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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention and apologise if I misinterpreted. We must consider the matter year by year in the hope that a time limit keeps negotiations goingone hopes, progressivelyso that we can get an end to the ridiculous mayhem that has blighted Northern Ireland for far too long.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I support the order. The decommissioning period must continue, sad as that is. As we have heard, that means decommissioning on both sides. Obviously, total decommissioning would be the act of completion for which everyone is looking. The Prime Minister says that he will accept an act of completion. We are aware that he is talking to Sinn Fein/IRA which wants some form of demilitarisation, a reduction in forces, and ultimately a review of the prevention of terrorism legislation. However, if the IRA is on ceasefirefor one moment I shall accept the Government's point of view that it isthe fact is that the threat level in Northern Ireland is higher than it has been for five years.
If the IRA is on ceasefire, and if it and Sinn Fein seriously believe in the process, then quite obviously they do not control the dissident groups, which are the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. It probably did not appear in the newspapers over here, but there was a coffee jar bomb in a police station the night before last. Two devices were found at a Territorial Army base when it was putting together support for the Gulf war.
If the answer is an act of completion by the IRA, be it full decommissioning or not, it is not going to reduce the threat at all because, according to the Government, the IRA is on ceasefire and it therefore does not control the dissidents. Therefore, the threat does not come from it and therefore an act of completion by the IRA has absolutely nothing to do with the present threat.
If that is the situation, and if the Government are not responsible for the problems, how can they possibly treat us in Northern Ireland in such a way that they are going to reduce our protection by removing the very defences that we have against the threat? However, if they believe that the IRA is in control of the dissident groups, how can the Government accept that the IRA is on ceasefire?
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, when the Belfast agreement was signed and supported in a referendum by the people of Northern Ireland, they did so in anticipation that there would be decommissioning of all illegal arms by all paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Yet five years later the Lord Privy Seal comes forward yet again to renew the order for decommissioning. In doing so in a one-minute speech he underlined his embarrassment that yet again he has to extend the order.
Decommissioning of itself is not the final solution to the problem of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. One must be careful in stating that if there is total decommissioning peace has arrived. First, how does one know what total decommissioning is? Secondly, even if it occurred, as we well know, further illegal arms can be imported into Northern Ireland.
Here I must criticise and condemn all paramilitaries, not just republican groups, but also the loyalist paramilitaries. The loyalist paramilitaries have been a disgrace to Northern Ireland over the past months and years and in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, in the past few weeks. They describe themselves as loyalists. They are not. Being a loyalist means that one is loyal to the Crown and country. I am a loyalist. The people who behave in the way they have behaved in the past few weeks have been a disgrace to loyalists. They are not unionists: they are an embarrassment to the unionist community and they weaken the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They are certainly not Protestants, because those involved in crime, drugsas we saw this weekendand prostitution cannot be so described. I doubt whether many of them have darkened the door of a Protestant church in Northern Ireland for many years. They are an embarrassment to us as the majority community in Northern Ireland.
Anyone who believes that further decommissioning by the IRA will bring about a restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland is ill advised. Last year I prophesised that the devolved executive and Assembly at Stormont would collapse. The Liberal Democrat spokesman described me as negative. Well, it has happened. But I live in Northern Ireland; and I know what is going on there.
I must warn and advise that, in the present circumstances, there is no chance of devolution being restored simply by an act of decommissioning. To win the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland, which has now been lost, and to regain support for the agreement, which has declined, it is necessary to have not only decommissioning but real sanctions if those who decommission break the peace. By that, I do not mean simply the Prime Minister writing a few words in chalk on a blackboard and then undermining those words before the chalk has even dried.
Lord Eames: My Lords, many words have become the vehicle for other people's thoughts on the Northern Ireland situation. "Reconciliation" has been bandied about as though it were a word of trivial meaning. I fear that the word "decommissioning" is going the same way. Clergy members who speak to me from local areas in which tension is high leave me in no doubt that one of the greatest moves towards convincing the people of Northern Ireland that a new era has come has nothing to do with the so-called decommissioning of Provisional IRA arms. It has to do with the nightly attacks and punishment beatings in both communities across the north. That is what the ordinary people of Northern Ireland see when they wake in the morning and read their papers or watch television.
If I may say so to Her Majesty's Government, there is a real danger that we will run away with the idea that, if there is decommissioning in the traditional sense of the word, all will be well and the new Jerusalem will have arrived. It will be a vital, important part, but people seek the safety of their homes, their streets and their young people. There is a constant harping back to beatings, attacks and shootings. But one of the miracles of the present situation is that there have not been more deaths from that source than there have been. I beg your Lordships to realise that while decommissioning is a vital part of the panorama that we are seeking, at the end of the day, we should not lose sight of what people perceive to be peace, and the lack of it, on their own streets and in their own homes.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I hardly like to follow the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. He has said magnificently what other noble Lords and I believe. Nevertheless, I shall reinforce his comments.
I recognise that the period of amnesty needs to be extended. But for how many years are we to wait for full decommissioning, without which Sinn Fein/IRA cannot be regarded as a normal political party? I hope with all my heart that the Government will cease to rest every bargain on formal acts of decommissioning of arms held by the IRA as a body and, instead, relate the assessment of true disarmament and true decommissioning to the total disarming of the paramilitaries on the streets of Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein/IRA, which has the power, must promise the end of the iniquitous exiling of whole families to the mainland, the end of punishment beatings and the freeing of the people to speak out to both the press and the police if and when they are unlawfully injured and terrorised by people who rely on the support of the IRA to rule their communities. Who are they to claim that they are policing their society and to accuse people, who have done no wrong, of being paedophiles or drug dealers? Who are they to engage in restorative justice?
The loyalist thugsI use that word as a shorthand; I recognise that it is a cruel perversion of loyalist as a wordwho terrorise their own people must equally be disarmed. However, the issue is what in particular Sinn Fein/IRA must deliverbecause they are the people with whom the bargains are being conductedbefore any continuing amnesty in the context of demilitarisation can continue to be on offer.
Every Sinn Fein/IRA paramilitary on the streets should be required to hand in his arms as the condition of the continuation of the amnesty. It should not be related solely to the acts of decommissioning involving arms held by the IRA as part of its arsenal to use, one assumes, against the forces of law and order in any potential conflictalthough it is difficult to imagine how such a war could be justified after nearly five years of the peace process.
Incidentally, I should like to say here that, sadly, I do not believe that dissident groups are beyond the control of the IRA. In my view, the IRA does not tolerate dissidents; dissidents get killed, but they are very convenient alibis. I read in the Irish Times of a monitoring plan to validate that the IRA is no longer engaged in paramilitary activities in the event of a major initiative by the IRA.
Forget the grand and imponderable gestures. Let us begin with visible, real housekeeping on the streets of Northern Ireland. Nothing else will convince the people, whether Catholic or Protestant, that there is a real hope of peace. The cleansing of the streets must precede any possible concession by Her Majesty's Government in terms of the reduction of our military presence in what is British territorya presence
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