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Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is right about the percentages to which he refers, but at the same time I was not responsible for the Assembly election results. The people of Northern Ireland voted as they did, and the result was that the DUP and Sinn Fein both secured a greater number of Assembly seats than did the other parties. However, no one party in Northern Ireland can say that it has an exclusive right to the views of either community, because that is not so. In a sense, every party in Northern Ireland is in a minority, because no one party commands the majority. As I said earlier, it is important to pay tribute to all the partiesincluding my hon. Friend'swhich have made a tremendous effort and done great work in producing this process. So I do not for one second diminish the role of all the other parties; I am simply accepting the reality that, for the agreement to work and an Executive to be set up, agreement will have to be reached between the two parties that achieved the election result to which I referred.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that a settlement in Northern Irelanda proper working Executive and Assemblycannot be achieved unless all the parties in the Assembly work together properly. Although Sinn Fein and the DUP will of course have more ministerial seats than the other parties, they will not have them all. The whole purpose of the Good Friday agreement was to ensure an inclusive Executive who, in this case, would represent my hon. Friend's party, the Ulster Unionist party, the DUP and Sinn Fein.
I can assure my hon. Friend that all the parties will be involved in next week's negotiations and discussions. It is important to hear what every party has to say and what solutions they might have in trying to overcome the current difficulties. It is fair to say that in past months all the parties had the opportunity to discuss all the issues currently under discussion. After all, there was the review of the agreement itself, and some very long
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nights in Stormontinvolving my hon. Friend's own partywhen we discussed accountability, the role of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and so on.
The devolution of justice and policing was an issue of particular concern to Sinn Fein. My hon. Friend is of course right to point out that such devolution is part of the agreement, but from Sinn Fein's point of viewit is of course for Sinn Fein to speak for itselfit regarded involvement in Northern Ireland's policing structures as being intimately bound up with the devolution of justice and policing to the Assembly and the Executive.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Clearly, the Liberal Democrats welcome the progress made in bringing the DUP and Sinn Fein so close to an agreement; we really have come a long way. I spoke to some friends at home last night, who said that the mood was one of great disappointment: so near, yet so far.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the new plan to endorse the whole Executive of the Assembly by the Assembly is a very important step forward in terms of collectivism? Ministers are there to serve the whole community, not just their party or tribe. The committee of the centre is to be placed on a statutory footing. Will it be able to scrutinise all the actions of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, or merely those falling under its current remit?
On paragraph 14 of annexe B, which deals with community designation, do the Government intend that candidates should declare their community designation before election to the Assembly? I hope not, because we would have very grave concerns about further entrenching sectarianism in this way. We are also worried about the IRA's statement. Does it or does it not amount to acceptance of paragraph 13 of the joint declaration? Why is the IRA so resistant to providing photographic evidence, and what alternative solutions has it proposed to this vexing problem?
We welcome the developments concerning the secretariat of the British-Irish Council and the east-west parliamentary framework, which will help to further good relations between all Parliaments in these islands. Is it the Secretary of State's understanding that, in the context of the agreement, paragraph 6 of the DUP's statementon working for agreement on policingis compatible with Sinn Fein's commitment to movement? Indeed, has Sinn Fein indicated that it would get involved in current policing arrangements, such as participating in local district policing partnerships, immediatelyin other words, before the Bill to devolve policing and justice to the Assembly would have been enacted?
In the light of the comments of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), do the Government not accept that their expressed intention to hold meetings with all the parties must be more than just warm words? Does the Secretary of State not accept that many friends of the agreementin the Social, Democratic and Labour party, and in the Alliance party in Northern Irelandhave felt excluded from the current process? Would it not be a shame to make enemies out of friends of the process, simply through that sin of omission?
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Mr. Murphy: I do not intend to commit any sins of omission or commission in the time ahead of us. I have met the Alliance party, in one form or another, three times in the past few weeks, and I recognise the important role that it has played in the Northern Ireland peace process. For example, it has often brokered deals between the other parties. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will have a conversation consisting of more than just warm words with David Ford and his colleagues next week; indeed, we will have such conversations with all the political parties in Northern Ireland.
The committee of the centre will be a meaningful committee. The review that we undertook some time ago, which dealt with the issue of the committee's functions, pointed out that various functions of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be discussed in the months ahead. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer, therefore, as to precisely what the committee will be dealing with, because that depends on the functions of the OFMDFM.
I took the hon. Gentleman's point about the secretariat of the British-Irish Council. Sometimes, the strand 3 arrangements are forgotten. Meaningful communication between, and meetings involving all parts of, these islands is a very important aspect of the Belfast agreement. Indeed, the last meeting of the British-Irish Council was held in Guernsey and was, I thought, particularly important. All it lacked, of course, was representatives from the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive to put their case to it. On policing, the agreement of Sinn Fein to deal with policing issues is intimately locked up with the devolution of justice and policing. Indeed, the last paragraph of annexe F says that Sinn Fein will
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach and, indeed, the Secretary of State himself are to be congratulated on their perseverance and determination over the months to try to reach a successful agreement with all the participating parties. That is in the spirit of the Good Friday agreement, which was to make peace through addressing causes and to end divisions without requiring anyone to surrender. Whether we like it or not, the IRA regards itself as an army that has, in fact, made a ceasefire and is prepared to surrender its arms if there is a satisfactory political solution. That is the position, but the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said:
That is not acceptable to the IRA, which brings us to the issue of photographs. For many of us, that seems a simple solution to the problem. It is absolutely right I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agreethat there must be verification of decommissioning and that the Unionists are entitled to proof, but surely not to
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trophies. The last experience with General de Chastelain showed how difficult the position was. Does my right hon. Friend understand
Mr. McNamara: Does my right hon. Friend understand the real fear that photographs could be used publicly to humiliate the IRA over decommissioning? If that were agreed to, it would create dangerous divisions within the IRA and would be seen as election propaganda for one wing of Unionism over the other wing of Unionism, which sought peace without humiliation.
Mr. Murphy: I suppose that, in a way, all politicians could take lessons in humility. So far as those comments are concerned, I can do no better than refer to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said yesterday that it was not sensible to make them at a crucial point in the negotiations, but also that it was not sensible to overreact to them. They are, after all, words; what is important to the people of Northern Ireland is ensuring that the Northern Ireland Executive, the Assembly and devolution are restored.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to refer to verification, because without it and without transparency, there is no way that the Unionist communitynor, indeed, the nationalist communitycould understand that decommissioning had properly taken place. He would be the first to agree that the people of Northern Ireland and those of the Republic of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of decommissioning when they voted for the Good Friday agreement.
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