CARDIFF is a city with strong Irish connections. Indeed, the distinctive flat vowels of the authentic ‘Kairdiff' and Liverpool accents are sometimes attributed to the influence in both ports of their large Irish communities.

It's not surprising therefore that my constituents show a strong interest in Irish affairs, and that being half-Irish myself and I should do the same.

In the House of Commons this week we were discussing the peace process. Northern Ireland provides us with a constant reminder of what politics is really all about.

As Winston Churchill put it: ‘Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.'

The members of parliament representing seats in Northern Ireland have to show the sort of political courage that the rest of us rarely worry about. They operate in a political climate where to exercise your democratic right to free speech can cost you your life.

Many of them have been the victims of assassination attempts. All of them have personally received death threats from credible sources.

But making peace is difficult. It involves setting aside old grievances and injustices, and talking with your greatest enemy. It means swallowing statements like the one we had this week from the Provisional IRA, apologizing for past atrocities.

The peace process is a fragile flower. Even as we speak it is under threat from increased levels of violence in Belfast.

But the benefits of the peace process are enormous to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. There are still killings, but the number has dropped. In the three and a half years leading up to the first IRA cease-fire in August 94, 343 people were killed in Northern Ireland. In the last three and a half years there have been 50 killings in Northern Ireland.

Tourism revenue in Northern Ireland has also gone up by 17.5% and more people are in work than ever before. 43% of applicants to the new Police Service of Northern Ireland are Catholics, in what was once an almost exclusively Protestant body.

Then there is the remarkable achievement of devolution, and of Nationalists and Unionists sitting together in the Northern Ireland Assembly Government, working to improve the lives of the people, whatever their background.

There is now real hope for a future based on civil and human rights, and not on sectarianism, discrimination and violence.

As a child I went to a Catholic primary school, where we had an Irish head teacher. His favourite pastime was to make us recite the poetry of Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Yeats; rapping us on the knuckles with his ruler if we got it wrong.

That is how I acquired my life-long love of poetry.
When I think of Northern Ireland, a poem by WB Yeats comes to mind. It is called The Second Coming. Describing a time of anarchy, he wrote:

‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity'

We must never again allow the passionate intensity of the worst to overpower the convictions of the best. If we fail to build peace in Northern Ireland the consequences will be written in the blood of the innocent.