Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Dr. McCrea : Is that not disgusting given that the Justice Minister of a foreign jurisdiction acknowledges that two of the leading members of that terrorist organisation, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, are members of the army council? Instead of parading them in and out of Downing street, surely justice demands that they be paraded before a court and found guilty of crimes.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I am delighted to see him back in the House again representing South Antrim. I wish him many years in that position. He is absolutely right. It is absurd that two Members of this House refuse to take their seats. They are Members of Parliament and Members of the Assembly, but also senior members of the IRA army council. They are feted by this Government and the Irish Government as some kind of statesmen. The Irish Prime Minister tells us that he has met them on five occasions in recent times to discuss the political process in Northern Ireland.

Negotiations seemed to be going on during the election. The Prime Minister's chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, flew into Belfast to hold secret talks with the leadership of Sinn Fein-IRA. However, all the time my party, which represents the majority in Northern Ireland and is the largest political party in Northern Ireland, is constantly told that it cannot put forward a democratic way of moving the political process ahead.

The issue was last debated in the House on 22 February, when the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), said that suggestions had been made in some quarters that the Assembly should be restored and that if it failed to take action to exclude Sinn Fein, he should take action himself using the powers available to him to do that. It is in the gift of the Government to deal with the issue and move the political process forward in Northern Ireland, so I simply ask why they are not doing so.
16 Jun 2005 : Column 490

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that there can be no fudging whatsoever on the whole decommissioning issue. Will he join me in condemning the targeting and intimidation of members of the Royal Irish Regiment and their families, and of members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and their families? Not a month goes past in my constituency without members of the security forces, along with their families, being intimidated. Their children cannot go into shops, or go to school in different areas.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson)—it has been a while since I have been able to make that particular comment. He is of course absolutely right. During Northern Ireland questions yesterday I raised the way in which the Royal Irish Regiment Home Service battalions are being treated. There is uncertainty about their future and their morale is low. They are being kept in the dark, yet at the same time their members are targeted and their members' families are intimidated. I understand the difficulties involved in thinking ahead about the future deployment of the regiment and the Home Service battalions, but will the Minister understand at a human level the difficulty of the situation for the soldiers and their families because uncertainty surrounds them, yet they still face threats and intimidation? At the same time, they watch the political process and see how the people responsible for such threats and intimidation continue to be treated as though they are democrats.

It is time to remove the veto that the IRA has over the political process. I am told that the statement we were promised will be delayed until perhaps August—when the parade season has ended. There is a desire to see how the summer goes before the statement is made, so we will have yet further weeks and months of delay and procrastination. Why does one have to delay to become a democrat? One either is a democrat, or one is not, but on the basis of the IMC report, Sinn Fein-IRA clearly are not democratic in their entirety or committed to exclusively peaceful means. I tell the Minister that the Secretary of State should take the initiative. He should recall the Assembly. The Assembly should then move to exclude Sinn Fein, but if it is not excluded, he should use his powers to do that. The Social Democratic and Labour party is absent from the House today, and also absent is its courage to step forward and enter a voluntary coalition with the rest of the democratic parties. Perhaps it is time to put things up to that party as well.

I want to touch on two other issues on the subject of the financial sanctions, which the Minister has announced will be continued. Between 1999 and 2004, some £14 million was given to ex-prisoners' groups in Northern Ireland through funding for various projects. Now that is a lot of money. The majority of it has gone to republican ex-prisoners groups. I could list those, but I am afraid that my grasp of the Irish language would fail me. Suffice it to say, we are talking about a great deal of public money going into ex-prisoners groups.

Contrast that with the treatment of some of the victims groups. Families Acting for Innocent Relatives is based in south Armagh. It received a letter yesterday from the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister saying that its application for peace and reconciliation
16 Jun 2005 : Column 491
funding for its memorial centre in south Armagh had been rejected. FAIR was looking for £200,000 of capital funding for the purchase of that centre, which provides valuable support to the victims of terrorism.

