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5 Feb 2003 : Column 257continued
Angela Smith: There is support in Northern Ireland for a national stadium indeed, for a competition-sized swimming pooland it is certainly a possibility that I support. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that my immediate priority is to encourage more people to be active in grass-roots sport by creating better opportunities for participation at community level and to improve the existing sports infrastructure, particularly at local level.
Mr. Grogan : Given that a passion for sport has always united divided communities in Northern Ireland, and that there are now national stadiums in Scotland and Waleswith one on the way in Englanddoes my hon. Friend agree that it would be a powerful symbol of a new beginning in Northern Ireland if the long-cherished ambition of getting a new national sports stadium, free from the sectarian background and history, could be realised?
Angela Smith: I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm and support for a national stadium, but there are hurdles to be overcome that are not to be underestimated. For example, about £100 million of public sector funding would be required. We should like to consider whether lottery funding could be made available. I take on board his comments and I hope that it is something that we can achieve.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) for his continuing support for and interest in a national stadium for Northern Ireland. The former Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, initiated the bringing together of a working party to consider a national stadium. Will the Minister bring together interest groups and seriously address the issue of under-provision for sport in Northern Ireland, and does she agree that there would be huge benefits in making such a provision?
Angela Smith: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his interest. I shall certainly look at the working party's report. As I said, there are hurdles to be overcome, but I think that the aim is achievable, and I have taken on board his comments.
Angela Smith: I am not aware of the circumstances that my hon. Friend mentions. The important thing is that we improve participation in sports in Northern Ireland at the grass-roots level so that as many people as possible can take part.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy): The agreement sets out the Government's readiness in appropriate circumstances to devolve responsibilities for policing and justice issues. There is widespread support in principle for that among political parties in Northern Ireland, but significant differences over timing. We are pursuing those issues with the parties at the moment.
Mr. Donaldson: Will the Secretary of State outline what those appropriate circumstances are? It is clear, in the absence of political stability and with ongoing paramilitary terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, that the very idea of devolving justice and policing powers at this time is not tenable.
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman knows that the issue was discussed in the run-up to the signing of the Belfast agreement, and in fact it forms part of that agreement as a matter of principle. He is right to point out that the question of timing is crucial. The matter has been discussed among the parties in Northern Ireland. It is being dealt with, first, in the context of the negotiations and discussions that are being held and will hopefully be resolved as quickly as possible and, secondly, of course, with the agreement of the parties in Northern Ireland.
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one necessary first step in the process towards devolving policing powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly is ensuring that every party that wants the reconstitution of that Assembly nominates people to take part in the Policing Board?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right in that, for policing in Northern Ireland to be complete, everybody in Northern Ireland has to have confidence in its policing system. That includes republicans, nationalists, Unionists, loyalists and everyone else. These matters are being discussed and form the basis of some of the issues that we need to resolve as quickly as possible.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): Given the current state of play in Belfast as a result of the loyalist feud and the killings that have taken placeI know that people in my constituency and across Northern Ireland deeply regret that feud and want it to end as soon as possiblewill the Secretary of State ensure, in his discussions about policing, that the police and the Army have the
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to condemn what has gone on over the past days, weeks and months as regards the loyalist feud, and of course we all condemn the killings at the weekend. It is important that the House is aware that the police are taking a great deal of action in respect of these matters: 70 policemen are involved in investigations at the moment, 37 people have been arrested, and 17 people have been charged with offences such as attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, and so on. Although the police are engaged in those matters, it is important that we carry on ensuring that the talks continue, and that people remain aware that political loyalists such as David Ervine and others are very different from the criminal gangsters evident in past weeks.
Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): In the context of devolution, and given the Government's willingness to proceed with some quite controversial parts of Patten, how about some progress on a part of Patten with which everyone agreesa new police training centre?
Mr. Murphy: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the Policing Board takes the matter very seriously, and a business plan is out for consultation. I share the board's view about what is a very important part of Patten.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Is the Secretary of State aware of the organisation Families Bereaved Through Car Crime? It seeks an improvement in justice in Northern Ireland by having deaths caused by joyriders redesignated so that instead of being classed as driving offences, they would be classed as murder. Does he agree that the organisation's structured and measured approach is a huge improvement on the vigilantism that was often used to resolve such matters in Northern Ireland in the past?
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. So-called joyriding is a curse in all parts of Northern Ireland. It is a curse in Great Britain too, but it is of special importance in Northern Ireland because it has caused so many deaths. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) is dealing with these matters and meeting the families. We are considering holding a consultation process on the matter in order possibly to change the law. We also want to ensure that all the agencies involved will act together collectively. [Interruption.]
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): The IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Commando have all suspended contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Clearly, we regret that, and I would urge all paramilitary organisations to engage with the commission immediately. It is imperative that both republican and loyalist organisations complete the transition to exclusively peaceful meansreal, total and permanent.
Helen Jones: I am grateful for that reply, but does my hon. Friend agree that it strains people's patience when dissident republicans and loyalists both claim to be on ceasefire while refusing to decommission weapons and carrying out gang warfare on the streets of Northern Ireland? How long will they be able to claim the benefits of ceasefire while they refuse to carry it out?
Jane Kennedy: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State keeps under constant review the state of all paramilitary ceasefires, but the House knows that we have moved beyond that. We now need acts of completion from the IRA and from anyone else with a role to play in the peace process. The Government and the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning will resolutely continue to pursue complete decommissioning by all paramilitary organisations. Recent events, including the loyalist feud casualties, make it patently clear that all illegal weapons must be taken out of circulation; otherwise, their very accessibility will always remain a threat.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): Does the Minister agree that there is increasing cynicism in Northern Ireland about the whole decommissioning project, and that people in Northern Ireland, both Unionists and nationalists, would prefer the forcible seizure of arms by the police and the Army rather than this incessant waiting for voluntary decommissioning after political concessions were given to the political wings of the violent organisations with no end product?
Jane Kennedy: The police take action to seize illegal weapons wherever they have information that those weapons exist. I accept that there is grave distrust of the intentions of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland and that the retention of arms distorts the normal political process on both sides of the electoral divide. On those points, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. Our whole objective is to take weapons out of the political process in Northern Ireland; all our energies are concentrated on that effort. [Interruption.]
Jane Kennedy: That question remains under discussion and the details of the proposals continue to be worked through. It is one of many issues that form part of the discussions as we try to resolve the overall impasse that we face at present.