I beg to move the following motion:
Noting that a. no proposals under paragraph 16 of strand one of the Belfast Agreement have yet been made, b. actions set out in paragraph 8 of strand two of the Belfast Agreement have not been achieved, c. any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means of resolving differences on political issues or oppose the use or threat of force by others for such purposes, this Assembly calls upon the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to lay a report on these matters before the House within 14 days.
I hope that the motion will command support from every democrat in the Assembly, regardless of party. The Assembly aspires to create democratic institutions of government for the benefit of every citizen, regardless of creed or political loyalty. No democratic institution worthy of the name, can exist if it contains the political representatives of an unlawfully armed organisation which is committed to bringing about change by the use or the threat of acts of terrorism. Such an organisation which states that if the aims of those who speaks for it politically, and with whom it is inextricably linked, are not met, it reserves the right to achieve those aims by the use of violence and to retain the weapons that it currently possesses to make good that threat.
The Belfast Agreement has the avowed purpose of bringing peace through democratic institutions of government, and is alleged to contain the recognition of the principle that any change in Northern Ireland’s constitutional position can be brought about only with the consent of the majority. Sinn Féin/IRA have never subscribed to those principles.
What is more important is that no agreement can set aside the fundamental principles of democratic procedure. No agreement can override or supersede the central and basic principles of democracy itself, nor can any political party in a democracy claim that it has an electoral mandate to substitute violence for peaceful persuasion and threaten democratic institutions with violence if its demands are not met.
There is no record of a minority grouping ceasing to use violence for political aims before its objectives have been achieved or the forces of democratic government have defeated it. The IRA is no exception.
At the beginning of the peace process the fundamental principles of the democratic process were emphasised. It was made clear that the requirements for participation were not the demands of parties, or the conditions imposed by parties, but were the essential demands of democracy itself. To use or threaten violence is a violation of democracy, and a determination to retain weapons and the means of violence constitutes a threat in itself.
The Downing Street declaration of 15 December 1993 made it clear that a permanent end to the use of paramilitary violence, or support for it, a commitment to exclusively peaceful means, and adherence to the democratic process were the necessary criteria to establish the entitlement to participate in democratic politics and enter into dialogue. After the joint declaration, Dick Spring, at that time the Republic’s Foreign Minister, gave Dáil Eireann his Government’s understanding:
"We are talking about the handing up of arms and are insisting that it would not simply be a temporary cessation to see what the political process had to offer. There can be no equivocation in relation to the determination of both governments in this regard."
From that moment the history of both Governments on this issue has been the opposite of that statement. Far from witnessing unequivocal determination, it has been one of temporising vacillation and weakness. Successive positions have been taken up only to be resiled from in the face of the threat of violence. The IRA, like Hitler in 1938, must have been utterly astonished at the weakness of its adversaries.
On 1 June 1994, in Dáil Eireann, Mr Spring repeated
"There is little point in bringing people into political dialogue if they are doing so on the basis of giving it a try and if it does not work, returning to the bomb and the bullet".
That is what Assemblyman Molloy told a Sinn Féin audience they would do if the political process did not yield the required results: they would go back to doing what they do best. In order to do so, they must necessarily retain their weapons and their Semtex. It is that threat, and capacity to make the threat good, that has produced in successive British Governments a craven policy of appeasement, of surrender to every threat of renewed mainland violence, of concession to every fresh and increasing demand from a criminal conspiracy.
Throughout the talks, the Government’s line was one of a twin-track policy of decommissioning in parallel with political progress towards an agreement. Who did not hear this twin-track policy being repeated with nauseating regularity by the Secretary of State, Dr Mowlam? During the talks not a single bullet, or ounce of Semtex was delivered.
An agreement was reached at the end of those talks on 10 April 1998. The talk’s train left the station and reached its destination, but the decommissioning train never left at all. Since 10 April 1998, not one single bullet has been handed over nor, according to the IRA, will one ever be handed over until their objective of a united Irish Socialist republic is achieved.
At every point Unionists who trusted the Government were deceived by promises and pledges that were never intended to be fulfilled. How has the principle been observed that only those abiding by the democratic process would be free, not just to participate in politics but to participate as Ministers in Government? How could the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State contemplate having as Ministers in Government members of a party, which they both claim is inextricably linked not only with an armed terrorist organisation but publicly declares its intention to remained armed until its political objectives are achieved.
The proposal to place Sinn Féin in government under these circumstances is utterly outrageous and does such violence to the principles of democracy as to make it possible only if the people have been brainwashed into oblivion. Is there anyone with the remotest interest in political life who does not know that the highest offices in both Sinn Féin and the IRA are occupied by the same people? In ‘The Sunday Times’ last week it declared what we already know: Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness are members of the seven-man IRA army council. They are inextricably linked; they are welded together.
Why? Because they, unlike Pinochet and Saddam Hussein, have the capacity, through their inextricable links with the IRA, to threaten destruction on the financial heart of the City of London. For this reason, while declaring Sinn Féin and the IRA to be inextricably linked, Sinn Féin was accepted in the Belfast Agreement as separate and distinct from the IRA. This fiction enabled Sinn Féin to confirm a commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations — the same fiction that enabled it to sign up to the Mitchell principles.
The reality, as opposed to the fiction, is that neither Sinn Féin fronting the IRA nor the PUP fronting Loyalist terrorists has any connection whatever with democracy or its fundamental principles. They are the political masks for organisations who have murdered, mutilated and destroyed; organisations which to the present day are engaged in murder, shootings, beatings, intimidation, forced exile, extortion and every form of crime.
The ceasefire is a macabre fraud. Since the beginning of 1998 nearly 500 acts or threats of violence from murder to enforced exile have been recorded by Families Against Intimidation and authenticated by the RUC. Let me give Members the roll-call. Brutal beatings and shootings are a daily occurrence. From 1 to 25 November (last month) the IRA exiled nine people, intimidated 67, shot two people and beat seven severely — a total of 85, and they are just the ones we know about. By the end of the month the number was actually over 100. Let us look now at the Loyalists’ cricket score — exiles, nine; intimidations, 48; shootings, five; beatings, seven — a total of 69.
The Secretary of State and the security Minister, Adam Ingram, simply ignore these facts as unhelpful to the peace process. It is no excuse to say, as the Secretary of State responded to me in Parliament, that there is no evidence against the individual perpetrators. Of course there is no evidence, because those who are beaten are threatened with murder, and those who are exiled are threatened with death if they remain. But these fully authenticated brutalities are not simply the work of individual perpetrators.
The indictment is not against individuals; the indictment is lodged against the organisations and the political parties who front them and mask them. These fully authenticated acts of brutality are being carried out in areas which the police, indeed the Chief Constable, admit are dominated by paramilitary groups — the IRA and the UVF — that are fronted by parties in this Assembly.
Do Members recall that during the period of President Clinton’s visit not a squib went off and no one was injured? Do Members recall the six-week sanitisation period that was required before the entry to talks? Not only were there no explosions, not only were there no attacks on the military forces, there were no beatings, there were no shootings, there were no exiles and there were no intimidations. Why? Because Sinn Féin/IRA decreed that there would be none. It would not have been politically expedient for them to have been carried out.
Let me finish by saying this: no mandate, no agreement, no government, no parties can supersede or set aside the fundamental and immutable principles of democracy, morality and justice.
I have different political aims and objectives from the SDLP and from others in the Assembly. However, I share with the SDLP and most of the other parties here a belief in democracy. Violence has no part to play in a political party. A party that claims to be democratic cannot be inextricably linked with terror, murder, mutilation and death.
There is a way forward — and I say this without malice or political gain, but as a democrat. It will entail every party, both Nationalist and Unionist, recognising that the common bonds of democracy are infinitely preferable in the long run to the bonds of an Irish Nationalism that yokes people to a party inextricably linked with the forces of Republican terror. I call upon all democrats, all people of goodwill, all people who are revolted by political violence and terror to join with me, regardless of party, to support this motion.
I beg to move amendment 1: Leave out all the words after "Noting" and add
"(a) the overwhelming public support for the Belfast Agreement,
(b) the public concern at continuing violence and threat of violence by paramilitary groups and the refusal of some parties to oppose the use or threat of force by others,
(c) the failure of Unionism and Nationalism to reach an accommodation which would allow the implementation of paragraph 16 of strand one and paragraph 8 of strand two of the Belfast Agreement,
(d) the failure of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to produce a report on the issues set out in the Assembly resolution of 1 July, this Assembly calls on the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to lay a final report on these matters before the Assembly by 21 December."
I reaffirm my strong support for the Belfast Agreement. It was a long process, and the agreement was a compromise but an honourable one. The people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland voted in their thousands to show their support for those who reached this agreement on Good Friday. The strongest opponents of it are those who walked out. There are now threats from individuals to walk out if an Executive is formed. This is a good agreement, and it is my party’s wish to have it implemented without any further delays.
The vast majority of people of Northern Ireland and of the island of Ireland want to see the agreement working. Mr McCartney referred to the document released yesterday by Families Against Intimidation and Terror (FAIT), which underlines the continuing violence in our society. Almost 1,000 children in Northern Ireland this year have suffered from human-rights abuses. This is unacceptable in any civilised society.
The problem of the continuing violence dates back to the talks process when the Mitchell principles were diluted not only by the two Governments but by the participants of the process. The Alliance Party raised several issues of dispute about breaches of the Mitchell principles. Neither Government acted on any of these issues. The problem started there.
The importance of the Alliance Party’s amendment is that it underlines concern in Northern Ireland not only about the continuing violence but about the threat of violence. I am greatly concerned that some Assembly Members still refuse to oppose the use or the threat of use of force by others for political means.
As Mr McCartney rightly said, the violence comes from several sources. I was deeply shocked and disturbed by the IRA’s statement last week. Decommissioning is an essential part of this process. It was an important part of the agreement and the Assembly cannot fudge the issue. My aim and that of my Colleagues is to ensure that decommissioning is carried out as part of this process.
Thank you, Mr Presiding Officer. I regret that of all the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, at this stage only the LVF seem to be prepared to start the material decommissioning of weapons. I hope that all sides will soon start the handing over of weapons.
Part of the Alliance Party’s amendment refers to the sitting of the Assembly on 1 July, when the House unanimously commissioned the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to move the process forward. The resolution states
"The Assembly invites the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider and, after consultation, make proposals regarding matters referred to the Assembly under section 1(2) of the Northern Ireland (Elections) Act 1998 and any other matter connected with the future business of the Assembly and report to the Assembly by 14 September 1998."
The deadline of 14 September has come and gone. I remind Members what paragraph 8 of the agreement says:
"During the transitional period between the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and the transfer of power to it, representatives of the Northern Ireland transitional Administration and the Irish Government operating in the North/South Ministerial Council will undertake a work programme, in consultation with the British Government, covering at least 12 subject areas, with a view to identifying and agreeing by 31 October 1998 areas where co-operation and implementation for mutual benefit will take place."
Sadly, 31 October has come and gone, and it does not reflect well on the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) that that deadline has been missed.
The latest failures — only last week — to reach an agreement on structures of government for Northern Ireland and on the North/South implementation bodies have caused a great deal of despair. Unionism and Nationalism could not agree, and that is the bottom line. It is absurd to hear, particularly from some Unionists, calls for three Nationalist and three Unionist implementation bodies.
What should be foremost in their minds is the setting up of Government Departments and implementation bodies for North/South relations that will be for the good of the people of Northern Ireland and for the good of the people of the island of Ireland. That should be the first priority, not that there are three Unionist and three Nationalist implementation bodies.
Meanwhile, as they fudge around, the extremists on both sides are surfacing. Members will be aware of the violence in Derry on Saturday; I hope that there will not be any violence in Portadown this Saturday. Clearly, the continuing threat from the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA does create problems. Where a vacuum exists, and we have experience of 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, the extremists on all sides take advantage.
The Assembly charged the First and the Deputy First Ministers with responsibilities. Yesterday we had an excellent debate on proposals for a natural gas pipeline for the north-west and another debate on health issues with the Minister. It was clear from both those debates that Members from all parties want to see the transfer of power to the Assembly.
Powers will only be transferred to the Assembly when structures are in place, and agreement has not been reached on the Government bodies for Northern Ireland and the implementation bodies.
It is the duty of the First Minister (Designate) to reach an agreement as quickly as possible. For that reason, in our amendment, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are asked to report to the Assembly next Monday. I hope that this will be achieved and that this matter will be resolved before Christmas.
I apologise that you do not have the papers. At no stage was there a list with only the first amendment. The amendments submitted last evening were those that appear as amendments 1 and 3 on the list. That was published yesterday evening. The third amendment was tabled by 9.30 this morning, and the marshalled list was published. That list was to have been placed in all pigeon-holes, on all notice boards, in the Printed Paper Office and in the Lobby. My apologies if that has not occurred.
Further to that point of order, I understand that this list was given out at one door but not at the other door. Why could it not have been given out at both doors?
It was not a matter of papers being given out at the doors. They were to have been made available in all pigeon-holes, on all notice boards and in the Whips’ Offices, and a stock was made available at the Lobby desk. We were attempting to take a belt-and-braces approach. It appears we should have had an elasticated waist as well.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I beg to move amendment 2: Leave out all the words after "Noting" and add
"the overwhelming public support for the peace process, this Assembly calls on the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to produce a final report on the implementation of the Belfast Agreement, as mandated on 1 July 1998, to the Assembly no later than 21 December 1998."
It was to be expected, given the fractious nature of earlier discussions between the various brands of Unionism, Nationalism and Republicanism, that today’s debate would continue in that unfortunate vein. This fractiousness flies in the face of the clearly expressed will in our community to find a new way of dealing with issues that have traditionally divided us. All politicians and political parties will have to cross the chasm of mistrust that exists as a consequence of the conflict and division. We must find a new language and learn to hear each other. We must also learn to understand the fears and worries of each other’s community.
It has to be pointed out, and this is a simple statement of fact, that there is no such party as Sinn Féin/IRA. No such party signed up to the Good Friday Agreement.
Well, some people might believe in Santa Claus, and I will leave that with the Member to decide.
Some parties have shown open-mindedness and generosity and have recognised the different contributions that have made the peace process possible. Combined contributions were made in spite of the ungenerous, begrudging and hostile attitude of people who claim to be constitutional politicians. They seem to have a paranoid fear of the silence of guns; they seem to depend on continued conflict to justify their own political analyses and, in some cases, to sustain their political careers.
What do people have to fear from peace? That is the question we have to ask and the reason Sinn Féin is moving its amendment. Why are Members so frightened of the alternative to what we have experienced throughout the history of this sectarian statelet?
I do not use this language to offend. It as a matter of historical fact. When I talk to individual Unionist and Nationalist representatives, they are prepared to accept it, and if they can accept it privately, why can they not accept openly the need to work collectively to create a new political dispensation for us all?
The Sinn Féin mandate, which has been so vociferously challenged from across the Floor, has been validated, renewed, reinvigorated and strengthened in election after election. Sinn Féin is a registered political party — open and transparent. Our books may be examined, and our books have been examined. Sinn Féin’s analysis and policy is decided at our annual party conferences, at our ard-fheis, in open debate. The media are present throughout the party’s policy discussions. All Sinn Féin’s policies are printed and published and available on request. I will supply copies of these to any party that wants to examine them.
Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to resolving the conflict and divisions in our society by entirely peaceful means. This is a statement of record. Sinn Féin is opposed to punishment beatings and supports the establishment of a new policing service that would be civilianised, civilised and representative of the entire community. That is also a statement of record.
Sinn Féin has stated on the record, on many occasions, its determination to achieve in Ireland a democratic settlement which will see the removal of the gun for ever from Irish politics. That is our commitment, and we want to work — indeed we need to work — with all shades of political opinion to achieve that objective.
I have stated this morning in interviews that without Unionism and, equally, without Republicanism the peace process is worthless. We have no choice; we must work together if we are to resolve this issue.
Reference has been made to newspapers which regularly give details of membership of the Army Council of the IRA. I never see newspaper reports about the leadership of Loyalist organisations such as Ulster Resistance. I wonder what would be said of those who, by their own admission, gave political cover to an organisation which retained guns that were imported from South Africa with the help of the British Army spy, Brian Nelson?
Members of the United Kingdom Unionist Party have clearly set out their stall. What is the status of their statement, and who makes up the UK Unionist Party? They have clearly stated their intention to destroy the Good Friday Agreement, and the clear purpose of the motion is to undermine, subvert and destroy the Good Friday Agreement, and to prevent any implementation, let alone the speedy implementation, of its provisions.
Our amendment accepts the need for a report from the First and Deputy First Ministers Designate to explain the difficulties that they are experiencing and the undue delay in establishing the shadow Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. The Good Friday Agreement is already in default, and there are constant predictions that we will miss the February deadline for the devolution of political power. There is no valid reason for the failure to implement the spirit and detail of the agreement.
It must be apparent to everyone that the difficulty in the peace process is not caused by the decommissioning issue. Begrudgery and a refusal to accept collective responsibility as parties for a new beginning and for the failures of the past are the causes. There is really no point in continuing to point the finger and say "It was not my fault; it was yours." We all failed. The experiences of people over the past generation have replicated the failure that has bedeviled the North of Ireland since partition. By working together, we have an opportunity to change all that.
On Good Friday we all agreed to a form of coalition Government. We do not talk about that as positively and persistently as we should, but that is what we agreed. That Government would be representative of all shades of political opinion, and would satisfy the criteria on establishing a mandate from the people under the d’Hondt system. Four parties achieved that agreement, and there could be a remarkable coalition. It would certainly be a remarkable demonstration of a new beginning for a political entity that has manifestly failed. There can be no satisfaction in dwelling on that failure, or insisting that we should continue to live with it. Let us change it. Let us abandon all the nonsense of point scoring and recognise what we agreed on Good Friday and go ahead. Let us by doing that achieve the removal of all guns.
