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Mr. Robert McCartney rose--

Mr. Mates: I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. I have only a short time and I have another point to make.

We now have a situation in which the Government are proceeding with the agreement in letter and spirit, and the IRA are not proceeding with the agreement in either letter or spirit. Even worse, there are implied threats day after day, week after week, that they will not be told when they have to move in the direction in which the Prime Minister has insisted and on which the spirit of the Good Friday agreement is based.

The crunch will really come over decommissioning. The Secretary of State continues to say that it has to happen because it is in the agreement. The IRA and Sinn Fein continue to say--I believe them--that it will not happen under any circumstances. At the start of this process, Mr. McGuinness said that there would be, "Not one bullet." Mr. Adams keeps saying that the, "IRA is still there." The Ard Fheis held by the IRA general council or army council--whatever it is called--said that the IRA would not give up its arms or surrender its weapons under any circumstances.

Why are we in any doubt that the IRA means that? Why do we keep saying, "It is in the agreement so it will have to happen"? The leaders of the IRA are not in a position--I doubt they would be willing anyway--to force the IRA to hand over their weapons. They do not

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want to do it because of their attitude of no surrender, which is always in the thoughts of the IRA. It will not happen.

What will happen when the time comes, according to the agreement, for the setting up of the Executive? Will the right hon. Member for Upper Bann have to go back on his declared intention not to sit down with those people until they have made a move in that direction? I do not believe that that is a tolerable position for him. I do not think that his party or his people would let him do it and I would think less of him if he did. That is the position that has been taken not just by the leadership in this place, but by all right-thinking people and all the people in Northern Ireland who voted for the agreement. They voted for both parties to move out of the impasse in which they have found themselves.

We have had no movement whatsoever. If the Government do not take some action to call that bluff, the right hon. Lady will probably say, "It is not down to me. I am afraid it is down to the Ulster Unionists." That is what the IRA is already saying. It is saying that it is the intransigence of the Ulster Unionists that is causing the problems in the setting up of the Executive.

I know that the Secretary of State takes her responsibilities seriously. She must not just sit back, wring her hands and say that she cannot do anything about it. The crunch will come on 10 March. Perhaps we can delay that, but we cannot delay it indefinitely because the day will not come when the IRA will decommission its weapons. It has said that clearly and unequivocally.

Such cards as the Government had in what was a skilful and difficult series of negotiations are being dropped one by one. The right hon. Lady needs to take note of the genuine concerns that have been raised on both sides of the Chamber. The time is running out. She must not go on pandering to the IRA--I do not use that word lightly--allowing the wives of IRA killers to come in and see Ministers and providing more money for the resettlement of prisoners than for the victims of crimes.

I know what the right hon. Lady is doing. She is trying to persuade them that our cause--hers and mine--is genuine. It is genuine, but it needed some persuading at the beginning. With respect, I suggest to the Secretary of State that the boot is now on the other foot. She must start persuading decent Unionists that her determination to make the terrorist organisations honour the agreement is just as strong as her determination to honour it herself. If she does not do that, I fear that what set out to be an exciting adventure may end in tears.

5.46 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to participate in the debate. I shall be brief, so that other hon. Members can contribute. The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) moved the motion in an eloquent and emotive way. He described graphically the trauma, torture and torment suffered by individuals and families. He gave us a litany of data about the terrorist offences visited on those people and on the communities.

At every Northern Ireland debate in the House since last Easter, whether it was on the Northern Ireland Bill, the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill or any other opportunity, I have tried to make the point consistently that the communities in Northern Ireland, even those that

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are totally opposed to violence, have endured and suffered violence for over a generation--30 years. I have urged the House to consider the fact that it would not be possible by any agreement to switch off immediately the use of violence for political and personal purposes because such violence is endemic in certain parts of our community. That does not mean that we excuse or condone it. There is not a single person in the House, the country or Ireland who, in civilised terms, would condone or excuse any act of violence that has taken place.

Those of us who live in those communities can see a complex pattern of what is happening. Many of the beatings are rooted purely in criminality. That does not mean that they are different or that people suffer any less. Many of the beatings involve people mixed up in the drugs racket, the protection racket or in territorial claims. Some of them are personal vendettas, many of which can be superficial. It may be that the godfather's car has been damaged and he sends out the thugs and hoods to teach someone a lesson.

