Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Viscount's second question about access to Parliament gives me an opportunity to answer a question which was raised earlier. With respect to what form any further sanctions against Sinn Fein might take, that is a matter to be debated in another place in the coming weeks. The decision is for the other place.

The noble Viscount asked a specific question about individuals. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that, in accordance with longstanding government practice, I do not want to comment on individual cases. However, I will repeat what I said before: we have no reason to deny the IMC report and we have been consistent in saying that the IRA and Sinn Fein are inextricably linked.

I hope that the noble Viscount will also forgive me when I say to him that he really cannot expect me to answer his third question.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that, as Speaker in 1999, I refused Sinn Fein admission to the House of Commons? The decision I took at the time was not based on the politics of Northern Ireland or Sinn Fein, rather it was based
 
22 Feb 2005 : Column 1123
 
on the rule of law. Sinn Fein Members refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. That oath is underpinned by the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866 and I would neither bend nor break it for anyone.

Failing admission to the Commons, Sinn Fein took my ruling to court in Northern Ireland, which upheld it. Sinn Fein then took my ruling to the European Court of Human Rights, where all seven judges upheld the decision I had taken, stating that the Parliamentary Oaths Act was the only written constitution that this country has.

Is the noble Baroness further aware that in December 2001, if my memory serves me, after I left the Speakership, a Motion was placed on the Order Paper to grant all the facilities, pay, salaries and demands which had been made of me by Sinn Fein? I do not think that the noble Baroness has yet responded to the following question and I shall understand if she is not able to do so. What will be the position regarding offices in this place for Sinn Fein Members, along with salaries for their staff? Lastly, will the Motion that is now being considered by the Government and which is to be placed on the Order Paper be amendable?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am well aware of the history that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has just outlined. On the question of possible sanctions, that is a matter for the other place. It will be debated in the coming weeks and the nature of the Motion to be tabled by the Government is currently being determined. Once it is agreed it will be printed on the Order Paper, but I shall be happy to draw it to the attention of the noble Baroness when it is ready.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, the Minister said that she regretted the events she had described. Is there not one sense in which, to those who believed that Sinn Fein/IRA were not yet totally committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, what happened as a result of this robbery is quite valuable? The facts are as they have been reported, and the guilt is as attributed by the British and Irish Governments, revealing that Sinn Fein/IRA have not moved as the Government had hoped they had moved.

The interesting reference in the Minister's Statement, repeating the IMC report, is that this is the fourth bank robbery to be attributed to the IRA, but this one was so big that nobody could ignore it. It does give the impression that people were prepared to ignore the previous ones because it would be inappropriate or inconvenient for the process of achieving the comprehensive settlement. Is it not also clear that this has been a serious wake-up call in Dublin, as well as London, where, in the determination to achieve this settlement, there had previously seemed to be a certain tolerance of some of the activities of Sinn Fein/IRA?

The Minister has referred to the need to consider other ways forward, and her right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made that clear. Is it not clear, given the gravity of the situation, the allegations that have now been made and the serious bad faith, that we
 
22 Feb 2005 : Column 1124
 
had better move forward pretty quickly with that consideration, or other people will fill the vacuum in what may be very unattractive ways?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we all recognise that we are at a crucial stage. Action taken now will determine what happens in the future. But the Government's commitments remain absolutely clear: first, to work towards an inclusive, power sharing agreement for Northern Ireland; secondly, absolute clarity that crime and criminality cannot be a part of that process.

If the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, looks carefully at the previous IMC report, with respect to the other incidents that the noble Lord has referred to, he will find that it made reference to those incidents, but made it clear that it did not have sufficient information at that time. But in paragraph 9 of this report the IMC states:

It goes on to set out the incidents where it thinks there has been paramilitary involvement, particularly by the IRA. So the noble Lord's statement that these incidents have been ignored is not actually true. The whole purpose of establishing the IMC was precisely to have a commission investigating these incidents and making recommendations to government.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, my question will, rather predictably, be on policing. In replying to a question about reviewing the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Taskforce, the noble Baroness said that she would look at one of the agencies of PSNI. There are other officers who will be involved in the investigation, and parts of Northern Ireland have very severe problems of criminality. In order to ensure that the PSNI has the resources it needs to tackle these matters, will she seek to extend the review of the Northern Ireland Organised Crime Taskforce to include the entire Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the proposed review is of the Organised Crime Taskforce, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has outlined. With respect to extending the review and looking at the issue of resources—the noble Baroness has raised the issue of resources on other occasions—she will be aware that we consult with the PSNI and the chief constable on a regular basis. The issue of resourcing is a key element of those discussions. We have been assured that the resources currently available are appropriate to the task, but this is obviously something we will keep under constant review. I shall ensure that the comments of the noble Baroness are referred to my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, the murder of Mr McCartney—incidentally, a father of two—has already been referred to. Is the Minister aware that we were very lucky not to lose a second life, after a very
 
22 Feb 2005 : Column 1125
 
serious assault? Has there been progress in these cases? Have there been any arrests? Can the Minister confirm or deny that there has also been intimidation of witnesses?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics of a live investigation. However, the chief constable has publicly said that, at this stage, PSNI does not believe that the Provisional IRA, as an organisation, was responsible for the murder of Mr McCartney—even if it turns out that those who committed the murder were members of the Provisional IRA. A distinction is clearly being made between individuals and the organisation.

The important point to note is that, whether or not members of a paramilitary group were involved in this or any other crime, PSNI will follow the evidence where it leads, making every possible effort to bring to justice those who are responsible, whoever they happen to be.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Minister add a further word about witnesses?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am not aware of the point being made by the noble Lord, but I shall, of course, write.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I suggest that we now need to raise some issues on which Sinn Fein can, or cannot, show good faith. One would be to ensure that people who were exiled from their communities in Northern Ireland by the IRA paramilitaries over the past several years should be allowed to return. I seem to remember that that issue was raised with Mr McGuinness about 18 months ago. He said that he did not think that it would be for the good of the community. Could that perhaps be one of the tests we apply to whether they wish to reform their ways in terms of restricting and abolishing the powers of the paramilitaries to run communities?

The second point is about Omagh. About two years ago, Gerry Adams was asked whether—since he had said it was not a Provisional IRA crime, but that of some horrible dissident group of which he knew nothing—he would encourage witnesses in the nationalist community to come forward. He was asked that by the people of Omagh. He refused because he said that he did not recognise British justice. I have recently asked him that question again, and he has repeated that answer. He says that British justice is an oxymoron. Are we now going to say to them, "Do what you can to bring witnesses forward, even at this late date"?

Lastly, will Her Majesty's Government produce some money for the people of Omagh? I know they have produced some in the past. I should just like to be reassured that it is enough to enable them to bring a case to court, particularly if the witnesses can at last be allowed to come forward.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page