Decommissioning

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 1:43 pm on 28th April 1999.

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Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield 1:43 pm, 28th April 1999

What recent representations she has received on when the decommissioning of illegally held weapons and explosives will begin. [81283]

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Government continue to meet representatives of all the political parties to discuss all aspects of the Good Friday agreement. The Independent Commission on Decommissioning continues its discussions with the representatives of the various groups. All sides must honour all the commitments they made in the Good Friday agreement, and the Government are determined that all aspects should move forward in parallel.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

Does the Minister accept that Senator Mitchell, whom the Secretary of State mentioned in an earlier answer, said nearly three years ago that all paramilitary groups were committed to decommissioning and to peace? Does the Secretary of State accept that confidence in the peace process will not be encouraged if there is any question of Sinn Fein-IRA joining the Executive in Northern Ireland before there is credible and verifiable decommissioning? Does she further accept that many people believe that she will throw away all her negotiating cards if she continues to release convicted terrorist murderers from prison?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong views on this issue, but he should have listened to some of the previous questions, which concerned what is deemed to be the current mood of people in Northern Ireland and what they want in respect of the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. We would not rest on one poll, but we have assessed the support for the agreement and the determination of the people of Northern Ireland for all aspects of it to be implemented. We have put in place many of the mechanisms to assist decommissioning. The independent commission will take forward any submissions or proposals from those who hold illegal weapons for disposing of them for the better and greater good of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes Labour, North East Derbyshire

Is not one option, which is not in front of us, parking the setting-up of the Executive until autumn or even 12 months' time? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given that moves need to be made, we should establish the Executive even when decommissioning has not taken place, excluding Sinn Fein until it comes on board, because the IRA is engaged in that project?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the possible implications of parking the agreement. That is why the Government seek to do all that they can to continue the discussions and to keep momentum in the process. The talks in which the Government are involved are all about seeking to implement all aspects of the agreement. That is what the talks between the individual parties—bilateral, trilateral and multilateral talks—are all about. It is for the parties themselves to address the issues that continue to divide them. That is how we can begin to move this whole process forward. We must continue to talk, rather than encourage people to walk.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

A recent opinion poll showed that the bulk of the people wanted decommissioning. Is there evidence of any democratic country having in government parties supported by armed terrorism? Is it not a fallacious road to travel to discuss normalisation, equating the weapons of terror with the weapons of the state?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We have to make sufficient progress on all aspects of the Good Friday agreement. No one in the House would disagree that illegally held weapons should be decommissioned. The normalisation process, as the hon. Gentleman defined it, is not about equivalence of weapons. We must look at how we can move the process forward, which means that everyone must look at fresh ideas to see how we can bring about a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to start to talk the language of success and peace, rather than looking at the dark side and the downside of what is happening.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington

My right hon. Friend might recall that at the last Question Time, I asked him about the purchase of decommissioned weaponry from the paramilitary groups, and the Secretary of State said that she would refer the matter to the decommissioning commission in Northern Ireland. Can my right hon. Friend report any progress on that matter?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The progress of which I would advise the House is that that matter has been referred to the independent commission. It is considering it, and it is a matter for the commission.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire

Given that Sinn Fein-IRA and some of the loyalist paramilitaries have said on more than one occasion that they have no intention of decommissioning their arms, is not a halt to the release of prisoners long overdue, as we have been saying since the end of last year, until the paramilitaries honour the obligation to begin the decommissioning process?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Secretary of State is empowered to make judgments about the quality of the ceasefire and whether the IRA and other groups associated with the talks are still on ceasefire. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on whether he wants the Good Friday agreement to work or to fail. By being so stark in his choices, he would lead us down the road of failure. The Government are determined to succeed and will build on what the previous Administration sought to do by talking to those parties as well.