elected House can say what it likes, we will not have to listen to it”. I am not saying they will say that, but they certainly could say that. The important point is that we need to protect the democratic process. The only hope for the Government is that the bullying tactics may persuade Conservative MPs and our colleagues to avoid defeat. At the moment, the situation in the elected House is that eight Conservative MPs have put their names to a Motion which means that the Conservative Government do not have a majority in the other House.