That is what much, although not all, of this is about. The sinister fact to which I want to draw the House's attention is that that is the habitual criminality that our society has to address from now on. We must show that we are determined to work together. We must show leadership in delivering a civilised society based on good social and economic order if we are to cut that cancerous growth out of our society once and for all. Basically, that is what the agreement is about. It is about living together for the betterment of our communities.

I have no evidence, but I suggest that there may be another agenda. Paramilitary influences in Northern Ireland are very complex. I am convinced that some of the beatings and killings are aimed at discrediting those elements of the paramilitary organisations and their political representatives who are in favour of a continuing ceasefire, even if they cannot yet deliver all that is required of them. There are certainly elements in the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Ulster Defence Association--we can give them any name that we like; I could name 10 or more paramilitary organisations that most people have not heard of--that are committing acts of violence. Their purpose is to drive us towards doing what the motion asks.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell referred eloquently to the tragic event this morning involving Eamon Collins just outside my constituency. My information is that he was killed in a hit and run accident. That may be true, but assessing the situation without evidence risks inflaming the situation. Some of those involved in paramilitary beatings and killings are trying to drive the agreement on to the rocks.

People knew that we were going to have this debate but, far from there being a reduction in such incidents, they have escalated. That may be a coincidence, but I doubt it. The purpose is to drive us towards the decision that the motion calls for.

Let us consider the practicality of stopping the release of prisoners. The Secretary of State can do that, given the proper evidence. So what? It would not have much effect on paramilitaries' attempts to control communities by beatings, maimings and killings. We have to address that in a more difficult, more complex and, unfortunately, longer-term way. That requires strong local government by local people.

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There is a political agenda. Almost the entire speech of the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) was a political contribution. It was about not the criminality of what is happening, but the political drive behind it. He put decommissioning in an interesting context. The debate process is part of the decommissioning debate. The parties in Northern Ireland who support the Good Friday agreement and the 18 December agreement, on the bodies to be established, are within 20 days--I hope; the relevant date should be 15 February--of signing up to that. Decommissioning has been put up as an obstacle to that. I shall not argue the pros and cons of that debate today. I want total decommissioning, but I also want the complete dismantling of all paramilitary organisations for ever. It does not concern me that a gun is buried in a pit somewhere if no one goes to that pit and gets the gun to use it against someone in my community. As I said in an earlier debate, we could put a gun on the Table in the Chamber and come back in 1,000 years, during which it would have done no harm if the human element had not touched it. We must be careful not to exclude that possibility.

We are 20 days away, in my hopeful opinion, from a major breakthrough. There is a difficult balance to strike between those elements of the paramilitaries that are trying to destroy the agreement, which has been carefully nurtured and brought to this point, and other elements that are trying to sustain a ceasefire and keep the process going with their political representatives.

That is a judgment. I have no hard evidence on who is in one camp and who is in the other. It is just an observation and an interpretation of what is happening around me in my community. Today's debate is not dangerous, but it would be dangerous for the motion to be passed or used as ammunition by the paramilitary opponents of the agreement to disrupt the process further. The exclusion of some members who were elected to the Assembly from participating in the democratic process would be equally dangerous. Whether we like them or dislike them is irrelevant; they have been voted in under the terms of the law that was passed by the House. There are many people whose history I know and do not like, but I have to work with them. That is the price that we have to pay for peace in Northern Ireland. I am prepared to work with them on the understanding that there has been at least an element of conversion that has given us a prospect of establishing an enduring peace in our community. I am a middle-aged man and I have not known enduring peace in my lifetime. We are aiming at a prize beyond compare.

We should not give ammunition to those who are trying to destroy the agreement by violence or by putting up obstacles in the political process to prevent us from coming to the conclusion that I hope for on 15 February. The right hon. Member for Bracknell said that the purpose of the debate was to draw attention to an evil cancer in our society. That is right and proper, and I have no problem with it; but if he is just drawing attention to the issue, he cannot follow that by asking the Government to stop prisoner releases, because that would immediately give the paramilitaries who oppose the agreement an excuse to take a dominant position and re-establish violence in our society. I sincerely hope that the motion will be withdrawn.

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5.58 pm

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