On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. The Assembly is about to debate a report which purports to be based on an agreement between the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Is the Assembly entitled to know if some of the elements in that report relate to conditions which are not contained in the report? The First Minister (Designate) sent a letter to a number of his party colleagues. This letter contained a number of indicators (some more express than others) that he had entered into certain aspects of the agreement on conditions — for example,
"Our agreement to 10 Departments is conditional on it being cost-neutral over the lifetime of the Assembly. This will be achieved by a thorough review of government and the elimination of undemocratic boards and quangos."
Has the Deputy First Minister (Designate) agreed that there will be no cost in setting up 10 Departments, as opposed to six or seven, and what changes will be made to boards and quangos?
While there are some issues which have yet to be clarified — such as the presentation of legislation and the responsibilities of the Presiding Officer — I do not think that there is any matter in the substance of what the Member has said on which I am required to make a ruling as a point of order. There may be political aspects, and those can be debated.
The Assembly is being asked to approve what is described in this motion as a report. The Assembly — and the public — are being told that this report will become a determination on 15 February 1999 and that this has been agreed by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Will this report not necessitate the ruling of the Initial Presiding Officer that it requires a cross-community vote and not a simple vote? If a cabbage is described as a rose, it remains a cabbage. If this determination is described as a report, it remains a determination.
May I try to clarify these matters as I understand them? The report fulfils the mandate that was given by the Assembly to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to bring forward a report by today. I have studied the report since I received it at the end of last week, and it seems clear to me that it is not a determination. If it is not a determination, it is required to be approved not by a cross-community vote but simply by a majority vote. This is the procedure unless, of course, a petition of concern is placed with me.
As far as the report’s becoming a determination is concerned, the Assembly should first study it in detail. Differences of view and problems may become apparent during this debate, and I assume that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will wish to take such matters into account when they consider the matter further.
This report, in itself, makes it clear that it is not a determination. The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are required to submit a determination to the Assembly for approval — that is very clear from the Standing Orders. The determination, if and when it comes, will have to be submitted to the Assembly for approval, and a vote on this today could not possibly be regarded as an approval of the determination since the report makes it clear that it is not, in itself, a determination.
I accept your ruling, but may I humbly say that you seem to have overlooked the fact that people were told, by both the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), that the agreement which is embodied in what is today called a report will be in essence the determination which the said Ministers will put forward for the approval of the Assembly on 15 February. It would be a public scandal if today Members were to treat this as a report and not a determination and then the citizens of Northern Ireland were to discover that what had been treated as a report was exactly the same in essence as a determination approved by the Assembly by a cross-community vote on 15 February.
I cannot rule on the view expressed by Mr McCartney. It is quite clear — but I repeat lest there be any misunderstanding — that this report cannot be regarded as a determination and therefore cannot be approved as a determination. If a determination is submitted on 15 February it will have to be discussed by the Assembly and voted upon.
Further to that point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. At the top of page five, in a special reference to the proposals on the departmental structures, the report says
"The set of proposals on Departmental structures which we commend to the Assembly signal our clear determination to provide leadership and momentum."
On page six the photocopied version outlines seven proposals for departmental structures. Therefore a determination has been placed on departmental structures. On page five there is a reference to
"our clear determination to provide leadership and momentum."
I repeat that this is not a determination. Members should study the report and listen carefully to what is being said today. The question whether there will be any legal impediments or difficulties in proceeding with the views outlined in this report, and our moving towards a determination, will become clearer over the next few days as we take advice and proceed with the debate.
It would be unwise for me to tangle with the Secretary of State on where her authority lies and where the authority of the Assembly might lie.
A determination can only be made by the First and Deputy First Ministers; not by a vote of the Assembly. When a determination is made it must be approved by the Assembly, otherwise it is not complete. Therefore, if we do not have a determination, it follows that whatever comes after this debate will have to be brought back to the Assembly for its consideration.
If I understand your penultimate words you are suggesting that, as the debate develops, it may become clear that this is more than a report — that it is a determination. As the debate develops, it may become apparent that all the requirements for a determination are set out in the report, in the sense that all the constituent parts required by law — the infrastructure and architecture for the 10 departments and the six cross-border implementation bodies and their functions — are present.
Is it your ruling, despite it being an insult to the intelligence, that it can be anything else, that the First and Deputy First Ministers, by calling an elephant a snail, can make it a snail?
I am not sure about the analogies being drawn by the Member, but it is for the First and Deputy First Ministers to make determinations; not for me or the Assembly. However, it is important for voting purposes that I clarify whether a matter is a determination, since a cross-community vote is required for a determination.
The First and Deputy First Ministers have made clear in their report that this is a not a determination. If, having taken soundings and heard the advice of the Assembly, they later determine that this report is the way forward, then they can make clear that this is their determination. But the report would have to come back to the Assembly for its approval before it could proceed further.
The position must be clear by now, and it can only become clearer if Members listen to the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) and debate the matter.
This Assembly approves the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). — [The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate)]
It is my pleasure to present this report to the Assembly, and I apologise that it was not available until late last week. I was surprised that it took so long to finalise, and to get all of the details right, as its substance was in the public domain from 18 December. I am also sorry that we did not quite get all the details right, as a typographical error at the foot of page 10 has remained undetected until a few minutes ago. The final consultations were on 2 December; not 2 November, as recorded.
This is not a final report, because important matters regarding the British/Irish Council and the Civic Forum are outstanding. It is hoped to bring forward proposals on these by the target date which we have set. It is also not a final report because it does not meet the requirement of Standing Order 21 that
"In making a determination …. the First Minister and Deputy First Minister shall ensure that each of the functions exercisable by the heads of the different Northern Ireland departments existing at the date of the determination are assigned to a Ministerial office (designate) or to a proposed central department or office under their joint control."
Some time after 18 December we were informed by permanent secretaries that there were some functions which we had failed to allocate. I have a memorandum dated 13 January from the Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. It contains 26 functions that we had failed to allocate. Some are straightforward, but others are more substantial. Consequently, there is no possibility of anyone construing this as a final report or as a determination.
We hope by 15 February — and that is a clear target — to sort out the detail on this, the British/Irish Council and the Civic Forum, and to bring forward a final report, with all the necessary determinations, which will then have to be approved on a cross-community basis. We have chosen 15 February because we want to be in a position on or before 10 March to have taken all the steps required to provide for devolution. We want to be in a position to say that we (by that I mean the Ulster Unionist Party, our colleagues in the SDLP — indeed, the Assembly as a whole) have done everything procedurally to ensure that devolution can take place on or after 10 March.
I will now clarify the choice of 10 March, which some members of the press are misinterpreting. The Secretary of State, in her schedule, identified it as a possible date for devolution because that is the date currently scheduled for the March meeting of the Privy Council. At the time of the Agreement we hoped to have devolution by February, since the date of the February meeting of the Privy Council is 10 February. Because of the time lost in October, with the delay in discussing North/South matters, we are not now in a position to hit 10 February.
However, even 10 March is not absolutely settled as it is not entirely certain that the Privy Council will meet on that day, although it will be around that time. It is therefore important to be in a position to have all the necessary arrangements in place before 10 March so that the possibility will then exist for actual devolution thereafter.
A determination in the terms that have been used, whether today or on 15 February, does not itself trigger the d’Hondt formula. Other things will have to be done in order for that to happen, in terms not just of what the Secretary of State does but also of what we are doing. This is not to say that there cannot be or will not be a shadow phase before the Assembly goes live. It is legally necessary for there to be a shadow period immediately before the transfer of functions because there has to be something to which functions can be transferred. Obviously we could not contemplate a shadow phase until everything is sorted out and we are ready to run.
When I talk about having everything ready I do not mean just the things that we have to do, such as these reports, the shepherding through of the legislation which will create the new Departments so that we can transfer functions to them, or our ensuring that the provisions of the treaties that will be entered into by the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland on areas of cross-border co-operation, along with the necessary legislation giving effect to those treaties, are drafted properly. Indeed, there are also approximately eight Orders in Council which we will have to ensure are done precisely and accurately. All this will involve much work by Members over the next month or so.
But, in addition to the procedural requirements, there is that which might be described as a political requirement, although it is not. It is the fundamental requirement of the agreement itself — namely, that all those parties proposing to be involved in the Administration demonstrate clearly and unambiguously their commitment to the democratic process and to peaceable means. We all know what that involves and what has to be done in respect of that.
I have heard some Members state that there is no precondition for entry to the Executive. They may be right, but only in a very narrow, technical sense. A precondition is something that has to be satisfied before something else is done. It is a once-and-for-all act, and, having satisfied the precondition, one moves on to whatever it was a precondition for.
However, with regard to the holding of office, there is something in the agreement that goes much further than a mere precondition. There is a fundamental requirement and a fundamental obligation. It is stated time and time again in the agreement — for instance, in the declaration of support on page one; on page seven where it refers to the formation of an Executive; on page nine with regard to transitional arrangements; and on page 10 with regard to the pledge of office — and there can be no doubt about it. It is a fundamental requirement that is being broken by paramilitary-related parties which refuse to carry out their obligation to deal with their weaponry.
It is also being broken by paramilitary-related parties when they continue to engage in so-called punishment beatings and attacks. And let there be no doubt about the responsibility of people in this regard. The ‘Irish News’ editorial of 7 January, referring to the attacks of preceding days, said
"In Nationalist districts there is little doubt that the attacks were the work of the IRA."
It also said
"All the attacks were plainly in breach of both the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement."
The attacks are also in breach of the requirements of the Mitchell principles whereby people accept responsibility for taking effective steps to prevent such actions. Furthermore, they undertake to renounce the use of force or threat of force and to oppose any effort by others to use force or to threaten force. But threats have been made in the last fortnight. Threats were made in a statement issued by the IRA, and exactly the same threat was made last Friday by Mr Martin McGuinness in an interview with ‘The Times’. I do not see him here today to explain to the Assembly why he is breaking the Mitchell principles and the agreement by uttering threats of violence.
I then heard that same person trying to avoid his responsibility on decommissioning by saying that it was a matter for John de Chastelain and not for others. It is a matter for him, and he, along with other people sitting opposite, has the power to do it. He undertook an obligation to do it, and he is now seven or eight months in default of that obligation. Let there be no doubt that there is a political requirement for that to be done. I regret to say that Sinn Fein is being assisted in dodging its obligations by people who call themselves Unionists. They need to reconsider their position.
The cries of "Rubbish" come from the people whose consciences are pricked because of their support for Sinn Fein in this matter — and so they should be.
There are many other things I could say with reference to this report. I believe that it carries us forward significantly. It lays out the basic structure which we hope to see operating on or after 10 March. There are more things that it requires us to do, and we will do our utmost to ensure that they are done by the 15 February, so that actual devolution can take place early in March, and I hope that all the other parties here will do what they have to do in that regard.
I seek the Assembly’s approval for the report that is before the Assembly today and for a final report on 15 February. With the final report the First Minister (Designate) and I will have discharged the responsibilities placed on us by the Assembly’s resolution of 1 July 1998. We will have completed the work necessary to enable devolution to take place. The Assembly’s approval will put us on a flight path for devolution on 10 March. The details of that flight path are contained in the Secretary of State’s schedule for the legislation and the other formal steps that have to be taken. There may be heavy clouds, there may be storms, there may be flak — there may even be hijackers on-board — but we can see the lights of the runway ahead. We know there is no going back and no alternative to landing the plane.
I am convinced that we can do it — more convinced that we must do it. Anyone who watched the two BBC programmes on the last two Saturday nights and got an insight into the pain and suffering of the two communities in Northern Ireland has got to be gauche and unfeeling not to realise the extent of the pain and suffering that we have gone through in the past 30 years. All of us, no matter how gauche, have a responsibility to ensure that that never happens again.
I am certain that this agreement will not fail because of the anti-agreement parties. Yes, they have a point of view, and I, at least, do them the courtesy of trying to understand their point of view. We will hear it today in all of its manifestations, and it will be listened to with courtesy so that we can see what validity it has. If the agreement is not to succeed, it will be because of the collective failure of the pro-agreement parties — the SDLP, the UUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance, the PUP and the Women’s Coalition.
Let me recall what we all pledged ourselves to do on Good Friday in the Declaration of Support. We declared that the agreement offered a truly historic opportunity for a new beginning. Will history say that we took this opportunity, broke with the past and made a new start? We dedicated ourselves to reconciliation, tolerance and mutual trust. Have we shown those qualities? Have we promoted that reconciliation? Have we done it at all times and in all the ways that we should have done?
We reaffirmed our total and absolute commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences and our opposition to the use of the threat of force by others for political reasons. Have we left this issue hanging in the air, or has it become a tool of party politics?
We pledged to work to ensure the success of each of the institutions that have to be established. Have we shown the commitment and the necessary urgency in building the new arrangements and institutions? We should all ponder on those questions and look into our hearts and minds to see where the answers lie. These are the criteria by which we must evaluate ourselves because those are the criteria that will determine the ultimate success or failure of the agreement.
Together today, irrespective of our differences, we can all renew the spirit of hope that was embodied in the Good Friday Agreement. That almost impossible faith in the triumph of truth, tolerance and peaceful coexistence over hatred, suspicion and communal division provides the opportunity to restructure our society and the way in which we live, something that was denied so many generations. Today we should cast our minds back to that commitment.
On becoming Deputy First Minister (Designate), I took a solemn pledge of office. In particular, I pledged to discharge the duties of the office by serving all of the people of Northern Ireland equally. I accepted that the essence of the agreement is a partnership in which no side can expect to obtain its ultimate position. We left those positions behind when we signed the agreement. I accepted that partnership government will not work if every decision has to be resolved through brinkmanship. We have a choice: either we can be committed to the agreement or we can be condemned to failure.
With these principles and commitments in mind, I commend the report for Members’ approval as an instrument designed to bring the process safely through to the concluding date of 10 March 1999. I would like briefly to explain some of its different elements and the reasoning that underlies it.
With regard to the North-South bodies, I sought to obtain the greatest possible practical benefits for the people of Ireland, North and South. Yes, it was ambitious, but I believe in the benefits of a common approach to all of the major economic areas. But, like all Members, I must take account of others’ points of view and their reservations. Equally, I accept that the Assembly requires cross-community support on major issues. That is not something that can be invented or pulled out of a hat; that is one of the ultimate challenges, and that applies to both the North/South areas and the proposed Departments. What we have agreed about those Departments — and many people have expressed views on that — will be presented for the Assembly’s approval on 15 February 1999. In the meantime, work is now underway to agree the remits, budgets, staffing and programmes of work for the new institutions.
I hope that the Assembly will agree the 10 Departments when it meets on 15 February 1999. One of the issues underlying the number that was agreed was the need to cater for maximum inclusion. We had to ensure that each party got a fair crack of the whip so that no one would be disadvantaged by any decision on their number.
I ask those who make utterances from a sedentary position to bear that in mind, for often it is those utterers who would not have Departments if fewer than 10 had been decided upon.
With regard to primary responsibility for equality, it is self-evident that the office best placed to ensure the necessary cross-departmental monitoring is the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. There is, however, another very important fact.
It is clear that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) needs more time to complete his presentation of this important report than is available under Initial Standing Order 8(5)(a). The time can be extended only by leave of the Assembly. Does Mr Mallon have the leave of the Assembly for an extension of five minutes?
The facility to give leave for extensions of time is always available to the Assembly. There are matters upon which the leave of the Assembly cannot be given. For instance, Members cannot be given leave to speak more than once except in reply and so on. An extension is possible should it be requested.
Quite right, and to ensure that the matter is put beyond peradventure, I wish to call for the view of the Assembly.
All those in favour of the proposition say "Aye".
I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all the words after Assembly and add
"rejects the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and contends it is detrimental to the Union with Great Britain, does not provide for efficient structures of government, nor does it address the essential issue of decommissioning."
Two papers were published last week — the report of the two Ministers and the timetable by the Secretary of State. But one thing was strangely missing from both: there was absolutely no mention of decommissioning. It is interesting that the First Minister (Designate) took much of his 10 minutes today to argue the case on decommissioning that he says his party adheres to. Yet there is not a line about decommissioning in this report — not one line.
On 18 December there was quite a furore that a wonderful agreement had been reached, and, of course, there were going to be implementation committees in the South of Ireland. Now, according to the agreement, the two Ministers had no right to take any decisions on those committees.
A decision on that could only have been taken by a North/South Ministerial Council. The First Minister (Designate) wrote to his party and said that he had defeated John Hume and Seamus Mallon and achieved agreement without forming the Executive. He added that he remains committed to the manifesto pledge not to sit in an Executive with unreconstructed terrorists despite attempts at browbeating by the SDLP.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) may be prepared to travel in a plane with hijackers, but he cannot expect us to join him. Only a fool would travel in such a plane.
The paper written by the First Minister (Designate) reveals what was really happening. They thought that they could get this through, but they discovered that they were completely outside the law. The report recommends that the North/South Ministerial Council consider what has been said. That is not what was said originally. The North/South bodies are free-standing bodies. That is not what the Ulster Unionist Party said in its manifesto. A Minister will only have to make a statement about any decision he has taken. The Assembly will only have a say in matters concerning money.
This report is an attempt to weaken the Union. It does not provide efficient structures of government.
I listened with interest to the Deputy First Minister (Designate). He said that they wanted to widen it and hence they wanted 10 seats. He did not want to widen it for those Members who are not in a majority. It was nothing to do with Unionists in small groups — he wanted to bring in IRA/Sinn Fein.
I hear Mr McGrady saying that it was to get the Democratic Unionist Party in, but if there had been a seven-seat Executive, we would have been entitled to a seat — indeed, if there had been a three-seat Executive, under d’Hondt the DUP would have had a seat. Let not Mr McGrady pretend that he was thinking of the DUP, for we know perfectly well that there were no such generous thoughts in his heart. His thoughts were for IRA/Sinn Fein, his fellow travellers in the Nationalist camp. He was eager to get them in. The reason for having 10 seats is simply to get the IRA its place on the central committee.
With regard to decommissioning, if it is so important, then why did the First Minister (Designate) not get something written in? Even if there were a disagreement between himself and Mr Mallon, each could have put his case and his arguments — this is only a report. Why are we not dealing with that issue in this report? The reason is that after the decision is made today it is only a matter of form as to when we return.
No, I will not give way. I have only 10 minutes and I am not wasting my precious time on the Member. I have more respect for the scriptural injunction that tells us to redeem the time because the days are evil.
I heard somebody talking about injury time.
We are moving forward. Although the Ulster Unionists have said that we are only marking time, the First Minister (Designate) has told me that he is making progress. Progress on what road? He is not on the Union road; he is not on a road that will give us a Government that will maintain the Union.
In this most interesting report, the First Minister (Designate) has nothing to say about the members of the Unionist family who do not agree with him, except that we are hypocritical and dishonest. I am glad to know what he thinks of us. He seems to think that the SDLP is very honest and that he will be able to do a deal with Sinn Fein eventually. But he thinks that the rest of the Unionist family are dishonest hypocrites.
The vote today will show how thin his grip on the Unionist community is. He is clearly in great difficulty if he has to threaten to withdraw the Whip from his own Members to secure their votes. On a television programme last week called ‘The Cutting Edge’, I heard that he had a wafer-thin majority. That majority will go like snow off a ditch if he pursues the policy of a united Ireland, which is written into this report.
Those who endorse this post-dated cheque today will pay, but there are people in Northern Ireland who are not prepared to pay for this sell-out, and they will resist it. I say to the Deputy First Minister (Designate) that we are not riding on his plane.
We came here this morning anticipating a fusillade of attacks on this report, and that began with a series of points of order. They were blunted, and those who made them fell upon the barbed wire of your decisions, Mr Presiding Officer. Now an amendment has been moved. There are few people who can make a rousing speech like Dr Paisley, but the one he made this morning was not among his top ten, largely because he does not have a case.
Everybody knows that in spite of all their roaring and shouting, Dr Paisley and his Colleagues are stuck in this place, and they love it. They are taking every benefit from it and occupying every square inch of space that they can. The Democratic Unionist Party is the only Unionist party that has said that it will sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein without decommissioning.
If I have to go and get the transcripts, I will. I am telling the House that he said that.
The other interesting thing he said was that the First Minister (Designate) had threatened our Members with disciplinary action. Can Dr Paisley confirm that all DUP candidates signed a letter for him confirming that they were signing up to certain positions? He did not trust their word; he had to get them to sign letters.
The issues are simple. I vividly recall that in September the Democratic Unionist Party said that the Ministers had presented a weak report without determination. Now it says that our final report is a post-dated cheque and it is terrible.
Some of us have worked hard for months to try to resolve these problems while others have done nothing. However, they have been taking their cheques at the end of each month. [Interruption].
Some of those who dish out criticism and abuse do not like listening to people criticising them. That is the problem that confronts us. We are in danger of losing the main plot which is about whether people are genuinely committed to the democratic process. Are people committed, as they are required to be by the agreement, to opposing the use of and the threat of force? Judging by current happenings in the community, there is little evidence of that.
There has been a huge upsurge in punishment beatings since the beginning of the year. Such beatings have reached record levels, and people are trying to make an issue of the acceptability of the police because of the operation of the Patten Commission. People perceive a vacuum, and all these factors show that some people are not genuinely committed to exclusively peaceful means.
If we do nothing else in this Assembly, we should ensure that those in government are demonstrably committed to such means. That is the key issue. While the different strands of Unionism can argue the toss, at the end of the day that is the issue that will determine whether this process succeeds or fails. It is designed to provide a path for those who have followed a paramilitary route in the past so that they may enter a political process that is exclusively committed to peaceful means. If people are not prepared to do that, it means that they are not committed and cannot therefore be required or permitted to enter government. It is as simple as that.
