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Northern Ireland

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

My Lords, with permission, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today in the other place by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Statement is as follows:

“I do not think it is possible to over-estimate the significance of yesterday’s events at Stormont.

“In effect we witnessed the final resolution of what has been, for centuries, the most intractable source of political conflict in the whole of Europe. Its significance is not confined to relations within these islands, because what happened on 8 May 2007 showed the world how a shared future can emerge from even the most bitterly divided and blood-stricken past, and we must never forget how much misery and suffering that caused.

“Many people, including Members from all sides of the House, have worked tirelessly to make yesterday possible. The foundations were set by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, with the principle of consent and power-sharing at its core. But, seeing the DUP and Sinn Fein going into government together on a fair and equitable basis, makes ‘historic’ seem a cliché. That they have done it without the DUP ceasing to be the DUP and without Sinn Fein ceasing to be Sinn Fein is all the more remarkable. When we witnessed that now iconic picture of the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein together for the first time on 26 March, we knew that Northern Ireland and the wider world would never be the same. Since then, the DUP and Sinn Fein, by working together, have shown that the greater good can be served without sacrificing either principle or integrity.

“Indeed, I was delighted that the first joint letter signed by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister was to ask me to leave my office in Stormont Castle to enable them to move in, in time for yesterday’s first meeting of the Assembly and the formation of the Executive. Never has an eviction notice been so eagerly anticipated or so warmly received. Meeting the First and Deputy First Ministers together, I have been struck by their businesslike approach to preparing for government and, perhaps even more remarkably, their cordial and warm personal interaction. Above all, they have shown that age-old enmities can be overcome. That is truly inspirational, as we saw yesterday when they preached together at Stormont a common gospel of healing.

“I am convinced that devolution is here to stay. It would now be as unthinkable for Northern Ireland to ask for a return to direct rule in the future as it would be for Scotland or Wales. Indeed, who would have imagined that, as of today, of all the devolved Administrations, Northern Ireland would have the only settled Government in place?

“The key to the future peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland lies in the shared future epitomised by the new Assembly and Executive. That shared future must go beyond the “big politics” of Parliament Buildings. Astonishing as the political transformation over the past two years has been, there is much more to be done. We must find a way of dealing with the past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors. Although last summer’s marching season went off more peacefully and with greater consultation than ever before, a global solution to parading still needs to be negotiated. I hope that the review team headed by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, will help to achieve this.

“There are too many so-called peace walls that still divide communities in Northern Ireland and some parts of Northern Ireland which continue to feel isolated, marginalised, deprived and out of the mainstream. I am thinking especially of loyalism and its place in a shared future. We have always said that we will support and encourage those who want to work to a positive agenda, who wanted to bring about change and who had sustainable mechanisms for doing it.

“People have a right to have their identity, their culture and their traditions respected, but if loyalism does not get into the mainstream and catch the tide that is taking Northern Ireland forward there is a real danger that despite the best intentions, they will be left behind and further isolated because no one will understand why there are groups within loyalism that still cling to an armed past.

“Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando that they will end paramilitary activity was welcome. Guns, drugs and crime have no place within a community whose people want the best for their families and the best for their community core values. I want loyalism to play a full part in the new Northern Ireland and a full part in the shared future, as we should all want it to do, because loyalism, anchored to peace, the rule of law and democracy, has an honourable place in that future.

“Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably since direct rule was introduced in 1972, the year that, as a student, I first visited. Apart from anything else, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a multi-cultural, multi-faith and forward-looking community, evidenced by the election of Anna Lo as the first person of Chinese origin in Europe to become a member of a legislative body: for Northern Ireland a first, just like the first civil partnership ceremony anywhere in the UK. This is all part of the shared future.

“The whole process demonstrates what relentless attention by government and persistent negotiations, regardless of crises, collapses and depressing stalemates, can achieve. This must give hope to those trying to resolve conflicts the world over. For generations the politics of Northern Ireland has been sometimes a murderous zero-sum game of winners and losers. Yesterday saw an end to that. Whatever the challenges that lie ahead, they will be played out on the field of politics and democracy.

