Previous SectionIndexHome Page


10 pm

It is suggested that Sinn Fein has come in like a spy from the cold and embraced the principles of democracy, much as members of the Weimar Republic and General

22 Apr 1998 : Column 915

Schleicher thought in 1933 that they could persuade fascists to assume the mantle of democracy. That is exactly what is happening here.

Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South): That is a stupid argument.

Mr. McCartney: There may be remarks that what I am saying is stupid from the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)--

Mr. Clarke rose--

Mr. McCartney: I am sorry. I do not respond to insult from a sedentary position.

That assumption is not made by me. Every Minister in the Conservative Government--from the then Prime Minister downwards--who had anything whatever to do with the alleged peace process that the Conservative Administration sponsored, have said repeatedly that the connection between Sinn Fein and the IRA is overwhelmingly strong and overwhelmingly positive. They have been described as two faces on the same coin, as two wings on the same bird. It has been established that almost everyone in a position of authority in Sinn Fein has served their terrorist apprenticeship within the ranks of Sinn Fein-IRA.

Mr. Stott: As someone who did not insult the hon. and learned Gentleman from a sedentary position, I am grateful to him for giving way. He is a democratically elected Member of the British Parliament and he makes his points on the Floor of the ancient House of Commons, which he has every right to do. I told him in a private conversation that I was disappointed with him. He is a formidable advocate and he makes his points clearly. Why did he not make all those points in the talks? Why did he absent himself from the talks and stand on the sidelines, instead of making the points that he makes now?

Mr. McCartney: If the point were a good one, it would have been well made. I was in the talks for 14 months. During that period, I can say with modesty that I probably had the best attendance record of any party leader. I certainly attended every plenary session; I think that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), despite our differences, will bear me out.

Mr. Mallon: I am not in a position to confirm in terms of statistics what the attendance record of anyone was, but I will confirm that, when the hon. and learned Gentleman was there, he did give his point of view at great length--at very great length--and with great ingenuity.

Mr. McCartney: I thank the hon. Gentleman--

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. Hon. Members should dwell not on attendance records, but on the amendment before us.

Mr. McCartney: I take your point, Mr. Martin. I was responding to an intervention from the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who suggested that I had not played any part in the talks.

Mr. White rose--

Mr. McCartney: No, I want to continue--[Hon. Members: "Give way."] Let us hear the hon. Gentleman, then.

Mr. White: As I said on Monday, the history of Ulster is selective, and people remember history selectively.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 916

I seem to recall that the last person that the hon. and learned Gentleman described as a fascist was the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley).

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. No hon. Member would describe another hon. Member as a fascist. I am determined that we will get back to the amendment. It would be nice to hear about the amendment.

Mr. McCartney: The agreement would permit those who have been directly involved in violence--who are still associated with paramilitary organisations that have retained their weaponry, which have never accepted the principle of consent and which have not endorsed the agreement--to be in power, in the Executive, on the basis of an electoral mandate.

If we all feel that Sinn Fein elected Members are worthy participants in the democratic process, would it be wrong to suggest that they be disqualified if they are attached to or represent a proscribed organisation that is listed in schedule 2 to the emergency provisions Act? Does that seem unreasonable to any democrat? Should we not expect those people to declare that they are honouring a permanent and total cessation of violence? After all, that is what is required by paragraph 10 of the Downing street declaration. Are we going back on that declaration? Should they not surrender their illegal weaponry? That is another requirement of the Downing street declaration. Should they not make an unequivocal declaration of their acceptance of the six principles contained in the Mitchell report, to establish a commitment to exclusively peaceful means and to abide by the democratic process?

Could anyone in this House honestly say that a real democrat, who has eschewed violence and is not associated with or representing a paramilitary grouping with retained weaponry, would be averse to this amendment? That is what the debate is about. If hon. Members believe in democracy, if they believe that violence should not be rewarded, I urge them to support the amendment.

Mr. Mallon: I shall be brief, not because there is not much to be said about the amendment--there is--but because most of it has already been said. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who tabled it and those who have spoken in favour of it. It may come as a surprise to them that many of the rest of us feel the same way. Many of us are not happy with the situation.

When I look at some of the people in the talks process and realise what they have done, I find it difficult to maintain my equilibrium. However, politics is not about rectitude; solving problems is not about rectitude--it is about finding a way to tackle something that has lasted for almost 30 years, with almost 4,000 lives lost and many lives ruined.

