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Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): First, I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and his customary courtesy in letting me see an advance copy.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the viciousness of the crime. I want to start by expressing our sympathy for the families who were the victims of those brutal acts.

The robbery and the Chief Constable's words last week have grave implications for the entire political process in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have frequently said—the Secretary of State did so again this afternoon—that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked. The Independent Monitoring Commission's conclusions supported that assessment. In those circumstances, surely no Unionist or, for that matter, nationalist politician should be asked to share power with a party that remains inextricably linked to a violent criminal gang.

We cannot move towards the devolution of powers over policing and criminal justice until we can be confident that every party with Ministers in a devolved Executive is committed to supporting the police and the rule of law rather than to undermining them.

Will the Secretary of State today accept something that he has avoided accepting up to now, namely, that the same principles should now apply in Belfast and in Dublin, and that Sinn Fein cannot take part in a coalition or power-sharing Administration until it has permanently ended its connections to paramilitary bodies and to organised crime? I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be in everyone's interests if the republican movement now rapidly completed its transition from terrorism to exclusively peaceful and democratic politics. The sad truth, however, is that the
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events of recent days have shown that we seem to be a long way from achieving that objective. What, therefore, do the Government plan to do now?

As far back as 7 September last year, the Prime Minister said that if the Leeds Castle talks failed to achieve a comprehensive settlement,

What is that other way forward that the Prime Minister and the Government envisaged? Will the Government now explore the possibility of establishing a power-sharing Executive who exclude Sinn Fein? Or, if that is unattainable, will the Minister consider ways of making direct-rule Ministers more accountable to the people of Northern Ireland?

The Secretary of State mentioned sanctions against Sinn Fein, and I would like to ask him three specific questions on that issue. First, in the light of the intelligence to which he and the police now have access, will he consider recalling individual prisoners who have been released early on licence under the Government's early-release scheme? Secondly, given the widespread belief that the profits of crime are helping to fund political parties linked to paramilitary forces, will he look again at some of the exemptions that parties in Northern Ireland have from the normal rules on party funding, especially those relating to foreign donations and to publishing accounts? I note that he said that he would be discussing this matter with the Irish Foreign Minister soon. In the light of those discussions, will the Secretary of State undertake to drop, or at least postpone, proceedings on the statutory instrument to extend the current exemptions, which the Government tabled shortly before Christmas? Thirdly, will the Government now introduce a motion to suspend the privileges and parliamentary allowances that have been given to Sinn Fein Members of this House despite their refusal to take their seats and represent their constituents properly? It is intolerable for taxpayers' money to be doled out in this way to a party that remains inextricably linked to violent organised crime.

Finally, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an unequivocal assurance that the police, customs and every other law enforcement agency in Northern Ireland will be unrelenting in pursing not only the people responsible for this appalling robbery but all members of the mafia gangs, republican or loyalist, that prey on the people of Northern Ireland; and that the agencies of law and order will take that action regardless of any political difficulties that it might cause in any quarter?

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the process. I agree with him that the impact of these events is deeply worrying and serious. I shall try to answer his individual questions one by one. He asked whether the principles that apply to a Government in Dublin should apply to a power-sharing Executive; I am sure that that is the case. I have already said that the Government will not tolerate any form of criminality associated with a group that is associated with a political party in Northern Ireland. Perhaps more significantly, however, the political parties in Northern Ireland take a very strong view on this issue.

In regard to whether we could form a power-sharing Executive without Sinn Fein, the Government's view—the view expressed in the Good Friday agreement—has
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always been that the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, the people of Ireland voted for an inclusive power-sharing Executive. The ultimate answer is to see the end of criminality on the island of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland in particular, whether that criminality comes from republican or loyalist sources. The Government have not ruled anything out or in, but a lot will depend on the discussions that I have over the next couple of weeks with the political parties to discover their views on the issue. At the end of the day, two things matter: one is that there be consensus among the political parties in Northern Ireland as to what they want; the other is that, whatever happens, we cannot establish an Executive in Northern Ireland without either Unionist or nationalist representation. To that end, the parties could suggest other alternatives to us for the short term, over the coming months. They could include ways in which direct rule Ministers could be made more accountable; I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

On recalling licensed prisoners who might be connected to the bank robbery, I am monitoring all the circumstances surrounding the robbery very carefully and I can confirm that I shall not hesitate to use the powers available to me to suspend the licence of any ex-prisoner if I am satisfied that he or she has broken, or is likely to break, any of his or her licence conditions. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he requested on that matter.

The Government intend to move away from the current exemptions for the Northern Ireland political parties from the normal rules on publishing their accounts and receiving foreign donations. We shall be holding discussions with the Northern Ireland parties, the Irish Government and the Electoral Commission on these issues, and we shall seek an extension of the current exemptions to allow time for that consultation. I know that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will be discussing this matter with me in more detail in the weeks ahead.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the question of this House suspending the privileges and parliamentary allowances of Sinn Fein Members. First, I have already said in my statement that the Government will consider a range of possibilities in the coming days, and I think the House would agree that we need to take some time to consider the most effective way of bringing pressure to bear on the republican movement. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] Not least because we need to discuss a number of the issues relating to sanctions and penalties with the Irish Government—[Interruption.] Perhaps the House will allow me to finish. Secondly, I understand that the House has its own rules regarding whether we should allow such actions to happen, and the Government will have to reflect on the significance of that. Thirdly, the Independent Monitoring Commission also has a role in determining what sanctions and penalties, if any, should be introduced with regard to Sinn Fein. We do not want to take a decision on these issues today, because we need to look at the whole picture. I have not ruled anything out on these issues.

The hon. Gentleman referred to organised crime in Northern Ireland, be it from a loyalist, republican or any other source. He can rest assured that the Organised Crime Task Force and all the other agencies in Northern Ireland will bend their attentions to ensuring that we
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deal with these issues with the utmost urgency, not least because if this criminality is allowed to continue—not just the criminality that we have seen over the last few weeks, although the problem was dramatically illustrated by this robbery—it will corrupt politics and society. We cannot allow that to happen in Northern Ireland, not least because the people there voted against that.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle) (SDLP): Given that the allegations about this appalling crime represent a serious threat not only to our peace process but to the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, and given that the leadership of Sinn Fein has utterly denied its involvement in it—I contacted members of the leadership directly on the telephone and they told me that they had played no role of any description in it—does the Secretary of State agree that, because of the terrible consequences of this terrible crime, it is necessary to publish the evidence behind the allegations?

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