“The MLAs who came together in Parliament Buildings yesterday, amidst a joyous mood of reconciliation, carry the hopes and aspirations of a people who have yearned for peace, stability and prosperity and have waited so terribly long to see it. I know that the whole House will support all those as we enter this new and exciting era”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement that was made in another place. The fact that we are here we owe to a large number of people—many politicians, perhaps starting with John Major; John Hume from the SDLP; Secretaries of State from various Governments, including my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and my noble friend Lord Brooke, who are in their places; the Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has kept Northern Ireland problems at the top of his agenda for 10 years; his counterpart in the Republic, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern; and many others. Many others of similar ilk from other nations have also committed themselves to the problems of Northern Ireland well beyond the call of duty. However, the frontline has been held throughout by the RUC GC, the PSNI, our soldiers and the solid courage, determination and pragmatism of the population of Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that the sacrifices that have been made by all those people in order that we may arrive at where we are today will not be wasted in future.

As the Secretary of State’s Statement indicated, the world must understand that there is still considerable unfinished business in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister not agree with me that a full decommissioning rather than a statement is required from all the loyalist paramilitaries? Serious crime and guns must be got under control. The Province must no longer be a home for that form of crime. Is the Minister aware that the Provisional IRA is still a proscribed organisation to which Her Majesty's Government are preparing to devolve the criminal system? I suggest that that is not in any way logical, and some thought needs to go into that.

Now is the time to remember all those who have lost loved ones in the past 30 years and especially the families associated with the 2,000 unsolved murders. What is Her Majesty's Government’s strategy in relation to the past? Does the noble Lord agree that in relation to all inquiries into the past a line must soon be drawn in the sand?

The people of Northern Ireland will continue to require help and leadership for time to come in coming to terms with the past. The Secretary of State may have been fortunate enough to have closed a winning innings and carried his bat but he and Her Majesty's Government still have plenty of diligent and difficult work to do for the future of the Province.

I and my party—and I am sure all noble Lords—wish all concerned in the government of Northern Ireland good luck and good fortune.

My Lords, I apologise for being slightly late when the Minister was repeating the Statement, but I had read it in advance because it was available.

Of course, yesterday was a truly historic day, although the word historic will be overworked in describing it. There is not really a word “superhistoric”, but that is what it was. Restoring devolution was absolutely vital.

As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, there are many debts that we in this House should acknowledge to those who helped to bring this about. It is quite true that it began first with John Major’s Administration and the role played by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, when he was Secretary of State. It continued apace, though with fits and starts.

When Stormont was suspended in 2002 it was, as I predicted at the time, a long suspension. The longer it went on the more difficult it was to see how devolved power would be restored, but it has been. We should acknowledge, as I have said before, the importance of the “ABC” trio; Mr Ahern, Mr Blair and Mr Clinton. I was privileged to be working in Northern Ireland at the time and never in the world’s history has so much head of government pressure been applied to such a relatively small place.

I have one quibble with the Statement. My former student the Secretary of State said:

“Indeed, who would have imagined that, as of today, of all the devolved Administrations, Northern Ireland would have the only settled Government in place”.

That is not the whole story; Northern Ireland has a plethora of government and a miniscule bit of opposition, which Ms Anna Lo will have to take on with her Alliance Party. In Scotland and Wales we have a plethora of opposition and not much government. That is a good exam question for the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, to ask his students to discuss in the summer.

More seriously we have the issue of the loyalist paramilitaries decommissioning, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said. It is vital that the Government press ahead with that. I am sure that the Minister will be able to reassure us on that point.

When plan A was touch and go, we were discussing plan B: that Northern Ireland business in this House would no longer be dealt with briefly. With regard to reserved powers, I hope that the Government will stick to that commitment and that we will not have Northern Ireland legislation or reserved powers by way of Order in Council. We should be able to devise a system. The reserved powers will be important; they are not trivial. We must have a mechanism in this House for properly considering them. Other than that, it is a great day for Northern Ireland and we must wish it well.

