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Mr. Dodds: The point has been made and the Under-Secretary will note what I have said. In his response, I hope that he will take on board my point about the Chief Constable and the fact that people are not convinced by the Government's claim that they will follow what he says on the matter.
Dr. McCrea: I join my hon. Friends and other hon. Members in commending the Minister for the gracious manner in which he has treated the debate. Although we do not agree with his summary of the facts, we have exchanged our opinions. We trust that, even yet, we may get further helpful statements from him in the closing moments of the debate.
The debate was helpful because something remarkable occurred. In the middle of it, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) confessed to having sought to lead my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) astray. The hon. Gentleman stood up and acknowledged what he had done. For years in Northern Ireland, we have been trying to get those who have committed vile atrocities and done wrong to the people of Northern Ireland to admit to what they have done. We have been trying to get them to confess their actions, repent of their deeds and crimes and take responsibility for them. But of course, that is the very opposite of what the Government are demanding of people.
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We have seen this happening over the years. For years, members of Sinn Fein-IRA have been responsible for some of the most vile deeds against humanity, yet they will not acknowledge those deeds; they will not confess or repent, or take the democratic path in the fullest possible sense.
The Bill is an acknowledgement that there is a terrorist problem: it is called the Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Bill. We are acknowledging the fact that there is still terrorism in Northern Ireland. Many hon. Members have recognised the wisdom of exercising caution, prudence and due care when considering the situation in Northern Ireland, but there is confusion in the Government's position. They try to emphasise the normalitywhich, of course, they say originated in the Belfast agreementand the fact that we have moved forward.
The Minister tried to illustrate that normality by noting the vast difference between the 1972 statistics and those of today. Those of us who lived through 1972, 1973 and beyond know that there is a difference, but I would say to the Minister that, when we consider the impact of a terrorist act on any family, even one incident is an incident too many. We must never acknowledge that there is an "acceptable level of violence", to use a phrase coined by a Member of Parliament many years ago. I do not believe that there is an acceptable level of terrorism in a democracy. We are far from normality in Northern Ireland. I tried to outline earlier just how far from normality we were. We do not have as many shootings now, but there is still intimidation, and terrorist activities take place day after day.
The Minister acknowledged that section 108 would be needed for the foreseeable future and must be kept. He tried to corner the Liberal Democrats on that point, using Omagh as an illustration. I have to say to him that it is very dangerous to use Omagh in that way. I represented that constituency at that time, as the former Member for Mid-Ulster. Omagh was in the old Mid-Ulster constituency. The Minister must remember that Enniskillen was equally as important as Omagh. Teebane and La Mon were equally as tragic as Omagh. So let us not choose one terrorist activity as an example because it happened to be outside the Provisional IRA's activity. Let us remember that all those other deeds were carried out by the Provisional IRA. I remember well how Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness had the audacity to come out and condemn the Omagh atrocity, when they and their colleagues were up to their necks in blood from Teebane, La Mon, Enniskillen and many other atrocities over the past 30 years. We must be careful when we try to corner some Members in trying to identify one incident and not looking at the overall picture.
The Minister said that he would give an affirmative to a future Secretary of State having pre-legislative scrutiny in the Northern Ireland Committee over
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Diplock-type courts. I am not sure whether the Minister has the power to commit any Secretary of State to that. Surely Secretaries of State will make the decision. We know how they can change and how their minds can change. For example, I remember previous Secretaries of State telling us that no stone would be left unturned in following the terrorists who murdered the people of Enniskillen. I can remember them coming to the House and saying that the terrorists would be hounded down until they were found and that there would be no safe haven for them. We were told that they would face the full rigours of the law. Last week, however, the Secretary of State told us how those very same persons would escape justice and the full rigour of the law. The Minister should be extremely careful about what he tries to tie another Secretary of State to. I suggest that he does not have the necessary power. We hope, however, that he is able to do so, but I am not so sure whether that is a reality. It may sound good if he is trying to suggest that he will be the next Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and wants to tie himself to such a commitment.
Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend speaks with a huge amount of understanding on these issues. Does he agree with me that what he has just said illustrates the complete and total illogicality of saying that one lot of terrorism is somehow all right, but that if it happens after a certain date, it is wicked, evil and terrible as it has killed people and destroyed lives, and therefore we must condemn it? If that terrorism takes place before that date, should other rules apply to it?
Dr. McCrea: Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. There can be no justification for seeing someone now as a good terrorist. There are those who try to put members of Sinn Fein-IRA into that category, as well as other evil terrorists. Terrorism is an evil upon society and must be condemned.
The Minister must be careful in over-emphasising the statement from the Provisional IRA. We have heard and lived with such statements. New dawns have been heralded, and they can be over-played. I acknowledge that there was a major act of decommissioning. However, I do not believe that all of the terrorist weapons of the Provisional IRA have been decommissioned. There are two different situations. No Member of this place could put their hand on their heart and say that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the Provisional IRA's weapons have been decommissioned. The Minister should be careful not to over-play the statement that has been made. We have heard the same statement for years.
Do not expect any member of the Democratic Unionist party to praise any statement emanating from Sinn Fein-IRA because they have stopped murdering people or because they say that they have stopped killing people. They should never have started in the first place. We need to be careful. The Bill is dealing with ongoing terrorism. There is an acknowledgement that it is necessary to continue the legislation until 2008, and the Government will not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) to extend that period to 2012. The Minister, however, is not accepting the reality. The IRA is still a well oiled paramilitary organisation, which is up to the neck in criminal activity. Let us remember that
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such criminal activity, whether oil smuggling along the border or bank robberies, involves the use and threat of the gun, and it is still going on. Let us not give the impression that the Provisional IRA has somehow never shown the gun since the day that that statement was made by P. O'Neill, because it is not true. It is far from the truth, and it is not the reality.
The explanatory notes mention the taking down of border posts. Along the border, there are many isolated unionist families who are very concerned and worried that they have been left at the mercy of the Provisional IRA and of those who intimidate them. Let us remember that there was a policy of genocide along the border. In the Castlederg area of the Mid-Ulster constituency, there has certainly been a policy of genocide, whereby the only sons of Protestant farming families have been killed, which has moved the border back in reality because there is no son to carry on such farms. When farms come up for sale, the republicans are able to move into more territory, which was their intention. There is therefore a feeling of constant threat, so we need a continuation of the Bill beyond the date suggested by the Minister.
Criminality is engrained in republicanism. Republicans have been engaging in it for years, and it seems that in some family circles it has been going on for centuries. It is endemic within the republican community, which has not given it up. I assure the Minister that the police will find it very difficult to get republicans to move away from that criminality.
My final appeal to the Minister is to think carefully about a closure date for this legislation. When there is peace, true stability and true reconciliation in Northern Ireland, with no more threat of violence from terrorist groups, we will not need this legislation. We long for that day and we hope that it will be soon, but I believe that the Minister's thinking is premature.
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