Will Lords restore Northern Ireland's reputation at Westminster?

Will Northern Ireland's (non-DUP) Lords help restore Northern Ireland's Westminster reputation when the Government's counter-terrorism Bill comes to the upper house tomorrow? When the government won the vote at the Bill's first reading in the Commons by just nine votes, the chamber rang with jeers and furious cries of 'shame' directed at the DUP MPs who had just voted with Brown after an eleventh hour private meeting with the PM.

It has been widely speculated (but denied by the parties involved) that some sort of deal (a peerage for Paisley? profits from army base sell-off?) was done behind those closed doors. Or to put it in the biblical style beloved of so many DUP politicians, many of us believe that our birthright was sold for a mess of potage.

There are fifteen non-DUP peers from Northern Ireland. Amnesty has written to them all asking them to stand up for human rights and vote against the Bill. Ulster Unionists Lords, Maginnis, Rogan and Laird have already publicly indicated their intention to vote against the government – and contrary to the way in which the party's sole MP, Sylvia Hermon, voted in the Commons.

There are clear indications that the Lords will offer rather more opposition than the more-easily whipped Commons. In the wake of the Commons vote, Peter Riddell in The Times gave a fairly cold assessment of the Bill's chances when it reaches the Lords.

"There is virtually no chance of the House of Lords approving the Bill to extend precharge detention to 42 days in its present form. The Lords prides itself on defending civil liberties and it has amended several counter-terrorism Bills since 2001."

Lord Dear, a former chief inspector of police, has called 42 days a "propaganda coup for al-Qa'eda". He is quoted by retired Colonel Tim Collins, late of the Royal Irish Regiment, writing in the Daily Telegraph. He draws on the lessons of Northern Ireland for his analysis:

"My experience of fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland was in support of – not undermining – a justice system that enforced UK law. Sometimes that meant watching murderers go free.

That turns a soldier's stomach. But the propaganda lesson was clear: two wrongs don't make a right. Injustices – most obviously internment – only maintained the friendly sea of support for terrorism, in which those same murderers could operate even more freely.

Arbitrary measures generate a downward spiral that ends in hell for everyone. That's the game of action-reaction the terrorists want us to play."

The day after the 42-days vote, the PM told an angry Commons that no deal had been done with the DUP, saying:

"Nobody knows more about the dangers of terrorism in the United Kingdom than people who come from Northern Ireland."

Of course, different Northern Irish people draw different lessons from history. Belfast man Tim Collins reckons that he for one was paying attention. He rounds off his Telegraph article with a taunt to the PM:

"42 days' detention without charge is a step in the wrong direction. It places the bitter experience of those such as myself … in the bin.

Mr Brown's Government might one day yet wish to revisit what we learnt. After all, we won our war."

Tomorrow will tell us if the Northern Irish peers draw the same lessons from recent history.

                        [This blog is also carried over at OurKingdom]

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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