There are 130,000 licensed weapons in the Unionist community. Would they be given up willingly? We know why that would not happen. There is considerable fear and distrust and a history that will take time to undo, and attitudes that will take time to unlearn. The genuine concerns that created the conditions of conflict continue to exist.
We politicians have been given a job to do by the electorate.
The people gave us their opinion. There was an election to this coalition Government. In the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, the electorate defeated those representing the "No" camp. Members should now agree on the number and remit of the implementation bodies and the number of Departments and then take the necessary three steps — I am just finishing, Chathaoirligh — which are in black and white in the agreement: establish the Executive, establish the North/South Ministerial Council and bring into being the all-island implementation bodies. Let us take those three steps and show leadership.
I wish to make some comments on the motion and the amendments which have been moved. In the time available it will not be possible to deal with all of the issues involved, but I will touch on the key aspects. The common feature of all the proposals before us, leaving aside the preambles, is that they call, in one form or another, for a report from the First and the Deputy First Ministers (Designate) to the Assembly on the matters which we have all been engaged in over recent months and which relate to moving the Assembly to the point where it is possible for devolution to take place. Calling for a report on these matters is not unreasonable.
The question arises as to the timing of such a report and the terms of the motion and the amendments that call for it. Reference has been made to the discussions which are taking place in a fairly intensive way. I spent from 11.00 am to 11.00 pm yesterday, with very few breaks, involved in them.
The discussions at present are at a fairly delicate stage, and I can see no advantage to the Assembly or to the public interest in putting the position which I think the discussions have reached into the public domain. The discussions will resume as soon as possible, but I do not begrudge the time given to the Assembly on the matter.
I do not think there is any advantage to be gained from giving my view of where the discussions had reached at 11 o’clock last night, because other people might have a different view. It is not unusual in the midst of discussions for people to form different views of precisely where we are, and we saw the effects of that difference of view over what had or had not been agreed only 10 days ago. I do not see any point in going into detail on those matters.
We are focusing in those discussions primarily on the question of North/South co-operation, but we are also taking into account the other strand-one issue, the future structures for the Northern Ireland Assembly. On these matters Mr Neeson was perfectly correct to say that the agreement set a target date (not a deadline — and there is a difference) of 31 October, and it was with that in mind that, on 14 September, in this Chamber, I called for the parties to engage in active discussions on these matters.
Sadly, that call was not immediately responded to for a variety of reasons. It was not until 26 October that it became possible for the Deputy First Minister and I to initiate a round of consultations, and those consultations are ongoing.
It was not until 30 October that we had any formal communication from the Irish Government — a necessary element in these discussions. At this stage we are not in a position to decide among ourselves what the areas of North/South co-operation should be, and then impose that on the Irish Government. That would fly in the face of the principle of consent. Since we received the views of the Irish Government, we have continued to work on the matter.
Some of the amendments call for a report to be made to the Assembly by 21 December. That is not impossible. We might be in a position to make a detailed report by that date. I should very much like that to be the case, and I am quite hopeful about that. However, I do not want to go into detail at this stage lest I raise too many expectations.
At this stage it is not possible to be more definite, and for that reason the amendments moved by the Alliance Party and Sinn Féin could be extremely damaging to the process, as they call for a final report. Mr Neeson quoted the original resolution of 1 July. If a final report were made, it would discharge that motion, and would leave the Assembly rudderless. We would then have to meet again to consider how to proceed.
It would not be in the interests of the Assembly or in the public interest to discharge the resolution of 1 July, thus leaving the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) without any instruction or authority on the conduct of business. Mr Neeson declared his support for the agreement. I am glad to hear that, but I wonder why he has made a proposal which would damage its implementation.
I shall advise members of my party to vote against the Sinn Féin and Alliance Party amendments, which are substantially the same. I can understand why elements in Sinn Féin might want to throw a spanner in the works, but I wonder why the Alliance Party would want to do that. I therefore caution its members to think again.
I turn now to the substantive motion which has been proposed by Mr McCartney, although I am not sure in what capacity he is acting at the moment. The motion calls upon the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to lay a report on these matters. As I have said, I do not consider the request for a report to be unreasonable. I see from the footnote that that would mean that the Assembly would require a report by Monday 18 January 1999, taking into consideration the dates for recess that were referred to earlier by the Initial Presiding Officer.
I do not think it is unreasonable to ask for a report within that timescale, although it may be, as previous reports have been, simply a report on progress to date. My clear hope is that we will be able to make a final report before that date, but, as I said earlier, I do not wish the Assembly to bind itself to a final report on that day simply to discharge the motion of 1 July. Therefore it would not be unreasonable to expect the kind of report that is set out in this motion and, for that reason, I would be prepared to support it.
There is another reason for my being minded to support the motion. So far, I have commented only on the substance of the motion rather than the preamble. Paragraph c of the preamble reads
"any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means".
We have been making that point for many months, and we are glad to see that Mr McCartney agrees with us, and is drawing attention to the key provision in the Agreement which requires a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means.
That requirement is mentioned in four different places in the first few pages of the agreement. It is on the first page, and it appears three times in the strand-one section: in paragraphs 25 and 35 and in paragraph (b) under the heading "Pledge of Office". And in case Mr McLaughlin has forgotten it — least he mistakenly think that to hold office, one has only to qualify under d’Hondt — I remind him of that obligation. Strand one of the agreement, at paragraph 25, clearly provides that persons who are not committed to peaceful means
"should be excluded or removed".
If the Member turns to the section on decommissioning, which ought to be engraved on his heart as it imposes on him an obligation to decommission, he will note that paragraph 1 is expressly cross-referenced to paragraph 25 of strand one. Nothing could be clearer. It is not a precondition; it is a requirement of the agreement.
I am glad that Mr McCartney now supports my party’s position that under the agreement there is a clear obligation to decommissioning, that he has moved away from the position of declaring Sinn Féin to be right.
I have just one minute left.
There is another reason I am glad that Mr McCartney has made this move. I adverted to it during the debate on the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Bill, which took place in the House of Commons in July. If the issue of forming an Executive should arise without there having been a credible beginning to decommissioning, as required by the agreement, we would have to table a motion for the exclusion from office of those who had not begun the process of decommissioning. I am very pleased that Mr McCartney would now support us in such a situation. We welcome support from any source.
In spite of what some Members may think, I quite welcome the proposals in the motion and the amendments. Were I a Back-Bencher in the Assembly, I would have tabled something similar long ago because any political process — but especially one such as ours — must either go forward or go backward. You cannot stand still in politics. There is no statutory point where you can remain stationary without damaging the political process.
I welcome this debate because it provides an opportunity for Members to voice their concern to get movement into the political process. I have no doubt that the process needs movement. It needs to be able to start to fulfil its obligations.
For some time, as I think all Members know, I have been using every opportunity and every means at my disposal to warn of the damage being caused by non-implementation of the agreement. I do not wish to go back over the record, nor will I do so, but anyone involved or observing politics knows that I have tried to ensure that we have the structures and institutions to which we committed ourselves on Good Friday.
There were various reactions. Even parties that have been putting down amendments could not find time just to talk to us during the consultation process, to give us a simple proposal on departmental bodies.
I can see that they might have ideological reasons for not making proposals on implementation bodies, or even co-operation bodies, but they could not even find time to give us a piece of paper on matters such as Departmental structures. That was their fault. It is interesting that one of the parties — or should I say one of the half-parties — that put down these amendments, could not find the time to give us one scrap of paper outlining their ideas on Northern Ireland Departments.
As I said, there have been various reactions to my approach. I was apparently trying to bounce people into things; I was accused of that recently. If trying to do what I have been obligated to by the electorate and by an election in this Assembly is bouncing, so be it: let me bounce.
I have also been accused of grandstanding. I have been trying to come to some arrangement that all the political parties can agree to, that the Prime Minister, who is a signatory to this agreement, and the Irish Government, who is also a signatory, can agree to. If that is grandstanding, let me continue to grandstand.
I was also accused of creating an atmosphere of crisis. I never used that term; I do not believe in that term. What I have consistently said — and I say it again — is that inertia in the political process leads to potential damage to the political process.
Heaven knows that this process is a tender enough plant without our damaging it ourselves. In the eyes of the electorate, it is being damaged in terms of its credibility on the ground and the confidence — or lack of it — that the political parties here have in it. I see that every day. I have contact with most of the parties. Some are difficult to find — and I am not talking about the Ulster Unionist Party with whom I seem to spend my time closeted. One might have to try to locate others in Boston, South Africa or various other parts of the globe, but when they do return, my door is always open, and suggestions will always be willingly received, with all the sincerity I can give them.
I have a problem with the amendments, not because I oppose them, but because there is a difference between a report and a proposal. I do not want to come back to the Assembly with a report — a piece of paper listing all the consultations we have had, all the things we have done and all the people we have spoken to. No, I want to come back, along with the First Minister (Designate), with a proposal that the number of Departments be X, that the Departments be A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K — or whatever — that the functions of each Department be clearly defined and that those in the Assembly who are against what is being proposed (and there will be opposition from Members) have an opportunity to table amendments, to challenge the proposals and subject them to debate. In that way, whatever is decided will have come out of the crucible of debate and will be all the stronger for that.
I do not want a tidy little report, sneaked in before Christmas. That would not give us the opportunity to do all that.
I also want the opportunity to come back, with the First Minister, and present proposals for implementation bodies. I will start this today, but I am not going to relate that to the alphabet.
I want to justify those proposals. I want to give Members the opportunity to challenge them, to put down amendments, to vote against, vote for and speak their mind about them.
I want to do likewise in respect of areas for enhanced co-operation as per the agreement and areas of co-operation, so that when we have finished, no Member will be able to say that the proposals have not been put through the democratic process in accordance with our Standing Orders.
Some will agree, some will disagree, but everybody will be given the opportunity to table amendments. I would like to see this being done this week, but I make no predictions. Over the past two weeks, my confidence in making what I believe to be accurate predictions has been somewhat dented.
I believe it should be done this week, and that is why I find fault with the amendments — they lack imagination.
Why wait until Christmas week? What is wrong with this week? What is wrong with before Friday? What is wrong with the people who are putting down amendments instead of going at it with an almighty bash?
I do. The Member’s profundity and perspicacity never cease to amaze me.
I want to see this business done. Members have charged the First Minister (Designate) and myself with doing it. They are right to tell us that it has not been done quickly enough, and I agree with them, but instead of churning out all the routine speeches about issues which are nothing to do with structures, they should speak their mind today.
Members who could not consult with us or submit their views in writing should tell us today what they think about the proposals for Departments and the implementation bodies. Perhaps the First Minister (Designate) and I will be able, as a result of your inspiration, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, to come back by 21 December — though preferably this week — and say "Here are proposals. Pass them or reject them."
I make no excuses for anybody — even the Chair. The time since 1 July has been one of the most difficult periods in politics on this island. We have gone through a crucible in political life — from a Drumcree situation to an Omagh situation to a Ballymoney situation. For these reasons we should be inspired to move and create the structures and the institutions which are required. We owe it to ourselves, to those who elected us, and, indeed, in a strange way, to those who went to the trouble of putting down these amendments today.
I must ask all Members, no matter how distinguished, to heed my requests. Important matters are being dealt with, and people have been impatient to hear about them. That is understandable. It is also understandable that when making a speech, one tries to save the most important part to the last. However, I appeal to Members to show courtesy.
I do not see why you immediately discriminate when it comes to my party. You tell us to keep to our time. I do not intend to do that today. I have as much right to rise, wave to you and continue. I am a parliamentarian who is used to the order of the House, but not in this House. Everyone who has spoken so far has got away with running over time, yet when I stand up you immediately call on me to keep to my time.
Of course, in this House we do not have democracy. We heard the Deputy First Minister (Designate) talking about the crucible of debate. There is no real debate. We have a system of voting under which nothing can be passed except with a majority of Members on each side of the divide. It is easy for the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to say "Put it to the vote." The vote is meaningless. It does not represent the ballot box or the number of people who voted to send representatives to this House, so that can easily be dismissed.
The other point that needs to be dismissed, is the constant harping by some Members about how the people have spoken. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 contains over 400 amendments that Members of the House of Commons were not given time to consider. Those were not in the agreement. It is not true to say that they were what the people voted for; they never saw those amendments.
The Sinn Féin/IRA spokesman spoke in this debate today. The people of Northern Ireland were no doubt listening to hear whether there was going to be some change in the attitude of the people that he speaks for. It is quite evident that there will be no change. I am reminded of a quotation in a book published after the Pope visited Drogheda. Sinn Féin answered the Pope as follows:
"Force is by far the only means of removing the evil of the British presence in Ireland ... we know also that upon victory the Church would have no difficulty in recognising us."
The IRA has not changed.
We did not say that the IRA and Sinn Féin were inextricably linked. Those were the words of the then Prime Minister, Mr Major, and of the present Prime Minister, who repeated them. The Secretary of State, with whom all these people have a perpetual love-in, also repeated this in the House. When they go to Stormont House, let them argue with her. Do not let them come here and say "We have no connection whatsoever with the IRA". What an abominable and atrocious lie.
Mr Adams, who is not with us today, said that it would be intellectually and morally irresponsible to distance himself from the IRA, yet his spokesman in the House says, "Oh, we are not associated with it at all, would not touch it with a barge pole," to quote the Deputy Leader of the UUP.
I understand that FAIT is a Government-sponsored body and that one of its leaders was an Alliance Party candidate who was not elected to the Assembly. It cannot be said that FAIT has any sympathy with the party that I lead, yet it has issued a report saying that those who have been released from prison are now engaged in this beating-up campaign. I asked the Prime Minister when he was here — he did not want to see me, and then decided that he had to see me for some reason best known to himself — "How many released prisoners have been rearrested and put back in prison?" He said "I will find out." He wrote to me and told me that none had been.
His answer is wrong. There are people who have been released and rearrested — back at the old game of violence and intimidation. A thousand children have been put through the crucible of intimidation.
On a point of order. A former IRA man works for FAIT, which made allegations against Loyalist prisoners. [Interruption] Allegations are being made here, and people could be taken back to prison. People from the Loyalist side — and I can only speak for the Loyalist side — were not involved, as has been claimed by a former IRA man, and Dr Paisley is taking a former IRA man’s word for it.
This is not the first time that this has happened. If Members choose to breach the rules by which we try to live, everyone will do it and our proceedings will become a shambles. I appeal to Members to hold to the rules as best they can. Since it is my view that the point raised was not a point of order, the time taken to hear and to deal with it will not come out of Dr Paisley’s time.
Please continue, Dr Paisley.
I never mentioned this man’s party or anything to do with his party. If the cap fits, let him wear it. Evidently the cap did fit, and it hurt him. That is why he is screaming.
The House today should take note of the cry of the 1,000 children and not listen to those who are not prepared to face up to their responsibility with regard to that. Go and tell the Hegarty family in County Londonderry what the relationship was with them and with Mr McGuinness of IRA/Sinn Féin. Try to sell them the story of peace and love and goodwill and harmony.
The IRA has not and will not change. How could it? It is tied by its own constitution, which states
"The Army Authority shall retain, maintain and ensure the safety of all armaments, equipment and other resources ... until such time as the sovereignty and unity of the Republic of Ireland has been attained."
It will not attain that. The IRA may pussyfoot with the British Government, and it may think that it will destroy the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It may think that it will put the Protestant and Unionist people under its jackboot, but it has another think coming. Members of the IRA can do what they like, say what they like, kill as many as they like, destroy the children of this country and wreck homes, hearts, mothers and fathers, but they will not win the battle because truth is not on their side. The lie will be dethroned and truth shall reign.
The IRA says that only when there is a settlement leading to a united Ireland will decisions be taken to decommission. Let us nail the lie that within two years these men of blood will hand in their weapons. They will not be handed in unless they achieve their objective, and they will not achieve that.
The British Government have released 214 terrorist prisoners, and IRA punishment attacks have continued, with 36 shootings and 49 beatings this year. On one side of the balance troop levels have been reduced by 1,500 to 15,500 and team military patrolling has ended. On the other side, the IRA has repeated that it will not give up its arsenal, describing calls for disarmament as a red herring. Military bases in Londonderry and Strabane —
— observation posts at Crumlin Road in Belfast, checkpoints at Newry, Aughnacloy and Belfast Airport have been closed. Estimated IRA stocks are 10 tonnes of Semtex, 900 assault rifles, six ground-to-air missiles, 100 pistols and 250 machine guns. Arrests under anti-terrorist legislation are down by 80%. That is the Government’s balance sheet. New commissions on policing, justice and equality have been established, and there is regular and better access to Ministers and officials for Sinn Féin/IRA. There have been three murders this year by the IRA, and probably £1 million has been raised in the USA.
Today’s issue of ‘The Daily Telegraph’ states
"Miss Mowlam’s calculated blindness to what is happening in Northern Ireland goes beyond misguided idealism."
The paper states that there is a
"refusal to uphold the law".
Despite all those warnings the Government have ploughed ahead with returning yet more gangsters to Ulster’s streets. Sooner or later some of them will return to murder, and Mr Blair and Miss Mowlam will have to shoulder the blame.
