Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I am happy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks so far, but he will be aware that that case is now sub judice. As long as his remarks are of a general nature, I am happy to allow them, but I would not want him to go into too much detail about that case.
Mr. Robinson: I am happy to comply, Mr. Deputy SpeakerI am all the more happy, because I have only one more sentence to deliver in relation to the case: rather than punish republicans for that continuing crime, the Government want to reward them.
It has now been revealed that, over several years, senior IRA figures have accumulated massive wealth. Its finance director, Des Mackin, now owns property worth more than £1.75 million. He has a conviction for IRA membership in the mid-1980s and served as Sinn Fein's treasurer. He, along with the Belfast tycoon, Peter Curistan, are the two co-directors of numerous companies, seven of which were prosecuted in the district court in Dublin recently for failing to keep proper accounts.
Instead of rewarding republicans for criminality, the Government should address the involvement of such men in government initiatives. Curistan is the key private sector investor behind Belfast's flagship £100 million Odyssey centre in my East Belfast constituency. Many of us have been aware of Mr. Curistan and his business activities and, until
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recently, I believe that most people believed that they were legitimate. Given recent reports, I believe that they will consider that that is not the case. His Sheridan Group was awarded a massive development contract in June 2005 by the Laganside Corporation, which is a public body, for residential provision, offices, a hotel, niche retail outlets, waterfront cafés and other leisure facilities, together with parking. When he winds up, will the Secretary of State ensure that the activities of the Sheridan Group and its association with the IRA's dirty money are fully investigated? Will he guarantee that no further public money is channelled in its direction until, if ever, it gets a clean bill of health?
I have already referred to the security concerns in Dublin over a popular city centre hotel, which is thought to be run by the Provisional IRA It is used by Irish Government Ministers and others during their working week. A senior republican who is originally from Armagh is the main owner of that hotel. He had his home and businesses raided last week by the Irish police, and files searched in the offices of his solicitors and accountants. This particular individual has a collective property portfolio valued in excess of £70 million. The Garda are investigating a money trail that is likely to trace his multi-million pound fortune back to an IRA slot machine scam in London in the 1980s.
In recent years, the IRA purchased businesses in Dublin and further afield. These were usually high-turnover cash businesses, such as public houses and gaming halls, that allowed the terrorists to launder dirty money, stolen cash and counterfeit notes. It is estimated that the provos own more than 20 pubs in Dublin alone, but their interests extend very much further. The IRA sought to use the proceeds of the Northern bank robbery to infiltrate the banking system in Bulgaria to provide the ultimate vehicle for laundering cash. The IRA's chief of staff, Slab Murphy, is the owner of a property portfolio that stretches to eastern Europe. He has made a personal fortune of £40 million on the back of a smuggling empire based at his farm that straddles the border with south Armagh. I have referred to these individuals in order to highlight to hon. Members just how deeply embedded criminality is within the IRA, including its upper echelons.
Dr. McCrea: I am sure that the House will be greatly alarmed at some of the facts and figures that my hon. Friend is giving. Will he ask the Secretary of State to look into the suggestion that one of the leading members of the IRA and the army council, Martin McGuinness, has been a paid British agent for a long time?
Mr. Robinson: I am not quite sure how much he might be getting for such a position, but I do know that there is considerable discomfort in the ranks of the republican movement as they each look over their shoulders to see where the next paid agent is going to come from. I am sure that the Secretary of State has heard what my hon. Friend has said and will want to scribble down a note and respond to it when he winds up.
It is calculated that the IRA benefits to the tune of more than £100 million per annum from its criminal activities, yet what is the Government's response? The response clearly is to give it more funds. I believe that this type of misguided and untimely action by the Government dents community confidence and releases
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some of the pressure on republicans to desist from criminality. Although the sums associated with the allowances would be considerable for other political parties in Northern Ireland, they pale into insignificance when compared with the multi-million-pound coffers of the republican movement. However, the reinstatement of the allowance and the additional new allowance will encourage republicans to believe that the present level of criminality can be tolerated. With the proposals, the Government are sending the IRA the message that it has reached an acceptable level of criminality.
