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Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: It is my belief that this amendment is probably the most important one that we shall have to deal with because, until this present difficulty is overcome, we shall not get much further. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I can certainly vouch that everything they said is correct. However, I do not think it is understood that it is not just Unionists who want decommissioning; people right across the board in Northern Ireland want this agreement to succeed. Everyone who is a democrat knows that democrats cannot sit down under any circumstances with people who are not democrats, who have not said that the war is over and have given no indication that they have any intention of giving up their weapons.
This makes it impossible for the ordinary man to see how the assembly can work. Yet it is worrying that people are saying, "David Trimble would give way but, of course, he cannot because of his hardliners". That is all rubbish. It is not just him who cannot give in. No ordinary sensible democrat could possibly sit down with parties he has no confidence in and whom he cannot trust. I think we have come a long way because great effort was made to ensure that the IRA need not feel it was surrendering or was beaten. The agreement is quite implicit that all the arrangements for the release of prisoners and the removal of Army road blocks, and so on, were to run in parallel with decommissioning. All these other things have happened and yet we have not witnessed decommissioning. I am afraid that the leaders of Sinn Fein are making out that it is all everyone else's fault. I believe this amendment will make it a little clearer that decommissioning must run in parallel with the other measures that are being taken--for example, the release of prisoners and other such measures.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, put the matter extremely fairly in his introductory remarks to his amendment. We are now at an extremely difficult juncture. It is not in the end a matter of legalistic quibbling; it is a matter of political reality as to whether the people of Northern Ireland, the party leaders of Northern Ireland and the people of Britain have confidence that this is a serious process that will advance. Of course, trust cuts both ways and there are no doubt those militant Republicans who are asking
I repeat to the Committee what I said on a previous occasion. I hope eventually our combined words will get through to the leadership of Sinn Fein who have to use whatever influence they may have in this matter. Some of us would consider they have a great deal of influence, given who they are and their combined histories. They really need to make sure that General de Chastelain receives not merely the form of co-operation. If the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will forgive me, in this respect his amendment is slightly misplaced. He refers to working with the independent commission. I believe that they would say that they are working with the commission. Martin McGuinness has been appointed as representative to General de Chastelain's commission and its members have had meetings with him. They might say that that represented working with the independent commission. It is my belief that unless that takes a more tangible form than having meetings--and at this stage even the preparation of a timetable would build confidence--effectively they are making it politically impossible for the institution of the Assembly, in which we have all vested so much hope, to proceed.
Lord Desai: I wish to raise a small technical point. At Second Reading I said that I agreed with much of what the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Holme, had said. I have since spoken to a colleague of mine who is a specialist in these matters. He raised a problem to which I should like my noble friend to give an answer; namely, that the agreement requires that Sinn Fein be included in the executive without any decommissioning, and if that fails to happen a move can be made in the Supreme Court of the Republic of Ireland to annul the result of the referendum held in the Republic. I am not an expert, but I have heard that said. If the promise to implement the cabinet is not honoured, we could see the unravelling of Articles 2 and 3 of the referendum in the republic.
I await an answer from the Minister; however, if that is the case, and if in principle the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and other noble Lords are true, we might be taking a big risk by making this a precondition, whereas in the current situation it is not a precondition. I am entirely in sympathy with the spirit of their proposals; I merely wish to get the legalities clear.
Lord Fitt: It is with hesitation that I speak to this amendment. I am only too well aware that, given my political background as a former leader of the SDLP, as a Catholic and educated by the Christian Brothers, I am supposed to agree with every item in support of the nationalists, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. In Northern Ireland it is easy to be called a traitor who has betrayed his political, religious and nationalistic roots. I should not want to be in that position; however it is a strong possibility if I do not support every word and comma contained in the agreement.
I said at Second Reading that I wished to see the agreement work. I desperately want to see it work. But at present, from speaking to people who are deeply involved, I see a danger that the whole thing may collapse.
I know of people who speak to Gerry Adams. He says to them, "Look, all this talk doesn't mean anything. At the end of the day, in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation, Trimble will give way. He will take it to the very last second and then he will blink". The same people go to David Trimble and he says: "When it comes to the very last second, in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, Adams will give way on decommissioning". That is dangerous. If they carry that through to the very last second, the whole thing could collapse.
I was frightened when I read a report last week from Mr. Hutchison of the Progressive Unionist Party. He said, "We are not going to give up arms". They are in the key position. The loyalist paramilitaries say, "Unless the IRA give up arms, we are not going to give up our arms". The IRA says, "We are not going to give up our arms, either".
Although it was not written into the Good Friday agreement, it was said that the last prisoners would be released two years after the agreement was signed and that decommissioning would have to be complete after a period of two years.
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