The community has been generous in its tolerance of what has gone on here for many years. It tolerates the release of prisoners and action on other issues over which local parties do not have direct control. Such matters are under the control of the Secretary of State. We must look at the opportunities because we all want power to be devolved to Northern Ireland. We want the opportunity that we have not had for more than a generation. We want to work effectively for our constituents in the delivery of social services, jobs and housing.
Until now we have been spectators in our own country, watching from the sidelines as somebody flies in to determine policy. In other forums and councils we have said, "Isn’t it terrible what the Government are doing?" We have complained about decisions on hospitals, schools, houses and jobs. We have the opportunity in two months’ time to decide for ourselves, and we must establish the firm foundations for that to continue.
The firm foundation is that those who aspire to exercise power must be committed totally and exclusively to peaceful means. That has to be demonstrated and maintained; it is not a one-off. If we are in government with a gun to our heads, metaphorically speaking, the trust that is needed successfully to govern the people of Northern Ireland cannot be created. We would look like hypocrites, and would lurch from one crisis to another.
Let us settle it now while we have the opportunity — the only one that this generation will have. People want that, although some argue that there will be a surrender. The issue is not about surrender. It is about genuine change which we must make and which this Assembly represents. Despite all the noise, everybody here has changed and will continue to change because not long ago we came through various processes to bring us to this point. Some fought their way here through the polls while others abused the system by using a ballot box and Armalite strategy, but we are all here because we cannot afford not to be.
Oh dear, poor Little Orphan Annie has to make a comment. We have to show compassion because anyone who has been deprived for over a month of the attentions of Cedric Wilson and Paddy Roche would make such comments.
The opportunity should not be lost. People who feel that the destruction of weapons by one means or another weakens their position or makes them any less Loyalist or Republican have not fully embraced the democratic process. If they have, they do not need those weapons for any reason other than to threaten. The agreement has produced every conceivable mechanism to protect rights and equality. What more evidence of inequality could there be than somebody barging into a person’s house and smashing his limbs with iron bars and baseball bats? That is inequality in its most virulent form.
The law has never been stronger. We are setting up all sorts of mechanisms, such as commissions and bodies for the proofing of legislation. Never in the history of any community in western Europe has more been done to ensure that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip. Everybody will have an opportunity to have a say and will have access to the law if an authority fails to do its job properly.
People must be confident that there is change and a determination to implement the new arrangements fairly. If there are failures, there must be adequate mechanisms to ensure that individuals, Ministers and authorities are corrected and prevented from doing anything which is to the disadvantage of any citizen. This array of apparatus presents the opportunity to take the step that is needed and to bring about genuine confidence. I hope that the House will take that step.
I expected the Assembly to give the people of Northern Ireland a better hope for the immediate resolution of our problems. The purpose of the Assembly, to which we have all subscribed and which is contained in our general rules, is to prepare to give effect to the agreement that was reached at the multi-party talks on Northern Ireland as set out in Command Paper 388.
That is what the Standing Orders say, and that is the condition upon which membership of the Assembly was accepted.
When the resolutions were passed on previous occasions from 1 July 1988 onwards, the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) were criticised for not presenting a report of the type that is now before the Assembly. As party members, we know the toil and sweat which has gone into this report, and it should not be dismissed lightly or allowed to fall between the stools of inter-party rivalry. That would serve no purpose, and certainly not the purpose of the people who sent us here. We often forget that we are here on behalf of the people. They have asked us to come to the Assembly to reach agreement on that which they have endorsed.
Once again the reverend gentleman does not seem to be able to understand what is being said. I have experienced that in many places and on many occasions. To me, the concepts of majority and minority are viable and acceptable. The purpose of our debates is to ensure the fullest possible diversity so as to create the fullest possible partnership. Partnership in any field can be nurtured only if there is the mutual trust and confidence that will enable it to prosper. The report designates the broad concepts on which the governance of Northern Ireland could be achieved in a much better way than hitherto.
People may jibe about numbers. The SDLP was not the only party to recommend 10 Departments. Almost every party in the Chamber, on a cross-community basis, recommended that number. The Democratic Unionist Party has often said that it did not see any great disadvantage in having 10 Departments. That party is on record as saying that several years would be required to determine whether it was right to have 10 Departments. I hope that the DUP will not now advance some altruistic argument for having fewer than 10 Departments.
The arrangement of the disciplines within the 10 Departments should ensure the most effective delivery of services and must address the economic and social concerns of our people. Ten is not magic or immutable, but it is the best number for delivering that which has to be delivered.
I ask Members to look at the disciplines that are listed under each Department. While there may be disagreements over individual aspects, we trust that there is broad agreement that such an arrangement is the best vehicle for delivering the economic, social and cultural aspirations of everyone in Northern Ireland. I urge the House to support the motion.
The vote on departmental structures is an important milestone in the move towards establishing new regimes of government in which as many as possible of the elected representatives will participate not just at executive level but also in the Committees, the Chairmanships, the Vice-Chairmanships and as Members of the Assembly. Under these proposals, Northern Ireland will have the most democratic and most accountable form of government that any country has ever had.
Given time, these novel, unique and most democratic structures, could well become a blueprint for other communities and other countries to follow, especially where there is racial, cultural or religious conflict. This would be a great blueprint for the resolution of difference and for the acceptance of diversity and would work for the good of the community that we are all trying to serve.
On the pre-Easter Friday we had an agreement. On the pre-Christmas Friday we had an agreement. I hope that before the next Easter Day arrives we will have in place a new Government that will serve all the people of Northern Ireland. We are capable of achieving this. There is inter-party antagonism, which is understandable and quite legitimate, but I appeal to Members not to use this process for party point-scoring.
It is easy to score party points or to be negative but there is nothing positive in such behaviour. While some Members were involved in bilaterals, trilaterals and multilaterals, those Members who oppose the Good Friday Agreement and who reject the will of the people of Northern Ireland did not make one constructive proposal.
I have not heard one constructive proposal from parties opposed to the agreement. Presumably they will oppose this report. Not one constructive alternative proposal has been put on the Table because these Members are concentrating on petty political point-scoring. They are sacrificing the good governance of this community to their own selfish party-political interest. Mr Paisley said that the people will pay. The people who are going to pay for failing to deliver the agreement are the people who are opposed to it.
Go mbeannaí Dia daoibh. Ar dtús, mo bhuíochas daoibhse agus mo bhuíochas don Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus don Leas Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) as an tuarascáil seo.
This report is not the report which was promised and it is not the report which this Assembly is entitled to. The First Minister (Designate) has refused to follow through on the logic of what he agreed to on Friday 18 December, and he refused to recommend that agreement for determination to the Assembly today.
The Sinn Fein leadership, reluctantly and after considerable discussion, has had to accept that the UUP has been able, once again, to buy time. In many ways, this has become the character of this process, and it is disappointing, not least because the report on the matters referred to the Assembly by the British Secretary of State was first dealt with on 1 July 1998.
I do not have the time or the inclination to take us through every turn of the road in the frustratingly slow effort to produce this report. There is absurdity in the Ulster Unionist Party’s proclamation of a deal on 18 December and in its refusal to recommend that deal for determination today.
It is clear that it was Seamus Mallon’s intention to have a proper report for determination today. It is equally clear that that is what Mr Trimble, the First Minister, refused to do. Sinn Fein is not convinced that this hesitancy is a result of the barracking and bluster of the DUP or the UK Unionist Party, or whatever it now calls itself. Our view is that, despite all the noise, the differences among the main Unionist parties are tactical.
That should not be the case; there should be clear strategic and tactical differences among pro- and anti-agreement Unionists. But because of the way the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party has managed the process, there has yet to emerge, even today, a clear Unionist political formation which is prepared to bring in, voluntarily and with good grace, the type of changes that are involved in the Good Friday Agreement.
Mr Trimble had some interesting things to say in the debate, and I am glad that he has at last recognised that Sinn Fein was correct in its analysis of the Good Friday Agreement, and particularly on the lack of preconditions on the issue of decommissioning.
Therefore, Mr Trimble delays once again, perhaps in the futile hope that he can get the two Governments to acquiesce in his game-plan on the pretext of a spurious notion of preconditions.
The agreement has clear timetables and a clear chronology for the establishment of the various institutions, without preconditions. Therefore, the report may delay the inevitable, but it cannot prevent the inevitable. I welcome the section which promises a final report, with associated procedural motions, to be submitted here on 15 February to facilitate the transfer of power by London and Dublin by 10 March.
I want to deal with the substance of the deal of 18 December. Sinn Fein has, for some time, made it clear that it believes that the UUP would have to agree to 10 Ministries. That was the case, and it is a good development. For the first time — and we can hear the protestation from the unreconstructed wing of Unionism — there is numerical equality in the exercise of political power between Nationalist and Unionist in the North. That is a good development.
However, the rejection of a powerful Ministry, not just by the Ulster Unionist Party, but also by the SDLP, to tackle the core issue of equality is a major sop to Unionism. I have asked some of my colleagues to deal separately with the issue of Departments, but I take this opportunity to reiterate our support for a Ministry to deal with children, a matter that could be addressed by the appointment of a junior Minister.
The recent negotiations were also to establish dynamic and powerful all-Ireland structures as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement. We now have six all-Ireland structures — some of which are significant — but Sinn Fein retains considerable reservations about the outcome of these negotiations, especially the exclusion of inward investment from the all-Ireland business and trade body, and the debacle on tourism.
We entered these negotiations in good faith. For us the priority was strategic and political. We wanted to ensure that the legislative timetable required by the two Governments was kept and that the UUP did not succeed in its short-term aim of limiting the potential of the all-Ireland aspects of the agreement. We wanted to clear away the undergrowth and move towards the formation of an Executive that would include Unionist, SDLP and Sinn Fein membership.
With this in mind, Sinn Fein held a series of bilaterals with the Irish Government in the summer followed by trilaterals involving the Irish Government, ourselves and the SDLP. Sinn Fein also held meetings with the British Government and with the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
It has been my party’s consistent view that the British Government have a special responsibility to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented. We called, therefore, on a number of occasions for the British Prime Minister to be directly involved. Members will recall that he presided over a series of meetings on the evening of 2 December, that a deal was done, and that that deal was then reneged on by the Ulster Unionist Party with John Taylor memorably advising everyone to take a holiday.
I also have considerable reservations on aspects of how the negotiations were conducted, and I have put these firmly on the record with everyone involved. In the 36 hours or so of the negotiations leading to the 18 December deal, the UUP refused to engage in trilaterals with Sinn Fein and the SDLP even though, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, these three parties and the DUP were entitled to be involved in such discussions. The negotiations became convoluted, but because of Sinn Fein’s priorities, as outlined earlier, we remained engaged in spite of the difficulties.
However, in the early hours of Friday, 18 December, Sinn Fein was cut out of the engagement. Martin McGuinness, our team of senior negotiators and I were left sitting in the office while Eddie McGrady and David Trimble clinched their deal and announced it to the media.
I am not bringing this to the attention of the Assembly with personal or political rancour. I am drawing attention to it to highlight the pitfalls of tolerating, or acquiescing in, the politics of exclusion. The parties entitled to Ministerial positions by virtue of their electoral mandates should have been fully involved in the negotiations and the final agreement; this did not happen.
I wrote to the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) before Christmas expressing this view and how, in particular, the negotiations had excluded many parties, not just Sinn Fein. I was most critical of the fact that those parties entitled to Ministerial office were not fully involved. I requested that this view be reflected in today’s report; I note that they have failed to do that.
In summary, Sinn Fein would have preferred that the report set up the Executive and other institutions in shadow form. Sinn Fein welcomes the commitment to do this in the final report, so, while underpinning our reservations on some of the issues, we welcome the progress that has been made.
Táimid mí-shásta, mar a dúirt mé, lena lán rudaí sa tuarascáil seo, ach dá ainneoin sin, támid ag dul a vótáil ar a son: nó tá dáta cinnte inti nuair a bhéas David Trimble ag déanamh moltaí, agus tá Sinn Féin sásta leis sin.
A Chathaoirligh, one thing is certain. Unless the Unionist parties, and in particular the Ulster Unionist Party, can get the two Governments to abandon the Good Friday Agreement — which I think is most unlikely — the next steps towards implementing the agreement, steps which should already have been taken, are clearly visible. The Executive must be established; the all-Ireland Ministerial Council must be set up; and the other institutions must be put in place. There is talk of minorities and majorities; 85% of the people of this island gave voice to their dream of a new future with peace and justice. The Good Friday Agreement is a critical part of the process of bringing that about.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. At the outset the arrangement was that if someone used a language other than English then a translation would be offered. Towards the end of Mr Adams’s speech there were some words which I presume were in Irish, in the course of which I clearly heard my name mentioned. I might have wanted to comment on what was being said about me, but a translation was not offered. Consequently, I and other Members who do not speak Irish are at a disadvantage when referred to personally when we cannot understand what is being said. It is, at the very least, extremely discourteous.
From the beginning I have appealed to Members, if using a language other than English, to offer a translation. I cannot require that as a Standing Order at this point. It is, however, a matter of courtesy, especially if, in the course of using a language other than English, a Member’s name is mentioned. There is a convention that in certain circumstances the Member may have an opportunity to reply. Therefore I appeal to all Members to please live by that courtesy.
I intended no discourtesy, and I apologise to Mr Trimble if he feels that in some way I have been discourteous towards him. There is, of course, a huge argument for having simultaneous translation, which would get over this problem. It is difficult in the time allowed for people like myself to condense what we have said into English. I would have preferred to make more of my speech in Irish.
I said —
I cannot allow you to repeat it in English. That would be out of order. I cannot permit a Member on a point of order to then subsequently give a translation. That could be regarded as a way of creating extra time. Mr Adams has said that he did not intend any discourtesy, and that is welcome. With regard to the matter of simultaneous translation, that is not a question for me. I can only work through the Standing Orders that are provided. For the information of Members, the Committee on Standing Orders has already indicated that it wishes to address the issue.
I had hoped that the vote that we will be taking at the end of this debate would have been a determination vote. The Alliance Party is very much committed, not only to making the agreement work, but also to making the Assembly work. If this buys time to allow the process to move forward we are prepared to go along with that. It is important that the vote taken on 15 February is a vote of determination, that there is a full report from the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) which will allow the Assembly to move forward to full devolution.
Last month the Alliance Party put forward an amendment in the Assembly, which was defeated. It called for the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) to come to an agreement on departmental structures in Northern Ireland and on North/South bodies. I welcome the fact that they have now delivered and that they have agreed to 10 Departments in Northern Ireland, although I do have some reservations about some of the other issues that were agreed upon. I had hoped that there would have been a separate department for equality and community relations, but that has now gone to the centre. I had hoped that tourism would have been included with heritage, arts and sport, but that has not happened.
I had hoped that a department would be created for external affairs to deal with the important issues relating to Europe among others, but that has not happened.
I am looking for assurances from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) that scrutiny committees will be set up to oversee equality, community relations and Europe and that the Assembly will have the opportunity to scrutinise these very important issues. It is important that that matter be clarified.
Some thought must now be given to the make-up of the Committees of the Assembly. Under the Initial Standing Orders only a limited number of people can be appointed to them. The Standing Orders Committee needs to meet very soon to ensure that all Members are involved in the process. It is important too that the parties identify the people who will become Ministers and Chairmen or Vice-Chairmen of the Committees. The period between now and 15 February should be used to work out what is happening in this respect. I urge both the British and Irish Governments to pursue, with the utmost vigour, the legislative mechanisms so that by 10 March everything is ready for power to be devolved to the Assembly.
When the 31 October deadline was missed a major opportunity for the Assembly was also missed, and the delay that missing that deadline created has brought problems for many people here. That is why the 15 February deadline must not be missed. The reason for this deadline is to allow the Secretary of State to move forward with the Orders in Council to ensure that the 10 March deadline is not missed. I am pleased that these deadlines have been established, but it is essential that they are not missed — missed deadlines have resulted in missed opportunities.
I turn to the sensitive issue of decommissioning. It is nine months since the Good Friday Agreement was reached in Castle Buildings. The onus is on Republican and Loyalist groups to start the process of decommissioning. I accept what the Agreement says, and there have been a number of confidence-building measures on the parts of all of us involved in the Good Friday Agreement.
I call upon the leadership of Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groupings to take the confidence-building measures that will build the trust which is required to move the process forward. This is a very serious issue and one that has to be addressed. We only have to look at the events since the start of the year — the escalation of paramilitary beatings and shootings. These are being carried out openly by Republicans and Loyalists. If we are to create a truly peaceful, democratic society in Northern Ireland, these barbarities have to stop.
With regard to the DUP’s amendment — no surprise there. Over the years we have come to expect the DUP to say "No". We would be disappointed if it did not, and this amendment comes as no surprise whatsoever. There are many problems in society in Northern Ireland at present. There is a crisis in the Health Service — a major crisis. I ask if Members of the Assembly are afraid to take responsibility for dealing with important day-to-day issues? I do not believe that any individual Member is afraid. The sad irony is that the anti-agreement constituency is just as keen to see the transfer of powers to the Assembly as those in favour of the agreement, but they cannot have their cake and eat it.
The peace process means having to take risks. All the parties have problems with the process, and it suits some of them to say no, but it is hypocritical of some Members to reap all the benefits of the agreement, while letting others take all the risks. It is a sad reflection on those Members here who are trying to hold back the process.
I want to see the agreement implemented in full with the setting up of the North/South Ministerial Council, the British-Irish Council and the very important Civic Forum. It is time for the Assembly’s pro-agreement parties to regroup. We obviously want to bring the entire Assembly with us as we move closer to the full devolution of powers. But evil forces —out to destroy the agreement and the Assembly — are at work, and there is an onus on all of us to have a fully working, devolved Assembly in place by the end of March 1999 at the latest. That is what the people of Northern Ireland want, and they said so loudly and clearly in last year’s referendum.
The report is the negotiated detail of the Belfast Agreement. It merely confirms the fundamental characteristics of that agreement as a radical corruption of democratic practice and the rule of law, and a massive concession to the demands of Irish Nationalism on the part of the UUP negotiators. This is most evident in relation to the provisions for the governance of Northern Ireland as set out in the report.
The UUP negotiators have capitulated to the Nationalist demand for an Executive with 10 Departments, which maximises the number of Sinn Fein seats and creates an Executive which is evenly split between Nationalists and Unionists. This even split is simply a recipe for deadlock and for ensuring that pragmatic policy-making in areas such as the economy will be subordinate to the demands of a Nationalist ideology that is literally divorced from social and economic reality on the island of Ireland.
But far worse than any of these practical considerations is that by agreeing to an Executive with 10 Departments the UUP negotiators have maximised the extent to which the decent, law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland will be governed by the architects of the terrorism that has been directed against them for 30 years. This will be the case should the Assembly vote to accept the package being presented today. This terrorist strategy is based on a combination of the armalite and the ballot box, set out by Mr Adams in his book, ‘The Politics of Irish Freedom’, in which he elaborated the strategic understanding that
"The tactic of armed struggle is of primary importance because it provides a vital cutting edge. Without it, the issue of Ireland would not be an issue … armed struggle has been an agent for bringing about change … At the same time there is a realisation in Republican circles that armed struggle on its own is inadequate and that non-armed forms of political struggle are at least as important."
Between 1988 and 1992 the leadership of the SDLP forged an alliance with Sinn Fein/IRA that strengthened immensely the political dimension of Mr Adams’s dual strategy but did not in any way blunt the vital cutting edge of IRA terrorism.
This armalite-and-ballot-box strategy was given international legitimacy by the Mitchell Report, which proposed taking the gun out of Irish politics by a political settlement that would obviously have to be agreeable to those who were committed to the use of the gun. Consequently, terrorists would have to be represented in the negotiations. This was facilitated in the Mitchell Report by establishing the fiction that representatives of terrorist organisations could authentically commit themselves to the principles of democracy and non-violence, while the organisations they represent retain their arsenals entirely intact.
This fiction is, of course, a radical corruption of the language of democratic politics which the UUP negotiators permitted to be incorporated into the core of the Belfast Agreement.
The report presented today involves massive concessions to both dimensions of Mr Adams’s dual strategy. That dimension of Mr Adams’s strategic thinking which he designates "non-armed forms of political struggle" has been accommodated by the UUP leadership’s agreeing that Sinn Fein may have two seats in the Executive.
This arrangement is described in the report as the best possible form of government.
Contrary to what the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) have commended to the Assembly today, any civilised individual could not regard a Government which included Sinn Fein — even if the IRA were to decommission its terrorist arsenal — as anything other than something not far removed (if removed at all) from the worst possible form of government, rather than the best. Such a government should not even be contemplated, never mind negotiated, by representatives of the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland.
The First Minister (Designate) has not only the political effrontery to describe an Executive which will include two members of Sinn Fein/IRA as the best possible form of government, but he commends this arrangement as being necessary so that we can put behind us what the report refers to as "the tragic years of trauma and separation."
But what caused the trauma and separation of the past 30 years? Certainly not the absence of a so-called best possible form of government in Northern Ireland, which is what the report clearly implies, but a barbarity within Irish Nationalism devoid of any humane constraint. The words "trauma and separation" do not in any case remotely capture the impact of Republican terrorism on those directly affected. These words were chosen deliberately in order to deflect any focus on the barbarity and culpability of those for whom this report provides two places on the Executive.
How does the report accommodate the armalite dimension of Mr Adams’s strategic thinking? The UUP negotiators capitulated to the armalite dimension when they negotiated the Belfast Agreement which does not require the decommissioning of the IRA’s terrorist arsenal.
