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Mr. Peter Robinson: Was my hon. Friend as disturbed as I was by the remarks of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—the Ulster Unionist
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party’s sole Member in the House—when she said that, come what may, the timetable had to be adhered to? Is the UUP telling the people of Northern Ireland that even if Sinn Fein delivers nothing, it should be in government on 26 March?

Mr. Dodds: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The hon. Lady’s remarks—I am sorry that she is not in her place at the moment—certainly outlined that position. For some time, the UUP—a party that let Sinn Fein-IRA representatives into Government at a time when they had not decommissioned any weaponry and were still engaged in criminality, terrorism and even murder—has believed, as the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has made clear, that devolution should be up and running regardless of whether Sinn Fein has delivered on what it needs to deliver even under the terms of the St. Andrews agreement between the two Governments. My hon. Friend is quite right to point out that, faced with that choice, the Unionist population of Northern Ireland will be reassured to know that this Democratic Unionist party will stick to the pledges that we have made to the people and the manifesto position that we outlined. We will also stick to the position recently conveyed to the Government by our central executive committee.

Lembit Öpik: For the sake of clarity—though it already seems clear to me—will the hon. Gentleman confirm that whatever is decided about the 24 November deadline cannot be taken as an indication that the DUP is buying into the deadlines set up in the Bill for March?

Mr. Dodds: I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it strikes me as a bit rich to be talking to DUP Members about signing up to deadlines when it is quite clear that Sinn Fein has signed up to absolutely nothing as far as policing is concerned. Indeed it has not only failed to sign up, but has retreated from what we were told was its position at St. Andrews. As to the timetable, the Secretary of State and other Ministers have told us that there are certain dates by which certain things have to happen and that if they do not happen, there will be consequences. When faced with the question of when Sinn Fein is going to call an executive, when Sinn Fein is ready to convene a conference and when the testing period can begin—so that Unionists can gain some confidence that those people really are changing and should be admitted into government—we are met with silence, evasion and vague statements. Time and again today, questions have been asked about when the conference to be called by Sinn Fein has to happen in order for a credible period of testing to commence, particularly if 26 March is not to be a meaningless date.

Sammy Wilson: Does my hon. Friend accept that DUP Members are disquieted by the Secretary of State’s evasion on three occasions of a question about the time that he believed would be required for Sinn Fein to hold its conference and make a decision on policing? That sends the wrong signal to Sinn Fein, too.

Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend is right—that was precisely the point that I was making. The Secretary of State and Ministers refuse to make any demands on
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Sinn Fein about the commitment even to calling a conference to adopt a resolution or a position on policing. The Secretary of State shakes his head, but I would welcome his coming to the Dispatch Box now and telling us when Sinn Fein has to call its conference so that we can have a credible period of testing before 26 March. Again, he refuses to accept the challenge. We have noted his evasion and the people of Northern Ireland will be rightly concerned, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) said.

Mr. Donaldson: The earlier intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) in the absence of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) pointed up the contradiction in the position of the Ulster Unionist party. On the one hand it says that it wants the Government to stick by deadlines, and on the other that if the conditions are not met, we will end up with devolution through having people in government who do not support the police and the rule of law. Does my hon. Friend agree that the outcome of the scenario painted by the hon. Lady, if we accept the deadline, is reverting to plan B in the event of no devolution, which means joint authority? Is that now the policy of the Ulster Unionist party?

Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend has raised important questions, which only the hon. Member for North Down can answer. I am sorry that she did not take the opportunity in the previous debate to allow an exchange about those policies. There is no doubt that the position of the Ulster Unionist party is that the deadline must be met, regardless of the conditions. We will not fall into that trap, which would catch only the most naive.

Lady Hermon: I should like to correct the record, especially given that I was not in the Chamber when the first attack was made on me by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who obviously was not smiling at the time. Every time the Government move a deadline, Sinn Fein moves. It takes two to tango—the DUP and Sinn Fein—and there must be mutual trust. An Irish Government election will take place next spring, and it is obvious to me that every time the Government move a deadline and show that they will blink first, Sinn Fein also moves. That is the problem with moving deadlines, not that conditions are unmet. It gives a clear signal to Sinn Fein that every time it goes to No. 10, it can change the mind of whoever happens to be Prime Minister. That is the problem.

