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I suppose that there has not been a great deal of rancour, or difference, in the debate, although I suspect that in some speeches there was an underlying tendency to point the finger at Unionists as if they were still the obstacle to devolution. We have had the Secretary of State talking about people needing to act maturely. We have had the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) talking, I think specifically to our party, about taking leaps of faith. We have seen other parties take leaps time and again with Sinn Fein. They jumped into the darkness and they paid for it. We have no intention of taking such a leap of faith with people who we believe to be untrustworthy.
However, although some may argue that we of all parties least need devolution, having 40 per cent. of the representation at council level in Northern Ireland and 50 per cent. of representation here at Westminster, we have been to the forefront of promoting devolution. The fact that the Bill is before us is probably a result of the pressure that this party has put on the Government to recognise that in a situation where, as has been described very adequately in today's debate, one party does not have respect for law and orderindeed, breaks the rules of society on a frequent basisand yet wishes to be included in Government, it is impossible to move directly into a situation where people like that are included in Executive positions.
Facing that realityour document was called "Facing Reality"we put to the Government ideas by which we could move towards devolution, in circumstances where there would be a useful job of work for people who are elected in Northern Ireland to take decisions and make representations on the things that affect their constituents daily, and ease our way towards the position where, eventually, full-blown devolution would be possible.
"Facing Reality" also made it clear that there had to be changes to the Belfast agreement. We have a mandate for those changes. I know that the SDLP does not like the fact that the political landscape has changed in Northern Ireland, that the mandate that may have been given to pro-agreement parties in 1998 no longer exists,
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certainly on the Unionist side, and that there has to be a recognition that changes are needed; not just to satisfy the Unionist population but to ensure that there is a system of devolution that does not stumble from crisis to crisis and that does Unionists, nationalists or anyone some good. Some of our suggestions were included in the comprehensive agreement. I know that the members of the SDLP did not like that because they were not involved in the comprehensive agreement, but I believe that many of those changes will be essential to the good working of any Assembly if and when it is up and running.
Several arguments have been made today as to why we should move towards devolution. The first is that the IRA have moved. The IMC report today indicates that they have moved. We have had substantial decommissioning last summer, and we accept that that has happened. But as has been pointed out, the IRA are moving because the tactics used against them have changed. Instead of giving them rewards, sanctions are being imposed. In the past, we were told that if we put them into government, they would behave. The DUP tactic is to deny them a place in government and make them behave. In the past, we were told that if we turned a blind eye to their activities perhaps they would move away from them; now, through the combined efforts of our party and others, the security forces are going after their criminal empires and putting on the pressure. While that is going on, why should we lift the pressure? Why should we go back to the old, failed methods and give them rewards?
We want the task completed. In six months' time, I want to be able to say that the behaviour of Sinn Fein and the IRA has changed dramatically. That would be good for my constituents and good for Northern Ireland and its economy. If and when those changes arrive, the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), our deputy leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), and other speakers have made it clear that the political landscape will have changed.
Like the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), we believe that there are benefits from devolution. The second argument in favour of devolution is that we could take our own decisions. Some people have painted a realistic picture; there would be hard decisions to make but at least we would be making them on behalf of our constituents, with at least a degree of accountability. However, there are some political quacks around. They can be found in some of the pro-agreement parties and lobby groups pushing for devolution. They present devolution as a panacea, through which all the hard decisions will disappear; all the pain will suddenly be relieved and there will be no tough political decisions to make. That is not the case. Anybody who sells devolution on those grounds is a charlatan. They are political quacks and they will come unstuck. There are hard political decisions to make. Some of the things we are discussing
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did not start only after the Assembly fell; for example, the big increase in rates was known as the Durkan tax after the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Durkan).
Mark Durkan: I remind the hon. Gentleman that before devolution, the comprehensive spending review under direct rule had projected increases over a three-year period of 7 per cent. a year on domestic rates and 6 per cent. a year on business rates. Under devolution, when I was Minister of Finance and Personnel, succeeded by Sean Farren, domestic rates were 7 per cent., 7 per cent., and 6 per cent. while business rates were 3.3 per cent., 3.3 per cent. and 3.3 per cent.
