Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mrs. Iris Robinson: Is my hon. Friend aware that next week, on 17 February, we mark the 26th anniversary of the IRA bombing of the La Mon House hotel, in my constituency, that the leader of the Belfast brigade at that time was none other than Gerry Adams, and that the victims and families of those who survived have demanded an independent public inquiry? To date, that demand has fallen on deaf ears. Does my hon. Friend agree that the direction that this Government are taking is questionable? A lot of patience and tolerance has been shown towards the terrorist, but there is no recognition of the hurt felt by the victims who demand public inquiries.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank my hon. Friend for that thoughtful intervention. I commend her work in representing the views of the victims, especially those of the La Mon bombing. The difficulty is that the Government's approach has been to grant inquiries when it is a question of putting the police and the Army in the dock, but to avoid the need for inquiries when it is a question of putting the IRA, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association in the dock. Why? It is because their policy is to turn a blind eye to paramilitary violence and excesses.

It is time for that policy to end. It is time for a new approach, and that is what we in the Democratic Unionist party are advocating. We believe that, rather than rewarding the terrorists for making some gesture on decommissioning, what we actually need is a clear mechanism to ensure that they do not access and benefit fully from all the democratic institutions until such time as we have completion—and by that we really do mean completion.

The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) earlier spelled out the need for completion before there can be any question of Sinn Fein being in an Executive. Yet he was prepared to go back into Government with Sinn Fein last October on the basis of just one more gesture on decommissioning. His only difficulty was that that was not transparent. We do not need lectures from him about making concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA. Time after time after time, he has entered Government on the basis of false promises, false hopes and false expectations.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP) rose—

Mr. Donaldson: I am not going to give way to the right hon. Gentleman; he will have every opportunity to make

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1463

his contribution. He needs to decommission his revisionism. We remember what happened over the past five and a half years, and it was not about acts of completion but accepting futile gestures from the Provisional IRA.

Lady Hermon rose—

Mr. Donaldson: The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) also mentioned that people had no confidence in what the IRA has done, and she was absolutely right. Yet she supported her party going back into Government with Sinn Fein-IRA on the basis of the acts of decommissioning that it engaged in. We will not take lectures about concessions to Sinn Fein-IRA from her or the right hon. Gentleman.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Prime Minister, who on 14 May 1998 said:

A week later, in the Belfast Newsletter, the Prime Minister said:

It is time for the Prime Minister to insist that his own tests are met.

It is time for acts of completion, as the Prime Minister told the House of Commons. He defined an act of completion as

That is the policy of the Democratic Unionist party, and we endorse the Prime Minister's position. We require acts of completion by the IRA.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that that quotation defined acts of completion to do with the cessation of violence, not necessarily the full decommissioning of all the weapons used for violence?

Mr. Donaldson: The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but this is a matter for political judgment for the political parties in Northern Ireland, and we have made our position clear.

I acknowledge that most of what I have said has been directed towards republican weapons. Let me be clear: illegal weapons are unacceptable, and if they are held by so-called loyalist groups as well as republicans, those groups, too, must decommission their weapons. It is not a one-sided process; decommissioning must take place on the part of all the paramilitary terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) warned the Government in last year's debate that extending the duration of the legislation once again

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1464

would be untenable. We reiterate that the Government must impress on the paramilitaries the fact that the time for amnesty has ended and that they will not be given any more concessions for doing what they ought to have done already. It is time to spell it out to paramilitary organisations that, unless they stop all their criminal activities, the full rigour of the law will be meted out to them.

This is not a time for further amnesties and concessions; it is time for the Government to get tough on the paramilitaries if we are ever to be rid of the violence and the exclusions and punishment attacks that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead rightly mentioned. We want Northern Ireland to be liberated from those things, but we do not believe that what the Government propose here or the rest of their current policy will achieve that. For that reason, we will oppose the order.

3.19 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): I parenthetically observe that it is a trifle unfortunate that, having made a personal attack on me, the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) declined to take an intervention, in the course of which I would have made the point that his comments were not true. I shall not elaborate on that point, and if he repeats the charge, I shall endeavour to intervene again and we shall see whether he displays greater courtesy.

Reference has been made in the course of the debate to what happened in 1998 and 1997, but the issue did not begin then. Indeed, the Downing street declaration was made on 15 September 1993, after which the then Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic, Mr. Dick Spring, said that the next step was to seek the handing in of weapons by the republican movement, so the issue has existed for 10 years.

I appreciate the points made by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). It is a truism that the decommissioning of mindsets is more important than the decommissioning of weapons, which is why so many people in Northern Ireland have focused on whether republicans are prepared to say that the campaign in all its meanings is over. It is a matter of historical record that Governments—plural—decided to focus on that particular measure because there could not be arguments about whether it had happened. I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman's view about the importance of ending exilings and beatings, but hitherto it has not been easy to attribute responsibility for those matters. We hope that the independent body that has been established to monitor paramilitary activities will bring about much greater transparency on paramilitary activity and consequently greater pressure on paramilitaries.

I want to make a few points, and I shall make them as briefly as I can. My first point is simple and is addressed primarily to the Government: is the achievement of decommissioning still a Government objective? With respect, the Secretary of State was not explicit in his response to me at Northern Ireland questions, so I hope that the Minister can be explicit. Is the Government's attitude passive? Are they merely hoping that decommissioning will happen at some stage and making provisions such as this to facilitate decommissioning if

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1465

the paramilitary organisations want it to happen, or are they actually trying to pursue and achieve that objective? That question is crucial, and it addresses the Government's attitude and mental state.

Other parties must also consider whether the achievement of decommissioning is an objective. Those parties that have introduced proposals that would bring an Assembly involving Sinn Fein into existence to exercise power without decommissioning are making a huge concession to republicans. In a speech earlier this week, my fellow Assembly Member, Sir Reg Empey, advised the Sinn Fein leadership to grab the Democratic Unionist party proposals because they offer better terms to republicans than they would get from the previous policy of this Government or from my party.

Mr. Donaldson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Next Section

IndexHome Page