My Lords, I am grateful for the warm responses from the two Front Benches. I do not disagree with anything that has been said but it would not be appropriate for me to go into detail. Clearly, we want decommissioning. There is no role for paramilitaries. There is no means of taking society forward and bringing about a normal civil society other than through the rule of law and allegiance to democracy. That applies to all paramilitaries who retain their weapons and are outside the agreements. Work will continue to attempt to bring about full decommissioning.

The Statement referred to the Good Friday agreement. Both noble Lords made the point that there is no one Government who can claim credit for this. The agreement came about because the land had been fertilised some years previously by other Ministers and Administrations. There is no question about that. There may have to be a line drawn in the sand at some time, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, but to the best of my knowledge the historical inquiries team is financed and is in place and will continue with its very important work.

As for Northern Ireland business in this House and the other place, I have been under the impression, perhaps falsely, that it will drop off. We will not get all the detailed legislation relating to Northern Ireland domestic issues wrapped up in an Order in Council with no ability properly to scrutinise. Frankly, that is what Assembly Members are paid to do and have been elected to do. I imagine that they will start legislating fairly soon. The reserved issues will be the normal flow that is reserved for the devolved Administrations. I cannot see any reason why Northern Ireland should be different from the others. There is the boast about having settled government in Northern Ireland but that is because of the clear power-sharing arrangements, which are set in statute—that is not the case with Scotland and Wales.

This is the beginning of a new era and we must be positive and look to the future. All the parties at the negotiating table can walk away and say that they have gained something from the process; all the people of Northern Ireland can certainly claim that they have gained something from this. It is very important that that is the case; people have made sacrifices—many made the ultimate sacrifice—and no one wants that to have been in vain. This therefore has to work; we do not conceive of a return to direct rule.

This is a new era of hope, peace and stability for Northern Ireland—it is the end of more than 30 years of direct rule and the start of genuine devolution. It will not all be easy; there will be lots of problems and it is very important that we in Westminster give what help we can. As both noble Lords said, other parties, in this country and abroad, assisted in bringing people to the table. It will not help those people who came to the table if everyone else now walks away and says, “You are on your own”.

The reserved matters are basically in the fields of policing and criminal justice—the Secretary of State retains responsibility; those matters are not devolved. Section 85 of the 1999 Act contains a power to make Orders in Council for such matters and, where it is appropriate—I emphasise that—that is likely to be used. Unlike the procedure that operated during the suspension of the Assembly, Section 85 requires that the draft on which the Assembly is formally consulted is laid at Westminster. In other words, no more legislation will come here, even as Orders in Council, that has not been consulted on by the democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland. That is very important. Only once that consultation takes place will the final order be laid at Westminster.

On the terms of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act, and following the successful restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly yesterday, the Northern Ireland Act 2000 will be repealed on 10 May; consequently, the Secretary of State’s power to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly will disappear. What happened this week is an important milestone in terms of legislation that was put through this House on the promise that those effects would follow once the Assembly was restored; that, of course, will happen.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement, as we must all do on this occasion. We all have our memories and recognise the time that this has taken. The Government rightly made it clear in the Statement that the principle of consent is at the core of the agreements that have been reached; that is, Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish agreement in 1985. Some of us will have some sadness that it has taken 23 years to achieve this position.

In being conscious of the more violent times with which I was involved, one recognises that there were then fewer peace walls in Northern Ireland than there are now. The challenge that still remains is to get, from the goodwill and happiness that was apparent yesterday in Stormont among the people, a real understanding and a real change of attitude right through Northern Ireland; that can only be in the best interests of everyone there.

If I had a criticism of the Statement, it is that a tribute is missing: we are here now because, above all, of the fortitude and courage of the people of Northern Ireland, of all communities, who were determined not to let violence win in the end. Although the security forces and many very brave people played a tremendous part, if the communities had not in the end been determined to make life go on, and to carry on in the face of some appalling outrages, there would not have been this settlement. I hope that this is a triumph for the people of Northern Ireland and I wish them every success in the future.

