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26 Apr 2006 : Column 603
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): There is no DUP Member who does not recognise the progress that has been made. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) said during Northern Ireland questions, far from denying that progress has been made, we are saying that DUP strategy—the zero tolerance policy—has produced that change. If progress is being made as a result of that strategy, does not it automatically follow that we should maintain that strategy, so that all the grey areas and loose ends are dealt with?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that, as the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) made clear earlier today, there has been a substantial change. We are light years away from where we were at the time of the troubles, and I see that he nods in agreement. There will have to be an assessment, which he and his party are entitled to make, as to whether adopting the current stance will end that by encouraging all republicans to commit themselves to democratic and peaceful politics—that involves dialogue, building trust and, ultimately, sharing power—or whether Unionists will continue to say that they are not willing to co-operate. That is the choice facing all Northern Ireland's politicians.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I served in Northern Ireland and was aware of the progress made in bringing the IRA to the table and making it realise that putting down its arms and talking about issues was the way forward. My concern then as now, as expressed by other parties, is that the nasty work is being outsourced to other splinter organisations, which is undermining everything that we are trying to achieve. What is the IRA doing to stop those splinter groups carrying out their activities? As long as they carry out such activities, everything that this House and everyone in Northern Ireland is trying to achieve is undermined.

Mr. Hain: The IMC report published today shows—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will read all of it if he has not had a chance to do so—that if the Provisional IRA has dismantled its military structure and capability to act violently, one of the consequences is that its capability to sort out CIRA and RIRA, as he seems to be inviting it to do, disappears, if it is not completely or partially diminished. The people who should sort out CIRA and RIRA—we are doing this—are the security forces, the police, the Security Service and, where appropriate, the Army, as happened recently in Lurgan. That is the course on which we are embarked.

Gordon Banks: How damaging does the Secretary of State feel that the statement by the Ulster Volunteer Force that it does not intend to do anything constructive up to 24 November is to the plans to restore devolved power? Will he ask all members of Northern Ireland political parties who are able to influence the decision to take a constructive role in doing so?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend makes a good point; that the UVF, Ulster Defence Association and loyalist paramilitaries generally are still engaged in activity that is completely wrong and is effectively gangsterism. No
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real political objective can be easily attached to them any more, whatever honourable motivations they might have had a long time ago. There is no longer any political case or ideological argument behind their paramilitary and criminal activity, and it must stop.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Part of the UVF's reasoning for its delaying statement was the threat implied, if not explicitly, in paragraph 10 of the joint statement by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland and Her Majesty's Government. The Secretary of State has clearly failed thus far to convince the Unionist community that what that paragraph meant was not joint management and joint authority. Would he like to make another try today?

Mr. Hain: I am happy to repeat what I think that I said last week in my statement. There is no question of joint authority or joint management of Northern Ireland's affairs involving Dublin. There was some overexcited spin around that statement, which did not come from Belfast, this Government or No. 10 Downing street. I will leave the matter of where it came from to the hon. Gentleman's imagination.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Perhaps in a slip of the tongue, the Secretary of State referred to "whatever honourable motivations" loyalist paramilitaries might have had in the past. May I make it clear to him that there were no honourable motivations for the UVF or UDA in the past? We never bought the line that was being retailed that their actions were purely reactive to republican violence. His comments were reminiscent of the Northern Ireland Office's failure for a long time to outlaw the UDA. Given that the IMC report today highlighted that loyalist paramilitary groups are active, violent and up to their necks in crime, and that we know that they have not decommissioned anything and now feel free to say that decommissioning is off their agenda, what clear message are the Government sending to loyalist paramilitaries?

Mr. Hain: The message is crystal clear; that they should close down their paramilitary activity and gangsterism and stop their criminality now, and not before time. The point I was trying to make—I will not be drawn further down this route—was that the people who join paramilitary groups claim to be doing so for honourable objectives, whether one agreed with them or not. Their methods were completely unacceptable, but at least they claimed a political motivation; that was my point. There is no longer any political motivation for any of that activity from loyalists or dissident republicans.

