|Proposal for a Draft Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2004
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): Will the Minister join me in condemning the bloody and brutal murder this week of a man on his way to work in my constituency? He will be aware that the police believe that the organisation responsible for that murder has a representative in the Northern Ireland Assembly. What action is he going to take?
Mr. Pearson: I join the hon. Gentleman in utterly condemning the cowardly and brutal attack that resulted in the murder of Brian Stewart. The police are investigating the matter. Intelligence suggests that the act might have been conducted by the UVF, but we are not in a position to say that with any degree of certainty. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the police are investigating the matter and that they will take appropriate action.
Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): The Minister will be aware that the Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation agreed last Thursday to reduce the allowances and wages paid to the members of organisations in Northern Ireland, particularly those with links to paramilitary groups. Do the Government have any intention of bringing forward sanctions that would allow similar steps to be taken in the House?
Mr. Pearson: The question of sanctions in the House is a matter for the House. It is not a matter for me as a Northern Ireland Minister. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the IMC report gave
Column Number: 007the Secretary of State two options for taking sanctions against those involved. He took one of those options. We believe that it was the right thing to do, but there can be no equivalence between the level of violence and the sanctions taken by Government. We need to see a complete end to paramilitary activity, and we need to ensure that all involved in politics in Northern Ireland are completely clean of such activity.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): In his first response to the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside), the Minister talked about links between paramilitary organisations and political spokespersons. Can he not be a bit more explicit? It is not just a question of links; in some cases they are part and parcel of the exact same organisation. To follow the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke), is it not absolutely incongruous to have sanctions applied in Northern Ireland while nothing is being done about the special privileges given to members of Sinn Fein in this House? Is it not time that a signal was sent out that when sanctions are applied in Northern Ireland as far as Assembly parties are concerned, Sinn Fein should also have sanctions applied as far as this House is concerned? The special privileges and qualifications that were granted recently should be withdrawn forthwith.
Mr. Pearson: The sanctions taken by the House are clearly a matter for the House, not for me. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are links between paramilitary organisations and political parties; we all know that. The IMC report stated that clearly and graphically. In the future, we obviously need to bring about a situation in which those links are not present because there is no longer any paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. That is what we need to focus our attention on, and that is what we will be doing as a Government. The hon. Gentleman will have other avenues through which he can bring up the issue of sanctions that might be taken by the House.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I agree with the Minister about the importance of the IMC's analysis. As he said, the Government have implemented the IMC's particularly limited recommendation. However, he will recall that the IMC also said plainly that had a devolved Assembly been sitting, it would have recommended sanctions up to and including exclusion from the Government of Northern Ireland. Is not the logic of the Minister's condemnation of paramilitary activity today that the Government should commit themselves, in line with the IMC conclusion, to the idea that while such paramilitary activity continues in Northern Ireland, those parties that have close links with paramilitaries should not expect to participate in devolved government?
Mr. Pearson: Clearly, we are trying to reach a situation in which all political parties in Northern Ireland are completely clean of any links to paramilitary organisations and all paramilitary activity has ceased. That is the position that I think everybody would like to see in Northern Ireland. It is
Column Number: 008unacceptable that political parties have links to paramilitarism, and exert significant influence over it. It is unacceptable whether it involves links with republican paramilitaries or loyalist paramilitaries. As a Government, we do not tolerate either.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the specific circumstances of the IMC report, what it recommended and how we followed that through. We need a restored, stable, peaceful, inclusive Government in Northern Ireland. That is what we all want to see. I believe that the negotiations and the dialogue that is continuing, even during the European election campaign, will bear fruit. People in Northern Ireland want to see their local politicians back in government and they want to see those politicians making the decision to sever all links with paramilitary organisations. That is what we have to achieve, and it is the task ahead of us.
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