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Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Some time ago, our party released a document called "Facing Reality". This House is beginning to face some realities, because when I was previously a Member, prior to 1997, many Members did not want to know the realities of the situation in Northern Ireland or of the suffering of the Unionist people and did not want to deal with the IRA. They were closing their eyes to acts of republican terrorism, often because they wanted to keep the trouble in Northern Ireland—as long as it stayed off the streets of London and the mainland, and did not affect them, that was acceptable. There was a famous statement about the "acceptable level of violence".

My party is desirous of the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, with Ministers who are democrats dealing with and taking decisions on day-to-day issues in Northern Ireland. There is great distrust, however, and no one can close their eyes to that.

I agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). We have no intention of misleading the Ulster people. We are going to tell it exactly as it is to them and to the Secretary of State and the Ministers concerned, before and on 24 November. We are not going to shadow-box with anyone: we will tell people the realities of the situation. Even when we have suffered in electoral terms, we have never misled the general public, and we are not going to mislead them now.

I certainly know the realities of how obnoxious it is to sit in a council with those who have been totally wedded to terrorism—for example, one of the three most wanted men in Northern Ireland. The only poster naming three   wanted men appeared in what was then my constituency—in Magherafelt, which was in the constituency of Mid-Ulster. Those three persons were Dominic McGlinchey, who was murdered by the IRA when he fell out with it; Francis Hughes, who went on hunger strike, fell out with himself and decided to take his own life; and Ian Milne.

The reality of the situation—what the House does not realise—is that the third most wanted man sits in Magherafelt district council at this moment. He has never been brought to court. It seems to me that there has been a cover-up. I know that a family who believe that he was responsible for the murder of the Speers family are horrified that he is sitting in that council untouched. Another councillor is a famous gunman; another is a famous IRA bomber. These people are sitting in the council in which I have to sit. They destroy, demean and soil democracy, and we cannot close our eyes to the realities of the situation.

I say this clearly: democratic institutions must be built on a solid foundation. It is no use building them on sand; there must be a rock foundation of democracy, integrity and honesty. There can be no equivocation on
 
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terrorism and those who are inextricably linked to terrorist organisations. If we want the democratic institution to succeed, those who are engaged in it must be unreservedly opposed to all terrorism and the retention of all terrorist structures. We need to see the dismantling of those structures—not just the disbanding of the IRA, but the dismantling of the structures of terror, and the removal of all the teeth of war—if we are to move forward in a democratic fashion.

Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked. They are one and the same. That has not changed. It is no use the House closing its eyes to that: at this moment, it is still the reality. Over the past 30 years, Sinn Fein and the IRA have turned on and turned off violence whenever it has suited them. Yes, there has been a change. Let us be honest. As my colleagues have rightly said, the demands of our party, standing resolutely against Sinn Fein-IRA in the past, have certainly brought them to the realisation that they will not wipe the eye of the Ulster electorate or the Ulster people. But we are resolved to do what we promised to do. We will honour the principles that we set out at the time of the election: we will not go back on the principles that we put before the electorate. Yes, 9/11 produced changes, because Sinn Fein-IRA knew that, internationally, they could not go back to what they did best. But we must face the reality: up to this moment, Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked.

The impression has been given that the IMC report somehow gives a clean bill of health, and that somehow democrats can walk arm in arm with those who have been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes, not only in the past but in the present. We cannot close our eyes to the murder in Dublin of Joseph Rafferty by the IRA. We cannot close our eyes to Robert McCartney's murder. We cannot close our eyes to the murder of Denis Donaldson. We need to know exactly who was responsible and, if the IRA is found guilty, the IRA and its colleagues must pay the price of their compliance and their activity in terrorism. The report clearly rings alarm bells. Even after all the attempts at a whitewash, some members of that organisation—including senior ones—are still involved in crimes such as fuel laundering, money laundering, extortion, tax evasion and smuggling. Imagine anyone suggesting that we should have such people in this House or in government!

