Lembit Öpik: In that case, will the hon. Gentleman explain why so many hon. Members in these debates feel that the Government somehow differentiate good and sane terrorists in Northern Ireland, but bad and insane terrorists from elsewhere? How can it be consistent to deal with the Northern Ireland terrorist while simply seeking to oppress the opportunities to terrorise everywhere else? I must ask why the Government are obsessed with negotiating on problems in Northern Irelandon many occasions I agree with thembut simply seek to incarcerate suspected terrorists on the mainland using some of the very worst historical methods, such as internment, perhaps only by another name?
I had not intended to intervene and I shall try not to stray too much from the purpose of the debate, but the hon. Gentleman has been present at enough of these debates to understand the valid argument that, as far as republican terrorism is concerned, there was always a way to negotiate, in that they held various political views, which even if one did not agree with them, one could negotiate on; whereas
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with other types of terrorism, such as Islamism, there is no negotiation, since the death of innocent people is the end aim of those terrorists, and therefore there is no point in negotiating.
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman's comments simply serve to underline the frustration that many of us feel about the Government's approach towards the issue: the schizophrenic assumption that the terrorists of Northern Ireland are in some way different from the terrorists from elsewhere. In essence, if what the hon. Gentleman says is correct, we must draw the conclusion that he believes that the terrorists in Northern Ireland were in some way motivated, while the terrorists who perpetrate their international war of terror, to use the Government's own phrase, have no motive. What frustrates those of us who have sought to participate proactively in both those debates is the fact that there can be no such rational distinction. Our frustration has been compounded by the fact that on occasion the Government have sought to make unilateral deals with Sinn Fein and, indirectly, with the IRA, while those people who have been supportive of the peace process have been virtually ignored. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made that point very well, and it is a matter of great annoyance to those of us who have sought the peaceful and democratic route that those who have not been peaceful have been treated in a different way.
Mr. Donaldson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a prime example of this differentiation that the Government make is the anticipated legislation on "on the runs", when the Government propose to give a de facto amnesty to terrorists, some of whom have committed the most atrocious crimes in Northern Ireland, and that it is very difficult for the layman to understand how one can make that distinction, no matter how nuanced the arguments may be?
Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman gives one example of many that at times serve to undermine our confidence that the Government have a joined-up understanding of the problems of terrorism. I happen to believe that terrorists are on the whole motivated, and that it is the failure of politicians to understand those motivations that causes such a disparity of behaviour in what we have seen in Northern Ireland and what we have seen elsewhere. The suffering of the Province is a record of what results from the ignorance of prejudice and the consequence when politics fails to listen to the causes. At a time when we seem at last to have learned the lessons from that lethal tragedy in one place, how depressing it is to see the very same calamity repeated in our treatment of the very same set of affairs in regard to the terrorist threat from abroad.
As the Minister said earlier, the powers in the Bill are exceptional and time limited. In Northern Ireland it took 30 yearssome would say hundreds of yearsfor us to find the courage to attend to the underlying motivations of the terrorists that now lead us to time-limit regulations and legislation that is hopefully now at the tail end of the troubles that have bedevilled the Province. How many more years will it take for us and the Government to learn the same lessons for the rest of the world? Why is it so hard to see
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that international terrorists are motivated just as were the republican terrorists and loyalist terrorists of yesterday?
Lembit Öpik: Answering that in detail would take us way beyond the remit of the Bill. The hon. Lady's comments, and those of other Labour Members, are exactly the same as those that I listened to as I grew up in Northern Ireland and as I took an interest in politics in the late 80s and early 90s. She is using the same terminology as we used in the years when the Government said that the terrorists of Northern Ireland simply could not be negotiated withthat they were mindless psychopaths and barbarians. I am happy to discuss the question with her if she is asking it seriously, but we would be best advised to do so outside the Chamber.
