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The Government stressed before, during and after the St. Andrews talks that there were twin pillars for
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agreement. One was DUP support for power sharing and the other was Sinn Fein support for policing. The DUP election manifesto provided for the first pillar. Our executive endorsed that on Saturday at a meeting that I chaired. However, Sinn Fein must prove beyond doubt that it is capable of fully delivering the second pillar.

Councillor Brush was attacked four times by the Provisional IRA, which tried to murder him. The Secretary of State quoted Michelle Gildernew, who is absent from this House but was elected to it—her party gets an awful lot of money for not coming here from the Government, who talked about Assembly Members getting paid for not doing their full work. The Secretary of State was selective in his quotation. He said that Michelle Gildernew said that she would give information to the police. That certainly constitutes movement—I will come back to that. However, she also said that no republican attacked Councillor Brush and, in the same article, that the attack was not sectarian. Councillor Brush and the people of that area believe that it was a deliberate sectarian, republican attack, but Michelle Gildernew has decided that it is neither. She was asked whether, if she knew of weapons in dissident terrorist hands, she would report it to the police. She said that she would not. That is not what was demanded of Sinn Fein. There was to be unequivocal support for the PSNI, the courts and the rule of law, and a complete end to paramilitary and criminal activity.

Weapons in the hands of a terrorist organisation are there to threaten, kill, and destroy the peace and stability of a community. It is therefore abundantly clear that it is important to take such weapons from those who have them. For example, I am led to believe that last week, dissident republican groupings brought in a cache of arms. That fact has been hidden; it has not yet been published. A cache of arms was brought into republican hands. What for? What will the Government do about it? If Sinn Fein wants to call itself completely democratic, it must declare that any terrorist uprising, irrespective of the proponents, must be crushed, and that the organisation must be stopped in its tracks and face the full rigour of the law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) acknowledged the difficulties for hon. Members of having to meet Sinn Fein, and the fact that no one was jumping up and down about it. As far as I am concerned, the idea of Sinn Fein in a Government is obnoxious. It makes me sick to the pit of my stomach. My thoughts are with the innocent victims, Protestant and Roman Catholic, throughout the community, who have been slaughtered by the IRA and so-called loyalist terrorist organisations. Neither has a place in a democratic society.

Many people will find it difficult to forgive those who brutally and callously murdered their loved ones. Last week, I believed that Martin McGuinness was a terrorist with blood on his hands. I believed that he had been a murderer. I have to tell the House that I believe that this week, because he is the same person. Irrespective of a person’s position, in a democratic society everyone is equal under the law, equally subject to the law and must, therefore, face justice. I do not
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believe that I have a right to ask for that for the republican community if I do not ask for the same for the Unionist community. If there is failure to meet justice under any political climate, those guilty will never evade the justice of Almighty God, who knows the murders that have been committed. Until the wrong is acknowledged, there cannot be healing.

I know what it is for my children to look over their shoulder every day and for my wife to look under her car every day. I have known what it is for many years to stand with my constituents and look into coffins nearly daily. Many of those coffins did not hold bodies, but only pieces of them when terrorists had finished with them. We cannot live in the past. We have to build a future—but a future that is just, honourable, democratic and has a solid sound foundation.

Hon. Members have already mentioned the day on which Sinn Fein Members may come to this House. There is nothing to stop those Members who are elected to this House from coming to it. That is their right and it has been their right for years: they have failed to represent their constituents in this House.

Are we looking at a new dawn? I earnestly hope that a new dawn in Northern Ireland will be proven to be true, for bitterness eats into the hearts of individuals. In fact, it hurts the individual that carries it more than those who just walk away untouched and unconcerned. I yearn for an honest genuine peace and a brighter future. Are we to be given the opportunity for it to happen? It will happen only when those responsible for crimes face justice and only when we build a solid foundation on democratic principles alone. I pray that Northern Ireland can enjoy that future.

6.21 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): First, I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate. I was attending events in my constituency, but I wanted to take the opportunity to say a few words in this debate, representing a constituency that is home to a large number of Irish people from both the north and the Republic.

