Northern Ireland Troubles should provide lessons for Gaza, says former minister

Lessons should be learned from Northern Ireland’s troubled past amid the current Gaza conflict, a Labour former secretary of state has said.

Lord Hain warned that when politics failed, violence and extremism filled the void.

While successive British governments had refused to negotiate with IRA terrorists, when they did eventually engage it ultimately led to the historic 1998 Good Friday peace deal, he said.

Lord Hain, who served as Northern Ireland secretary from 2005 to 2007 and was previously a Middle East minister, made his remarks during a wide-ranging debate in Parliament on foreign affairs.

Against the backdrop of the devastating Israel-Hamas war, triggered by the October 7 massacre by the militant group, Lord Hain said: “Israel is not going to destroy Hamas as its leaders promise, not even by destroying Gaza.

“Although Israel has seriously damaged Hamas militarily, it is a movement and ideology, which in many respects Israel helped promote.”

Lord Hain added: “Surely after Israeli bombing kills their relatives and destroys their schools and communities, Gaza teenagers will resist even more and be recruited even more easily by Hamas and jihadism.

“As Britain’s troubled history in Northern Ireland vividly demonstrates, if politics doesn’t work, violence and extremism always fills the vacuum.

“Remember also that British governments refused for decades to negotiate with the IRA because of its terrorist outrages, but when they finally did so the 1998 Good Friday Agreement happened.”

Earlier, the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the Government to bolster its peace-making efforts, arguing it would bring “long-term prosperity and opportunity”.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said: “It is very striking that the impact of peace-building is not only a primary command of Christ in the Bible: ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God’, but is also fundamental to the national interest of this country.”

He added: “Our leadership in peace-building is something we have the capacity to do but is hard won and brings long-term prosperity and opportunity.

“Peace brings development, development brings trade, trade is to our advantage and trade brings more development.”

Mr Welby went on: “If we are going to talk about the use of aid… we must look at where that aid is best used and putting that aid properly to the service of peace has a far higher return than any other possible use of it.

“It saves money on fighting wars and on diplomatic intervention…”

Meanwhile, a former military chief warned that vague promises about increasing defence spending were akin to someone “muttering about one day taking out adequate insurance while the house burns down around their ears”.

Lord Stirrup, who was chief of the defence staff from 2006 to 2010, told peers: “As far as future increases are concerned, the Government has said that it aspires to increase defence expenditure to 2.5% GDP (gross domestic product) over time and as fiscal and economic circumstances allow.

“This is like someone muttering about one day taking out adequate insurance while the house burns down around their ears.”

The crossbench peer added: “If the Foreign Secretary thinks this is somewhat extreme, let me quote his own wise words.

“He said ‘the lights are absolutely flashing red on the global dashboard’, and he added ‘it is hard to think of a time when there has been so much danger and insecurity and instability in the world’.

“Spot on, but does he really think that a vague aspiration to increase defence expenditure to a level still far below where it stood as recently as 2010 is an adequate response to such a dire and undoubtedly accurate analysis?”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton is due to respond to the debate, in which more than 60 speakers are listed.