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Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I agree entirely with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but does he none the less agree that the Bush Administration, who have taken on global terrorism, should also address Sinn Fein-IRA's funding of terrorism in Northern Ireland through their fund-raising activities in the United States?
Mr. Swire: I do agree, although there is some evidence that the sums raised in America have dropped substantially in the post-11 September environment. The problem is more endemic in Northern Ireland because paramilitaries and terrorists are finding other ways to institutionalise fund raising and criminality.
We are told that there have even been instances of paramilitaries from opposing traditions acting together to further their illegal business aims. I welcome the Government's attempts to tackle that ever-growing problem through the establishment of the Assets Recovery Agency. However, I regret that, in the Westminster Hall debate to which I referred, the Minister of State while rightly stating that the Government take the recommendations in the Select Committee's report seriouslychose not to respond to my request that they commit to providing the agency with the resources that it needs from day one. Can it really be true that only 10 officers in the police service are assigned to investigate general organised crime by the paramilitaries? As the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) said, the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland employs 103 staff. That is 10 times more people to investigate complaints against the police than are employed to investigate complaints against criminals.
Many aspects of the Belfast agreement are either not working, or not working as well as they should. The Prime Minister, Jonathan Powell, or whoever is still driving these matters from No. 10, seem so preoccupied with the concept of a peace process that they ignore the reality of what is going on under their noses. Paramilitaries are making a mockery of the Belfast agreement. Whenever the Government make a concession or turn a blind eye, it only serves to undermine the agreement.
If the Government are serious about saving the peace processthere is every reason to suppose that they arethey should remember what the process was all about originally. The Prime Minister should be reminded of his famous speeches at the Balmoral showground and at Coleraine in 1998, when he set out the tests against which any ceasefire had to be judged. He said that they had to be complete and unequivocal, and bring an end to targeting, shootings, beatings and the procurement of new weapons. He said that paramilitary organisations would have to be dismantled and that the tests would become more rigorous over time.
The Government must get their priorities right. They should concentrate on helping those people who have been driven out of their country by fear and intimidationsomething about which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) always argues so positively. The Government should not concentrate on locating and absolving on-the-run terrorists, as was discussed at Weston Park.
The Government must get tougher on decommissioning. More guns have come into Northern Ireland recently than have ever been decommissioned. The Minister of State said last week that the two acts of IRA decommissioning were of enormous symbolic significance. To whom are they symbolic? To whom are they significant? We need real, unequivocal decommissioning, not piecemeal decommissioning carried out at times of political advantage to the terrorist organisations.
The Government must act firmly and fast. More importantly, they must commit whatever resources are needed to break the backs of the godfathers who are responsible for the misery in Northern Ireland, and to whom the peace process is a threat. If the police are given the resources to weed out the criminal gangs, the never-ending cycle of violence will be significantly reduced. The temperature in Northern Ireland will fall, and the peace process will have a chance of working. I cannot believe that there is one hon. Member in the Chamber tonight who does not want that, at least.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I am sad to think that some people do not consider the statement made by the IRA today to be significant or important, and that they would disregard it. Such people talk of past pains as though they were suffered only by people on one side of the community, or by one family.
I believe that the IRA statement and its intentions must be tested. We must see where it leads us, but the statement contains an acknowledgement of the pain and grief suffered by the relatives of the people who the IRA consider to be combatants. It also makes apologies for the people who were viciously wounded or killed as a result of IRA activities. That makes it the most profound statement from the IRA that we have had, and we should recognise and welcome that.
I am not making an apologia for the IRA. I regard it as responsible for the greatest setback in constitutional nationalism in Ireland and for the destruction of the civil rights movement there. It has caused attention to be turned away from the real grievances of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, and towards the violence that it caused to take place on the streets. People should be in no doubt about where I stand with regard to the IRA, but we must recognise the importance of the IRA statement.