I listened to Mr McCartney with interest. He continually talks about punishment beatings and decommissioning. How can I ask loyalists to hand in weapons when the proposer of the motion claims that the Good Friday Agreement is a sell-out? The Chief Constable expects violence from dissident Republicans, the IRA has not said that the war is over, and Mr Paisley is preaching doom and gloom.
The challenge is not for me to convince Loyalists to decommission under present circumstances. The challenge is for all parties elected to the Assembly to create the political conditions that allow us to move forward. In 1994 the Progressive Unionist Party clearly stated that any citizen in possession of information relating to anti-social behaviour should report such information to the RUC. Party activists have worked with community representatives and the RUC to find solutions to this problem. The Progressive Unionist Party will work to influence the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commandos to decommission their war materials.
If this process works, then decommissioning is a possibility. If it fails, the chance for decommissioning fails with it. The Progressive Unionist Party reaffirms its commitment to the Mitchell principles.
The Women’s Coalition has listened attentively to the debate and is acutely aware of the difficulties facing both sides in this delicate, difficult and dangerous journey. The Women’s Coalition, like all political parties that have signed up to the Good Friday Agreement, has pledged to use its influence to bring about decommissioning. That is exactly what we are doing. We believe that the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement will bring about decommissioning.
We agree with the former Presbyterian moderator who said that the issue of decommissioning must not be allowed to wreck the agreement. We must get over this hurdle. Seventy-one per cent of the people of Northern Ireland supported the agreement. I was elected in North Down to defend the agreement and will do so with everything in my power.
One of the aims is
"to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement … of the agreement".
That means May 2000 — only 17 months away. If paramilitary weapons are not decommissioned by May 2000, the agreement will collapse. We have waited 30 years, and we have wasted 3,000 lives. We want decommissioning immediately, but we are prepared to wait. Can we not wait for another 300 days?
We can not and must not play into the hands of those who seek to destroy this fragile peace. The only people who will gain should this agreement fall apart are the armed dissidents who oppose it. We, like all right-thinking people in the Province, want to see the guns buried forever. We call on the Republican and Loyalist parties, the camps and the paramilitaries to publicly declare their support for the Good Friday Agreement.
We want agreement on the outstanding issues of departmental structures and North/South bodies. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) asked us to provide him with some suggestions. The Women’s Coalition has been disappointed at the lack of proper consultation with the smaller parties in the last few weeks. We have submitted our documents and have been involved in negotiations. However, over the last two weeks, negotiations have been closed. The Assembly should not operate in such a way.
The Women’s Coalition agrees that there should be 10 Departments which must be tailored to meet the specific needs and the changing culture of society. Issues such as equality — and I am not talking just about gender equality — social inclusion, children, families, Europe, training, education and public health need to be given pride of place in these Departments — a new place in a new Northern Ireland.
Also, we insisted that issues such as victims, reconciliation and the promotion of a culture of tolerance, which we cannot ignore, should be included in the agreement.
We have listened to the debates and negotiations on North/South bodies. These have been valuable, but we must remember that we are not creating anything new — all this has been done before in Europe. We believe in the value of North/South and East/West co-operation as a means of achieving greater economic and social cohesion on this island and between these islands. We want agreement on the North/South bodies, and we have been encouraged by movement in the past 24 hours.
However, we want to underline the fact that the setting up of North/South bodies and structures is not the only way to achieving greater understanding between the people of this island. Co-operation at a social level should go hand in hand with economic co-operation. We want to see the creation of a North/South body which will encompass art, culture, heritage and language as one. To leave the Irish language in a body on its own would defeat the purpose of the exercise — encouraging North/South dialogue.
Transport does not have to be dealt with in a North/South context, because such issues can be dealt with in an East/West one. We are talking about ports and air transport as well as about road and rail. To encourage understanding, greater effort should be put into the movement of workers, students, teachers and other people on this island. Examples of the work carried out by Co-operation North, the CBI and IBEC should be supported and enhanced.
Those who fear a loss of identity as a result of a North/South structure should consider the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which has been a North/South body for many years. The result has not made its Northern members any less Northern or its Southern members any less Southern.
I call on the Assembly to agree on North/South bodies and Departments before 21 December and to form an executive. That is how we can all get what we want — violence and the threat of it off our streets for ever.
I will not dwell on the issuing of reports and on the amendments from the Alliance Party. Suffice it to say that I agree with Mr Mallon’s comment that we are working to get agreements on outstanding areas. In my view, the sooner the better, and in my view the agreements should be in place before Christmas.
That brings us to the next stage, which is governed to some extent by Mr McCartney’s motion. I have no problems with his proposal. Part (c) of the motion could have been written by any Ulster Unionist. It is exactly what other members of my party and I have been saying for the past 10 months — despite the criticism of those Unionists who have been telling us "No, that is nonsense." It is contained in the agreement, in paragraph 4 of the Declaration of Support:
"We affirm our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences".
Paragraph 25 of strand one states
"Those who hold office should use only democratic, non-violent means, and those who do not should be excluded or removed".
Under the heading "Transitional Arrangements," it is stated
Part (b) of the Pledge of Office sets out the
"commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means".
The chapter on decommissioning recalls the provisions of paragraph 25 — the exclusion or removal of office clause. The agreement is quite clear. Decommissioning is inclusive and explicit and is a requirement of any Member who seeks to hold office in an Executive. It is in the agreement, chapter and verse.
We are moving towards an agreement on strands one and two, and the question that will arise is whether Sinn Féin can take part. I have said publicly that Sinn Féin’s present position is one of self exclusion. It cannot retain the capacity to do 1,000 Omaghs, in terms of a Semtex arsenal, and claim to be committed to democracy and non-violence. The holding of such an arsenal is a threat.
Decommissioning is an obligation under the agreement, and it is the demand of civic and democratic society. It is a sine qua non. Sinn Féin must have understood that when it supported the agreement, and must have realised that there would be calls for decommissioning. Under the agreement, the date for total disarmament is May 2000. Not just Sinn Féin but the Provisional movement and Loyalists signed up to that.
Members are looking for a start date for decommissioning and a programme with a verifiable and credible beginning. However, Danny Morrison has said that the IRA will not give up the rust from a single gun. There is no way forward for anyone on that basis.
The armed struggle has failed, the central strategy of which was to make the cost of the Union so high that no British Government would be prepared to pay it. They imagined that in this way they could get rid of the British presence. This strategy ignores the fact that the British presence in Ireland is the Unionist community, the million-plus men and women living in the north-east corner of the island who hold themselves to be British. All the armed struggles in the world could not remove such a British presence. It seems that Sinn Féin is prepared, at least privately if not publicly, to recognise that.
The agreement contains a consent principle. The inhabitants of the island of Ireland are not a nation in the political sense. They are not now, never have been and probably never will be. Who says this? The people of the island say it. They agree that there are two political entities, which means that there is no right to national self-determination in terms of the entire population, no right to unity of the national territory, and no right to national self-government. The armed struggle has failed, and there is no logic in the maintenance of an arsenal of weapons. The Provisional IRA must have understood that when it moved forward on the agreement. It must have understood that it was signing up to decommissioning.
The hour is late but by no means too late. We are not quite ready for the appointed day — the transfer of powers. Once we get to that point, then we have the crunch. Unless there is movement from the Provisionals the question becomes: is the process to be destroyed because Sinn Féin will not honour its obligations or do we move forward without it?
We have three options: to move forward with Sinn Féin and decommissioning; to wait until Sinn Féin is comfortable with the agreement and its obligations; to carry on without movement. The choice will come soon, and it is up to Sinn Féin. With all that has been invested in this process we cannot allow that irredentist group within the Provisional movement who insist on retaining its arsenal to bring the process down. The consequences do not bear thinking about.
I do not have a problem with Mr McCartney’s proposal; it is exactly what we have been saying for the past months — something, of course, that the members of the DUP deny. [Interruption]
If this is a sell-out and a betrayal why is the Member here? He is here because he has nowhere else to go. We are all in the same boat. We all have nowhere else to go.
The situation is that we can go forward with Sinn Féin and the Provisional movement or go forward without them, and the choice rests with the Provisional movement which should face up to its responsibilities.
There is an understandable sense of frustration, annoyance and perhaps even anger in the Assembly and beyond at the delay in reaching agreement on institutional aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. As one close to the negotiations over recent weeks, I would have preferred to have come here to contribute to a debate on the progress that had produced agreement. As in many situations when gaps are being closed, the remaining gaps become increasingly more difficult, and in our situation those gaps are informed by age-old fears and apprehensions. Hence our remaining difficulties. I am convinced, however, that the gaps can and will be closed.
The opportunity given by today’s debate allows me to stand back from the immediate concerns of those negotiations and remind myself that what was achieved on Good Friday was a balanced agreement that took account of the aspirations and allegiances of our two communities. Hence the agreement’s effective recognition of the Nationalist community’s aspirations: that community’s identity and its desire to see closer relationships develop between the North and the South, especially through the North/South Ministerial Council.
The Good Friday Agreement also recognised and respected the Unionist community’s allegiances and aspirations by giving practical expression to its desire for closer relationships between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom through the British-Irish Council.
Crucially, the Good Friday Agreement enshrined the principle of consent as the only acceptable, democratic basis for constitutional change. The carefully constructed balance extends to the manner in which all the matters treated under "confidence-building" are to be advanced. They are not directed, and neither I nor my party interpret them as being directed, towards allaying the concerns of only one community.
On the question of institution building under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, we must seek to progress in a way which continues to reflect that overall sense of equity. In particular, what we have been attempting to address in recent discussions on cross-border bodies is the creation of something for which there is no precedent. Hence some of the difficulties which have arisen.
We want to create a council which will be a political expression of the desire within the Nationalist community for a tangible link with the rest of the people of Ireland. It will also, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, provide initiatives for the mutual benefit of people in both parts of Ireland, and it is in this regard that it will probably be welcomed by others outside that tradition. Above all, it will allow, on a daily basis, the promotion of understanding and reconciliation between the hitherto divided people throughout this island.
Pursuing such ends, the council cannot, and will not, be a means of imposing change in violation of the principle of consent. We can, and must, deliver a package of implementation bodies and areas for enhanced North/South co-operation that will address real needs, and address them in a manner that will significantly contribute to the economic, social and cultural aspects of life in both parts of the island.
An endorsement of the emphasis on economic co-operation comes not just from the Social Democratic and Labour Party but from the wider community, and particularly from the business sector. These sources of support should allay the fears and concerns that others in the House may have about North/South implementation bodies. The Confederation of British Industry and IBEC have been referred to. They have made substantial contributions to economically directed initiatives under the remit of the North/South Council.
I recently addressed a major meeting convened by Chamberlink in County Monaghan. More than 250 representatives from chambers of commerce North and South came together to discuss how they might enhance their own and each other’s businesses. The message to me and Assemblyman Kennedy from the Ulster Unionist Party, who also addressed that meeting, was that we have to take initiatives, where it is in our remit to do so, that will address the need to promote North/South trade and trade beyond this island.
Last night’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’ highlighted the contribution that has been made by one of our leading economists in this area and welcomed the prospect of the North/South Council’s providing enhanced co-operation on economic matters.
Ní ar chúrsaí eacnanaíochta amháin a bheidh an bhéim taobh istigh den chomhairle trasteorann cuid thábhachtach dár noidhreacht Gaelach. Is é an agus tábhachtach dúinn uile an oidhreacht cheanna agus beidh béim thádhachtach ar an oidhreacht sin taobh istich den chomhairle trasteorann.
I want to see that emphasis on our Gaelic culture, which will be part of the North/South Council’s remit, widened and broadened to include the cultural traditions of all our people.
In conclusion, as we consider the immediate issues, I remind Members of the wider implications of the agreement, and of all the obligations which it places on all of us. I refer in particular to the obligations on disarmament and decommissioning. In a previous debate, I said that I do not see decommissioning as merely a requirement of the Good Friday Agreement, and that those who currently possess arms and those who wield influence over them should regard decommissioning as an honourable and necessary contribution to the establishment of a lasting, peaceful democracy.
I believe that we will achieve agreement on the outstanding matters very soon, and that we will be able to provide the people who elected us with an agreement on institutions, and begin to operate those institutions early in the new year.
The sitting was suspended at 12.35 pm and resumed at 2.01 pm.
For the past few weeks the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has been trying to jump-start the Belfast Agreement — if, indeed, it ever got off the ground. Tony Blair should have been made aware that, in developing a strategy for the future of Northern Ireland, we have had the benefit of much experience. Almost everything has been tried, at least once. He could now be forgiven for comparing the Belfast Agreement with the group that tried to set up a small, anarchist community, only to find that the people would not obey the rules.
The First Minister, David Trimble, finds himself in the same predicament. Having called for paramilitaries to disarm in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he now finds himself between a rock and a hard place. The next day, the newly elected army council of the IRA ruled out demands for a handover of weapons. Mr Trimble must have felt that the bee of sorrow had stung his heart yet again — this is the third time this year that the IRA has dismissed calls for decommissioning, and Sinn Féin maintains that it is not in a position to deliver on arms.
The Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam, has said that the political parties agree to all aspects of the Belfast Agreement — all, that is, except peace and goodwill to all men.
Mr Trimble may take comfort in the knowledge that no one means all he says and that very few say all they mean. He should also remember the philosophy that
"fear is the foundation of most Governments" when deliberating on the allocation of ministerial positions. Will the First Minister confirm that no ministerial body will be appointed which includes Sinn Féin while the IRA maintains its stockpile of arms and explosives? Mr Trimble would do well to remember the words of Mr John Taylor, the then Home Affairs Minister, in December 1972 when he warned
"Enjoy this Christmas. It may be your last in peace. In the new year, you will probably have to resist an imposed solution by the British Government."
A Chathaoirligh, before referring to the Sinn Féin amendment, I want to pick up on a few comments that have been made by Members across the Floor.
Mr McCartney said that no mandate, no agreement and no Government can set aside democracy. That is complete gobbledegook. How does anyone receive a mandate except through the democratic process? How did the agreement, parts of which we are discussing, receive its endorsement? And how, other than through the democratic process, are Governments elected?
Unionists in general are in danger of believing their own misinformed propaganda. For the record, I repeat what Mitchel McLaughlin said earlier: there is no such party as Sinn Féin/IRA.
There is a party known as Sinn Féin, which sought, and got, a democratic mandate in the Assembly election. Dr Paisley quoted from newspapers; he quoted amusingly from a book wherein he nearly got friendly with the Pope; and he quoted from an alleged IRA constitution. I suppose that he would know more about that than anyone else. The claim that Sinn Féin speaks for the IRA appears nowhere in any of our literature, and our constitution in particular. If any Members would like a copy, as they are given to quoting from constitutions, I will make one available. Sinn Féin speaks for Sinn Féin and for the people who vote for us. Unionism needs to abandon the negative mindset of continuous misinformation.
To return to the motion before us, I noted Mr Trimble’s statement that it was "not impossible" that by 21 December he could bring forward some sort of report. We do not want "some sort of report". We want a final report, and we call upon the First Minister (Designate) and his Deputy to provide it, not later than 21 December. Mr Mallon has said that it could be done in half a day, and I believe that. Mr Trimble said that he was negotiating until 11 o’clock last night, and I know that to be true, as some members of our delegation were here until 11.20 pm. The situation is agreed in principle; there are only the fine details to be worked out.
If Unionists have the political will, they can have closure on this issue in half a day. I urge them to show courage and get on with implementation of the agreement. They are fond of quoting paragraph 25 and saying that it has to be supported. That is true, but paragraph 16 of strand one also has to be supported, as does paragraph 8 in strand two. Let me reiterate that Sinn Féin supports the agreement — every single paragraph. We do not support some parts of it and ignore others. We support all of it.
Recently Mr Trimble said that he — and I think he meant both himself and Unionism collectively — put a great price on the precise use of words. Sinn Féin also puts a great price on the precise use of words. There are no excuses left for Unionists to refuse to implement the agreement. They need political courage, vision and a sense of history. In this unique situation that has been created with the Belfast Agreement, they should have the courage to implement it. They have the authority to do so.
In the light of the new relationship brought about by the agreement, I do not wish to unnecessarily annoy Sinn Féin, but I hope that this venture into reality will not elicit from the Member for North Belfast, Mr Kelly, another threat that the views of the Ulster Unionist Party might bring about a renewal of IRA violence. He, of course, uttered these words at the weekend.
I understood that the guns of the IRA were silent and that the IRA had joined the constitutional road that was the way forward. Surely the assurances of Sinn Féin as to the direction of the Republican movement cannot be worthless.
In the early 1970s the IRA was in a mess, with individual battalions conducting unco-ordinated operations, and Sinn Féin was a Cinderella organisation with little direction. In the late 1970s the IRA reorganised into its cell structure. A strategy document, which was found by the Gárdaí in the Dublin flat of Seamus Twomey, the then IRA Chief of Staff, made it clear, as reported at the time, that
"Sinn Féin will come under the army at all levels".
The relationship between the two organisations was fairly clear at that stage. There followed the evolution of the Armalite-and-the-ballot-box strategy, with Sinn Féin moving onto the political stage that it occupies today while the IRA continued its terrorist campaign.
One has to be in awe of Sinn Féin at local government level. If someone in Turf Lodge gets a burst pipe he calls the Sinn Féin centre. Unlike the rest of us, who take a load of guff from the local plumber and wait about a week and a half to get something fixed, within half an hour the Turf Lodge plumber comes round and the pipe is fixed. How is it, I wonder, that Sinn Féin can have such influence with plumbers? The answer, of course, is that Sinn Féin and the IRA are — in the words of two successive Prime Ministers — "inextricably linked".
