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Sir Patrick Cormack: If it were delayed until November and if failure resulted at that time, all I am suggesting is that the Government would be entitled to proceed. I believe that it is right to leave it until then; I would rather it were a little longer, but at least until then.
Meg Hillier: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but even during the six-month period, we need to make progress. It is in the power of 108 Assembly Members to come together and take the decision. It is an opportunity for the Assembly to step up to the plate, set up the Executive and take the important decisions on education, water charges, the future of local government and public administration that need to be taken.
Select Committee members will recall that we visited Northern Ireland in connection with our brief foray into the reform of secondary education and the particular issue of the transfer test. I was struck by the number of parents who felt strongly about that issue. They and I felt disempowered. I was in a position, in a sense, to take decisions on their behalf, but they had no direct link to me. Their only electoral link was to a handful of Northern Ireland MPs, not to their own Assembly. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland now have the opportunity to gain a more direct electoral influence. As other hon. Members have said, that is extremely important.
Another contentious issue is the payment of the 108 Assembly Members. I heard the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) explain his interpretation of the Secretary of State's comments as insulting to some of those Members. Many of them are carrying out good
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work and genuinely representing the interests of their constituents as they stand. However, the people of Northern Ireland voted for their Assembly Members to do a job for them on the Assembly itself and to represent their interests on the Assembly. While hon. Members in the House and in other regional assemblies have a responsibility to provide support and casework, it is usually because we have a link with the body to which we have been elected. How this matter plays with the public in Northern Ireland is important, as 108 Members are being paid without any Assembly sitting. Wherever the fault may lie, that is the reality. The public's patience will wear thin if the problem is not resolved. They voted for an Assembly, not a phantom.
I tremble at the thought of this attempt to restore Executive power not working. We would then perhaps face the possibly of local government taking on more power, and I have had some interesting discussions with Members on a cross-party basis about what that could mean. Many of the quangos that are run effectively from Westminster and the Northern Ireland Office would continue and, of course, the hand of the Northern Ireland Office would still continue to run the services. I have no particular issue with my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office. I see the Minister looking around nervously at me, but I hope that he would agree that it is not right that he should be making such decisions and that they should be made by the people of Northern Ireland.
Like the hon. Member for South Staffordshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), I was heartened by the comments made by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley). I felt that that was a momentous speech, and hon. Members will look back on this day and be privileged that we were here to hear it in person. He talked about having no deadline and the people of Northern Ireland deciding. I ask him and others who have this power in their hands to go into the Assembly and set up the Executive, and then the power will be in the control of the people of Northern Ireland and the parties that have those interests.
In many respects, I hope that this will be one of the last times in the House that hon. Members debate Northern Ireland issues and Executive decision making over the people of Northern Ireland and that, very shortly, those decisions will be made in Parliament Buildings, by the directly elected representatives of the Northern Ireland people.
Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): In debating the possible future of the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is absolutely imperative that the Government and the Minister who will answer the debate understand what our community requires. It is not a requirement built on prejudice. It is not an excessive or extreme requirement, but it is a requirement that will not move. It is a reasonable requirement, which we demanded a considerable number of years ago. It remains steadfast today, and it will remain exactly the same at midnight on 24 November.
Our requirement is twofold. First, it relates to the Provisional IRA. The IMC report has been released today, and progress has been made. I make what I hope
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will be the very obvious and helpful statement that if we are making progress with democratising the IRA, we keep making that progress. If we are pushing those in the IRA in the right direction, we keep pushing them in the same direction. We do not ease up; we do not change tack; we do not legitimise them, but we keep pushing them in the same direction.
Therefore, if the tactics of a more recent vintage are workingunlike the tactics leading up to 1998 and subsequently, which patently did not workthe message is clear: we keep adopting the same tactics. If that takes until November or December, or November 2007 or 2008, we keep adopting the same tactics. We require the IRA to be gone, to be history, to be out of guns and out of business and to be finished and not coming back. That is the first aspect of what we require, and every reasonable person in Northern Irelandboth those who support the DUP and those who may come to support our party in futurewill agree to that prerequisite.
The other thing that we require is an acceptable system of government. We need an acceptable system for the Assembly. That system was not provided in 1998. Some of the changes that we have seenI hope that more are to comeare potentially the ones that we would require. The system would then be more accountable, more democratic and more responsive to the people of Northern Ireland. If those two eminently reasonable requirements were metwe hope that they will bewe would embrace devolved government, with all the democratic political parties playing their role.
The question is, by 24 November will Sinn Fein be the same as every other political party in Northern Ireland that is upholding democracy? My view is that it will not. In the midst of much lauding of what has happened to date, people may well think that there will be some sort of fast-forward process between today and 24 November. Methinks not, but I remain to be convinced. If the IRA goes into history in the next six monthsas it has not over the past 37 yearsthat will be some fast forward, which I will welcome, and which will be widely welcomed by the community that we represent.
I hope that those two prerequisites will be viewed and welcomed by democrats everywhere. However, I want to urge another word of caution. In this House and elsewhere, some hon. Members have made statements regarding Sinn Fein's need to support the police. It would be foolish for people to say that a statement in support of the police by Gerry Adams, or anyone else in the leadership of Sinn Fein, would automatically mean that an organisation that has spent 37 years engaging in mayhem, murder and slaughter was suddenly democratic, by virtue of issuing that statement.
Sinn Fein needs to be in a credible position that allows it to support the police. Anyone can issue a statement. We have watched Sinn Fein as it has tried to reconcile what are supposed to be pragmatic elements in the republican movement with those who are less pragmatic. Allegedly, it has been saying different things to different elements in the republican movement. Why do people not believe that Sinn Fein would do the same with regard to the police? It could issue a statement of support for the police, but at the same time say to the backwoodsmen, who are allegedly supposed to be holding the process back, "This is simply a device to
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allow us to corrupt the Policing Board from within and to ensure that the policing system falls apart." Sinn Fein must be credible in supporting the police. In other words, it must have divested itself of all aspects of criminality. Then, we would expect and demand a statement of support for the police, because Sinn Fein would be credible in offering it. I caution Members not to say simply, "Sinn Fein must issue a statement of support for the police." It needs to do much more than that.
Unfortunately, in recent weeks and months there have been approaches to members of my party that have seemed to indicate that the reasonable position that we are putting forwardand which we have put forward for yearsis somehow perceived as a radical departure. There seems to be an idea that people who previously had hornsthat is to say, members of the Democratic Unionist partyhave gone through some form of metamorphosis, re-formed ourselves into democrats and are now suddenly reasonable people. It appears that there is some confusion. Members cannot seem to distinguish between having a reasonable position, which we have, and being utterly resolute and determined that we will give no inch or quarter to terrorists, murderers and those who would pollute democracy.
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