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. McCrea: No. I have only a short time in which to make my speech.

Can anyone imagine the howls from the community if it were suggested that such people should be put on the Front Bench of Her Majesty's Government or Opposition? If they were, they would be run out of this House and society would disgrace them completely, and rightly so. A few statements from those who are still linked to activities such as money laundering, fuel laundering, extortion, tax evasion and smuggling are not going to whitewash their compliance in what has been going on. Where is the £20 million linked to the IRA? Where are the disappeared—those who may have
 
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been murdered, whose families are still waiting for them to come home? Are we closing our eyes to all this? Are we closing our ears to the cry from such families that these issues must be faced up to?

We must have consistency, integrity and honesty. Neither I nor any of my colleagues is going to mislead the people. The right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) stated today—it is on the record of this House—that, although the IMC report acknowledges that progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, which is factual: there is still a long way to go. We must ensure that our democracy has integrity. When we set up a Government of Northern Ireland, they have to be based solely and completely on democratic lines. There can be no equivocation or trying to move the goalposts. We cannot have those who are democrats by day and terrorists by night—that day has long passed. There were those in the past who accepted such people into government, but this party will not.

Sinn Fein-IRA stand at a crossroads: they must make the choice and come up to the mark. If they do not take that decision, true democrats—such as Members representing the Social, Democratic and Labour party, my own party and others—who want to move forward should do so together. Northern Ireland should not be crucified because of terrorists or those who want to play along with terrorism. We want a democratic process and democratic government, and by the grace of God, that we will have.

5.52 pm

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome this Bill, which is a means to an end, not an end in itself. I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), but the Ulster Unionist party has in the past supported the establishment of talking shops. Indeed, it was its former leader who proposed the establishment of the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue, and I do not recall it raising major objections to such a body. We hope that the Assembly will move quickly to address issues that are doubtless of as much concern to the constituents of the hon. Member for North Down as they are to mine. Even if, initially, we are only talking about those issues, that is better than sitting on our hands while direct rule Ministers take decisions that we disagree with strongly. I hope that we can reach a consensus on some of these issues quickly, and that the Government will act on that basis. We want a devolved Government to be restored in Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Donaldson: I will not, because some of my hon. Friends want to get in before the debate concludes.

This has been a long journey, the beginning of which it would probably be difficult to find. In 1994, there was the first IRA ceasefire, moving through to the agreement in 1998. It has been a difficult and challenging time to be involved in politics in Northern Ireland. We have seen many false dawns, but the promise of peace remains and we want to reach out and grasp it. It is the hope of every sane, reasonable and law-abiding person in Northern Ireland that our generation realises the hope of peace
 
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and political stability. I echo the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) that we want to move out beyond the cocoon of security and looking over our shoulders in which we have had to live for years. We want to look forward to a future that is free from violence and the organised criminality that we have seen all too often in the past.

We have had the Assembly since 1998, and it has been suspended on at least four occasions. We have got to get it right this time, because if we re-establish the Assembly and get a fully functioning devolved Administration and it collapses again, it will be years before it is restored and the hopes of the people of Northern Ireland will be dashed. That is why my party is committed to getting it absolutely right.

The Government talk of deadlines: we prefer to speak of acts of completion, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) mentioned. He repeated what the Prime Minister said. We want completion and closure on what has become known as the troubles. I know that, for many people, closure is difficult. Their lives have been ruined and destroyed by acts of terrorism, on both sides of the community. However, from speaking to them, I know that it would give them some comfort to know that other families will not suffer what they have endured. Indeed, that is my objective. If I were asked what is the one thing that I want to achieve in my political career, it would be that no other family has to suffer what has been visited upon so many families in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years. If I can help to achieve that, I will feel that my political career has been fulfilled. That is my objective and I can say with honesty that it is the objective of all of my hon. Friends, and especially of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the leader of our party. I know that he wants to see that happen, but we want to be sure that it is for real and for good.