Mr. Dodds: The hon. Lady appears to say that if one sets a deadline, the parties should stick to it and agree on 26 March to form a devolved Government. That appears to be her position and she does not dissent from it. Our position is that we are not bound by a deadline unless the conditions are right—unless criminality and paramilitarism are finished and the structures are gone, unless there is support for policing, the criminal justice system and the courts of law, and that is proved over a period of testing. We will wait and see. We will judge those matters by the action and inaction of Sinn Fein and the IRA, not by any dates set by the Secretary of State or in legislation.

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Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Sinn Fein position on policing. The Bill is crystal clear—it could not be clearer—about the necessity for Sinn Fein to sign up to all the specifics of policing spelled out in paragraph 6 of the St. Andrews agreement and enshrined in clause 7. The Bill is the first measure to do that. I would have thought that he would give credit for that. In my view, Sinn Fein needs to call an ard fheis sooner rather than later. I shall not get into discussing specific weeks or days, because that would not be helpful. The end process is that Sinn Fein candidates who hope to be Ministers must accept the pledge of office, as spelled out in clause 7.

7.45 pm

Mr. Dodds: I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s intervention, although we are well aware of what the Bill provides about the pledge of office on 25 March. However, he knows that, for the DUP, it is not simply a matter of making a pledge. Anyone who wants to be in government, especially Sinn Fein, must prove over a credible testing period that they are committed, not only in word but in action, to supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the courts and the rule of law. He appears to claim that, as long as Sinn Fein signs up to a pledge on 25 March, everything in the garden is rosy, even if it makes the pledge or holds an ard fheis only on the previous day or in the previous week. That is not satisfactory to us, the Unionist people or the people of Northern Ireland.

Mark Durkan: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the obvious question that arises from the Secretary of State’s intervention is whether the right hon. Gentleman expects the ard fheis to take place, or believes that it should, before or after the election on 7 March? Is not there a crazy position whereby the Secretary of State tells us that the people will be asked to endorse a deal on the basis of the DUP talking about all the things that are not happening and that it does not believe exist, and Sinn Fein not having signed up to policing or held an ard fheis and setting all sorts of terms and pre-conditions? How are the general public meant to make sense of that if the Secretary of State cannot make sense of it for us in the House today?

Mr. Dodds: The hon. Gentleman makes a pertinent point. Some people might wonder in those circumstances whether an election will advance anything. If the Assembly is dissolved on 30 January and we begin an election campaign while still awaiting a conference on policing, does anyone seriously suggest that we can tell the people of Northern Ireland that we will be in a position on 26 March to achieve some sort of devolution including such people as members of Sinn Fein? Many people believe that the time is rapidly passing for Sinn Fein to start delivering on policing, criminality and paramilitarism if it is to be taken seriously through a credible period of testing.

Mr. Peter Robinson: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Secretary of State has specific powers under the Bill to stop the process if he is not satisfied that sufficient progress is being made for devolution to come about on 26 March? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will
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want to answer the following question when he responds to the debate: would he call a halt to an election process if Sinn Fein had not held its ard fheis and made a decision before the election period?

Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has raised the matter as leader of the SDLP, my hon. Friend has just raised it and the House will expect a response from the Secretary of State to that specific question.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way. I do not judge the DUP on the matter. I should love it to go along with the deadlines but it would be pointless for me to push that. Can he conceive of circumstances in which the conditions that the DUP requires to be met could be fulfilled in the available time? Does he believe that it is possible? What would be the DUP’s timetable for requiring the conditions to be met? Can he be specific, if possible, about what he needs from Sinn Fein for the DUP to believe that the conditions have been fulfilled in time for the election?

Mr. Dodds: Having castigated people for setting deadlines, I will not get into the business of starting to set them. That would be a grievous error. If we have learned anything, it is that we should not get into that game.

