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9.23 pm

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): Just over a week ago, I handed in my nomination papers to be a candidate in the Assembly elections, as did other right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. I am opposed to what the Government are doing tonight. I believe that the decision to postpone, delay or cancel—however we wish to describe it—the elections is a blow to the democratic process in Northern Ireland. There is no way of glossing over that; it is the reality.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a number of members of his party have been pleading with the Government to call off the election? The adviser to the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, Steven King, has publicly done so. The former Minister in charge of the economy in Northern Ireland, Sir Reg Empey, has pleaded with the Government to call off the election, as has Paul Bew, another adviser to the Ulster Unionist party. One of the supporters of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), Billy Armstrong, who is the Assembly Member for Mid Ulster, has also pleaded with the Government to do so.

Mr. Donaldson: I say to the hon. Gentleman that the Ulster Unionist party took no decision on postponing the elections, and those individuals speak as individuals. They do not speak for the Ulster Unionist party on that issue. Whatever the views of individual members, whether it be the leader of the party or otherwise, let me say that the party collectively took no such decision and that many of us who were seeking to stand were happy and wanted the elections to go forward, because we believe in democracy.

There is an important issue here, which I know many Members of the House will share. We are told that the election has been postponed because the IRA failed to make the commitments necessary to have the political

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institutions reinstated and the suspension of the Assembly lifted. Let us think about that for a moment. The Assembly was suspended because of the activities of the IRA—the break-in at Castlereagh police station; Colombia, where some of its members were engaged in international terrorism; and Stormont-gate, which involved the IRA targeting Unionist representatives such as me, the leader of my party, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party and others in the House.

All those things, as well as the gun running from Florida, led to a collapse in confidence and a breach in trust, and the Government suspended the Assembly because of IRA activity. Therefore, we—the people in Northern Ireland and their political representatives—were denied our local devolved Assembly because of the IRA. All the political parties were punished, and the Democratic Unionists, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP were removed from office because one party was in default, but now the Government have taken it a step further. They have decided to postpone the elections because the IRA has failed to come up with a form of words that would satisfy the Prime Minister.

I ask the question, who governs Northern Ireland—the IRA army council or the Prime Minister? It seems that the IRA army council determines whether we have an Assembly and the IRA army council determines whether we have elections. For 30 years, the same IRA bombed, shot, murdered and maimed, but the elections went ahead and the democratic process was protected.

Those of us who represent the democratic parties show much courage. Tonight, people have called for courage in the House. It takes courage to be an elected representative in Northern Ireland. We kept the political process alive and we kept the process of elections going year after year after year, but now we are told that there has been so much progress in Northern Ireland that, for the first time in the history of this conflict, the Government have postponed the elections because of an illegal terrorist organisation. This is progress. Well, I am not sure that it is, and the Government should reflect on that.

I join other Members tonight who are arguing that the date for the election should be set in the legislation. Otherwise, the Government will be saying to the IRA army council, "You will decide when we go to the country and when we have elections to the Assembly."

David Burnside: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even worse than that? With the messages coming from the British Government and the Irish Government that many aspects of the joint declaration will be implemented irrespective of the election, Sinn Fein-IRA will once again get their wish list from the Governments.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Indeed, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) went further. He recommended, as a recipe for political stability in Northern Ireland, that the Government should set a deadline by which the IRA would make a statement, which, presumably, would be sufficient to allow the elections to proceed; but what does the hon. Gentleman suggest we do if the IRA does not deliver and does not bring peace and an end to its violence? Does he suggest that we reward it for its intransigence by fully implementing this declaration? If

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he has read the document he will understand that it gives Sinn Fein-IRA many things that are supposedly dependent on their making the statement that he suggests may not be made, and then elections would not proceed.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for again drawing attention to his party's position on the joint declaration. Now that he has the Floor, will he state emphatically whether he, as a member of the Ulster Unionist party, supports the joint declaration? If the IRA were to come up to the mark on paragraph 13, would he fight an election on the basis of the declaration? It is for the hon. Gentleman now to answer that question once and for all.

Mr. Donaldson: That is not the most difficult question that I have ever been asked. I have made my position on the joint declaration absolutely clear. I will be straight with the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he would expect me to do nothing else. I believe that the joint declaration does not provide a basis for the way forward in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that a form of words from the IRA is sufficient. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) said earlier in the debate. Words from the IRA will never be enough.

I remind the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh that on 6 May 2000 the IRA made a statement, which said that

Those were the words of the IRA in 2000, but since then it has been gunrunning from Florida, engaging in international terrorism in Colombia, breaking into police stations at Castlereagh, spying on the Government and targeting Unionist politicians. The hon. Gentleman asks me to accept the word of the IRA as the bona fide of the republican movement. I am afraid that he needs to understand that Unionists will not just accept the word of the IRA. We need to see that that organisation has come to an end, has disbanded and disarmed. When the Irish Prime Minister was asked during the general election last year whether he would have Sinn Fein in a coalition Government, he said, "No, not until the IRA has disbanded."

Mr. Mallon: I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to believe anything that the IRA says. I am asking him to believe what his leader said on the Floor of the House and to support his party's official position on the document known as the joint declaration. Does he believe what his leader says, or does he not?

Mr. Donaldson: The hon. Gentleman will probably not need reminding that the position of the Ulster Unionist party on the joint declaration will not be made by any individual. It will be for the Ulster Unionist Council alone to determine this party's attitude to the joint declaration. Whatever the Secretary of State may think about those involved in negotiations at Hillsborough, it will be the Ulster Unionist Council that

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will determine whether the Ulster Unionist party supports the joint declaration. For my part—I can only speak for myself until such time as the council makes that decision—I will not be supporting the joint declaration as a basis for going forward in Northern Ireland. I believe that, as ever, it is unbalanced and offers the republican movement things that go against the judicial process. The provisions for on-the-runs, although not part of the joint declaration, are part of the package. We are told that it is a package. I believe that the proposals for on-the-runs will enable some of the most notorious IRA terrorists to return to Northern Ireland without having to serve a single day in prison for the crimes that they have committed. That is a corruption of justice.

We hear people talk about peace with justice. I do not see peace with justice in this document. I see other things in this document that are premature as regards security. They are included not out of security considerations, but for political expediency, just as the two watchtowers were removed earlier this week for political expediency. I believe, too, that the proposals for sanctions in the agreement between the British and Irish Governments are woefully inadequate. Writing in the newsletter at the weekend, the Unionist columnist Alex Kane described them as a waste of time, and so they are.

The four-person monitoring body proposed by the Government raises further serious issues relating to the agreement. During negotiation of the agreement, it was made absolutely clear in strand 1 that the Irish Government should have no role in the internal workings of the Assembly. I well remember one of my colleagues, Sir Reg Impey—until recently Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment—saying that strand 1 must be hermetically sealed. If this proposal proceeds, however, the seal will be broken. A representative of the Irish Government will sit on the monitoring body—a body that will have significant influence over the workings of the Assembly, will be able to investigate the actions of any member or party in the Assembly, and will be able to consider a wide range of issues including whether a party is fundamentally in breach of the requirement in the declaration of support for the agreement. That covers virtually every aspect of the agreement.

For the first time the Irish Government, through their representative, will have a real say in the internal workings, functions and operation of the Northern Ireland Assembly. In my opinion that constitutes a breach of the agreement, and I do not believe that any Unionist should support the Irish Government's having such a say in the Assembly.

For those reasons alone, I do not believe that the joint declaration provides a basis for an advance in the political process, and I am confident that the Ulster Unionist Council will make that clear when it makes a decision.

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