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Mr. Mandelson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who touches on a good point that I referred to in a speech I made in Belfast this morning, before I came to the House. If ceasefires are to be worth anything and are to live up to their name, and if the term "peaceful means" is to mean what it says, paramilitary beatings, shootings and the rest of it must be out now, and once and for all if we are to build the decent civic society that we all want in Northern Ireland. That applies to the use of threats against exiles as well. All that has got to go and it has got to end; it must be part of the past 30 years of conflict that we are finally leaving behind us.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the Secretary of State agree that the IRA's statement, and especially its willingness to re-establish contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, shows that those of us in the House who stuck by the process throughout without imposing extra conditions or seeking to do so probably did the right thing? Does he think, as I do, that the IRA's comment that


while circumstantial, none the less represents a significant step forward in terms of the organisation's willingness to participate in the process? In that context, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he believes that the statements of the two Governments on human rights and equality of opportunity suggest that the whole process is on the move? That has to be welcomed.

I am interested in the Secretary of State's view on the June 2001 timetable. Will he confirm that he believes, as I do, that that timetable is more circumspect and

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thought-out than the 22 May 2000 deadline, having been more fully debated by the people who can actually deliver the decommissioning result? We might therefore be more optimistic about June 2001.

Finally, does the Secretary of State concur that this is a real development, and one most definitely needed by the process? If seen through by all the parties in Northern Ireland--as I sincerely hope it will be--it should, by rights, enable the Secretary of State to re-establish something that we all want, and that is the governance of Northern Ireland by politicians in Northern Ireland by 22 May.

Mr. Mandelson: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the support and insight that he has brought to all our debates which are rooted in his upbringing and education in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that people would have been better advised to stick by the process. Most have done so. However, over the weekend, one or two people tried to pour cold water over developments in Northern Ireland in the past 72 hours. I do not see many of them here this afternoon, so perhaps their cold water is becoming a little tepid and their scepticism is not borne out.

The Government will pursue all parts of the Good Friday agreement with vigour and enthusiasm over the coming year. Implementing all aspects of the agreement over the coming year will involve a tough, demanding and exacting timetable for us. That is the essential political context in which we can see further welcome moves in the process of decommissioning from the Provisional IRA. I certainly believe that what is happening now is only a start, but it is better to make a start than to worry so much about the finish that we never make a start in the first place.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon): Is the Secretary of State aware that the development justifies his decision in February to suspend the institutions, controversial though that might have been? Is he aware that it is welcome news if weapons are to be verifiably deactivated? If carried through fully, that development should lead to a lasting settlement.

In view of past disappointments, it is important that the House and Government are clear about what is on offer. Is it total or partial decommissioning? Does a substantial number of dumps mean all the dumps or something substantially less than all available weapons? When will active examination of the dumps begin and what does the Secretary of State hope will be concluded by the deadline of June 2001? Will he elaborate to the House on any price that he feels the IRA might attach to the offer? What does the IRA mean by full implementation of the Belfast agreement? If, as I suspect that it might, that involves further movement by the Government on security or other issues, is the Secretary of State aware that that deserves support, provided that such movement is synchronised with, and does not precede, the IRA's movement on beginning to put arms beyond use.

From the outset, this has been a long trail. There may yet be setbacks in a process of this nature. However, this weekend's statement has brought hope back to Belfast. I hope that past enmities and distrust will not disguise the opportunity that now seems to lie at hand.

Mr. Mandelson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, whose words will be welcome across the

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community in Northern Ireland, not least because no one knows more about that long trail, as he calls it, than he does.

May I first take up the right hon. Gentleman's final point about the price being paid? I am eternally vigilant about the price that has to be paid for such moves, and I am especially vigilant on the subject of security normalisation. There is absolutely no question that we shall do anything other than respond to changes and reductions in the security threat; we are not carrying out measures of security normalisation in order to procure political change. That is the important principle. As I said in my statement, I believe that it is possible for us to move ahead with some initial measures, and I know that the Chief Constable is currently considering those measures. However, what lies ahead and what further progress we make must rely on our assessment of the security threat as it develops and as it manifests itself on the ground at that moment. I hope that everyone has heard those three very important qualifications.

As for the confidence-building measures, it is important to distinguish between initial measures to make arms safe and secure, which the IRA says it will undertake, and the continuing, subsequent process of decommissioning--or, as the right hon. Gentleman says, deactivating. I think that it was he who first introduced the term "decommissioning", and he has now introduced a new term, "deactivating"; That is a rather smart and appropriate term to use, and I shall borrow it henceforward.

As for CBMs--the opening and verifying of the dumps--the two inspectors, Mr. Ahtisaari and Mr. Ramaphosa, will visit Belfast next Monday. All the technical detail has to wait until they come and we have that discussion with them. They will go through all that with General de Chastelain and his colleagues, in consultation with the Government, and I do not want to pre-empt or anticipate how they will do that. All I will say is that I know that Mr. Ahtisaari has considerable experience of these matters in the Balkans, most recently in Kosovo, and there have been similar situations with similar needs that have been addressed in the past; therefore, I do not think that it will be impossible for us to devise the precise arrangements and technical details that are needed.

As for what I hope we have achieved by June 2001--total, partial, on-the-way or two-thirds decommissioning--I really do not want to predict or speculate at this stage. All I know is that unless that process continues and it is enduring, reliable and robust, there will always be the danger of confidence running out of the political process, as it did previously. That is the last thing that we need and it would be a crying shame if it did occur. I hope and assume that everyone who has responsibility for making progress in these matters will do so, so that confidence is maintained, not only for the immediate future, but for always.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware of my pessimism following his decision to suspend the Executive. I am pleased to admit that my pessimism seems to have been confounded, and I wish to join in the congratulations to him, to both Governments and to the parties on the hard work that they have done that has enabled this weekend's statement to be made.

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What is especially important is that all parties appear to have recognised that there was a ceasefire, not a victory or a defeat for either side; and that therefore there is now no ultimatum or fixed date. In the past, those hoops have been raised by various people from time to time, and people felt that the IRA had to jump through them. The fact that they no longer exist, coupled with the IRA's statement, gives great cause for hope.

I conclude by wishing the right hon. Members for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) courage and good heart during the very difficult negotiations that they will have with their own party.

Mr. Mandelson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has not only shown recent pessimism about the situation but has demonstrated a colossal commitment over many years to getting under way the peace process which we now see culminating, I hope, in success. My hon. Friend is right. If there were any connotations of surrender or defeat or other people being victorious, forget it--we would get absolutely nowhere. That is why we must be so careful about the language that we use and the tone that we adopt when we talk about these matters. All the time, whether Unionists are coming into the devolved institutions or paramilitary organisations are decommissioning, all those are voluntary acts. We are persuading people and creating the conditions and circumstances in which they will follow and go with each other along a virtuous path. That is why my hon. Friend's point is so valid. We are not asking people to jump through hoops. We are asking them to live up to their word and to others' expectations of them. That is what we must hope and assume will be the case in the months and years to come.


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