Last week, I attended an Irish pensioners event in my constituency and met people who had been driven to London by the poverty in Ireland. We briefly discussed the situation and they looked forward to today with some trepidation and concern, as they thought it might never happen. But it has actually happened and I would like to place on record my tribute to the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for their efforts towards achieving yesterday’s very important meeting. Previous Secretaries of State over the past 10 years should also be praised for doing so much over that time to bring about some kind of resolution to what was seen to be a wholly intractable problem.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) that many people who have suffered grievously must have very mixed feelings about today. I have met Colin Parry on a number of occasions and found him to be one the nicest human beings one could ever hope to meet: he suffered so much, but has tried to do so much to bring about peace. That is the sort of spirit that we want to see in operation from today onwards. All over Northern Ireland, there are people who have lost loved ones and seen the brutality and
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violence that can lead to the most horrible deaths. One hopes that this is the end of that particular chapter in the history of Ireland.

The history of Ireland has indeed been very bitter and bloody in the north and the south. If we look at the history of Ireland from the occupation onwards, we see the famine, the hunger, the Easter rising, the civil war and all that went with it. Then there is the history and process in Northern Ireland itself. One hopes that today sees at least an acknowledgement of the contribution that both communities have made to the history of Northern Ireland and will continue to make in future when the Assembly starts up.

One also has to recognise that all four of the main parties in the Assembly have made enormous jumps and changes—Sinn Fein, the Democratic Unionists, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists. I have been a Member of the House since 1983 and like many other Members I have sat here and opposed many of the pieces of legislation to do with Northern Ireland: the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, the broadcasting ban, the travel ban and all sorts of legislation designed to support the idea that there could be a military solution in Northern Ireland, which suppression of speech could help to bring about. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) about that. Indeed, not so long ago, I voted with SDLP Members on the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill because I believed that it provided the possibility of continuing the Diplock courts system—a system that was wholly discredited. One hopes that normality will return and that Northern Ireland will get jury trials—just like I hope—the rest of the UK.

We should pay tribute to a number of people today. In particular, I want to pay tribute to Gerry Adams and John Hume, who both had the courage to go into secret talks and subsequent talks that brought about the Hume-Adams accord, which began to bring about the possibilities of the 1994 ceasefire. That was broken, as we know, and we then moved on to the 1997 ceasefire and subsequent developments. Then there was yesterday’s historic event when the Reverend Paisley, as we should call him—the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)—sat down with Gerry Adams and finally announced that an agreement had been reached. I pay tribute to both of them for bringing that about. It is very difficult to lead a community that is set in a particular direction to recognise the values of other communities within Northern Ireland and lead the way towards a devolved assembly, which we hope will come into operation at the beginning of May.

Today’s legislation is, as everyone now acknowledges, a minor blip in an historic and very important road. Six weeks is absolutely nothing for the prize that lies at the end. I hope that, in passing this legislation tonight, we recognise the huge sacrifices that have been made by many people in all communities. The brutality and the awful pieces of legislation of the past are now behind us, I hope, as we move to a peaceful and democratic future in Ireland. People there deserve the opportunity to live in peace. We should remember those who have sacrificed so much for todayand recognise those who have made important contributions in civil society.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon pointed out the contribution of the trade unions and, speaking as a former trade union official, I readily acknowledge how the unions were able to provide some kind of common meeting ground where normal working-class politics could operate because of the common interest in retaining levels of public spending, employment and all the rest of it. Huge steps have been made. Today is historic, important and welcome. We look forward to perpetual peace and democracy for all the people of all of Ireland.

6.28 pm

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I was interested in the Secretary of State’s comments in the early part of his speech, particularly when he mentioned some slogans—Northern Ireland is famous for its slogans written on walls—such as “Sinn Hain got the cane and Hain fell into an omelette”. Well, he did not mention that one, but I have seen it. They tell me that confession is good for the soul, and I can tell the Secretary of State—it is a pity that he is not here to listen, but I am sure his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office will pass the information on to him and it will be recorded in Hansard—that white emulsion was used for the slogan, and I assure him that at the end of the week, my colleagues and I will remove it. He may want to know who put it up, but my colleagues and I will remove it.

