Podium: Mo Mowlam: Keeping faith with the peace process

From a speech made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland at Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus, County Antrim
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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEK was a tough one for people in Northern Ireland. Especially: for the relatives of Charles Bennett; for the families of those who have been exiled by IRA thugs; for nationalists in Larne and elsewhere who have been petrol bombed by Loyalists; for the police barraged with speculation about their future without anyone knowing the facts; and for everyone here who hoped that we had left the years of violence and the politics of violence behind us.

The question after such a week is simple: what on earth can you do next? Simply give up? Go back to the days when parties did not speak to each other? Back to when people were being killed day, in day out week after week. I know that's not what anyone wants.

But the reality is that, unless there is a proper working political settlement both sides can live with, unless the police here are accepted by the whole community, it will be difficult to finally defeat terrorism.

People know the Good Friday Agreement is the best bet we have. But unless there is confidence across the community it simply won't work. Which is why as Secretary of State I must keep trying to build that confidence - even though people sometimes say I am naive to do so.

In fact, throughout the past two years, both sides at different times have accused me of favouring the other. My job is to stick to my principles - fairness, justice and equality - and act according to the law. I also understand that there is great concern at recent events and incidents of violence.

The murder of Charles Bennett, the planned importation of arms from Florida, and the threats against teenagers have all raised genuine concerns about the state of the IRA cease-fire.

The loyalist petrol bomb and pipe bomb attacks have raised genuine concerns too, concerns - made worse by the lack of progress by the participants in the political process. Both sides are now asking the other - are you serious? And, unfortunately, both sides seem all too willing to contemplate the possibility of failure.

But I ask people to remember just how far we have come.

How much difference the cease-fires are making to life in Northern Ireland. Anyone who regularly goes out, walks the streets, goes shopping here, knows that.

What we are doing is not about appeasement, or turning a blind eye, but about helping this society end its historic conflict.

I condemn kangaroo courts of any kind. They are wrong. The way to deal with juvenile delinquency is through the police and through the courts. That is my bottom line.

But life in Northern Ireland is sometimes not as straightforward as it would be elsewhere. When the IRA ordered teenagers to leave Dungannon last week, some at least, small in number, in the local community supported that action because they said they could not support the police.

That, as I say, I find very disturbing. But it is a reality we have to deal with - and a reality behind part of the Patten Commission on policing and its work. Again, not because we are in the business of appeasing critics of the RUC, but because we have to find a way forward for policing that helps the force to be accepted as widely as possible in both communities, and makes events like last week as unimaginable as they should be.

The Government wants a modern, effective police service here in Northern Ireland, just as we do in any other part of the UK. That is a goal we had as a party long before the Good Friday Agreement.

In Opposition we made clear our desire to see a police service which was more balanced, with more women, and better equipped to face the challenges of a peaceful society, a goal underlined in our manifesto.

The need for change was accepted by the parties in the Good Friday Agreement. They recognised that it provided the opportunity for "a police service capable of attracting and sustaining support across the community as a whole". That is why they agreed on the independent commission now to report.

And that is why, while the main responsibility for implementing that report lies with the Government I will begin discussions with the parties as soon as they have had a chance to properly consider it.

Change is hard for people to take. It takes courage. Integrated education has never been an easy dream. But for 11,000 children in 44 schools in Northern Ireland, it is now a reality. What you have done to overcome problems and find answers is exactly what people throughout Northern Ireland can do - together to build on the vision we all hold for the future.

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