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2 Dec 2002 : Column 663continued
Lady Hermon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unacceptable that four elected Sinn Fein Members absent themselves from the House, and therefore do not make themselves accountable to Parliament for the activities of their armed wing in Colombia, Castlereagh and elsewhere? Would he not welcome them taking their seats and making themselves accountable to all of us and their constituents?
Mr. Robinson: The Provisional IRA representatives who were elected to the House refuse to take the Oath and come to the House, but I believe that they should enter the House only if they are prepared to take an Oath to Her Majesty the Queen and abide by the principles set down by the Government of exclusive involvement in peaceful and democratic means. That is the way forward and should be the route of entry to the House and any other elected Chamber in the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister lectures the people of the United Kingdom about how unacceptable terrorist activity is when it relates to the activities of al-Qaeda or other terrorist organisations throughout the world. It is therefore rather hypocritical of him to accept in his own backyard those same activities being carried out by organisations associated with those terrorist groupshe cannot send out both messages at once.
Several Members have found it difficult to accept the part of the motion that says that Sinn Fein-IRA are not fit to be in government. I should have thought that the argument was self-evident: an organisation cannot purport to represent the people of Northern Ireland through a Minister who is in charge of education but at the same time is a member of the army council of the Provisional IRA. What trust and confidence can anybody have in the representatives of Sinn Fein-IRA being part of the democratic process when they know that they are attempting to undermine the very principles of democracy on which the Assembly was established? It is a matter not simply of trust and confidence but of confidentiality and setting an example. The Provisional IRA is clearly still active in terrorism and has not accepted the principle that to enter the democratic process one must be exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means.
The reality is that the IRA is not shaping up for peace. In the past few months, there have been personnel changes at the top level of the Provisional IRA. There has been a significant change in the army council: the most ruthless killer and thug in the ranks of the
It is clear that the IRA is not shaping up for peace but is putting one of its most ruthless terrorists on to its army council, which is not consistent with the picture that the Government are attempting to paint of the intentions of the Provisional IRA and its political representatives in Sinn Fein.
Other behaviour by the IRA is not consistent with the picture painted by the Government. It still intends to use the principle of the threat of violence and its execution, turning the tap on and off to extract concessions from the Government. I agree entirely with the Conservative spokesman about the Government's tactics. Even if I agreed with the direction in which the Government say they want to go, I would never use their tactics. We have seen how they used those tactics in relation to decommissioning and terrorist prisoners. They let all the prisoners out and hoped that the IRA would come along and decommission its weapons. The Government made no attempt to extract concessions through the process.
Once again, the Government are using those same tactics. We are upfront, but the Government suggest that they will do something for Sinn Fein if it does something in return. Sinn Fein, however, will simply pocket that concession, and will look for something new from the Government to make the concessions that it wants. The Unionist community does not regard those things as concessionsit does not believe that disbanding an organisation that should not have been there in the first place is in any way a concession either to it or politics in general. Nor does it believe that it is a concession to hand in illegally held guns, as they should not have been possessed in the first place. The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, indeed the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office have got it entirely wrong by making further concessions to the IRA.
The Social Democratic and Labour party, one of whose members has made a brief appearance today, has referred to the police being used as a political football. It, however, used the police as a political football by dragging them into the Belfast agreement. The only problem for the SDLP is that it does not want anyone to unravel what it has managed to put together as part of a political deal. The police have been used abysmally recently, and their morale has indeed hit rock bottom. The sickness rate, which has been referred to today, indicates the low morale in the Police Service.
I, of course, am opposed to the making of terrorist concessionsit is not right that convicted terrorists should be members of a policing partnership, as that will not encourage anyone else to join those partnerships.
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be the ultimate insult to allow former terrorist prisoners to be part of the district policing partnerships, given that one of Sinn Fein-IRA's main objectives was to kill and maim police officers? To this day, they continue to gather information on police personnel.
Mr. Robinson: Of course I agree. Some of the arrangements for district policing partnerships are about a relationship between the partnership and the police. How can the police have confidence in a policing partnership whose membership includes people who have targeted and killed their colleagues in the past? Confidence and trust cannot exist in those circumstances. If the rules that the Government are attempting to change to bring convicted terrorists on to policing partnerships had been in place a year ago, I suspect that Denis Donaldson could have sought and gained membership of a policing partnership. The Government suspended the Assembly because a spy ring came to light and Government details got into the hands of a terrorist organisation, yet the Government suggest putting terrorists on police partnerships, where they can gather more information. That seems a peculiar rationale, and it stands logic on its head.
The Minister suggested that a leap of faith was required. She related that to what is generally known as taking a risk for peace. One cannot take a risk with the lives of people in Northern Ireland. The issues that we are considering are much too important; the Government cannot afford to take risks with them. The Government would be in a position to determine whether Sinn Fein had delivered on its end of the bargain, which they are trying to establish only after a period of time.
Some hon. Members said that if someone has a past it does not mean that they do not have a future. As a Christian, I believe that. I believe that lives can be transformed and that people can be redeemed. However, the first signal of redemption is repentance. Sinn Fein-IRA has shown no repentance. The second signal is changing one's life. There has been no change on the part of Sinn Fein. The Government could assess only after a long time whether it deserved the sort of concessions that they propose in the second schedule to the draft Bill and that they have offered to Sinn Fein-IRA.
I do not wish to take time from the Under-Secretary's reply, but I want to respond to one matter. It was suggested that the Democratic Unionist party should make its position clear about whether convicted terrorists should be part of an Executive. It was implied that we were comfortable with that, but we voted against it in the referendum and we voted in the Assembly for the exclusion of Sinn Fein. As an Assembly Minister, I never attended a Cabinet meeting. I did not go to the Executive because of the presence of Sinn Fein-IRA. I could operate in the role only because decisions could be made entirely in my Department. The Democratic Unionist party's position is clear: there is no place in government for those who are inextricably linked to violence and those who represent an unrepentant and armed terrorist organisation. That is unacceptable in the Executive and in policing partnerships.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Angela Smith): We have had a long debate in which many views have been aired. I thank all hon. Members who contributed. Like the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I welcome the discussion and the exchange of views. There are several opinions that I cannot share, but I respect the depth of feeling about them, and the reasons for their expression.
Hon. Members should welcome the Government's openness in publishing an additional text for consideration with the draft clauses. The Government are right to be open and transparent about their thinking. They are also right to be firm in making it clear that no moves will be made about former prisoners sitting on district policing partnerships as independent members except in the context of acts of completion.
The proposal depends on acts of completion. My hon. Friend the Minister made that clear this evening, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stressed that last week, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised it in his speech in Belfast in October and in response to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) in Prime Minister's questions last week. It is worth repeating the Prime Minister's words. In October, he said that republicans must