Sinn Féin claim that they are separate, but evidence of dual membership is piling up. Sinn Féin’s claims of not speaking for the IRA are ridiculous. The paramilitaries from all sides were involved in the talks quite clearly because it was understood that they were able to speak for their respective organisations.
I am encouraged to know that when discussions are taking place with key members of Sinn Féin they are, in reality, taking place with the IRA — straight from the horse’s mouth, from those who can produce the goods.
I have some quiz questions for Members now. This came out of recent court cases and newspaper reports. Although Sinn Féin know the answers, they are not excluded as it is in the spirit of the agreement. Which two senior Sinn Féin Assembly Members left the IRA Army Council to go political but rushed back when they lost control to southern command, which bombed Canary Wharf? Which senior Sinn Féin Assembly Member was identified as the adjutant general of the IRA and army council member during the case which Thomas Murphy took against the ‘The Sunday Times’ in Dublin? Which senior Sinn Féin Member comes from the Belfast Brigade of the IRA and sits on the army council? I could go on, but the flavour of the relationship is plain to see.
I was at the last three days of the talks, and it was quite clear to everyone there the spirit in which they were being conducted. It was clearly understood by the constitutional parties that decommissioning was a key part of that agreement. We were concerned that the words in the agreement were not strong enough, and we received written and verbal assurances from the Prime Minister that, in the spirit of the agreement, decommissioning would start in parallel with prisoner releases. On the basis of those assurances we signed up to it.
Where are we now? In the last two or three weeks there has been an IRA convention. I see from yesterday morning’s ‘Irish News’ that the word on the street is that authority to take the decision on decommissioning was passed down to the seven-man army council. Therefore authority rests, one could argue, on Members of this House.
The IRA may need the space in which to sort out and convince its grass roots, and we are happy enough to give them that space. In the end the requirement of the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the island of Ireland for decommissioning must be met. We need to be realistic. The IRA must prepare for decommissioning. If responsibility for it has been moved down to the army council, if we can get our other structures sorted out in here, then the time must be right for decommissioning, and they really must get on with it.
I am in full agreement with and support Mr McCartney’s motion.
Many things have happened since this motion was submitted by Mr McCartney, including some interesting developments in his party. As Harold Wilson said,
"A week is a long time in politics."
Delays in setting up the structures within Northern Ireland and between the North and the South are unacceptable. The fact that Mr McCartney chooses to exploit such disappointments should serve to warn of the dangers of further delay. Only those with a vested interest in destroying the Assembly benefit from such delays.
Yesterday’s four-hour debate on the Health Service showed how urgent it is that we move on and serve the people who elected us. There are many other pressing issues relating to health and social services, education and training, economic development and tourism — to mention just a few — which require the involvement of Assembly Members at the earliest opportunity. The honeymoon period is over, and the hard work must begin.
Members of the public are not impressed with Assembly parties which are bogged down in the past and afraid to move on and face the future. Let us stop exploiting the weaknesses in each other, because that only recoils on ourselves and leaves everyone worse off. The SDLP does not have these problems; it has been waiting, since the downfall of the power-sharing Executive of 1974, to begin the process of partnership government. It has been annoyed by the lack of progress and not impressed by those who gloat over the delays — and this motion clearly sets out to do that. However, as we debate the motion, the work is going on in this building, and success will come — perhaps sooner than our opponents believe.
Sniping from the sidelines has been the favourite pastime of too many politicians in the past. Why do they do it? How many lives has it cost? Who has benefited? Certainly not the 71% who voted for the agreement and now feel very let down by the lack of vision and progress.
We can quote from the past. All of us can do that. Dr Paisley quoted from a book this morning, but what does it achieve? If I quoted what Dr Paisley said in the late 1970s, when he said that he would rather trust the devil than the RUC, would that achieve anything? Certainly not. If anyone doubts my word, let him go to the Assembly Library and check Hansard. But that is not why we are here.
One thing is sure: the past is the past and it is gone for ever. There is no going back. That simply is not an option — not now or at any time in the future. This time the wreckers and the begrudgers cannot win. Of that I am sure because slowly, but surely, there is a sense of community developing from the bottom up, and they know it. Much of this positive action has emerged gradually from economic regeneration groups, peace and reconciliation boards and a whole variety of community-based activity. We are in a much different position now than we were in 1974; there is a community out there solidly committed to backing the Assembly’s efforts to move forward.
Many Members are involved in these activities, and they know that the day of the politician who thought for everyone and made all the decisions on his own, mostly to protect his own self-interests, is gone. People are no longer prepared to put up with the claptrap of mistrust and dissension. In such a world, arms and explosives, like the behaviour of failed politicians trapped in the past, become irrelevant. They do not count any more, and holding up the work of the Assembly over such an issue makes no sense at all.
In a new environment where there is developing trust, all guns will disappear, both mentally and in reality. In a new society built on partnership and trust there will be no place for weapons of war, no urge to feel the need to defend, because the greatest weapon of all is the ability to trust each other. To date, there has not been enough of that. We need to move forward, and we look forward to working with people in other parties who are as committed as we are to ensuring that the future is different from the past, that it is built on trust rather than fear, and offers hope rather than despair.
I believe that before this week is over, there will be agreement, and the people of Ireland — north and south — will be able to have the Christmas present they have all wanted for over 30 years. That is the real business of this Assembly. We are ready and willing to finish the business rather than waste time on motions which emphasise failure rather than hope for the future. Pantomimes belong to the schools and theatres outside — the Assembly is in the business of making this country work.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate.
Some of us were beginning to wonder when we would have the opportunity to debate such issues again, and it is no thanks to the initiative of either the First Minister (Designate) or his Deputy that this debate is taking place today.
I congratulate all those responsible for ensuring that it is taking place. Members should have the opportunity to debate such crucial issues. I was perturbed to hear the First Minister (Designate) indicate that come the date specified — 18 January — we may once again be listening to another interim report, although I noted the remarks of the Deputy First Minister (Designate), who was not looking forward to that prospect at all.
Amazement is added to my concern when I consider that Mr Taylor, as deputy leader of the UUP, has already said at a press conference that 10 Ministries have been agreed. I fail to understand, therefore, why we are not hearing details of that today. Mr McGimpsey said that we might have some agreement before Christmas, and I sincerely hope that if there is such an agreement, the Assembly will be reconvened to allow Members to debate these issues and consider them properly rather than having to wait until another day.
The main thrust of this proposal centres on the fundamental issue of decommissioning — an issue which has been fudged time and time again — and I am glad that we have the opportunity to debate it once more. It is a fundamental democratic pre-requisite that any party seeking to take part in the democratic process — never mind taking part in democratic government — should be completely committed to democratic, peaceful methods and should be prepared to give up weaponry, illegal armies and paramilitary gangs.
We are in this situation because during the talks process which led to the agreement and in the agreement itself the issue of decommissioning was never really grasped. It was fudged and put off to another day. The difficulties we are facing in getting others to move on that issue is the result of the fudging that has taken place in the past. Those who now demand the handover of weapons and were prepared to sit and negotiate with IRA/Sinn Féin whilst they held on to their weapons, are in a difficult position.
They say that it is essential — and I agree with this — that to be committed to an exclusively peaceful and democratic process means that there must be no weapons on the table, under the table, or outside the door. That was the same requirement for entry into the talks process to begin with, yet IRA/Sinn Féin were admitted into the talks process, were seated at the talks table, were allowed to complete the talks process, and not one Armalite or a single ounce of Semtex was handed over. That is why Members on these Benches lack credibility on the issue of decommissioning. The very demands they make now they previously made during the talks, and yet it was fudged, and IRA/Sinn Féin were admitted.
We are told that decommissioning is an essential component of the talks and the peace process. The word "essential" is used but we never see any movement on the issue. Despite the concessions, the paramilitaries and their representatives are not even prepared to begin movement on what the people of Northern Ireland demand.
The DUP has been consistent and clear throughout. We do not rely on the Belfast Agreement, and those who use it as the basis for demanding decommissioning are relying on a false premise. It should demand that decommissioning begins before IRA/Sinn Féin get into government, and before terrorist prisoners are released. The tragedy is that the agreement does not demand such a move. I have read it carefully and it does not say, as was claimed in the debate, that decommissioning has to be completed within two years. It states that those who signed the agreement will
"use any influence they may have to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years".
I can almost hear the argument: "We have used all the influence at our disposal and we will continue to do that ad infinitum." There is no demand in the agreement for the completion of decommissioning within two years.
It is the clear demand of democracy, and of the people of Northern Ireland, that those who want to gain positions in government and play a full role in the democratic process must be unarmed, and should not have at their backs those who are engaged in intimidation, racketeering or punishment beatings. It is also the demand of the Prime Minister. In Northern Ireland and in his own handwriting, he pledged to the people that terrorists and their frontmen would not benefit from the agreement unless violence was over forever, done with for good. It is the Government’s responsibility to see that Sinn Féin/IRA and others do not benefit from the agreement unless decommissioning is completed.
The House has been lectured by Sinn Féin spokespersons about a new start, a new beginning, looking to the future, as if the arms issue applied only to the past. I remind the House that Mr Kearney, who was murdered in the New Lodge area in my constituency, died as a result of the use of IRA guns only a few months ago. Guns are still being used on the streets of Northern Ireland. They are not becoming irrelevant, they are being used to murder and inflict harm on people, and to exile and threaten them. Decommissioning cannot be put off. It has to be tackled now, and it has to be dealt with once and for all.
The First Minister (Designate) said that there had to be a credible beginning to decommissioning. Some Ulster Unionist spokespersons equate the commitment to
"exclusively peaceful and democratic means" to the beginning of decommissioning. They have accepted that, when IRA/Sinn Féin begin to decommission, they will be committed to "exclusively peaceful means". But it is about more than just beginning. It means the completion of decommissioning, giving up weapons in their entirety, the dismantling of terrorist organisations. I welcome the fact that there will be a united Unionist front on the motion. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made it clear time and time again that the IRA and Sinn Féin are inextricably linked, yet paragraph c of the motion says
"any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means".
There has to be substantive and meaningful decommissioning, not a token gesture. However, I fear that we are being prepared for some sort of token gesture that will, in some way, allow movement.
The people of Northern Ireland, who have seen the release of over half the terrorist prisoners, who see the RUC under threat from paramilitary gangs whose organisations are still fully intact, are watching all these moves being made, and they will not be prepared to settle for some form of gesture. They want something substantial and meaningful which will show that people are divorcing themselves from violence and terrorist activity once and for all.
The DUP is happy to support the motion. I welcome the fact that the Unionist side will be presenting a united front and representing the clear demand from the people of Northern Ireland that the days of paramilitary organisations and those who believe in the use of force, be over. If they wish to reap the rewards of democracy, they must be fully committed to the means of democracy.
Is ionsaí oscailte ar Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta an rún a tháinig ón Uas McCartney. Tá an teachta ó Dhún Thuaidh ag iarraidh an chuma a chur ar an scéal go bhfuil sé ag iarraidh cúrsaí a bhogadh chun tosaigh. Act ní hamhlaidh an scéal ar chor ar bith.
Tá an tUas McCartney go hiomlán in éadan an Chomhaontaithe, go hiomlán in éadan an phacáiste ar vótáileadh ar a shon i Mí Bealtaine seo a chuaigh thart. Chomh luath agus a d’aontaigh na páirtithe ar phacáiste éigin agus fiú sula raibh reifreann ar an cheist, chuaigh an tUas McCartney agus a chuid comrádaithe gcionn le sraith cruinnithe a eagrú chun cur in aghaidh an Chomhaontaithe. Is cuid den fheachtas sin an rún atá os ár gcomhair inniu.
Cáineann an tUas McCartney Sinn Féin go láidir agus é ag moladh an rúin. Ach níl an rún seo dírithe ar pháirtí s’againn amháin. Tá sé dírithe in éadan na bpáirtithe uilig a tháinig le chéile chun dul chun cinn a dhéanamh trí chómhra agus comhréiteach.
Níl páirtí s’aige sásta beart a dhéanamh ar son na síochána ó thuaidh. A mhalairt ar fad – tá siad ag iarraidh bac a chur ar an ghluaiseacht i dtreo buansíochána agus comhoibrithe. Tá siad ag cur in aghaidh comhionnanais agus bunú institiúidí inar féidir linn uilig comhoibriú ar mhaithe lenár bpobal uile.
Is sa chomhthéacs sin a chaithfimid breathnú ar an rún seo. Is cuid lárnach de iarracht cheannaire an UKUP — ma tá páirtí fós aige — cúlú ón Chomhaontú agus ó obair páirtithe eile atá anseo le theacht ar réiteach fadtéarmach sa tír seo. Is cuid lárnach de throid s’aige in aghaidh an Chomhaontaithe é. Is dá thairbhe sin aiarraim ar Theachtaían eile den Tionóíl gan tacú leis an rún mar atá sé.
Tá sé riachtananch go leanfaimid ar aghaidh leis an obair chun na hinstitiúidí uilig a chur ar bun, an Coiste Feidhmiúcháin, na forais uile-Éireann agus na hinstitúidí thoir thiar. Sin an bealach is fearr le ré nua a thabhairt isteach sa tír seo.
Athníonn leasú s’againn an gá atá le tuairisc ón Chéad Aire (Ainnmithe) agus ón leasChéad Aire (Ainnmithe). sonnraíonn sé go soiléir sa Chomhaontú go mbeidh institiúidí ann "atá in ann údarás feidhmiúchain agus reachtach a fheidhmiú". Is léir go bhfuil Teachtaí éigin sa Tionól seo nach bhfuil sásta na céimeanna riachtanacha a ghlacadh chun sin a chur i bhfeidhm, daoine arbh fhearr leo nach mbeadh aon dul chun cinn ann má tá comhoibiú, comhionnanas nó struchtúir chuimsitheacha ina bhfuil áit do gach duine mar chuid den dul chun cinn sin.
Ni féidir linn cúlú. caithfimid dul ar aghaidh. Caithfimid leanstan ar aghaidh leis an obair chun Cothrom na Féinne bhuní sna Sé Chontae. Is gá leanstan ar aghaidh le saoradh na gcimí, le bunú shéirbhis nua póilineachta agus le hathbhreithniú ar an chóras dlí. Caithfimid aontú anois ar na forais uile-Éireann agus ar na Ranna. Ba chóir go spreagfadh aontú ar na hábhair sin sinn uilig leis na céimeanna riachtanacha eile a ghlacadh — an Coiste Feidhmiúcháin agus an Chomhairle Aireachta uile-Éireann a chur ar bun agus fríd sin na comhlachtaí forfheidhmithe a bhunú. Ghlac formhór na bpáirtithe sa Tionól seo le Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta — caithfimid cloí leis anois.
Dá thairbhe sin iarraim oraibh tacú le leasú s’againne.
The motion before us today is an open attack on the Good Friday Agreement. The Member from North Down is trying to give the impression that he is attempting to move things on, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr McCartney is totally opposed to the agreement voted on last May. As soon as the parties came to an agreement, and even before the question was put to a referendum, he and his colleagues were out organising a series of public meetings to oppose it. This motion is part and parcel of that campaign.
Mr McCartney roundly criticised Sinn Féin when moving the motion this morning. It is clear that the motion is not directed solely at Sinn Féin. On the contrary, the motion is directed against all the parties who came together to seek progress and to find accommodation through dialogue. He is not trying to seek peace in the Six Counties, he is trying to put obstacles in the way of an accommodation and of real and lasting peace. Mr McCartney’s supporters have set their faces against equality, parity of esteem and the establishment of institutions in which we can all work together for the good of all our people.
It is in this context that we need to examine the motion. It is part and parcel of the attempt by the Leader of the UK Unionist Party — that is, if he still has a party — to retreat from the Good Friday Agreement and from the work of other parties who wish to find a lasting settlement. This motion is part of his fight against the agreement and, for that reason, I ask Members not to support it as it stands.
It is essential that we work to put the institutions in place — the Executive, the all-Ireland bodies and the East-West dimension. That is the best way to bring about a new era for us all.
The Sinn Féin amendment recognises the need for a report from the First and the Deputy First Ministers. The agreement clearly states that institutions will be put in place which are "capable of exercising executive and legislative authority". But it is clear that some Members are not prepared to take the steps to see this through. That would entail co-operation, equality and inclusive structures in which there was a place for all.
We cannot turn back. We must go forward and continue the work to make equality a reality here in the Six Counties. We need to move forward with prisoner releases, with establishing a new police service and with a fundamental review of the justice system. We need agreement on all-Ireland bodies and the Departments now. Agreement on these matters should be a spur for us all to take the remaining steps to set up the Executive, the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and, through this, the implementation bodies. The majority of the parties supported the agreement and must stick to it now.
I ask the Assembly to support the amendment moved by Mitchel McLaughlin.
I would like to make it clear that the Alliance Party tabled its amendments because it is a strong supporter of the Good Friday Agreement and because it is concerned at the delay in the full implementation of that agreement. Our action should not be construed or interpreted as putting a spanner in the works. Unlike the mover of the original motion, the Alliance Party does not wish to bring the Good Friday Agreement down; unlike the DUP it does not wish to wreck people’s hopes; and unlike Union First it is not being destructive. Rather, it wishes to operate, be constructive and be positive in its demand that all those who have responsibility move forward.
When people went to the polls on 22 May 1998, they gave an overwhelming endorsement to the Good Friday Agreement. In our book, that was democracy. It was the voice of the people. That agreement was successfully negotiated by all those in the political parties who recognised that the only way to solve political disputes and differences was by negotiation and dialogue.
