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Mr. Dodds : My hon. Friend is right to point out the derisory amount of the sanction to be imposed on Sinn Fein, and the lack of other sanctions. Does he agree that another major defect of the order and the proposed sanction is that it will run out after one year? After that, Sinn Fein will automatically regain its entitlement to the full payments. Would not it be far better to ensure that, once a sanction is applied, the Government must return to this Houseand the other placeto gain approval for Sinn Fein receiving money in the future?
That approach would be much more sensible. The House should have to make a determination, based on all the facts, as to whether funds should be given to that organisation.
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So far, there has been no mention in the debate of the fact that Sinn Fein should not get the money in the first place. The Sinn Fein Members are not hon. Members in the way that the rest of us are, as they have never taken the Oath and so cannot take their seats.
Mr. Hanson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I want to make it clear that the order relates to Assembly allowances, and not to allowances in this House. The penalty of £120,000 applies to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Mr. Robinson: The question to which we must return, then, is why the PUP is not covered by the order. Both parties are in the Assembly, and both were dealt with by the Government at the same time, in the first instance. The Government need to offer a better explanation of why the link has been broken in this respect.
Our argument is that the penalty should be imposed at all levels of government. The House should have a role in making a determination, based on the facts, about whether funds should be made available. That would be much better than the ritual of the Government seeking extensions to the provisions in the order.
During the last number of weeksconveniently, it must be said, at the very cusp of the general election to this Housethe leader of Sinn Fein-IRA indicated that he was calling on his friends and colleagues in the IRA to bring their activities to an end, or words to that effect. Conveniently, during the rest of the election campaign we were told that that was a powerful statement made by the president of Sinn Fein, that we should all warm to him as a result of it, that it had great promise and that there was cause for hope. The election, of course, is out of the way. A statement from the IRA responding to Mr. Adams's remarks has still not been made. According to the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic yesterday, it will be further delayed, and may come before the end of the summer.
I strongly endorse the words of my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim. There is a tendency on the part of the Government, and an even greater tendency on the part of the fifth estateour good friends in the mediato take every word that falls from the lips of republicans and indicate that this is something quite unique, quite exceptional, something to be applauded. Then, probably about six months later, they realise that actually there were out-clauses: the carefully crafted words used in the statement allowed the IRA to do something that they had not quite imagined in the first instance. May I, with my hon. Friend, urge the Government to treat any statement from the IRA with the maximum of caution? It is essential that the Government do not take any action based on a statement from Mr. Adams or the IRA. Promises will not cut the delf in Northern Ireland; delivery, and delivery only, will be able to convince people in Northern Ireland that real change has taken place.
There are three critical areas. The first is the decommissioning of weaponsweapons that have been used to kill and maim and threaten in Northern Ireland for generations. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim mentioned the attempt to kill my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea). There was equally an attempt to use those same guns to kill my
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hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds). There are few on this side of the House who have not been threatened or attacked by the Provisional IRA. These are vital issueslife-and-death issues. These are not cold, inanimate objects that people can sign away and deal with in a business-like fashion. They are weapons that have been used to kill and have left devastation behind them, and when we are dealing with this issue, the people out there need to be convinced that the weapons have gone, and gone for good.
The leader of the Ulster Unionist party thought it was sufficient to have some activity taking place in the dark, in a hole in the corner, and for General de Chastelain to come along and tell us that something had happenedalthough he was unable to tell us how anything had been decommissioned, unable to tell us what had been decomissioned, and unable to give us an inventory of what had been destroyed, if it had been destroyed, or to tell us where it had been destroyed. We were all supposed to be convinced that the IRA had done something of real import on the basis of that report.
If people are to be convinced, they need to have all of the weapons completely destroyed. They need it to be done in a way that is obviously, from the point of view of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, done in a verifiable way, but we need a transparency that we have not had to datea transparency that we have argued must include the presence of witnesses and the existence of photographs to show every stage of that operation. That is an essential component if the IRA wants to convince people that it has turned over a new leaf and that the weapons are gone for good.
