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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Lord President of the Council for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the other place. I begin by recognising the tremendously good work that both the PSNI and the Garda Siochana have done in recent days in getting so quickly on to the trail of the Northern Bank robbery and other heists.
Does the noble Baroness agree that the recent acts of murder and bank robbery blamed on Sinn Fein/IRA by the IMC and the British and Irish Governments have significantly changed the ball park for what has euphemistically become known as the Northern Ireland peace process? Furthermore, do Her Majesty's Government share the Irish Government's assessment of Sinn Fein/IRA? Does her right honourable friend the Secretary of State endorse the IMC's judgment that leaders of Sinn Fein were personally responsible for these crimes? Does he agree with the defence Minister of the Irish Republic, who said at the weekend:
Does the noble Baroness agree that Messrs Adams and McGuinness will never be trusted again by anyone involved in the democratic processes of government, and that a different method of achieving inclusivity within the devolved process must be found to allow progress without these untrustworthy individuals? If so, what now? The Government have had plenty of time to think about this. I have asked that question on a number of occasions, and even made tentative suggestions from this Dispatch Box. It is time a plan B was unveiled.
I congratulate Her Majesty's Government, albeit on a "better late than never" basis, on the removal of Sinn Fein's block financial assistance from Stormont.
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Many of us felt they should have had it removed long ago. We will also welcome the Government's proposal to suspend all Westminster allowances, which means some £500,000 from Sinn Fein's coffers. Again, many of us felt that awarding them was wrong in the first place, and we said so.
Does the government proposal mean, however, that Sinn Fein Members of Parliament will still get offices at Westminster and be able to give House of Commons passes to their staff, even if staff salaries have to be met from Sinn Fein's other sources of funding?
Regarding the question of the expulsion of Sinn Fein from the political process, we on this side also want to see the achievement of an inclusive power-sharing devolved government in Northern Ireland, but we will not tolerate it being hijacked by one party, especially one that is transparently linked to criminal activities of the worst type.
We welcome the closer co-operation and excellent co-ordination between the two national police forces, and the signing of the protocols allowing freedom of movement of those forces across national borders.
Can the noble Baroness give us an absolute guarantee that the police and all other agencies will have the Government's unreserved support in their efforts to root out paramilitary crime, and that there will be no holding back, wherever or to whomever those investigations might lead? "Whomever" is perhaps the most important category.
Today's Statement is another sad one. I am delighted that the Government are taking serious and positive action in the light of the situation. I am afraid we cannot expect to see much progress until after the general election, but we on this side expect to see new thinking, fresh planning and some progress.
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I also thank the Secretary of State for making the Statement available to us earlier in the day and for meeting us to explain his reasons.
We on these Benches agree with the measures outlined in the Statement, but of course regret the circumstances that have made them necessary. As the Statement says, Sinn Fein, by its contamination with illegal and violent activity, is putting itself beyond the pale of democratic participation. The party cannot pick and mix. Sinn Fein must decide once and for all whether it will fully sign up to pursuing its aims solely by democratic methods. If it does not do so, it is denying its constituents their rightful voice in the democratic process, as the Statement makes clear.
Sinn Fein has a legitimate mandate, but that is confined to lawful political participation. It is most definitely not a mandate to participate in crime and violence as it wishes. The party is wholly responsible for creating the present "High Noon" situation, and the crisis it has engendered.
For some time now, the political situation in Northern Ireland has been akin to a children's boating pool with the parties circling endlessly around in their
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pedal boats. That rather pointless activity may possibly be coming to an end by the import of this Statement, which is saying, "Come in, number two, your time is up". That is also the message coming very clearly from the Irish Government.
I have to say further that, more recently than the bank heist, the murder of Robert McCartney and the subsequent allegations that Republicans have been intimidating witnesses and protecting those who carried out this heinous crime have also caused a great deal of concern in Northern Ireland. We must hope that Sinn Fein will genuinely reform itself and totally eschew violence and criminality so that the devolutionary process can be resumed.
I conclude by asking the Minister: where do we go from here? How will momentum be resumed in Northern Ireland and, in the mean time, what firm proposals will be made to enable the Westminster Parliament to scrutinise adequately Northern Ireland legislation? While it obtains, direct rule must be better scrutinised than it has been since the suspension of the devolved institutions.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, some general themes have threaded through the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Smith of Clifton. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, in regretting the circumstances that have made today's Statement necessary.
Turning to the specific questions raised, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to the comments made in the IMC report regarding Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said in another place, there is no reason to deny the IMC report. We have been consistent in saying that Sinn Fein and the IRA are inextricably linked.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that trust has broken down, but I should also say in response to his question "What next?"a question also put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Cliftonthat our goal remains the same. We seek an inclusive, power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland. Clearly there are huge challenges and difficulties associated with how to get there, but because it is our strong view that the process has to remain inclusive, we are sure that at this point we must continue to talk to Sinn Feinalthough we have made it clear that inclusion in the Northern Ireland political process must be on the basis of a complete and demonstrable commitment to non violence.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked whether the police and the agencies have our unreserved support. I can assure him that that is the case. They have our total support. Indeed, the noble Lord will know that the agencies have been reconfigured to give them greater strength, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has asked Ian Pearson to look again at one of the agencies.
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The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, is right to point out that there is no mandate in Northern Ireland politics for parties to participate in crime and criminality. We are absolutely clear about that. He also asked about the scrutiny of Northern Ireland business, in particular Northern Ireland legislation. A number of suggestions and proposals have been made and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is looking at them. We are well aware that issues of accountability, transparency and consultation become even more important in the context of direct rule and we will do all we can to try to ensure that scrutiny takes place in a way that parliamentarians would wish to see.
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I wish to put a few questions to the Minister. First, accepting that the Government of this country have access to exactly the same information and evidence as that of the Republic, can the Minister confirm that our Government agree with the public statement of the Irish Minister of Justice that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness were members of the Provisional IRA ruling army council? I have often heard the noble Baroness accept that the IRA and Sinn Fein are two sides of one coin, inextricably linked, and the same business. However, I should like to know whether she agrees with the statement of the Irish Minister. Secondly, is she comfortable with the fact that such peoplewe know how the Irish Government view themmay wander around this Palace, free to enter and leave it as they wishconfirmed terrorists?
Thirdly, can the Minister tell me whether any members of Sinn Fein in Northern Irelandthat is, what we accept as the Sinn Fein Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland, and members of councilsmight have been arrested if in this country we had admissibility of evidence gained by intercept?
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