Yes, there are others who, recognising that their stance was unlikely to gain much support and having illustrated that they were either unwilling or unable to compromise, left the table. But in so doing, they exposed their weakness, their stubbornness and, yes, their intransigence.
It is important to note that the people have endorsed the agreement in full. They were asked a simple question:
"Do you support the agreement reached in the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland and set out in Command Paper 3883?"
And the people said "Yes" — "Yes" to the parts they liked, and "Yes" to the parts with which they had difficulty. In so doing, they demonstrated their courage and hope for the future. They voted "Yes" to the Good Friday Agreement — not to the spins, not to the comments of others and not to other people’s handwritten notes.
People are not stupid. They knew what they were doing, and they recognised that the agreement pointed a way forward based on compromise. They knew that it offered hope for the future.
Having clearly and unambiguously voted "Yes" to the agreement, and having staked their claim and their future on that agreement, the people went to the polls once again and elected the Members of this Assembly. We are people whom they knew and some of whom they trusted to implement that agreement. They charged Members with putting in place the various parts of the agreement which they, the people, had endorsed.
The people wished to see the positions of First Minister and Deputy First Minister put in place, and that has been achieved. But what has happened to the Executive, the various Committees, the Civic Forum, the cross-border bodies, the North/South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council?
The people did not vote for procrastination, for a renegotiation of the agreement, or for childish stubbornness; they voted for political action which would see the agreement implemented fully. Yet six months on, the people can ask with justification "What has been done? Why have the posts of Ministers not been sorted out? Why is there no North/South Council? Where is the Civic Forum? Why are the old arguments and battles still being fought? Why is tribalism, as represented by Unionism and Nationalism, displaying the same old stubbornness as before?" And they ask "What has changed?"
The agreement’s Declaration of Support says
"We must never forget those who have died or who have been injured, and their families. But we can best honour them through a fresh start, in which we firmly dedicate ourselves to the achievement of reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust".
Is this empty rhetoric? And let Members note the following:
"We pledge that we will, in good faith, work to ensure the success of each and every one of the arrangements to be established under this agreement."
Is that, too, empty rhetoric?
Mutual trust is in very short supply; good faith appears to be an aspiration; and as for tolerance, surely that means self-restraint, mildness and moderation. Those qualities have certainly been absent in any recent interviews I have seen and from some of the comments made earlier.
People are concerned about these matters, and those charged with responsibility have a duty to deal with those concerns. But people’s expectations do not end with the list that I have just outlined. They also expect to see an end to the violence that has destroyed so many lives.
They believed that the fresh start for which they voted meant a permanent end to death, destruction, threat and intimidation by terrorists. Here too, I regret to say, the people have been disappointed.
The thugs and the gangsters are still using bullets; the hoods are still smashing skulls and bones; and the local mafia are still extorting money and controlling people in their neighbourhoods. The people want to break free. They want to live, work and play, free from stress and intimidation.
Again, the people pose the question "Was the Declaration of Support by all the participants to the agreement that they would oppose any use or threat of force just empty rhetoric?" They ask "Where is the evidence to suggest otherwise?" Is it not a fact that the retention of illegal guns and explosives, irrespective of whether they are used, constitutes a threat against this entire community? It strikes me that too many Members of the House have been rather muted in their expressions of opposition to this threat.
The agreement was strongly recommended to the people, and they responded in an emphatic manner. All Members should now keep their side of the bargain. If some do not, they could be seen as hypocrites.
Christmas — the season of goodwill — is approaching. As the momentous year of 1998 draws to a close and a new year dawns, I appeal to the First Minister (Designate) and to the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to do what is necessary, in the spirit of goodwill, to reinvigorate the hope that was offered on Good Friday.
Those Members who have influence with the paramilitaries should do what is necessary to have the threat that is represented by weapons and explosives removed. Give the people back their freedom and let them enter 1999 unburdened by the yoke of fear and intimidation.
The pro-Union electorate in Northern Ireland is becoming increasingly aware of the extent to which the UUP negotiators conceded, given the terms of the Belfast Agreement, a form of government for Northern Ireland entirely incompatible with democratic practice and the rule of law.
The core point about the governance of Northern Ireland within the terms of the agreement is that the representatives of Republican terror can take seats in the Executive without the IRA’s ever decommissioning its terrorist arsenal. The position of the UUP negotiators, that the decommissioning of the terrorist arsenals is required by the section on decommissioning in the agreement and by the so-called Pledge of Office, is demonstrably false. The claims to the contrary made by the UUP negotiators mean that they are either trying to fool the pro-Union electorate or that they are so intellectually deficient that they do not understand the contents of the agreement they claim to have negotiated.
The fact that actual decommissioning of the terrorist arsenals is not required by the agreement does not invalidate the demands of the pro-Union parties in the Assembly — all of them, I hope.
This demand is based on the imperatives of democracy and the rule of law. They are non-negotiable in any civilised society, and that is the basis of the UKUP demand for decommissioning.
The UKUP is committed to the imperative of what should properly be regarded as the surrender of terrorist arsenals, even if that means bringing the Assembly down. Whether or not the Assembly collapses, in the event of Unionists holding the line on decommissioning, is dependent upon the SDLP. The choice for the SDLP is simple: either it retains the current alignment of the party with Republican terrorism or it commits the party to democratic practice by demanding that terrorists give up their arsenals as a necessary condition for the formation of the Executive.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the SDLP will commit itself to the imperatives of democracy, and the reason for that is very simple. The intellectual incoherence of Irish Nationalism is such that only someone devoid of common sense would give two moments’ consideration to what even Mr Hume’s supporters refer to as his "single transferable speech" were it not backed by the cutting edge of Republican terror.
Mr Hume’s commitment to the goal of a politically united Ireland, which he shares with the IRA, is such that, in the pursuit of this objective, he is prepared to give political respectability to Sinn Féin — a party which is an electoral threat to the SDLP. On this issue he seems to be blindly followed — never a commendable practice in politics — by the other members of the SDLP.
The moment of truth has arrived for Mr Hume and the SDLP. They have now to choose between the demands of democracy and the rule of law or support for terrorism. It is beyond belief that any party that designated itself "democratic" would demand a system of government in which the architects of terror for 30 years would govern the people they terrorised while retaining their terrorist arsenals, while their most experienced and ruthless operators were released from prison and while the RUC was destroyed within the terms of reference in the agreement which will dictate the content of the Patten Report. It is beyond belief that a supposedly democratic party such as the SDLP would support a system of government designed to meet every requirement of a terrorist organisation.
It beggars belief that the UUP negotiated such an agreement, but that is precisely what they did. It is obvious that the Leader of that party considered that what he had done was sufficiently worthy to merit his accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. Members of the UUP who did not participate in the negotiations have a significant choice to make — one that will determine whether Northern Ireland remains within the Union. It is in their power to ensure that a system of government, corrupt in its very design of appeasing terrorists, is never imposed on the decent, law-abiding pro-Union community of Northern Ireland. When that historic vote is presented to them they must act against the core requirements of the agreement negotiated by their leaders and vote in the interests of democracy and the preservation of the Union.
In a rapidly changing political situation there were two statements this weekend which were depressingly familiar and depressingly predictable.
The first was made on behalf of a terrorist organisation which indicated that it was not willing to give up terror. It wanted to retain its weaponry and to be able to use force and violence.
The second was the response of Her Majesty’s Government which indicated that the terrorist organisation concerned posed no threat to peace. As the French would say, "Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." For those who do not have schoolboy French, that means "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
I enthusiastically welcome this motion, not only because I have always been a supporter of Unionist unity — and this is a motion behind which I hope all Unionists can unite — but also because it is one which all true democrats should support, irrespective of whether they are "Yes" voters or "No" voters, Unionists or Nationalists.
I speak not for Union First but for democracy first. Democracy should be about the power of language; it should be about the power of persuasion, the power of ideas, not the power of one’s weaponry. There is a need in any society for democracy to ensure that those in government are truly and irrevocably committed to exclusively peaceful means. That is one of democracy’s demands. The key test for any party — Unionist or Nationalist, Loyalist or Republican — before entering government is whether that party is truly committed to democracy and exclusively peaceful means. If it is not, then it should have no place in the Government of Northern Ireland; that is not just a matter of principle, it is one of practical politics.
If terrorist organisations and front parties are allowed into government while still retaining the capability of inflicting terror on society, then government has a gun to its head. Whenever the demands of terrorism are turned down — whether on reform of the RUC, North/South relations or the so-called equality agenda — the implied threat is "If we do not get what we want, we will go back to doing what we do best." That must be remembered. Decommissioning is not intended to humiliate any particular organisation, but it is a key element of the test to establish whether an organisation is truly committed to a democratic and peaceful way forward.
This has two implications. First, as the Member for North Belfast (Mr Dodds) has said, it is not sufficient for there to be only a start made on decommissioning. At the very least, substantial and ongoing decommissioning is needed before people can be considered as democrats. An IRA at 99% or 95% of its efficiency would pose as big a threat to democracy as it does at present. The splinter group which caused the Omagh bomb was not a vast organisation with a huge amount of weaponry, but look at the level of destruction it achieved. Token decommissioning is not enough — at the very least it must be substantial and ongoing.
We are about one third of the way through the two-year process, so, at the very least, the IRA should be giving up one third of its weaponry. That is not too much to ask as a start. Or, as more than half of the prisoners have been released, perhaps the figure could be one half.
Secondly, while decommissioning is a step on the path to democracy, it is not a sufficient step. There are other ways in which the Republican movement and the Loyalists remain committed to a terrorist path. There has not been a declaration that the war is over. There was a statement from the Leader of Sinn Féin in the summer containing a vague aspiration that peace would be the way forward, but there has not been any statement from the IRA declaring an end to its war. We need to see that. We need to see an end to punishment beatings — these vile attacks carried out by paramilitaries so that they can control areas. Such activities are incompatible with being part of a democratic government. We need to see an end to criminal activity; we need to see the paramilitary organisations get off people’s backs; we need to see a start being made to disbanding the terrorist organisations. Why do we need armies in waiting if these people are committed to peace? Finally, we need to see a return of the bodies of the disappeared.
It is clear that an organisation which retains its weaponry is not a suitable candidate for government. Equally, a Government Minister, backed up by a private army, or a private police force or a private mafia, should not be permitted within a democratic society. Much movement is therefore required before any of the organisations can qualify as democrats, let alone be worthy to be in the Government of Northern Ireland.
I remain very sceptical about whether Sinn Féin/IRA, the organisation most likely to aspire to a place in Government, will make that transition.
In these circumstances, responsibility rests with Her Majesty’s Government and with the SDLP. It is time that Mr Blair honoured the pledges which he gave to the people of Northern Ireland. We can move on without Sinn Féin to ensure that those who are not committed to a peaceful way forward are excluded from Government. There should also be an end to the release of prisoners while there is no decommissioning.
There is an onus on the SDLP to join with the other democrats in the House and leave behind those who have not abandoned terrorism. The only way forward is for democrats to work together, and that is the only solution acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.
I support the motion enthusiastically.
It takes a fairly spectacular kind of brass neck to accuse the SDLP, as Mr Roche of the UKUP did, of incoherence, given the events of the last 48 hours.
Those who believed that what we were engaged in was a tidy, predictable process governed by timetables and rules and observing strict procedures seem to understand little about politics, or about human nature. We live in an extremely volatile community — a conflict-ridden mess. To a greater or lesser extent, all of us have contributed to that mess, either through what we have said, or not said, either through what we have done, or not done, or through the attitudes that we have adopted. I am amazed that there are people who seem to believe that, somewhere in the firmament, there are vast, immutable truths and principles of which they, alone, are the guardians. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that debate, arguments and conflict on these matters have been part of human experience since the earliest times.
This process is as imperfect as the people who are involved in it, and, indeed, as imperfect as those who are not involved in it. It is as imperfect as any political process. Even so, we have made a great deal of progress. There are people in the House today who, a relatively short time ago, took the view that politics was futile and that the only way to solve the problems of this society was through the use of force. The political organisations associated with that attitude have now renounced it and are involved in the political process. I call that progress.
There are few people in the House who will not be able to recall, as I can, the occasions in the past when our telephones would ring in the early hours of the morning, and we knew that we were going to get the news that someone had been killed. We would always pray that the violence would not be that bad, that it would not have caused someone’s death, but we remember the many occasions when the violence did cause fatalities, sometimes multiple fatalities. Let us be thankful that those days are gone.
That is not to say that there are no violent deaths or no violence in this society. Anyone who thought there would be a sudden end to a conflict which had lasted for centuries was either foolish or tragic. Conflict has declined, and our collective responsibility is to try to reduce it further, and to find ways and means of co-operating with each other to advance the interests of the electorate. We have a collective responsibility to make the agreement work. I firmly believe that the vast majority of people on this island want us to do that. The result of the referendum is evidence of that. The electorate does not want us to engage in some of the cruel slagging, sniggering and jeering that occasionally goes on in the House.
While this process, like any other political process, is flawed and untidy, with ragged edges, our job is to make it work. If we are to do so, a certain amount of forward movement is necessary. We always found that when politicians do not give a lead, the political vacuum is filled with violence, and we are coming close to the end of the time that is available for producing the necessary forward movement.
My Colleague Seamus Mallon, the Deputy First Minister (Designate) said this morning that we cannot stand still because that would damage the political process. Since April, we have stood still in political terms, and have taken great risks with the integrity of the political process in which we are involved.
I understand to some extent the impatience which led to the motion and the amendments. We are impatient too. We want forward movement. We have tried repeatedly and consistently in recent weeks to produce such momentum, and we will continue trying until we reach agreement. But it should be obvious that agreement is possible only if both sides are prepared to shift their positions, to be flexible and to seek accommodation — and not to stick to rigid party positions. It should be obvious that pronouncements such as "This is our bottom line; we can go no further" and refusing to examine alternatives, are not the way to get agreement.
We must begin work on the North/South bodies and the Executive structures, and begin to tackle day-to-day issues relating to the Health Service, and our schools, which is what we were elected to do.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in a forthright debate which is very relevant to our country at present.
My party recalled the Assembly to debate the pigs issue. We could have had a full day’s debate then on general agricultural issues, but when we sought the agreement of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and Sinn Féin in the relevant Committee, we were blocked because those parties did not see that as relevant to their progress.
Today’s debate is an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation. The motion notes
"a. no proposals have yet been made under paragraph 16 of strand one of the Belfast Agreement have yet been made, b. actions since are set out in paragraph 8 of strand two of the Belfast Agreement have not been achieved".
I will come to paragraph c later.
I have listened to the debate so far and have noted some of the remarks that have been made. The Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Close) said that the people voted for the Belfast Agreement. The majority of those people did not know about the 440 amendments that would be made to that Bill. How can anyone say that this is what the people voted for, when even the Government did not know what it was suggesting?
I say to Mr Close and to this House that while there are those who boast about their "Yes" position, I am proud to say that I went to the people of Ulster with a "No" position. When I see terrorists walking the street, and when I see the RUC being dismantled, I thank God that my finger was not in that pie. I was not a part of that treachery, and I was not a part of the betrayal of those people. My Colleagues and I were commissioned to oppose that act of treachery, and we are doing exactly that. No one need be surprised that we have honoured our election pledges while so many others have failed to fulfil theirs.
Several Members have expressed their frustration. Mr Haughey and Mr Mallon were quite open about that. Mr Mallon cannot wait to get his hands on power. He cannot wait to get himself and his Colleagues in Sinn Féin into positions of power. The Member for East Londonderry said that he had been waiting for this since 1974. Between 1974 and 1998 we have had a blood-curdling, murderous attack on the law-abiding people of this country. Mr Haughey talked about waiting for the telephone call. Many of us in the Unionist community know exactly what it is like to wait for the telephone call, wondering whether relatives have been murdered. Many attempts were made to murder our relatives over those years.
Let us not pretend that nothing has been happening. Much has happened since the signing of the agreement. The Sinn Féin Member for Mid Ulster warned us that if his political strategy did not work, he and his colleagues would go back to what they know best, meaning of course the Armalite. It was a former member of that party from the same constituency who said that the strategy of Sinn Féin was "The Armalite in one hand and the ballot box in the other". We know the background of the Sinn Féin Members.
We have been lectured about a new beginning and told that we are enjoying the fruits of peace. What kind of peace are we enjoying? In this morning’s newspaper there is an article entitled "The toll of Ulster’s young victims". Here are the fruits of peace. More than 1,000 Ulster children have been murdered, beaten, intimidated or exiled by terrorists this year, according to Families Against Intimidation and Terror. Those are the fruits of peace. We have heard that in November alone there were 420 recorded terrorist incidents. Nine people were exiled, 67 intimidated, two shootings and seven beatings were carried out, and so forth. That is the kind of peace that we are talking about. This is the fruit of the hard labour of the Belfast Agreement, and it does not end there.
Terrorists are walking the streets, snubbing their noses at those who have been murdered. In the very meetings which have been discussing the disbandment of the police, the murderers were laughing at the widows of their victims. I make no apology for describing the terrorists who do that as being no better than scum, and they have no part to play in the future of this Province. We have to defeat the terrorists in our midst, but under this agreement the terrorists have been released.
We had a lecture about equality. It is amazing how some Sinn Féin members have the gall to talk about equality. One might have expected that after the release of 214 terrorists half of the guns and explosives would be handed over, but that is not in the equation.
IRA/Sinn Féin sit there smugly. They may fool some people (those who think that they should be brought into government), but so far as the DUP is concerned, IRA/Sinn Féin represent a group of people that needs to be defeated — not cuddled up to, not appeased, and not allowed to become part of any Administration. The DUP will not be aiding or abetting any agreement that puts IRA/Sinn Féin into any future Government of this country.