The UUP leader disputes this interpretation of the Belfast Agreement but the UUP leadership has failed to act on the basis of its own understanding of the agreement. The report presented today does not mention the word "decommissioning". This means that in the negotiations since 1 July 1998 the UUP leadership has totally failed to give substance to its interpretation of the Belfast Agreement by negotiating a requirement for the IRA to decommission prior to Sinn Fein’s taking seats in the Executive. Therefore the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) are today presenting, for the approval of the Assembly, a report which meets the core requirement of Sinn Fein/IRA strategic thinking set out by Mr Adams in ‘The Politics of Irish Freedom’.
But that is not the end of the story. What has been presented to us today is the agreed outcome of negotiations on the all-Ireland aspect of the Belfast Agreement. The fact that the UUP leadership capitulated to the Nationalist demand for an Executive representing 10 Departments also means that the Nationalist input into the all-Ireland dimension of the agreement will be maximised.
The purpose of the North/South Ministerial Council and the associated all-Ireland implementation body is not to provide for mutually beneficial, pragmatic co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The real political rationale of the all-Ireland dimension of the agreement is to give expression to what the Deputy First Minister (Designate) constantly refers to as "the Nationalist sense of identity".
This Nationalist sense of identity, in political terms, is determined by a commitment to the political unification of the island of Ireland. This means that if the North-South Ministerial Council and the associated all-Ireland implementation body are to give authentic expression to what the Deputy First Minister (Designate) understands by the Nationalist sense of identity, these institutions must act as mechanisms to bring about the conditions of an all-Ireland state.
The report presented to the Assembly is the negotiated detail of these all-Ireland mechanisms. The key feature of the report is that there is an all-Ireland dimension attached to each Ministerial portfolio in the Executive. This means that the report has firmly established the institutional arrangements required to develop the all-Ireland aspect of the policy of each of the 10 Ministerial portfolios. This is reinforced by the Belfast Agreement which states that each Minister can take decisions in the North/South Ministerial Council within his or her defined area of authority without the approval of the Assembly.
No, I will not give way.
This means that the Assembly has virtually no effective control over the decisions of Ministers in the North/South Ministerial Council, which is the core mechanism to bring about the political and administrative structures to which the Deputy First Minister (Designate) refers as Irish unity. The combination of the detail of the report together with the inter-governmental conference means that the Republic would have de facto joint authority over Northern Ireland in the event of this report being approved by the Assembly.
No Unionist could possibly accept the content of the report by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) because the report demonstrates clearly that the UUP leadership has negotiated the detail of the Belfast Agreement in a manner that strengthens both the armalite and the ballot-box dimensions of Sinn Fein/IRA strategy. At the same time, the UUP leadership has agreed to the detail of the all-Ireland institutions to which Nationalists are committed as a mechanism to bring about what they call Irish unity.
The rejection of this report by those authentically committed to the Union cannot be delayed. The report to be submitted to the Assembly on 15 February will differ from this report only with respect to incidental detail. This means that the vote on this report is the substantive vote which will determine the future of the Union.
This is one of the most important days in the history of Northern Ireland. Unionists are now being presented with perhaps the last opportunity to stop an appeasement of terrorism directed towards the destruction of the Union, and there is therefore only one course of action available to those who are committed to the Union — rejection of the report.
Things were funny earlier on, yet when the Leader of Sinn Fein was speaking, everything became much more grave. There was silence from the DUP benches. A degree of credibility was afforded to Mr Adams that people outside would wish to know about. I wonder if the media are prepared to report it. There have been a number of things that the media have been prepared to ignore or to slant.
December 18 was hailed as a great day — a day when the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists created a wonderful agreement. They did it in the early hours of the morning, and they did it on what, we are told, was another wonderful Friday. Then, last Friday, the media described it — [Interruption]
Will the Member shut up? I expect the same consideration that was given to the leader of Sinn Fein.
The media said that that was a day when compromise broke out at Stormont — what a joke. In October, the Progressive Unionist Party flagged up difficulties with the agreement and with trying to implement all of its facets. Some laughed at us, and some took great succour and comfort from the fact that, for the first time, the Progressive Unionist Party was being negative about the agreement. Mr Taylor’s assertion that there is a 50% chance of success is, I believe, irrationally optimistic, and that brings me to those who will have fun and enjoyment out of hearing me say how it will be.
This agreement is going down. It is going down because of the macho men on both sides who did not look for opportunities for choreography, who simply pandered to their own constituencies, who made it difficult for each other.
I hear people suggesting that the pro-agreement campaigners should stick together. They must be joking. The reality is that the macho men, demanding something which they know they cannot have and then getting upset when they cannot have it, have created circumstances wherein the other macho men have severely damaged the integrity of those in the Unionist community who advocated the Good Friday Agreement.
They did so by saying "Do you not know who we are? Do you not realise that the last time anybody asked us the irrational question about decommissioning a bomb went off at Canary Wharf?" Do they not realise the damage that does? Do they have any concept of how it looks when, at Christmas, people doing a bit of shopping find there is a horde of what look like Iranian fundamentalists running about Castle Court because we are trying to stop normal crime? They have no concept of the damage that that does, no concept of the fear that that sends into a Unionist community who, as Members well know, have their detractors, their deriders and also those, whom Mr McGrady easily identified, who are offering no alternative.
What if I am right — and I wish I were not—
It would be awful if I were right this time. Your twenty-nine-and-a-half grand would go down the tubes. Your swanning about here as if it were a country club would go down the tubes.
The people of Northern Ireland, whether they liked the agreement or not, certainly liked the idea of the absence of violence. They liked the idea of having the opportunity for their children to be born and reared in an atmosphere different to the one in which they suffered.
I accept that it is not perfect, but I also accept what some Members will probably never accept, that in order to manoeuvre a society there has to be a process. That provides the opportunity to see the potential for the future and to flush out what people perceive are the lies on the other side. We built a process that some entered begrudgingly, and that others cannot wait to get out of. Against all the odds, people built an agreement, but tragically, from day one, some have taken an à la carte approach to it.
Talk about the "Yes"-campaigners sticking together, I remember going to Omagh with the Women’s Coalition and finding that the Ulster Unionists had been there before us, probably because they did not want to be seen on a platform with other "Yes" advocates. That was ridiculous; it came close to being sensible when Bono got involved. There was no real campaign other than the gutter campaign, other than the one in which people had had a long time to stand outside Stormont sharpening the knives and waiting for those who had created the agreement to come out so they could stab them in the back. That is the reality of the situation. Sold out.
It has been suggested that Loyalists should decommission. I would love to see the day when that could be done, when I could advocate that and stay alive. But the reality is that we have been sold out. We are being betrayed by David Trimble, we have been betrayed by Tony Blair, we are being betrayed by all and sundry. Please go to a working-class Loyalist area and tell them that they have been sold out, but that they should hand their guns in.
In mentioning the theory of sell-out, I was paraphrasing others who said that some have sold out. Rather than bolstering your credibility, Seamus, which I believe is intact, I think I had better challenge the credibility of some of those in the Chamber.
I think that Mr Paisley said that those who support this report "will pay". I wonder what he meant by that? I could guess, and I could interpret it as an implicit threat. It may merely mean that I will not be re-elected. Those who put themselves in front of the electorate run that risk. The phrase was left hanging. Perhaps it is a bit like "Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right." Is it the old pathetic nonsense that did not scare anybody then and has no chance of scaring me now? I would like clarification because Hansard will show that those of us who support the report "will pay". Will pay what? Members spoke about punishment beatings. People come here and laugh and guffaw. It is all a great wheeze, and then someone mentions punishment beatings.
I wish I believed that everyone really cared about the 16-year-old boy on the Falls Road who has had his legs broken. We know that there is sectarianism. It is said that if we can get the IRA’s guns, it will not matter about the Loyalist guns. I have been there, Bob, I have seen it. I have been there when the ambivalence of Unionism has shone through. You know what they used to say. [Interruption]
Order. There should not be conversations between Members across the Chamber. Debate should be through the Chair, not to dignify the Chair, but to make sure that there is no indignity in the Chamber.
Contrary to my previous comments in the Assembly, I hope that the media will report on at least some of what I have said, because it is different from what other people are saying. It is about telling people out there the truth. Unless people get their act together, we are going down the tubes.
The sitting was suspended at 12.28 pm and resumed at 2.00 pm.
I am not sure to whom I should address my remarks because, as a pragmatist, and having worked with pro-agreement and anti-agreement parties for months, I believed that we could make the Agreement work. Mr McCrea said that we have to take on board and respect the views of minorities, and that is so. In any democracy, there will be those who will vote for a treaty and those who will vote against it. But for the first time since the referendum I have become extremely concerned about the direction in which we are going. I know that this admission will lend ammunition to those who are anti-agreement — although I hope that it will not be interpreted in such a way — but we have reached a crisis point.
Where are we going if we do not set up an Executive on 15 February? Have we invested all this time, work and commitment, together with receiving the will of the people, only to say that we, the politicians, cannot agree and are not prepared to govern and lead? That is a dire message to be sending at the beginning of a new year.
This morning’s debate has told me that we are still strangers to one another, and that we do not understand one another’s cultures. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) drew our attention to recent BBC television programmes which I understand reflected the great deal of hurt and pain that has been inflicted on one community by the other. Other programmes have shown the reciprocal pain and hurt felt by the Nationalist community.
We did not have a shared agreement on what constituted the problem, but we still had to resolve it through negotiation. Were agreement to be reached, none of us could achieve all that we wanted, and this agreement had to include ex-combatants. Others call them terrorists, but the word "terror" is ideologically loaded, and that is exactly what we are trying to do to each other now — we are trying to terrorise people into saying that this will not work. I am not prepared to do that. Václav Havel believed that politics was the art of the possible. I believe that we can make that determination the art of the possible.
When we voted the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate) into their positions they took a Pledge of Office, but there are others who, when they adopt the position of Ministers, will have to say that they affirm their commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and their opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose.
Some people may not believe that Ministers actually think that when they stand up and say it. I believe it because anti-agreement Members will have to swear to work to bring the new arrangements into being. If I can believe that anti-agreement Members will some day work in good faith to bring the new arrangements into being, I have to expect that that will be reciprocal, that that good faith will also lead people to believe that violence will never again be used as a way of resolving our problems. That is the only good faith I can ask of people who will take on the serious responsibility of governing Northern Ireland.
We have to stop the creation of a vacuum. We have to stop fooling the people by saying that, if we get over this hurdle, the crunch will come soon. We have been telling people that for a number of months. We have reached the crunch time. The vote will have to be taken. Vacuums do not help our community. Tensions rise and the most vulnerable in our community suffer, particularly those who live at the interfaces. However, it is with that spirit of pragmatism that I am going to make some suggestions about the report.
I am concerned about some aspects of the report, and my first concern is with the suggestion that there be a new economic policy unit —that has all the aspirations of kitchen Treasury. It is new; it may work; and I understand the political reasoning behind it. However, the European Union, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom no longer have a policy unit which deals only with economic matters and financial redistribution. Social development must be an integral part of economic policy, and I am concerned that the absence of social development in the economic policy unit suggested means that we are going back to the old ways of doing things.
Secondly, I am concerned that victims are not mentioned in the report — the one group of people which has been used most for political purposes, batted like a ball from one side of the court to the other. There is no mention in the report of where the Victims Liaison Unit will be placed. It is ironic that, while the unit is presently part of a Minister’s portfolio, it will not be the responsibility of any Minister given the suggestions that have been made for the new Government. If there was ever a group of people who deserved facilities and resources that truly address their suffering, pain and needs, it is the victims. They deserve to have their unit included, and that should be a priority. Should the Assembly decide to include junior Ministers, surely responsibility for this is a job for such a Minister.
Thirdly, I am concerned that the work I referred to earlier on community tensions has not been specified as part of the remit of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. That is the best Department to have responsibility for the Victims Liaison Unit. The Voluntary Activity Unit, which has done great work in community development, should be placed within the Department of Social Development. We would have had a Bosnia situation in Northern Ireland had that work not been properly resourced, and it is not being properly resourced at present.
I am confident that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) is taking this project forward. I want to have that same confidence in the First Minister (Designate). I voted to put Mr Trimble in that post, and I believe that he accepted it to lead the country. I now expect him to do that.
My remarks are addressed primarily to Ulster Unionist Party Members. In their hands, more than in those of any other, rests the future of the pro-Union people and their succeeding generations. Their future depends on the vote that will be taken at the end of this debate.
The Belfast Agreement, which was crafted and controlled by the British Government is, in essence, the terms of a conflict resolution between that Government and Sinn Fein/IRA. Its real purpose is to further the Government’s policy of disengagement from Northern Ireland and to protect the lives and property of its first-class British citizens — those on the mainland. All other considerations were subservient to those objectives.
By that agreement, the Ulster Unionist leadership — now absent from the Chamber — accepted the release of the most infamous and villainous criminals. It agreed to the presence of representatives of violent Republicanism in government; it conceded the right of the Irish Government to have a share in the government of Northern Ireland; it consented to the reform of a criminal justice system that was specifically designed to combat terrorism; it acquiesced in the proposed reform of the RUC to placate those whom that force had lost lives to apprehend; and it allowed Sinn Fein/IRA the legal — though not the moral or democratic — right to demand the fulfilment of every concession under the agreement before any decommissioning of their weapons was required.
The motion asks for Members’ approval of what is called a report, but by such approval Ulster Unionist Members will be pledging themselves, each and every one of them, to make the report’s essential contents their determination on 15 February. I say that because their leader has publicly promised that to the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
What will Ulster Unionist Members achieve by approving this report? What will they gain? What will the Union gain? What will change in their favour between now and 15 February? The answer is that they will gain absolutely nothing but will lose much. Ulster Unionists will have given the Secretary of State time to put in place all the necessary machinery and arrangements for putting Sinn Fein/IRA in government, in the knowledge that on 15 February they will approve the contents of today’s report. Those arrangements will be set in stone the moment Ulster Unionist Members determine what the House may approve in this debate.
On 15 February, when the Ulster Unionist Members make the determination that is now promised by their leader, the Secretary of State may set d’Hondt in motion and they will be unable to prevent Sinn Fein from taking their Ministries. The Ulster Unionist leader may say that the Secretary of State can do that anyway. That may be true, but imposition is very different from consent. Undemocratic imposition may be opposed, but that to which Ulster Unionist Members give consent on behalf of the pro-Union people is gone for ever.
An approval of this report, endorsed by a majority of Unionists, will give the green light to the Secretary of State to proceed in the knowledge that on 15 February the Ulster Unionist Members will consent to the determination.
In voting on this report, Members are making a determination, though it may not formally come into effect until 15 February. The future of the Union will be placed in the hands of a Secretary of State who openly supports Irish unity.
After 15 February, what can Members do when d’Hondt comes into operation and puts Sinn Fein/IRA in government? Members may refuse to participate in the Executive and may even cause the Assembly, at some future date, to dissolve. But consider what Members will already have done by then. By that time, whether Members "play" in the Executive or cause the Assembly to collapse, they will have already agreed that some institutions will remain in place.
According to the Secretary of State’s devolution document, the North/South Ministerial Council and the cross-border implementation bodies will be enshrined in legislation and in international treaties between the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the British Government. With those bodies permanently established, will Sinn Fein or the SDLP shed any tears if the Assembly, which is designed to offer consolation to Unionists, then collapses? Refusal to take part at that time will be worth little, and it will expose Members to the blame of bringing the Assembly down.
The Ulster Unionist leadership may still be prepared to trust Mr Blair’s pledges. Members may believe that Mr Blair will not operate d’Hondt or that he will not permit the Secretary of State to do so until the IRA agrees to decommission. If that is where Members place their trust, they should not hold their breath. Members should judge the worth of such promises on the basis of the fulfilment of pledges that have already been given. Before the referendum, Mr Blair promised that no prisoners would be released until decommissioning had begun. What price is a pledge? Cardinal Wolsey, at a time when princes and kings were the Government, quoted the Bible:
"Put not your trust in princes".
Today that advice is even more applicable to Prime Ministers. If Sinn Fein is placed in government without decommissioning, there will be absolutely no reason for it ever to decommission.
There is only one way in which all the pro-Union people and their Assembly representatives can fulfil our obligations and that is to refuse, now — at this time — before it is too late. Members must refuse to further this process in any way until actual and substantial decommissioning has begun and the deadline has been fixed for its completion. It must be real decommissioning — not some token or fig leaf that would allow unreasonable and unjust pressure to be put upon Members as democrats. It must ensure that a total ceasefire is maintained and must not be one that allows the continuing murder and mutilation of our fellow citizens on both sides of the community.
For me, the preservation of the Union and my right to full and equal British citizenship, and the extension of such rights and the associated benefits to every citizen, take precedence over all else. It is above personal and party interest. I believe that that view is shared by many in the Ulster Unionist Party.
I would like the pro-Union people to be able to commend the members of the Ulster Unionist Party for their courage and self-sacrifice, rather than condemn them for their weakness and self-interest.
The verdict of history and of the pro-Union people – and some Members may smile, but it is no smiling matter – and of successive generations will depend upon how Unionist Members vote in this debate. I ask, therefore, in the name of the Union, and in the name of conscience, that those Members put self-interest and party aside, put the Union foremost and reject this report.
The Republican movement claims that there is no requirement for decommissioning even within the two-year time span. That is unacceptable given the terms of the agreement. It is also intolerable to Unionists and to the British and Irish Governments — or so they claim. There can be no progress towards an Executive role for Sinn Fein while it maintains its "no, nothing, never" policy. The ceasefires are not nearly as comprehensive as they should be. Loyalists and Republicans indulge nightly in Fascist thuggery against their communities, and even more so since the agreement. Other indications are not encouraging for the immediate future.
Members must not be blind to the reality about the Provisional IRA. This organisation is in many respects better equipped than the Irish Defence Forces — it still has the capacity to perpetrate a thousand Omaghs and flatten every town on this island. Members are still entitled to ask "Is the war over?" These are noble words and were spoken in earnest by the First Minister (Designate) in November 1998. However, I must differ with him on several points.
Neither the Irish nor the British Government would currently find it unacceptable to have Sinn Fein/IRA in government without decommissioning. The total surrender to, and daily appeasement of, the Sinn Fein/IRA terrorists means that this whole process must result in armed terrorists being in the Executive. If that does not happen, the Governments fear that they will return to doing what they do best — killing and bombing.
Currently, the difference between the so-called peace and the ongoing conflict can be measured in centimetres. The "peace" involves almost unthinkable mutilations of human limbs. The distance in centimetres from the limbs to the abdomen, where the same wounds would prove fatal, is the distance between life and death, the human measure between ceasefire and war. Already this year 16 people have been seriously wounded — the warning signs are there for all to see. It is correct to say that there is no linkage between decommissioning and seats in the Executive. That is because of the poor negotiating skills of the Unionist team, whose performance and attendance enabled Sinn Fein/IRA to gain credibility on the world stage.
To negotiate on any occasion with armed terrorists is to be involved in a blackmail process, and this is exactly what happened. There is much talk about mandates, but truth, principle and morality come before any mandate.
Adolf Hitler, after many years of intimidating his political and religious opponents, received a mandate. The result was the Second World War. Col Gaddafi has an overwhelming mandate from his people, yet atrocities like Lockerbie take place, and he arms terrorists across the world. Even Saddam Hussein has a mandate, but his treatment of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq and the genocide of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iran has to be condemned as inhuman.
Mandate or not, no right-thinking person could in any circumstances permit a group such as Sinn Fein/IRA into government while murder and mutilation continue daily.
These are the people responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities of the twentieth century. One thinks of Patsy Gillespie, a human bomb tied into a lorry and sent to his death at a checkpoint in Londonderry. One thinks of the sectarian slaughter of 10 Protestant workmen at Kingsmills, of the Orangemen in Tullyvallen, of Enniskillen and Teebane — one could go on and on. This country is now on the verge of seeing these very people — Sinn Fein/IRA — in the Government of Northern Ireland. Members are on the brink of setting up cross-border bodies with executive powers.
This proposal by the First Minister (Designate) and his friends, seeking the approval of the Assembly, and specifically of the Members from his own party, must be considered very carefully. I think back to December 1995 when Mr Trimble, replying to an invitation to talks from Mr Spring, said
"We are not prepared to negotiate the internal affairs of Northern Ireland with a foreign Government."
How times have changed. We think back to Mr Trimble chiding Mr Mayhew in October 1995 on the subject of decommissioning:
"I must warn Sir Patrick to stick to his guns and his promise on this issue. We are not going to be party to a fudge".
If the situation were not so critical it would be farcical. The inability of Mr Trimble, the First Minister (Designate), and his negotiators to put down a marker once and for all on decommissioning has to be recognised.
This lack of commitment to draw a line in the sand and say "Enough is enough" is the problem today. The pollution of democracy with the presence of armed terrorists on the verge of entering government is simply because Mr Trimble has failed from 1995 to 1999 to exclude armed Sinn Fein/IRA from his table.
Indeed, it was highly significant that on the day when the Ulster Unionist Party held a disciplinary meeting in respect of three other members and myself, Mr Trimble met Mr Adams in private, the first of five meetings to date, thus paving the way for Sinn Fein’s entry into government. This is evident to all of us in the Unionist family who see this blackmail process for what it is.
Mr Trimble’s repeated assertion that there is life after politics indicates that his long-term intention is to cut a deal allowing Sinn Fein/IRA into government and move on, leaving his fellow Unionists to carry the can.
If the vote to approve this report is of no real significance, then it is much better to be safe than sorry. To reject this report in itself lets the Governments and Sinn Fein/IRA see that, finally, a marker has been laid down. Without the actual handing over of weapons, terrorists are unacceptable in governments and their nightly mutilations are unacceptable in any civilised society.
The problem with this whole process is that, sooner rather than later, we are going to face the crisis. This process is laid on a foundation of murder, bombings and terror. In reality it is built on sand, with dire consequences for us all in the future.
