Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:11 pm on 24th July 2002.

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Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat 5:11 pm, 24th July 2002

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement by his right honourable friend in another place. I should like first to say that we on these Benches unequivocally condemn the murder of Gerard Lawlor and extend our sympathies to his family. Similarly, we would associate ourselves with the sentiments expressed about the explosion on the property of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough.

We absolutely agree that there are no acceptable levels of violence, and accordingly welcome the steps that have been announced today by the Government. We particularly underline the need to promote further local dialogue and partnerships. The most effective way of dealing with terrorism and general mayhem is for the local communities to come together to make clear that they will dissociate themselves from it and do all they can to stop it.

I have two questions for the Lord Privy Seal. First, how will the Secretary of State aim to progress his intention to supplement the judgments he makes about the cease-fires? Will he be introducing some facility for the objective independent assessment of paramilitary activity in relation to the cease-fires? We particularly welcomed that part of the Statement which said that he sought to supplement the judgments he made about the cease-fires, and that he was willing to consult widely on the idea of how it might best be done and make his views known after the Summer Recess.

We think that that is an important way forward. So often in Northern Ireland, it has been necessary to bring in both internal and external assessors to make objective statements about situations which were otherwise contentious. It helps to take some of the contention out of debate. We would welcome that if the Secretary of State were so minded.

Secondly, does the noble and learned Lord agree that political party leaderships should redouble their efforts to influence the paramilitaries on both sides of the community? Very often in this House—I have no reason to disagree with it—it is invariably assumed that Sinn Fein can exercise great influence over the IRA. Rarely, however, is it assumed that the various Unionist parties have the capacity effectively to constrain the dissident loyalist paramilitaries. Does the Minister agree, given the greater degree of violence exhibited by the loyalist groups recently, that much greater efforts should be made by the elected Unionist leaderships to lessen these recent outbreaks of violence which are becoming a regular feature in the Short Strand area among many others?