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Baroness Amos: My Lords, my apologies for not responding to that point. I believe that the noble Lord asked me to assure him that the full force of Customs and Excise will be made available. I can assure him on that point.
Lord Rogan: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement repeated by the Lord President, and the report from the International Monitoring Commission. The report highlights the stark truth about the continued paramilitarism, racketeering and gangsterism in Northern Ireland today. It uses plain language to spell out the nature of those activities and the groups behind them. As has been discussed today and on previous occasions, the proceeds of those heinous crimes fund political partiesthe very same political parties that the IMC has recommended taking action against. There is therefore a clear case that, alongside the financial penalties announced today, the Government should also use the findings of the report to bolster the resources and powers of the Assets Recovery Agency, so that moneys gained through these illegal activities are once again cut off from the perpetrators of the crimes. Moreover, the Secretary of State should use his powers under the prisoner release legislation to ensure that those responsible are taken from our streets once and for all.
The IMC made clear that all politicians and others in prominent roles must exert every possible influence to bring about a cessation of paramilitary activity. The commission notes that organised crime does not recognise borders. This is something that needs to be tackled not only in Northern Ireland but more broadly. I am happy to be able to tell the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, that the Assets Recovery Agency, the new body, is working well.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, does the Minister recall that when we reached the Belfast agreement in 1998, the southern Irish Government were specifically excluded from the internal affairs of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Does she recognise now that a representative of the southern Irish Government has been involved for the first time in deciding the affairs of the Northern Ireland Assembly? That is a precedent for a representative of the southern Irish Government to be making recommendations as to the payments for Members of the Assembly and whether they should be suspended. This is a historic moment: the Dublin Government are involved in the internal affairs of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Secondly, does the Minister recognise that throughout Northern Ireland, among both the nationalist and Unionist communities, the Government will be laughed at for their decision to have minimal deductions in moneys made available to Sinn Fein, which is one of the richest political parties in Europe? Sinn Fein will laugh, the SDLP will be horrified, and Unionists will laugh as well. The Government have acted very badly in that matter. It will have no impact whatever.
Thirdly, and regrettably, does the Minister recognise that Sinn Fein/IRA, by continuing its violence, holds a veto over the establishment of a devolved government at Stormont? Therefore, regrettably, the Government must soon proceed with the decision that a devolved government on the basis of the Belfast agreement is unattainable and that sooner rather than later the suspended Assembly will have to be dissolved.
On the first point, about the representative from the Irish Government, the IGC terms make it absolutely clear where that representative can be involved. If the noble Lord would like me to spell that out in greater detail, I shall be very happy to do so in writing.
As for the deductions that have been taken and the decisions made in relation to the sanctions, the noble Lord will know, having looked at the report, that we are carrying out the recommendation made by the IMC. If the Assembly had been sitting, of course, different sanctions would have been available. I recognise that to a certain extent that is symbolicit is
On the noble Lord's final point, he will be aware that we have been working together through this process, trying to ensure that there is an inclusive process that leads to greater stability and to devolved government in Northern Ireland. That is our aim, and we shall continue to seek to achieve that.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, while I understand some of the misgivings expressed on the Liberal Democrat Benches, on balance I welcome this report and the Government's proposal for action with effect from 28 April. The level of murders and personal violence described in the Statement is clearly unacceptable, even if it is much lower than that which prevailed before 1994. The question therefore arises of how we reduce and prevent that violence.
I suggest to the Leader of the House that a combined effort is required, through public opinion, particularly as is articulated and expressed through the Churches and voluntary organisations, through the legitimate constitutional political parties and, of course, through all government agencies, some of which have been mentioned already, notably the security services. Do the Government accept that such a combined effort is necessary and will they, in conjunction with the Irish Government, give that kind of leadership from day to day? Will they orchestrate a campaign to eliminate violence and thus to give the Belfast agreement a chance to function as was intended?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that I feel that the Government have been seeking to give precisely the kind of leadership that he has just articulated. Of course, a combined effort is required. We could not achieve what we want without the people of Northern Ireland themselves wanting to see it achieved, and they have made their views on these matters absolutely clear. Of course, we need to have the parties on board, which is why we have sought to maintain an inclusive process while making it absolutely clear that paramilitary activity must end. Of course, the government agencies need to be involved, and the role in this process of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and other agencies, including Customs and Excise, is absolutely crucial.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for the Statement, I would also like to condemn the two recent letter bombs, or suspected letter bombs, one of which was sent to one of my colleagues on the Policing Board.
The report has brought home for the first time to everybody in Westminster as a whole what we have been saying for a long while; I refer to what is going on on the ground. The commission has made a tremendous job of producing the report in a short time. However, people should not consider that it gives the whole story; the commission would say that it would have liked more time.
The commission has not existed for long and we must go back further than that to the first cease-fire, for instance. There was a period between about 1994 and 1997 when things improved dramatically. If one takes out the reduction in the number of people being killed, every other statistic is worse than it was in that period. The other graphs show that matters are going on steadily. The one graph which goes back any distance is on page 20, which covers paramilitary-style shootings and assaults. It shows a dramatic increase. Therefore I differ on accepting that conditions are better. I feel that when the commission produces its next report, and I ask the Minister when that will be, it will show that in the very short term things may, in its view, be slightly better, but in the medium term they are worse than they have been for some time.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Viscount has identified the complexity of the situation with which we are dealing. The report makes absolutely clearI am looking at page 25that while the number of murders, attacks on security forces and bombings by paramilitaries has sharply decreased, the level of other paramilitary violence has been, and continues to be, considerably higher than before the Belfast agreement. The report goes on to extrapolate from that.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I also very much welcome this report and am greatly encouraged by it, with the reservations that have been expressed around the House, but I have two questions. First, are any steps going to be taken to publicise this report in the United States? It is surely a reasoned counter to the claims made by Sinn Fein in the article for which it paid. Secondly, will the commission address the issue of the impossibility of people speaking to the press about what happens to them or turning to the police about it? I make a distinction between what the police do and the degree to which the community feels free to go to them. I should like answers to those two questions.
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