My Lords, any response from me is superfluous. The noble Lord is absolutely right: this is because of what has happened—the vast majority of people of Northern Ireland carried on with as normal a life as they possibly could. Local government continued to function, with 580 councillors being elected and representing their communities. It was important that that infrastructure was kept in place to show people that there was a future and another way of living in a civil society. It is now for the people of Northern Ireland to take forward that success. I repeat, while all the help and assistance will be provided, trust must still be built and won, so that the peace walls can disappear—because they will not disappear until there is that trust. That will be the real test of the success.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the Statement. As has already been said, many people here today can be named for getting us to where we got yesterday. Good foundations were laid here, and I call to mind a host of people. People talk about the peace process in the 1990s, but I can remember communities coming together in the late 1980s. The noble Lord, Lord King, is quite right: people took real opportunities then and a number of my friends were killed at that time, simply because they were doing what they thought was right. So a lot of foundations were laid for this. In one sense that is good, and it is good that we got to where we did yesterday. But we should not disguise the fact that we still have a very segregated community in Northern Ireland, both in housing and in education. The only area that is not segregated is the workforce, because that is against the law. There is a lot of hard work for us to do.

Part of the Statement was critical of the loyalist paramilitaries. I would press the Minister and the Secretary of State not to let that drop. The IRA was pursued because it was given a carrot to be in government. In that sense, there is nothing to be offered to the loyalist paramilitaries, and I hope to God that money will not be offered to them—I would be seriously opposed to that. However, I hope that the pressure on them will be kept up. I live in a community that is run by paramilitaries; I know what goes on there and I know that we cannot afford to allow it to continue. I wish that everyone could have been as happy as the people in Stormont were yesterday, but many still live under the jackboot of people who know no better than to torture their own community.

Looking at yesterday and all the things that have happened, we have come down a long road. I must be frank; I never thought that I would see what happened yesterday. I am grateful, but there is hard work ahead. If we thought that the past years of the peace process were tough, the next five to 10 years will be very tough for Northern Ireland. Over the past 30 years we have been used to having money thrown at us by everyone, just to keep us quiet. We do not have that excuse anymore and we cannot come along and say, “Please give us money, because of the Troubles”. We are a normal society now, and that will mean tremendously hard work for everyone in Northern Ireland, not just for our politicians.

Finally, I wish everyone in Stormont a fair wind. A lot of responsibility is on their shoulders and I look forward to them delivering.

My Lords, frankly, there is nothing that I can add to what the noble Baroness has said. She has spoken with the authentic voice of someone who has lived in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s comments were a most salutary warning. Nevertheless, we must all trust that yesterday’s most heartening event in Stormont will lead to the great success that all the participants and all the people of Northern Ireland deserve. For the present, will the noble Lord accept that it has been the steadfast work, during the whole of the past 10 years, to discover and to open up a way to devolution, and the perseverance, not to say the endurance, of the Prime Minister, that deserve warm congratulations?

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord. When I was in Belfast a couple of weeks ago, one or two people said to me at a reception that the fact that there had been this interest and guidance from the top of the Government had been a comfort, and that they sincerely hoped that, if the events forecast for yesterday came to pass, that interest and guidance at the top of the Government would be maintained, because it has been vital in the past few years.

My Lords, it is some years since I made any statements or asked any questions in Parliament on Northern Ireland, but I cannot let this occasion pass without doing so. I remind my noble friend, who was a Member of Parliament with me during the 1970s and 1980s, that it was regarded as virtually the end of one’s political career in almost any party to be given Front-Bench responsibility for Northern Ireland. One of the people who had such responsibility, the noble Lord, Lord Prior—then Jim Prior, MP—took an action that was profoundly important, by signing the Anglo-Irish agreement. That was a recognition that only by the two Governments acting together could we solve this problem. It is absolutely right that we respect every person who fought against the violence in Northern Ireland, including our own troops, but the contributions made by politicians at that time, including the noble Lord, Lord Prior, were very important in taking matters forward. There is no way in which we can thank everyone involved, but there is a way in which we can learn from the problems and take that forward. What has happened over the past few years has been deeply encouraging and, at times, quite moving. Everyone has compromised and, perhaps most importantly, no one has lost. Ultimately, the people of Northern Ireland have won.

