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Legacy Issues

Volume 533: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2011

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have been meeting a range of political parties and victims’ groups to discuss the issue of dealing with the past. So far, we have not found consensus. While the Government have a role to play, the way forward on this matter must come from within Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State is of course right that solutions must come from within Northern Ireland, but he will realise that there is now widespread opposition to his proposal for a semi-inquiry into the Pat Finucane case. Does he understand that by going ahead with his proposal, £1.5 million is likely to be wasted, and will he now rethink?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I pay tribute to him, as I did last week in the statement. I am sorry that we disagree on this. He committed to a public inquiry, but he then passed the Inquiries Act 2005, which was the stumbling block. We inherited a complete impasse; this was going nowhere. We think that by accepting the conclusion of the Stevens inquiry, which is possibly the largest police inquiry in British history, and by having the family to Downing street for a fulsome apology, we can now concentrate on what is really important, which I raised with the family when I first met them—namely, to get to the truth as fast possible. That is why we have gone down this route of appointing a well-respected international lawyer and giving him very wide powers to get to the truth by December next year.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. However, given the political sensitivity surrounding legacy issues and the fact that the greatest legacy issue in Northern Ireland is the murder of Pat Finucane, will he reflect on the comments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin and of members of the Finucane family, and realise that this could undermine the very architecture of the Good Friday agreement? Will he now redress the situation and ensure that there is an independent judicial inquiry into—

I am afraid that I simply do not agree. We inherited an impasse and have come up with a solution. I have talked to senior members of the Irish Government and I talked to the Tánaiste this week after he had seen the family. On this issue, sadly, we will simply disagree with them. We will not let this one issue undermine the extraordinarily good relations we have with the Republic, nor will we let it undermine the settlement. If the hon. Lady had been at Hillsborough last night and seen people from right across the community welcoming the President, she would have seen just how far Northern Ireland has moved on. We are all determined to keep that going.

One legacy issue that has never been addressed is the role played by elements of the Republic of Ireland’s Government in creating, financing, training and arming the Provisional IRA, and Dublin’s shielding of the provos by refusing to co-operate fully with extradition. Does the Secretary of State accept that the families in Birmingham, Warrington, London, Aldershot and elsewhere deserve to see Enda Kenny step to the mark, acknowledge the failings of the southern Government and formally apologise for those killings?

I think that it is outside my remit. If the hon. Gentleman has questions that he would like to address to the Government of the Republic, he should write to them direct.