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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the IRA statement contains two things: first, an unequivocal commitment to decommissioning; and, separately from that, there is a commitment to a confidence-building measure; namely, the inspection of the arms dumps by the independent observers, Mr Ahtisaari and Mr Ramaphosa. Those are two separate things. It is not being suggested that the inspection of the arms dumps is the decommissioning. That is a confidence-building measure. What is significant, apart from that confidence-building measure, is the commitment itself to decommissioning, something we have not heard before from the IRA, as was recognised by the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith.
As to the statement made by Mr Adams, to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred, unfortunately, I do not know of that specific statement and so I am not in a position to make any comment on it. What is clear from the IRA's statement is that it will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use. That is a significant step forward.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on having got this far, even though there are still hurdles ahead, and I wish David Trimble and John Taylor good luck in the coming days. David Trimble will have to draw again on his reserves of courage and tenacity to see him through the next stage of this important process. Can my noble and learned
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks about where we have reached. I share with him the recognition that there are many hurdles ahead. I deplore with him the paramilitary attacks. I very much hope that the effect of the statement and the developments over the weekend will lead to a reduction in the number of paramilitary attacks.
Lord Renton: My Lords, in recent years the Government of the Republic of Ireland have played a valuable part in helping the United Kingdom Government to achieve peace in Northern Ireland. Can the noble and learned Lord confirm that on this occasion too the Government of the Republic have played a valuable part?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I most certainly can. As the Statement made in another place revealed, it was the governments jointly setting out what they thought were the necessary steps to implement the Good Friday agreement that was the start of this recent stage in the peace process.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord accept that, as someone who for 25 years was involved in counter-terrorist operations on three different continents, no one wishes more than I do to see this peace process succeed? But will he also accept that it would be very unwise to place too much credence on the unequivocal assurances of terrorist organisations? That way may lie disaster.
Perhaps I may repeat three of the questions which have been raised in your Lordships' House today but which will need answers that will satisfy not only the unionists in Northern Ireland but most of the population of the country whose lives are at risk as much as anyone else's from the operations of the terrorists. First, do we know that all the IRA arms are in the dumps that are being opened to inspection, or are there other dumps with weapons in them that will not be seen? Secondly, is there any way in which it is intended that these weapons should be immobilised, by removing such things as firing pins and fuses, so that they could not be used even if they were removed from the dumps? Finally, how will the dumps be guarded so that if people change their minds about the unequivocal assurances they cannot descend on the dumps, remove the weapons and use them? I do not ask the noble and learned Lord to answer those questions today but can he at least give an assurance that the Government will demand unequivocal and satisfactory answers to those questions before they carry this process any further?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, perhaps I make clear what the effect of the IRA statement is. It is an unequivocal commitment verifiably to put beyond use the IRA's arms. That is the unequivocal commitment to decommissioning. Separately from that, as a confidence-building measure, is agreeing that the two independent observers should be given access to inspect weapons dumps and that they should thereafter be able to inspect them regularly. It is not being suggested that the inspection of the weapons dumps constitutes the decommissioning, but it is a measure designed to build confidence in the process. There are two separate things in this statement, both of which represent a significant way forward. In order to deal with the commitment to decommission, there has to be a verifiable way in which the arms are put beyond use. That is what the IRA committed itself to in the statement. How that is done is a matter to be determined between the IRA and the decommissioning commission.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain what appears to be a contradiction in the Statement? He began by telling us that there was an unequivocal undertaking to put the arms beyond use. Then he went on to say that there would be continuing inspection of the arms dumps to ensure that none of the weapons was removed. If they are beyond use, what would be the purpose of removing them?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I obviously have not made my position adequately clear. The statement from the IRA is saying that it is giving two separate things. The first is an unequivocal assurance to put its arms beyond use; in effect, an unequivocal commitment to decommissioning. Separately from that, as a confidence-building measure, it is agreeing to the inspection of arms dumps by independent inspectors. It is not suggesting that that equals decommissioning. It is simply a confidence-building measure so that the process can begin and people can have confidence in it. We are not suggesting for one moment that the inspection process of the arms dumps equals decommissioning. It is being put forward as a confidence-building measure.
Lord Blease: My Lords, I am very pleased, indeed grateful, for the way in which the Opposition Benches have accepted the Statement. The approach is constructive and offers hope for the measures that lie ahead. I believe that the Statement makes it possible to achieve honest and effective working relationships in Northern Ireland and to promote measures to achieve honourable, just and lasting democratic political institutions which will bring about effective government in the Province.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, the Minister has been extremely patient while being pushed on a particular point. However, the worry about the phrase "beyond use" is not merely semantic; it relates to the realities. Is it synonymous with being prepared to destroy the weapons or with being prepared, under whatever supervision, to destroy them or surrender them to some other body? Presumably, "beyond use" can equally mean one of those two things: either the weapons are surrendered, on whatever terms the IRA is prepared to accept, to some other body of its choice or to an agreed body; or alternatively, they are destroyed. The phrase "beyond use" worries a number of us. It seems to have some hidden definition, probably known only to the IRA and Ministers.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I have said, the IRA has made a clear and unequivocal commitment to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use. That is what the decommissioning Act required. The Act states that arms must be destroyed or made permanently inaccessible or unusable. The IRA has said that that is what it will do. I do not think that there is any sinister meaning as suggested by the noble Lord.
Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, during the first 10 years of the 30-year problem in Northern Ireland, the Army were in charge of security; the RUC was swamped. From 1978, and increasingly, the Chief Constable and the RUC have been in charge of security. Given the announcement made by my noble friend about the role of the two prominent figures from outside the country, what role will the Chief Constable play? Will he be brought into all discussions? He is the one to decide whether he is satisfied with the security arrangements.
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