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Mr. Murphy: I agree with my hon. Friend that this is a threat to the process, as I am sure all hon. Members do. The Chief Constable made it clear in his statement last week that he came to his conclusion professionally and that his professional judgment rested on examining the evidence, whether that was from intelligence or the criminal investigation. He said that all lines of his and his senior officers' inquiry led him to his conclusion.
My hon. Friend will understand that between 45 and 47 police officers are working on the inquiry. A hundred interviews have been held with 100 more to be held in the near future. It would be wrong of the Chief Constable or the police to reveal all that evidence during the course of an investigation because, as my hon. Friend and others will know, that would seriously jeopardise the chances of catching and convicting the culpritsthat is the danger. However, I have read a great deal of the evidence that the Chief Constable has seen and I have no doubt that what he said was right.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I am sure that we all agree that the raid was a terrifying ordeal for the civilians caught up in it. No doubt they feared for their lives, and it is a relief to us all that they escaped unharmed.
We all continue to have high respect for Hugh Orde, but I am also surprised by his and the Government's willingness to blame the IRA for the robbery without revealing the evidence. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he believes that anyone who is prosecuted for the crime will turn out to be associated directly or indirectly with the IRA? If he cannot give us that assurance today, he cannot claim that the IRA was necessarily behind it.
The Secretary of State asks us to take it on trustwithout sharing evidencethat the IRA was behind the crime, but if he wants to use the defence that he should not share that evidence while the investigation is continuing, perhaps it was not wise to share a conclusion before the investigation had ended. Is there not a danger that that might prejudice the outcome of a court case, because we would be prosecuting not an organisation but individuals?
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We are meant to be normalising Northern Ireland, so is the Secretary of State aware that his fellow Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson), refused this morning to say that the Government would necessarily specify an organisation on the basis of criminal activity? Why are the Government unwilling to specify sanctions against paramilitary organisations involved in crime, even if they are not willing to specify the organisations themselves? If it turns out that a paramilitary organisation is behind this substantial criminal offence, it is rather surprising that the Government shy away from giving an assurance that they would consider specifying it on the basis of that.
It will be difficult to normalise Northern Ireland if paramilitary organisations do not fear the sanction of being specified on the basis of serious criminal activity. That stems from the fact that we have never had a clear definition of "ceasefire". Is it not time to use paragraph 13 of the joint declaration as a clear definition of ceasefire, and to add to it the idea that sanctions will extend to criminality as well as terrorism? Is it not the case that until we have a clear and explicit statement of the sanctions that paramilitary organisations can expect when perpetrating organised crime, we are unlikely to resolve the problems of crime or, indeed, terror?
Mr. Murphy: I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's question about the Chief Constable and the evidence, because I thought that I had made it clear that it is difficult for him to produce detailed evidence while an investigation is ongoing. However, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, because he has been involved in Northern Ireland politics for a long time, that it is by no means unusual for the Chief Constable to attribute blame across the political spectrum in Northern Ireland for paramilitary crime. Indeed, the problem that Hugh Orde faced over the past couple of weeks was that he was not attributing quickly enough. However, he wanted to ensure that he was satisfied, in his highly professional opinion, of what was the case. If the detail were to emerge, it could have a detrimental effect on future court proceedings, which is why the situation has arisen.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's reference to specification, but as he knows, specification refers specifically to whether groups are on ceasefire. We should remember that the IRA is illegal and proscribed by law and the House, as are other organisations. Although we are not ruling out whether we specify or despecify, we must look at the whole picture before doing that.
The hon. Gentleman referred to sanctionsI have no doubt that this issue will raise its head laterbut under normal circumstances, if the Assembly was up and running, they would be a matter for consideration by the Independent Monitoring Commission. As he knows, such sanctions would refer to various penalties affecting Assembly Members and parties when the Assembly is in session. When we considered the position some months ago, the IMC itself came up with sanctions, and it is quite possible that it may recommend them when it examines the matter. The Government, too, when talking to the Irish Government about issues that affect
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them, will consider such matters. On normalisation, however, the people of Northern Ireland want an end to such illegality and criminality across the board so that they can live in a decent society.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Does the Secretary of State agree that what he has said today will give a lot of heart to IRA-Sinn Fein because democratic politicians and parties from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland are being punished? Surely he should be saying that we will not be held to ransom by IRA-Sinn Fein and that we will go ahead and set up instantly a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly with nationalist and Unionist parties that have no links to terrorism.
I indicated in response to a previous question that I have neither ruled in nor out the possibility of persuading democratic parties in Northern Ireland to set up a voluntary coalition excluding Sinn Fein. However, the reality is that such an arrangement could be made only if the political parties in Northern Ireland that would form part of that coalition agreed to it. The coalition would have to be made up of Unionists and nationalists. It is thus incumbent on the Government, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, to consider other means of increasing accountability for direct rule Ministers.
I do not think that anyone would disagree that the most important matter before us today is how to stop criminality in Northern Ireland. If that stopped, and we were persuaded that it had stopped, we could of course enter into an inclusive Executive. If that does not happen, it does not happen, but anyone who suggests that we should not work towards that and stop criminality would not be thanked by people in Northern Ireland. If that does not work, we will have to find other arrangementsI have not ruled those outbut the House should reflect on the fact that it is incumbent on me to talk to political parties in Northern Ireland to get their views on where we might go, which I intend to do. People in Northern Ireland would not want us to take precipitate decisions today without doing that.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): This is a serious day for Northern Ireland. It is a day when the Government must cease to deal with politics, and deal with crime and paramilitaries. Until crime and paramilitaries are dealt with, we cannot have a proper democracy in Northern Ireland. As the Secretary of State well knows, the Democratic Unionist party took part in the talks process in good faith, but all the time we were in those talks, we were chided by his Government that we should have more faith and trust. We were sniped at by official Unionists, whose deputy leader says today that we were taken for a ride. The Democratic Unionist party was not taken for a ride. We took our stand boldly and strongly for what we believed. We did not change anything to which we said that we were dedicated, and we kept fully to our mandate from the people.
Then the Democratic Unionist party found out that the word of the IRA was not to be trusted. While we were sitting there, and while the Government were
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telling us about the goodness and character of the IRA, it was planning to rob the Northern Bank, to give it an unprecedented advantage in an election. With millions in its possession, it could outdo every other political party.
I am rather surprised at the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who leads for the Lib Dems, talking about bringing evidence before us, as even the Taoiseach has said that the evidence that his police have is the same as what the police of Northern Ireland have. Will the hon. Member for Foyle repudiate the Taoiseach of the south of Ireland and say that he is talking nonsense, too?
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