Until the shadow of the gun is removed from all aspects of society and true, lasting peace realised, we are beholden to the gunman. This is the dilemma that we all face. There have been many changes in Northern Ireland in recent years, some for good, but sadly some for bad, and attitudes never change.
In October 1997 Mr Trimble told his party faithful
"the key reason for staying in these talks is that nothing can come out of them without our consent. This veto means that everything must pass through the Ulster Unionist Party talks team before it goes to the people."
One must now reflect on the words and see directly where the blame for the following achievements lies.
First, the prisoner releases scheme is an issue that has caused much pain and agony for many people, in particular the families of those who have lost loved ones during the past 30 years of terror. Watching the gloating triumphalism of many of the Republican prisoners has reopened the wounds of many pained people all over this Province.
The virtual amnesty for all the perpetrators of murder beggars belief. As a result of this agreement, victims’ families, who have waited and listened, some for over 20 years, to promise after promise that no stone would be left unturned to find their killers and that there would be no hiding place for the murderers, are now trying to come to terms with the fact that these promises were nothing more than empty gestures. Their faith in British justice is lost for ever.
The destruction and demoralisation of the RUC is another dividend of the agreement. No doubt the root- and-branch change here will greatly help the terrorists in a renewed campaign — another victory for the Unionist negotiators.
The impending dismissal of prison officers and the pushing through of a controversial redundancy package is again linked to the agreement.
Stand-alone cross-border bodies with executive powers — of all the items in the agreement, this particular issue lays bare all the false claims that the current Unionist Party leadership would not negotiate on our sovereignty. This is exactly what they have done with the removal of the Government of Ireland Act.
Today, though, is not a day for recriminations; it is a day for every Ulsterman to take stock of what is being asked of him. We believe that approval of this report today will leave the door open for the Secretary of State to kick-start the shadow Executive and then the full Executive at her own discretion. In my constituency, Upper Bann, there has never been any semblance of normality or ceasefire. The bombing of Portadown, Banbridge and nearby Moira has blasted people’s hopes yet again. The lingering sore of 16 unresolved IRA murders since 1984 continues to fester and cause bitter resentment.
The orchestration of a form of religious intolerance which cannot permit a church parade to continue along an arterial route back into Portadown, in order to blackmail the Government into spending millions to solve the problem, has poisoned community relations.
Even the decision to switch the Portadown-Cliftonville football match to Belfast and the banning of Portadown supporters from attending it stinks to high heaven. One wonders how many GAA fixtures have been changed, or fans barred, due to RUC advice. This is the real situation in Northern Ireland in 1999.
And so, we come to approve this report. It is too late to lock the stable door once the horse has bolted. It is too late for Mr Taylor and Mr Maginnis to complain about prisoner releases, after approving and supporting them. The honourable thing for them to do would be to admit that they helped to secure these releases, that they made a mistake and have got nothing in return.
I support this report.
I have listened to Mr Watson and to others. We know roughly where we are, and the report tells us where we are going, but let us remind ourselves where we have come from.
The vexed constitutional question is "Who owns Northern Ireland?" Does it belong to Britain or does it belong to a united Ireland? The agreement solves this problem because it says that it is the people of Northern Ireland who own it. It is only they who can determine its constitutional future and that is the building block from which we are all starting. It is the people who will determine their own future.
Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom because the people of Northern Ireland so determine. If Northern Ireland were to join a united Ireland, it would be only the people of Northern Ireland who could determine that. As Nationalists might say "If you want to unite Ireland, first unite the people", whereas a Unionist might say "If you want to secure the Union, unite the people of Northern Ireland". In this regard, the self-interests of Unionism and Nationalism coincide.
We have had 30 years of conflict, and Mr Watson has referred to a number of atrocities. We all know about them, but we cannot go back and change them. However, we can try to change the future so that we do not have to go through another 30 years of conflict. That is what the agreement is about and this is the working out of that agreement.
Together, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP have driven the process forward and have taken us towards "Devolution Day" on 10 March. This will be determined by a legislative device — a meeting of the Privy Council. We will reach that date, and at that point the UUP will have fulfilled all of its obligations under the agreement, as will the SDLP. There are, of course, other obligations which need to be fulfilled and we can talk about them.
It is important for Unionism to reflect that, under this agreement, self-determination for Northern Ireland, and as a consequence of that the repeal of articles 2 and 3, will be a big issue for the Dublin Government and the citizens of the Irish Republic. Not only will they have repealed articles 2 and 3, but any future creation of a united Ireland will require a referendum in the Irish Republic. Anybody who knows anything about the Irish Republic will know that the armed struggle over the years has been massively counter-productive to the point that today citizens of the Irish Republic would not take Northern Ireland as a gift.
Unionism and the Union are secure because their future will rest with the people of Northern Ireland, and we are their representatives.
We can then move on from that point to ask how will we share Northern Ireland — how will we get on? The agreement looks towards there being a partnership of Unionist, Nationalist, Loyalist and Republican, working together for the greatest good of all, and that is the aim of this report.
I commend the SDLP, which has worked with us, has fought its corner, and has argued its point of view, but it has always been for the greater good of the people of Northern Ireland. That is our aim also, and that is why this report is important, and it is why we need to take it forward.
Unionism and Nationalism have both made gains. Do we want a united Ireland? Only the people of Northern Ireland can deliver that. In so far as this generation is concerned, and in so far as anyone can see into the future, I do not see that happening. I do not foresee the people of Northern Ireland making that decision — but ultimately that is a matter for them.
We will go through this process today, meet again on 15 February to discuss it further and then march forward together to 10 March. That is the point at which devolution can happen, the point when Northern Ireland’s political representatives begin to govern its people in a partnership, inclusive of everyone, as long as everyone meets his obligations.
The Republican movement has made gains, and a number of those have been referred to: power-sharing; full partnership; the equality agenda; the criminal justice review; the Patten Commission; prisoner releases; North/South implementation bodies; North/South areas of co-operation; and a North/South Ministerial Council.
The Provisional movement has a clear obligation under the agreement. As David Trimble outlined earlier, there are a number of references to that in the agreement. All of this was thought about, though I can understand the confusion among those who were not part of the talks. The Declaration of Support, the Pledge of Office, clause 25 of strand one, the transitional arrangements and the chapter on decommissioning all make this point clear. This is a reasonable demand. With all the weaponry out there — and bearing in mind that when Sinn Fein signed up to the agreement it signed up to total decommissioning by May 2000, and we are well into that period — we as Unionists need to know the start date, and we need to see the process start.
If that process does not begin, then, unfortunately, there will be consequences. I will not go into the detail of what they might be, but it would then be impossible for us to move forward. That might be Sinn Fein’s objective, but that would be inconsistent with what that party has signed up to in the agreement, which is an acceptance that the people of the island of Ireland are not a nation in a political sense and that, therefore, they have no right to territorial unity and to national self-government. I understand that that has been difficult for Sinn Fein. After 10 March, with this final step taken, we can move forward with Sinn Fein. If that step is not taken, there are other avenues of approach.
Wait until March 10 and we can talk about them then. We can talk about them on 18 February.
It is absolutely immoral to hold on to vast quantities of Semtex. We also know that if the guns are out there, they are used. It was the Provisionals’ Semtex that was used in Omagh. The Provisionals bought the detonators used in Omagh in Arizona in 1989. If Semtex is out there, it will fall into refusenik hands, and the same will happen with the guns. They must be destroyed. That is what the people voted for.
Denis Watson talked about people having mandates. Gaddafi has a mandate and Hitler had one too. This agreement has the overwhelming mandate of the people of Northern Ireland, with almost 72% voting for it in a very high poll.
When Mr McCartney alleges that the people of Northern Ireland were conned, he implies that they are stupid. The people are not stupid; they understand the way forward on this. In terms of a Nationalist or Republican agenda, the people of the island of Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of the agreement. We want to implement this in partnership because that offers the best way forward, and that can happen if everyone meets his obligations. We and the SDLP have met ours. The Provisional movement must now meet its obligations. We know the end date for decommissioning, but we must know the start date and we must see it started.
Mr Presiding Officer, I welcome and support the approval of the report of the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate), a report presented, we might note with some interest, on the day which celebrates the memory of the great human rights leader Martin Luther King, a man whose work has been an inspiration to my party and human rights campaigners everywhere.
I welcome the report. At last we can see with greater clarity the form and the functions of the political institutions which the majority here have been mandated to establish by the endorsement which the Good Friday Agreement received in the joint referenda last May. We are now on a fixed and certain timetable towards the creation of those institutions with 15 February and 10 March as the next key dates. In reaching this point, the report indicates the extensive consultations which were held involving all the pro-agreement parties. There were also many informal contacts. I do not believe, therefore, that any party can, with credibility, claim that its views were not noted and taken account of, as has been suggested in this debate.
In expressing its general welcome for the arrangements proposed by the 18 December agreement, the SDLP is pleased by a number of features. The range of responsibilities associated with departmental structures will give greater coherence to the administration. It will require intensive cross-party co-operation for its effective operation and provide opportunities for a new dynamic in the development and implementation of policies.
Two features of the 18 December agreement deserve particular comment. First, equality will be a central responsibility. Equality has been an issue of major importance to the SDLP since it was founded out of the civil rights movement. From the outset of the pre-18 December negotiations we stood by the proposition for such a provision.
Monitoring, evaluating and determining measures across the administration, in conjunction with the Ministers responsible for the various Departments, will ensure that equality principles are observed and effected throughout all areas of government. Indeed, we believe that the Assembly should assist in this task by the establishment of a special committee to scrutinise equality.
Placing this responsibility at the heart of government symbolises, in a powerfully effective way, a joint commitment by the leading Ministers of both communities to have such principles upheld throughout the administration. This puts an onus on both that, as they co-ordinate a whole programme of government, they also guarantee that it be fully informed by equality principles.
No other approach would be likely to have the same overall effect. A free-standing Department controlled by a representative of a party from only one side of the community could never be as powerfully symbolic of a new commitment to equality and justice for all, nor could it have the same potential for ensuring that this commitment is reflected across all Departments. This is as it should be, given the overriding importance of ensuring that the new Administration and the North/South Ministerial Council is guided by principles of human and civil rights.
The announcement today of the appointment of Professor Brice Dickson to head the new Human Rights Commission marks further progress in a vital confidence-building area. We wish him and his future colleagues well as they take up their responsibilities.
With respect to the North/South arrangements, I am particularly pleased to note the strong economic-development dimension to several of the implementation bodies and areas for co-operation. I have long been of the view that a more co-ordinated North/South approach to planning economic development would be to the mutual benefit of people in both parts of Ireland.
This will be achieved most notably by implementation bodies such as those for trade and business development, special European Union programmes and aquaculture and marine matters. Economic initiatives on the part of existing bodies such as those for tourism, agriculture and transport will be of mutual benefit to both parts of Ireland — the trade and business development implementation body will be of particular significance in promoting trade between both parts of Ireland.
Public procurement programmes implemented on an all-island basis will significantly increase opportunities for northern enterprises to win a greater share of public-sector business in the South. Similarly, international trade fairs and missions will combine the strengths of businesses in both parts of the island. Research and development projects will mobilise the talents of universities and research institutes on an all-island basis to address problems of common concern.
All of this should significantly contribute to the process of attracting more inward investment to both parts of the island — particularly to the North.
Finally, I wish to return to the political process. Since Good Friday, the whole process has been a test of our respective capacities to meet the requirements of that historic agreement. The difficulties that have arisen are not uncommon in other contexts where conflicting parties have agreed to engage in a joint healing process. We have encountered delays and difficulties which have, not surprisingly, been attributed to the alleged bad faith of one party or the other, either to their reluctance to work the new arrangements, or to a real desire to frustrate the implementation of these arrangements.
Our historically deep-rooted suspicions, our pain and our suffering continue to feed our perceptions and judgements of each other and, in doing so, hold a danger of causing further delay. Alongside these impulses, which, at their worst, could lead us back to the brink of self-destruction, we have felt other impulses encouraging us to continue, to persist in order to meet the obligations we placed upon ourselves last Good Friday — obligations to create conditions for a better society where trust and mutual confidence will gradually dissipate those age-old suspicions, fears and apprehensions.
Realistically, this can only happen when we start working together for the common good in the practical matters of government. It was such impulses that brought us through the difficulties of the weeks before Christmas to reach another agreement. The report is a further testament to those impulses.
In striking an optimistic note, I am not unaware of the roadblocks that lie ahead. But, just as we have found ways of dealing with the difficulties since Good Friday, we must not allow our imaginations to fail us in dealing with what remains, either in terms of institution building or confidence building, as is the case with the problem posed by the commitment to promote decommissioning.
I wish to address the matters outlined in Mr Farren’s closing remarks. In this 26-page report, there is no mention whatsoever of the dreaded D-word. The word that has haunted proceedings of this Assembly since its establishment, the word that has hung over all of our deliberations like a spectre. The First Minister (Designate) has told us that decommissioning has to begin — must begin — before an Executive can be established.
With regard to decommissioning, I have no doubt that, in the next month or two, there will be some kind of event which will be dressed up to look like a beginning to decommissioning. This will have to happen, according to the contents of the personal message from the First Minister (Designate), dated 8 January — of course, that is no guarantee; it has not counted for much in the past. His words, on the second page of that letter, were as follows:
"As your leader, I wish to assure you that Sinn Fein will not be included in the agreement that I have referred to above if Sinn Fein/IRA do not honour their commitment to decommissioning made under the Belfast Agreement"
And then, in bold letters, to make sure that we do not miss the point, we read
"If they do not, the Ulster Unionist Party will not form an Executive that includes Sinn Fein."
Strong words. That is why some event will take place which will allow the First Minister (Designate) to say that decommissioning has begun, thus triggering the d’Hondt system, which will allow for representatives of Sinn Fein/IRA to be included in the Executive. The question of ongoing, meaningful and verifiable decommissioning must be addressed, but this document fails to do so.
The arguments about whether decommissioning should take place before or after the formation of an Executive have been well rehearsed. Everyone, except for some elements in the Ulster Unionist Party, now accepts that this is not in the agreement. Every other party in Northern Ireland, be it pro-agreement or anti-agreement, accepts that. Everyone in the Republic of Ireland accepts that. Everyone in Great Britain accepts that.
But there are elements in the Ulster Unionist Party who do not. I can understand why — pride. There is no mention of decommissioning prior to the formation of the Executive, and we are going to get some kind of fudge, first, to allow the First Minister (Designate) off the hook so that he can try to salvage some semblance of dignity and say that a form of decommissioning has started, and, secondly, to allow two Sinn Fein/IRA Members to take their places in the Executive. Of course, this should have been in the agreement — it was not.
There has been much deliberation about the need for Nationalist support for what is to be put in place, whether that be with regard to the future of policing in Northern Ireland, or in terms of the general political situation. Indeed, we hear a great deal about the equality agenda, not least from Mr Farren and others. This is presented as almost a prerequisite for Nationalist participation. But, the one thing which has not been acknowledged by the pro-agreement parties, either in the media or in the Assembly, is the fact that over half of the Unionist population has the gravest possible reservations about what is going on.
There has been no acceptance of that fact. We have been discounted. Mr Mallon said that we have a point of view. Well, thanks very much. Either he is being patronising, or he is admitting that not only do we have a point of view but we represent the majority of the Unionist community.
I was trying to be courteous to a point of view with which I do not agree. At least I recognise that there is another point of view. I could have approached it differently — maybe then the Member would have been satisfied.
I learnt that years ago.
What would be the extent of public disquiet and debate if we had a series of fundamental developments in Northern Ireland about which over half of the Nationalist community had grave reservations? Would the media say that they were of no consequence? Would the Nationalists allow themselves to be patronised and told "We will listen to what you say, but we will carry on regardless"? The "Yes" camp admits that well over half of our community — and the figure is growing by the day — has the gravest possible reservations about what is going on. So how is that going to be addressed? What value is going to be put on that legitimate complaint?
It is nonsense to talk of Unionist sensitivities and Nationalist rights. I am sick, sore and tired of hearing that Nationalist grievances have to be addressed while we ensure that the Unionists do not get annoyed and go ballistic. The people whom I represent are angry because their rights have been trampled on. They do not get jobs allocated on the basis of merit. They have been subjected to a terror campaign for over thirty years, and what do they get? They get an agreement rammed down their throats whether they like it or not, and all the Deputy First Minister (Designate) can say is that they have a point of view.
Let us look at the issue of language. On page 25 of the report is an example of what I have been talking about. This document shows that the Irish language is all-important, as if we needed telling. According to the space given to the languages in this report, Irish is seven times more important than Ulster-Scots. We represent the majority in Northern Ireland. A tiny minority use the Irish language, some genuinely and many for political purposes. They get seven times as much coverage as Ulster-Scots. Is it any wonder our people are angry?
The anger is building in our community about an agreement which is going to be forced down our throats whether we like it or not, and the Assembly needs to be very careful and take account of the views of all our people, many of whom do not see the Assembly as representing their interests. They think we are avoiding the issue of decommissioning and trying to get two gunmen, representatives of terror and destruction, into the heart of the Government of this country that we love so well.
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. As Mr Adams has said, Sinn Fein will be giving its political support to the December 18 agreement in spite of our reservations about some aspects of it. Our reservations are sincerely held. Other parties have also made their positions clear in regard to the conduct of the negotiations. Sinn Fein’s view is that this was, in Nationalist terms, a solo run by the SDLP.
The agreement falls short of what was possible and of what Nationalists expected. In particular, we believe the opposition of the SDLP to a stand-alone equality department was a fundamental blunder.
The deal on this issue leaves equality located somewhere between the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). It would surely be better to have a dedicated Department with a cross-party scrutiny committee to deal with the issue when it becomes a continuing bone of contention, or, alternatively, is ignored or long-fingered to avoid dissension between the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
Under the deal, there is a real possibility that equality will be treated with less urgency than other issues. In that event, we will all come under justifiably severe criticism from the people, who will feel short-changed yet again. The First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will, of course, have a crucial arbiter’s role in any dispute between Departments, but on this question they cannot be independent arbiters in their own Department. Their failure to agree a motion to issue a determination on their own report adequately demonstrates this point.
On their track records, unless they are subjected to public scrutiny, neither the Unionist parties nor the British Government can be fully trusted to deliver on the equality agenda. The proposals that are before the House do not contain details of any satisfactory scrutiny mechanism. I welcome the comment by Sean Farren that there will be a scrutiny committee on equality. I would welcome an indication by the next speaker on behalf of the Unionist Party that it has also agreed to accept that. It would certainly be reassuring to know that we all have a role in satisfying expectations on the equality agenda.
David Trimble and Denis Watson spoke about intimidation and punishment beatings and gave examples. One of the most perplexing issues arising from the equality agenda is that, on the Garvaghy Road, which is in the constituency of both David Trimble and Denis Watson, there are nightly punishment beatings and intimidation. Those who are inextricably linked to the Orange Order and those who are organising the Garvaghy Road protest, which has been going on for more than 200 days and which has a history of some years, should use their influence to bring the protest to an end.
David Trimble’s attitude to the rights of those who voted for Sinn Fein and his attitude to the provisions of the agreement do not give much cause for optimism that equality will be promoted with vigour. Discriminatory practices have distorted the political landscape in the North, and have destroyed the lives of many generations. The Assembly should make it clear that that will no longer be tolerated. We should go further and ensure that there is no role for those who would return to the bad old practice of Unionist domination and the denial of rights.
The Good Friday Agreement sets out new and radical guidelines for public bodies for a range of under-represented sections of society. The relationship of those bodies to the public will be very different to that which such bodies had in the past. New Departments with new Ministers will need a great deal of help, advice and encouragement in that respect if we are to set out proper work practices from the outset.
Equality and the eradication of discrimination are central to the building of a stable and cohesive society. There can be no lasting political settlement that is not built on a solid foundation of equality, a fundamental, democratic right which must be delivered. The most effective manner of ensuring that would have been through the creation of a stand-alone, dedicated Department of Equality, subject to examination by a cross-party committee.
The Good Friday Agreement was heralded as the beginning of the end of our shared history of misery, conflict, violence and grief. Throughout the island, the people, by an overwhelming majority, have welcomed and supported the political accommodations — yes, and the compromises — that were so painstakingly negotiated over so many months. The key concept is equality. The brave new beginning that the people of Ireland voted for, the democratic society that we are attempting to create, can only be built on the most solid foundations of equality.
Some Members have referred to the remarks made by Mr Taylor last night. We have been entertained in the past by Mr Percentage. Mr Taylor is a fascinating politician, as he changes his position depending on the political wind. He has been framing percentages for a considerable time, just like his leader and previous leaders.
But Mr Taylor, in some of his remarks — though not all of them — over past months, and Sir Reg Empey and Mr McGimpsey today have suggested that when they say that people must change they are referring to all and not just to their political opponents. They are talking about those in their political constituencies, and I want to acknowledge that we have heard those comments and pay attention to them. Our task is to ensure that they reject the propositions of those who would tear up the Good Friday Agreement.
Sir Reg Empey in his argument about change made points with which I agree. Those who are pro-agreement must show leadership. Eighty-five percent of the electorate in this country voted in the referendum to support the Good Friday Agreement, and Sinn Fein will be playing its part in the coalition Government that will be established as a result. I welcome the fact that 80% of the Executive Cabinet will be from parties who are pro-agreement. I like those odds, and our people like them.
Catholics, Protestants, the centre, Unionists, Nationalists and Republicans are saying "Reject the rejectionists. There has been enough of majority rule and exclusion." They want an inclusive, power-sharing agreement to build a new future for our people and they are sending a message to those in the "no" camp that their day has gone. There is a new reality and political dispensation which we can all be part of because there are no locked doors anymore. The majority of the people have spoken and given a mandate to most of the parties in the Assembly. We will deliver on that mandate. Go raibh maith agat.