I do not think that anyone could seriously doubt that the scenes witnessed in Northern Ireland yesterday were of huge significance. Whether they will prove to be a good piece of history or another false dawn will be judged only by time.

I entered this House in 2005, and I confess to having been on a steep learning curve since then. I was present at negotiations at Leeds castle, St. Andrews and, sometimes, No. 10 Downing street. One thing that I have learned is that one cannot take anyone’s word, because one needs to see actions. At Leeds castle, a deal was close, but it did not happen—in many ways, I am thankful that it did not happen, because the Northern bank robbery took place afterwards. At St. Andrews, Sinn Fein-IRA promised that they would fulfil their commitments on policing and other issues, but they dragged their heels. They promised many things, so only time will tell whether Sinn Fein-IRA come up to the mark.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) and other hon. Friends have mentioned victims. I am part of the victims group in my party, and I listen to and visit a lot of victims organisations. When I was on the road to the airport this morning, I listened to a radio programme in which comments were made by victims, including former RUC officers, the victims of republican paramilitaries and the victims of loyalist paramilitaries. It would take a very hard individual not to be emotionally moved by some of the stories on the radio this morning—I heard men, women and young people who were literally in tears. We cannot allow ourselves to be carried away with what has taken place and to forget about the people who have been left in that state. Those people were not only victims in the past, because they are still
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going through torture in the present, and different acts are still carried out by different organisations in different guises. It is important that we do not forget those people.

The only way devolution can work is if everyone sings from the same hymn sheet. Trust is a word that has been bandied about a lot over the years in Northern Ireland, and it is lacking in the Unionist community towards Sinn Fein. I suppose that the argument could be thrown back that it is lacking on their side of the community, too, and the only way in which we can move forward is if there is trust on both sides.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has mentioned that many DUP Members have suffered at the hands of terrorism. My hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim(Dr. McCrea) has mentioned his personal circumstances, and I, too, have suffered at the hands of terrorism, which affected four members of my family. Such matters are difficult. Yesterday, a reporter who knew the background rang me and asked, “How do you feel about this?” I gave him a glib answer, because I did not have time to talk to him. Afterwards, however, I thought about the question, and I felt a certain amount of anger and a certain amount of sadness and emptiness. Many of my hon. Friends would say exactly the same thing, and different emotions go through one’s mind as events unfold.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim that Martin McGuinness was a terrorist last week, and as far as I am concerned, he is a terrorist today—the bottom line is that it is only through the grace of God that he can repent of that. Whatever happens after 8 May, I hope and trust that we will have stable government in Northern Ireland and that we will see a future for our children’s children. Like many of my hon. Friends, I have teenage children who are growing up, and I want to see a future for them, but we must get it right. I think that we owe it to the next generation to get it right.

6.35 pm

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Yesterday has been described as a good day for Northern Ireland, and I believe that there are a number of reasons why it was a good day.

First, yesterday was possible only because we have had a complete change in the security situation in Northern Ireland. We moved away from a situation in which a party that claimed to be a political party openly engaged in terrorism. Although many people contributed to the process, it is important to note the resolve of the leader of our party, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who made it clear that unless guns went and unless support and evidence were provided to the police, there would be no move towards including in government representatives of a party that still espoused terrorism. That resolve, along with world events and pushes by other political leaders including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, led to the change in the climate that has made devolution possible.

Secondly, yesterday was a good day because we are moving away from unrepresentative government in Northern Ireland. How ever hard direct rule Ministers
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try, they do not represent people in Northern Ireland, because they do not stand for election in Northern Ireland and because they have other duties in their constituencies and in this House. Indeed, many of them represented two or three Departments.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): Five.

