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Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): I thank the Minister for setting out the background to the motion, which, as he has made clear, extends the financial penalties against Sinn Fein at Stormont for a further 12 months by giving effect to the direction signed by the former Secretary of State on 1 April this year.
As the Minister said, the IMC reports on the relationship between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA provide the background to the debate and the continuing involvement of that republican organisation in crime and paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. It is worth reminding ourselves of the first IMC report published in 2004, which made plain what the members of the IMC considered to be the relationship between the two parts of the republican movement. In respect of the leadership of Sinn Fein, it stated:
The Government have made the same point in more cautious languageMinisters have referred to the inextricable link between Sinn Fein and PIRAand it has also recently been made in very direct terms by the Minister of Justice in the Republic of Ireland.
Since last April, a further four IMC reports have been published. The fourth report, published in February, was categoric in its verdict that the Provisional IRA was responsible for the Northern bank robbery in December and for three other major robberies last year. It repeated the point that had the Northern Ireland Assembly been
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sitting, the IMC would have recommended the exclusion of Sinn Fein from office in the devolved Executive.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman remember that the Chief Constable recently reported that, short of killing members of the security forces, the Provisional IRA was engaged in all the other forms of paramilitary and terrorist activity? That adds further weight to his comments about the IMC report.
The IMC's views have been supported not only by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland but the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. The most recent report, which was published in May and to which the Minister referred, concluded that the Provisional IRA continues to carry out paramilitary and criminal activity and that it is still recruiting, training and gathering intelligence.
The debate takes place against a backdrop of intense speculation about the IRA's response to the speech made in April by Gerry Adams. The debate and the IMC reports on which the measure rests are a salutary reminder of how far the IRA has to go. If there is to be progress towards an inclusive Executive, the IRA response must be clear and unambiguous, not only in words but in deeds. There can be no further room for fudge or ambiguity. If there is ambiguity, I fear that the blunt truth is that there will be no agreement.
There needs to be an end to all forms of criminal and paramilitary activity. There has to be complete decommissioning and republicans must accept the legitimacy of the police and the criminal justice system and support those institutions rather than try to undermine them. There must be what the Prime Minister described as far back as 1998 as the
The IRA must be disbanded as an effective paramilitary organisation. That will need to be transparent, and effectively and independently verified. I realise that the Government do not feel comfortable with the word "disbandment", although I note that the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland is a bit less shy of using the term. Ultimately, the process must be about that.
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I want to probe the Government on a final point. If, when the IRA statement is made, they believe that it and the IRA's subsequent actions amount to sufficient evidence that the organisation has gone out of business, surely their logic would lead them to ask whether that was also a sufficient basis for de-proscribing the Provisional IRA as an illegal organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000. The logic would be that if the Provisional IRA had ceased to be a terrorist organisation, the need for it to be illegal would no longer exist. Conversely, if the IRA had not done enough to merit de-proscription, how could it have done enough to merit inclusion in a devolved Executive? It would be very strange to have Ministers in government inextricably linked to an organisation that Governments in London and Dublin believed had to remain illegal even though it had moved into what has been termed a new mode.
We genuinely wish the Government well in their efforts to secure a comprehensive agreement and restore devolved government to Northern Ireland, but inclusivity can be based only on all parties accepting the same standards of democracy. There can no longer be different rules for some but not others. This is what we shall insist upon when we consider our response to whatever the IRA says over coming weeks and months. In the meantime, current IRA activity more than justifies the modest sanction that is before the House today.
We support the order and we recognise that it is necessary to implement these sanctions against parties that are not participating fully in the peace process. We cannot allow the process to be delayed by paramilitaries and those connected to them without there being some form of sanction. As I said when the sanctions were suggested, they seem to be a regrettable necessity.
Looking back, I remind the House that I was frustrated and somewhat annoyed when we were told to take on trust the fact that the IRA had conducted the Northern bank robbery, but subsequently it has become quite clear from the comments of the Independent Monitoring Commission and others that the IRA seems to be responsible for that robbery. In addition, the murder of Robert McCartney has caused the most recent crisis in the peace process. Only further action from paramilitaries can help to move the process forward again by positively demonstrating that they are committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. While we generally think of the IRA in that context, it obviously applies to all paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.
As the House will recall, I raised an interesting proposal from the Alliance party on 10 benchmarks, which might be helpful in measuring more objectively the distance the paramilitaries have come. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has agreed to meet David Ford, the leader of the Alliance party, to discuss those further.
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I suggest to the House that the 10 points are worthy of brief consideration, and the Alliance party says that they should be used to assess the sincerity with which the principles of the peace process are being adhered to. First, paramilitaries must declare an end to all involvement in any paramilitary and criminal activity, and through exclusively lawful means ensure that their activists desist immediately. Secondly, where individual republicans are involved in paramilitary or criminal activity, others must pass on any information to the lawful authorities and urge others to do likewise. The IRA must accept that obstruction of justice is a crime.
Thirdly, the republican movement must accept the full legitimacy of both the northern and southern states with respect to policing and criminal justice, including definitions of what constitutes a crime. Fourthly, all IRA front organisations and organised crime networks must be dismantled.
Fifthly, the IRA army council must end all recruitment, training and intelligence gathering, and stand down all its rank and file members. Once that is carried out and weapons are decommissioned, the organisation, including all command structures, must disband. Sixthly, the republican movement must renounce the right to engage in community policing or what is termed "internal housekeeping". There must be an end to all paramilitary beatings and shootings.
Seventhly, the practice of exiling both inside and outside Northern Ireland must come to an end. Crucially, assurances must be given to those exiled that they can return to Northern Ireland in safety. Those assurances must be carried through. Eighthly, all illegally held weapons and explosives must be decommissioned under the aegis of the Decommissioning Commission. Ninthly, republicans must co-operate fully with the commission for the disappeared and both police services in recovering the remains of the disappeared.
Finally, republicans must give a commitment not to export their terrorist techniques and expertise to other organisations internationally, either through direct training or other consultancy services, in line with the Terrorism Act 2000.
I accept that there will be different views about those 10 points. I hope, however, that the Minister can indicate that he recognises the benefit of having objective measures that consider not just the front-line violence that characterised the troubles for so long but the underlying and ongoing violence about which anybody involved in matters relating to the Province knows.
In that context, I counsel the Minister not to allow a recurring error in dealings with the IRA to happen again. On several occasions, it seems to me that unilateral deals have been done with paramilitaries, excluding the pro-agreement parties. Understandably, that has been frustrating for those parties that have consistently shown commitment and good faith in the process. It would be extremely unhelpful if, following some sort of statement from the IRA, it looks once again as if the Government have decided to do a back-door deal without involving all the other parties involved in the peace process. Will the Minister assure me that he will not allow that to happen again?
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That being said, it seems that the sanctions must remain for now. Until a significant change occurs on the part of the paramilitaries, and particularly the IRA, and especially with regard to the underlying violence that continues in the Province, we must recognise that these financial sanctions need to be in place. I am pleased and find it helpful that Sinn Fein has a small staffing presence on the premises, which I find useful in terms of understanding their thinking and what is going on. That is a separate matter, however, and for now I feel that the Liberal Democrats are obliged to support what is a regrettable necessity.
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