On the hon. Gentleman’s first question about whether such things are possible or probable, I repeat what I said: with every day that passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to convince people that the necessary movement and delivery will be achieved in policing, criminality and paramilitarism and all the other issues that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East and others have mentioned already in the debate.

These are not new issues. They must be delivered on, but we must have a period when people in Northern Ireland are truly convinced not only by word but by action that those matters have been dealt with. If they are not dealt with and people are not convinced, we will again have another recipe for collapse and crash, and no one wants that to happen. When we move, we must be certain that we are doing so on the basis of some kind of real delivery, so that people can be relatively convinced that it is the time to move. However, we must also ensure, as has also been mentioned, that any new devolution process includes a proper sanction or default mechanism. If anyone does not fulfil their obligations, there must be an effective mechanism to ensure that the whole thing does not collapse and that the people who are responsible for the default are punished.

The amendment presents the Secretary of State with a choice. Is he honestly and genuinely saying that the 26 March is an absolute cut-off date and that he will bring the entire process to an end even if Sinn Fein has not called its conference or has not made sufficient progress on policing, because it has decided to draw out the process and to refuse to give and deliver on the issues on which everyone knows it must deliver? Is he
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honestly saying that that is the Government’s position? Is it not more sensible to include a provision in the legislation that accepts the reality that, if the conditions are not right, we must continue to work with the progress that has been made to ensure that the delivery happens and that, at the right time, we can move forward on a stable basis with devolution?

We have referred to the issues during interventions. It is clear what must happen in the period between now and 26 March. There must be delivery by Sinn Fein in support of policing. We know what is in the pledge, but we also know that there must be delivery in terms of people supporting the police and encouraging others to give information to the police. People have rightly said that one of the litmus tests is the McCartney case and whether or not the provisional movement is prepared to give up people.

We have heard some discussion of the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein appears to be setting a precondition that it will not hold any conference unless it has a date from the DUP on the timetable for policing and justice. Sinn Fein requires of the DUP some agreement on the modalities of the type of department that will administer policing and justice. It also requires of the Government delivery in respect of MI5 and other issues. No doubt, it has thrown a number of other issues into the pot as well.

It has been said today—let me repeat it for the Secretary of State, who may not have been here when it was said previously—that the DUP does not regard the devolution of policing and justice as happening any time soon. It would be complete madness to believe that a newly created Assembly would somehow be made more stable with the devolution of such powers, no matter about the modalities of how those powers would be administered. For anyone to suggest that some kind of arrangement should allow Sinn Fein members anywhere near the administration of policing and justice in a devolved settlement is simply ludicrous.

I have said before in the Chamber and in a Committee upstairs how long that period might be in my view—a political lifetime—and I repeat it for those who think that perhaps I shy away from doing so. I believe that many people in Northern Ireland would be totally appalled at the notion of the likes of Gerry Kelly and Martin McGuinness being in charge of policing and justice. I know the reaction of the House if anyone were to suggest that those who were involved in the current campaign of bombing in London and Britain—no matter what words they might utter or however much they say that they have repented—should at any time be placed in charge of or have influence over the administration of policing and justice on the mainland. People would be absolutely appalled at such a notion. People in Northern Ireland are entitled to reassurance on that matter, and on that matter, we give them that reassurance. If Sinn Fein is upset by that, so be it.

Sinn Fein’s argument appears to be that it is unreasonable to ask it to support policing while denying it control or influence over the police. To be fair to the SDLP and to large sections of the nationalist community, they were prepared to come forward and sign on for policing, to support policing and to encourage people to give evidence to the police and to join the police without any demand that they should
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have control over the devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Fein makes a different demand: it will support policing when it gets control. People only get control when there is confidence in the community and they earn the trust of the community. That is not to be bargained with.

Mark Durkan: Is it not the case that we have no demand or requirement for the devolution of justice and policing at ministerial level? Clearly, the Good Friday agreement envisaged that, as did the Patten report, but it recommended the establishment of the Policing Board to do the job for a number of years, with the devolution of justice and policing to follow. That is why we want the devolution of justice and policing to follow the good work of the Policing Board.