South Armagh has been described as bandit country. It was a hotbed of IRA activity. Many people were murdered there. I think of atrocities such as Kingsmill, where 10 Protestant workers were lined up against a minibus and shot down in cold blood, and the attacks on Tullyvallen Orange hall and Darkley gospel hall. I could go on. There is a litany of atrocities carried out by the IRA in south Armagh. FAIR is a victims group, representing a large number of those victims and their families. It applied for £200,000 of capital funding for a project for a memorial centre and it was turned down. Yet £14 million has gone to ex-prisoners groups since 1999. Surely there is an inequity that the Government need to consider.

If the Government are in the business of applying financial sanctions and are not prepared to fund the victims, they should have the decency to cut off the funding to the ex-prisoners groups. When we consider some of the activities covered by the IMC report, we find that the people on the front line of those riotous situations who order the beatings and shootings are often the people who were released from prison and who are benefiting from the funding from the ex-prisoners groups.

My final point is on released prisoners and sanctions. When the Government included in the Belfast agreement the provision for the early release of terrorist prisoners in Northern Ireland, it was an emotive issue. We deeply opposed it. Provisions were built into the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 which enabled the Sentence Review Commission, established by the Act, to review the release of any prisoner who was deemed to represent a threat to public safety.

The Minister may be aware of the recent situation involving one of those released prisoners, Sean Kelly—the infamous Shankill bomber—who, along with his accomplice Thomas Begley, murdered nine innocent people on the Shankill road. When Kelly was imprisoned, the judge said that he should spend the rest of his life in prison. He was convicted of nine murders and given nine life sentences, but he was released after just seven years in prison under the terms of the Belfast agreement. That is less than one year in prison for each life Kelly destroyed. Yet on three occasions, he has been pictured in the Ardoyne at a riotous situation. I am not going to go into the detail of what Kelly may or may not have been doing. I simply pose the question to the Minister: has the Secretary of State, using his statutory power, referred the case of Sean Kelly to the Sentence Review Commission?

Mr. Dodds : The Ardoyne is in my constituency. My hon. Friend is right to make the valid and correct point about that infamous IRA killer, who only two weeks ago was pictured in the front line of a riot when attacks were made on Protestant homes in the Twaddell avenue area. It is essential that the Minister addresses that as a matter of urgency and provides reassurance to my constituents in particular.

Mr. Donaldson: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right, and he will know at
16 Jun 2005 : Column 492
first hand the sense of deep frustration felt by his constituents in north Belfast, particularly on the Shankill road, about the manner in which Kelly continues to be present at riotous situations while the Government turn a blind eye.

I contrast that with the case of Ken Barrett, who was recently convicted of the murder of the solicitor Pat Finucane. Barrett is alleged to have been one of the Ulster Defence Association team that murdered Pat Finucane—the Ulster Freedom Fighters team. Recently, Barrett applied for early release under the terms of the Belfast agreement, as his crime had been committed before 10 April 1998. He was therefore eligible to apply for early release. His application was rejected by the Sentence Review Commission on the basis that he was a danger to the public. I simply pose to the Minister, and through him to the Secretary of State, this question: how is Ken Barrett more of a danger to the public than Sean Kelly? I think that we are entitled to an honest answer to that question.

I am not here today arguing for the release of any prisoner: let me make that absolutely clear. It is the double standards that are the issue. If somebody murders nine Protestants on the Shankill road, they walk free; if somebody murders a Roman Catholic solicitor in Belfast, they stay in prison. Is Pat Finucane's life worth more than that of one of the children whom Sean Kelly murdered in that fish shop on the Shankill road? I do not think that the people of the Shankill would accept that the life of one of those children whom he murdered is any less valuable than that of Pat Finucane, so why do the Government act as they do, through the Sentence Review Commission, which is supposed to be independent? We just wonder why it happens to be that the people who are returned to prison or stay there happen to be those who murdered republicans, and that those who murdered Protestants are those who are set free—and when they are free, they seem to be able to engage in whatever activity they wish, without any sanction. I hope that the Minister will address those issues.

5.47 pm

Next Section IndexHome Page