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I welcome the Government’s saying that the deadline is an absolute one. If they believe in deadlines, however,
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they need not only to hold firm to the 26 March deadline but to clarify some other interim deadlines on the way. If there is to be an election on 7 March, are the requirements as to the conditions for that clear? Will the Secretary of State say, for instance, that we will not proceed with the election if either the IMC report is bad or the DUP’s reaction to the IMC report is bad? Will there be an election willy-nilly, no matter what the IMC report says, or what the DUP says about the IMC report? If there is an election, what are the implications for the deadline of 26 March if a mandate is secured to defy that deadline? That is the conundrum created by the way in which the timetable, some of which is unspecified—not least in relation to Sinn Fein’s position on policing—is set out. Do the Government require or intend Sinn Fein to have taken a definitive position on policing before an election? What will be the position regarding appointments to the Policing Board and so on after restoration?

Those matters could be sensibly clarified to remove many of the fears and concerns, and many of the calculations for partisan advantage, which would give the public real confidence. If people were able to join up the dots, and fill in all the gaps and blanks in the process, that would do more for public confidence than side deals and concessions in relation to education and other matters. We hear the DUP indicating that it is also looking for other side deals. The Government have a habit of making such concessions in the name of building public confidence. They will not build public confidence, however, if there is a question about exactly what the process and the agreement mean. They need to clarify what it requires, what will happen and by when it will happen, so that the public can vote, safe in the knowledge that those things have happened and will be delivered.

In supporting the Government in rejecting the amendments, I ask them not just to be firm about the deadline but to be a lot firmer and clearer about the requirements of the process, and not to allow slipperiness from parties, which will just result in Ministers appearing at the Dispatch Box to justify embarrassing slippage yet again.

Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): With the amendments, the DUP is trying to push back the date by which the Assembly should be up and running and the Executive formed. The timetable set out in the St. Andrews agreement is that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister should be nominated by 24 November, and the rest of the Ministers in the Executive by 14 March, with power set to be restored to the Assembly on 26 March. If that timetable is not followed, schedule 3 of the Bill comes into effect, which would mean that the Assembly would be dissolved. The DUP amendments would allow the Secretary of State to let that deadline slip.

We have criticised the Government previously for allowing deadlines to slip, so we would certainly not be willing to support amendments providing for the expectation that the current timetable will fail. The incentive of a deadline, which, if not met, would mean that the Assembly would be dissolved, is needed to persuade the parties to move and to reach agreement.
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The Government must convince us all, however, that the deadline is real, as unless the parties believe that, we will simply not see agreement. The DUP, in moving the amendment, has shown that its mindset is to expect the 26 March date to be pushed further back. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear that that is a real deadline.

Mr. Donaldson: Perhaps I can help the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) to understand the DUP mindset a little better on the issue.

The amendment relates to dates and deadlines, and today’s debate has focused a lot on dates and deadlines. The date of 12 August 1970 is etched in my memory as the day that the troubles of Northern Ireland came crashing into my home, my family and my life. It was the day on which my cousin Samuel, a young constable in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was murdered by the IRA. He was the first police officer in Northern Ireland to die at the hands of the IRA in what has become known as the troubles. No one has ever been brought to justice for Samuel’s murder. He was a young Christian police officer doing his duty. Indeed, my family received hundreds of cards from the community in Crossmaglen, and from Roman Catholics in Crossmaglen, expressing sympathy.

The local chapel in Crossmaglen held a special memorial service for Samuel, and for the young officer, Roy Millar, who died with him that day on a lonely countryside road in South Armagh. Little did we know then that, some 15 years later, in February 1985, Samuel’s brother Alexander, a chief inspector in the RUC, would also lose his life in the mortar attack on Newry police station, when nine RUC officers, men and women, lost their lives. That atrocity saw the greatest loss of police officers’ lives in the troubles.