I need to make some progress, or there will be even less time for other Members to make contributions. Following the publication of the eighth report of the IMC, much was made of the suggestion that not all weapons and ammunition had been handed over for decommissioning in September 2005. In that report, the IMC did not say that the PIRA leadership had in any way given instructions to retain arms. Today, the IMC says:

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The IMC continued:

Much was also made of references to intelligence gathering in the eighth report, about which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) was especially concerned. The 10th report says:

On criminality, the IMC report says that it has found signs that PIRA continues to seek to stop criminal activity by its members and to prevent them from engaging it. It continues:

Lembit Öpik: The Secretary of State is right that I am interested in the finding regarding intelligence. For clarification, does he interpret that as meaning that the Provisional IRA has closed down its strategic intelligence-gathering procedures, in the sense that it used to gather intelligence to perpetrate politically motivated terrorist crimes?

Mr. Hain: That is exactly my interpretation of what the IMC says. In relation to the statement that any information that the organisation receives is not outside the terms of the July statement, I can only conclude that it is the kind of political information that all political parties like to receive on our opponents, and that it is not for any other purpose. Again, we have seen a major change. About a year ago, it was reported that the IRA was still gathering intelligence, even though it had stopped targeting and had no apparent intent to commit any paramilitary actions. Now we know that the intelligence activity that may or may not be going on in terms of the receipt of information is, presumably, entirely political, and is certainly not directed towards supporting any violent, paramilitary or illegal action.

The IMC report welcomes Gerry Adams's comments in which he supported the pursuit of criminal assets—this is important, given the questions that I was asked earlier—and said that anybody involved in criminality should face the full rigours of the law. That was very welcome indeed. Since the report was compiled, the IRA has reiterated that position in its Easter message. The IMC draws the distinction between what members or former members of an organisation may do as individuals and what has been authorised, sanctioned or approved by the organisation itself, a distinction acknowledged by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) in his very interesting speech to the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body in Killarney on Tuesday.

In the context of believing what people do as well as what they say, that distinction is crucial. We should all take encouragement from what is now clearly the case according to the IMC; namely that the IRA has delivered, and is continuing to deliver, on its promise to end all violence and criminality, so that republicans are committed to democratic and peaceful methods. Of
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course there are individual criminals out there, some claiming republican or loyalist affiliation; but as the recent activity of the Garda, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Assets Recovery Agency has shown, they will be ruthlessly pursued, whoever they are. In short, there has been and continues to be momentous progress to report.

Trust is a two-way process. Where there has been deep division and where fears and suspicion were well-founded, trust is not going to emerge freshly minted. It must be developed and built on and the only way in which to do that is through dialogue.If parties are serious about testing the bona fides of others, they should do it as we do in this House, face to face. If parties are serious about devolution, they should engage with one another. If parties make a point of their mandate as leaders of their community, they should respect the mandate of others and show real leadership.

Frankly, it is hard for an outsider to understand why members of the DUP will talk to Sinn Fein in television studios and sit with Sinn Fein members as local councillors, but will not talk to Sinn Fein privately or as Members of the Legislative Assembly. It is equally hard to see why Sinn Fein is able to meet the Chief Constable in Downing street, while the Sinn Fein chairman of a council will not talk to a district commander at a civic function. What Northern Ireland needs is mature politics. Between May 15 and 24 November, we will see whether the people of Northern Ireland will get the leadership that they deserve.

Let me now deal with the Bill. The framework is simple; it brings back the Members of the Assembly to meet in order to prepare for the restoration of devolved government, which means selecting an Executive. If they achieve that by 24 November we shall proceed immediately to devolution, with Assembly elections in May 2008. If they do not, we shall have to proceed by other means, and the Assembly election scheduled for May 2007 will be postponed indefinitely.

The Assembly would meet on 15 May in a new mode. It would have no legislative powers, there would be no Executive and hence the direct rule arrangements would continue. The Bill provides for me to refer to the Assembly first the selection of a First Minister and Deputy First Minister, then the running of the d'Hondt process to fill the other ministerial posts in the Executive. I can also refer other matters to the Assembly as I think fit.

The arrangements are similar to those that applied when the Assembly was first elected in 1998. I have power to make directions about procedure, including the appointment of a Presiding Officer and the provision of Standing Orders. That is important, because the Assembly in its early days must not be distracted from its main tasks by long-drawn-out discussions on preliminary issues.

As I have said, I intend to appoint Mrs Eileen Bell as Presiding Officer. She is highly respected among the parties, and I am sure that she will fill her post with distinction. In the operation of the Assembly, I hope that there can be the greatest possible consensus between us and the parties, and in that event I shall be only too happy to leave the Assembly to sort out internal issues for itself.

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