Withdrawal is no solution to Irish question: Letter

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The Independent Online
Sir: Tony Benn ("The answer to the Irish Question is British withdrawal", 9 October) maintains that John Hume, Gerry Adams and Albert Reynolds had succeeded in establishing a "genuine" IRA ceasefire and implicitly blames the British government for its breakdown by not allowing all-party talks.

The sad fact is that the IRA's cessation was never sanctioned by a General Army Convention - the only way a genuine or permanent ceasefire is allowed in the IRA's rules.

This "genuine" ceasefire did not end the IRA's campaign of beatings. These dramatically increased to keep Catholic communities in line and to deter informers. Nor did it end recruitment, advance planning and fund- raising - a postman in the North and a police officer in the South were murdered in foiled robberies.

Tony says Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland "live and work side by side, and always have done" and both suffer the ravages of bombing and unemployment, although he also says Unionists want the British troops to protect their privileges.

Only about 2 per cent of the province's pupils attend mixed schools. Most people live in near-homogeneous Catholic or Protestant areas. The peace lines dividing Catholics and Protestants have been added to in the past year. Significant numbers of people already have been ethnically cleansed out of mixed areas and this would worsen if Tony's plans for the termination of jurisdiction were ever implemented.

Tony wants the Irish people, North and South, to determine their futures. This is the basis of Anglo-Irish diplomacy. Britain says it has no selfish interests and will facilitate a fair settlement. The Irish Republic maintains an irredentist claim to the North, although thankfully this has been somewhat contradicted by John Bruton's recent disavowal of selfish interests in the North and would be greatly accelerated by revision of its constitutional claim to sovereignty. The ultimate decision on the North's constitutional future (to which country, if any, it belongs), is left to the people of Northern Ireland, whose consent is upheld by both governments and all parties.

Confidence can be increased if both Governments renew their search for a fair deal in the North and between the peoples of these islands. An immediate priority is rapid moves towards a Bill of Rights or the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. This would symbolise firm commitments to guaranteeing everyone's human rights and generate confidence in constitutional politics.

At the same time, the Irish and British governments should urgently but calmly conduct a security review. As well as restoring all necessary security measures relaxed during the IRA ceasefire, they should seriously consider introducing investigating magistrates with wide-ranging powers to seek terrorist funding and find the directors of terrorist operations. Wire- tap evidence should also be admissible in courts.

Unless the two government co-operate closely in the search for political solutions and signal a new determination to combat terrorism. Northern Ireland could descend into civil war in which countless people will die. The answer to the Irish question isn't a simple British withdrawal. It requires the continuing search for peace, reconciliation and an agreement which can be placed before the people of Ireland, North and South.

HARRY BARNES MP

(Derbyshire North East, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1

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