This Bill is helpful in the narrow context of Northern Ireland. There is every reason to expect that the moves that we make tonight to underscore the importance of consistency will be helpful, and I hope that they will be passed without a vote. If they are taken to a vote, the Liberal Democrats will support the Government.
I still counsel the Government to look beyond what we are discussing today, however. Understanding the motives of terrorists does not make it right for them to kill people in the name of any cause, but nor does it seem right for us to ignore the lessons of history. If we ignore what happened in the early days of the troubles, we are even more likely to have to relive them.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I regret that the House has to debate this Bill. Like many Members, I want normalisation in its full and most honest sense, so that we no longer need to have all sorts of special provisions or to talk about the reality of intimidation and the residual effects of so many years of paramilitary activity. Regrettably, we are not quite there yet. However, it is clear that only a very small minority in this House would prefer not to go forward with the legislation.
I would have preferred the Government to be bolder and to put us on a firmer path to full and proper normalisation in judicial and criminal justice processesthe same path that we have been pursuing in relation to policing. My party and I agree with the Human Rights Commission, which believes, in relation to clause 1which is essentially a rebadging of part VII of the Terrorism Act 2000that we are at a point in Northern Ireland where we should be moving away from such provisions.
I say that not because I believe that we are free from intimidation in Northern Ireland or because I am in any way naive or relaxed about the nature of paramilitary activities and the various hangover features of paramilitary life, but because we need to take the lead as democrats instead of constantly finding ourselves coming to this House beholden to the latest concession that the paramilitaries are supposedly giving us. We spend our time praising and thanking one paramilitary
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group for one statement and another paramilitary group for another, and find ourselves diffident about pursuing and applying our own democratic standards. In doing so, we turn things upside down. As constitutional democrats, we often find ourselves beholden to the latest initiative from the paramilitaries. We should be setting the terms, standards and pace of normalisation.
I recognise that, as the Secretary of State said, in many ways the Bill connects back to aspects of the joint declaration of May 2003. However, I quibble with his saying that the joint declaration was generally endorsed by all the pro-agreement parties. Although there was general endorsement of some aspects of it, some of us had specific criticisms of other aspects. Some of us never went along with the pretence about having three annexes and two other documents that happened to coincide with themone about on-the-runs and the other about sanctions that would be attached to the Independent Monitoring Commission. We never went along with the pretence that those documents were not annexes. In all the talks before, during and since the Hillsborough talks on the joint declaration, including the talks in Leeds castle to which the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has referred, we consistently pointed out to both Governments that they were turning a blind eye to the reality of continuing criminality.
In recent interviews, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) has acknowledged that the Social Democratic and Labour party was the one party consistently to raise concerns about criminality in his time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That record of consistency on paramilitary and criminal activity is the background to our preference for not moving forward with this Bill.
As we have seen in the case of the McCartney murder, the intimidation that gets in the way of justice in Northern Ireland involves the destruction of evidence and syndicated silence from witnesses. Some people make a big deal about calling on others to go to the police or the police ombudsman with statements, but such statements say little and many are not signed. The real issue in Northern Ireland with the administration of justice is not the difference between a Diplock court and a jury court but whether the evidence exists to take cases forward and whether people engage in conspiracies to deny, destroy and prevent evidence.
In recent times, a number of cases have been taken to court after undoubtedly good work by the police service and after many brave people in the community have given information to the police. In some cases, people have been prepared to give evidence in court, only to find that the judge takes a much more relaxed and detached view of the crime in question than do the public.
Juries should have been used in some recent cases, particularly those involving a number of loyalists who were charged with not only attacks on members of the nationalist community, but preying on their own community and businesses. Even after those people were convicted, the judge gave them suspended sentences, and they walked free. I am not talking about people who had committed a first offence or minor offences. I find it hard to tell people from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland who were offended
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and outraged by those decisions that we should maintain Diplock courts. People feel suspicious and iffy about some recent judicial outcomes, and about the concession-of-the-week mode in which we sometimes appear to be operating.