I find it interesting to listen when the DUP is attacking my party. The half-truths of its leadership are disconcerting and do not convey the true message to the electorate. Regarding the North/South Ministerial Council, Dr Paisley said "All anyone would have to do is make an oral statement to the Assembly."
Mr Roche said that the North/South Council will have no effective control by the Assembly. I wish they would consult the Northern Ireland Act 1998. They refer to only one section of that Act: subsection 6 of section 52. They omit completely subsection 3, which states that no decision in the North/South Ministerial Council can be taken unless it is
"in accordance with any decisions of the Assembly or the Executive Committee".
There can be no stronger linkage between one body and another than "act in accordance with". The North/South Ministerial Council is not only accountable to the Assembly but it also derives its authority from the Assembly. That is abundantly clear.
Mr McCartney was lecturing the Ulster Unionist Party earlier. He always implies that he is a man with absolute logic in his thinking. In fact, he wonders if there is anyone as logical as himself. He referred to his warning to the Ulster Unionist Party that, while the Assembly could be brought down, the North/South Ministerial Council would be enshrined in law. The threat there, according to Mr McCartney, is that it would continue even if the Executive fell by the wayside.
The North/South Ministerial Council will comprise Ministers or junior Ministers. They will only be able to take decisions based on the Assembly and the Executive. If there is no Executive and no Assembly, there will not be any Ministers to take such decisions or to be accountable. There is to be an inextricable linkage between the North/South Ministerial Council and the Assembly. Mr McCartney’s logic has to be seen to be believed.
Knowing the forensic mind of Mr McCartney, I am sure he will examine every word I have said today. When Mr McCartney is not in the Chamber, neither is his party, for they are one and the same. He said earlier that decommissioning must take place. I put it to him again for the fourth time, and I am still awaiting his reply, that he alone among the Unionist family has made it very clear that he will accept those with paramilitary links into Government without decommissioning. I refer to paragraph 4 of his article which appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 1 May 1998, and I ask Mr McCartney to deny the validity of what I say: he alone as a Unionist Leader would accept Sinn Fein in Government without decommissioning.
Mr Farren and Sinn Fein have referred to the issues of rights and equality. Mr Adams referred to equal numbers of Unionists and Nationalists in the Executive. Equality does not necessarily mean equity and fairness. Sinn Fein says that it has a right to be in the Executive because of its mandate from the people. No right is absolute; no right is unconditional. The most sacred right of all, the right to life, is not unconditional. It is accepted under international law that the due process of law can carry forward and execute, or take life, in defence of civic society. No right is absolute. Every right is conditional.
The Ulster Unionist Party is not opposed to the presence of Sinn Fein in Government provided that it subscribes to the conditions which give it the right to participate in Government.
When he was interviewed on the radio this morning Sean Farren referred to Prof Brice Dickson, and Barry Cowan asked Mr Farren if there was inequality in Northern Ireland and if there was a need for a rights commission. Mr Farren said that we, like any other community, should abide by international standards or rights.
I listen to the Sinn Fein perspective and try to understand when they say that in Northern Ireland there is a group — smaller than the Unionist group — that wishes to preserve its culture, its language, its education and all of those aspects that define it as a group. The Council of Europe defines such a group as those who wish to preserve that which gives them cohesiveness.
The Council of Europe has produced the most effective and, indeed, the only legally binding rights agreement in international law. Based on that agreement, I ask Sinn Fein what are they being denied? The Council of Europe talks about effective equality — social, political, cultural and economic — and I contend that this is not denied in Northern Ireland.
Article 11 of the Council of Europe’s charter allows one to use one’s own name in one’s own language, to display signs in one’s own language, to be educated in one’s culture and history — and adequate opportunities for teacher training in that culture should be provided —to allow one to set up and manage private educational and training institutions, to learn one’s own language and create conditions for effective participation in cultural, social, economic and public life.
Ulster Unionists want such conditions and we believe that we have such conditions. Indeed, we believe there is a case for a scrutiny committee to deal with this aspect of rights and equality. That will need to be looked at very carefully by Members over the next month. As my Colleagues have said, the opportunity is there to be taken by all those who wish to do so. But those who wish to participate in government must be committed to peace.
I support the motion and its commitment to 10 March as the date for devolution.
This is a comprehensive report and an important step in the implementation of the will of the people as demonstrated by their support for the agreement. Reference to equality has been made, and Members are aware how weighty, potent and powerful an issue that is — one of fundamental importance to the development of trust and confidence in the community.
The issue of equality can best be dealt with through the offices of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). This does not represent any diminution in transparency, openness or effectiveness. It is sensible and logical to have the issue of equality dealt with centrally.
Any of the 10 members of the Executive can bring equality issues from their own Departments, or from any other Departments, to meetings of the Executive.
This report allows for a comprehensive equality agenda. Concerns with equality issues can be raised with departmental Committees and, subsequently, with the Assembly as well. I remind those who have criticisms about the arrangements in the report to keep in mind the role and scope of the Equality Commission under the Act. Members should be aware of its capacity to act and oversee the work across all Departments.
Concerns have been expressed about a central economic policy unit. Paragraph 3.7 states that both Ministers will have to tackle the social, economic and cultural neglect in this community. This together with the accompanying commitment to tackle the inequalities and inconsistencies that exist in education, health, economic development and in other key areas will be well received by everyone.
The date set for the Assembly to begin work on the allocation of ministerial offices, on the setting up of North/South bodies and the British-Irish Council and on detailed arrangements for the Civic Forum is 15 February. All these are important elements of the agreement which we who stand by the agreement are commissioned to deliver. The agreement was endorsed by a clear majority of the electorate, and we must remind ourselves of that, regardless of some Members’ interpretations. Members who support the agreement are commissioned to put this in place, and those who hold back now will be acting against the clearly expressed wishes of the people and will be seen as trying to subvert the will of the people.
If the report is passed, and if on 15 February a determination on the structures for building an inclusive society is reached, the Assembly will have fulfilled its obligations. The public will have little time or tolerance for those who insist on delaying or blocking progress thereafter.
On the one hand, there can be no sustainable argument against delaying the start of decommissioning by paramilitaries on both sides, and, on the other, Unionists will no longer be able to mount any sustainable arguments for holding back on the full implementation of the agreement.
The overwhelming view of ordinary people is that this opportunity is one which we must take to build a new future based on peace and justice. It is an opportunity that must not be missed.
I can assure the House that the DUP is not engaged in any choreography. It takes this issue seriously and seeks to represent its electorate honestly, openly and with transparency. It does not engage in half-truths. The report has its roots in the Belfast Agreement, an agreement which is repugnant to many Unionists — 50% of the Unionist family rejected it in the referendum. As my Colleague Gregory Campbell has indicated, that is a significant section of the community whose wishes cannot be set aside or treated lightly. The electorate was faithfully warned by the DUP of the ramifications of endorsing the agreement and today we are confronted by the fruit of the seeds sown in the negotiations.
In spite of the attempts of some Unionists to justify their treacherous actions, the price to be paid for a local, accountable Assembly at Stormont will prove to be a ransom, irretrievably linked to machinery designed to envelop Northern Ireland in an all-Ireland ethos and, eventually, in a unitary state. Given the trend of events, it seems that the pledges given by the Prime Minister, the promises given by the First Minister (Designate) and the other pious platitudes given by the supporters of the First Minister (Designate) are meaningless and worthless.
Although the report is not the determination sought by Irish Nationalists and Republicans, it is a delayed-action mechanism to forestall the inevitable. Whether today or on 15 February, the reality is — and the electorate of Northern Ireland must be aware of this — that democracy will be polluted and that Irish Republicans, inextricably linked to terrorism, will be admitted into the Executive. Unrepentant terrorist representatives will enter Government with their war machine not dismantled and their murderous weapons not decommissioned in a direct contravention of the agreement that they signed. On page 9, section 35, under "Transitional Arrangements", says
"In this transitional period, those members of the Assembly serving as shadow Ministers shall affirm their commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means" — and this is important —
"and their opposition to any use or threat of force by others for any political purpose."
Has Sinn Fein/IRA demonstrated that it intends only to follow the purely democratic process?
There is no reference to decommissioning in this report, and the absence of such a fundamental tenet indicates the report’s weakness. Many Unionists in the constituencies are watching anxiously to see how their public representatives view the report. It is known that some Ulster Unionist Assembly Members are unhappy and uncomfortable with it and that some have expressed their outright opposition to it. This debate affords fellow Unionists the opportunity to declare their positions clearly and without equivocation.
I have no doubt about the detrimental effect that adopting this report will have on the Unionist ethos, not to mention the political Union. There is also no doubt in the minds of many of the misguided Unionists who were prepared to give the Belfast Agreement a chance that they did not vote for an agenda which included unrepentant terrorists or their representatives in Government or for the creation of all-Ireland bodies to take executive decisions. Neither did they support the agreement to see the corruption of democracy that comes from permitting Sinn Fein/IRA to retain their terrorist capacity.
There can be no prospect of stable government, or the galvanising of popular support for government, while the democratic, political climate is affected by the presence of unrepentant terrorists in government. There can be no credibility while the capacity exists for a return to terrorism by those pretending to work the democratic process.
Not only is this report flawed by its dubious foundation in the Belfast Agreement, but it also fails to address, in a comprehensive manner, the issues tasked to the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) by the Assembly on 1 July 1998.
Despite the passage of six and a half months, notwithstanding an interim report on 14 September 1998, this report today patently fails to address a considerable number of functional responsibilities — something which has already been admitted by the First Minister (Designate).
I wonder if the oversight had something to do with the overwhelming desire to accommodate unrepentant terrorists in the Government and to find positions for them, leaving aside these other functional areas. It would seem, according to the Deputy First Minister (Designate), that the idea was maximum inclusion. I can understand that concept, but it must not be at the expense of effective and efficient government. The objective of creating the machinery for these structures was abandoned in this case to placate Irish Nationalism and Irish Republicanism, thus creating jobs for the boys. It is anticipated that the unnecessary Departments will cost the taxpayer in the region of £90 million per year.
In terms of the efficiency of the proposed Departments I believe that the degree of fragmentation will prove to be a bureaucratic nightmare. There is overlap in the area of higher education, agriculture and rural development, and we have protection of the countryside and regional development, all falling into different bailiwicks. That will not prove to be a workable or a manageable way forward in terms of efficiency and effectiveness.
The electorate demands efficient and effective government. This is supposed to be an honourable institution, and we want it to remain an institution which cannot be contaminated by unrepentant terrorists. This institution must deliver accountable government on the basis of the normal principles of democracy. The report fails to establish the basis for the delivery of such an administration. I will be voting to reject it on the basis that it will not provide efficient government, that it does not address the essential requirement of decommissioning and that it also gives all-Ireland bodies the power to take executive decisions, thus impugning the political sovereignty and integrity of Northern Ireland.
Deir Sinn Féin arís agus arís eile nach bhfeicimid Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta mar bhun scríbe, ach mar chéim thábhachtach i bpróiséis aistrithe ó choimhlint go dtí todhchaí ina mbeimis ag comhoibriú ar mhaithe lenár bpobal uile. Is sa chomhthéacs sin a mheasaimid luach na tuairisce atá romhainn inniu.
Thig leis na forais uile-Éireann feidhmniú mar inneall láidir an phróiséis athmhuintearais ar fud an oileáin seo. Ní bheadh leithéid Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta ann mura mbeadh an cháipéis sin suite i gcomhthéacs uile-Éireann — rud a d’aithin na tráchtairí uilig ag an am. Agus, ar ndóigh, glactar leis sa Chomhaontú go bhfuil an Chomhairle Aireachta agus agus an Tionól idirspleách.
Tá tábhacht ar leith do náisiúinteoirí a vótáil ar son an Chomhaontaithe i gcumhacht, brí agus dinimic na Comhairle Aireachta agus na gcomhlachtaí forfheidhmithe. An ról a thiocfadh leo agus a ba chóir dóibh a imirt is é an drochthionchar de sheachtó bliain de chríochdheighilt a laghdú chomh maith le aidhmeanna, cuspóirí agus gníomhaíocht chomónta a spreagadh ar fud an oileáin i réimse leathan eacnamúil agus sóisialta.
Nuair a fuaireamar an tuairisc thearc shealadach ón Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus ón Leas Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) ar 14ú Meán Fómhair seo a chuaigh thart, ba é chéad fhreagra Shinn Féin cáipéis a chur amach ina raibh moltaí do sheacht gcomhlachtaí forfheidhmithe agus seacht n-ábhair do bheartas coiteann a bheadh le forfheidhmiú ar leighligh.
Is iad na hábhair a moladh do na comhlachtaí forfheidhmithe: An Ghaeilge, Infheistiú isteach, Ardú trádála agus Forbairt comhlachtaí dúchasacha, Cláracha Aontais Eorpaigh (AE), Traenáil agus Fostaíocht, Polasaí AE do Thalmhaíocht agus do Iascaireacht (CAP agus CFP) and Turasóireacht.
Is iad na hábhair do bheartais a bheidh ag forfheidhmiú go leithligh: Oideachas, Iompar, Forbairt phobail, Sláinte, Ealaín agus Oidhreacht, Timpeallacht and Fuinneamh.
Bhí cruinnithe ag Sinn Féin le státseirbhísí de chuid Rialtas na hÉireann, leis an SDLP, le Páirtí an Chomhaontais agus le Comhcheangal na mBan, Bhíomar páirteach chomh maith i sraith cruinnithe ilpháirtí faoi stiúir an Chéad-Aire (Ainmnithe) agus an LeasChéad-Aire (Ainmnithe). Phléigh uachtarán Shinn Féin moltaí s’againn leis an dá Rialtas, an Chéad-Aire agus an LeasChéad-Aire chomh maith.
Bhí an dá rialtas sásta go mbeadh ocht gcomhlachtaí forfheidhmithe ainmnithe ar dtús, agus an oíche a thug Tony Blair cuairt ar Bhéal Feirste, d’aontaigh Aontachtaithe Uladh leis sin. Tharraing siad siar as sin an lá dar gcionn.
Sa tréimhse díreach ina dhiaidh sin bhain páirtí David Trimble fad as na díospóireachtaí le go dtiocfadh leo toradh na ndíospóireachtaí a choinneáil chomh scáinteach agus ab fhéidir.
Le linn na gcaibidlí ilpháirtí a raibh Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta mar thoradh orthu, bhí tuiscint an-láidir ann go mbeadh cúiteamh nó sólás ann do náisiúinteoirí ó thuaidh i sraith a dó agus sna hinstitiúidí uile-Éireann, de thairbhe go raibh náisiúinteoirí sásta glacadh le sraith a haon, agus leis an Tionól ach go háirithe. Ach ón chéad lá ariamh ó bunaíodh an Tionól i bhfoirm idirthréimhseach, thosaigh na hAontachtaithe a dh’iarraidh an Chomhairle Aireachta uile-Éireann a stopadh agus tábhacht agus cumhacht na gcomhlachtaí forfheidhmithe a mhaolú.
Níor ghlac Sinn Féin le moladh Páirtí Aontachtaithe Uladh go mbeadh cead acu trí chomhlacht forfheidhmithe a ainmniú nó ba léir gur iarracht e seo le brí agus tionchur na gcomhlachtaí a theorannú agus go mbeadh ar Shinn Féin, an SDLP agus Rialtas na hÉireann glacadh le trí chomhlacht a ainmniú eadrainn. Ach sin an rud a tharla ar 18ú Nollaig, le gearradh siar fiú ar shubstaint agus bhrí na dtrí chomlacht sin.
Ag deireadh na gcainteanna, rinneadh socruithe le Aontachtaithe Uladh, socruithe nach raibh chomh maith agus a thiocfadh leo bheith nó a ba chóir dóibh a bheith.
Rinneadh na socruithe seo a leanas gan tacaíocht ó Shinn Féin: infheistiú isteach a tharraingt amach as an fhoras um ardú trádála; cumhacht na gcomhlachtaí um ardú trádála agus forbairt gnó a mhaolú; suim na gcomhlachtaí a choinneáil ar an mhéid is lú a luaíodh i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta; agus comhlacht theoranta a chur in áit na comhlachta forfheidhmithe do thurasóireacht. Is é dearcadh s’againn go raibh na socruithe úd diúltach neamhriachtanach.
Fiú ag an phointe seo tá David Trimble ag baint úsáide as an leithscéal go bhfuil sé níos laige ná mar atá sé i bhfírinne. Níl leid ar bith ann go mbeadh páirtí David Trimble sásta fiú an méid a socraíodh ar 18ú Nollaig a chur i gcrích anois.
Aontaím leis an méid a dúirt comrádaithe de mo chuid cheana féin faoin ghéarghá atá ann le dul chun cinn a dhéanamh go práinneach agus na forais uilig a bhunú gan mhoill.
Cé go bhfuil cuid mhaith gearán againn faoin socrú a rinneadh ar an 18ú Nollaig agus faoin tslí ina ndearnadh an socrú sin, tá rud amháin soiléir: níl fáth ar bith ann nach gcuirfimis an Coiste Feidhmiúcháin agus an Chomhairle Aireachta uile-Éireann ar bun láithreach.
Sinn Fein has repeatedly stated the view that the reaching of agreement on Good Friday was not an end point but an important stage in building a bridge from the conflict of the past to a future where we can all work together for the good of all our people. It is in this context that we judge this report. The dynamic operation of all-Ireland structures can be an important engine for reconciliation throughout the island. Without the all-Ireland dimension there would have been no Good Friday Agreement. Of course, it was understood that in the agreement the Ministerial Council and the Assembly are mutually interdependent.
Nationalists who voted for the Good Friday Agreement attach considerable importance to the remit, strength and dynamic of the Ministerial Council and the all-Ireland bodies. Their effect should be to diminish the negative impact of over 70 years of partition and to encourage common purpose in unified actions throughout the island on a wide range of social and economic areas.
When we first received the scant interim report from the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) on 14 September 1998, Sinn Fein made an initial written response, which included proposals for seven implementation bodies, and seven areas for co-operation on the basis of common policy but separate implementation.
The implementation bodies were to cover the Irish language, inward investment, trade promotion and indigenous company development, trading and employment, EU programmes, EU agriculture and fisheries policy and tourism. They were also to cover areas of common policy in education, transport, community development, health, arts and heritage, environment and energy.
We had bilateral discussions with the Irish Government, the SDLP, Alliance and the Women’s Coalition. We participated in a series of round table discussions chaired by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate). Our party leader also discussed our proposals with both Governments, the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate).
The two Governments were happy about the establishment of eight all-island implementation bodies. On the night of Tony Blair’s visit to Belfast, the Ulster Unionists also agreed to that, only to resile from it the following day. Subsequently, the UUP endlessly protracted discussions to minimise what eventually emerged.
During the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement, there was a clear understanding that, in return for embracing strand one and the Assembly in particular, Nationalists would have the compensation of strand two, with the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and the implementation bodies. However, since the Assembly was established in shadow mode, the Ulster Unionists and other Unionists have prevented the establishment of the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and minimised the remit and importance of the implementation bodies.
Sinn Fein rejected the UUP’s proposal that it should identify three implementation bodies, with as little substance or impact as they could, with any credibility, suggest, and that the Nationalists in this state, together with the Irish Government, should be left with only three bodies of their choosing. That is what was agreed on 18 December, with even those bodies greatly restricted in their functions.
As negotiations came to a close, agreements were reached with the UUP that fell short, in Sinn Fein’s view, of what should have been achieved. The decisions to remove inward investment from the trade promotion and inward investment body, to restrict further its powers in relation to business development, to limit the number of implementation bodies to the absolute minimum laid down in the agreement and to make the tourism body a publicly-owned limited company, rather than an implementation body as before, were taken without Sinn Fein’s support.
Those decisions were negative and unnecessary. Even now, the "Poor David" card is played. There is no indication that the UUP intends to implement even what they agreed on 18 December.
I agree with what my Colleagues said today about the urgent need to establish all the institutions without delay. Ulster Unionist Members and others have said that they wish to make progress and implement the agreement. I welcome that. However, what is the best way to achieve the forward movement that we all seek? Is it through exclusion? Is it through demonisation? Is it through blocking and making preconditions? Or is it through people working together in co-operation?
The report is largely factual, setting out details of meetings and negotiations over the past few weeks. It has been referred to as "treachery", "fraud", "a juggernaut", "a blank cheque" and "a corruption of the democratic process" by those whose heads are still firmly stuck in the sands of yesteryear.
But for those who have a vision of a better society, those who want to look towards the future, who want to cast off the shackles of the past, another piece of the jigsaw is being put in place — another step is being taken towards fulfilling people’s hopes as expressed by their overwhelming support of the Good Friday Agreement. This is a step towards normality, towards a time when people will have accountable government; it is a step further along the road to stability.
I could spend a lot of time debating the number of proposed Departments, or why such-and-such a function is included in Department X rather than in Department Y, or why the six specified areas — transport, agriculture, et cetera — were identified as suitable for North/South co-operation, or why the implementation bodies are as outlined in paragraph 4.3.
I could criticise the apparent lack of detail on the British-Irish Council and the absence of progress on the Civic Forum. I could protest that today is not determination day when the Executive will be established thus enabling power to be devolved. But to what avail? The tone of today’s debate does not lend itself to any critical analysis of the report.
We charged the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) with a task which is outlined in the introduction to the report. This is the latest report on progress, and I welcome it. I welcome progress because the people wish to see progress; they wish to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement as soon as is humanly possible.
