Government must keep to ‘completion’ priniciple

David (now Lord Lisnagarvey) Trimble made his maiden speech in the Lords yesterday. He refers to the principle’s laid out in Tony Blair’s speech of the 17th October 2002, when he first mentioned the terms “acts of completion“.Taken from Hansard:

Lord Trimble: Tonight we are considering the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. There are so many matters in it on which one could comment, many of them mentioned by other noble Lords, but I should like to focus on one main issue and to raise a query on another. The query relates to a disturbing story in the press yesterday with regard to political fund raising. The story suggested that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is pressing the US Government to allow leading members of Sinn Fein to raise funds in the United States. If this is true, it would undermine the admirable position that the United States Government have adopted. It would also be contrary to the basic principles of the 2000 Act on political donations. I hope that in his reply the Minister will be able to comment on this matter.

The main issue I wish to touch on has been raised already—that is, the question of devolution. This is clearly still the Government’s policy, as evidenced by this Bill, the speech we have heard today and the current recall of the Assembly at Stormont. In principle, I welcome the recall. Giving politicians a status as elected Assembly Members without also giving them responsibilities is bad in principle and bad in practice. In saying that, I make no reflection on individual Assembly Members, of which I am one. But the existence of a notional Assembly which discharges no function could not be continued.

The problem comes with the way in which one defines the objectives and their priorities at the moment. Is the primary objective to re-establish an Executive—preferably on an inclusive basis—or is the objective to have in Northern Ireland a society which functions normally? Eight years ago we began what we hoped would be a fairly rapid transition to normality and we created an inclusive Executive to facilitate and accelerate that transition. Enormous progress was made. But it is equally clear that the transition was not and still has not been completed.

It was in October 2002 that the Prime Minister, in what is probably still the best speech he has made on the matter, called for the completion of that transition. The chief outstanding matter, of course, is policing. What is outstanding is not the devolution of policing—which was scarcely mentioned in the Belfast agreement back in April 1998—but the acceptance of the present policing arrangements, which have been put in place with much heart-searching and no little amount of pain to unionists and the police family in the years since 1998, and that acceptance has been clearly demonstrated by real support for the police.

I hope leaders of the republican movement realise the need to move rapidly and decisively on this issue. I hope they recall the promise they made to my party in May 2000 when they said that they would act,

“in a way that would maximise public confidence”.

I think they know that the great failing in the years after that date was in not building that confidence in those with whom they must have wanted to build a relationship.

I hope the Government are holding clearly to the principles set out in the Belfast harbour office speech back in 2002 and that their priority is to put in place a normally functioning society in Northern Ireland as a means to create an inclusive administration which can then, perhaps at a later date, enhance devolution in the way that this Bill foreshadows.

I put matters in this way not to create more obstacles—for I have in recent years put in a huge effort to see all the main sections of our society working together, and that is still my aim—but because I know the problems and I want to see them overcome. I know how important it is to stick clearly to the fundamental principles of the agreement, which are in turn the basic principles of democracy, non-violence and social cohesion.

  • In the words of Lord Turtle yesterday:

    “Eight years ago we began what we hoped would be a fairly rapid transition to normality and we created an inclusive Executive to facilitate and accelerate that transition. Enormous progress was made. But it is equally clear that the transition was not and still has not been completed.”

    The problem for Trimble was that the IRA is indeed in transition, but in terms of substituting one brand of lawlessness for another, that will run parallel to Sinn Fein’s politicking. Trimble managed to convince himself that the IRA had decided it would move along the road that would end in what he calls “normality” i.e. (one supposes) purely democratic behaviour. On that basis his gambles were logical. Unfortunately, because he totally misinterpreted what the IRA was/is up to, the gambles turned out to be foolish in the extreme.

    Of course, one wonders to what extent those who have supplanted the UUP in leadership understand the pitfalls of doing any deal with IRA/Sinn Fein.