On 5 December a demonstration — with full paramilitary regalia — was held in Dungannon in support of disbanding the RUC. Some people who took part in the parade wore full combat uniform and boots, and the ordinary people of Dungannon were subjected to verbal abuse. That is the kind of treatment we are being asked to accept in this country. Such is the fruit of a peace process. We are being subjected to mafia-type threats, extortion and drug-related incidents. Orangemen are still at Drumcree, but this rabble is allowed to walk the streets of Dungannon and abuse the people who live there. The number of troops has been reduced, routine military patrols have ceased, and so on.
IRA/Sinn Féin have no intention of disarming. Their present strategy in the political arena will take them so far, but when it can take them no further they will go back to doing what they do best. We have stood against all their threats and intimidation for the past 30 years. We have never knuckled under them, and, by the grace of God, we never will. We will see them defeated.
The lecture we had about there being no link between the IRA and Sinn Féin was very interesting. Martin McGuinness was convicted of IRA membership in 1974 and was jailed for 12 months in the Republic of Ireland. He told the court there that he was very proud to be an IRA commander in Londonderry.
What about Kelly? In 1973 he was convicted of IRA membership and of inciting others to join. What about Gerry Kelly? He masterminded the IRA’s Old Bailey bombing.
It would be proper to refer to a Member by his Christian name and surname, particularly where there could be any confusion. Members ought to pay attention to proprieties.
What about Gerry Kelly? Yes, we heard the litany when they were trying to tell us that there was no connection, that they were not a part of IRA/Sinn Féin, that there is no such thing as IRA/Sinn Féin. Whom do they think they are fooling? So far as we are concerned, and so far as the Government are concerned, they are two sides of the same coin — Gerry Adams and all the rest of them. I could go on, taking them one by one.
There is a challenge to the DUP to galvanise the pro-Union opposition to the current policy of treachery. There is a challenge to Ulster Unionists: will they let Sinn Féin into government? There is a challenge to the SDLP: will they go on without their Sinn Féin? There is a challenge to the Government: now is the time to stop appeasing terrorism and defeat it.
Mr Trimble is on record as saying that, to make the Assembly work, it is essential that all participants be committed to peaceful and non-violent means. The Prime Minister is on record as saying that legislation will be introduced to deal with prisoner issues and with parties that are linked to paramilitary organisations. Mr Trimble also said that the UUP would hold Mr Blair to his promises, and would not sit in the Government of Northern Ireland with unreconstructed terrorists. He also said that this issue must be comprehensively addressed to our satisfaction. Paramilitary organisations must decide that the war is over, dismantle, disarm and stop the beatings.
Since the so-called ceasefire, there have been 450 beatings and murders. IRA/Sinn Féin have so far refused to disarm or to endorse the exclusively peaceful and democratic measures laid down in the Mitchell principles. For those of us who opposed the Belfast Agreement, it was no surprise when IRA/Sinn Féin said at the weekend that they would not give up a single bullet or one ounce of Semtex.
Neither was it a surprise when we heard that the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Women’s Coalition are still in talks with Republican and Loyalist murderers. As we know, they have broken their promises to the electorate many times before.
Loyalists were bought off by the Government when they were promised that prisoners would be released. The Government have also been bought off by IRA/Sinn Féin with the release of many savage murderers; the promise of ministerial positions in the New Assembly; the promise that many border checkpoints and posts would be removed and that all-Ireland bodies with executive powers would be set up; the promise that the Loyal Orders would be constrained by the Parades Commission; and the promise that the RUC would be reformed.
In return for those promises, IRA/Sinn Féin declared a ceasefire — such as it is — and told the Government that there would be no more bombs on the mainland, provided their requests are granted. Otherwise, they will do as they have done in the past — blow another town to pieces or murder a few more members of the security forces.
It is unbelievable that some Members who call themselves Unionists are prepared to go down the road of this corrupt process. It is also difficult to understand why those in the SDLP who call themselves democrats are prepared to support cohorts who have been responsible for many dire atrocities. It is also difficult to understand why they have not, at any time, used their position to encourage decommissioning. I suppose it is because their ultimate goal is the same, and they are prepared to accept anything to further their aim.
It is time for the Assembly to insist on decommissioning. Unreconstructed terrorists should not be in Government.
There has recently been much use of the word "equality". As British citizens, we demand equality of treatment, and reject this façade with the enemies of Northern Ireland. I support the motion.
The theme of the speeches by Mr Neeson, Mr Haughey and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) was that people are despairing because we are not reaching agreement quickly enough. It is better to take a little longer over the agreement and get it right than to rush it and get it wrong. It is as simple as that.
Where I live is part of the United Kingdom. Scotland had its referendum many months before ours; we had ours in May. If or when, and I believe it will be when, we move to full devolution next May, we will still be doing that ahead of Scotland. So we are moving at a reasonably rapid pace in comparison with other parts of the United Kingdom, and we have been having these discussions and debates against a backcloth of 30 years of violence which neither Scotland, nor Wales has had. That may be the pragmatic way of putting it, but the party I represent also reflects the agreement in full.
I note from the motion that paragraph 16 of strand one refers to Ministers and then, following that, to the Executive. The word "follow" does not imply immediacy, but the word "after" is implied. No one has so far referred this morning to paragraph 35 of strand one of the agreement, and it is the heading of that paragraph that indicates the mode that we are in at the moment — the transition mode. Under the heading "Transitional Arrangements" paragraph 35 talks about Standing Orders (which we are working on), about working practices and about preparations for the effective functioning of the Assembly. That is what we are about. Let us get it right, even if it takes a little longer, rather than rush and get it wrong. That is my first point.
Sinn Féin representative Mitchel McLaughlin said
"There is no such party as Sinn Féin/IRA."
Others have referred to that remark, and very vocally from my right. I do not intend to be as vocal or as strident, but this motion does not refer to one party — Sinn Féin/IRA — it refers to inextricable linkages. I have said this before and now I will say it again: a man and a woman are two separate individuals, but when they are married they become inextricably linked. It is to such an inextricable linkage that we are referring.
He also said "Why fear peace?" [Interruption] I trust that the Member is also inextricably linked, if he is married.
It is all right. I am glad that the Member is talking to me again.
Mitchel McLaughlin asked why we should fear peace. I do not fear peace. Indeed, I wish for peace. But what we have at the moment is not peace. We have the absence of the violence of the ‘70s; we have a mere ceasefire. I remind Sinn Féin that ‘The Irish Times’— not I — said quite rightly that there is an obligation on the part of Sinn Féin to deliver its part of the bargain. Fergus Finlay, the mentor of the Tánaiste, Dick Spring, when he was in that position, also said the same at that time.
The ‘Belfast Telegraph’ used two words which are very salutary for us all with reference to the IRA. The editorial said that it was a "threat undiminished". A threat undiminished does not give us a peaceful environment. I wish for peace; I do not fear it.
I say to Members opposite, and to Sinn Féin in particular, that I do not fear equality. However, equality is not what Sinn Féin may wish it to be. The 40 nations of the Council of Europe have defined quality. The Forum for Peace and Reconciliation in Dublin said that we, as individuals, cannot pick and choose but must reflect the international consensus regarding matters of state. This refers to equality as "participation within the state".
Those in a state who wish to be linked to another one cannot interfere with territorial integrity and sovereignty. That cannot be said of Sinn Féin or of its equality agenda. A fundamental principle of international law and practice is that the territorial integrity of states is recognised and that co-operation is built from within a state. That principle is not being recognised.
Sinn Féin says that the agreement is merely transitory, a staging post. Others say "We must go much further."
Addressing Ulster Unionists in the Assembly, Mr Roche used the term "intellectually deficient". While I support the motion, I do have one problem with it that Mr Roche may be able to help me with. The motion says
"any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment".
Does that not mean decommissioning? Mr Roche said that the surrender of terrorist arsenals is imperative. I am trying to get my intellectual coherence right.
Let us not delve into that. They have had a hard enough week.
"Denial of equal recognition with democrats to parties fronting armed terrorists until such parties publicly and permanently reject violence and openly and positively disassociate themselves from terrorist organisations".
That looks as if all that has to be done is to permanently renounce violence and disassociate themselves from those organisations.
This has been a useful debate. When the possibility for such a debate was discussed some weeks ago many parties favoured an opportunity to air and share views and concerns about the formation of government departments, North/South co-operation and implementation bodies, the British-Irish Council and the consultative Civic Forum. It was those four areas which, on 1 July, the Assembly asked the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to consider.
I pointed out on 1 July, when speaking in support of the nominations of Mr Trimble and Mr Mallon, that the issue of decommissioning does not relate to any of the functions or responsibilities of the First Minister (Designate) or Deputy First Minister (Designate). This also applies to the issues of prisoner releases and the Police Commission. The responsibility of the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) is to lead Members on those aspects of the agreement which fall to the Assembly, either through the Assembly itself or by agreed mechanisms for relationships within the British/Irish or North/South framework.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) has spoken of his frustrations that he and the First Minister (Designate) have not yet been able to discharge those responsibilities. They will still not be able to discharge their responsibilities if Members leave today thinking that we can still keep kicking all those issues in front of us. We cannot continue to do that.
The vexed question of decommissioning cannot be resolved this week. Parties have different stances on and interpretations of that issue. Members may feel that one party or another is misguided in its interpretation either of the issue or of the agreement. The Assembly can stop the issue of decommissioning being a deadlock by agreeing the new government departments, the initial tranche of North/South implementation bodies and areas for North/South co-operation, so enabling the necessary legislation and personnel arrangements to be put in place.
Over the last few weeks we have been trying to make progress — at least in those areas which will take time to develop further — without becoming caught up in a rhetorical shoot-out over decommissioning. Unfortunately, this debate has tended to be more about decommissioning than the issues which should have been before the Assembly — proposals and suggestions on new government departments, the initial areas for North/South co-operation and implementation bodies, the consultative Civic Forum and the Assembly’s contribution to the British-Irish Council. That still has to be done.
Mr Nesbitt said that although the referendum in Scotland was held prior to the referendum in Northern Ireland less progress has been made there. Scotland has not yet elected its Parliament and does not have the salaries, allowances and running costs to pay. The Scottish people would be pretty angry if their elected Parliament could not sort out its government departments or determine its relationships with other bodies after six months. The comparison does not stand up. The context is different.
That is another reason for us to be more diligent and act more urgently here. The situation I have outlined is not the only difference between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Political inertia is less affordable in Northern Ireland. One of my fears about the Forum was that it would be a case of salaried intransigence. We seem to be in a form of salaried inertia and more urgency is required.
Some deadlines were in the agreement. The deadline of 31 October was there with regard to the North/South bodies and the North/South work programme. That deadline assumed that Government Departments would be organised and formed and that a shadow Executive would be up and running some time before that. That was the presumption at the time of the agreement, and it was there because that was the Ulster Unionists’ negotiating position in the talks. They told us that they could not agree North/South bodies in the negotiations, that these had to be worked out as part of the working of the new arrangements. They said that the new Departments had to be up and running with shadow Ministers in place, reporting to the Assembly on the areas which had been agreed with the Irish Government.
That is the way the Ulster Unionists said it had to happen, but they have reversed their negotiating position. Before they engage in any further discussion on new Government Departments in Northern Ireland, they want to sort out and limit the North/South bodies. David Trimble, quite rightly, talks about the importance of consistency and clarity in other places. I would ask him, and his party, for the same approach in the Assembly.
Today UUP Members have lectured the SDLP on its responsibilities in the current situation and have expressed disappointment about what they perceive as a lack of support for their position in some matters. I am dismayed that there seems to be a change in their position. If this Assembly is to have any credibility, we must make progress on these issues. The public should have the confidence that their will will prevail and that the whole thing will not disintegrate when the parties push their own mandates.
In order for the agreement to work, we must make arrangements for the new Departments and for the North/South bodies. The agreement also has to work in all other aspects and, whether people like it or not, that includes prisoner releases. No one can make preconditions. Whether we like it or not, the work of the Independent Commission on Policing will be part of the success of this agreement. There must also be real progress on decommissioning.
Mitchel McLaughlin said that Sinn Féin wants to see the gun removed. Other people who have put the case for decommissioning want to see the gun removed, but it has to be something that is visible. Sinn Féin, in its own terms and in its own time, has always insisted that it does not want anything implicit or anything under the table. Everything has to be upfront, visible and obvious — something that it could take to its constituency. That was the case during the negotiations with regard to prisoner releases, the need for movement on policing and a variety of other issues. It said that these were not negative demands to get what it could from the first "takings" of the agreement, rather it was to enable Sinn Féin to go to the constituency and assure people that there was something real for them in this agreement.
The same case can be made for disarmament. We should not hear it continually dismissed as a red herring. The more it is dismissed, the more people become preoccupied with the issue. Let us all move on and help each other. The First and Deputy First Ministers should be able to put forward some practical proposals without the matter being confused or complicated by other party issues.
The subject of today’s debate is clear. Do we hand to Sinn Féin the Christmas box of a place in the Government of Northern Ireland while it retains its guns or do we, as democrats, deny it that place until it proves that it has the same democratic credentials as the rest of the parties in this Chamber?
The debate has to focus on Sinn Féin. No matter whether one looks at its members’ statements, at the constitution of the terrorist organisation which it represents, or at the connections of its Assembly Members, there is no mistaking the fact that the full spectrum of terrorist activity is represented in the form of IRA/Sinn Féin in this Chamber. Whether one speaks about bombings, extortion, the organising of mass murder in this city, or any other line of terrorist activity, we will find in that party someone who not only epitomises the type of person who is engaged in one of those activities, but a person who has engaged in one of them. Should we allow such people into the Government of Northern Ireland?
It is worth focussing Members’ attention on these pertinent matters, and I want to look at some of the arguments of the parties who oppose Mr McCartney’s motion.
I was slightly perturbed to hear the First Minister (Designate) say "Let us not forget that it is not just the electoral mandate which entitles people to a place in the Government; it is also the fact that they are committed to democratic and peaceful means." I hope that is not the loophole that he intends to use to push matters forward, as others are exhorting him to do.
I have been on Belfast City Council since 1989 when legislation was introduced requiring members of all parties to sign an agreement saying that they were committed to democratic and peaceful means. I have since seen Sinn Féin members get elected and sign that agreement, and then in the council chamber defend the economic warfare to which Belfast has been submitted by the IRA. I have heard them defend the so-called punishment beatings or refuse to condemn them after signing a bit of paper by which they are regarded as democrats.
Let us look at some of the other Members’ contributions. As I listened to Mr Neeson I was reminded of a comment by someone in another place, who said that if he intended to divorce his wife, he would hire one of the young lawyers in the Alliance Party to represent her. I thought for one moment that the famed open-mindedness of the Alliance Party was beginning to bear fruit when Mr Neeson said, in his strongest voice, that 1,000 children had suffered from human rights abuses, and that that was unacceptable. He went on to say that the Mitchell principles had been diluted so that a coach and horses could be driven through them.
In much more colourful language, his Colleague described how people’s bones were being broken and money was being extorted. At this stage I thought that this was a fiendish plot, that the Alliance Party was going to back Mr McCartney’s motion. But, having said all that, they came to what conclusion? By 21 December the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) should bring a final report before the Assembly. The implication of that conclusion is that it sets in train the process which will allow the very people who are breaking bones, extorting money and engaging in human rights abuses, to occupy positions in the Government of Northern Ireland. It is not a case of sitting on the fence — they are becoming the fence.
We then heard Sinn Féin’s arguments. Mr McLaughlin told us that Sinn Féin and the IRA have nothing to do with each other — and we all believe that. [Laughter] He went on to explain why that is so. He said that Sinn Féin does not believe in or support punishment beatings. Such a claim is a bit odd. I have been in a council chamber when Sinn Féin opposed a motion condemning punishment beatings. But Sinn Féin — the master of words — gets round that. It gets round it by referring to such incidents as community corrections — not punishment beatings.
Then we were told that Sinn Féin wants to see the gun removed forever. Mr McFarland quoted Gerry Kelly, who, of course, does not speak for the IRA. They are not inextricably linked — in fact, they have nothing to do with each other. Gerry Kelly said that if Unionists keep on talking about getting rid of guns the IRA will go back on the streets.
But Sinn Féin’s most conclusive argument is that nowhere in its election literature or its constitution is there a claim that it speaks for the IRA. Of course, Sinn Féin would not include that in its election literature. Why would it? And by using all of these arguments, Sinn Féin expects us to believe that its members are house-trained democrats who are fit to fill places in government. So far as the Democratic Unionist Party is concerned, Sinn Féiners are not fit to come through the doors of this Chamber, let alone take places in government. And it does not really matter how people try to paint them.
The same theme of support has been running through all of the SDLP’s submissions. You cannot go back; you must go forward. You cannot be a wrecker; you must be constructive. You cannot be negative; you must be positive. So if you do not agree to let Sinn Féin in to government, you are the wrecker.
Let me remind Sinn Féin Members that those of us on this side of the Chamber have not spent the last 30 years trying to prove that Northern Ireland is a failed political entity. We were not the ones who boycotted institutions from the 1982 Assembly onwards. We were not the ones who, when things were not going our way, decided to run down to Dublin to try to muster support for an unreasonable point of view. We want to see Northern Ireland working. But politics in Northern Ireland cannot work if one adopts the immoral stance of putting those who have wrecked this country in to its Government.
The choice before the House is simple. It can either support Mr McCartney’s motion, which emphasises that only democrats have a place in government, or it can surrender to those who insist on retaining their guns because they know that their demands are so unreasonable that the only levers available to them are Semtex and the gun.
