Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacKay: I want to make some progress, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in due course, because he takes a keen interest in debates on this subject.

Who is to blame? In a BBC Radio Ulster interview on 15 January, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, said:

That, incidentally, shows that the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House last Wednesday when he said that the Chief Constable had said that the ceasefire was still intact. Sir Ronnie went on to say:

    "But you will think the wording of these organisations in terms of their announced cessations and they are cessations of military operations. So perhaps they have some distorted, perverted view that this sort of activity doesn't come within the term, 'military operations'".

He also said:

    "But there is no doubt whatever that all of these organisations [IRA, UVF, UDA, UFF] including those who purport to be in cessations of military operations, are engaged in this repugnant activity".

In a separate article in Police Review on 22 January, he said:

    "Notwithstanding the fact that they are adhering to what they define as 'cessations of military operations', this does not mean that the threat they pose has been permanently disposed of. This does not mean that they are inactive. I have no doubt that these 'mainstream' groups continue to be involved in the barbaric activity of mutilations through paramilitary assaults".

There we have it confirmed by the Chief Constable. Those who are responsible for those evil, nauseating acts are the same people who signed up to the Belfast agreement on Good Friday. The House needs no reminding whatever that an essential part of that agreement was the renunciation of violence in all its forms.

I should like to quote from the Prime Minister during the referendum campaign. I, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and other colleagues campaigned for a yes vote in that referendum and would do so again because, as I said in responseto the hon. Member for Erdington the Belfast agreement is the best way forward for the people of Northern Ireland. When the Prime Minister made his speech at the Balmoral showgrounds in Belfast on 14 May last year, he said

That is also our definition of a cessation of violence. It is clearly not happening. He went on to say:

    "These factors provide evidence upon which to base an overall judgment--a judgment which will necessarily become more rigorous over time".

27 Jan 1999 : Column 352

    I concur entirely and the Secretary of State has made similar remarks at the Dispatch Box in response to me and to other hon. Members.

In the same speech, the Prime Minister said:

    "the only prisoners whose cases can even be considered by the Independent Review Commission are those belonging to organisations which are observing a total and unequivocal ceasefire".

That is why, in a supply day on a similar subject before Christmas, we moved a motion on the Floor of the House saying that terrorist prisoners should not be released any more until there was substantial and verifiable decommissioning. It is absolutely clear that the ceasefire is not holding because violence is continuing at pace and increasing. Violent, dreadful crimes are being committed.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does my right hon. Friend recall that, only eight days before the speech to which he has just referred, the Prime Minister said in response to questioning by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:

In the light of the fact that that commitment has not been honoured, is it not essential that those releases should be halted until terrorism stops and decommissioning starts?

Mr. MacKay: There are many people who voted yes in the referendum--whom we rightly encouraged them to do so--because of the assurances freely given from the Dispatch Box by the Prime Minister to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in May and to the people of Northern Ireland in the speech at the agricultural showground to which I have just referred.

I am trying to keep this speech as low key as possible, but I have to report that many of those people feel badly let down by the Prime Minister, and I can understand why. I believe that there is no choice for the Government but to have the agreement, which we support, implemented in full. An absolutely vital aspect of that agreement is that violence should be renounced for good and that crimes should not be committed. Instead, violent and vicious crimes are still being committed.

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle) rose--

Dr. Godman rose--

Mr. MacKay: I will give way first to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow. He is going to tell me that I have got his constituency wrong again. I will then give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day).

Dr. Godman: The right hon. Gentleman is immensely polite but awfully forgetful. My constituency is now Greenock and Inverclyde.

The Opposition's motion ends with a demand for a halt to the early release of terrorist prisoners until all violence ends. Will the right hon. Gentleman specify what groups of prisoners should be denied early release or is he talking about all scheduled prisoners?

Mr. MacKay: I apologise for getting the hon. Gentleman's constituency wrong again. I do not know what happened to Port Glasgow, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will tell me privately.

27 Jan 1999 : Column 353

The answer is straightforward. The Chief Constable and other observers believe that all the paramilitaries who signed the Good Friday agreement, both loyalist and republican, are involved in those awful beatings and mutilations.

Mr. Corbett: Where is the evidence?