My Lords, by referring to our membership and to most of the former Secretaries of State in the other place, my noble friend has reminded me of another Member of both the other place and this House—the late Gerry Fitt. We all remember the pictures on our TV screens of him standing against the men of violence to defend the democracy of his family and his community.

My Lords, the Statement that the noble Lord made is wonderfully welcome; I never thought that I would hear anything like it in my lifetime. In response, my noble friend made a point about drawing a line in the sand and not having more investigations such as the inquiry into—although he did not actually refer to it—Bloody Sunday. However, in responding, the Minister said that the investigation teams were all in place. I had a frisson of horror about that and thought, “My goodness, how many more Bloody Sunday inquiries are we going to get?”. Would it not be better if, over the next few years, we worked to get agreement on all sides that the past is the past and that today is the first day of the rest of our lives? I say, advisedly, that not doing so has been the problem of Ireland since the 17th century, and we really do not want to carry on like that. I just hope that there is no implied agreement that there will be a lot more of these inquiries.

My Lords, I can knock that on the head straightaway. In no way was I implying that. We have just had debates in this House about some legislation that is currently in the other place and will come back here. We were discussing the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the issue of retrospectivity or going back. The whole point about wanting the people of Northern Ireland to look forward is so that they are not constantly living in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right that at some point a line will have to be drawn in the sand. That will come from the economic and social success of Northern Ireland, which will then rebuild the trust. Once the trust is there, demands for digging up the past will diminish.

My Lords, time does not allow one to pay tribute to all the people who have played a part in this matter from the Anglo-Irish agreement onwards, but does my noble friend agree that it is important not to forget the part played by John Hume right at the beginning of the process and the parts played by Seamus Mallon and the noble Lord, Lord Trimble? They showed bravery and the times were difficult. We would not be where we are today had it not been for the parts that they played.

My Lords, at Parliament Buildings yesterday, the Taoiseach, in a very sensitive and thoughtful way, referred to the words of His Majesty King George, who, while opening the Northern Ireland Parliament in 1922, appealed for people to take the opportunity to move forward together into a new possibility. The Taoiseach referred to those words and, in a sense, the sentiment is repeated by him.

If one looks back at the 50 or so years that followed His Majesty’s remarks, it might not be entirely out of place to suggest that your Lordships’ House and the other place have allowed matters to continue without entirely due attention and encouragement to move on to better things. While there is a reprise of the history and a celebration of the present and the success that has been achieved—and well achieved—and while tributes are being appropriately paid, I hope that that does not mean that your Lordships’ House and the other place will simply heave a sigh of relief and feel that it is now possible to put Northern Ireland out of sight and out of mind. There is still work to be done, attention to be paid and encouragement to be given for betterment, without which there is always the possibility that untoward events will begin to unstitch the situation. Does the Minister agree with me that we must celebrate this, but that we must not feel that it is an opportunity—even once devolution of justice and policing takes place—to put Northern Ireland and its people out of sight and out of mind, as they are not yet out of trouble?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I hope that I addressed that in my earlier remarks. There must be interest, guidance and assistance from the top of the United Kingdom Government and from other bodies—not interference. Devolution of the 11 ministries has taken place and locally elected politicians will make the decisions, but more devolution will come at the appropriate time. As the noble Lord implied, in the 50 years, the reluctance to interfere probably lasted too long. I remember representations to my former Member of Parliament, Chris Price, in the early 1960s—1964 or 1965—when people were unhappy about what was happening. Things were allowed and one would say that it was local democracy.

However, Northern Ireland cannot be put out of sight, as all could be lost. It would not be right, for those who have made sacrifices, to turn a blind eye and to say, “The situation is now settled so get on with it”. That would be wholly unfair and inconsistent. There will be much crossing over of the boundaries in the kind of civic society that has been built in Northern Ireland. There is much that we, in Great Britain, can learn from the people of Northern Ireland, and vice versa. It is very important to get across the message that they are not on their own and that they are part of a whole. Whether it is the south or Westminster, it is important to provide help and sustenance to the democratic framework, within the rule of law and with principles of a shared future.