Many of us feel that since we were elected the pace of progress has been extremely slow, that the lack of trust which exists in some quarters — and in large measure — is thwarting the desire of the electorate. The agreement acknowledged the substantial differences between continuing and equally legitimate political aspirations. However, there was also a commitment to strive, in every practical way, towards reconciliation and rapprochement within the framework of democratic and agreed arrangements. All who supported the agreement pledged that we would work in good faith to ensure the success of all of the arrangements that it established.
But are all those people who commended the agreement to the people and received their overwhelming endorsement sticking to their side of the bargain? I do not mean sticking to their interpretation of the agreement, but, rather, are they trying to see it from the other person’s perspective? This lack of trust — particularly between Unionists and Nationalists — is tangible. It strikes me that little or no attempt has been made by some Unionists to understand fully the difficulties of their political opponents. Likewise, Sinn Fein, in particular, has done little, if anything, to recognise the problems of the Ulster Unionists. The two sides are still apparently seeking victory over each other and are creating or maintaining obstacles to progress rather than helping each other overcome them.
One key factor is, undoubtedly, the question of decommissioning. But what have the great "no-men" done to try to get this problem resolved? The Ulster Unionists have stated that they will not sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein unless and until decommissioning has commenced. On the other hand, Sinn Fein maintains that it is fulfilling its commitments under the agreement, that it is working constructively and in good faith with the independent commission and is using any influence it may have to achieve decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years.
Each side is continuing to sit on its high horse and accuse the other of bad faith.
Each may well have a point and can certainly justify its position to its supporters, but neither can justify its position to the other side. I contend that each is therefore breaking its pledge to the great mass of people who are demanding that we all work together to ensure the success of the whole agreement.
The vultures — whose aim it is to wreck the whole process and, ironically, to deny the voice of the majority as delivered in the referendum — are gloating and gaining succour from the present stand-off. They are still fighting the referendum campaign. Do they not understand that they have lost that fight? They tell us that they are being ignored — we have heard it again today — and that the agreement is being forced down their throats. My response to that is "Come off it". They ran away from the negotiations.
I do not believe that either the vast majority of Ulster Unionists, or Sinn Fein, wish to give victory to these abominable "no-men". I do not believe that either camp wishes to destroy the hopes or aspirations of 72% of the people who voted "yes". I do not believe that either camp wishes to walk away from that which has been achieved to date. They do not wish to see something which has positive potential being replaced by the certainty of negative despair. This report can be viewed, in some respects, like a wheelbarrow. We are using it to push the load in front of us, but we cannot keep on pushing forever. Some of us may be getting tired of pushing, and the people are certainly getting tired of watching us.
I can approve this report because it designates "D-day". February 15 is only a matter of days away. I urge all to share the remaining problems, to demonstrate again the courage which brought about the Good Friday Agreement, and to deliver to the people that which again appears to be impossible. Who would have thought that we could have come so far in 12 months? Many courageous steps have already been taken on all sides. We are tantalisingly close. Another few steps and we gain the summit. We cannot let stubbornness, tiredness or anything else get in our way now. No one, but no one, can give up now. Compromise has brought us thus far, and compromise must again be practised to bring to fulfilment our pledge to the people.
Time is short, but with patience, determination and goodwill on all sides, I am convinced that the remaining time can be put to good use. We must all get around the table and thrash out a solution to the remaining problems. Let us not, for heaven’s sake, spend the next few weeks closeted in our offices blaming everyone but ourselves. It is time for everyone to stop digging holes which are already deep enough. If those with the spades do not stop digging now, then the holes will collapse around them and bury them in failure. It is time for everyone to climb out of the holes and get to the negotiating table because, as we have demonstrated before, the solution can only be found through talking.
I want to commend this report, particularly the aspects relating to both North/South (strand two) and East/West (strand three) relationships. First of all, what did the Belfast Agreement, and, indeed, the Northern Ireland Act 1998, say about the accountability of North/South bodies? Decisions made by the North/South Ministerial Council are to be with the agreement of both sides — Strand Two. I quote from paragraph 11:
"The implementation bodies will have a clear operational remit. They will implement on an all-island and cross-border basis policies agreed in the Council".
As the second paragraph emphasises,
"Operating in accordance with the rules for democratic authority and accountability in force in the Northern Ireland Assembly."
The fact that the North/South Ministerial Council will be operating under the rules for accountability in force in the Assembly and in the Dublin parliament does not mean that the Council will be accountable to the Assembly.
Furthermore, the agreement, at paragraph 6, says
"Each side to remain accountable to the Assembly and Oireachtas respectively, whose approval, through the arrangements in place on either side, would be required for decisions beyond the defined authority of those attending."
This means that approval is not required for decisions that are within the defined authority of those attending.
Section 52 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 prescribes cross-community representation amongst participating Northern Ireland Ministers, and this is an important point. It further provides for these Ministers to report back to the Executive and the Assembly. The Act also states that after the appointed day for transfer of powers no further implementation bodies shall be set up without the agreement of the Assembly.
I want to commend the proposals made in respect of the six implementation bodies. First, by formalising existing areas of co-operation, we will be able to make administrative improvements, for example, with regard to inland waterways and the drafting of the relevant common chapter of the Structural Funds Plan.
Secondly, there are clear issues of public interest. Information could be shared between Governments in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to deal with common difficulties — for example, in the work of the food safety body on matters such as food poisoning and animal disease. Mutual benefits will also be gained through the agreement of property rights, probably including the clearer demarcation of the frontier in Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough. This is why we proposed the creation of the body with responsibility for aquaculture and marine matters.
If the body with responsibility for trade and business development can bring about improvements in trade, supply and procurement on both sides of the border, and this improves the employment situation in both parts of the island, then this will clearly be a win-win situation. I have tended to be sceptical about whether there really are substantial economic barriers between the two parts of the island, although there may be certain psychological barriers.
If the new trade body can help to persuade managers of firms in the Republic of Ireland that Northern Ireland companies are not hopelessly crippled by violence and instability, and, conversely, if it can convince managers in Northern Ireland that customers from the Republic of Ireland will settle their bills on time, then it will be doing a good job.
Thirdly, we want to improve the accountability of those already involved in existing cross-border co-operation. Thus, the special EU programmes body will assume responsibility for the evaluation and monitoring of the INTERREG programmes.
Fourthly, we anticipate that, in time, some of the North/South links created under strand two will be mirrored by similar East/West bodies, as dictated by mutual interest, as, for example, in the case of food safety and language promotion. This will be done through the British-Irish Council.
One final consideration which illustrates the balanced nature of these proposals relates to the art of policy making, especially economic policy making, which is based on matching up policy-making institutions with policy objectives. At a time when, after a gap of a quarter of a century, power may be returned to local bodies, we have ensured that the major institutions concerned with economic and industrial policy are to remain under the control of Northern Ireland policy makers.
The Industrial Development Board, with its inward investment function, will continue to exist. Over the years, many people, including myself, have been critical of the Industrial Development Board, but I am reminded of the story of the reaction of President Roosevelt when he was told that the contemporary leader of Guatemala was "a bloody despot". Roosevelt replied "Well, at least he’s our bloody despot."
Members may be aware that Roosevelt often used more colourful language than that. At least the IDB remains our institution; we can keep it under our direction to improve its performance. When we can work with the Republic of Ireland on industrial policy, we will do so. Where there is competition, that co-operation must necessarily be limited in our own economic interests. Similarly, we have kept under the exclusive control of Northern Ireland policy makers such organisations as the Tourist Board, the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the Training and Employment Agency and the Technology Unit.
I support the report. It is about realising what the Belfast Agreement called mutual interest. It is consistent with the historical record of practical North/South co-operation instituted under the Stormont Governments of the 1950s and 1960s. Some of our colleagues probably regard Lord Brookeborough as a traitor as well.
There will be overarching East/West institutions through the British-Irish Council: Northern Ireland’s fundamental constitutional position within the United Kingdom remains the same. These international arrangements are unique; they are not a micromodel of European Union neofunctionalism. They offer the best prospect of creating a house which is both a warmer and a wealthier one for our peoples of various traditions.
In common with other members of my party, I welcome the report. It is belated but nevertheless welcome. I am disappointed that it is not a final report. I supported the 18 December agreement, because it was important for us not to go into the new year without reaching agreement. The people have expectations; they elected us to do a job. They want to see continued progress, with all the institutions working, including this Assembly.
The mood of people throughout Ireland, particularly in the North, has been driven up and down since the referendum, and we have to be conscious of that mood. We have lived through 30 years of terrible pain. The public have paid a terrible price for political instability, and they do not want us to renege on our responsibilities.
We have a mandate for the agreement, and as Nationalists, we got that mandate from all of Ireland. Parties cannot use it as a political takeaway. We must take it forward in its entirety, and we all have a public and political duty to overcome the remaining obstacles. On the Nationalist side, there is concern about Unionist intentions. Equally, on the Unionist side, there is concern about the intentions of some Nationalists. Trust has to be built, and I think that we are beginning to achieve that. This debate will help in that task.
I welcome the setting up of 10 Departments, and I do not regard the alleged extra cost of £90 million as a terrible crime. The people of Northern Ireland are looking for better government, and the 10 Departments will allow a better distribution of devolved government functions. Within the office of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) there is to be an economic policy unit. I welcome that because this region is not performing well economically.
Where is Ulster pride? We depend on £4 billion a year from Great Britain. One of the major tasks of the Assembly and the economic policy unit will be to devise a strategy to get away from that level of dependency. In terms of equality, we are pleased that the unit is to be sited in the office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Equality should not be pursued in a piecemeal way. It must be driven from the centre, and it must be implemented in all Departments.
My Colleague Sean Farren spoke about the setting up of a scrutiny committee for equality, and I think that that has also been accepted by Unionists. That is welcome, because we want to see equality implemented in all its facets. We do not want any further alienation on either the Unionist side or the Nationalist side over the way decisions are made. That has contributed enormously to our problems.
The work of the Assembly can be driven practically and effectively through its Committee system. The sooner that we can get the Departments and the relevant Committees set up, the sooner we will be able to conduct our business more effectively and efficiently.
The Committees have the potential to reflect a most important political dynamic for the effective and efficient functioning of the departments. The agreement refers to how these Committees may work. As I see it, they can play an effective role in policy formulation, and every party in the Assembly will be able to contribute to that. The Committees can scrutinise Departments and check on how they are performing. Each Committee will be the public’s guardian of how executive functions are being carried out. The Committees can hold Ministers to account for the work that they will be doing. They can also carry out consultation exercises by inviting experts from outside. The Committees must be seen to function in a constructive and consensual way, and I am convinced that that is where the correct genesis for the operation of this Assembly is to be found.
Committees can also be a forum for more informed and exhaustive discussion between politicians and the Civil Service. We all know that for the past 30 years Ministers coming from Great Britain did not really understand the problems and the needs of our people. Civil servants have largely been determining policy and implementing it. I do not blame them for the way in which the place has been run, but a stronger political input into policy formulation by local politicians would have been more effective.
Policy formulation can be made more effective and specific to our needs. That terrible problem of the democratic deficit can be addressed. Those of us who have been councillors for years are aware of the difficulties in trying to lobby on issues in our constituencies.
On the North/South bodies, all Departments will have a role. I welcome what Mr Roche said about this subject, but why should we be so afraid of this? This is a small region with 1.5 million people. We do not want to continue living in splendid isolation. Economics should determine that we co-operate. Golden Vale, the Kerry Group and other companies from the South have made investments in the North. I want to see Northern Ireland companies investing in the Republic as Glen Dimplex, the Sean Quinn Group and the Hastings Group have done. Let us encourage and facilitate that.
European Union initiatives dictate that we, as a region, should have an effective, cross-border development strategy for social and economic gain. I live in a border constituency, and I know the problems of neglect in relation to infrastructure. Regional development will play an important role in those peripheral areas, and it will happen only if there is cross-border co-operation.
I want the road from Dublin to Derry, the A5, which runs through my constituency, and the A4 through Fermanagh to be upgraded. We have been deprived of investment in the past. I am not blaming anybody for that, but we were disadvantaged by an economic border.
The report signals the death throes of democracy in Northern Ireland. We have been fatally wounded by the Belfast Agreement, and the report aims to hammer the final nails into the coffin of the cause which so many have given their lives to defend. Paragraph 3.7 of the report states
"We want to agree upon and implement a programme for government that will succeed in delivering efficient, accountable, transparent government".
The irony would have been too great for the authors of the document to include the word "democratic" in the description of the style of government they claim to strive for.
We in the DUP have remained firm in our demand that only seven Departments should be created. Those who are in the habit of caving in to Republican pressure have created the potential for a system of government that is far from efficient. A scenario has been proposed in which £90 million is to be squandered on the demands of pan-Nationalism for three extra Ministerial posts so that they will gain a wholly disproportionate number of Executive positions. That form of government cannot be described as democratic.
To be efficient, a Government must be effective and should waste as little as possible. The proposal will waste £90 million that could be spent on an ailing Heath Service in which patients must wait weeks for urgent surgery, or on upgrading our crumbling and inadequate roads. We are being blackmailed on this issue in that if the port of Belfast is not privatised we do not get the improvements. It seems that pan-Nationalism demands, and pan-Nationalism gets.
The accountable government spoken about in the report is not that which we would be familiar with or desire. Through the Belfast Agreement, accountability is to the terrorist and the gunman, and to them alone. It is at the whim of Gerry Adams and the Republican movement with their stockpiles of AK47s and Semtex. They are unchanged, and are pledged never to change. They are unconditionally committed to the destruction of this country — should that be through violence or the threat of violence, whichever brings the greater rewards. This report propagates the lie that peace is possible only through such concessions.
The fact that ongoing negotiations between a number of parties on the implementation of North/South bodies is leading to a final report, as described in this document, is most worrying. Proposals will not be part of a recommendation or part of a greater consultative process. They will result in a final report which suggests that the reality of North/South bodies is that their structures and substance will continue to be developed, irrespective of events within or without this Assembly. Many people will claim that these North/South bodies will be answerable to the Assembly.
Should the Assembly cease to function, which would happen if, for example, the Ulster Unionist Party were to walk out, these embryonic all-Ireland Departments would continue to operate and would be answerable to no one but themselves and Dublin. Those who call themselves Unionists or democrats are morally bound to oppose this sordid deal.
The British-Irish Agreement is no more than the Anglo-Irish Agreement dressed up as democracy. We have had many examples of 1980s revivals recently, such as Culture Club, Duran Duran and the Human League, but this must be the poorest attempt yet by the NIO at a comeback. It is a poor cover version of an even poorer original publication.
Some Members might think that Maryfield is closed and that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is defunct. That is a fabrication and a falsehood. Maryfield may have closed, but the same personnel have been transferred to Windsor House in Bedford Street to await their make-over. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is proceeding at full steam in the run up to its rechristening as the British-Irish Agreement. Dublin still interferes, thereby creating instability in all aspects of life in Northern Ireland, and that looks set to continue. As with the egotistic and immoral claims observed in the Irish constitution, the principles of the Anglo-Irish Agreement will disappear only when they are obsolete, when claims are fulfilled and when bodies cease to be required in order to gain constitutional leverage over the neighbouring jurisdiction.
There is one notable omission in all of this, and it is the major detail of the decommissioning of terrorist arsenals. The document rambles on about efficient, accountable and transparent government, but there is no mention of the arms that are possessed by the very people who demand places on the Executive and who would be so facilitated by the ratification of the document. The Secretary of State is closing her eyes and ears to the hundreds of terrorist acts committed since the signing of the agreement. She has said
"It is not a question of if decommissioning is going to take place, it’s a question of when."
The cynic could be forgiven for interpreting this as "It is not a question of if there will be a United Ireland, but a question of when", because only then may the IRA decide that it no longer requires its guns. That is stated in the IRA’s constitution. It was reported in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ that in a telephone conversation to Tony Blair on 20 September last year Gerry Adams said
"Britain created the problem in Ireland … The British Government therefore has a major role in initiating a strategy which will bring a … resolution and lasting peace … The aim … must be to seek to change British policy from one of upholding the union to one of ending the union."
It was Adams and his colleagues who starved Ulster of the peace it desired. The "strategy" of which he speaks is that of creating a pathway to a united Ireland. The message is clear. If that is not done, a lasting peace will not be delivered, and guess who will be pulling the triggers of the guns that we want to see destroyed.
The DUP will not be pulling the triggers, nor will any other truly democratic and constitutional party be detonating the bombs. The IRA will once again be the cause of conflict in Ulster. The IRA has bombed its way into this Assembly, and it continues to make demands. The policy of the ballot box in one hand and the Armalite in the other, seems to have been replaced by a policy of the ballot box in one hand and the threat of the Armalite in the other.
On Thursday night there was a serious threat against Newry RUC Station. It was not reported by the press but RUC officers were prepared for an IRA attack.
The DUP, together with its anti-agreement, pro-democracy colleagues, has been consistent in its demand that only through total decommissioning could those who have wreaked death and destruction across this country for more than 30 years be admitted to the democratic process.
The terrorists believe that they can control people through violence without the practice of such savagery contaminating their political ideals. Acts of barbarity are committed almost daily, yet prisoners continue to be released and re-offend. That cannot be accepted in any democratic society. I hope that all democrats in the House will agree that it is not acceptable for these men to take any position in the Government of Northern Ireland while they retain and maintain their murderous capability.
I reject the claim that broad cross-community support has been received for the statement of 18 December. The majority of the Unionist people are now totally opposed to this evil and thoroughly rotten process. There is no support for the creation of a completely undemocratic Civic Forum. The only people who might be interested in this waste of time and money are those who could not obtain a democratic mandate to enter the Assembly. The existence of such a body is devoid of any democratic principle.
Following the murder of Andrew Kearney last year, Reg Empey said that that put Sinn Fein in a very difficult position. The only squirming that I have observed during this debate has been by Ulster Unionist Members in the benches to the left of me as some of them have attempted to justify their past words and deeds.
In one corner we have IRA/Sinn Fein dealing in fractures and in the other corner we have John Taylor, the Member for Strangford, dealing in fractions. But Mr Taylor does not know whether he is a mathematician or a magician. He is a mathematician when it comes to adding the figures up, and he is a magician when it comes to making a 40-foot barge pole disappear in seconds.
I quote Lord Carson:
"of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been a part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got to the top and power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief or damage they do to those who have helped them to gain power."
Some of the Members in this Assembly might do well to think about Carson’s words.
The thrust of this report, far from giving efficient, accountable and transparent government is no more than an exercise in political expediency. This process is accountable only to the gunman and, as a direct result, is muddied with lies and deception.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
Sinn Fein welcomes the provision for setting up the consultative Civic Forum in paragraph 34 of the Good Friday Agreement, in the legislation and on page 8 of this report. Sinn Fein is contributing constantly to the development of all the structures under the agreement, and that includes the Civic Forum.
The signing of the Good Friday Agreement signalled a shift away from the unrepresentative and undemocratic structures which have existed in the North since partition. We welcome the fact that the new structures of Government are to embrace the democratic principles of equality of representation and of accountability and that they will be all-Ireland in character.
Part of this new dispensation is the establishment of an innovative consultative body — the Civic Forum. Sinn Fein believes that the development of the Civic Forum will complement the work of the Assembly, add to the quality of decision making and include marginalised groups in the democratic structures. We want to see the Civic Forum progress expeditiously because we believe it will facilitate the process towards democracy and change. But, no matter how much we may want to see it up and running, it is important that those Members in the sub-group charged with making recommendations ensure that they get it right. We must give our best efforts and quality time to the steps that need to be taken to establish the Civic Forum.
We may not succeed, but we have to advance cautiously. There is no imperative, other than the personal opinions of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), to determine the quality of the Civic Forum. The principles which should form the process and underpin its final development should be secondary to the timetable for the establishment and operation of the Forum itself. Sinn Fein believes it is much more judicious to ensure that the Civic Forum delivers from the start what everyone expects from it. If we get it right, it will revolutionise the relationship between people and politics and remove any suspicion and cynicism about the Civic Forum’s becoming a club for the great and the good.
There are those in the Chamber who do not want to see a Civic Forum set up. But we who do want this body know that we are building bridges which we all need to cross. The Assembly, in conjunction with the Civic Forum, needs to promote the principles of equality, accessibility, transparency and accountability. These are not mere words. They are core values that should not only apply to the working of the Civic Forum but to the working of the Assembly as well. They must also be central to the deliberations of the sub-group. The submissions received to date represent, according to the advisers, a narrow cross-section of civic society in the North.
The 70% of people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement, of which the Civic Forum is a part, want such a body — indeed, all the institutions of the Assembly — to reflect the confidence that they have placed in those whom they have elected. They want to see a Civic Forum set up whose purpose will be to imbed these core principles and to restore and build trust.
Sinn Fein upholds the principles which underpin the agreement and has submitted proposals, consistent with equality, accessibility, transparency and accountability, that will help devise the mechanism for delivering the Civic Forum. As a party, it will not rubber-stamp any proposals that do not have, as a central tenet, the principle of equality.
It is the responsibility of those who have argued that equality can be assured and achieved in the institutions under the direct control of the First and the Deputy First Ministers (Designate) — and that policy has been established under the agreement — to demonstrate now that membership of the Civic Forum will be explicitly, directly and systematically equality-proofed.
We in the sub-group are mindful of this. That is why the report presented today by the First and the Deputy First Ministers (Designate) does not include proposals for the setting up of the Civic Forum. We have agreed some aspects of the Forum, such as the working arrangements, but there are still issues of a fundamental nature which need to be addressed.
I was surprised when I heard Mr McGimpsey saying on the ‘Inside Politics’ programme that the Forum had been put to bed. I can assure Mr McGimpsey that we have not agreed on the quality of the mattress yet. I believe that the sub-group needs to continue its work of ensuring that the process which creates the Civic Forum itself also promotes active citizenship and participatory democracy.