Mr. MacKay: The evidence is coming from the Chief Constable. The hon. Member for Erdington may shake his head, but I do not intend to repeat myself because many other hon. Members want to participate in the debate. I have quoted extensively from the Chief Constable and I thought that he had made the position abundantly clear. The evidence comes not just from the Chief Constable but from other interested observers whose reputations are high and whose courage is outstanding. Nobody doubts that the evidence is there.

Mr. Day: My right hon. Friend has talked about the desirability of the Government recognising that those who claim to have signed up to peace are not carrying out their pledges in practice. Will he include in the description of those people not just those who claim to be the official IRA? Will he confirm that, in fact, Continuity IRA and the Real IRA are nothing but a mask to allow certain people in Sinn Fein to claim that the beatings are not carried out by the IRA when we know full well that Sinn Fein-IRA, Real IRA and Continuity IRA are one and the same?

Mr. MacKay: I am not sure that I can confirm that. That is a matter that my hon. Friend will have to pursue with the Secretary of State and Ministers. However, it is important that the House does not discriminate in any shape or form when condemning terrorism, from whatever side of the sectarian divide and whichever misguided organisation is involved.

We have now established without any reasonable doubt that republican and loyalist parties that signed the Good Friday agreement are behind the atrocities, beatings and mutilations. They are in breach of the agreement. Last summer, we passed the Northern Ireland (Sentences)Act 1998. Section 3(9) says that, when specifying organisations, the Secretary of State shall take into account whether that organisation

clearly, that is not so--

    "(b) has ceased to be involved in any acts of violence or of preparation for violence"--

clearly not--

    "(c) is directing or promoting acts of violence"--

they clearly are--

    "(d) is co-operating fully with any Commission of the kind referred to in section 7 of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 in implementing the Decommissioning section of the agreement reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland, set out in Command Paper 3883"--

they are clearly not doing so.

The Secretary of State and I were in dispute when the Bill went through. I shall not rake over the arguments, but she knows that I should have preferred the Bill to have said that she had to stop the prisoner releases if any of those conditions were breached. She persuaded the House,

27 Jan 1999 : Column 354

mainly thanks to the Government's majority, that it was better that she should just take those conditions into account. That is why we voted against the Third Reading.

I warned in July that there was a real possibility that all the conditions would be breached by the paramilitaries, but the Secretary of State would still be within her rights to say that she was not convinced and that it was better on balance to allow prisoners to be released. That is a great pity. I have shown that the paramilitaries are in breach of the agreement on all four counts, so there is no excuse for letting any more terrorist prisoners out early.

In the five months since the Act became law, the Government have released nearly 250 terrorist prisoners early, out of a total of approximately 400 who might be eligible. I suggest that the Government have been more than generous. I did not oppose the early release of some terrorist prisoners, because that was part of the agreement, which we supported. I fully understood that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister had to show the paramilitaries their good faith and demonstrate that they were prepared to implement their side of the agreement.

However, once that had been done, some sign was needed that the violence had stopped and the decommissioning had started. Neither has happened. Not an ounce of semtex or a single gun has been handed in by any of the paramilitaries that signed up to the Belfast Good Friday agreement. As I have shown--more importantly, so have the Chief Constable of the RUC and Families Against Intimidation and Terror--the number of beatings and mutilations has increased. We believe that there should be a halt to prisoner releases until there is substantial and verifiable decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives and until it is clear that violence has ceased once and for all.

It is the duty of the Opposition to speak out when there is a fundamental wrong. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister know that we understand the advantages to Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom of a bipartisan approach, which has been in place for several years, but we have always said that we cannot give the Government a blank cheque, just as the Labour Opposition failed to give us a blank cheque when they did not support us on the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act year in and year out. We shall speak out if we believe that the agreement, which we and the Government support, is not being implemented.

I shall speak out loudly when the victims are innocent people, often with a limited education and difficult job prospects in the poorest estates across the Province. Do Labour Members honestly believe that action would not have been taken if there had been mutilations, tortures and beatings in some of the leafy suburbs of south Belfast or the commuter lands of north Down? Of course action would have been taken, because there are articulate and important people there, but the poor bloody infantry are being brushed under the carpet and ignored.

Through the work of Families Against Intimidation and Terror and of several journalists, the House can now bring the matter to wider attention. It is time for the House to demand that the Government act. The best way of acting is to stop any further release of terrorist prisoners.

27 Jan 1999 : Column 355

4.15 pm

Next Section

IndexHome Page