Sinn Fein

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 23rd February 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 11:30 am, 23rd February 2005

What recent discussions he has had on Sinn Fein's fitness for political office in the Province.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Independent Monitoring Commission's latest report, which I published earlier this month, made it clear that, had the Assembly been sitting, it would have recommended that Sinn Fein Ministers be excluded from office in response to the Provisional IRA's involvement in the Northern bank raid. In the absence of an Assembly, the commission recommended that I impose financial measures. My statement to the House yesterday set out how I intend to give effect to that recommendation.

The Government will not promote a political settlement in which a party inextricably linked to an organisation that has carried out major criminal acts can assume responsibilities in a devolved Administration.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. He told the House yesterday that restoring the Assembly would be very difficult in the absence of a clear plan that would see the parties in the Assembly come together on a cross-community basis to form a Government, so we have the extraordinary position where Sinn Fein has behaved so badly that it deserves to be excluded, but it cannot be excluded because it has behaved so badly that there cannot be an Assembly from which to exclude it. Why is he allowing Sinn Fein this veto?

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman is referring to the same sort of point that Mr. Trimble made earlier. I am not saying that Sinn Fein has a veto over the political process. I am saying that, if we restore the Assembly under the current rules that govern its operation, we have to have a situation where there will be nationalists and Unionists operating an Executive in that Assembly. It would be much better if we could get a clear plan of how that would work before the restoration, but I repeat the points that I made to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. We are not ruling out such a possibility, but we obviously have to ensure that whatever plan arises has a chance of working.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

Does the Secretary of State agree with the current expression of the position in Northern Ireland—that it is leading to political stagnation? He indicated in an earlier answer that he will seek to give greater accountability to the people of Northern Ireland. Has he examined carefully the proposals made to him and to the Irish Government by the Social Democratic and Labour party? Has he discussed them with other parties, and indeed, have other parties made submissions? In the meantime, political accountability is missing. Will he abide by the answer he gave on "Any Questions?", when he said that it was not his business to impose legislation on Northern Ireland against the will of the people? Yet that is the very thing that he is doing with the legislation on higher education and water charges. He knows the will of the people of Northern Ireland through the decision of the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which defeated the Government motion on higher education.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

That is why it is very important that we see an end to direct rule as soon as possible, so that the people in Northern Ireland who are elected by Northern Ireland voters can take these decisions for themselves. The person who is most anxious to see the end of direct rule is me. That is so important for future democracy in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend's party has made proposals for restoring the Assembly and having civic administrators running the Departments until such time as an Executive could be restored. Different proposals have been put forward by the different parties. We are trying to find a way through that because the SDLP's proposals are not yet acceptable to members of the Unionist parties on the Opposition Benches. We have to find some method by which we are able to ensure that democracy returns, but there are quite significant gaps at the moment between the different ideas.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the Secretary of State accept that Sinn Fein's unfitness for office was clearly illustrated in the disgusting pictures of Gerry Adams at a parade in Strabane on Sunday presiding over an IRA show of strength with men in paramilitary uniforms, when he eulogised IRA murderers? Is not it clear that the Secretary of State should take action in relation to that event? Given that Sinn Fein has clearly failed the test of democracy, does he accept that, as far as my party is concerned, no matter what others have done in the past, there will be no further chances for Sinn Fein-IRA, there will be no further fudging of democracy, there will be no more second chances for IRA-Sinn Fein and it is time to move on without them?

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I think that I have referred to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question on more than one occasion this morning. On the first part, obviously, any prosecution is a matter for the police and I am sure that the Parades Commission will have seen what happened, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the general point that he makes. I do not see that photographs or television pictures of people in paramilitary uniforms help the process in Northern Ireland. In fact, they hinder it considerably.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

In view of the fact that Sinn Fein's credibility has rightly been at an all-time low in recent months, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be very careful not to play into its hands by giving the impression that it is being politically prosecuted? That is precisely what the IRA wants in order to turn the tables and keep up its vote in Northern Ireland and, of course, in the Republic of Ireland.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The issue that is holding up political progress in Northern Ireland is criminal activity on the part of paramilitary organisations—in this case, particularly the Provisional IRA. We must deal with that if we are to make any progress in Northern Ireland in the months to come. The answer is, frankly, now in the hands of the republican movement itself. It can alter the future by ensuring that Sinn Fein goes down a completely and absolutely non-violent and peaceful road.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs

Does not the current approach risk playing directly into the hands of Sinn Fein by generating exclusive dialogue between the Government and Sinn Fein-IRA instead of an inclusive discussion with all the other organisations involved in the process? Does he acknowledge that there is a risk of over-focusing on Sinn Fein, thereby under-focusing on other supporters of the process? Will he give an assurance that he will drive the peace process forward so that the obstructive individuals and groups have to run to keep up, instead of holding the entire process back to keep up with the slow learners?

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman knows that I said yesterday that this Government and the Irish Government do not believe that we should stop talking to any of the political parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein, because it is important to keep the dialogue going. The main issue that we face remains the problem of criminal activity, which needs to be resolved. The hon. Gentleman is right that there is a democratic deficit, and we must talk to all the political parties in Northern Ireland to ensure that we overcome it.