Sammy Wilson: However, the Minister did not get five salaries. Northern Ireland business was put through this House in an unacceptable way. I remember when the Secretary of State introduced legislation that would have changed the face of education in Northern Ireland. That legislation went through this House with one and a half hours’ debate and without any opportunity for further discussion. At the same time, a similar Bill, which had less far-reaching effects, was subject to two major debates in this House and to weeks in Committee. I do not believe that that is a good way to do business or to rule another part of the United Kingdom. Now we are moving towards a situation in which legislation can be considered properly and Northern Ireland business can be attended to properly, which is why yesterday was a good day.

As has been said, however, yesterday was not a good day for many people, because those people are still suffering and still remember what Sinn Fein did to Northern Ireland. Different people have reacted in different ways. Shortly after the election, I held an advice centre. A lady led her husband into the advice centre—she led him by the hand, almost like a child—to talk about incapacity benefit. The lady’s husband had been a policeman, and he was unable to put behind him the attacks on him and what he had witnessed, which had affected his mental capacity and everything else. After we dealt with the business, she said to me, “Sammy, make sure you go through and sort this thing out. I don’t want anyone else to suffer the way my husband has suffered.” The very same day, another lady came in who had lost a son who had been in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Of course, her attitude was completely different: “Have nothing to do with that bunch of murderers,” she said. Different people will have viewed yesterday in different ways.

I want to emphasise what the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) said: in part, we are where we are today because of the dedicated efforts of the police, Army and security personnel who made sure that the terrorists would ultimately be defeated, and would not be able to run our country. Many of them paid a sacrifice, and we owe them a great debt.

Of course, other people are unhappy about yesterday, as was shown by the comments of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), who only reflects the views of her party leader. Their unhappiness is more to do with a political disappointment. In the case of the hon. Member for North Down, perhaps her faith in the integrity of the Secretary of State had been challenged. Perhaps she really believed him when he said, “This is a deadline like no other. It is immovable. It is set in stone. It is set in statute.” In parts of Ireland we have moving statues, and we now have moving statutes as well. The hon.
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Member for North Down is weeping because the Secretary of State said, “Those who believe that they can push devolution back to May or October are making a catastrophic mistake, and if devolution is not up and running on 26 March, we will shut up shop.” Perhaps she would have preferred the shop to be shut, but it is still firmly opening, and the official opening will take place on 8 May. It will be open for business, and we intend to do the business on 8 May.

We were told that we could not sneak past the deadline; we never had any intention of doing so. We believed that the deadline had been arbitrarily set, and did not provide the necessary time for business to be done. We marched over it; we did not sneak past it. Perhaps the hon. Lady is unhappy about that, but that is not the view that should be taken. We now have the opportunity to do the business for people in Northern Ireland. It will not be an easy task.

As the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) mentioned, there are huge differences between Sinn Fein and our party, and there are differences between his party and our party. When he and I were first put on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, the same predictions were made that it would not last six months, and that it had to face the insurmountable problems presented by the Patten proposals, many of which the police and the Unionist community opposed. We worked our way around that. I could tell many stories about his role in taking on some of the Patten purists in his party, but I will not. During the four years that he and I were on the Policing Board, we disagreed and were unhappy about things, but we worked our way around them, and as a result policing in Northern Ireland was improved, despite the predictions. The same will apply to this Assembly, and we must address ourselves to the task.

We have many problems to deal with—the restructuring of our economy, the improvement of our education system, and the planning issues that gum up the workings of our economy. We must deal with them through a form of government that parties in this House would find impossible to work. I listened to the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister promise that they would never engage in Punch and Judy politics, but they still do so. We in Northern Ireland are being asked to overcome even greater differences than those between the two main parties in the House in order to work together. All parties are being asked to work together in a coalition.

Safeguards have been put into the system, at our insistence, which will make it more sustainable. We intend to make it work. The shop will be open on 8 May. Business will be done. Sometimes, there might be squabbles behind the counter, outside the shop and inside the shop. Ultimately, however, we can do the business for people in Northern Ireland, and that is why yesterday was a good day.

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