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9.45 pm

The people of Northern Ireland, who have suffered the terrorism of these past decades and who refused to give in, no matter what the IRA would do against them, now find that the Government and others are prepared to offer places in government to the Provisional IRA. Not only that, but the Government are prepared to open the gates of the prisons to allow murderers out on to the streets. Is not that a buy-off to the men of violence?

The amendment sets out clearly that there can be no place in government and in the assembly for those who do not accept exclusively peaceful and democratic means of change. The Provisional IRA has not called a permanent cessation of violence. It is still carrying out its punishment beatings, as they are called. It is still shooting and bombing. It is still killing in Northern Ireland. Although it may use the name of convenience of some other organisation, there is still the hand of the Provisional IRA and there is still its stockpile of weapons.

I challenge the Government. If there is not an agreement behind which there is a determination to buy off the Provisional IRA, let the Government accept the amendment. Show us that the Government do not want to give in to terrorists. Show us that only those who are exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means will get into the assembly and into government. If the Government fail to do that, it will be abundantly clear that they will have men of violence in the assembly and in government. Once they are in government, there is no provision that requires decommissioning to take place in order for those people to remain in government. They can hold on to their weapons and their Ministers can still be in government.

There is even no requirement that the organisation itself should stop its violence. It is the individual who has to be caught with the smoking gun in his hand before that person can be removed from government. If there was any whiff of democracy in this system, it would not allow those who are associated with terrorists to be involved in the government of Northern Ireland or in an assembly for Northern Ireland.

I ask the Committee to support an amendment, if the Government are not prepared to do so, that is common sense. President Clinton tells us that we should accept what he describes as a great step forward, which is the progress of the agreement. Will he open the prison to allow the Oklahoma bomber to get out? Will he find a place in his Administration for him? He would not even dream of it. However, he expects us to do it in the context of Northern Ireland. That is the nonsensical nature of the proposal. It is proposed that those who have carried out acts as atrocious and heinous as any in the whole of this creation should be given places in government as of right. I oppose the proposal and so, I hope, will the Committee.

Rev. Ian Paisley: The amendment contains nothing that is different from the Mitchell principles, to which the men of violence said that they adhered. If we are now saying that we cannot make the Mitchell principles stick as regards those who join the assembly, what are we going to do? Are we to have someone in the assembly, or standing for membership and then getting elected to it, who is not prepared to accept the Mitchell principles? The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), said that he wanted the provision

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strengthened. The amendment gives the Opposition an opportunity to put their feet in the Lobby. They say, "We agree with you and on another issue we shall vote with you." Now is the time to say, "You cannot get into the assembly unless you declare for the Mitchell principles and are abiding by them." That applies to people on both sides of the fence.

A wall on the road that I go down every day has the inscription, "Paisley wants you to give up your guns." That is how I am treated for telling loyalist people that they should give up their guns. I had to take part in talks with the representatives of people who had signed up to the Mitchell principles but were not abiding by them. The people of Northern Ireland want to know whether Parliament wants such men to continue to hold their guns and use them as a threat.

There will shortly be a band parade in Antrim town. Members of the Progressive Unionist party have gone to the band members and threatened them. They have been told that if they put their band on the road, they will never walk again. That threat has been issued by people who signed up to the Mitchell principles, and the only guilt of the band members is that they want to say no to the agreement. In a referendum, voters are entitled to say no. People may try to persuade them to say yes, and that is their business. If I want to persuade people to say no, that is my business. It is quite wrong to threaten people.

We have visits from members of the security forces that the Minister controls. They come to our houses and tell us, "There is a terrible threat on your life. You will have to mind yourself." Day after day, people in public office are being warned that they might be attacked. How can the people who make such threats be allowed to stand for the assembly and take part in it? There is an amendment about their taking office, but we must first deal with membership: that is all we ask. The Tory party should be honest about its policy.

Mr. Robert McCartney: I support the amendment. It is said that a week is a long time in politics. I think that paragraph 10--I speak from memory--of the Downing street declaration was the origin of much of the process that we are debating. It declared specifically that only those who had permanently eschewed violence as a means of obtaining political objectives should be permitted into dialogue with democratic parties and with the two Governments.

There was some debate about exactly what that meant, and the day after the Downing street declaration, the then Foreign Secretary of the Republic, Mr. Spring, said in Dail Eireann that it meant that there had to be a permanent cessation of violence and the giving up of arms. He specifically stated that Sinn Fein-IRA would not be permitted to enter the democratic process, look around to see what it had to offer, and then, if it did not meet their requirements, go back to what is described as doing what they do best.

Mr. John Bruton, then leader of the main opposition party Fine Gael and subsequently Taoiseach in what was described as the rainbow coalition, made a submission on behalf of his party in which he said that the effect of the Downing street declaration was that arms had to be given up now. "Now" is a very short word: it means immediately, at once, forthwith, without delay.

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The British Government stated clearly that there had to be a permanent cessation of violence. Three months after the start of the first ceasefire of 31 August 1994, they assumed it to be permanent. The Irish Government were much more optimistic. Albert Reynolds, the then Taoiseach, said that there was no doubt that that ceasefire was permanent. Indeed, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) berated a television interviewer for having the temerity to suggest that "complete" was not synonymous with "permanent", and that violence could start up all over again after a complete ceasefire.

On 29 August 1995, after reports of a meeting in the west of Ireland attended by the hon. Member for Foyle and representatives of Sinn Fein and the Irish Government, during which it was proposed that there should be no requirement to hand over any amount of arms, the British Government responded by declaring that to admit Sinn Fein into democratic discourse would be undemocratic and unconstitutional.

Paragraph 34 of the Mitchell report produced in January 1996 stated that Sinn Fein and other paramilitaries were required merely to consider the decommissioning of arms in tandem with political progress. The Conservative Government resiled from every position that they had taken on decommissioning, and the present Administration rapidly followed suit. When the talks commenced, the air was alive with declarations and similes about twin tracks, parallel tracks and trains starting at the same time. There were references to decommissioning occurring at the same time as the political talks progressed.

When it was suggested in the House that Sinn Fein would be admitted to the talks, I pointed out that, once in the talks, it would say, "We are a political party with an electoral mandate. We are not Provisional IRA, we have no arms or weapons, and we have nothing to decommission." I argued that Sinn Fein would go from the beginning to the end of the negotiations and obtain the best agreement it could get, without a single ounce of Semtex or a single revolver or other weapon being handed over. One did not need to be a clairvoyant to make such a prophecy, and that is what happened.

During the negotiations, the real issue was pushed aside. The participants were fobbed off with proposals for highly expensive commissions staffed by expert people who, in due course, would do wonderful things about the administration of decommissioning. It was all a complete farce. The dogs in the street knew that there was not the slightest prospect of a single weapon or a single explosive ever being handed over until Sinn Fein's ultimate objectives were achieved.

What do we have under this agreement? It provides that Sinn Fein members can be elected under this proposed assembly, can hold Executive office on the basis of proportionality and can front a paramilitary grouping that has been responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people. That is the reality.

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