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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I agree with my hon. Friend. Up to the end of September, I think that 14 security force member families were moved from their homes, and only this week and last week, I have dealt with four security force member families in my constituency. I urge the Government to speed up the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme, because these families are desperate. We are dealing with the republican movement, and those people are responsible for this.
Dr. McCrea: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I trust that it helps the Minister to exercise his mind when he comes to the Dispatch Box. The House should be careful in accepting the statements of republicans that terrorism is over when, in reality, it is continuing.
Will the Minister also tell me who it was, since the IRA statement, who forced the McCartney family out of their house. They were not under threat of death by dissident republicans. They were threatened by the Provisional IRA. Since the IRA statement, the last of the family has had to move out of their home. It is a despicable thing. I give credit to the family for the courage that they have shown in standing up and demanding simple justice for their brother who was murdered. They were not asking for special treatment; they were asking that those who committed this foul and dastardly deed of murder be brought to justice. Yet there is a wall of silence, which is active not only in the Provisional IRA, but in the Provisional Sinn Fein movement in recent days. The IRA tells us that the war is over, so will the Minister tell us who threatened the McCartney family and made them leave their home after the IRA statement was made. That is important.
Criminality is deeply ingrained in terrorist organisations right across the board, so will the Minister tell us whether any of the £26 million stolen in the Northern bank raid has
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been handed over now that the persons who organised it and were a part of it have turned politician or democrat? Have they turned in the money, or is it, as many people say, the pension fund for provisionals who have been active over the years? We need a complete disbandment and dismantling of the IRA structures; nothing else will be accepted.
We are saying to this House that yes, we will support the Bill, as it is essential for our Province at this time. The very fact that it is essential proves that the Government do not believe that terrorism is finished in Northern Ireland, but that the deep-seated terrorist philosophy that has been aided and abetted by many in society seems to be deeply ingrained.
The more concessions that the Minister and his Government give to this terrorist organisationthe so-called now-turned-democrats of Sinn Fein-IRAthe more they put back any possibility of seeing structures within Northern Ireland. We will not be party to terrorism and terrorists by night, and politics and politicians by day. We want our Province to be rid of the scourge of all terrorism and turned into a prosperous Province that everyone can enjoy but in which only democrats can be allowed to enjoy the proceeds of democracy.
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I have listened with interest to many contributions, particularly that of the Secretary of State. I welcome the renewal of this legislation. It is prudent for the Government to do so, because we continue to have a terrorist threat in Northern Ireland and do not yet live in an entirely normal society. That is evident, as several right hon. and hon. Members have said. I therefore join my colleagues in saying that we will vote for the Bill.
Reference has been made to the process of normalisation. At the weekend, I read a commentary on the changes that have taken place in the police service in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to the roles of the CID and special branch. There is concern that the police do not have sufficient resources and have been denied access to vital intelligence-gathering techniques in bringing successful prosecutions against terrorists in Northern Ireland. We saw a clear example in the robbery of the Northern bank, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea). There was a lack of intelligence coming through to the police in advance of that robbery, which has secured a place in history as the largest bank heist ever to take place in the United Kingdom. I am afraid that that lack of intelligence is a direct consequence of some of the changes in policing. It is not that we do not want a normal police serviceof course we dobut at times the speed of normalisation runs ahead of the reality on the ground as regards ongoing terrorist activity. The Government need to move carefully.
Some of the changes in policing have undoubtedly brought benefits to the community. I have seen the benefits of community-style policing in my constituency. But I have also seen the enormous pressure that police resources come under as a result of the downsizing of the police service. It is very difficult for the police to balance and juggle all their competing priorities, and at times, unfortunately, situations are not fully and properly policed. That is regrettable.