The reality is that this House tried to tackle the situation in many ways. It tried internment without trial, which failed abysmally. It tried to tackle it with the heaviest saturation of Army and police personnel anywhere in the civilised world. That, too, failed. It tried using the prisons, but the hunger strikes are engraved in the memory of everyone in my community. That did not work, either.

It is not a matter of rectitude and how one feels, but of how we can silence the guns and turn rampant terrorism in another direction. The proposals may succeed, and the

22 Apr 1998 : Column 917

poachers may become gamekeepers--it has happened elsewhere in the world and in this jurisdiction throughout history, and it is nothing new that it should. Let us put it to the test.

The amendments are aimed not at my party or at the Government but at the leader of the Ulster Unionist party and the leadership of the main Opposition party. They should not be unnerved. Yes, everyone shares the feelings that have been expressed. Yes, people realise the difficulty that many on the Unionist Benches and our Benches would have--the feelings of revulsion and dislike. But what is more important--our own feelings, and a confirmation of our political views, or the well-being of the vast majority of the people living in the north of Ireland?

What we have to consider is not our personal likes or dislikes but how best we can deal with the violence and ensure that, if it is not eliminated, it is at least greatly reduced. It is not a terribly idealistic but a reasonable political assessment that those who have responsibility should try to save lives and create a new future.

We shall all have to bite our lips, and none more so than the members of our party. When we see some of the television interviews, listen to the pontification and recognise the sham, we shall have to bite our lips, because it is more important that we create a context in which violence might end for ever.

Mr. Grieve: It appeared that the hon. Gentleman was belittling rectitude--wrongly. Surely the rectitude that unites him and the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) is that which led them to eschew violence at a time when people were killing each other.

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, but does he accept that the difficulty for those who eschewed violence, despite the provocation of those who were perpetrating it, is that the inclusiveness of the proposals that will be put before the House, although not properly in the Bill, will require the inclusion of men who have so far not shown their full credentials in giving up violence? That is the fear which animates the amendments.

10.15 pm

Mr. Mallon: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I am not sure how to reply, as I come from that stock. I come from a tradition and a family who had to bury guns. I do not know where they buried them. In Ireland, that tradition goes back a very long time. This year we are celebrating the bicentenary of 1798. The real history of the past 25 years will resemble that of 1798. It will become distorted and almost patched up.

People from our tradition know in their hearts that the IRA will never surrender its illegal weapons. The amendment has more to do with politics across the Floor of the House than with solving the problems of decommissioning, but I do not question the motives or the rectitude of those who support it.

Let me refer to the last speech in the House on the issue by Sir Patrick Mayhew, now Lord Mayhew. I cannot quote the exact column or date, but it is ingrained in my memory. He said that decommissioning will take place on a voluntary basis or not at all. That is the reality.

22 Apr 1998 : Column 918

I want every possible pressure to be put on those who hold arms to make sure that decommissioning takes place. I want both Governments to use all their skill to achieve that. I do not expect them to send letters to my party or any other party, because I know that they can work in different ways, but I expect both Governments to weigh up the safety and the greater good of people living in the north of Ireland and the prospect for the future in terms of the creation of lasting peace--although that is a long way off. That is what we expect, and I believe that it will be achieved by the agreement.

It would be absolutely wrong to have another Washington 3, as it took two years for the then Government to move away from it. When an absolute decision is taken, it becomes difficult. It would be dangerous tactically and politically for a Government, a main Opposition party or any other party to be pushed into a position in which preconditions are created post-agreement. If it happened, it is easy to guess who would gain.

If the agreement is adopted, Sinn Fein will get its mandate in the election. Its representatives will arrive at the gates of whatever building it will be--hon. Members know where I do not want it to be, although the Minister certainly does--with the cameras of the world upon them. [Interruption.] I note that other people recently had trouble getting in. If Sinn Fein representatives arrive with a mandate and with the cameras of the world upon them and are not allowed to take their seats, who will win?

If Sinn Fein gets in with sufficient numbers under the system agreed by all the parties, in the House and in the talks, but is not allowed to take its places in the Administration, who will win? What will happen every day on the floor of the assembly? What will happen to public perception? There is an old saying about people outside the tent, which I shall not repeat in this august company.

I want those who hijacked and debased the republicanism that I hold--who put it in the gutter through violence--to be tested on the only anvil that will test them: their participation in the normal democratic process. I want them tested not only on the television and in the media, but where it counts--at every level in government, in the assembly and in committees. When they are tested there, decommissioning will begin in a way that could never be achieved through the amendment.


Next Section

IndexHome Page