Among various speculation about the significance of the timing, Conservative Members claim that the IRA statement has been made in light of the statement that is to be made next week. That may be the case. However, the date that the IRA has chosen to commemorate in the statement is the anniversary of one of the most bloody events that has ever occurred in Belfast, as a result of its bombing. Not only did people die, as it says in the letter, but hoax calls were made and terrible casualties were caused. For those of us who were active at the time and who remember, it was a most horrific occasion, and the IRA has chosen the anniversary of that day to issue its statement. We should recognise that and understand what has happened.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks, as I lost my message boy, paper boy and a member of my choir on that occasion. However, does not the IRA's "search for freedom" imply that the fight goes on until it ceases to be ruled by this Government?
Mr. McNamara: I think that the IRA is talking about its political wish to obtain a united Ireland, which was recognised in both the Good Friday and Hillsborough agreements. That is what its political fight seeks to achieve. I understand that. However, it has grasped the constitutional, political method of seeking to achieve it. Again, we must remember that.
In our debate last week, I welcomed the progress that had been made by the pro-agreement parties and the implementation plan to consider progress under the Good Friday agreement and keep it going. I argued then, as I argue now, that the greatest thing to be achieved is the communities' acceptance, through their political representatives, that the Good Friday agreement and all that has flowed from it is theirs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) spelt out the political advantages for both parties and the material advantages for both communities. They said that it was not all give on one side and take on the other, but that both sides had to reach their communities. Powerful speeches were made.
Last week, I, along with many other colleagues in the House, received a delegation of women from Short Strand, who gave an account of what was happening in their community. They conveyed the nightmare that they, their families and neighbours experienced every day. That is no doubt repeated in other communities. They spoke
I welcome the moves that have been made by all communities to address street violence in recent days. The Orange order has maintained a calming influence; in Derry, Sinn Fein stopped the persecution of people in the Fountain and the Waterside. I understand that Sinn Fein also took some of its young republicans to stay for a while in the Short Strand to understand what intimidation meant, so that they could understand what they were doing to the people in the Fountain. That was an extremely educative action.
I believe that in the year ahead, the institutions created by the Good Friday agreement must be made more robust and durable. That can be done only if the people operating the institutions reach out to others.
All eyes are focused on the Assembly elections, and all sorts of hypotheses are being put forward. The great thing is that everyone is concentrating on the election and what is going to happen. They are wondering about the results of a political process, which is something that did not happen to such a degree before. This is real politics. We should welcome and encourage that and do everything positive that we can to ensure that the arrangements that are established continue and flourish. The best way to achieve that is not to create new deadlines next week or new hurdles and obstacles to progresshoops through which one particular party must jump.
Opponents of the Belfast agreement have pursued a relentless campaign to exclude Sinn Fein from the political process. The louder they shout for republican exclusion, the more disturbing is their silence over violence emanating from violent Unionismfrom the loyalist paramilitaries. Conversely, the more they shout for the exclusion of Sinn Fein, the more they strengthen those elements within the republican movement who did not want the Good Friday agreement anyway and who say to their leadership, "There you are. You took these steps and everything that you have done is being thrown back in your face."
That is a dangerous attitude and one that I hope we will avoid in next week's statement. I hope that we will encourage the parties. Obviously, we cannot accept any degree of violence. There is no tolerable side to violence wherever it isSinn Fein, the UDA or anyone else.
We must also take steps to understand sectarianism better. One sad thing is that the police in Northern Ireland keep no record of sectarian attacks, whether those are balloon water bombs or pipe bombs. Sectarianism is not noted.
Macpherson's definition of a racist incident ought to be adapted for sectarian incidents in Northern Ireland. A sectarian incident should be any incident that is perceived by the victim or any other person to be sectarian. We should set about establishing the criteria laid down in the Macpherson report, adapting his definition of racist crime to sectarian crime. Such crime should be catalogued and followed through using the procedures suggested by Macpherson to try to root out sectarianism and hatred, in what will be difficult circumstances in Northern Ireland.