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11 Feb 2003 : Column 826—continued

Rev. Martin Smyth: Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that even the Florida escapade came to light as a result of an envelope breaking in a post office sorting room? From that we gained much information, and, thankfully, the authorities have managed to do a great deal to protect us.

Mr. Robinson: The hon. Gentleman is right. He and I are both on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. We have looked at this matter, and the disturbing factor for us and for others is that it was discovered accidentally. For how long before it was discovered had this been going on? How many guns got in before the accidental finding at the post office sorting room? We know that some 150 weapons were discovered at that time. How many previous occasions were there? Would the decommissioning body consider that to be a substantial amount of weapons? If so, is it more substantial than the number of weapons that it saw being put beyond use?

As the shadow Secretary of State said, it is not simply a matter of decommissioning; it is about the organisation disbanding and dismantling, putting a line behind all its violent past and making it very clear that it will not pick it up in the future. It has to be a total end to the paramilitary organisation.

Those of us who read in today's issue of The Times accounts by leading members of the Provisional movement will see that there is no intention on the part of that organisation to put violence behind it. Its members want to keep their organisation in place. They want to hold on to their weapons. Whatever verbiage the Prime Minister might use in any statement over the next number of days, the reality on the ground is that their organisation will remain intact and their guns will remain in their bunkers.

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Against that reality, for the Minister of State to indicate in the House that the Democratic Unionists might in some way view differently how they deal with Sinn Fein is absolute folly. Why would any party want to change its attitude to Sinn Fein, when Sinn Fein has not changed its attitude to violence? It is clear that nothing in Sinn Fein's behaviour in the past or in the present, or indeed as far as we know in its future intentions, suggests that it is an organisation about to change. The Government are deluding themselves if they believe that the Provisional IRA will divvy up and become full-blown Democrats in the near future.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman think that not a single member of Sinn Fein genuinely believes that a peaceful solution would be a better approach?

Mr. Robinson: All members of Sinn Fein might fall into that category, but a peaceful outcome for them is everybody else surrendering, and that will not happen. The people in Northern Ireland will not surrender to terrorists now, even though they may use the pinstripe suit more than their balaclavas at present. The reality is that the only kind of peace they want is peace on their terms.

What annoys the Unionist community most is the fact that the whole political process has to be held back because of Sinn Fein, the fact that the Government do not have the courage to say "Here are the rules of entry into the democratic club. If you do not abide by these rules, you are not part of that club, and the club will continue in existence." The Government instead tell them "If Sinn Fein do not meet the criteria, we shall not have any democracy in Northern Ireland." That is the Government's response—everybody in Northern Ireland must suffer if the IRA does not divvy up. That is not the way forward. If there are no acts of completion, even though they are poorly defined—if they are defined at all—by the Government, it is clearly their intention that the democrats should suffer along with the terrorists.

I should like to say one word about loyalist paramilitaries. We are inclined to spend a lot of time discussing the decommissioning of the Provisional IRA because there is a direct relationship between it and the Executive in Northern Ireland, of which its representatives are a part. Of course, that is not the case with regard to loyalist paramilitaries, but they fall into exactly the same category in every other respect. There is no case to be made for allowing loyalist paramilitaries to hold on to illegal weapons. That needs to be clearly stated and they must give up their weapons in precisely the same way as the Provisional IRA and other republicans. If there is any evidence of the need for that to happen, it has been seen in Northern Ireland in the past few weeks and months, when the paramilitaries have turned their weapons on themselves. We have seen areas of north and west Belfast, as well as areas further afield and even in my constituency, being turned into a battleground where bodies have been found on the street, people have been forced from their homes and the general community has been left in terror. Decommissioning must therefore begin with loyalist paramilitaries, just as it must take place in the republican movement and among those on its fringes.

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I sit down giving one word of notice to the Government. They have committed themselves to following a course in which acts of completion are necessary. By their very nature, acts of completion must take place over a relatively short period. It would not be tenable for the Government to come to the House in a year's time to extend the legislation. They should be making it very clear that acts of completion are required now, that the opportunity to carry them out with an amnesty will end with the order and that if those involved do not complete within the specified period, the full rigour of the law will be brought against those who represent them and the organisation itself. Unless the Government get tough, there will be no action from Sinn Fein-IRA. Sinn Fein-IRA have managed to lead the Government by the nose year upon year. Every time they misbehave and bring institutions into suspension, the answer for the Government is to make more concessions to them. That is not the way forward. Unless there is a punishment for Sinn Fein-IRA, they will never meet the requirements that the Government would have for them.

4.23 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): In the next two or three weeks, I hope and expect that this House will meet to authorise the sanction against the international threat from Saddam Hussein. From all parts of the House, with very few exceptions, we will support and follow the Prime Minister in the strong stand that he has taken.

The Minister will understand why we do not understand how the Prime Minister's strong stand against international terrorism—the good from the evil of 11 September—is translated into Northern Ireland. When Gerry and Martin, the two members of the army council, come to Downing street, sit on the other side of the table and stare the Prime Minister in the eye, they say "We are committed to the peace process" and he believes them. They then go home, authorise spying in the heart of government, steal the documents and write on the margin, referring to the Prime Minister as a naive idiot. I do not believe that the Prime Minister is a naive idiot, but his eyes seem closed in his negotiations with the terrorist leadership in Northern Ireland. Why does he not invite Saddam Hussein to Downing street, look him straight in the eye and say "Saddam, are you coming into the peace process?" I know that Saddam would say, "I am committed to the peace process, and I've got arms inspectors all over Iraq inspecting this, that and the other while representatives are at the United Nations. We're trying to get a peaceful solution." Would the Prime Minister do that with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness?

The key to decommissioning is verification and sanction. At a much earlier stage of the peace process, I suggested—this went through the Ulster Unionist party to Downing street—helpful and constructive methods to try to restore confidence in a political process in which the Ulster Unionist people no longer have confidence. I suggested a Privy Council committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland and the Chief Constable, which, adhering to the Mitchell principles of non-violence, could produce a report. We know how many weapons

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and explosives are there, so why do we fudge the issue? Decommissioning means the handing over and destruction—the non-use and non-availability—of thousands of guns and tonnes of explosives. If the Minister speaks to the Chief Constable and the GOC, they will verify that that is the volume of armaments within the provisional IRA. They will also give an evaluation of the armaments that are held by the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Red Hand Commando, the Loyalist Volunteer Force, or whatever name one wants to give to the loyalist paramilitary organisations. The international commission knows the amounts.

If that committee was set up, it could restore the confidence of the Unionist and law-abiding community in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister could come to this House to tell us that he has had a report from the Chief Constable and the GOC saying that the armaments have been handed over, that there is no evidence of the importing of arms, that there are no punishment beatings, and that there was no cover-up on Castlereagh or Stormontgate—that we were wrong about that, it was all mist in our eyes and it did not take place. If he could convince us that the terrorists have moved along the road from terrorism to democracy, that would restore confidence in the process.

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