In this way the Civic Forum will become the survivors’ guide, not the victims’ guide, to overcoming the conflict not just of the last 30 years, but of the last 70 years. We are beginning to see how this can be achieved, and we need to keep learning as we go.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I reject the motion tabled by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate) and support the amendment in the names of Dr Ian Paisley and Mr Peter Robinson.
The Northern Ireland Unionist Party’s position is that the focus on departmental structures is further marginalising the core issue of the decommissioning of terrorist arsenals. Proposals on departmental structures should exclude parties which front terrorist organisations that are refusing to decommission their arsenals and dismantle their paramilitary structures.
Let us examine the attitude of the SDLP, a party which throughout 30 years of terror has constantly condemned violence but has not hesitated to profit politically from that violence. This requirement presents the SDLP with a clear choice between supporting democratic practice and the integrity of the rule of law or supporting Sinn Fein/IRA’s demands to participate in the Executive — that is, in the Government of Northern Ireland — while retaining its terrorist arsenal and structures.
If the SDLP supports Sinn Fein in its refusal to decommission its terrorist arsenal and dismantle its terrorist structures the former will render itself indistinguishable from Sinn Fein/IRA.
The alternative is for the SDLP to align itself with the fundamental, democratic demand that Sinn Fein/IRA must decommission its terrorist arsenal and dismantle its terrorist structures. The pro-Union community, rightly, will not tolerate government by an Executive that includes the architects of the terrorism that has been directed against them for 30 years, while the IRA retains its arsenal and its structures for use at its discretion. Such a situation is unthinkable and totally unacceptable.
The obligation on the United Kingdom Government to demand decommissioning is reinforced by the clear impression conveyed by the Prime Minister, and which was a crucial part of the referendum campaign, that decommissioning would be a condition of Sinn Fein/IRA taking its seats in the Executive. This impression was given on at least the following occasions: speeches at Balmoral and the University of Ulster; the Prime Minister’s handwritten pledges; the letter to Mr Trimble on 10 April 1998; and statements by the Prime Minister to Parliament.
The law-abiding majority in Northern Ireland wants a stable society in which citizens can go about their lives in peace. Ordinary people find the struggle of bringing up their families, the stresses of modern life, the needs of elderly relatives and others enough to contend with, without being subject to the political dictate of parties fronting terrorist organisations with the aim of destabilising and overthrowing their society.
A stable, prosperous Northern Ireland is what most people would settle for; a stable Northern Ireland is the objective that I strive for. A minority has no interest in a stable society in Northern Ireland; it is only interested in instability. Instability is its way of life and it thrives on it. Unfortunately for the tens of thousands of innocent victims of violence, and the many hundreds of thousands whose lives have been disrupted by bombings and social dislocation, who have had to move house or rebuild businesses, it is not only the revolutionaries, or counter-revolutionaries, who appear to have a vested interest in instability. Many have concluded that the British Government are indifferent to Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom.
Lip-service is given to the concept of the Union. Daily events on the ground undermine any confidence that ordinary people might have in the sincerity of the British Government’s desire to uphold the rule of law and to protect democracy. In spite of what some would tell us, Northern Ireland is in greater danger than it has been for the last 30 years. The Union with Great Britain has been weakened and our citizenship of the United Kingdom eroded. In recent years Government officials and Ulster Unionist politicians have entered talks with Sinn Fein/IRA. We have seen the early release of terrorists, the national anthem banned in the university, the national flag — the Union Jack — and portraits of the Queen removed from the workplace. In the courts, Queen’s Counsel are no longer obliged to swear an oath of allegiance. Orange halls have been burned, and there has been an orchestrated campaign to ban and re-route traditional Orange and Loyalist parades. This campaign is spearheaded by residents’ groups, many of which contain convicted IRA terrorists.
Nevertheless the majority of those elected do not, and will never, consent to a united Ireland. So powerful is the yearning and desire of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland for Britishness and the Union that all elections since the inception of Northern Ireland show an unwavering majority of votes in favour of the Union and a British identity.
Throughout 30 years of the most horrendous terrorist campaign which any civil society has been called on to endure, the will of the majority for the maintenance of the Union with Great Britain was never broken, even in circumstances where the Republic of Ireland provided a safe haven for Irish Republican terrorists. In 1998 there were 55 murders, 40 after the signing of the Belfast Agreement on 10 April 1998 and 500 punishment beatings and shootings. More than 200 terrorists have been released early and have taken up their paramilitary activities where they left off. Surgeons have recently stated that punishment beatings and shootings are increasing in ferocity, including deliberate attempts by the terrorists to cripple their victims permanently. Yet Mo Mowlam has stated that there is no evidence to confirm that these attacks have been sanctioned by terrorist organisations.
The representatives of Sinn Fein/IRA do not share the common desire of ordinary people for stability. They are committed to a revolutionary principle. The Assembly is merely a transitional stage in the revolution, and whether that struggle is defined as armed or unarmed really depends on the degree of violence that the Government are prepared to tolerate in the name of the peace process. We have the worst of all possible worlds, with terrorists outside the Assembly and their representatives inside it.
This debate gives us an opportunity to reflect upon a groundswell of opinion in the Unionist community that is moving increasingly towards a reappraisal of the unbalanced Belfast Agreement.
On Friday 15 January 1999 the ‘News Letter’ quoted Vincent McKenna, a leading figure in the Northern Ireland anti-intimidation group FAIT, as stating that he would not support the Good Friday Agreement if it were to be put to the people in another referendum. Mr McKenna is quoted as saying
"if a second referendum on the accord were to be put to a vote, I would not be voting yes."
The FAIT spokesman claimed
"The credibility of the peace process was being eroded by the continuing paramilitary-style attacks by republicans and loyalists on recognised ceasefire.
The IRA shot 38 people last year, as opposed to 22 the previous year, and in the last week alone the Provos had by Sunday shot two people and carried out seven beatings, while the Loyalists matched those figures.
And yet despite this terrorist activity, these incidents are being ignored by the British Government, are being sidelined by both Governments and we are facing the prospect of the very people who sanctioned these acts taking office.
This is not what people who voted yes in the May referendum voted for. It is not what families whose loved ones have suffered at the hands of paramilitaries voted for. They feel cheated."
We have the opportunity today to declare in favour of a civil society in which ordinary people are free from gangsterism, intimidation, provocation and polarisation. Those in the Unionist community who voted in favour of the Belfast Agreement because of the false promises and pledges of Tony Blair and the Government that decommissioning would take place have since openly admitted their errors and now reject the Belfast Agreement and its appeasement process. All Unionists elected to the Assembly must now acknowledge this fact.
As an elected Member for South Antrim, I am proud that the vast majority of the Unionist electorate in my constituency were aware of the danger to Northern Ireland’s position within the Union and totally opposed the implementation of all-Ireland structures and bodies in the June 1998 election. This opposition is growing daily in South Antrim and throughout Northern Ireland.
On the issue of departmental structures under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, the Executive is not accountable to the Assembly, since it would be virtually impossible to remove any Minister from office. I also strongly oppose 10 Departments. That will impose an equal number of Unionist and Nationalist Ministers on the Unionist majority of Northern Ireland, and that is a major concession by the Ulster Unionist Party to the pan-Nationalist front.
There would also be the significant administrative costs of increasing the current six Departments to the proposed 10 — a change designed more for political reasons rather than for the betterment of the taxpayer and greater efficiency.
There is no mention in the report of the future role and function of local government or of the large number of unelected quangos. There is also insufficient information about the appointments of members to the Civic Forum or about their specific roles.
The Unionist community totally rejects this report and its contents which, if passed by the Assembly, will create an Executive with militant Republicans discharging ministerial functions. I support the amendment.
Mr Boyd said much with which I disagree, but he was right to underline the fact that this report is incomplete. That is why it is an interim report. The final report is not before us but will be before the House in a month’s time. Leaving aside the first hour or so, when there were noisy interruptions from the DUP wing in particular, this has been a sombre and thoughtful debate on where we are going in Northern Ireland. We have arrived at a very difficult point in the history of this Province, of this part of the United Kingdom and of this part of the island of Ireland.
We now have an interim report based on the Belfast Agreement of Good Friday 1998 showing us the way forward on the creation of an Executive comprising 10 Members from the four main political parties in the Assembly, on the creation of six bodies for co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic and on the creation of six bodies for the implementation of policies of interest common to both Northern Ireland and the Republic, policies which will be subject both to a veto by the Unionist Member present on that body and to a veto by the Assembly.
Other issues have been left out. We have made little progress on the Civic Forum, and we still have to complete the details of the new British-Irish Council to enable us to create an institution that will deal with all that we have in common in these British Isles — Southern Ireland, Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. There is considerable work to do, and that is why a further month is required.
The Belfast Agreement created problems and concerns for everyone. For the SDLP there are problems, for Sinn Fein there are many problems, for the DUP and the former UKUP there are many problems and for the UUP there are many problems. Indeed, I see that Mr Shannon, the DUP Member for Strangford, does not understand what happened. When he refers to the 40-foot pole he shows that he does not understand the type of document that we had on the Tuesday before Good Friday.
Those who were involved in the negotiations — and the DUP did not have Mr Shannon there — know that in that document there were the 50 cross-border bodies that were proposed by Senator Mitchell. It was only by the UUP’s taking a firm stand and saying we would not touch it with a 40-foot pole that that number was reduced to 12 in the agreement itself. Of course, the DUP does not give credit for these things because some of them want to score points and others, like Mr Shannon, because he does not understand.
We all have concerns. There was the referendum. It was carried by 70% plus — fewer than 30% were against. If we are honest, we know that, while the overwhelming majority of the Catholic community voted "Yes", in the Protestant community there was only a slim majority — just over 50%. That is the accurate position. Why did the Catholic-Nationalist community vote "Yes" in such overwhelming numbers? It voted "Yes" because it wanted to see peace established in Northern Ireland on the basis of partnership government. After 30 years of violence it wants peace, and Sinn Fein has failed to get that message. The people who voted "Yes" were not expressing support for a continued ability to perpetrate violence in Northern Ireland, they were actually saying "We have had enough." Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, Nationalist or Unionist, we want peace and stability, with Catholic, Protestant, Nationalist and Unionist working together for the good of Northern Ireland.
We have much in common with other political parties. [Interruption]
Yes. All parties in Northern Ireland want to see a better Health Service, better housing and jobs created throughout the Province. It is all right to sneer at these things, but they are important to the man on the street — be he Catholic or Protestant — and if we work together we can achieve these things for our people. Of course, we can divide and go back to civil war, but that will not help the ordinary man in the street.
The Ulster Unionist Party was at one time a party of the Establishment. I saw that in my younger days in this House. Today I would call it the Poujadist party of Ulster. David Trimble is one Member at least who knows what that is. We will leave the other Members to look it up later. We share with other parties the desire to create a better society in Northern Ireland in which we will all thrive and have equality of opportunity.
The key issue in the next month is how we complete the unfinished work. I do not envisage much difficulty in progressing with the British-Irish Council and the Civic Forum, but the crucial issue is whether there will continue to be a threat of violence in Northern Ireland.
Of course I am in doubt. I have always been in doubt about that. On Good Friday — I even remember you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, getting a bit anxious about it — I delayed the agreement to the Mitchell Report because I was concerned that there was still the possibility of those who supported violence being in the Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I still have those concerns. The Ulster Unionist Party accepts that there is an absence of total trust in this society. I am glad to hear some SDLP Members saying that trust is beginning to grow. That is progress.
I want to make it clear to Sinn Fein — which is the Republican movement because the IRA and Sinn Fein are the same thing — that the UUP is honourable in its dealings. We have no wish to exclude Sinn Fein from office out of spite, though that would be understandable in light of its record. The UUP remains open to new and changed relationships.
When the people voted last year, they were looking forward to a new kind of Administration, embracing the whole spectrum of political opinion in Ulster. But they also voted for an end to violence and the threat of violence. So long as the IRA’s arsenal remains intact, the threat remains intact. So long as the threat remains intact, there will be no Executive involving those who retain that threat. I hope that constitutional Nationalism will recognise that and join with democratic parties to proceed without Sinn Fein, if necessary.
Mr Peter Robinson said that the Ulster Unionist Party has a post-dated cheque. He is right. It is not the first time that I have seen a post-dated cheque — and such a cheque will not clear if there is no money in the account on the day that it is presented.
I commend the report, and I wish to comment on some aspects of the debate.
The most audible aspect of the debate was the merriment, the guffawing, the wisecracking, the sniggering and the chortling from DUP Members and other anti-agreement Unionists. If they are right, and Ulster is being shamefully betrayed, they seem to be getting the most enormous enjoyment out of it. I have never heard such merriment and guffawing. I hope that the media gives an accurate picture of what happened here today because if all this pleading about grievance, betrayal, shameful letting down and sell-out is true, one must question such frivolity. It seems to be the best show in town.
We have heard Mr Carrick of the DUP refer to the polluting of democracy by the inclusion of Sinn Fein in government, according to the terms of the Belfast Agreement. Let him look at his own party. Is it an adornment of democracy to seek to shout down others who have a legitimate point of view; to seek to waste their time by constant interruption; to seek to put them off their stroke by constant heckling and guffaws? I do not believe it is.
To more important matters. This agreement is an attempt to move away from a "majoritarian" approach to government in Northern Ireland, an approach which has characterised government through much of this state’s existence. Indeed, that "majoritarian" approach was at the heart of the conflict. We are trying to move away from that towards a consensus system of decision-making and government.
This is a painful transition for many people. It is painful for Unionists in view of this community’s history, but I believe that a majority of Unionists now accept that there is a need to move from a majority approach to decision-making towards a consensus system of government and partnership. But the views of many anti-agreement Unionists are entirely incoherent on this whole matter.
For instance, Mr Gregory Campbell and others were suggesting a few minutes ago that more than 50% of Unionists opposed the agreement. Quite apart from whether it is true or not, and I do not believe that it is, implicit in what he has said is an insistence that the legitimacy of this agreement depends upon the support of a majority of Unionists.
But what about the support of a majority of Nationalists? Mr Campbell and other anti-agreement Unionists are entirely silent on that matter. Do they accept that if there is to be agreement about how this society is run that a majority of Nationalists must give their consent? Do they even accept that any Nationalist must give his consent? I have observed these Colleagues, and it is clear that they do not accept this simple principle. Consent, according to some, applies only to Unionists; it does not apply to Nationalists at all.
Mr McGimpsey was eloquent on the question of consent. Consent does not just apply to the question of North/South relations; it applies to the question of relations within the North, as it does to the whole question of relations in any society. No form of government is legitimate when it does not have the consent of the majority of its citizens, or where significant sections of the community are either deliberately, or by whatever means, excluded from the business of government.
This brings me to the question of negotiation, which has arisen during the debate with allegations of poor negotiation on the part of one party or another. It sometimes seems that articulating one’s demands and then handcuffing oneself to them is what negotiation is about. It is not. Negotiation involves arguing one’s case and accepting that others can argue their case with equal sincerity.
Negotiation involves the identification of areas of common ground, trying to build on them, trying to find ways around areas of disagreement, and finding some way of breaking deadlocks over issues that are extremely difficult. Ultimately, agreement is always possible if there is all-round consent — whether given wholeheartedly or begrudgingly.
When Mr Adams and others mentioned inward investment and tourism, my view was the same as theirs. I would have liked to have seen those matters dealt with by some other means — Sean Neeson presented the same view on behalf of the Alliance Party. But those were not the only matters on the table; a whole range of matters were being discussed, and it is axiomatic that no party can get everything its own way. Bearing in mind the aims we set out with, we were satisfied that the agreement which we have represents the best that we could have achieved. We believe that we got a fairly good deal, but we did not get all that we wanted. We are not vulnerable or liable to criticism for that.
Mitchel McLaughlin is on altogether weaker ground when he accuses the SDLP of a solo run, and of betraying the expectations of the Nationalist group. Mr McLaughlin is not in a position to lecture the SDLP about the expectations of the Nationalist community, because we represent the majority of the Nationalist community. And I take exception to the allegation that we ignored, or bypassed, or did not seek to involve Sinn Fein in the negotiations. No party has made greater efforts to help Sinn Fein get into the political process and help them adjust to the demands of democracy, and I will not listen to criticism in that regard.
I come, finally, to the question of decommissioning — a constant refrain of the anti-agreement Unionists. My party has been consistent about this from the beginning. We took the view that we would not accept any precondition — other than peace — for talks, for negotiations and for the winning of a peace agreement. We have consistently kept to that position. We now take the view that there are no preconditions for implementing the agreement.
Decommissioning is part of the agreement and, just as there are no preconditions for implementing the formation of the Executive or the formation of the North/South bodies, we cannot accept that there are any preconditions for any part of the agreement — including decommissioning. All parts of the agreement must be implemented, and there are no preconditions. It is not legitimate for any party to say that it will not agree to one part being implemented until all the others are. All parts of the agreement must be implemented, and we will not accept any other view.
I commend this report. It has the great virtue of identifying a firm date for the determination of these matters — 15 February — and for movement on to the next phase of the agreement.
At the risk of being repetitive, the crucial element missing from this document is the word "decommissioning". Just as Tony Blair said before the 1997 election that the important issues were "Education, education, education", the word that is on the lips of every ordinary Unionist out on the street is decommissioning. Quite frankly, nothing else counts at the moment.
We have been told that 71% of the people voted for this agreement — the number grows every day — and the people who voted for this agreement did so on the basis of a handwritten promise from Tony Blair. That promise was that there would be no question of Sinn Fein/IRA being in the Government of this country without decommissioning.
The Ulster Unionist leader reminds me of the captain of the Titanic. Heading inexorably towards the iceberg — an iceberg called decommissioning — during the talks that led to the agreement, he told us that the iceberg was a mirage. Before Christmas, we were told that the iceberg was melting fast. Now he is telling us that the iceberg is to be moved. But in the end the one issue that cannot be fudged, and on which there can be no compromise, is the issue of decommissioning. No Unionist worth his salt will accept the presence in the Government of this country of an armed paramilitary group.
What the First Minister (Designate) and Mr Taylor should remember is that militant Republicanism is insatiable. It has a two-pronged strategy. A Member for Mid Ulster in a previous Assembly, Mr Danny Morrison, used to talk about holding an Armalite in one hand and a ballot box in the other. The strategy of Sinn Fein/IRA is that, having squeezed all the benefit they can out of the Armalite approach, and pocketed those gains, they now move on to the ballot box strategy, to extract maximum benefit from that. When they have achieved maximum benefit from that strategy, then they will move back to the Armalite. That is why they need to keep the weapons — they are going to use them again.
There are thousands of ordinary, decent people in the Province who do not wish to accept a return by Sinn Fein/IRA to a campaign of murder after they have squeezed the maximum concessions out of this process. Let us look at the concessions that have already been secured. Two hundred and thirty terrorist prisoners have been released; the Patten Commission on the future of policing has been set up to demoralise the RUC and to make it acceptable to Republicans, weakening the force by taking away its weapons and removing all the essential elements of the RUC as we know it. These concessions have already been made. But, eventually, Sinn Fein/IRA will go back to what they know best. They have not gone away, you know. They will go back to killing.
We need to remember the consequences of the Armalite campaign. As representative for South Down in the previous Assembly, between 1982 and 1986, I had the sad duty of following the coffins of 13 members of the RUC, murdered by Sinn Fein/IRA. We should remember the gruesome facts. In the case of two of those policemen there was so little of their bodies remaining that concrete blocks were put in their coffins to convince their widows that they contained the bodies of their husbands. But there were no bodies. All that was left of one of the policemen could have been put into a plastic carrier bag.
I am convinced that there are people in the Assembly who know who committed those acts and hundreds of other terrorist acts. On many occasions, they may have committed them themselves. And yet we are being asked by the First Minister (Designate) to accept the people who committed those vile deeds into government, without them having given up the rust on the barrel of one gun. Our answer to that is "Never". We will never accept that.
Mr Ervine said that we will lose our salaries and our positions as Members. I do not care. The people of South Down elected me to this House to oppose this process. If that brings the Assembly down, then so be it. We are here to represent the people who elected us.
The Member talks about bringing down the agreement. Would he not agree with me that the only real chance of getting decommissioning is through the agreement? There is no other way.
Mr Maginness is putting the cart before the horse. There can be no settlement without decommissioning, and that is fundamental. How can he and the other members of the SDLP trust any organisation to sit in the Government of this country when it is known to have an armed militia at its command? If that is allowed to happen, and the Members for Mid Ulster and West Belfast get their two seats in the Executive, how will they deal with important constitutional issues? They will say to the other members of the Executive "There are rough elements in the Republican community, and we cannot control them. If you do not give way, they will start killing and bombing. Rather than see these "dogs of war" back on the streets, you will have to give way and accept our demands."
They will never say openly "We are going to start killing again", but their subcontractors will. As long as they have the Armalites and the Semtex and the rocket launchers oiled and ready for action, that threat will remain, and that threat will be used. The Member for North Belfast, Mr Kelly, tells us that they need these weapons in case a riot breaks out in the Ardoyne; the Loyalists and the Nationalists are stoning each other, and the Nationalists need to be defended. How do you defend the Nationalists of Ardoyne with Semtex? The only use for Semtex is to blow up innocent civilians and members of the RUC and the Royal Irish Regiment. The only reason for retaining Semtex and other vicious weapons is to murder people.
If Unionists were polled once again as in the referendum, there would be a considerable swing against the agreement. I have met hundreds of people who voted "Yes", but who now wish they had voted "No". I have met thousands of people who voted "No" and are glad they did. There is no defection from the "No" campaign to the "Yes" campaign, but there are thousands who are defecting from "Yes" to "No". If that agreement were put to the people today, the outcome would be very interesting.
