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Dr. McCrea: Before the hon. Gentleman moves away from republican terrorism, may I ask him a question? The Continuity IRA is very much evident and its threat is certainly not below the surface but very evident at this time. The Real IRA is also very active, and the IMC report acknowledges that there are senior members of the IRA who are also active, whether they have been hiding guns or whether they have been involved in criminality. May I ask the hon. Gentleman, is this stating really that PIRA has lost control of the republican movement?

Mr. Lidington: That is exactly one of those questions that we shall have to continue to observe very carefully in forthcoming weeks and months. I have been told in my conversations with senior police officers and others that they believe that the leadership of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA still retains control over, leadership of, the great bulk of those who have been followers of the Provisional IRA in the past, and there has been some splintering, but we are not yet facing the kind of split in republicanism that we saw in the conflict between the provisionals and the officials in the late 1960s. I will be guided very much by the information that I get from police officers, Army officers and other such sources about what is happening within republicanism.

I was speaking a moment ago about loyalist paramilitaries. I wanted to say to the Secretary of State that he has our support in his efforts to end loyalist violence, and I support without reservation his call to the loyalist paramilitaries to stop the crime and the violence in which they are engaged and to decommission their weapons. I would only add—I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees with me—that the police and the Assets Recovery Agency should continue to pursue remorselessly those paramilitaries who defy the law rather than abandon lawlessness in favour of democracy.

But the focus has to be primarily on republicanism because of the strength of the electoral support that Sinn Fein now enjoys, and it seems to me that there are three questions that have to be asked about republicanism.
 
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The first is whether the provisionals as an organised movement have ceased all involvement in crime. While the IMC has certainly reported progress, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) and others, in interventions, have also pointed to those paragraphs in the report that indicate that other members of the provisional movement, including some senior members, are still engaged in criminality.

The Secretary of State made quite a lot of the difference between the approach of the leadership and the actions of a minority of members of the Provisional IRA. I accept the distinction as a matter of principle, but I think it is fair for all of us to challenge republicans by saying, "If you are sincere in your commitment to break finally and irrevocably with crime, we want to know that you are taking action to stop those rogue elements." And that does not mean the sort of alternative disciplinary methods that we have seen far too much of from paramilitary groups on both sides; it means a willingness to engage with the legitimate criminal justice system and police force so that those renegades can be brought to justice and further crimes prevented.

So the second challenge to the provisionals is to support the police and the courts and the rule of law. I did note that the IMC, in paragraph 2.19, states that it believes that the leadership of the provisionals

but the IMC continues:

I think we need to move beyond robust discussion and we need to be clear that Sinn Fein, if it is to be treated equally as a democratic party, is accepting the norms of democratic discourse, and that support for the police and the rule of law is not some optional extra—it is integral to accepting the rules of the democratic game.

I took a measure of encouragement from the IMC's comment in paragraph 2.20, when it quoted Mr. Martin McGuinness as saying, in the context of a lorry hijack in March in the Irish Republic, that

Those are good words. Let us now see those words being translated into action by Sinn Fein leaders to say to their followers that it is time for them to give evidence of crime to the police and the other parts of the criminal justice system.

Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the crime referred to in paragraph 2.20 was a crime executed in the Irish Republic, and that it would be very good to see Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams making the same comments for crimes that are committed in Northern Ireland and encouraging the police there and encouraging people to appear before the courts there?

Mr. Lidington: I agree entirely.

The third challenge, which is a challenge not only for the republican movement but for us in the House, is to answer the question, what is the status of the Provisional IRA? The IMC report today talks still about the barbarous practice of exiling continuing to be enforced by both
 
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republican and loyalist paramilitary groups. It talks about paramilitary groups—the IRA as well as loyalists—acting as "community disciplinarians", imposing their rule on nationalist or loyalist people, rather than allowing the rule of law to prevail. We hear the comments of the Irish Justice Minister, who wrote in the Sunday Independent on 26 March that the resources of the IRA

On 11 April, he told the Irish Independent that

One cannot lightly ignore such statements.

I would welcome it if the Provisional IRA really were turning itself into what the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has referred to as an old boys association. I would not welcome the commemorative events of such a body, but it would be much better and easier to live with than the violent paramilitary conspiracy that the Provisional IRA has been for so many years. At some stage, we in the House will have to work out how we think of the IRA. On several occasions, the Secretary of State has said that the Provisional IRA is no longer a terrorist threat. To be fair, the IMC bears him out and I am prepared to accept its word, but we are left with an odd situation in which an organisation is apparently no longer deemed to be a terrorist threat but membership of it is still a criminal offence both in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

If at some stage the Government said that they were considering de-proscribing the IRA because there was clear evidence that it had utterly changed in character, I could understand it, although I should want to be persuaded. But to say on the one hand that the organisation can be trusted and that it is not a terrorist threat, yet on the other that it is still a criminal offence to belong to it strikes me as a bit inconsistent and ambiguous. We must get straight in our minds how we are to treat the organisation in the future.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is not there a simple answer? For Sinn Fein to disband the IRA.

Mr. Lidington: Alongside support for the police, disbandment of the IRA is probably the single gesture that would make it easier for Unionists to accept the fact that the organisation had changed.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Is not it true that Unionists would be bereft of an argument if it was ever believed that they were relying on that? They could hardly accuse the organisation of being complicit in criminality and paramilitary activity if it no longer existed.

Mr. Lidington: Indeed. If the war is over, what purpose does the army serve? That is a challenge to which I have yet to hear a clear or persuasive answer from representatives of Sinn Fein.

I am conscious that Northern Ireland Members want to speak—

Sir Patrick Cormack: And others.

Mr. Lidington: Indeed.
 
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I conclude by wishing the Government and the Northern Ireland parties well in the negotiations that they are about to undertake. I very much hope that we reach agreement about devolution and the restoration of the institutions with full powers, but I am clear in my own mind that that can and should come about only if we have a commitment by all parties, especially Sinn Fein, to a culture of lawfulness and justice. If everybody is to be accepted as an equal partner in the democratic future of Northern Ireland, all have to play by the same democratic rules.


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