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David Burnside: I wish to support the amendments. This issue goes far wider than pragmatism and extending the deadline for a while because the legal requirement is that the terrorists must be allowed to decommission. That was the basis of the Good Friday agreementto move the terrorists to democracy and, one hopes, some time in the future, even to this place.
David Burnside: The Minister nods, but she nods for the wrong reason. The word should be banned because it is a joke in Northern Ireland political vocabulary. Politics should be about defeating the opposition. We must think about what is in the minds of Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams, Gerry Kelly and the rest of the Army Council of the Provisional IRA. What do they want? What message do they want from this House today? I shall tell hon. Members what they want: they want the same message that they have received ever since the Good Friday agreement was signedappeasement, appeasement, appeasement, and list after list of further concessions to republicans. That is what they have got and what they will get. Some concessions we know about and some we do not; some were made in Weston Park and some, perhaps, were not. What else is there?
The deadline is an important matter of principle and pragmatism. The two are wrapped up together. The reason why people like me, who supported the agreement within the Ulster Unionist party, are so disillusioned with that agreement and its implementation is that the deadlines mean nothing. As I said in an earlier intervention, the May deadline meant nothing; the Provos could get away with it. The loyalist paramilitaries are all up at Stormont and the electoral system was bent in the Assembly to allow more people to get electedthere are so many at Stormont that I do not even know how many there are.
Her Majesty's Government are bending the system, appeasing the terroriststhe men of violence, the gunmen and bombers who hold on to their arms and ammunitionand not putting deadlines on them. What sort of signal is coming from this House?
The Unionist people have been seriously let down. The Government had better think about symbols and the message that they are sending from this House. The Secretary of State should realise very soon that, because of the use of deadlines, the abuse of the English language and the fact that deadlines have not been adhered to, the UnionistsI was among the 50-plus per cent. who voted for the agreementare disillusioned. It is one-side terrorism.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will my hon. Friend concede that while we have no reason to have any confidence in the deadlines set by the Government, who have been seen to roll over at every hurdle and make further concessions, we have good reason to have confidence in any deadlines set by the leader of the Ulster Unionist party?
David Burnside: That is a double-edged question for me. My hon. Friend makes a good point and the disillusionment is felt because of the lack of commitment and adherence to the promises. We thought that with a new Prime Minister those commitments would be adhered to, but they were not, and that was why my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was forced into setting deadlines when that should have been the responsibility of the Government. It should be the Government against the terrorists in the United Kingdom.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): My hon. Friend will forgive me if I resort to my normal pettifogging and say that I am a little uncomfortable with the word "forced". I regrettably found it necessary to do something about setting deadlines and I may find it necessary again, but I am at pains to point out to my hon. Friend that I never felt forced to do it.
David Burnside: Within the Province, under the Mitchell principles, we still have a fully armedwe do not know what the first, token act of decommissioning consisted ofProvisional IRA, and the other republican organisations, and the loyalist paramilitary organisations, both front and back ones, under different names, remain fully armed. The Bill and the amendments are trying to achieve an admirable outcometo take the illegal guns out of Ulster politicsbut in the process and by having no deadlines, we are ending up with the opposite result.
All the concessions are being made, including those on the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We talk about law and order, but why are we running down the numbers in the RUC and reducing the effectiveness of the special branch? We will see in March what will happen to the RUC reserve, but Ulster needs to retain the men and women of the reserve, because of the increase in crime and the continuing threat of terrorism. We will see if pragmatism
Rev. Martin Smyth: Does my hon. Friend recognise that even the discovery of the activities in Colombia stemmed from the work of the RUC special branch? It is time that those in the House and elsewhere recognised that the continued weakening of the special branch constitutes a danger to this nation and threatens the countering of international terrorism throughout the world.
David Burnside: The deadline is a principle that sends out a message, and the symbol of the message is important in achieving the objective of decommissioning. If the Government say five years rather than one year, they might as well say to the end of time, because a five-year deadline puts no pressure on Provisional IRA-Sinn Fein. In the May elections, we can be sure that if pragmatic Fianna Fail and Bertie Ahern need the numbers to make up a coalition Government, they will do a deal with Sinn Fein, and forget about the Irish constitution and one army within a state. Bertie Ahern will do a deal because he wants power.
My argument is about the symbolism involved in not accepting the tighter deadlines in the amendments. More concessions to the republicans in Northern Ireland are coming up. They were promised inquiries at Weston Park. They have the Bloody Sunday inquiry, and even the Bloody Sunday movies are being financed out of public funds by the British state. That is a bloody disgrace.
The republicans will expectand will receivemore concessions from the Government. I am very sceptical about the process and the agreement. The confidence of the Unionist people is being destroyed. It is no good having a process if it does not have the consent of both the majority and the minority in Northern Ireland. Unless the amendment is accepted, the symbolic message emanating from this House through this Bill will be that decommissioning does not matter and that people should forget about what has become just another a wee symbol. The general will be able to go back to Canada for a while, but perhaps he will return in the summer.
We will not be told about it, but security will be run down. There will be a further weakening in police morale, and a reduction in the security that we need to cope with the increase in crime and with the sectarian violence practised by both the loyalist paramilitariesdisgracefullyand the republican paramilitaries, some of whom masquerade under front organisations. That is the way of politics and terrorism in Northern Ireland.
Our problem is that amendment No. 1 is unlikely to be accepted by the Government, given the tone of their approach on Second Reading. It would be a wonderful surprise if the Minister, when she responds to the debate, were to say that she was going to accept amendment No. 1 and the message that that proposal would send out to those who illegally bear arms in Northern Ireland. However, it is just possible that the Government will not be convinced by our arguments on amendment No. 1, so we have tabled amendment No. 2 as an alternative strategy.
Amendment No. 2 is a probing amendment, and it deals with the signals being sent out by the Bill. It represents an attempt to deal with the problems already described by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) and others. The context for the debate is that the signals sent out to the Unionist community and Sinn Fein-IRA are contradictory. The treatment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is also part of that context, as are the proposals in the already published Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill referring to the symbology of the Crown and the state in the future of Northern Ireland, and to the oaths that judges will take.
The Secretary of State has also spoken of there being a cold house for Unionists, so it is clear that one set of signals is being sent to the Unionist community, and quite another to Sinn Fein-IRA. Amendment No. 2 would offer the Government a mechanism for sending a more robust signal. The Government's signals about resistance to terrorism, as contained in the Bill, are distinctly uncertain, as are the signals from the Liberal Democrats. That is best summed up by the way in which Liberal Democrat Members voted on whether the House's facilities should be opened up to Sinn Fein Members. Fourteen Liberal Democrat Members voted for the measure, 14 voted against it, and 24 abstained.