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For the time being, the police continue to need the support of the Armyin particular, the home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment. That is why we believe that the announcement in August of the disbandment of the home service battalions, while having regard to their ongoing operational commitment, was at best premature and was unwelcome in terms of the message that it sent out, not least to the soldiers who serve in the home service battalions. I regret the manner in which they have been treated, and I particularly regret the manner in which the Government handled the announcement of the disbandment process. As I said in an intervention on the Secretary of State, the mishandling of the announcement is being compounded by the fact that the soldiers are being kept in the dark about their future and are now being told that it could be January next year before they know what is going to happen in relation to redundancy packages and their options in terms of remaining in the Army and serving in Northern Ireland. That is unacceptable. I have urged the Secretary of State to see what he can do, and for our part we will see what we can do, to persuade the Secretary of State for Defence to move with more haste on this matter, while ensuring that the right package is offered to the soldiers.
Policing, which my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) also mentioned, is a crucial issue in Northern Ireland. It would be entirely unacceptable to have in the Government of Northern Ireland a party that still refuses to support the police. I noted that in a recent interview Martin McGuinness said that it could not be a precondition of restoring the political institutions that Sinn Fein supports the police. Let me make it clear that for us it is a precondition of democracy that it is unacceptable for a party that is in government and is tasked with the responsibility of making and upholding the law to fail to support the forces of law and order. The Government must press home that point.
I say to the Minister that we do not want to hear about more concessions being made to Sinn Fein on policing. I agree with the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and his party about the restorative justice scheme that Sinn Fein is pushing. That rings alarm bells right across the community in Northern Ireland, and the Government need to be very careful about how they proceed. If they are going to take the approach of making concessions to Sinn Fein on restorative justice or policing, they need not take it for granted that my party will continue to give support to such changes and sit by on the sidelines doing nothing. If the Government try to buy Sinn Fein's support for policing through such concessions, they need not assume that my party will continue to participate in policing institutions such as the Policing Board given that policing might be corrupted.
The need for this legislation remains because of the ongoing activities of various paramilitary organisations. We do not yet know whether the statement made by the Provisional IRA at the end of July and the subsequent act of decommissioning, whatever that may have been, represent a complete end to the IRA's violence and criminality. We have rightly approached this issue with caution and scepticism given the manner in which the IRA has acted in the past when it has said one thing and contradicted its words with actions that are
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contrary to the rule of law. That applies, of course, to all paramilitary organisations. We urge all such organisations to move swiftly to declare an end to their violence and criminal activity and to accept that the only way forward in Northern Ireland is the path of peace and democracy. That is our consistent position, and we will continue to urge it.
On the restoration of the political institutions, and in particular the Assembly, the Government must understand that we will not be prematurely pushed into government unless we are convinced that everyone involved is committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means, which involves not only our being convinced, but the community that we represent being convinced. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who will soon be my right hon. Friend, has consistently saidthe Prime Minister also said this at the Dispatch Box on an earlier occasion in reply to my hon. Friendeveryone must be satisfied that this time the restoration of the political institutions is for real. That includes the community, who must have sufficient confidence in the process. I regret that the IRA did not go further in its act of decommissioning and go the extra mile by creating transparency, which would have allowed people to see more clearly exactly what happened and how it happened.
I agree with the former moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Dr. David McGaughey, about the role of the so-called independent witnesses, the two churchmen, whom he described as "observers" rather than "witnesses". Whether they are in a court of law or whether they are a character in a television programme, a witness normally provides testimony about what they have seen, but the two churchmen cannot do that, because their agreement with the IRA means that they cannot speak in detail. As Dr. McGaughey said, they acted as observers rather than witnesses, which we regret. If the IRA had gone further, it would have had a more positive impact on public confidence.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming the appointment of Mrs. Bertha Mcdougall as the interim victims commissioner in Northern Ireland. I have known Mrs. Mcdougall for a number of years and worked with her when she chaired the Forgotten Families group, which represents pre-1982 RUC widows. I watched as she campaigned vigorously on behalf of those widows, and she is a good appointment and the right person to fulfil that difficult and challenging role. She will bring personal compassion and understanding to the job, because her husband, who was a RUC reservist, was murdered in Belfast by the Irish National Liberation Army. All hon. Members should welcome her appointment, and we wish her well in her difficult and challenging role. The task will not be easy, and she will undoubtedly have her critics, because it is difficult to deal with a large group of people with different perspectives, many of whom have different views of victimhood.