My Lords, as one of the last two surviving members of the original direct-rule four-man ministerial team under Lord Whitelaw and at the end of a chapter—I was there at the beginning—perhaps I can say a good word for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. From the very first dramatic moments of the fall of Stormont until now, and no doubt into the future, the civil servants have been the most wonderful, dedicated and courageous people in maintaining government, as the Minister has rightly said, through the very worst times and now, we hope, through the very best of times.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Over the years, the direct-rule Ministers have encountered difficulties, but in the past decade, since the ceasefire, things have been fairly cushy. As people in the Chamber understand, it was far more difficult before. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is quite right to say that, throughout all the Troubles, the government of Northern Ireland has continued. There were six departments, or 11 departments, and the 24,000 or so civil servants administered matters that in some ways were done partly by local government. Nevertheless, they undertook the normal, run-of-the-mill administration of the health service, the roads and so on. That was all done by the Civil Service under enormous pressures and sometimes without the guidance that they would wish to have had from training; they were not trained to take decisions. Direct-rule Ministers were not there every day of the week, so they had to rely on common sense and good governance arrangements. We should certainly pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I am very glad that the noble Lord has done that.

My Lords, I have a small, diffident, private suggestion to make. When I was a Minister in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board conducted a market survey in the Republic to find out, first, how many people had visited Northern Ireland in the previous 25 years; secondly, how many people would be prepared to contemplate spending a night in Northern Ireland; and, finally, how many would not go to Northern Ireland under any circumstances. The answer to the first question was about 25 per cent; to the second about 25 per cent; and to the third about 50 per cent. Perhaps I may suggest that actions speak louder than words and Members of your Lordships’ House could contribute to their vote of confidence and interest in the Province by paying a private visit over the next 12 months to see how everyone is getting on.

My Lords, I endorse that. Northern Ireland is hosting international conferences on a very regular basis now. The people who visit Northern Ireland see a skyline of cranes, building activity and investment. I have to say that not enough of it comes from the private sector, and therefore the economy must seriously be attended to, but the inflow of people—who are coming not only to learn but also to understand the joy of Northern Ireland and its countryside—is enormous compared to what it was. Yesterday can only add to that. I fully endorse what the noble Lord said.

My Lords, I go to Northern Ireland regularly—at least twice or three times a year. It is a beautiful place, and I have many friends there. It is in many ways a buoyant country, and has been buoyant for a number of years. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it does not need to take off now because it has taken off, but not, until now, in politics. In every other way, it is a buoyant community. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, suggested. It is a place where one should go not just because one should, but because it is a super place to go and one from which one would benefit from going. If anyone has not yet been there, do go!

My Lords, I had never set foot on the island of Ireland until 2005, when the Prime Minister asked me to go there as a direct-rule Minister. I made that clear to him. I had to say on the phone, “But Tony, I’ve never been to the island of Ireland”. “Don’t worry,” he said, “they’ll look after you really well”. They did. I have gone back voluntarily; I think I was the first direct-rule Minister ever to go on a weekend when I was not on duty. It caused consternation because the people who looked after me said that there was already someone on duty. I had gone over to support the game fair, privately in many ways. The noble Baroness is quite right that Northern Ireland is an enormously joyous place to visit. It can only succeed following yesterday. It is not all about money and investment, but the fact is that it has lower unemployment rates than most of Great Britain. Things have really changed during the past few years. If anyone had any doubts about that, yesterday should put the final seal on them.

My Lords, we are all rightly celebrating the end of the trouble of the past 40 years. I am a Protestant from County Wicklow, the county of Parnell, and I point to the fact that the Irish question has troubled this and the other House for some 800 years. We are celebrating a moment of great historic significance in what happened yesterday. In history, the Prime Minister’s legacy will surely be tied up with the way in which he has handled the Irish question better than any other Prime Minister in the history of this country.