Sammy Wilson: No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman's earlier intervention was quite short. I remember having to listen to him explaining such things in the Northern Ireland Assembly and it used to take him about an hour and a half.
Another argument is that devolution will be a magic wand to help us get through all the pain. Some of the hard things we are experiencing originated under the old devolution settlement. The structure of the previous Assembly meant that decisions were made by Ministers who were wholly unaccountable. They imposed changes, such as those in education, with which we are still struggling.
If the interim step that we hope will lead to full devolution is to be effective, I believe that it is essential that Members realise that there is a job to be done. That means that the Secretary of StateI am pleased to see him back in his placemust listen to the representations that Members make. Otherwise, they will feel that the Assembly that has been established is a useless body.
It has been suggested that any legislation or Orders in Council currently in preparation should not apply until at least 24 November. I recognise that that is also a rod to beat the back of people such as myself. As we come up to 24 November, I well recognise the threat that Orders in Council can be introduced if devolution does not come about. Nevertheless, I am prepared to live with that because I believe that it is important, if any value is to be attached to devolved institutions in Northern Ireland in the longer term, that the people of Northern Ireland know that all the decisions that they hate and loathe have not been taken before devolution is set up. There should be a disincentive to push such measures forward and ram them through the House.
I implore the Secretary of State to understand that we wish to move towards devolution. We want the necessary decisions to be taken, however difficult the context, but they can be taken only when parties behave democratically, associate themselves with the police and law and order and pursue criminality. When those conditions are met, we are happy to have devolution. Until then, I hope that the Secretary of State will allow the Assembly to do a real job of work.
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David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I have listened with great interest to the debate and know that all my colleagues have made valid points. I have never had the privilege or the opportunitywhatever word one wishes to useof sitting in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I listened to the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who used the word "tantalising". Well, when it comes to a three-course meal or a large steak[Interruption.] Yes, I have many of them and I would probably refer to them as tantalising, but I have to say that the prospect of going into the Assembly on 15 May is not tantalising for me. It is not tantalising because I will probably be sitting across the room from an individual who gave the authority for four of my family to be assassinated. It may well be hard for hon. Members who have not experienced such circumstances to understand, but it will be very difficult for me. My party has taken the decision to go in on 15 May and I will join it because I believe that it has a lot to offer the people of Northern Ireland.
We all know about the other Unionist party and its leadership, which led the Unionist population in the wrong direction. I am living proof that the Unionist population does not suffer fools gladly, which is why I took the seat in Upper Bann. We often hear the old cliché from Sinn Fein-IRA that they have a mandate, and we also hear them saying that the Democratic Unionist party is not serious about anything. They say that we are not serious about trying to get an Assembly up and running and, to use the words of Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, that the DUP does not want a Fenian about the place. Those are their words, not mine.
I have sat in meetingsin fact, at Leeds Castlewhen my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) told the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, "I am not asking for anything for myself that I am not asking for my Roman Catholic neighbour." That is a fact; my party is about representing all the people in our constituencies. So the nonsense that Sinn Fein come out with is just a myth.
I refer to family tragedy and many of my colleagues could relate to family tragedies and those involving others connected to their families, but let us remember that we must consult the victims and convince them that it is time to move on. That will be very difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and I are the chair and vice-chair of our party's victims organisation. We talk to victims on a weekly and monthly basis and we hear the stories that come from those peoplethe tragedies and the heartbreakand it will be very hard for them to move on. But as a constructive party that will show leadership, it is our job to talk to those people and to convince them that it is time to move on. That will be difficult, but I believe that those people must be helped through that painful time.
Another of my concerns is that we talk about Sinn Fein-IRA coming on to different bodies and structures in government. For example, if Sinn Fein-IRA decided that they would go on to the Policing Board today, in
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reality, what information could the Chief Constable release in a Policing Board meeting that would not be passed on, possibly to some of their colleagues?
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