Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Lady Hermon: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the difficulty lies with the judiciary or with the lack of evidence? He is making serious allegations that may undermine people's confidence in the judiciary.

Mark Durkan: First, I have discussed the problems associated with gathering evidence, of which the McCartney case is an example. Secondly, I have written to the Lord Chancellor about a number of cases involving suspended sentences that shocked people from not only my party, but across the community, given the nature of the crimes and the criminal history of the people involved. We cannot debate the question of Diplock courts versus jury trial without taking account of that unfortunate reality. I do not know whose fault it is; all I know is that many people, especially victims of crime and the police, witnesses and other members of the community who put their efforts into dealing with such cases, are at a loss to understand why it happened.

As long as we retain abnormal arrangements such as those in the Bill, there will always be people who use them as an excuse to question the legitimacy of the justice system, and to withhold co-operation with the   police and due recognition of the administration of justice. Such people will grasp any excuse. Some parties are still not committed to the policing arrangements that resulted from the Good Friday agreement, and are still not signing up to Patten. I believe that for years Sinn Fein has withheld support for the policing arrangements not because it cannot identify enough with Patten, but because it still identifies too much with the P. O'Neill issue and all that went with it.

I agree with the Secretary of State about the significance of the IRA's statement in July. I agree with the Secretary of State and others about the significance of what has been reported by General de Chastelain and his colleagues, and indeed by witnesses. However, the Government must be clear about the need for all parties to engage in political life and democratic responsibility on the same terms as anyone else.

As a democrat with fundamental doubts about provisions such as those in the Bill, I resent having to be part of this process, given that others are allowed to withhold their support from the policing arrangements and given a privileged position for negotiation with the Government on that basis.

Mr. Donaldson: They can all take their seats here.

Mark Durkan: That is another matter. It is their choice.

Discussions are in progress involving Sinn Fein—perhaps along with others—and the Government, on issues such as community restorative justice. I know that the Minister sought to give some assurances about that last week, but what is the reality? A constituent of mine
31 Oct 2005 : Column 656
told me recently, "A man from CRJ came to my   house, but when he said who he was, it brought three other initials to mind, and only the middle one—the R—was the same." She was very clear about that.   Another constituent was apparently approached by someone supposedly representing community restorative justice and told, "If you go to the police about this, you may have to leave the country."

The Government are laying down provisions relating to abnormal arrangements in the courts, supposedly to deal with intimidation but they appear ready to license and engage with the very people who are behind intimidation connected with criminal activity, which is about creating an ulterior policing arrangement outside the formal and proper policing structures.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I   share many of the hon. Gentleman's reservations about community restorative justice. Can he not see the logic in suggesting, as we proceed through 2005 and into 2006, that caution should be the watchword whenever paramilitary groups—all paramilitary groups—are being dealt with?

Mark Durkan: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We need to be cautious at all times—but cautious in ways that also make us judicious about our choices. If we are to accept in full the positive developments, such as what the IRA has done, possibly the Loyalist Volunteer Force statement and, hopefully, similar action by other loyalist paramilitaries, we should move towards normal standards as far and as quickly as possible, and not allow anybody to exploit lingering abnormality. I am especially concerned about that in the context of people prolonging the progress that they need to make on policing. The longer they prolong that, the longer others might delay progress on politics and political institutions.

Although I have reservations about the content and detail of the Bill—I have never liked the Diplock courts—I acknowledge that it is part of the suite that comes with the joint declaration, which was made in 2003. If completion had occurred in spring 2003, the joint declaration gave a deadline of approximately two years for phasing out special provisions and terrorism legislation in Northern Ireland. Now the IRA is moving towards completion in 2005 and the two-year time scale that accompanies the suite of measures that was promised in the joint declaration applies. I do not question the Government's record on that. However, if the Government are sticking so literally to the letter of the joint declaration on that matter, will they pay attention to other aspects? Will they fulfil in full all the other promises and commitments that were made?

One of the commitments in the joint declaration was that consideration would be given to a forum for victims and survivors. The Government have moved on the appointment of a victims commissioner. I have serious problems about the way in which they went about that. I have criticised the fact that the Government negotiate uniquely with Sinn Fein on community restorative justice and some other matters, but they negotiated similarly exclusively with the Democratic Unionist party about the appointment of a victims commissioner. That is not the way to build the confidence of the community at large in balanced and well-rounded
31 Oct 2005 : Column 657
progress. I have no objection to the woman who has been appointed as victims commissioner, but I remind the Government that a proposal stands in the joint declaration for a forum for victims and survivors. That could give comfort to all victims and survivors and, indeed, the whole community. It could work well with the new office of a victims commissioner and I am sure that the victims commissioner would work well with such a forum.

Mr. Donaldson: The hon. Gentleman can hardly blame Unionists for seeking to extract from the Government movement on key issues such as the victims commissioner. He will understand how we have felt for years when we stood on the sidelines and watched his party go not to the British Government but the Irish Government and, through them, extract concession after concession to fulfil their political agenda. We therefore take with a pinch of salt his comments about the victims commissioner. Everyone is at it in Northern Ireland, so why should not the Unionists?

Mark Durkan: Not everyone in Northern Ireland is at it. Some of us have said all along that the process should always be undertaken inclusively and that, as far as possible, all parties should hear the same thing at the same time in the same terms. That would reduce an awful lot of resentment and suspicion. The hon. Gentleman gave the game away, because he said that he is now happy to play the politics of concession of the week. The DUP is happy to claim its concession of the   victims commissioner from last week, so we do handstands about that, but there will be head staggers next week when the on-the-runs legislation appears. That is no way to run a peace process or build confidence.

Mr. Dodds: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's references to inclusivity. He claims that everyone should   hear the same thing at the same time. Yet when   President Bush visited Northern Ireland, the hon. Gentleman and his party colleagues argued vociferously that the only party to be excluded from the talks should be the DUP, even though we represented the majority of Unionism. He supported and argued for that. Why, therefore, does he argue for inclusivity today?

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman is wrong: I   supported no such thing. The American consulate and others will confirm what my advice was. My first advice was that President Bush would be better off not coming and that we would be better off if he did not come. President Bush was fair enough to acknowledge that that advice was honest and straight. My advice was also that every party should be invited to see him. I did not see why the Democratic Unionist party should be given the dubious privilege of not having to make a decision at such an uncomfortable time—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before we get too involved in this matter, may we perhaps return to the Bill? That would be helpful to good order.

Next Section IndexHome Page