Ulster Unionists should be careful about the motion. Paragraph c does not contain an opportunity for tokenism, and the Ulster Unionist Leader’s speech in Oslo undoubtedly introduced the possibility of tokenism. Mr Weir diminished any possibility of tokenism, and went on to say that one third of the arms would do. Any terrorist organisation with two thirds of its arms intact could inflict a serious blow. Those were Mr Weir’s words, and Hansard will clarify the matter.
If tokenism is what people are about, they will be boxed in. Tokenism is a joke because people who are left with a small number of guns could operate a policy of work study and use the guns more often by passing them around. Mr Weir spoke about his penchant for Unionist unity. Those who advocated tokenism should carefully read the wording of pargraph c. It does not advocate tokenism. It wants absolute, total, complete and utter decommissioning. I hope that we all want that.
The many facets of the agreement were played out in living colour. Few, if any, of them were universally loved. Its creation was a great surprise to a vast swath of the population whose doubts about the matter probably had their foundation in a belief that their politicians were unwilling or incapable of doing what needed to be done.
The run-up to the referendum was a difficult time for those in the Unionist tradition. However, the moral imperatives which drove opinion have been passed into law by the greater number of people. Issues that were so disliked are to the fore, and that will continue. What do we do now? Do those who have a specific difficulty with the agreement continue to harbour annoyance, or do they accept the will of the people and embrace the only real chance that this society has to practise accountable democracy?
It is foolish to dismiss the extent to which emotion plays a part in our political life. But to be consumed by emotion when trying to chart a course to the future is likely to end in disaster. As things stand, that is how it will end. We are told that Trimble and Adams cannot move. If that is the case, this process will go down, and that would please some people. Some Sinn Féin hearts may harbour the notion that that would not be a bad idea, provided the daft oul Prods get the blame for it.
I heard two inane comments when I was in the talks. One was the assertion that Sinn Féin does not represent the IRA, which prompted me to say at the time that we should get the IRA in because it was the people in that organisation with whom we had to deal.
The other remark was made by Mr McCartney. It was similar to things he said this morning in giving a litany of immorality in relation to punishment beatings and shootings. This morning, however, he left out the caveat "If this is peace, give me war." And I have plenty of witnesses.
Absolutely, and a couple in his own party perhaps.
Another issue that I should mention to the exalted Gentleman is that at least four others now realise that they cannot tell anything to the man who knows everything. It is that time of year — Christmas.
Perhaps this is the right time to encourage people to examine why paramilitary ceasefires were called in the first place. Were the ceasefires not some form of acceptance by the paramilitarists that the war was futile, that it is was unwinnable? But being in a war that is unwinnable is not the same as being defeated. There are those who have no concept of the difficulties that we have been going through. We know about the pain, the blood and the brains on the pavements; we know about news programmes by the day; we know about the suffering before, during and after the ceasefires. We know about all that, but we do not seem to have a formula or any policy that can cross the religious and political divide and give the people an opportunity to believe that there is a way out or a light at the end of the tunnel.
Those Members who have listened to me suggesting that we are heading for disaster may be pleased, but let me point out a couple of salient political facts — even though I am only an amateur. There is a British Prime Minister who is probably in the worst position that any British Prime Minister has been in in relation to Northern Ireland. This is not because there is not as much violence to deal with; it is because 71·12% of the population of Northern Ireland copper-fastened an agreement that is in danger of collapsing. What happens if Nationalism is able to pin that on Unionism?
As Mr McCartney advocates, as Mr Roche advocates, as the DUP advocates, there is no start date for decommissioning in the agreement. The question is therefore this; when does one resign from a deal, from a contract and from a covenant? That question will be asked of Unionism. It is also a question that the British Prime Minister will be asked about when Nationalism raps at the door of Downing Street and says this: "We know, Prime Minister, that it is difficult to manage a divided society, but it is worse than that. Our democratic rights have been denied by those who sat outside Castle Buildings, sharpened the knives, ran away from the problem, refused to deal with it and waited for the suckers to come out, waited for the people who have risked life and everything else to try to create an opportunity for a better way forward for the people of Northern Ireland."
In a couple of years’ time when the Prime Minister has deliberated with Bertie Ahern and thought about what he might do to give Nationalism its political expression — as the Good Friday Agreement, copper-fastened by 71·12% of the people, was supposed to do — does anybody think that the next thing to come will be a Unionist agenda? Are Members sure it will be a Unionist agenda or are they happy enough just to sing ‘The Sash’ and think loudly that everything will be all right? It will not be. If the deal is not done and honoured, the consequences will be very difficult. People have said that Sinn Féin and the IRA will not win. I have said that all my adult life. There are young, and not so young, people in the community who will take that literally. When they find that it is not a Unionist agenda and that Unionism has no part of the agenda that follows the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement, we will be in bloody awful turmoil. I know who I will blame. I will not support Mr McCartney’s motion.
This has been a rather depressing debate, full of certainties from some Members. If, as he claims, Rev William McCrea is not treacherous, it makes the rest of us extremely treacherous. Mr Weir, who seemed to be making up his speech as he went along, told us that Union First wants the decommissioning of one third of the IRA’s arms. No doubt, next time we return to the Chamber, it will be two thirds. Mr McGimpsey told us that some parties are here because they have nowhere else to go. I remind him that, as well as the DUP, to whom he addressed his remarks, there are other parties here who have nowhere else to go. That may not be the best reason for us being here, but I agree with Mr Durkan, who said that subsidised inaction has gone on for too long. We are here to do business, and it is time that we got on with it.
Mr Nesbitt does not know much about marriage if he thinks that husbands and wives are always inextricably linked. They act independently, and if he knew anything about women’s rights he would know that that is what women seek when building partnerships — agreement to live with differences through thick and thin. Mr Sammy Wilson knows even less about divorce if he thinks that the husband gets to pick his wife’s lawyer.
Certainty after certainty have been repeated. Change creates uncertainty, and that is difficult. But I would rather have the uncertainties of today than the violence and mayhem of the past. We went into the agreement with some speed, but it was right to do that, try to avoid creating a vacuum which would create tension, such as we find in the Chamber. The only certainty now is that in May 71% of the people told us to make the agreement work. That does not ignore the fact, which was mentioned by the First Minister (Designate) in Oslo, that there is a cultural conflict between Nationalism and Unionism. It is true that Nationalism often deals in aspirations, but it is unfair to say that it always deals in aspirations, and not with realities. I have seen Nationalism combine both.
It is equally unfair to Unionism to say that it deals only with basic issues and not with wider aspirations. The agreement brought those two sides together, and taught us how to compromise. Members will realise that we would not have an agreement if one side had gained 100% of its objectives. It is, of course, easy for Mr Wilson to use absolutes to demonise people, but people such as Mrs de Brún, a member of Sinn Féin, are here to work. Mr Wilson should bear that in mind, as should those members of his party who will attend the meeting of the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer. They should head not simply for the door, as they would like to do, but up the stairs, where the work is being done. They should not just stand there, acting out a political charade for the benefit of the television cameras. We will go on working.
We have not spent as much time as we should on other issues. We have concentrated on decommissioning and the politics of ultimatums. Perhaps one day we will have a healthy debate with Mr Wilson about the inclusion of more women in decision-making in Northern Ireland politics, which is in the agreement, or on community development as a strategic approach to resolving our problems.
Hour after hour, we have heard about wonderful solutions to our criminal justice problems. Mr Weir, an Ulster Unionist Back-Bencher, said that he wanted all criminal activity to stop, and said that he could stop it. The agreement will not stop all criminal activity. We are politicians, not police officers.
My words were that we need to see an end to criminal activity, and that terrorist organisations that were still involved in such activity should not benefit from Government office. I did not say that I could stop it.
Mr Weir said that all criminal activity must stop now. We went into the negotiations not as criminal justice experts, but as political negotiators, and we are here as politicians. Let the police and politicians get on with their respective jobs.
The criminal activity to which Mr Weir and others referred is a fraction of that which occurs in this country. Member after Member spoke about the broken bones of individuals in communities, but we do not often hear about people who are beaten in their homes. When we talk about what constitutes terror, let us include all unacceptable forms of violence, be they domestic or, as Mr Weir would call it, but I would not, political.
Mr McCartney’s motion refers to paramilitary organisations, and he spoke about the criminal activity of paramilitary organisations on the ground. Anyone who has worked on community development will know that people are trying to stop individuals — not organisations. I will lend them all the support that I can.
Mark Durkan made an honest speech in which, for the first time in the debate, he highlighted where the problems lay. I should like to request more consultations on those problems. In the negotiations we hit hurdles, but many parties brought their minds to bear on the problems and they were resolved. That consultation has stopped, and we need to restart it. In the absence of the departmental meetings, we must appoint liaison officers.
The fears were expressed in Oslo. Mr Trimble was right when he said that Unionism had built a cold house for Nationalism. It was also a hot house for Unionism. Those are both sides’ fears for the future. Will people do again what they have done in the past? Will policemen be legitimate targets? Will we have a recurrence of past violence? Will it be a cold house, that does not respect our legitimate rights, or will people share in Government?
We must try to create the cornerstone that will make this House a place in which everyone’s traditions are respected. Both sides fear that one day they will be an alienated minority. Only the agreement can end that fear, and it is time that we set up a Government.
Three things need to be done. First, we must set up the Departments and get into shadow mode. Secondly, let us set up the implementation bodies, not through force but in co-operation.
The third concerns confidence-building. Our civic society has gone quiet about this political agreement — the trade unions, the business organisations, and the churches as well as the paramilitary organisations. Perhaps that is the formula that we need: that they are all behind our political agreement.
I oppose the motion and the amendments because they ask for a final report. When the report comes to the Chamber it should be in draft form so that we all have an opportunity to debate it.
On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. You have said that you take care to look at Hansard and that you compare how we do things with what happens in another place. Perhaps you could look at the way our debates are conducted in future. In no other House would 100% of the Members belonging to a small party be called to speak in any debate. My party is small in the House of Commons — there are two of us — and in some debates we are not allowed to speak at all.
Those Members from the smaller parties who read homilies and attack the rest of us should remember that in another place only one of their Members might be allowed to speak. Why should 100% of one party be able to speak whereas Members from other parties who represent 10 or 20 or 30 times more of the people of Northern Ireland are not being heard? Something needs to be done about that if this is to be a democratic Assembly.
I wish to make two comments in response to your intervention. The arrangements for speaking, and for the conduct of the Presiding Officer, are different from those in another place. Requirements and restrictions have been put upon me by my advisory group, which makes it extremely difficult for me simply to follow what happens there. It is a constant struggle both to follow what happens there and to be equitable and reasonable. I continue to monitor what happens not only in individual debates but also in the context of activity over a period of time.
For example, in respect of the smaller parties to which you refer, there was no intervention at all yesterday that I can recall. I understand your concern, and I do not profess to get it right every time. I am very much in the hands of the Whips, and will continue to do my best, though imperfectly. Like all other Members, I hope to learn from experience.
In other places it is traditional to speak through the Chair. This is not to glorify the position of the Chair, much less its incumbent, but to ensure that Members do not, by referring directly to each other, get into an unhelpful to-and-fro. I appeal to Members to observe the proprieties — not, I accept, those in our Initial Standing Orders, which are deeply inadequate — and the traditions of other places. Doing so will facilitate a less inappropriately robust exchange of views.
As an Ulster Unionist, I seek peace, but not at any price. I seek progress, but not at any price. I seek confidence-building, but that is not going to happen unless there is decommissioning, and for that reason I support Mr McCartney’s motion. I take it that the motion is intended to be constructive rather than contentious, and I am glad that he and the DUP have now joined forces with the Ulster Unionist Party to supporting the decommissioning issue — it is only a few short weeks since his party was making excuses for Sinn Féin/IRA’s not decommissioning.
I decry the rhetoric of Sinn Féin. I am not convinced by it. I think that it is plausible and unctuous. Its deceit is evident, and it is time that it began to prove itself to society instead of vice versa. I am disappointed in the Alliance Party today — I thought it had more spine. Surely it should be supporting us on decommissioning as well. Does it fear what is in the undergrowth? Alliance’s was a weak and pathetic show today, an exercise in playing to the gallery.
I heard Mr Ford on the radio this morning talking about being constructive. I would like him and everyone else in the Assembly to know that the UUP has always been constructive for the Province, throughout the years of its existence. We have never tried to bomb the Province out of existence, nor have we tried to make it unworkable — we have no apologies to make to anyone. We lead and hope that others are beginning to follow.
The UUP will keep its promises and its part of the bargain in the agreement. We will not be rushed into doing things that are not right — we are just as entitled to negotiate as others. In my opinion, others are stretching the agreement to the full — they are seeking extras. Everything that is talked about has to have all-Ireland involvement. We are not about to jump into that pool without any thought about it whatsoever.
Getting back to decommissioning, IRA/Sinn Féin and its paramilitary associates have a moral responsibility to decommission because that is an indispensable part of the agreement. That cannot be denied, and it is not a precondition whatsoever. It is a condition of the agreement.
After all these months, every part of the agreement seems to be moving except the decommissioning part. The onus is on Sinn Féin to take this forward. Her Majesty’s Government keep letting prisoners out without any reciprocation whatsoever. I urge that prisoner releases be stopped until decommissioning commences.
There is also a threat along the border, as reported by the Eire authorities. They are sending some of their elite gárda along the border. In spite of that, I am reliably informed that three or four check-points along the Fermanagh-Monaghan border are about to be dismantled. This is a very premature decision. It is leaving people in the Roslea-Newtownbutler part of Fermanagh feeling exposed and at risk.
After Omagh, and after 30 years of violence and murder, with people’s bodies being picked up in body bags by the RUC, everyone was saying "This must never ever happen again." Everyone should be in this Chamber saying there must be decommissioning before there is any further progress. People are back in their trenches now and beginning to turn a blind eye to the lack of decommissioning. If it does not happen, the Assembly will flounder. In spite of this, the UUP is the only party, until today, that has been pushing for decommissioning.
We are talking about setting up bodies and Departments — that is ridiculous before decommissioning. We are being asked to set up a Government in spite of the fact that we know that, outside in the undergrowth, there are weapons and equipment ready to be used — a-gun-to-the-head attitude. Is that what we are being asked to do? Are we being asked to govern in spite of the fact that there are illegal armies and equipment out there?
Mr Presiding Officer, do you really feel that you could preside over a Government? Would it be credible or incredible? Would it be a credible or incredible Assembly? Would it be dishonest or honest? Would it be deceit or falsehood or a lack of integrity? Are there no morals whatsoever?
Surely we cannot begin to govern until there is decommissioning when peace, I hope, will be absolute. The onus is on Sinn Féin/IRA to do so. It is not on the UUP. We have reached out the hand of friendship; we have been positive; we want to work for the good of all people; but other people have to work as well. I trust that all parties in the Assembly will put pressure on Sinn Féin/IRA. Decommissioning is a must, and nothing will move until that comes about.
I support the motion.
As somebody who has attended people with broken bones, broken bodies and broken hearts for many years, I feel that I have some important points to make.
First, I want to address the Member for Lagan Valley, Mr Roche, who had the cheek to give my party a lecture on democracy. Let me remind him that the SDLP, with our Leader, John Hume, at the helm, has been at the forefront of democracy and real politics in this land for over 25 years.
Secondly, I listened to the very eloquent and passionate speech by the DUP Member for Mid Ulster, Mr McCrea, a speech that I have heard many times before in the House of Commons. While I can agree with some of the points that he made, I thought there was a certain hypocrisy about the general timbre of what he said. I recall very clearly — and so does a large proportion of the population of this land — his standing on a certain platform.
I hesitate to make this point because a certain other person on that platform was foully murdered after that. At the time the Member said that his actions were in support of the right of that person to speak, that it was to do with democracy. I say to him that, to many thousands of people in the North of Ireland, he was by his actions giving succour, either wittingly or unwittingly, to the organisation to which that person belonged and which had murdered many people. That incident was not very long ago. Let us have no hypocrisy from Mr McCrea.
Having spent the last 30 years in medical practice in West Belfast, taking in the Nationalist Falls Road and the Unionist Shankill Road, and having been a public representative for 25 years in the same territory, and elected to conventions, Assemblies, Belfast City Council, the House of Commons and this Assembly, I have some experience in these matters. Though it does not seem so long ago, it was in 1975, in the Northern Ireland Convention just after the fall of the power-sharing Executive, that the UUUC, the combined Unionist parties, led by Harry West, sat across this Chamber.
I was pleased to see Mr West recently in this building and am glad that he is very well. At that particular time, opposite the UUUC sat the SDLP, the Alliance Party and Brian Faulkner with his small band of Unionists who belonged to the UPNI. The key words on both sides that year were "magnanimity" — everybody talked about it — and "trust". I had never heard anything like it. One would have thought that there was a love affair between the two sides. However, the truth was that nobody trusted anybody.
We have come a long, long way since 1975. We have moved mountains since then, and I salute all the people and politicians in both communities who have brought that change about. As the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister (Designate) has said many times, people can change. Those previously involved in violence and paramilitarism on both sides — many good people who have made mistakes and have done things that were wrong — have given brilliant leadership.
It was in 1975, in this Chamber, that Bill Craig broke away from the UUUC — or, to put it more correctly, was pushed away because he proposed voluntary coalition. The Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was part of that grouping, but at least he was trying to make some progress. The years have passed on since then.
I could go on about the many people I have known in West Belfast, patients and constituents, who have been brutally murdered. Indeed, I still see some of their family members.
