Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Modification) Order 2003

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 9th December 2003.

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Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Conservative 6:58 pm, 9th December 2003

My Lords, once again, I thank the noble Baroness the Lord President for presenting the order to us. She has made clear that its purpose is to enable Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, elected on 26th November, to be paid for the time being at 70 per cent of the full MLA salary. We shall not oppose the order, although we feel that this situation cannot go on indefinitely.

We have this situation because, despite the elections taking place, the Assembly remains suspended—it has been since October 2002—and Members are unable to take their seats. We hope that this state of affairs will soon end. We would like to see the Assembly sit and we would like to see devolution and the Executive restored at the earliest opportunity.

Regrettably, after the elections—as before—there is still not the necessary trust and confidence between the parties for that to happen. As the Government recently pointed out, the situation now is, if anything, more difficult with the DUP and Sinn Fein the largest parties within their respective communities. The prospect of an immediate end to direct rule seems remote.

What is required now is to build that elusive trust and confidence between the parties, something which the Government have notably failed to achieve to date. Naturally, we wish the Government well in the talks that will be held with the parties next week. We believe that the review, provided for in the agreement, should proceed as the Government have indicated that it will, and we sincerely hope that all parties will participate.

Yet, despite the elections having been held, the central issue still remains the same as it was before they were called—the continued existence of armed and active paramilitary organisations, republican and loyalist. There must be an end to all forms of paramilitary activity, as set out in paragraph 13 of the British and Irish Governments' Joint Declaration. And we need to be confident that the IRA's so-called war is over. We must see an end to both the IRA and the so-called loyalists as effective paramilitary organisations.

The Government, too, need to learn lessons. They have to ask themselves how a pro-agreement unionist majority has in five and a half years been turned into a clear anti-agreement unionist majority. They have to ask whether this is a consequence of too many side deals and one-sided concessions to republicans and, I regret to say, broken pledges by the Prime Minister on both weapons and prisoners.

I urge the Government to think seriously about how they are going to restore balance and fairness to this process. I urge them to consider how they are going to tackle the crisis of confidence in the political process among moderate unionists. And I urge them, along with the Irish Government, now to place all possible pressure on the republican movement to do what should have been done three and a half years ago.

It has been clearly demonstrated that the democratic process in Ireland, or anywhere else for that matter, cannot survive with political parties operating private armies.