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Lord Smith of Clifton : My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill so succintly. There is a somewhat surreal quality to the debate today in the light of the recent Stormontgate revelations, but that is for another time.
During the progress of the Terrorism Act 2000 through Parliament, the Liberal Democrats welcomed the fact that those measures were to be in place only for five years and were to be subject to renewal by Parliament by statutory instrument every twelve months. Along with many other noble Lords, I have participated in many of the debates on the statutory instruments which renewed the provisions, and others who have listened to and read the debates will agree that it is very important that Parliament has been able to look at the provisions on a regular basis and to make its own judgement about the situation in Northern Ireland and whether those provisions remained necessary.
Unfortunately, given the time-frame needed to have this Bill on the statute books before the provisions run out in February, we are unable to see his deliberations on the operation of Part VII of the 2000 Act in the current year, but we shall be looking very closely at his latest report when it is published.
It is still important to ensure that the measures we are debating todaywhich this Bill seeks to keep in forceare subject to a very specific time limit. We welcome the fact that Part VII is to be extended for only a very limited timeuntil 31 July 2007. There is provision in the Bill for the sections that are then in force to continue in force no later than 1 August 2008, but again with specific parliamentary approval by statutory instrument. I congratulate the Government on facilitating that. It is desperately important that Parliament is able to look regularly and closely at whether such measures are indeed necessary in Northern Ireland.
It is regrettable that insufficient progress has been made in Northern Ireland in the five years since the 2000 Act was passed to render the provisions of Part VII redundant. Although some progress has been made recently in Northern Ireland, there has been such turmoil in the intervening years that it is with much regret that we have to agree with the Government that the provisions of Part VII are still necessary.
While the IRA statement in July and the subsequent decommissioning of IRA weapons were significant events, the fact that it took so long to happenfive and a half years after all paramilitaries were meant to have completed decommissioning and seven and a half years after the signing of the Good Friday agreementhas meant that we have not yet had sufficient time to judge whether the IRA will be true to its word. The signs from the latest IMC report are encouraging and we look forward to its next report in January.
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Although there has been progress in relation to IRA violence, there unfortunately has not been similar progress made in relation to loyalist violence or dissident republicans. The violence that we saw over the summer from loyalist paramilitaries was truly horrific and unfortunately demonstrated in no uncertain terms why it is necessary for Part VII of the 2000 Act to remain in force. In saying that though, we were very encouraged to see in October that the UDA was continuing to talk to the decommissioning commission. Can the Minister tell us if any progress is being made or if there have been subsequent meetings? Is the Minister hopeful that other loyalist paramilitaries might follow this example? Can he indicate to the House what the Government are doing to persuade loyalists to give up their arms?
We are pleased that in the past five years the Government have largely accepted the recommendations put forward in his annual reports by my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew. We are particularly pleased that the Government are not now seeking to resurrect Sections 70 and 71, which were repealed earlier this year. Those sections provided for the Secretary of State to make directions for young persons charged with a scheduled offence to be held in adult prisons while on remand. The power derived from a time when young persons were held in remand homes. These were insecure and presented serious problems in the management of some of the remand population. Thankfully, there have been great advances in the youth justice system in Northern Ireland in recent years, with Hydebank Young Offenders Centre and the Juvenile Justice Centre now being able to provide the level of security that is needed. These are welcome developments and the Government are right to ensure that those sections do not return to the statute book.
However, in his report on the operation of Part VII, my noble friend Lord Carlile raised some concerns in relation to Section 108 of the 2000 Act. It makes provisions for the evidence that may lead a court to conclude that a Section 11 offencemembership of a proscribed organisationhas been committed. Subsections (2) and (3) of that section render admissible under Section 11 charge hearsay evidence which would not otherwise be admissible. The evidence must be given orally by a police officer of at least the rank of superintendent. If it is his opinion that the accused belongs to an organisation which is specified, that statement "shall be admissible" as evidence of the matter stated.