I share those things with the House to highlight the importance of policing to me, as an individual and as a Member of Parliament representing constituents who have experienced losses as a result of the troubles and who carry the scars, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) referred to in his remarks, of the many atrocities and incidents that have unfortunately been the landmarks of the last 35 or 36 years in Northern Ireland. I need to know that the people that my party will be sharing government with in the future are committed to supporting the police and the rule of law. I need to know that the men who were behind the murder of Samuel and Alex Donaldson and almost 300 other police officers in the course of the troubles in Northern Ireland—whose murders were sanctioned by people who today are in the leadership of Sinn Fein—have crossed the line and embraced democracy.

My family did not get justice. No one was ever brought before the courts for those two murders, and yet I want to know that, for my family, we are going to get peace and stability for the long term. That is why the amendment is important to me. In the end, it is not deadlines that will bring peace to the people I represent, to my family and to those who have survived the troubles; it is what people do, it is the changes that are necessary and the conditions that we all require as members of a society that has suffered so much. It is the conditions being met that is important.

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Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) indicated, if Sinn Fein moves soon, we may have a reasonable period of time over which to judge whether what it says in its ard fheis is what it does on the ground in terms of supporting the police and the rule of law. We have not had a definitive answer from the Secretary of State this evening about what would happen in the kind of scenario that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) raised: if Sinn Fein does not hold that ard fheis and does not give its support to the police and the rule of law before an election, what does that mean for the election? Will the Secretary of State still proceed with the election, or will it be postponed? Is that one of the moments that he talked about earlier when we run out of track in this process? There is a lack of clarity on that issue. Members of the Democratic Unionist party, who will be expected to fight that election, along with the hon. Members representing the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Ulster Unionist party, are entitled to know where we stand on that issue. If Sinn Fein does not have its ard fheis before the election, will the election proceed? Those issues are important.

Surely the Secretary of State cannot be suggesting to the DUP that, if Sinn Fein holds its ard fheis on 24 or 25 March, within hours of the deadline for devolution of 26 March, we should accept that as demonstrating clearly the bona fides of Sinn Fein in giving its support to the police. I am sorry, but my family and the people I represent could not accept that as a sufficient period in which to make that judgment call. For years, in district councils up and down Northern Ireland, when Sinn Fein councillors have been elected to office, they have stood up and given an oath that they will not do anything to support unlawful activity, but there have been Sinn Fein councillors who have been convicted of unlawful activity. They take that pledge, as it were, but in the past they have not always fulfilled it. We need to know that Ministers who take pledges in a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland will honour those pledges. Before that happens, we need to have a reasonable period of time in which to know that Sinn Fein has not only said in words that it supports the police and the courts, but has followed that up in deeds.

I say all that because I want to see progress made in Northern Ireland. I want to see this matter settled and a devolved Government in place. Despite what the IRA has done to my family and my community, if Sinn Fein crosses the line and supports the police and the rule of law, if the IRA ends its paramilitarism and criminality for good, and the structures of terrorism are progressively dismantled—and those things are demonstrated not just in word, but in deed—I am prepared to accept that Sinn Fein is in the Government of Northern Ireland and that we have to share power with it.

8.15 pm

That is a personal mountain that I have to climb, and a personal mountain that the people I represent have to climb. Recently, in our civic centre in Lisburn, I had a meeting with some police officers. It was not a political meeting. We were marking the retirement from his post of our district police commander. I sat and talked to some of the officers. One of them was disabled. He is
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one of my constituents and he has shown great courage. He was left badly disabled as a result of an IRA mortar attack in Newry in which one of his colleagues lost her life. As I was talking to him, the conversation came round to the issue of Sinn Fein in government and its support for the police. That man, who will carry the scars of our conflict to his grave—long may he be spared to live—said to me that he was prepared to support the DUP going into government, but in circumstances in which it was clear that there was support for the police and the rule of law.