With regard to the attacks that have been made on Sinn Féin here. I am not a member of that organisation. I took on its party Leader at four Westminster elections, having taken the seat from him in 1992 and then, after a massive redrawing of the boundaries, he took it back again. I have no problem with that.
We would be wearing blinkers if we were to say that they were separate organisations. I totally agree with that. But there is an element of hypocrisy in the Chamber today. I believe that those people who were elected for Sinn Féin in the North of Ireland are trying to lead the Republican movement down the road of democracy, and that is the important thing about this. We can all scream and shout about things that happened in the past, though my experience of families who have lost loved ones is that the great majority support this agreement and want the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to set up the Executive and the North/South bodies.
In the past we have had Vanguard, Ulster Resistance and the crowds acting like the grand old Duke of York’s men who went up the hill waving hundreds or thousands — I am not sure — of gun licences. Some would say that they were legal. Perhaps they were, but they were winding up the paramilitaries.
Many times in Nationalist West Belfast I heard of other people wearing little red berets. I am not saying that they were directly involved in violence, but by their actions they were winding up the paramilitary organisations. I am tired of hypocrisy
I come again to Sinn Féin and decommissioning. My Colleague Mr Durkan, the Member for Foyle, made the point clearly that this is not the responsibility of the First or the Deputy First Ministers (Designate). I am aware of people who have been banished by the IRA; I know some of them and have intervened on their behalf. Almost every week I see families who have been intimidated by the IRA, and I am sure that there are families who have been intimidated by Loyalist paramilitaries. I cannot speak with any authority on that.
Members may ask why I do not support some of the points that have been made on the other side of the House. The answer is, as I have just said, that I actually trust the people from Sinn Féin who have been elected here — they do have a mandate and politically it is not in their interest for somebody to go out and smash somebody’s knees.
In 1975 there was much talk about trust. We have moved a long way since then and there should be less talk about decommissioning now and more action. As Mr Mallon said this morning,
"In politics you do not stand still; you either move backward or you move forward."
Mr McCartney, the Member for North Down, who moved the motion — and I do not mean this in any condescending way — spoke with great integrity. I believe that he is an honourable man. He speaks with great clarity and gives much thought to what he is going to say. He makes his point with clinical precision but politics is the art of the possible, and this is not a court of law. You cannot take the situation as it is and find a perfect solution; it is not like putting all the little bits of a puzzle together. I do not mean this in any condescending way. I accept the sincerity of the points that he makes, but if we follow the logic of what he and some of his Colleagues are saying, we are not going to get any agreement.
The people who are giving leadership in both communities to organisations that have been involved in murder should be supported, and that, I believe, is the will of the people of the North of Ireland.
My speaking time may be running out, but the days are running out as well. People on the Falls Road and on the Shankill Road — and both communities are represented here — are calling for this agreement to be implemented and for the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) to form the Executive. They also want the North/South Council to be formed along with the other bodies associated with it.
I fear that when a word is used as often as "decommissioning" is, people forget what it means. The Northern Ireland newspapers have been trying to remind us what it means. On 31 October 1998 the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ listed the arms and explosives still hidden.
Under the Republican catalogue it says that they have: 2,658 kg of the Czech-made plastic explosive Semtex; 1,204 detonators (not 1,203 or 1,205); 588 AKM assault rifles; 395 other rifles; 40 sub-machine guns; 29 GPMG machine guns; 25 heavy weapons; 1·5 million rounds of ammunition (one for everyone in the Province); seven Russian-made flame throwers; 9 Sam 7b ground-to-air missiles; 11 RPG 7 launchers; 46 RPG missiles; and 2 Barrett Light Fifty rifles. That is just the IRA’s catalogue of weaponry — a substantial hoard. It is no recipe for peace. These are not the resources that one would expect a "peaceful and democratic" organisation to have.
Some say "Give away 95% of it." Five per cent of that list would be sufficient to carry on a campaign of some significance, and they could replenish whatever stocks were given up. The reality is that those who wish to follow "exclusively democratic and peaceful means" do not need guns and explosives to make their case.
In practice, these weapons end up being used for criminal purposes, as happened in South Africa. Their removal also takes away a threat which gives Sinn Féin/IRA an advantage in bargaining. They do not give up their weapons because they provide them with an edge that they can take into negotiations. They are saying "If you do not give in to us then we will be out on the streets using these weapons."
The key issue is one of trust. The joint declaration stated the rules for entry to the political and democratic process: there had to be a permanent end to violence; parties had to be exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means. The refusal of Sinn Féin/IRA to offer the word "permanent" suggested to the Unionist community that their organisation had not yet left violence behind and that they intended, if they did not get things their own way in the proceedings that would follow, to use the weapons again to further press the people of Northern Ireland.
I opposed the agreement because decommissioning was not required. The participants simply have to use their influence, such as they have, to try and bring about decommissioning. Not only was there no requirement for decommissioning; there was to be no sanction if it did not take place. It is wrong, therefore, for the Women’s Coalition to suggest that if, in two years time, the guns have not been handed over, the whole edifice collapses. The agreement does not say that. There is a requirement in any society for those who are legitimate, constitutional, peaceful and democratic to give up any weapons they may have at their disposal.
The clearest parallel in the agreement to decommissioning is that of the release of prisoners. Both are within a two-year time frame, and the legislation on sentences links decommissioning with the release of prisoners. It indicates that the Secretary of State has the power, if parties have not established or are not maintaining a complete and unequivocal ceasefire, to take them off the list. One reason for doing so is if they are not co-operating fully in the decommissioning scheme. Sinn Féin/IRA are not doing that: therefore the release of their prisoners should not continue.
There has been much talk about the 71% of people who voted for the agreement. The Democratic Unionist Party has been asked what it is doing in the Assembly as it opposes the agreement. We are in the Assembly because we have been given a mandate. As democrats, we recognise the fact that 71% of the people supported the agreement. They voted for promises that were made by the Prime Minister and the First Minister (Designate) in the referendum campaign.
It was clear, during that campaign, that the overwhelming majority of the Unionist community intended to oppose the agreement. The opinion polls that were regularly obtained by the Northern Ireland Office showed that. Focus groups were set up to find out why the Unionist community intended to vote in that way.
The Prime Minister put all his team into Northern Ireland. Presidents, Prime Ministers, pop stars, party leaders and business leaders were wheeled into the Province to try to change the views of the people of Northern Ireland. It did not work. The Prime Minister had to give pledges interpreting the agreement and showing what it would mean to the people of Northern Ireland. In the House of Commons, Mr Hague said to the Prime Minister
"May I welcome what the Prime Minister has said in the past about the need for decommissioning to take place before Sinn Féin members can serve as Ministers in the Assembly? … Does he agree that prisoners should not be released early until the organisations to which they belong have substantially decommissioned their weapons?"
Hansard does not record exactly what the Prime Minister said in response. I raised this with the Speaker of the House of Commons on a point of order. The Editor of Debates in the House of Commons wrote to the Speaker as follows:
"I can confirm that certain words were deleted. That deletion was carried out by us.
The Prime Minister’s exact words were ‘What is essential is that any agreement must be signed up to in full, as we said, and the answer to his question is yes of course it is the case that, both in respect of taking seats in the government of Northern Ireland and in respect of the early release of prisoners, the only organisations that qualify for that are organisations that have given up violence and given it up for good.’ "
The Prime Minister came to Northern Ireland to campaign. On 14 May he said
"People need to know that if they are sitting down in the room of the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly with other people then they are not sitting there with the guns under the table, outside the door and all the rest of it. That can’t happen and we must make it absolutely clear that that can’t happen."
During that campaign the Prime Minister signed an advertisement containing five commitments to the people of Northern Ireland, two of which are relevant to this issue:
"Those who use or threaten to use violence must be excluded from the government of Northern Ireland, and prisoners kept in unless violence is given up for good."
"I have spent a great deal of the time talking to people about their concerns, and I believe the fundamental concern is this; how can people be sure that the present cease-fires are not merely tactical and that the terrorists will not reap the benefits of the Agreement, while retaining the possibility of a return to violence?
The Agreement itself is specifically designed to prevent this happening — and I have made clear in the pledge I gave on Wednesday that I will make the Agreement stick. There can be no accelerated prisoner releases unless the organisations and individuals concerned have clearly given up violence for good — and there is no amnesty in any event. Representatives of parties intimately linked to paramilitary groups can only be in a future Northern Ireland government if it is clear that there will be no more violence and the threat of violence has gone. That doesn’t just mean decommissioning but all bombings, killings, beatings and an end to targeting, recruitment and all the structures of terrorism."
The Prime Minister identified decommissioning and dismantling as the requirements for entry into government, and before the release of prisoners would take place.
I hope that every Unionist and every democrat in the House will support the motion in the name of Mr McCartney. There can be no place in the Government of Northern Ireland for those who still leave themselves the option of going back to violence if they do not get their way within the Cabinet. Let all Members declare very clearly to Sinn Féin/IRA that the guns must be handed over or there will be no room for them in an Executive.
This has been an interesting and illuminating debate, not only for what has been said but also for what has not been said.
The contributions of the First and the Deputy First Ministers (Designate) can only be described as an exchange between Basil Fawlty and Manuel — do not mention decommissioning.
There was a total absence of any reference to the decommissioning issue at all, and some other Members, notably Mr Farren and to some extent Mr Durkan, decided that they would take on the mantle of not mentioning decommissioning, though otherwise they made very interesting and worthwhile contributions. In winding up I would like to respond to as many contributions as possible, and it may be necessary to group some of them.
First, I want to deal with the contributions of the First Minister, Mr McGimpsey and Mr Foster, who seem to be under the delusion that there is some inconsistency between my previous view and my support for this motion. There is no inconsistency, as I will explain.
I have always said that the agreement did not, expressly or by implication, put any obligation upon any of the parties actually to decommission. Indeed, it is quite clear that paragraph 3 of the decommissioning section only requires parties to use such influence as they may have upon those who possess weapons to decommission within two years. But, if they do not decommission, it will be virtually impossible to prove that those who have influence actually used it.
I have always held and advocated the view that is central both to my opening speech and to the motion that no agreement, no Government and no mandate can supersede or set aside the fundamental requirements of the democratic procedure itself. A person simply cannot be a democrat, possess weapons and say that if the democratic process fails to give him what he wants, he will carry out violence against those who deny him. That is a fundamental principle of democracy, whether it is in the agreement or not.
My opposition to the agreement is that this fundamental democratic requirement was never explicitly spelt out and that, by that failure, Sinn Féin was afforded some legalistic and literal opportunity to say that it was not required to decommission. For the present, I am delighted that all the pro-Union parties feel that they can, whatever the various routes they have taken to arrive at the conclusion, support this motion.
I will not.
I make no mention of the Alliance Party because I have difficulty in discerning where it is, but that is a problem which even Mr Nesbitt has difficulty in getting his mind round.
Let me move on to some of Sinn Féin’s contributions. I am delighted at this seasonal and festive time to note that the works of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm have been added to the "green book". We have listened to fairy tales about the absence of any connection between Sinn Féin and the IRA. These fairy tales extend to the PUP too.
I assume that the tooth fairy and other mythological creatures are operating in vast numbers in West and East Belfast, and that it is they who are really the villains whom the police should be asking about the broken bones, the murders, the drug peddling, the creaming off of a percentage from drug dealers, the extortion, the racketeering, all the oppression, the intimidation and the enforced exiles.
Mr Ervine talked about people having a pension — I think he meant "penchant" — for creating bridges. It is obvious that he saw himself in the role of bridge builder. But what bridges are being built and of what are the materials that those organisations, the PUP and Sinn Féin are using? They are murder, mayhem and mutilation. These people talk as if they have discovered the wheel of ecumenism as if they are at the forefront.
To those who see me as some sort of wrecker I can say that I have never murdered, maimed or made any sectarian comments. I have absolutely no baggage of a sectarian nature, nor has my party. Representatives like Mrs de Brún and Mr Martin McGuinness say that people like me are opposed to the equality agenda or to fairness, or that we are the sort of people who "would not have a Fenian about the place". I believe that by "Fenians" (a very dismissive term) Mr McGuinness means Roman Catholics. Well, I have news for him. I have full cousins who are Catholic; my son is married to a Catholic; I have been in almost every Catholic church in Belfast and many in Rome. I believe passionately in the reformed faith, but I am so confident in that faith that I have no difficulty in exposing it to the faith of others. I have been employed by the Catholic Church as a professional barrister, I have been employed by Catholics, and I have employed Catholics.
I have no problems of any kind with Catholics, Nationalists or Fenians, but I do have an enormous problem with gunmen, thugs and villains who use violence for the purpose of achieving any aim, whether it be alleged social equality or some other form of equality. I have no desire to enforce my views upon anyone, but I will not be subjected to violence or to the threat of violence.
I hear some of these reformed criminals speaking, yet they are the sort of people who supported Loyalist gangs who went in with machine guns and sprayed teagues and Catholics.
These are the people whose inmates had murals on the walls of the Maze saying "Yabba Yabba Do, any teague will do." These are the people who say that democrats — people who believe in the rule of law and in sharing but who oppose this agreement politically and democratically — cannot be good unless they have previously been vile. A Member cannot be good unless he has a record of destruction, murder and mayhem. I am delighted that the UUP, DUP, UKUP and, I sincerely hope, members of the SDLP do not share such views. The SDLP Leader once said that there could be no discussion with guns outside the door, or on or under the table. I respect that view and I agree with it.
I have already quoted the Foreign Minister of the Republic, who said that there could be no question of gunmen looking at the democratic process, not liking what it has to offer, and going back to what they do best. John Bruton, who at the time of the Downing Street declaration was the Fine Gael Opposition Leader, said that the joint declaration meant that guns had to be handed in now. "Now" is a short word, but it has a clear meaning. It means immediately, forthwith, at once, without delay. There is no equivocation about its meaning now. That was the basis on which all Unionists and all democrats were led to believe that this process was founded. That was the direction that we were all to take.
Why is there an absence of trust and confidence in the pro-Union community? Because at every stage of the process those who were asked to give trust were the pro-Union community. According to paragraph 34 of the Mitchell Report, they were asked to believe during the negotiations that there would be parallel advancement of decommissioning and political negotiation. I did not agree with that. I agreed with Churchill’s comment about negotiating and compromising with Fascists. He asked where was the point of compromise between the fireman and the arsonist.
No guns or explosives were being used by the parties represented in the main line pro-Union community. There were no guns in the SDLP, but there were guns in the possession of Sinn Féin and the UVF — fronted by the PUP. I again return to the political ecumenism of Assemblyman Ervine. His party said that even if Sinn Féin were to decommission, the UVF would not. That helpful and charitable statement was made when, perhaps, there were greater prospects of decommissioning than at present.
I was honoured that Joe Hendron had sufficient confidence to retain me as his leading counsel when there was a petition to unseat him. I reveal no secrets that were not declared in open court. Evidence was given, not about guns, but about the behaviour of Sinn Féin as democrats during an election. The SDLP election agent had to be moved about from house to house during the election campaign for his own safety. If I am wrong I will give way to Joe Hendron. The windows of the SDLP offices were covered with human and animal faeces.
SDLP workers were subjected to all sorts of vile and physical abuse, to threats and intimidation. This was not going on against pro-Union candidates, this was the dirtiest kind of internecine political warfare against a democratic party.
I, for my part, will work with Nationalists and will endeavour to understand and meet their needs. As Nationalists their aspirations are different from mine, but I will share with them — I have no problem about that. I will go along with all their equality arguments, provided that they are based on justice and proportionality. But, in return, I ask them to throw off the yoke of their pan-Nationalism which binds them to a collection of people who demonstrate all the attributes of Fascism.
I beg them, I implore them, to put democracy above party politics and lend their support to this motion.
Under Initial Standing Order 12(1) the decision of the Assembly on the motion and the amendments will be taken on simple-majority basis. Let me remind the Assembly of what I said at the beginning of the debate. If the first amendment is carried, it will supersede the substantive motion and no further vote will be necessary. The same applies to a second amendment. If the third amendment is carried, the words will be added to the motion, and a vote will be taken on the amended version.
I also indicated that because the Standing Orders do not permit a closing speech in respect of amendments, I would formally ask the mover of each amendment if he still wanted it moved.
Amendment 1: moved or not moved?
Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, David Ford, Kieran McCarthy, Sean Neeson.
Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brun, Nigel Dodds, Pat Doherty, Boyd Douglas, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, Sir John Gorman, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, John Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Alex Maskey, Robert McCartney, David McClarty, William McCrea, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Jane Morrice, Maurice Morrow, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Dara O’Hagan, Ian R K Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Sue Ramsey, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, John Taylor, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly negatived.
For the last vote I asked that the doors be closed on the expiry of the three minutes. I did not ask that they be closed at this point for this vote.
Eileen Bell, Seamus Close, Bairbre de Brun, Pat Doherty, David Ford, John Kelly, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, Barry McElduff, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Pat McNamee, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dara O’Hagan, Sue Ramsey.
Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Robert McCartney, David McClarty, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian R K Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, John Taylor, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
Noting that a. no proposals under paragraph 16 of strand one of the Belfast Agreement have yet been made, b. actions set out in paragraph 8 of strand two of the Belfast Agreement have not been achieved, c. any party inextricably linked with a paramilitary organisation retaining arms cannot give a total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic means of resolving differences on political issues or oppose the use or threat of force by others for such purposes, this Assembly calls upon the First Minister Designate and Deputy First Minister Designate to lay a report on these matters before the House within 14 days.
That this Assembly do now adjourn. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]