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Mr. Robathan: From his vast experience of Northern Ireland and the RUC, could the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House as to what proportion of RUC officers were from the Catholic or nationalist community in 1969, and what proportion of the Ulster Defence Regiment, when it was first established, was Catholic? Why have all those people fallen by the wayside?

Mr. Salter: If the hon. Gentleman cares to read the Select Committee reports, he will find some facts in them. There has been a significant decline in the proportion who consider the RUC representative of the whole community. However, the figures have started to rise since the ceasefire, and we should welcome that.

As much as we may wish to, we cannot discuss the appalling brutality of the paramilitaries and the gangsters in a vacuum. There is an essential connection between the issues that form the building blocks of the Good Friday agreement. Like other hon. Members, I have spoken with victims of assaults, and friends of mine in parts of Belfast who dare to call themselves socialists. I remember well a taxi ride to the airport from a conference during which the driver confided in me that he had been hijacked no fewer than 16 times. His young son had been disabled for daring to do something many teenagers should not do, but do anyway: he experimented with cannabis. That is not summary justice: it is brutality.

Some assaults are political, but there is a flourishing culture of gangsterism. The Select Committee has received evidence of oil smuggling, and of paramilitary involvement in it. Corporal Gary Fenton, a constituent of mine, was the last British soldier to lose his life in Northern Ireland, and that happened when he was challenging smuggling. Crossmaglen has become the oil capital of Northern Ireland; it even rivals Dallas. There is clearly paramilitary involvement in smuggling, and we have received information suggesting that republican paramilitaries may be involved in smuggling, while loyalist paramilitaries are involved in distribution. Again, we can see the clear connection between paramilitary activity and gangsterism.

The Good Friday agreement provides the building blocks on which our hopes for a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland rest. We cannot cherry-pick the issues that will command tomorrow's headlines. The Opposition could choose many other issues to use as sticks with which to beat the Government, but they are aiming at the wrong target. In attacking the Government tonight,

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they are not attacking the thugs. In many ways, they are helping to undermine confidence in the Good Friday agreement.

We have had a useful and wide-ranging debate. Is there really a need to push the matter to a Division?

6.22 pm

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The debate has touched on the reasons why it is important for people to honour the obligations placed on them. The Belfast agreement says clearly, on prisoner releases, that:

for early release.

What is meant by "complete and unequivocal ceasefire"? For a definition, we can turn to the words of the Prime Minister at Balmoral in Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign. On 14 May 1998, he said:

The Prime Minister goes on to clarify what he means by "complete and unequivocal", by saying:

    "An end to bombings, killings and beatings, claimed or unclaimed".

It is clear from the words of the Prime Minister that beatings and killings represent breaches of ceasefires. In his view, ceasefires that are complete and unequivocal require an end to such paramilitary activities.

The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary has said that all the organisations benefiting from prisoner release have been engaged in such activities. Those organisations are, therefore, in breach of complete and unequivocal ceasefire. What did the Prime Minister say when he wrote his pledges to the people of Northern Ireland up on the wall during the referendum? On the prisoner issue, he wrote:

Those are the Prime Minister's words, in his own handwriting.

The decent people of Northern Ireland are bewildered by the Government's recent actions. The Government say that they will not slow down or halt the release of prisoners in spite of continuing violence. The people of Northern Ireland are saying that the Prime Minister has broken his pledge, and that the Secretary of State is not fulfilling her responsibility to ensure that ceasefires are complete and unequivocal.

If the ceasefires do not meet the Prime Minister's own definition of "complete and unequivocal", the Secretary of State has the responsibility, placed on her by the House in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, to review the release of paramilitary prisoners. Yet she says that releases will continue, implying that, if she halted that release, the paramilitaries would go back to full-scale terrorist violence. In other words, she is being held to ransom by the paramilitary organisations. That is the only conclusion that I and others in Northern Ireland can draw.

Clearly, terrorist organisations have been engaged in violence. The Belfast Telegraph of 24 July, just a few weeks after the Belfast agreement was signed, ran the

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headline: "IRA linked to murder". We are talking not only of beatings and shootings, but of murder. Who is to know that the latest murder--that of Mr. Eamon Collins, which appears to have taken place in South Armagh, although we do not yet have the full report--did not have some republican involvement? Many will conclude that there was such an involvement.

What response do we expect from the Government? Is it their policy now to see no evil and hear no evil? Is that their policy on the interpretation of whether there are a complete and unequivocal ceasefires? Did the Prime Minister's word mean anything in the commitments that he gave to the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Maginnis: In addition to the clear indication that the IRA is involved, is there any evidence that Sinn Fein is involved? I refer to people such as Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams. On 1 June, did not the Secretary of State say that she had already said that Sinn Fein and the IRA were inextricably linked? What are the repercussions of that statement for the subject that we are considering?

Mr. Donaldson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Prime Minister has several times said at the Dispatch Box, as he did at Balmoral, that, in his opinion, the IRA and Sinn Finn are "inextricably linked". They are two parts of one organisation. Sinn Fein, when considered against the context of continuing IRA violence, is in breach of its obligations.

Sinn Fein signed up to the Mitchell principles when it entered the talks process. On punishment beatings and killings, those principles include:

When the Secretary of State met the leaders of Sinn Fein-IRA, and the Progressive Unionist party and the Ulster Democratic party earlier this week, what answer did they give if she asked them what effective steps they were taking to prevent such actions? In the view of the people who live in the areas where the beatings are taking place--some of them in my constituency--no action is being seen to occur. People hear pious comments from some leaders, but they see no action being taken to prevent the beatings. Clearly, Sinn Fein-IRA and those other parties are failing in their obligations and are in breach of the Mitchell principles.

The release of prisoners is at the heart of the motion. In Northern Ireland, deep concern is felt about the ongoing releases, especially against the backdrop of on-going violence. As the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) said in his opening remarks, legislation enacted by this House places an obligation on the Secretary of State to review the situation and to consider whether the organisations that benefit from prisoner releases are engaged in complete and unequivocal ceasefires and have ceased to be involved in any act of violence. The Chief Constable of the RUC has said that they are involved in such acts, yet the right hon. Lady refuses to review, slow down or halt the release of terrorist prisoners. Unfortunately, that is because the threat of violence is holding back the Government from acting in the democratic interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

The people voted for the agreement by a majority, but they voted for an end to violence. That is not happening and it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that it

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does. If not, they must hold the terrorists to account. Let there be no more appeasement. We want the Government to take a firm line against the terrorist organisations and to halt the release of prisoners--whether they are loyalists or republicans does not matter, because both sides are engaged in the violence. Opposition Members condemn the violence unequivocally wherever it emanates from. The Government must bring the consequences to bear on all those organisations.

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