That is why it is important that the Government do not get hung up on the deadline of 26 March. I say in all sincerity to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) that I hope that the Ulster Unionist party does not get hung up on deadlines either. We need people to stand together on this issue. What matters is the quality of what is delivered, not some arbitrary date that has been plucked out of the air. What matters is that we get long-term stability for her children, my children and the people we represent so that this time things are copper-fastened, the foundations are strong, and what the Secretary of State referred to earlier as the pillars or the cornerstones of this process are set in concrete, not sand. That is crucial.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North has eloquently outlined why the DUP believes that it is important that the process is condition-led, progress-led and meaningful, and that it is not simply about setting an arbitrary date. We are not in the business of crashing through deadlines simply for the sake of it. We are not the joyriders of the peace process and I should say to the hon. Member for Foyle that we are not interested in drive-by attacks on deadlines or anything like that. We want progress and a real settlement. We want to see the issue settled once and for all, whether on 26 March, 26 April, 26 May or whenever—perhaps on 12 July.

I hope that the House will give serious consideration to what we are about. This is not about the DUP wanting to get off a hook, because we are not on a hook. It is not about the DUP simply wanting to crash through deadlines for the sake of it, or being obstructionist. It is about making real progress in Northern Ireland and ensuring that people who have made lots of promises in the past, but have failed to deliver at the end of the day, really do deliver this time. That is vital for our future. It is vital that those who are in Garnerville today training to be the new recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and their colleagues who are on the ground tonight, whether in my constituency or any other part of Northern Ireland, know that they will not have to face what their colleagues in the past, in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, had to face with great courage and valour, but at a huge price. I do not want any more police officers to die in Northern Ireland because we have failed to get this right.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Schedule 1, paragraph 1 tells us that there will be a transitional Assembly, which will meet on 24 November. However, it does not say, as many hon. Members have tried to suggest tonight, that at that meeting nominations will be made for either the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister. Further down the page, the Bill states:

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but it does not say that nominations must be made on 24 November—in fact, no business is set down for 24 November. Later, the schedule talks about the draft ministerial code. I would therefore like the Secretary of State to explain how the idea got started that all those nominations must be made on that date. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) was eager to see what would happen, and I promised her a Paris bun, I think it was, if she attended the meeting.

Mark Durkan: The right hon. Gentleman may accept that many people are relying on paragraph 10 of the St. Andrews agreement, which states:

It also states that

other “partnership arrangements”. Furthermore, the timetable in annexe D to the agreement states, under the date 24 November:

Rev. Ian Paisley: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is trying to elevate that bit of white paper, which was drawn up between two Governments and does not bind this House in the least. Only when it has gone through the House and become law is it to be obeyed. He is now advocating that, every time the southern Government and the UK Government put out a wee bit of white paper, I have to bow my neck to it. It will not be done. That is all I have to say.

Sammy Wilson: First, let me make it clear that the amendment is not about putting off devolution or trying to avoid the hard decisions in which devolution is likely to involve Unionists. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has already made it clear that, as far as the DUP is concerned, if the conditions that we believe are necessary for parties to be able to participate in devolution in Northern Ireland are met, we wish to see devolution and we will participate in devolution, even with parties that we do not like being in government with—

Rev. Ian Paisley: They do not want to be in government with us.

Sammy Wilson: Yes, they have made that clear. The amendment is not an attempt to put off the decision on devolution.

The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) seemed to be concerned that the amendment would simply push back the date for devolution. In fact, the amendment is designed to ensure that, if devolution is possible, it will happen and it will be sustainable. He was concerned about the failure of the timetable, but we believe that the timetable is likely to lead to a failure of any ability to have devolution, because it is set against a background in which there is no guarantee.

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The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will not even set an expectation for when Sinn Fein should make a commitment to support policing in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman’s evasiveness on that point will not help to create the conditions in which Sinn Fein is able to give the community in Northern Ireland the assurance that the party has truly changed its position on policing. It behoves him to stop that ambivalence. In the past, in the face of what the parties all around him were saying, he insisted that he would not set a new precondition for devolution, so he avoided saying whether Sinn Fein had to be committed to policing. That was less than five months ago. Now, he has bowed to the arguments and accepted that devolution is not possible without support for policing, but he will not spell out to Sinn Fein that it must give an early commitment to policing and prove that it supports the police.

