Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying the patience of the House. I must be fair. There is another

24 Jul 2002 : Column 994

statement and only a few Members have participated in questions on this one. I ask the Liberal Democrat spokesman to leave it at that and to let the Secretary of State reply.

Dr. Reid: I shall do so as quickly as possible, Mr. Speaker.

It is true that all of us have a responsibility in this matter. I pay credit to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) for the contribution that he has made not only publicly but privately, behind the scenes, in a helpful manner. As far as the police are concerned, we are always open to representations and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for security will no doubt be able to discuss that subject with him. On racketeering, he will know that the organised crime taskforce has scored some significant successes under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Minister. We have tried to supplement our efforts by bringing in Professor Goldstock. We have the police, the organised crime taskforce and Ron Goldstock, but if the hon. Gentleman has any ideas I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would be happy to receive them.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that despite all the measures that we could introduce, security on its own will not solve the problem, nor will everybody in this House solve it. It has to be addressed by the parties in Northern Ireland, at a leadership and community level. If people such as me could solve the problem by going across that stretch of water and telling people what to do, it would have been solved a long time ago. I know my limitations, but I am committed to do what I can, as are the Government.

Finally—with your indulgence, Mr. Speaker—on paramilitary attacks, it is important, as the hon. Gentleman said, to recognise the level of violence on both sides of the community. Since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, there have been about 1,100 attacks of one nature or another, more than 700 of which have been committed by loyalists. It is essential to say that it is loyalist and republican paramilitaries who are involved and, very often, dissident republicans as well. It is wrong to give the impression that this is only a problem of the IRA. It is not. It is also wrong, however, to forget that the republican movement is in government in Northern Ireland. It therefore has an even greater responsibility than others to tackle this within its own movement, for its sake as well as for the benefit of the community in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): I wish to join in the Secretary of State's message of sympathy for the bereaved family from north Belfast. I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman's statement today and the limited measures that he is capable of introducing to address the problem in Northern Ireland.

I endorse the answer that the Secretary of State has just given—that, primarily, the resolution of conflict in Northern Ireland is up to the Northern Ireland parties. That resolution will not be furthered or helped in any way by the fall of the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State agree that a threat to bring down the institutions that we have so carefully nurtured in Northern Ireland, on the basis that to do so would in some way assist security and the abolition of

24 Jul 2002 : Column 995

violence, is inexplicable? I endorse the increased forces being sent to the interface, because the people need some assurance that the terror that they suffer every evening will be ended. They need to see that the perpetrators are being pursued, and that it will result in prosecutions by the security forces.

The people of Northern Ireland are looking to the House today for a message of hope. The abandonment of the bipartisan approach and the debate that we have had today will do nothing to address the problems that we have. Will the Secretary of State ensure that our people can more easily believe that the Government treat loyalist and other paramilitary activity for what it really is? He said in his statement that he wanted action to be increasingly vigorous and more transparent. If that happens, it will provide an additional measure of confidence. I hope that today's deadline of 24 July and dissatisfaction—for good or bad reasons—with the Secretary of State's answer will not herald the collapse of the institutions that we have carefully built up in Belfast.

Dr. Reid: On the last point, I hope that it will not, because my purpose in saying what I have said today—with all the limitations that any Secretary of State must have—was not to undermine the institutions. My purpose was to buttress democracy. Herein lies a paradox that frequently confronts everyone who is involved in politics in Northern Ireland. Demands are made for more information, greater scrutiny, transparency and honesty and for the placing in the public domain of more information on levels of violence and paramilitary involvement. Although all violence is intolerable, it is at the same time feared that people will think that any incidence of violence should have the same consequence. It is difficult for people to address the issue, because they fear that the consequence for any act of violence would undermine the very institutions that were meant to replace the violence.

Several hon. Members have raised the issue of greater transparency, including the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, and I read in the papers that that is considered a sop to Ulster Unionism. In fact, the same matter has been raised by the leader of the SDLP and the leader of the Alliance party. Therefore, I was saying today not that I would substitute my judgment—which, ultimately, only I can make—but that I would try to find ways to place further information in the public domain that will allow the public in Northern Ireland to know exactly what is going on, in so far as we can do that.

I regret the drift away from bipartisan support for the agreement. One week we are told that the Opposition are supporting us in a bipartisan spirit, and the next week we are told that they are not. Another time we are told that they support the peace process as a whole, but that they object to all the bits of it.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): This morning, I stood in the home of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Lawlor, whose son Gerard was murdered in the early hours of Monday morning. Yesterday, I had the sad job of standing in the home of Mrs. Morgan, the widow of William Morgan, who was done to death by sectarian killers in the Tigers Bay area of my constituency.

24 Jul 2002 : Column 996

I welcome the Secretary of State's comments, and the Prime Minister's earlier, joining us in sending condolences and sympathies to those families. It is only by the grace of God that some of the other victims of shootings in north Belfast were not murdered.

Does the Secretary of State agree that people look to Government in north Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland for leadership on what will happen to paramilitary organisations, and that they look not only for words but for tough and effective action? They will look today at this statement and hear these words, and there will be grave disappointment, even despair, throughout Northern Ireland, at the lack of any effective action to deal with the corruption of government in Northern Ireland, whereby a signal is being sent that it is all right to be democrats by day but to murder and be on the streets causing disturbance by night.

Does the Secretary of State further agree that it is incongruous to have a Government—an organisation, Sinn Fein-IRA—who refuse to support the police? I welcome the extra resources for the police and the Army, but that organisation refuses to support the police, refuses to recommend that information be given to the police, and refuses to condemn attacks on the police—the other day, its national chairman refused to condemn a murderous attack on a recruit to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Does the Secretary of State accept that all those reasons render Sinn Fein-IRA unfit for government in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Reid: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, and the whole House shared the condolences and sympathies for Gerard Lawlor, and for the others who have been injured or murdered or who have suffered family pain.

On the question of leadership, yes, it does take leadership. Leadership is not always saying no. Leadership is not always shouting at the highest decibels. Indeed, in my experience, the effect and influence that one has is often in inverse proportion to the decibel level of the rhetoric that one uses.

I would venture to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that, since Gladstone, no one has given more time and leadership on this issue than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I truly think that when the books are written, however much we may succeed or not, they will say that he gave a gigantic measure of leadership.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) is a leader himself. He is a Minister; he is a Member of the Assembly as well as a Member of Parliament. I cannot remember whether he is a councillor, but he certainly has at least a duopoly, if not a triopoly, of capacity to lead. One of the great things about leading is that one must reach out beyond one's own base in order to lead, and it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman, by the way he puts his arguments, sometimes gives the impression that he would want Sinn Fein excluded from government, not as a consequence of anything but as an objective of his own politics. I believe that when that is posited in that fashion, it is an abrogation of leadership in the context of Northern Ireland.

Next Section

IndexHome Page