The proposal to invent a new allowance for Sinn Fein alone is intolerable. Other parties receive Short money for the work that they do in the House, but I do not believe that Sinn Fein has any intention of using the funds that it will receive for that purpose. It will use them as part of its project of capturing the whole of the nationalist vote in Northern Ireland. The Government are effectively making a donation solely to republicans, while the IRA retains the proceeds of its ongoing crime. The motions stand alongside the Government's discredited on-the-runs Bill as the most bizarre and crazy proposals ever to be introduced in the House, and I hope that they meet the same end.
I want to bring a slightly different perspective to the debate: the situation as seen through the eyes of most of the people whom I represent in Northampton. The House must have a connection with them, but I have heard little about that connection during the debate. I shall explain the point that I am trying to make by referring to one of my predecessors, Charles Bradlaugh. He stood for election three times in Northampton before he was successful, and when he was elected, he refused to take the Oath. He did that on four occasions and was expelled each time, but the people of Northampton returned him again and again until the Speaker agreed to allow him to make an affirmation and become a Member.
Charles Bradlaugh acted honourably, suffered for his principles and was willing to pay the price. A comparison of his behaviour and that of Sinn Fein is unfavourable to the party. Bradlaugh stood by his principles, but Sinn Fein has lied about its activities. It continues to live off the proceeds of crime, yet expects to take the British taxpayers' money into the bargain. The majority of people in Northampton, South find that totally unacceptable and will not understand the Government's actions, especially with regard to Short money. The truth of the matter is that Sinn Fein says that it will not take part in this Parliament with a sovereign at its head, but is prepared to take the sovereign's money with her face printed all over it. Do not tell me that that is honourable, or that the people whom we represent will accept that point of view.
We all know the job of a parliamentarian because it has been well laid out by the Senior Salaries Review Board. We are paid our salaries to represent in the House the people who elect us, and I believe that we also get our allowances to represent them, primarily in the
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House. People call the allowances expenses. They do not think that if they do not do a job, they should be able to claim expenses for it. Equally, they think that it is unbelievable that we are considering allowing individuals who do not do the job to which they were electedprimarily in the Houseto be able to claim expenses. I cannot explain or excuse that to the people of Northampton, South.
I was not a Member when Short money was first debated, so I do not need to abide by the ruling of the time and can argue as I want. However, I am a Member when the new money is being debated. I find the proposal reprehensible, as will the people whom I represent. They will think that the Government are giving a bribe for an underhand deal and I do not know how I can explain to them that that is not the case. The debate and the motions are abhorrent, so I will vote against both motions and tell the people of Northamptonshire exactly why I have done so.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): We have had a vigorous debate in which a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House participated. What came through in particular was the widespread concern expressed from all quarters about the Government's proposed innovation of a new bespoke parliamentary allowance, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) described it, designed to fit Sinn Fein, which would parallel Short money. I noted the comments made at different stages by the hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who, along with hon. Members from various Opposition parties, questioned the appropriateness of the measure. It was ironic that the Government's chief support came from an unlikely alliance of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), in his new found vocation as a cheerleader for the Treasury Bench, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), in that fine English tradition of the radical aristocrat who has appeared in our politics from time to time through the centuries.
The Government's case rests on two assertions, each primarily concerned with Northern Ireland rather than with the notion of the duties and rights of membership of the House. The first limb of their argument is that the restoration of allowances was a recommendation of the most recent report of the Independent Monitoring Commission, but that argument can be used to defend only motion 4, relating to the restoration of suspended allowances. Before rushing to approve that motion, the House will want to weigh up the positive comments that the IMC made about the republican movement alongside the ugly realities that it also reportedthe continuing involvement of senior members of the republican movement in serious organised crime, the persistence of spying and intelligence gathering, the scandal that people are still exiled from Northern Ireland and afraid to return home because of paramilitary threats, and the use by republicans of community restorative justice as an instrument to ensure paramilitary control over nationalist and republican communities.
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Even if we were persuaded that the positive recommendations outweighed those definite negatives, the IMC's report still cannot justify either the Government's decision to backdate the ending of suspension or the creation of the bespoke allowance to parallel Short money.