Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Marjorie Mowlam: I did not inadvertently mislead the House. I said that, if there was sufficient evidence to permit prosecution, I have no doubt that the Chief Constable and the RUC would prosecute. I am not saying that the evidence presented to me by the Chief Constable has to go to a court of law, but I have to make a judgment about it. I have made my conclusion clear.

We must rely on the facts, not delude ourselves with half-answers. The task facing the RUC, with Garda support, in attempting to bring to book and to court those responsible for the Omagh bomb is difficult enough. It does not need to be made all the more difficult by someone threatening to act unwisely under the privileges of this House. Equally, it is difficult enough for both the police and the Government to deal with the issue of paramilitary assaults without having to cope with unhelpful or misleading speculation.

As I have just made clear to the right hon. Member for Bracknell, we must stick to the facts and to the rule of law, not to the law of the latest rumour.

Mr. William Cash (Stone): On the "Today" programme this morning, the Secretary of State said that she did not really know whether she had the legal powers to deal with the type of situation that we are discussing. However, at Question Time, the Prime Minister said emphatically that she had that legal power. What is the legal nature and character of the problem that she was talking about this morning? Why does she not agree with the Prime Minister?

Marjorie Mowlam: I do agree with the Prime Minister. What I said this morning was that I have legal powers, but they are limited. If a person breaks his or her licence, I can, under the powers of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, work with the independent sentences review commission and get the licence revoked by resubmitting that person's name. Under the Good Friday agreement, if I think that the ceasefire is not intact, I can name specific organisations or groups and none of their members who are in prison will be released.

Those are two of my specific powers. It is also possible, under the Good Friday agreement, to stop the whole process. That is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to, and he outlined clearly the implications if we took that course of action. If I have evidence against organisations, I will act similarly, but I need that evidence--[Interruption.] I need the evidence before I can act.

In response to the debate, I have tried to put the issue in the proper context, but that does not in any way reduce the Government's condemnation of the appalling assaults. I am determined that they should be brought to an end.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary will continue to have the Government's full support in its efforts to bring those responsible to justice. If there is clear evidence that any released prisoner on licence is carrying out attacks, I will suspend the licence and the prisoner will be returned to prison. If I judge that any group's ceasefire is at an end,

27 Jan 1999 : Column 359

based on that information I will stop its releases. At present, that is not my judgment and that is why the Government cannot support the Opposition motion.

4.30 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I hope that I will not be too repetitious on some of the points that have already been made, although it is inevitable that one will be. Like the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay), I begin by congratulating Families Against Intimidation and Terror, which has done a tremendous amount of good for many individuals who have been trying to free themselves from the influence of terrorist organisations. It has also done a tremendous amount of good by bringing to the public's attention the full horror of the intimidation, social terrorism, beatings and mutilations that have been going on in parts of Belfast, and from which various elements of polite society have been averting their attention for too long, as the right hon. Gentleman said. Class elements are involved and Labour Members might like to reflect on that too.

I shall start by referring to the death overnight of Mr. Eamon Collins, although it is not yet clear exactly what happened. It is one of those situations in which the police, on discovering that there is perhaps more to it than meets the eye, are rightly taking their time. Mr. Collins's background is well known. He is a former member of the IRA, who gave evidence against them, broke from them and published a book, which has been mentioned. In recent months, he has been an increasingly brilliant critic of the Republicans, particularly in the columns of theIrish News, the main nationalist newspaper in Northern Ireland. Only a few months ago, that resulted in his home on the outskirts of Newry being burnt down under suspicious circumstances, so fears that the death was also suspicious are inevitable, but we must not jump to conclusions.

At this stage, it looks as though it is another killing and that the republican movement is responsible. It follows on from other killings, in particular the Kearney killing, towards the end of last year; and I wonder about the timing, given the way in which the Secretary of State was snubbed by Sinn Fein-IRA earlier this week.

A few weeks ago, I had the honour--I use the term advisedly--of meeting Mr. Kearney's mother. She is a lady of republican views, from a republican background, but I take my hat off to her for the courage that she displayed when she went to a shopping centre in west Belfast to confront the man--one of the IRA's leaders in north Belfast--who ordered the killing. She confronted him there in the street and mentioned his name--[Hon. Members: "Name him."] No, I will not give his name, although I did mention it in the House some years ago. She went up to him and said, "Why did you order my son's killing?" From what she told me of her dealings with the IRA leadership in Belfast in general, there is no doubt about the fact that that killing was ordered by the IRA leadership. It was not some low-level activity. It was not even the work of that north Belfast commander. The action was approved at what the IRA would call brigade staff level in Belfast.

I am sure that the facts that are known to Mr. Kearney's mother are also known to the police and are part of the reason why the Chief Constable of the RUC told society

27 Jan 1999 : Column 360

in Northern Ireland that he has no doubt that the organisations--as organisations--are engaged in such attacks. Although there is a tendency to focus on the Republican movement because it is failing to carry out its other obligations, we must remind ourselves and the House that Loyalist organisations are also involved.

In recent months, the number of beatings and shootings by Loyalist organisations has outstripped those by Republicans. I have my suspicions as to the motives, particularly of the Ulster Volunteer Force. I think that I am right in saying that the majority of Loyalist beatings, shootings and murders--including a recent murder--were carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force. I suspect that there is a particular political motivation for the escalation of UVF beatings and shootings. However, that will not be news to the Secretary of State, who is aware of these matters.

I should like to comment on three things said during Northern Ireland questions last Wednesday that disturbed me greatly then and have been repeated here today. First, I shall quote the Secretary of State. She has qualified the position somewhat today, but last Wednesday she said:

That is a more categoric misleading of the House than the subsequent words of the Prime Minister to which the right hon. Member for Bracknell referred. As the Secretary of State said today, that is not the position nor is it what the Chief Constable said.

Last week's questions referred to what the Chief Constable had said in an interview that was broadcast on 15 January. I apologise for the repetition, but I remind the House of his precise words:

The Chief Constable was saying two things. First, he said that it was not his business to determine what constitutes a breach. I am glad that the Secretary of State has clarified that. The Chief Constable does not determine. He gives views as to the circumstances and informs people of the intelligence that he receives. The Secretary of State was in error last week when she said that the Chief Constable had said that the IRA and others were not in breach of the ceasefire. Furthermore, on 15 January the Chief Constable was saying that the organisations--particularly the IRA, as the terms of the Loyalist declaration were slightly different--in declaring their cessation said that they were ceasing military operations.

One can say that the IRA's cessation is intact only if one accepts that the present actions of the IRA are not military operations. The organisation is carrying out beatings, shootings and killings. One can say that there is not a breach of its cessation only if one classifies those beatings, shootings and killings as not being military operations; and that is what the Chief Constable described on 15 January as a "distorted, perverted view". So the view that the Secretary of State expressed at the Dispatch

27 Jan 1999 : Column 361

Box today is tenable and justified only on the basis of what the Chief Constable has described as a "distorted, perverted view".

I cannot judge what the Chief Constable has said to the Secretary of State in private, but only what he has said in public. He has described the only possible basis of the view that the Secretary of State has expressed as distorted and perverted.

Next Section

IndexHome Page