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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is legitimate, when assessing such individuals for release, to consider their personal transformation and renunciation of violence, but that the moment one adds into the equation a consideration of whether their former colleagues or their faction are party to an agreement, one admits that they are political prisoners?

Rev. Ian Paisley: The hon. Gentleman knows little about what is happening in the gaols of Northern Ireland. I know plenty, as I have been a prison chaplain for years. There is no sign of repentance in the gaols. They are run as academies for terrorism. The slogans are on the wall. When a person is killed outside, the cheers go up in the prisons. I have heard them.

People keep saying that they are sensitive to the fears, but people on both sides of the religious divide who have been robbed of their wives, husbands or children, or who have given their boys in the defence of their country against the so-called Irish Republican Army, say to me, "What did they die for? To have the killers let out because an agreement has been made?"

I do not know how the House can persuade people that that is the way to peace. The people who have put their finger on the agreement have not apologised by any act or word. There are no fruits meet for repentance.

The two Prime Ministers told us that decommissioning would be addressed first of all and that there would be no talks until it was dealt with, but it was put back and back and back. For the 14-odd months that my party and the UK Unionist party were in the talks, it was said that there was no progress, but when we left the talks there was still no progress until almost the last minute. We were not holding back progress: there was no progress for many months after we left.

We told the people of Northern Ireland in our election literature that if the Government did not deliver decommissioning, the terrorists' representatives who came to the table would have a tremendous advantage, because they could say, "If you don't do what we say, we return to violence." There was not a level playing field. We said that if that happened, we would go, and then we were blamed for keeping our pledge to our constituents. I have no apology to make to the House or to anybody for keeping to what I am mandated to do.

It is strange that the majority of Unionist representatives in the House speak today with one mind, despite their differences on other matters. Those who should be here to defend the document are strangely absent.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): This is the second occasion on which the hon. Gentleman has referred to my party leader, John Hume. He may not be aware of the fact, but Mr. Hume was present in our debate on Monday and had to leave for Brussels on urgent business that the

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hon. Gentleman will be much more aware of than I am. That is where he is today. We hope to be able to represent his views to the House.

Rev. Ian Paisley: On this occasion, I was referring not to Mr. Hume but to the leader of the Ulster Unionist party.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Perhaps when the hon. Gentlemen refer to any hon. Member, they will mention the constituency rather than the surname.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have said, "the hon. Member for Foyle".

All I can say is that the debate lacks reality, when those who proclaim the agreement as the best way forward for Northern Ireland cannot come to the House and debate it with us. The same issue is before the forum.

People say that the Democratic Unionists and the United Kingdom Unionists are not prepared to engage Sinn Fein-IRA in debate. My councillors meet them in debate in the local councils all the time. They would not come to the forum because they would not debate on a level playing field. We invited them to come, but they would not. Debating with such figures is not negotiating one's country's future with them. There is a great difference between debating and negotiating, and that needs to be made clear to the House.

This all came to a head when Mr. Mitchell, who was forced on the forum--he was not the elected chairman, as we in the forum were not even allowed to say whether we wanted him; he was pushed on to us--issued a document. Everyone was told that it must not be leaked and that no one else must see it, because the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and Gerry Adams had a document that the people of Northern Ireland had never seen. All this has flowed from that document, and we have been kept blind to it.

We now have a new document; the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) told the people that it was a terrible document and that he could not negotiate on it. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) said that he would not touch it with a 40-ft bargepole because it was so terrible. The Alliance man--we have alliance representatives here--Lord Alderdice, said that he could not agree with it either and told the Prime Minister, "Get over here quickly, or all is lost."

Now, we have been told that there have been radical changes, that sweat was broken, assurances were given and all the promises made and at last a document has been achieved--the agreement--which is the salvation. I happened to get a copy of the document that Mr. Mitchell put out, and I and my friends went through it carefully. There has been no substantive change. In fact, any changes were not for the good of the Unionist people. The one change that stood out was the release of all the prisoners in two years, which was not in the original document. Instead of improving the situation, the new document was worse.

Mr. Forsythe: Does not the hon. Gentleman think it an absolute disgrace that if the murderer of the Roman Catholic gentleman from my constituency, who was

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sitting outside a Gaelic club when he was murdered, is brought to justice, he will be released in two years, after all the condemnation of that murder?

Rev. Ian Paisley: I think that the hon. Gentleman knows my feelings about that matter.

We are not considering an assembly with any power--it is not something that any Unionist or any real democrat would accept. The schedule to the Bill states:


The Secretary of State will say when and where the assembly will meet. If she does not want it to meet, it will not and if she does--this is what the Bill says and what every supporter of the agreement will vote for tonight--the schedule states:


    "Proceedings shall be conducted in accordance with standing orders."

Who makes those standing orders? It is the Secretary of State, and if she does not like what is going on, she can change them at any time. Is that democracy?

The schedule continues:


However, they do not even need to be appointed from inside the assembly, as the schedule does not state that they must be appointed from among the elected representatives. Someone could be appointed from outside, as Mr. Mitchell was pushed in from outside. That is what the Bill states. We must immediately ask ourselves whether we can vote for such a document. How could we?

When a Member resigns his seat, how will it be filled? We are not even told. There are arguments for a six-Member constituency. I have been elected to the European Parliament on a single transferable vote. God forbid that anything should happen to the hon. Member for Foyle, but if it did, the Social Democratic and Labour party would not have a seat. I know all about that. We should be told. This should not be airy-fairy. Let us hear what the Government are going to do, but oh no, the Secretary of State is all-powerful.

The schedule also states:


The Secretary of State could sit in her office and say, "I don't like the way the assembly carried out its business yesterday. Here is a new order. Send that off to the Clerk and call them to order." Is that democracy? If hon. Members think that it is, let them vote for it, but the people of Northern Ireland are aghast.

I could mention many other aspects of the Bill, but we do not have the time to discuss it. In fact, to discuss it in this House is to discuss it with people who are deaf, because they are determined to vote for it. However, I am glad, because no one fought harder than I did to get a referendum. I did not want a referendum in the south of Ireland--that has nothing to do with our position--but I wanted one in the north. Of course, the voting day has been changed. We never vote on a Friday, but we have to vote on the same day as the south, and that is why the day has been changed. We have always voted on a Wednesday for local government and on a Thursday for

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Parliament, but that has all changed--get it as near as possible to what happens in the south, and then we shall have the vote.

I have one question for the Secretary of State. At the forum, we were told, "It must be consensus. You must have a majority from the Unionist and the nationalist sides of the House or nothing can carry." If it is proven at the election that the majority of the Unionist people say no, what will the Government do?


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