I shall lay down a marker. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) and I are responsible for liaising with victims groups, which I have met on a number of occasions. A victim is someone who has suffered as a result of terrorist violence or general violence in Northern Ireland, but they are not a perpetrator. A victim does not go out in the name of a paramilitary organisation and seek to take
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life and cause destruction, and the Government must understand that point. It would be totally unacceptable if the definition of "victimhood" were extended to embrace those who, whichever organisation they were associated with, were engaged in bringing hurt, pain and destruction to lives and property in Northern Ireland. The victims groups have made themselves clear on that point, and I know that they will put that view across to the Government and the new victims commissioner.
I must make another point on behalf of victims in Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State has told us on many occasions that some aspects of the process are at times unpalatable, but that we must accept them because of the direction in which we are moving. The victims have had to accept a lot, and I know that the Secretary of State visited Lisburn in my constituency last week, where he met members of Families Achieving Change Together and the new victims commissioner. I know that the victims told him about their deep hurt and sense of injustice at things such as the release of the prisoners, the removal of the name, "Royal Ulster Constabulary" and other hurtful concessions. He should not underestimate victims' deep sense of injustice at the proposal that legislation should be introduced to provide terrorists who are on the run with something akin to an amnesty.
The proposal to extend concessions to terrorists, whether or not they are IRA terrorists, who have fled the jurisdiction and who are fugitives from justice to allow them to come forward and confess to crime goes against the whole basis of justice. If the Government proceed down that line, they will besmirch justice and democracy in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. They must think carefully about the issue, which is very sensitive and has the potential to create a lot more hurt and pain for those who have suffered.
It is one thing to lose one's loved one and live with years of hurt, pain and grief, but the Government will significantly compound that hurt if they proceed with a proposition that was not part of the Belfast agreement, that has never been voted for or endorsed by anyone in Northern Ireland and that does not, so far as I understand it, have the support of any of the democratic parties in Northern Irelandthe hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) will correct me if I am wrong. Even the Alliance party opposes that proposition, along with most of civil society.
The Government must think carefully. If they believe that the IRA's campaign of violence and act of decommissioning is over, why are we making this biggest-of-all concessions? The Secretary of State must re-examine the issue, because it will set back political progress in Northern Ireland and damage community confidence. As I have said, this party's position is that unless people have confidence in the political process, we will not act prematurely and join a Government who do not have the confidence of the people whom we represent. The issue is important, and it has the potential to set back the day when the political institutions are restored, which I regret, because I want to see properly functioning, local, democratic government restored to Northern Ireland, but it will not be at the price of justice for the victims of terrorism. We will vigorously oppose legislation to help terrorists who are on the run, and
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I hope that such legislation will be opposed in the other place and that the Government have cause to rethink their approach.
I welcome the Bill, although I hope that the need for it will have gone in the not-too-distant future because we have a truly peaceful, normal society. We genuinely want to see that happen, but we will not turn a blind eye to the reality that it has not happened on the ground and that it is still some way off. Instead of going down the road of further concessions to try to win the peace, which has not worked in the past, the Government must uphold the principles of democracy and justice in Northern Ireland and make it clear to the terrorists that their violence has no part in Northern Ireland's future and that the Government will not be tempted to seek to buy off those who have engaged in such violence. Every time they do that, it undermines the role of the democratic parties in Northern Ireland. It undermines the role of the hon. Member for Foyle just as much as it undermines the role of my party and its approach to politics in Northern Ireland.
It is time that the Government stood beside the democrats and the democratic parties in Northern Ireland, and took account of the genuine fears and worries that persist in the community that we represent. I know that, in recent days, the Secretary of State has met people who have told him of those fears. I say to him, however, that it is one thing to listen, but another to understand and act on the things that he has heard. I hope that he will do that in the days that lie ahead.
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