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Mr. Peter Robinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is unrealistic to think that if organisations, whether the IRA or other paramilitary bodies, remain in being, they will remove themselves from some paramilitary and a lot of criminal activity? The only way for the community to be absolutely certain that it is all over is for those organisations not simply to stand down but to disband.
Mr. Dodds: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely important point, which was the subject of some exchanges earlier when the hon. Member for Glasgow, South was speaking. He said that we should not get hung up on the issue of disbandment, but some of us made the point that both the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in the Irish Republic and the former leader of the SDLP, John Hume, were seeking disbandment and the dismantling of the criminal structures of the IRA. It is right and proper that that should happen. There has never been any justification for the retention of terrorist structures, so what possible justification can there be for the retention of terrorist structures and for the retention of the IRA as an organisation if, as we are told by Gerry Adams and his friends, the war is over and Unionists have nothing to worry about? That is not a small matter; it is not a matter of semantics. My hon. Friend is right to point out that it is important, so in January and in the weeks and months thereafter, Unionists in Northern Ireland, and indeed the entire community in Northern Irelandnot just Unionistsmust make that clear.
Many people from the Roman Catholic and nationalist traditions come to my constituency advice centres in Belfast, North and say to me, "For goodness'
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sake, don't let these people who have murdered and tortured us for years and who have been parasites on our communities get away with it. They are transforming themselves from overt terrorists and calling themselves by another name so that they can enforce justice in our community." For that reason, I entirely agree with the approach taken by the hon. Member for Foyle in his comments on community restorative justice.
There is deep concern throughout communities in Belfast, North and other parts of Belfast, and indeed throughout the entire Province, about the notion that although terrorists may not get their hands on the levers of power through Sinn Fein Members becoming Ministers or joint Ministers at Stormont, they may be able to get their hands on the levers of policing and justice locally through community restorative justice programmes and projects. Certainly in republican areas such programmes are being seen as, used as and advertised as an alternative to the normal, regular policing system. There is deep concern, and the Minister must realise that it will cause enormous anger and anguish if there is any suggestion that there would be funding or official sanction or approval for those community restorative justice programmes if they do not fully operate within the normal policing and criminal justice structures, with full co-operation with the police and referrals by statutory agencies and the police, as happens in other civilised countries. To suggest that the sort of programmes that Sinn Fein-IRA are running could be legitimised would cause enormous offence, and would be rejected by the decent people of Northern Ireland, just as the obnoxious proposal for an amnesty for on-the-runs is rejected by decent people across the board.
I again use the mantra of caution to which so many Members have referred. Why do the Government feel compelled to deliver on that pledge made to Sinn Fein-IRA as part of the joint declaration? The DUP was certainly not party to it. The Government should recognise that circumstances have changed and that parties which, in the words of the Secretary of State, endorsed the joint declarationthe pro-agreement partiesno longer speak for the majority, certainly on the Unionist side. They speak only for a small minority of Unionists in Northern Ireland and the Government should recognise that.
I regret the fact that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has left the Chamber and is not making a contribution to the debate. She tried to defend her party's role in the joint declaration, and suggested that there was a difference between being consulted and what the Secretary of State referred to as the pro-agreement endorsement of the terms of the joint declaration. Even at the time, Ministers described the joint declaration, which includes disbandment of the home battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, the run-down in security and the so-called normalisation process and, as an annexe, provisions for an amnesty for on-the-runs, as a shared understanding among the parties. The Government said again today that the parties endorsed it, but we certainly did not; we opposed it and we continue to do so. We shall not take lectures from the Ulster Unionist party, which has connived with the Government over the years to allow Sinn Fein-IRA into government on so many occasions
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following concessions to which it was a party. As a result, the Ulster Unionists have been rejected overwhelmingly by the people of Northern Ireland.
We welcome the Bill. It keeps on the statute book important legislative provisions, which is right and proper, because the terrorist threat has not gone away. The Government should take the same approach to other vital issues in Northern Ireland that affect its people deeply. The Government should think again about those matters before it is too late.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): Shortly before the start of the new Parliament, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), as members of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, were pleased to make a pleasant and informative visit to Northern Ireland. I pass on our thanks, through the Minister, to the Northern Ireland Office. Our welcome was as warm as the visit was well organised.
I am pleased to be a member of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee and hope to play a small yet full part in its important work, although it is the first time that I have accepted a job in an organisation that I hope will be done away with when power is returned to Stormont, the wonderful seat of Government in Northern Ireland that I was so happy to visit. The magnificent view from Stormont looking over the city of Belfast will live with me for a long time. It was my first visit to Northern Ireland, despite having a grandmother from there.
My generation grew up thinking that Northern Ireland was somewhere that people would go only if they needed to, so it was wonderful to see now a thriving, vibrant European city that reminded me of my home cityLeedsand of Manchester, near where I was born, and of Glasgow, where I spent two happy years. I agree with the conclusion of my hon. Friend who said that we would very much like to take our spouses and families on our next visit. But I also saw first hand for the first time the roads and areas that are known the world over and I found that experience more startling and more revealing than I could have imagined.
It was not the murals, the bunting, the memorials or even the peace walls, which I was sad to hear are still getting ever higher and longer, that left the most impression on me, but the comments of the helpful official from the Northern Ireland Office. As we turned a corner, he said, "These people are all Catholics." We turned another corner, he said, "The people at that bus stop are all Protestants." Indeed, when we turned another corner, we saw a Tesco supermarket, and I asked, "Are you telling me that only one side of the community goes to that supermarket?" He said, "Yes, that is a Protestant Tesco." Many of us who live on the British mainland have grown up with false assumptions and misunderstandings, and from my own experience, I know that people need to see some of those things to try even to start to understand them.
I also saw the debris and the damage caused by the appalling violence of the summer, and it is clear to the Liberal Democrats that most of the measures in the Bill are still needed, which is why we support the Government on that. I concluded that some of the
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time-limited measures in the Bill are also needed, and, again, we support the Government on that. Indeed, Lord Carlile's letter, which was so helpfully distributed to us this afternoon, says:
In last week's debate on the Terrorism Billa debate in which I was very pleased to take partthere was much discussion about striking a balance and which liberties we must sacrifice to gain greater protection from terrorism. Although I acknowledge that the balance in the Bill is nearly right, I argue that it is not quite right. From my limited experienceI acknowledge that it is very limited in Northern Ireland matterssurely balance is everything.
The balance in the Bill is not quite right for two reasons: first, because of what is still there and, secondly, because of what is not there. On what is still there, why has there been no move even to consider the recommendation in the 2004 Carlile report to use three judges in Diplock courts? Surely that would be an important step towards the eventual re-establishment of trial by jury. We fully accept that that is something for the future and that it will be implemented when it can be realistically restored. On what is not in the Bill, section 108 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the oral evidence of senior police officers to be admissible as evidence about people's membership of specific organisations. I concur with Lord Carlile's conclusion in the 2004 report, which says:
The Bill sends out a message fundamentally and most importantly to the communities in Northern Ireland, but it also sends a clear message to the wider world about Northern Ireland's future. That message is not quite right, and I ask the Government to look again.
I look forward to my next visit as a member of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee to the fine city of Belfast, but I look forward even more to visits after that when that body no longer needs to sit. Most of all, I look forward to visits in the future with my family, quite simply as a tourist. So my message is simple: let us get the balance and the message right because I believe, from my limited experience, that the future of Northern Ireland depends on it.
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