That objective is why the decisions that we have to take as a party will not be taken in isolation. We will take them in consultation with the community that we represent and the people who have mandated us to achieve a better future for them and for their children. Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) made it clear in his contribution to the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body that, when the time comes that we feel that there is the potential to move forward to full devolution, we will consult and we will talk to the people whom we represent. We are not arrogant. We will not move so far ahead of our people that we do not bring them with us.

It is crucial to achieving political stability in Northern Ireland that leaders bring their people with them. We have evidence in the past few years of the inability of some Unionist leaders to bring their people with them, and we know what happened to them. The results of that are very apparent on these Benches today. This party will not allow that to happen. Yes, we will provide leadership—it will be provided ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim and my colleagues here—but we are determined to bring our people with us. If we do that, we have a better chance of making things work for the future. At the end of the day, it is the people who count.

I say to the hon. Member for North Down that we have no fear of elections. We are prepared and ready for the elections in May 2007. Bring them on. This party will
 
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gain and benefit from those elections and we are prepared to go to the people and test our mandate again. I have no doubt that we will get a strong endorsement for that mandate.

Earlier, the Secretary of State asked whether the Democratic Unionist party was committed to making this measure work. Many people have asked the same question. Are we committed to achieving the establishment of a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland that is based on inclusivity but underpinned by the fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law? Our answer is a resounding yes: we are absolutely committed to making this work, because we have fought so hard to get to where we are today and we want to complete the journey.

We want to achieve the end that I have described, but we also want to make sure that it is absolutely right, because the future of the people whom we represent hangs on the decisions that we make. We will be careful and cautious, but courageous too, because that is what leadership is about. When we come to make those decisions, we will want to ensure that they are right, and that the people with whom we will be in government are committed to peace, democracy and the rule of law. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) said, that must mean that a complete end is put to criminality and paramilitarism.

We say that not because we want to put obstacles in people's way, but because we want to encourage them to complete the journey. The strategy is working and has brought the results that are evident in today's IMC report. We acknowledge the progress that has been made, but we also know that the journey is not yet complete.

If I am not yet absolutely confident that the IRA has completed the journey, that it now supports the rule of law and that it will abide by the democratic rules, I believe that it is on its way to doing so. It is difficult to assess how far down the road it has come, but I believe that it has recognised that there is no going back to the bad old days. Yes, some IRA members may hark back to those times but most know that going back to the violence of the past, and to bombing, shooting and murder on the scale evident in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, would amount to political suicide. They are right.

We want the Assembly established by the Bill to make progress towards the restoration of a full, devolved Administration in Northern Ireland. We are committed to achieving that objective, in the right time scale and based on an assessment that the violence, criminality and paramilitarism are over for good.I hope that people will take us at our word when we say that.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of leading a delegation to meet the Secretary of State at Stormont to discuss the impact of industrial rates on our manufacturing sector. The delegation was made up of people from both sides of the community, both traditions, in Northern Ireland. They are all fine people, and they are making a massive contribution to rebuilding our economy after decades of destruction.

The delegation was accompanied by an all-party group representing the main political parties in Northern Ireland. The group spoke with one voice when it asked the Government to freeze the industrial rates,   because otherwise they would damage our manufacturing base and our ability to make a full economic recovery.
 
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I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to our    message, because the Government have said consistently that that is what they will do if we can achieve a political consensus. Consensus is what the Assembly ought to be about, and we will seek to achieve it in respect of the other issues that will be referred to us. However, the Secretary of State must listen to what people are saying.

I know that a big stick can be applied on a range of issues, although I accept that some carrots exist as well. However, when people reach agreement, it is incumbent on the Government to respond positively. That is the best and most encouraging way to help us along the road to the end of our journey. I hope that the result will be peace and stability for all the people of Northern Ireland.

6.4 pm


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