If we abide by the timetable laid down, Sinn Fein could, as some hon. Members have said, hold its conference and make its commitment to devolution the day before the Assembly is up and running. Judging by the debate so far, the Secretary of State believes that, the next day, Sinn Fein Members could walk in, take a pledge and, hey presto, that would be what is meant by making a commitment to policing. However, the DUP believes that making that pledge should be the culmination of Sinn Fein’s transition from a party that is opposed to the police, does not support the police, discourages people from joining the police and has been hostile to the police. It is the culmination of a process: first, Sinn Fein accepts that it has an obligation to support the police; then it fulfils that obligation by doing something in the interim period; and finally its Ministers make the pledge to support the police. The pledge is not the start of the process, but its culmination.

That means that time will be required. As long as the Secretary of State allows Sinn Fein to put off the day on which it starts that process, the timetable for devolution will be elongated. It has to be, if there is to be confidence in any devolution settlement that is finally arrived at. That is why the Secretary of State was pressed today to say when he wants Sinn Fein to start that process. Is it this month? Is it before Christmas? Is it January? The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) even asked the Secretary of State to tell us whether it is before the election or after it. We could not get a response from the Secretary of State.

The reason why there must be a testing period for Sinn Fein is that people in Northern Ireland—and certainly not those in the Unionist community—do not believe the words that Sinn Fein speaks. I sat as a member of Belfast city council from 1981. In 1985 or 1986, all members were supposed to pledge to support non-violence and to oppose the use of violence to pursue political ends. During that period, after they took that pledge, I heard Sinn Fein members justify the bombing of Belfast and defend the murder by the IRA of some council members and council workers. Their words did not mean a thing. That is why there must be a testing period.

Sinn Fein has established a situation in which there is no trust. We do not want a repetition of what has happened in the past two years. Let me give three instances, one of which has already been mentioned.
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The police raided the home of a prominent IRA man, where they found a laptop and money. He had been involved in criminality. Gerry Adams, the Member for Belfast, West, who does not come to this House, condemned the police and the Garda in the Irish Republic for raiding the home of a farmer, saying that he was being persecuted for his republican views and was only trying to make an honest living. The leader of Sinn Fein defended his criminal activity and opposed those who tried to bring him to justice for it. Today, £1 million-worth of his assets have been seized.

8.30 pm

A young girl was raped in Gerry Adams’ constituency, a video was taken of her rape on her telephone, and the pictures were sent to her mother. When he was asked whether the perpetrators should be turned in to the police and the people who know their names should give evidence to the police, he refused to tell his own constituents to turn such barbaric people over to the police.

Two people were set on fire in their own home. The man is already dead, the girl is seriously ill in hospital, and the house is burned to the ground. Within the past three weeks, the Member for Newry and Armagh, who does not sit in this House either, has refused publicly to encourage anybody to give information to the police about that crime.

Against that background, it is necessary to have a period between Sinn Fein speaking the words of support for the police and showing that it is prepared to practise support for the police and encourage others to do so. That is why the timetable set down by the Secretary of State in the Bill is unrealistic. If he wants Sinn Fein to make a declaration within a certain period, I am prepared to listen to him, but as he has not been prepared to say when that process starts, he cannot expect the democratic parties to live by a time by which he says the process has to end. We must have a period for that testing process.

I am still not clear about the position of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon). She is right to say that people in Northern Ireland want devolution and want to move away from the cynical way in which we have been governed, whereby things have been done to blackmail, bribe or bully people, even if those were not good policies and utterly contrary to the policies that the Government operate in other parts of the United Kingdom. Of course people want to move away from that so that we can make our own decisions in Northern Ireland through a devolved Assembly, but we cannot afford to ignore the requirement that the parties that will engage in that activity must have a clear-cut position on the police. The hon. Lady did not make it clear whether she believes that it is more important to have devolution or to have all the parties involved in devolution signed up to policing. If it is the latter, she should have no difficulty with the moving of the deadlines and dates.

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