Mr. Dodds: I accept entirely what the hon. Gentleman says: the SDLP has views, demands and policies on the issue, but it did not make them a precondition for the support of policing.

Mark Durkan: Nor did Patten.

Mr. Dodds: That is quite right. The SDLP did not make such things preconditions for going on to the Policing Board or for supporting the police—I give it credit for that—but, as always, Sinn Fein wishes to extract a price.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: Is not the important point not that all the democrats in all the other political parties are quite prepared to support the police without making any preconditions about getting their hands on the leverage of policing and justice but that only Sinn Fein says that it will begin the process of supporting the police when it alone gets its hands on policing and justice?

Mr. Dodds: My hon. Friend has summed up the issue very succinctly, and people should therefore be in no doubt where we stand on that issue.

The other issues that need to be dealt with are criminality and paramilitarism. I have read newspaper reports and articles that no demands are made as part of the St. Andrews process. I have heard the statement made that it contains no demand for any kind of dismantling of terrorist structures, or that criminality is not an issue. Of course those things are included. That is why an Independent Monitoring Commission report is built in and why there is the testing period. If anyone is in any doubt about that, they should look at all the statements that have been made by members of the DUP in recent weeks and months in relation to all those matters. Indeed, people do not even have to believe the words that we have spoken: next time they meet the Justice Minister and Tanaiste, as he is now, in the Irish Republic, they can refer him to what he said about the continued existence of the IRA army council and the continued possession by the IRA of massive amounts of money—

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the amendments are about delaying the restoration orders under clause 2, and that the broader remarks that he is making about policing should be related to that aspect of his amendment.

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8 pm

Mr. Dodds: I thank you, Mrs. Heal, and I will make my remarks in the context of the amendment.

If we are to have a date other than 26 March for the possible restoration of devolution, it is necessary to concentrate on the conditions that must be fulfilled to allow devolution to occur. We have dealt with the policing issue, and I now refer to the paramilitarism issue that must be dealt with, which members of my party are on record as saying over and over again. On the issue of criminality, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim has made it clear that criminal assets would have to be handed over and those responsible given up. Those are serious issues, which cannot be swept under the carpet and will have to be dealt with. That is why the Secretary of State needs to consider carefully the 26 March deadline. Even tonight, some 10 weeks, including Christmas, before an election campaign begins in Northern Ireland, it is hard to imagine going from door to door and convincing people that somehow all those things have been delivered. I also remind the Secretary of State of the other outstanding matters that my party has brought to his attention, which must be delivered too.

I urge the House to adopt this and a series of amendments, which will build into the Bill a flexibility that anyone who considers the position in Northern Ireland objectively will accept must be accommodated.

Mark Durkan: I oppose amendment No. 43 and the other amendments grouped with it.

It is clear from the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) that the amendment is an attempt to ensure a dissolution of the key deadline of 26 March. I have no doubt that the Government will oppose the amendment, although, as we have seen previously, the Government’s attitude on such matters has melted subsequently. The Secretary of State and Ministers have presented all sorts of measures as absolute necessities and unbudgeable requirements only to withdraw them subsequently. We have probably had more withdrawals from Ministers than we would get from an automatic telling machine.

That has created a situation in which the DUP has the expectation that the deadline can slip yet again. Unfortunately, it probably takes some encouragement in that from the fact that there has been slippage on St. Andrews already. As I indicated, a programme for government committee was meant to meet on 17 November, but it only met on 20 November for the first time. The week of 20 November was meant to see an ard chomhairle meeting of Sinn Fein followed by a clear statement in relation to policing. We did not see that. Parties were meant to indicate endorsement of the deal and a definitive commitment to restore power sharing. We did not see that. On 24 November, we are meant to get the nomination of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Instead, it appears, from what the Secretary of State said, that we might get indications. The problem—and I hope that the Secretary of State will address this in his remarks—is that the DUP will only take encouragement from that, and the later deadline in the process will equally be bucked.

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