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At the heart of the Bill is the integrity and reliability of the operation of a system of justice in Northern Ireland. That is why several provisions that will come on stream
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soon, including community restorative justice, are pertinent to this debate, and why other hon. Members have also referred to them. We want progress to be made, and I welcome what the LVF has said. I join other hon. Members in acknowledging the good work, the hard work, and the difficult and dark work, of the people who have helped to bring that decision about. I hope that it will be brought to a full, proper and positive conclusion and that a similar conclusion can be reached by other loyalist paramilitaries.
Just as we welcome the LVF's statement today, and just as the Secretary of State welcomed Gerry Adams's comment at the weekend that the war was over, it can often ring hollow for the victims when politicians describe occasions such as these as "seismic" or "historic". Those words are easy, but the victims' wounds are still very sore. A sense of futility stabs them when they hear people saying, after all this time, that the war is over, and when they see the terms under which those people have settled. Those terms have been available for some time. The Sunningdale agreement was mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), and today's terms were available in that context in the early 1970s. People will ask why this is happening.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North spoke earlier about there being violence on both sides. I ask the Government and all hon. Members to bear it in mind that many people in Northern Ireland do not regard themselves as having been party to any form of violence. Many people, not just victims, are very clear that there was no violence committed by their side. I do not regard the Provisional IRA as being on my side any more than many Unionists regard loyalist paramilitaries such as the LVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Ulster Defence Association as being on their side.
Thankfully, there are many young people in Northern Ireland who did not live through the horrors of the troubles and who, as part of the ceasefire generation, did not grow up on a daily diet of atrocities, bombings and shootings. However, there is a danger that, because of the way in which we bandy some of this language about, we shall end up creating a false impression that the troubles were somehow a necessary and inevitable prelude to the peace process, and that there was something legitimate about the violence used by republicans, loyalists or anyone else. I ask the Government to take care in the language that they use, and in the way in which they express their welcomes and offer assumptions about progress. They must remember that there are deeper values and deeper hurts involved as well.
We want to travel forward on the basis of hope, rather than fear. I have heard what other hon. Members have said about the need for caution, and no party has been more cautious than we have about these issues. However, I believe that the Government should show far more caution in regard to some of the choices that they are about to make regarding other aspects of justice, such as community restorative justice. They should also show more discretion and caution in relation to what they are doing with policing. The policing arrangements are the one element of the agreement that has worked and I hope that the Government will not adopt the position that it will be
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okay to bacon-slice Patten at either end as long as that is balanced, and that what will be left in the middle will still be the core of Pattenit will not be.
Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Bill introduced to the House stands in stark contrast to what the Government have been saying to us about Northern Ireland. They have been telling us that things are good, that there is progress, and that we are almost in paradise. In fact, we are almost in perdition.
We feel very hurt about what is happening in Northern Ireland, especially in relation to the victims. We have heard many references to the victims, but the easing of their pain and the alleviation of their state has been very slow. I am not saying that that is the responsibility of the Secretary of State, as he has come lately to the position.
I regret that there are those in Northern Ireland who think that when the Government make a nomination, it must be a nomination favouring republicanism and a united Ireland. That must cease. The people who are given jobs should be given them not on the basis of their religion but on the basis of their honour, integrity and ability. We stand to that.
I feel very sore about the fact that someone who thinks as I do politically is not allowed to put forward their view. I heard Brid Rodgers, a prominent member of the party of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and a candidate in the elections for his party, say this morning that she could not believe what the Loyalist Volunteer Force had said, and that she therefore had to put a question mark beside that statement. She is entitled to say that she does not believe it, and to put down the question mark, but the thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Protestants who say that we do not believe that the IRA will do what they say are also entitled to say just that. We are condemned out of hand, however, because we put down a question mark, but we need to do that. The House would be deluding itself if it did not know about the rejoicing on the republican side at having pulled the wool over the eyes of the Government once again.
I sat in Leeds castle and told the people that I did not like what was happening. I said that I had to swallow hard and convince my supporters of what I was advocating. I was perfectly honest and straightforward. I did not talk to the IRA, and I do not intend to talk to those engaged in violence, whether they come from the IRA side or the loyalist side.
The various people in Northern Ireland have a right to state their convictions, and to say, "I am not convinced". The Secretary of State tells us that the arsenal of the IRA has been done away with, but the only arsenal that has been done away with is the arsenal that was seen by the people who attended the decommissioning. He has no proof, however, that the IRA does not have 10 other arsenals. He had better keep that in his mind. I remember that when we met the two clergymen, the priest said to us, "We could only see old arms. We didn't see arms of a modern nature." I think that the IRA has the best possible arms, that it has
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arms of a modern nature, but that they were not there. The priest also explained to us that the trigger mechanisms of those bombs, which is the all important part, were all screwed off. They were not there. They were all missing. Are they going to be used for some future bombing? Those are the questions that everyone in their right mind is entitled to ask. They are entitled to demand an explanation.
Mr. Tom Harris: I worry that the hon. Gentleman's argument means that we will never be able to say that the IRA has completely decommissioned, because what he is asking for is proof that weapons that no one knows anything about have been destroyed. It is like trying to prove that UFOs or the Loch Ness monster do not existit is a very difficult proposition. Surely, to follow his argument, we will never get to a stage where he or his party will be able to trust the claims of the republican movement.
Rev. Ian Paisley: When the violence has ceased, everyone in Northern Ireland will know that it has ceased. Some of us have lived through it. Some of us have attended funeral after funeral. I have laid my hands many times on a little curly-headed boy or a little curly-headed girl while they were standing at the coffin of their father who had been shot. His only crime was that he wore the uniform of the Crown. That has gone deep into the roots of the people. Standing in the House, which is the birthplace of democracy for the whole world, I surely have a right to say that the deep feeling of those people must be considered and that they must be able to reach a point where they know that they can walk out at night and all is well. When that comes, it will be over, but it is only when the IRA and all the others, whether they call themselves loyalists or whatever, are brought to obey the law that that will happen. That is what needs to happen.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): If, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris) says, it will never be possible for us to be absolutely certain that the IRA has decommissioned all its weaponry and that, therefore, we are left with having to make a working assumption at some stage, does not that make it all the more necessary that we tighten the requirement in relation to paramilitary activity and criminal activity to be absolutely certain over a longer period, because the IRA has bowled short in terms of the transparency that was required on decommissioning?
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