While the dissident threat was first up, strange to say it was the travails of the Presbyterian Mutual Society subscribers that dominated the last Northern Ireland questions of this Labour government, although no figures were mentioned here. Try as they might, neither the SDLP s Alasdair McDonnell nor the (still) Ulster Unionist Sylvia Hermon managed to force junior minister Paul Goggins into promising more than “a hard headed solution that will work in practice. Little hope then, of Labour delivering? Conservative shadow S of S Owen Paterson deplored the idea of the PMS being dumped on his lap and tried to turn it into an election issue. But where are his voters? There was a slighty desperate air, as local MPs tried to hold Labour to its pledges when they still can and tie up the loose ends of direct rule, instead of risking starting all over again with the Tories, who just mightn’t be so amenable, what with all those earlier cuts promised. The absent Sinn Fein were given their time honoured Downing St treatment – for the last time?Eddie McGrady, as fierce an opponent of the IRA and Sinn Fein as any brand of unionist got nowhere with a polite request to revisit those security protocols for the intelligence services. But he duly won compliments for 23 years service from this most oleaginous of Secretaries of State, who has learned a thing or two about defusing Northern Irish verbal explosive devices. Shaun Woodward looked for ward to a final report of the decommissioning body later in the year producing an inventory of paramilitary arsenals. Just think what impact that would have had a decade ago : now it glides by. Nigel Dodds wanted more, more money for security if it was ever necessary and was told it was the Chief Constable that we will listen to.
Peter Robinson was given a soothing reply when he feared the MoD was still trying to resist a free transfer of their NI assets to the Executive. Trust Gregory to wind up the last important remnants of direct rule as we’ve known it for 38 years on an aggressive note. Woodward had just said that “without Saville there would have been no stable peace process.! Was he overselling the marathon experience?
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): Given that almost £200 million has been spent, with no definitive outcome yet in sight, does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time to call an end to further wasteful inquiries and deal with genuine innocent victims for the future rather than trying to remember the past?
Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman need take no lessons, certainly from me, in being reminded that several thousand people lost their lives in the course of the troubles. We cannot forget the past; I am sure that he shares that view. The Saville inquiry will help us to produce the truth about the events of that day. We will learn from this inquiry. However, we do need a process to enable Northern Ireland to reconcile itself with its past.
From Shaun Woodward then, a fitting wrap-up, to leave dealing with the past where it belongs.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London