People talk about the requirement to get the IRA quickly into government, as we heard yesterday; they say that there should be no vacuum. However, there must be an absolute requirement that nothing must happen until people are convinced that the republican movement has changed. It must change by handing over its weapons to be destroyed in a way that convinces people. Unless it does so, it will take longer for people to be convinced, and it should be clearly warned about that.
The second issue is paramilitary activity. Even as we speak, the IRA's paramilitary structures continue. The IMC report refers to the training that is still going on; young people are being trained in the use of firearms in what we are told is a peacetime situation. The report states that there have been new discoveries of ammunition, which indicates that new weaponry has been brought into the Provincehardly the action of an organisation that has moved into a new mode of entirely and exclusively peaceful means. Obviously, the IRA must end the exiling of people from Northern Ireland and the targeting of members of the security forces and key people in Northern Ireland. The requirement is that it should dismantle and disband its whole organisation. That is what will be needed to convince people in Northern Ireland that the IRA has gone, and gone for good.
The third issue is criminality. When we met the IMC, its members made it clear that they would need six months to assess properly whether criminality had come to an end. It is essential that the IMC is given all the time it needs so that it can report that its work is at an end and criminality is a thing of the past. However, we shall not
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use only the IMC as our judge as to whether that has happened; the people whom we represent are better placed to tell us about the activities of republicans locally.
In conclusion, although we shall support the measure, we believe that it is inadequate and less effective than it could be. If the Government want progress in Northern Ireland, the real way to do it is not to try to bring Sinn Fein along by enticements and concessions, but for everybody else to move on and force Sinn Fein to catch up. The surest way to get movement from the republican movement is to show its members that they no longer have a veto and that they cannot hold back the process of democracy in Northern Ireland. When the rest of the democratic world moves on, Sinn Fein will have to follow and it will do so on the terms of the democratic world, rather than the democratic world making concessions to bring Sinn Fein on board.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): This is my first opportunity, apart from putting the occasional question, to address the House since the general election. I am delighted to have been returned by the electorate of my constituency for the first time as a Democratic Unionist. I had the honour to be elected for my party. There were some people who said that we could not do it, that the electorate would turn against me for stealing their votes, but the electorate gave their response. I am delighted to have their endorsement once again, and to be part of a team representing the Unionist community, and all the people of Northern Ireland, in the House of Commons.
When I was first elected in 1997, I was part of an Ulster Unionist party team of 10 Members of Parliament. Today, that team is reduced to one. There are lessons to be drawn from that, in so far as they reflect the shift in opinion that has taken place in the Unionist community. That is important when we are considering the issues before the House. Whereas back in 1998 there might have been some tolerance within the Unionist community and latitude given to Sinn Fein-IRA, that is not the view of the overwhelming majority of Unionists today.
"We conclude therefore that PIRA remains a highly active organisation. We note that in November 2004 two men were convicted of PIRA membership at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, and a further five in February of this year. We believe that PIRA is at present determined to maintain its effectiveness, both in terms of organised crime, control in republican areas, and the potential for terrorism."
We were told that there would be a period of transition; we were told that we had to be patient and that, in time, we would see the fruits of the peace process as it was described. It has been a long time but now even media commentators take the view that the transition has to be completed now and that the time for flexibility, latitude and transition is gone. That is the reality.
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We should not be here today debating further sanctions against an organisation that has effectively been given a veto by the Government over political progress in Northern Ireland. I, like other hon. Members on this Bench, am a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I cannot exercise the mandate in that Assembly that was given to me by the people of my constituency because it is suspended on the ground that the Provisional IRA was engaging in the kind of terrorist activity reflected in the IMC report.The people whom we represent are denied local accountable government in Northern Ireland because of the activities of the Provisional IRA.
We are all sitting around. Day in and day out, we wait for this statement to come from the IRA and we are told that there cannot be any progress until the IRA makes a statement. That effectively means that the army council of the IRA determines the pace of political progress in Northern Ireland. The rest of us have to sit on our hands and wait for P. O'Neill to deliver a statement, and then things will begin to happen. That is the reality of where politics is in Northern Ireland today, 11 years on from the first IRA ceasefire.That is simply not good enough. We cannot in a democracy allow a terrorist organisation to dictate the political agenda.
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