Support For Members Who Have Chosen Not To Take Their Seats
Mr Paul Murphy (Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office; Torfaen, Labour)
I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The last thing I wanted was for the debate to take place at all. It is seven years since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and Northern Ireland Members will recall that only a few months ago we were again very close to an agreement. That would have meant a period between the agreement and the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive during which the IMC would have verified whether criminality had been carried on during those months by the Provisional IRA. But it was not to be.
I agree with Rev. Ian Paisley, who said that in a sense this debate about support for Members who have chosen not to take their seats masks something very simple. The debate is, of course, about sanctions, about penalties and about effectively imposing a fine on Sinn Fein—but what it is really about is what has happened over the past few weeks in relation to the criminality associated with the Provisional IRA, and the way in which events described by Member after Member this afternoon have to all intents and purposes torpedoed the political process that we have seen in recent months.The hon. Gentleman spoke of the sins of those who had committed those acts. Indeed, this three-hour debate is, or at least should be, about those sins, and its title is inadequate to describe what we are dealing with today.
The hon. Members for South Staffordshire and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), my hon. Friend Mr. McNamara, the hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and, of course, Mr. Trimble all referred to recent events—in particular the Northern bank robbery, which was mentioned just now by Mr. Dodds, and the murder of Robert McCartney. In the last couple of days there has also been the IRA's statement. All of those things have contributed to why we are having this debate.