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I can assure the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) that the DUP is confident of its position and will remain so. As for being afraid to sit down and talk to the SDLP, we are more than happy to do that at any time. I remind the hon. Gentleman that for years SDLP members ran to the Irish Government with every problem that they had and every issue that they wanted resolved. Off they went to Dublin to get it fixed by the Irish Government, so we will take no lectures from the SDLP about sitting down with our compatriots in Northern Ireland to try to resolve issues.
Will the hon. Gentleman please explain what he found wrong with our talking to the Irish Government? We have been a consensus-building party for 30 years. I am witnessing the transition from a wrecking party to a party that is trying to be semi-constructive. The Democratic Unionists were in Killarney last weekend. They have been running up and down to Dublin.
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On amendment No. 10 and the deadline, I welcome what the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said. I congratulate him on his excellent contribution to our debates and on the job that he is doing on the Front Bench for the loyal Opposition. I can tell him that he is held in high esteem in Northern Ireland. He is right about the deadline. The history of the process is littered with the wreckage of deadlines that were passed. Even the Belfast agreement set deadlines for decommissioning and other things, and we saw the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries drive a coach and horses through those deadlines.
My difficulty is that the current position does not give the Secretary of State sufficient flexibility in circumstances where real progress has been made, but we have not quite got there in terms of what is required from the IRA to end criminality and paramilitarism. Are the Government seriously suggesting that in circumstances where we had another IMC report that indicated progress but concluded that some level of activity was continuing, they would pull the plug on the entire process?
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is right. They would be pulling the plug on the Belfast agreement and all that goes with it. He argued that that would be welcomed by Democratic Unionists. We have proposed changes to the institutions. We tabled the amendment to bring about changes to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to ensure the effective and efficient operation of the institutions, and especially to ensure proper lines of accountability.
Let us be clear. Our motivation is to ensure that we get it absolutely right. We do not want, as has been suggested by some Members, to delay the establishment of devolution in Northern Ireland indefinitely. Our party is a devolutionist party, and it believes in a local Government in Northern Ireland. As I said earlier, we would gladly form an Executive today with the democratic parties in the Assembly, including the Social Democratic and Labour party. We have clearly stated that, but we have a difficulty with Sinn Feina potential member of a future Executivegiven its links with the IRA and ongoing IRA criminality. That is a major problem for us, together with the fact that Sinn Fein does not support the police and the rule of law. Those issues must be resolved.
Let me make it clear that indefinite direct rule is not in our interests or the interests of the people whom we represent. Nor are we interested in being part of an assembly that merely discusses issues and does not ever reach the point of forming an Executive. In amendment No. 10, we do not seek an open-ended scenario in which we simply delay, procrastinate and spin things out for years to come. We are realistic: we know that that will not be allowed to happen. However, the amendment gives us a little more flexibility in the process if progress is made by 24 November, enabling the Secretary of State to keep things going for a further period. The basic concept of the Assembly in the format proposed by the Government is to engage people in issues to help to build trust. That is important, but the exchanges across the
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Chamber this afternoon demonstrate that it is not just a matter of building trust between our party and the republican elements in our society.
Without doubt, there are many issues at the moment, and Unionists have very little trust in Sinn Fein's position. It is clear from the comments of SDLP Members that they do not trust the DUP's bona fides or our position. We are equally disappointed by their approach to the political process in recent years. At times, they try to out-Sinn Fein Sinn Fein; at times, they take a position that is so hard-line and tough that it makes Gerry Adams look like a poodle. That is unhelpful, and they have refused to contemplate sharing power with Unionists unless their big brothers in Sinn Fein are at their side. I wish that the SDLP would learn to stand on its own two feet. Instead of hiding behind the Irish Government and Sinn Fein, it should rely on its own strength and consider serving in government with Unionists. However, I have said enough about the issue.
Mr. Donaldson: I accept that, and I applaud the position that the SDLP took after many years of refusing to support the police and refusing to take up seats on the Police Authority. Finally, after 30 years, it pressed its agenda and was able to wring out substantial changes to policing in Northern Ireland. It decided that it was going to support the police, which we welcome. However, I am not talking about policing but about the formation of an Executive or a Government for the people of Northern Ireland. I regret very much the fact that the SDLP has not had the courage to step out and do with an Executive what it was prepared to do with the Policing Board.
I do not accept the distinction between the operation of the Policing Board and the operation of an Executive in Northern Ireland. If the SDLP is prepared to serve with Unionists on a Policing Board and take responsibility for one of the most important issues in Northern Ireland, why on earth can it not do that with us on education, health, roads, housing, planning and all the matters that affect the people whom we represent? I would like that to happen, and I await the day when there is genuine power sharing in Down council, so that the DUP can finally get a look-in and secure a senior appointment. It would be nice to see the SDLP exercising real power sharing in places such as Down district, but we are patient and will wait for that day. Perhaps Down district will be able to match what happens in neighbouring Lisburn, the city that I represent, in terms of the parity that we give to the SDLP. Of the 30 councillors on Lisburn council, only threeor 10 per cent.belong to the SDLP.
I suppose that I was expanding the point a little, Mrs. Heal, but we live and travel in hope that we will get the House's support for the amendment. We are trying to be constructive: we want to ensure that we make progress but with a helpful degree of flexibility.
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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) for stepping in to move the amendment on behalf of the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson).
We have been debating three issues in connection with the amendment. The first has to do with the deadline at the end of the period proposed in the Bill, and the second relates to the approach adopted by the provisional IRA and others to arms decommissioning and criminality. Thirdly, we debated the issues raised in amendment No. 1, in the name of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). I shall deal with each matter in turn.
My first remarks are directed to the hon. Members for Belfast, North and for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson), and to the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), who speaks for the official Opposition on these matters. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that he and the Government as a whole are committed, for clear and appropriate reasons, to setting a deadline for the Bill.
Mr. Dodds: The Minister says that the Government are committed to the deadline, but reports in the media and elsewhere suggest that it is really the Dublin Government who are pushing it, at the behest of some parties. Will he comment on that? Are not the Government here more open minded about the matter than he is trying to suggest?
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