David Lidington MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has defended Conservative opposition to the Northern Ireland Offences Bill after the cabinet minister he shadows – Peter Hain MP – had criticised the Tory position. Mr Hain had used a interview with ePolitix.com (that appeared on Boxing Day) to say:
"I think we are entitled to expect more bi-partisan support from the opposition than we’ve got in recent times. I hope there will be a fresh approach under the new Tory leadership. I think it is a great shame that the bipartisan policy which helped deliver peace and stability, unparalleled peace and stability for Northern Ireland, should have been broken by the opposition in recent years."
Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Lidington responded vigorously:
“We continue to operate a bipartisan policy on Northern Ireland wherever possible, which sometimes involves giving the Government the benefit of the doubt… On this Bill we are looking at something that would allow people who have committed barbaric murders, things like the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre, to go free without serving one day in prison, or even appearing themselves in court."
Mr Lidington branded Labour’s proposed amnesty for ‘on the run’ terrorists as a one-sided concession to the IRA which, he suggested, continues to turn criminality on and off at will. Mr Lidington noted that it was Labour which had pushed Northern Ireland bipartisanship past breaking point. The Liberal Democrats, both Unionist parties and the nationalist SDLP have joined Tories in opposing a measure that did not appear in the Good Friday Agreement.
Tony Blair and Labour have enjoyed an opinion poll advantage when the public are asked who is most trusted with homeland security but Peter Hain’s ‘on the run ‘ bill is only the latest example of Labour’s softness on Irish terror. Charles Moore wrote this after the raid on the Northern Bank:
“Since the peace process began, the IRA has killed soldiers; it has broken into the Castlereagh headquarters of Special Branch, taking the names of informants; it has been involved in gun-running in Florida and terrorist instruction in Colombia; it has infiltrated the government buildings at Stormont, stealing confidential information and intercepting ministerial conversations. All the while, it has continued to organise crime, north and south of the border – armed robbery, cigarette smuggling, punishment beatings and the exiling of individuals whom it doesn’t like. And now it grabs £26.5 million.”
Since the ‘appeasement process’ began Northern Ireland’s two moderate parties have been virtually “wiped out”. This is not the verdict of an opponent of the Good Friday Agreement but of Seamus Mallon, the recently retired SDLP MP and leading architect of the Agreement. Mr Mallon told The Daily Telegraph how Sinn Fein “damn well near lived in Downing Street” throughout the process. The nationalist electorate got the message that “these are the people we should support because they are the people doing the deals”. At the same time that the moderate SDLP lost ground to the extremist Sinn Fein, David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists have lost votes to Ian Paisley’s hardline Democratic Unionist Party.