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Sammy Wilson: Does my hon. Friend accept that while those organisations are in being and carry out widespread intimidation of witnesses, it will be difficult, if we do not have Diplock courts, to get people to serve on juries? Intimidation is currently directed towards witnesses, but in future it will be directed towards juries.
Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. All the evidence suggests that, leaving aside dissident republican activity, which is aimed at the security forces and members of the Catholic community who, for example, serve on local police boards, many organisations such as the IRA and those on the loyalist side are turning increasingly to protecting their criminal empires and activities. Their members will not think twice about intimidating witnesses. If there were jury trials, they would want to influence the outcome. The Assistant Chief Constable and other leading police officers in Northern Ireland have made it clear that the evidence shows that criminality and racketeering are "institutionalised" in those organisations.
We will not get rid of such activities in a short time. It will take a long time and a great deal of effort to rid our society of criminal activities by paramilitary organisations. We give our support toand look to the Government for adequate resources foragencies such as the Assets Recovery Agency as well as the police in their efforts to bear down on such criminal activities.
That emphasises that it would be premature to agree with the proposition that, by July 2007, Diplock courts and other provisions should disappear completely from the statute book unless they are renewed for only one further year. That would be wrong and misguided. The Government should not so hastily do away with provisions that would be enormously useful in prosecuting the war against terror and criminality in Northern Ireland.
What difficulty or harm can there be in keeping the provisions on the statute book, even if they are not often used, as a safety net and reassurance so that, if a case arose in which there was considerable danger of interference with a jury or of its members feeling threatened, they could apply? Although we have heard comments about optimism, wanting an end date for such emergency legislation and the progress that has been madethere has been progresswe have not yet reached the end game.
We look forward to hearing the comments of the Independent Monitoring Commission in the coming months and years as its reports roll out. In that sort of time, we can make an assessment of the position. The
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Chief Constable and other security sources will also produce reports and we will make our assessments, and so on. It is clear to the people of Northern Ireland that we have a considerable way to go. People do not feel confident that the IRA is moving to disband its organisation or dismantle its terrorist structures.
That provides little reassurance to those of us who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. The idea that we should take the IRA's moving its intelligence, focus and resources to more political matters as a sign of great progress, and that we should welcome IRA and Sinn Fein into the normal democratic fold or even government, when it continues to carry out the sort of activities that we have outlined is difficult to accept. For many people in Northern Ireland, nothing short of the disbandment of the IRA will do.
Michael McDowell, the Minister for Justice in the Irish Republic, also said that there was no room for ambiguity, ambivalence or double talk and that the IRA should be disbanded. He said that, without that, there would be no progress on the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement and, until that happened, the provisional movement excluded itself from government anywhere. The people of Northern Ireland would say a massive "Hear, hear" to that. What is good enough for the Irish Republic is good enough for Northern Ireland. We will not be treated as second-class citizens or accept a standard of democracy that others are not prepared to accept. We will move forward only on the basis of the cessation of all terrorism, the dismantling of all terrorist structures and the disbandment of all terrorist organisations.
I urge the Under-Secretary to reflect carefully on today's debate and consider whether it is wise to rid the statute book of an important provision, which is a safety net that can provide reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. I ask him to think carefully before rushing ahead with something that is unnecessary at this stage.
Lorely Burt: I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the points that Democratic Unionist party colleagues have made. However, the amendments would change the date on which the legislation ultimately falls to 1 August 2012six-and-a-half years from now rather than the maximum two-and-a-half years for which the Bill provides.
My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said in Committee that we are considering special provisions to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland that do not extend to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is right that the Government should keep the matter under review and return to the House in a short time with primary legislation. We do not believe that the Government should be able to retain such powers on the statute book simply by virtue of an Aye vote on a statutory instrument.
The whole House should be able to return to considering and scrutinising terrorism legislation regularly. That is why we believe that the short timetable
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for which the Bill provides is right. The Government should be required to come back to the House with primary legislation if they want to retain the provisions beyond the beginning of August 2008 at the latest.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): I want to put on record some of comments that I made in Committee. My party believes that the legislation should have been allowed to lapse rather than being extended even to 2008. It should certainly not be extended to 2012.
We are normalising in Northern Ireland. We have made significant progress and we want to move on. We welcome the progress that has been made, and the removal of the Army observation posts and all the other outdated or unnecessary military equipment. We thank the Government and the Prime Minister for the progress that has been made on that front, because it brings a sense normality to ordinary people. It is impossible to conjure up a sense of normality while major military installations are being retained.
Increasingly, the normal laws and legal processes will be able to deal with any potential terrorist activity that might emerge. While I understand and respect the views of my hon. Friends in the Democratic Unionist party, I disagree fundamentally with their attitude. We can concentrate on the substantial progress that we have made, or we can seek problems that barely exist, or exist only on a small scale, and exaggerate them. We are concerned, however, about the mixed messages that are being sent out by the legislation. We welcome the effort to move on, and we hope that the provisions will terminate in 2008we had hoped that they would terminate in 2007.
Mr. Gregory Campbell: The hon. Gentleman has outlined the progress that he sees Northern Ireland as making, and he has done so in the past. In what way will any of the progress, as he sees it, of recent years be inhibited, restricted or prevented from moving further on by the implementation of the Bill?
Dr. McDonnell: I refer the hon. Gentleman to my earlier comments about the military observation posts and the paraphernalia of a war situation. The very fact that such installations exist, that the police stations are fortified, and that we existed for years in a situation that was bristling with guns, prevented people from accepting a normality. There is an acceptance, even among my hon. Friends in the DUP, that we have made progress. I would argue that we have made substantial progress, and we should do nothing that will delay, obstruct or blemish that progress in any way.
Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is nothing in the Bill that proposes the removal of watchtowers or military installations, or changes to police stations? It deals with the legal processes used to deal with terrorist cases. Perhaps he will address the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell): what in the Bill will stop the process that he has described?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal):
Order. Perhaps I should point out to the hon. Member for
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Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) that if he were to reply to the hon. Gentleman's question, he would be straying far wide of the amendment under discussion.
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