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Mr. Murphy: I entirely agree with the point about talk being matched by action. As I said in my statement, we have had the words and the deeds must now follow. I think that everyone in Northern Ireland is expressing exactly the same view.

Today's announcement, and the events of the past few days, have not been part of any choreography or sequence. I have held a parallel series of meetings over recent weeks. There is, however, no doubt that if the UDA is genuine, as I believe it is, that is bound to help the political process.

Obviously the Government condemn any attack on Mr O'Connor, the Larne SDLP councillor, or indeed on his mother, who I believe was involved; but I assure the House that there is no evidence to suggest that the attack was the work of any specific organisation. The police are currently investigating.

The hon. Gentleman is right to mention drugs and organised crime. The drugs trade in Northern Ireland—if it can be termed thus—is a scourge on society. It is a particular scourge on young Protestant women and young Protestant men who must live in that society. I made it absolutely clear in my discussions with the UPRG that dealing with the problem would have to form a major part of any development involving the UDA and despecification, and I must say that the response was very positive. The UPRG recognises that drugs are a scourge on the community.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there must be no let-up in the pursuit of criminality in any form, particularly—in this case—among loyalist communities. The Assets Recovery Agency must continue its good work, and the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Task Force will continue to examine the issues.

As I said, the UPRG held a meeting with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning last week, and there will be further meetings. I myself will have further meetings with the UPRG to stress the importance of decommissioning, which it already recognises.

As for reports in the newspapers about some sort of deal involving small arms, I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that that was a load of nonsense. Such a deal would not be tolerable.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned intermediaries. I accept that when dealing with the problems of loyalist areas we must deal with public representatives—in the House, in the Assembly or in local authorities—but also with those involved in community groups. I should like the widest possible consensus on our wish to do something about the problems of deprivation. As all Members know, deprived areas breed paramilitarism. The best remedies are education, training, jobs and housing.
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I entirely agree with the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's observations. We welcome this development, but we welcome it with caution: deeds must match words.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): The words are fine, but we need to define what we are talking about.

Given the IMC's recent rather stern assessment, which the Secretary of State mentioned, what new evidence or information has emerged in favour of his despecifying the UDA? Presumably, specific information has come to light since the report.

What constitutes the Secretary of State's definition of a ceasefire has proved over the past 10 years that the concept is ill-defined and pretty ambiguous. We should really be talking about paramilitary organisations committing themselves to paragraph 13 of the joint declaration.

The Secretary of State mentioned small arms. Can he assure us that no understandings have been reached with the UDA that would allow it to believe that the Government would countenance a role for it involving the preservation of elements of its paramilitary infrastructure? Given the UDA's supposed change of stance, why were its members parading on the Rathcoole estate yesterday wearing masks?

What is the Government's view of the UDA's statement that it will retain the right to defend its own communities? May we have an assurance—putting aside the question of small arms—that the Government do not regard that as acceptable if it means some form of vigilantism? In that context, does the Secretary of State recognise the UDA as a legitimate representative of those communities when it comes to, for instance, community development? If so, in my judgment the UPRG is a very willing and sensible organisation that is committed to reforming that organisation. What support will the Government be giving the UPRG leadership to enable it to transit from a paramilitary infrastructure to an organisation with a primary focus on democratic and peaceful means of campaigning for the communities that it is rightly interested in defending and promoting?

Mr. Murphy: With regard to the IMC, there has been a change in the period between the two reports, as I mentioned in my statement. To give the details to the hon. Gentleman, the report shows that there has been a marked reduction in the level of violence from the group, that the leadership has reaffirmed its intention to hold to the terms of the ceasefire and that there is no desire within the group for a resumption of internecine feuding. In addition to that, I have other sources of information that indicate to me that there is a seriousness about the move that we have seen in the past few days.

Above all else, our view is that we are now looking to the future. The IMC will report at six-monthly intervals so we shall see what happens between now and the next time that that body reports. The point has been made so often this afternoon in the Chamber about deeds and words, and they are extremely relevant. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware that when we look back over the past number of years and see the number of deaths from paramilitary terrorist activity compared with, say,
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20 years ago, there is no comparison. There have been enormous developments in that area. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to point, as other hon. Members will undoubtedly do, to the continuance of criminality and other activities such as so-called punishment beatings. All those things have to be taken into account.

If we can persuade these organisations to go down the right road—to go down a political, non-violent road—all the better. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the UPRG and the work that it has done, remembering that the UDP, which was a party representing the UDA, played a part in the negotiations in the run-up to the Good Friday agreement. Clearly, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity there for people to go down that road as opposed to the one that we have seen. On the hon. Gentleman's point about vigilantism, he will be aware that the organisation remains proscribed as opposed to specified.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I hope that this means that there is a good step forward towards resurrection of the true political process in Northern Ireland. How soon does my right hon. Friend expect to be able to announce the restoration of the operation of the elected Assembly in Northern Ireland and the resumption of devolved government there as being a true sign that political progress has been made on top of all the other work that he has done?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right in pointing to this as a measure by which we can look at some progress that has been made. As for the general political situation, talks are still continuing between the political parties and the Governments. As I have said on a number of occasions—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has, too—these talks cannot go on forever. We would hope to see a resolution as soon as possible, certainly in the next number of weeks. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the restoration of the Assembly as being the key to this, so that people in Northern Ireland can be governed by the people who represent them and who live there, and the sooner that happens the better.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): Like the Secretary of State, I welcome these developments. I am sure that he will agree with me that it will be much easier to deal with the problems of loyalist areas and with organised crime if paramilitary organisations transform themselves in the way that has been indicated. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the statement made by the UDA that it needs to be assured that the current political efforts are for real. It would be ironic if those efforts were to stumble just as we are seeing some progress in this area. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the danger that there may be other paramilitary groups and other parties that will want to obstruct this process? It would be particularly helpful if the authorities were to keep a careful eye on interface areas to ensure that that does not happen.

Mr. Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman is right about the interface areas. These are the most difficult areas in Northern Ireland in terms of sectarianism. Clearly, we shall be looking carefully at that. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's support for this move. I know that he
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and other members of his party, who represent with others some of the areas that we are dealing with, would want to see the development occur, and I thank him for that.

As to whether political efforts are for real, we all face the same situation and we all have to do our best to try to ensure that we make progress. There is a particular onus, of course, on the bigger Unionist and nationalist parties at the moment, but, as I said, we all have a role to play. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point the matter out to the House. At the end of the day, what will restore confidence and stability in Northern Ireland is the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive, as I just said.

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