"I am totally unpersuaded by the arguments for its retention . . . Section 108 could be repealed without any measurable disadvantage to the cause of public protection from terrorism. It is a provision that lies uncomfortably in the broader context of normalisation and the Good Friday Agreement".
The issue was thoroughly debated in another place, where the Minister argued that only when the provision is tested will we know whether my noble friend Lord Carlile's concerns are justified. The Minister further argued that its repeal would undermine a prosecution case in relation to the Omagh bombing. We have considered those arguments very carefully. Can the Minister indicate whether, if it came to 2008 and the Government decided that the situation was such in Northern Ireland that Part VII was not on the whole necessary, they would keep Section 108 on the statute book if it had still not been tested?
Our other issue of concern raised in the other place related to Diplock courts. We very much welcome the assurances given by the Minister to consult on new arrangements and put them to pre-legislative scrutiny. On the basis of those reassurances we shall not be pressing this issue at this time.
It is important to ensure that the Part VII provisions of the 2000 Act remain in force for the time being. We shall, however, be studying with great interest and in detail the next IMC report and my noble friend Lord Carlile's next report. We sincerely hope that this is the last time that these provisions need to come before the House.
Lord Laird: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the Northern Ireland terrorism Bill. In the Province there are many like me who have difficulty coming to terms with the need for this Bill at a time when the "war is over" according to the Government.
In a Written Answer of yesterday the Government described the IRA statement of 25 September as historic. On the other hand, in the same batch of Answers to Questions I learn that to provide security for many homes has cost £45 million in five years and that the cost has gone up each year. The news is full of the fall-out from the Stormontgate spy issue and more is revealed each day. The legislation may unfortunately be required and I agree with its introduction in this form. However, the Government should have introduced measures to confront the new threat of white collar terrorism.
Earlier this year I informed your Lordships' House about a number of issues concerning IRA supporters in the Republicin particular about Frank Connolly and the Centre for Public Inquiry. The events of the past few weeks have proved me to have been all too correct. But the last two weeks have also highlighted the possible extent of the web of IRA/Sinn Fein sleepers and spies in both governmental systems and in other places of influence.
How can measures in this Bill help to expose the many IRA sleepers who are in the decision-making process in Northern Ireland? Security sources tell me that they believe that there are about 200 sleepers and/or spies in high places in the Republicright up to the Irish Prime Minister's office.
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For decades the IRA and Sinn Fein have been infiltrating the media in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. One of the Republic's main graduate journalism courses, in Griffith College Dublin, is run by Niall Meehan, a long-serving Sinn Fein official, and by that party's general secretary, Robbie Smyth. Neither has worked on any mainstream newspaper or broadcasting station. The NUJ executive in Dublin also includes Ronan Brady, whose experience in journalism is largely limited to his time on Sinn Fein's newspaper Republican News, an organ which glorified the murderous exploits of the IRA in its "War News" section.
That much of the media is now infiltrated and influenced by Sinn Fein/IRA can be seen in the highly negative reaction in sections of the southern media, in particular the state broadcaster RTE, against the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, when he outed and denounced Frank Connollyone of the Republic's most prominent journalistsas an IRA fellow traveller who, as I pointed out in your Lordships' House in June, joined one of the IRA's top bomb-makers, Padraig Wilson, on a secret trip to Colombia in June 2001 under a false passport. It is not a coincidence that, instead of being lauded for his actions, the Minister for Justice of the Irish Republic found himself the subject of a campaign of vilification in the Irish media. The worst example of biased coverage has been that of the RTE. In view of the past two weeks, perhaps it is time that two very senior RTE officials explained their extreme republican backgrounds.
Gerry Adams said recently that all British and Irish spies in the IRA/Sinn Fein must be removed. I say to Gerry Adams: what about the IRA/Sinn Fein spies in the establishment, who the Irish police, the Garda, call Gerry Adams's secret army? Will he be unveiling and removing his people?
I have been concerned for some time about an Irish-only policy being adopted by sections of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. This means that anything Irish gets support; anything that is not Irish is held up. The massive payments to nationalist festivals each year and very little to non-Irish events is an example that I have discussed with the Minister and shall return to again.
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