I could go into the report in depth, but those issues are minor. The only issue is decommissioning, and unless that issue is resolved, the ordinary law-abiding people of this Province will never accept Sinn Fein/IRA in Government.
Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I wish to draw the attention of the Chamber to paragraph 3.7 of today’s report, which states
"It is now our clear intention, having agreed upon the architecture of Departments, to move with urgency in seeking to address the social, economic and cultural challenges facing the whole community. We want to agree upon and implement a programme for government … We want to address the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged; we want to imbue the community with a sense of enterprise and self-reliance; we want to tackle educational disadvantage …; we want to put behind us the tragic years of trauma and separation by providing the best possible form and programme of government."
There is no reason for the Assembly’s not moving to do all of these. The problem is the inertia of the Ulster Unionist Party. The problem is that Unionism of all shades still cannot conceive of dealing with Nationalism on a basis of equality. We see this starkly in Portadown, where Nationalist residents have been subjected to a seven-month campaign of intimidation and threat by the Orange Order. Many Members of the Assembly belong to that organisation. There are people in this Chamber who have been involved in gatherings in Portadown which have gone well beyond the boundaries of legitimate protest.
Sinn Fein believes that the situation there has to be resolved on a basis of equality and respect, and that is also how the political process should be driven — on a basis of equality and respect. We are here because of our electoral mandate, and we are entitled to put forward and debate our Republican analysis. The votes of the Sinn Fein electorate are as valid as the votes of every other electorate. Our place in the Executive comes from that electoral mandate and from the Good Friday Agreement, which most of the parties here signed up to. Unionism needs to accept that Sinn Fein has a right to be in the Executive, and if we are not in the Executive, there will be no Executive.
Finally, our objective in all of this is to advance the peace process. This involves us all, every single one of us, in working together, and it involves Unionism implementing the agreement. Mr Trimble has now committed himself to a definitive report and vote on 15 February. On that basis I give qualified support to today’s report. Go raibh maith agat.
I welcome the report and I do so for positive reasons.
I am particularly pleased to see that emphasis has been placed on trade and business development because that is the way forward. In a global economy where there is a marked shift from traditional industries such as textiles and engineering to a weightless economy supported and driven by knowledge-based companies, it is essential that we do everything in our power to ensure that the transition is smooth.
Everyone must benefit from the enormous wealth generated by the new industries that have transformed the economies of the United States of America and of many other parts of the developed world. That can only be done on an all-Ireland basis, and for that reason I welcome the proposal to set up an implementation body dealing with trade and business development.
The report lays out very clearly the practical steps which must be taken to ensure that the Assembly delivers on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. I think particularly of those who have no jobs and of those whose jobs are threatened by very significant changes taking place in the industrial world. Even as we debate this report, American companies are packing their bags to come to Northern Ireland to seek out business opportunities. Two such groups will visit Coleraine in the next few weeks, and they are coming because we promised them everything a modern progressive company seeking a gateway into Europe wants. They are knowledge-based industries that will create secure jobs well into the new millennium.
Why are they coming? The answer is very simple. They are coming because they believe that we have settled our political differences by signing the Good Friday Agreement. They were influenced by the 11-cities tour by the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate), and they were further influenced by a follow-up visit organised by my council in Coleraine. I was pleased to be accompanied by my Colleague David McClarty.
I must also tell the DUP that we were accompanied by the DUP Mayor of Coleraine, who enthusiastically endorsed the political progress in the North, and we are grateful to him for that. I hope that when those American visitors come to Coleraine in the next few weeks Gregory Campbell and others will turn up and wish the visitors "Céad míle fáilte" because there is high unemployment in Coleraine, and the people there have a right to a future. Certainly, the performance in that corner today gave no hope to anyone watching it in the wider world.
Everything that I have said is possible, but only if there is political stability, and that will not happen if the Assembly does not make progress. The people whom we represent are depending on us to deliver, and so far we have not done enough.
In Lewis Carroll’s classic work ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ the king calls for the sentence and then the verdict. I hope that Members are here to listen to each other, and to be persuaded before making up their minds about the merits of the report. It confused ordinary people to hear political leaders dismissing the report before it was even published, never mind debated. I hope that our business is taken more seriously than ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. We are in the real world, and it does not suffer fools gladly or condone the type of behaviour that we saw today.
The political face of Europe is changing rapidly with the enlargement of the European Union. Our status as an Objective 1 region is ending. An implementation body to deal with special EU programmes is essential if we are to continue to benefit from European membership. The border regions in particular depend on cross-border initiatives such as INTERREG, Leader and other programmes. Those issues can only be addressed effectively if we work together.
A Department dealing with agriculture and rural development is an exciting proposal that will enable us to deal with many of the serious issues that affect many of our citizens, and particularly those in rural areas. Agriculture is in a mess and has been badly handled by direct rule. A Ministry to deal specifically with the special needs of farming will provide real opportunities for the industry.
I welcome the recognition of the importance of rural development because it will not only be the farming community which benefits from political progress in that area. People who live outside urban areas have particular needs which can be addressed through rural development.
During the last 30 years, there have been many significant changes in the structure of our rural communities. They have suffered badly as a direct result of the troubles, and many are in decline. Country schools have closed or have been threatened with closure, and a range of community structures has disappeared. Even as we speak, plans are being set in motion to wipe out the Action for Community Employment scheme that had done so much for economic regeneration and community support in rural areas. A Department for agriculture and rural development is essential if we are to address the needs of the people who live in country areas.
People need skills to avail of new job opportunities in a modern world driven by knowledge-based industries, and I welcome the plan to separate higher and further education and link it to training and employment.
Over the years many people have been disadvantaged as a direct result of the troubles. Many have missed educational opportunities and women, in particular, have been the victims of a society that has not addressed the issue of equality in relation to education and training.
Colleges of further education, which were the driving force in the past to provide education and training for ordinary working people, have been misdirected into a world of money-making schemes which have shifted the focus away from the people who depend on them most. In the past, the technical colleges, as they were known, provided countless opportunities for people who had been rejected by the grammar school system. Those colleges must be the backbone of a new world of higher and further education where the skills they teach are directly linked to a new environment, based on information science and technology.
Many issues in this field were ignored in the past, and they can be tackled only if we have the political commitment to put our house in order and begin the process of providing stable government. We can do that, provided we are not like the king in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ who demanded the sentence before the verdict.
The honeymoon is over. The work of the Assembly must begin in earnest.
The people who elected us are beginning to despair. They do not understand why we are holding back, and they are worried that the political initiative will revert to the lawlessness of the past. No one wants that. It cost too many people their lives and their limbs.
The report is very welcome, but it is disappointing that more progress has not been possible. Let us renew our efforts to find a way forward which replaces fear by trust, hate by love, divisiveness by unity. We have listened to the politics of failure for too long. We are sick listening to the prophets of doom who have done so much to land us in the mess we are in. It is time to move forward and to give our people hope for the future and life after the troubles.
When the American industrialists and business people arrive in Northern Ireland in the next few weeks they will undoubtedly ask about political progress. I do not want to have to tell them that we have failed — and failed the people we represent. I do not want to have to tell them that we had the verdict first and then the debate.
A Member has moved that the Question be now put. This is the first time we have had a closure motion under Initial Standing Order 11(1), which says
"After a motion has been proposed and provided that each of the parties present has had a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the debate, any member who has not spoken to it, or to any amendment which has been moved, may move that the question be now put; and unless it shall appear to the Presiding Officer that such motion is an abuse of these Standing Orders, the question that the question be now put shall be put forthwith, and decided without amendment or debate."
There are a number of questions. First, has the Member who moved that the question be put spoken in the debate? I believe he has not. Secondly, have all the parties present had a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the debate? The Assembly has been debating for almost five hours now, and approximately 30 Members have spoken. That is a question which I must answer before I put it to the Assembly for a decision. Any vote will be by simple majority.
The committee which advises you has set aside three days for the debate. It was deemed by the committee that, unless there was going to be excessive voting, if it was possible to close it off by Tuesday night then you would do so. Every party left the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer meeting with a clear understanding that they were to organise their troops for a two-day debate.
If there had been any indication that there would be a one-day debate instead of a two-day debate, there would have been a different order of speaking. This clearly allows those who were aware that this would be their tactic to order people in the fashion which suits that tactic. You clearly indicated to the parties that there would be a two-day debate, and the DUP has summoned its Members on that basis. It would be completely inappropriate for you to change the rules at this stage of the proceedings.
Your statement this morning made it clear that this debate would run for two days. The Ulster Unionist Party did not raise the question of a vote at this time with me although they may have raised it with the SDLP. I was entitled to know if there was going to be a vote at this time. In any debate in the House of Commons the party leaders are informed of the likely times for moving a closure. It seems very strange to me that the Ulster Unionist Party cannot stand the heat.
They want to close it down. I suggest, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, that if you rule to close the debate, you will do a great disservice to the many Members who came here and sat through this debate, knowing that tomorrow they would be called.
The Member may only speak if it is a point of order. The Standing Orders are very clear that the closure of a debate is not open to debate. If the Member is making a point of order, I will take it, although the taking of a point of order in the context of a point of order is stretching the point. But I will take it if it is a point of order.
It is a point of order. It would be a travesty of the proceedings of this Institution — and it would be greatly resented by the majority of the Unionist community — if you were to bring a guillotine down upon this debate. Mr Trimble and his Colleagues should think long and hard before they agree to this because they will have, at some stage, to face the pro-Union electorate.
The word "ambush" rather than "guillotine" may be more appropriately used here. It is my experience, limited though that may be, that such events are often the source of some displeasure to those who find themselves on the wrong side of the ambush. The Standing Orders present me with a dilemma. Some Members still clearly wish to speak, and they understood that there would be an opportunity for them to speak when they came here — that is clear.
On the other hand, the Standing Orders are also clear: if there is a reason to believe that parties who are present have had a reasonable opportunity to put forward their views, a Member who has not spoken has a right to move that the Question be put. Then it is for the Assembly to decide. The only decision that I am permitted to make — and it is a decision that I am required to make — is on whether to put the Question that the Question be put to the Assembly.
In this context I have no alternative but to put the matter to the Assembly. Let me be clear so there is no misunderstanding: if the Question that the Question be put is carried by the Assembly, and it will just need a simple majority to carry it, then we move immediately to a vote on the amendment — if Dr Paisley wishes to move it — and then to a vote on the substantive motion, if the amendment is not carried. I will deal with the matter of the substantive motion when we get to it, but there will be no further debate. Is that understood?
Further to that, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, surely the important wording is "if it is reasonable". You have to decide that. You cannot put the Question to the Assembly unless you think it is reasonable to do so. You have to make that decision; you cannot get away from it, for that is the responsibility of the Chair. If you put the Question, you are saying that it is reasonable that each party has had a fair share, in spite of the fact that you and your Committee announced this morning that we would be having a two-or three-day debate.
I have tried to give the reasons as best I can. There is no reasonable option for me but to take this decision. I do not shy away from difficult decisions.
Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Seamus Close, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sir Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Sir John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamon ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, Duncan Shipley-Dalton, Rt Hon John Taylor, John Tierney, Rt Hon David Trimble, Peter Weir, Jim Wilson.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, is it not the case that the doors are meant to be locked once the vote starts? Dr Paisley and Mr Paisley Jnr came in during the vote, yet I was not allowed to come in during the vote on the last day the House sat because you had ruled accordingly. I would like you to clarify that position.
The position is entirely clear. When I ask for the doors to be made fast by the doorkeepers, I mean precisely that. I cannot immediately rule on the point of order you raise because I shall have to make enquiries. You have my undertaking that I will enquire about the matter.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, there is no reference about locking doors in the Standing Orders, and you far exceed your authority if you say that you can lock doors when there is nothing in the Standing Orders about that. We are going by Standing Orders which we did not draw up — the Secretary of State drew them up — and they do not say that the doors should be locked. I came when the vote was about to take place, and I was told I could not get in.
There were two men at the door saying to a Member that he could not get in. You know very well that in the House of Commons any Member can go in to vote at any time if he is going through the House and through the Lobby doors. Those doors are not locked until the Members are in to vote.
I am quite aware from the tenor of the discourse that this is not the House of Lords.
One of your colleagues asked about the length of time allowed in the House of Commons. Eight minutes is, of course, correct. The time given to reach the Chamber here is very short — it is much longer in other places.
I have drawn this matter to the attention of the Standing Orders Committee because we would be very ill-advised to draw up our own Standing Orders yet keep the time so short that it was difficult for Members to get from all parts of the building.
I have been asked whether I have the authority to order the fastening of doors. I do not say this to extend my own authority, but 2(1) Standing Order states
"The Presiding Officer’s ruling shall be final on all questions of procedure and order."
It is necessary to fasten the doors because we do not have a Division Lobby procedure where Members can go through and out. The exercise should not surprise Members because it was followed at previous sittings.
I have said that I will make enquiries about the matter. I am sorry that Members feel that they have been caught out, but the procedure seems to be an appropriate way to work. If the Standing Orders Committee takes the view that this is not the way that it wishes to conduct matters, I will be glad to hear about that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The Standing Order that you quoted in reply to Dr Paisley refers to your ruling on questions arising from the Standing Orders. You therefore have to make rulings on the basis of these Standing Orders. Which Standing Order suggests that doors can or should be locked at any time? You must rule on the basis of the Standing Orders and nothing else.
That is incorrect. I made it quite clear, and it was never disputed by any Member of the Assembly, that the Initial Standing Orders were inadequate. I further indicated that I would base rulings thereafter on my understanding of the Initial Standing Orders, the draft Standing Orders put forward by the Standing Orders Committee and Erskine May.
There was never any dispute about my being able to use other than the Initial Standing Orders. Indeed, several Members from a number of parties have discussed the matter of how Erskine May might be applied. I am not restricted to these Standing Orders as they are inadequate for this task. If there is a problem about making fast the doors — and I have yet to hear what the problem is — I will be happy to hear about it from Members and to look at the question again. These Standing Orders are not adequate for the running of the Chamber. That is why I have indicated that I will refer to other matters as well. There has been no objection until now.
Why is it right for Members to be locked out when there is no specific rule in the Initial Standing Orders to allow that? Are the alleyways for voting part of this Chamber? Dr Paisley and I were in that Lobby and were entitled to come into the Chamber from there.
I have already given a ruling on the first matter, and have indicated that I am undertaking an enquiry into it. It shall become clear where Members are or are not and whether they might vote or not.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, before I left the building at 5.00 pm I asked your Clerk, Mr Carson, approximately how many Members had yet to speak. I also asked the deputy leader of the DUP, who said that the figure was some 12 to 14 Members. I understand that you had set aside Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday for this debate. I have only now been informed that a Member who has not spoken in the debate may move a motion to the effect that the Question be now put.
I am not clear on the point of order. The Standing Orders make it quite clear that such a procedure is possible. As an experienced parliamentarian, Mr McCartney must know that.
Secondly, I am astonished that some very experienced parliamentarians should be unaware of the political tactic of an ambush. I suspect that they have taken part in such things, and I am astonished that this issue is being raised as a point of order.
I asked you to sit down because I was not clear about the point of order. It is not an occasion for a speech. I will allow your point of order, but I am not clear what it is.
You speak of an ambush. I spoke to Mr Nigel Carson, who said that he could not give me a time at which it would be quite safe to leave the Chamber, but that he would inform me after the procedure had occurred. Mr Carson was clearly aware that something of the nature of a closure motion would arise.
I am still not clear about the point of order. I am clear that it is generally regarded as, at best, discourteous, if not out of order, for questions to be raised about officials or civil servants, who are not in a position to answer for themselves.
I want to finish with the points of order that have been raised in relation to the voting Lobby and whether doors are locked. I have another quite serious, separate point of order.
It would be absurd for the voting Lobby to be considered as anything other than part of the precincts of the House for the purposes of voting. If my two colleagues were in the Lobby, how could anybody conclude that they were not entitled to take part in the vote?
Secondly, if three minutes are to be given before a vote is registered, may we please have a clear ruling, whether we like it or not, on what time the doors will be locked? Is it at the end of the three-minute period and before the register is read, or is it at some point during the three minutes?
I have undertaken to enquire into the point of order that was raised by Mr O’Connor. It seems to me that that legitimately extends to a number of issues, some of which Mr Robinson, the Member for East Belfast, has referred to. Questions such as whether Members are inside the confines of the Chamber when they are in the voting Lobby will have to be determined. However, I remind Members that the Lobbies are not presently in use because there is no option to use them under the Standing Orders. The new draft Standing Orders indicate that that may be a possibility.
There are further questions as to whether, for example, a Member who was in the Gallery would be in the confines of the House. Those are legitimate questions, and, as I have agreed to explore that matter, it will have to be looked at as well.
There seems to be an extraordinary eagerness to make points of order. [Interruption] I have not completed what I have to say, and until I sit down it is clearly out of order for other Members to stand.
On the further question asked by the Member, I cannot give him a ruling on the first matter, but I have given a fairly clear ruling on the other matters. Regarding the timing for making fast the doors, the clock will have shown that, three minutes from the time when the matter was raised, I called for the doors to be made fast. We then proceeded to take a vote. I trust that is clear.
Mr Presiding Officer, is it in your remit to call for an adjournment of this matter? As a member of the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer, I wonder if it is worthwhile continuing to have such a Committee. We spent many hours with all the parties agreeing a procedure and conditions for debate, only for it to be overturned today.
Also, would you allow Mr McCartney the opportunity of withdrawing his comment about the Clerk to the Assembly, whose integrity he has impugned?
It is helpful for you to suggest that I give Mr McCartney a chance to speak, but I suspect that he can probably speak for himself on these matters.
With regard to the other questions you raised about the discussions of the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer, you will be aware that it is not always possible to reach full agreement — for instance, even the recognition of parties is not something that comes with unanimous agreement, but one has to do one’s best.
Before I take the next point of order from the DUP, I would remind Members that we have an Adjournment debate scheduled with six Members who are prepared to speak. It would be most inappropriate to call them back tomorrow should it be clear that we are going to move on to further votes. I propose at this stage, unless the points of order last for an extraordinary length of time, to complete the business this evening.
Further to the points of order raised by Mr C Wilson and Mr McCartney, while I do not want to cast any aspersions on the Clerk, at some stage this afternoon, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you must have been aware that there had been a change to the Order Paper. When was that change made, and when were you aware that there was going to be a vote? When did you convey that information to the Chief Whip of my party and those of the other parties?
On a point of order. Initial Standing Orders 11(1) says
"after a motion has been proposed and provided that each of the parties present has had a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the debate".
Can you tell us how you came to the conclusion that there has been "a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the debate" for all the parties? Some parties have had over 50% of their Members speak while other significant parties, like my own, the third largest party, has had less than 40% of its Members speak. How can that be considered a reasonable way in which to proceed with the business of this House?
Given that I have to adhere to the Order Paper, I try to keep the best balance that I can. When the Question is put that the Question be now put, I have to look at the number of Members who have spoken. I attempt, as time goes on, to ensure a reasonable balance, and I can tell the Assembly this: we have been in debate for around five hours, over 30 Members have now spoken, and all parties in the Assembly have had the opportunity to put forward their view. I am well aware of the strong feelings that are engendered when one party, or more than one party, is, in parliamentary terms, ambushed.
This is how I reached my judgement, but I do not suppose that it will satisfy everyone.
Further to that point of order and to the ruling that you have given, Mr Presiding Officer, I would like you to amplify it so that we know exactly what is happening. I have been a Member of the House of Commons for 30 years, and I have heard Members attacking the Clerks of the House about whether notices have been put in at the correct time. I want to know whether our Clerks are going to be under the same regulations as the Clerks in the Mother of Parliaments, or are we not allowed to mention their names? In the Commons the Clerks are servants of the House, and any Member can raise publicly matters that are relevant to them.
I believe that your ruling comes from the custom in the House of Commons that Members do not attack civil servants since they merely do the work of their masters who are essentially those in Government. That, however, does not extend to the Clerks of the House. They are the servants of the House, and when their work does not please a Member, that Member has the right to raise the matter publicly and criticise what they have done.
Mr McCartney made a statement about the Deputy Clerk, and he is responsible for that statement. But the general issue is a very serious one. Is this House to have Clerks who can do as they like without fear of public criticism from Members?
The Member is well aware that that is not what I am saying. I am not suggesting that anyone in this House is beyond reproach. What I am saying is that there are appropriate ways of doing these things. You must understand that I feel a responsibility, not only to the Assembly, its Chamber, proceedings and Standing Orders, but to the staff as well.
All sorts of questions may be raised, especially in the later part of the day when points of order are raised in this way. But when something is bounced in respect of the Deputy Clerk, I am sure you will understand that I am fearful of officials being dragged into what is essentially a political dispute among the parties. Even in other places, there exists a general feeling that for officials, including the Speaker, to be dragged into party political debates is improper.
I have a point of order which relates to the statement that you have just made. I accept that you have to make a ruling and that, unless there is an exceptional circumstance, such as I believe occurred here, no criticism should be made of an official.
It was open to you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, to issue a warning that if there came a point at which you were happy that all sides had had sufficient opportunity to argue their case, and you were asked by a Member who had not previously spoken to put the Question, the Question could be put.
However, by way of indirect apology, if that is what is required, I would have to say that I approached the Clerk and told him that I had a pressing engagement which might take me away from the House for an hour. I asked for some indication of the likelihood of a vote. I treated the official with proper respect. He is a servant of the Assembly, and I, as a Member, am entitled to ask him for advice on matters which are within his area of responsibility.
The point that I am making is that the Clerk told me that, despite the fact that there were 12 or 14 Members still listed to speak in the debate, it might not be opportune to leave the House even for such a short period, and that he would advise me further as to the reasons for this. All of this would appear to suggest that the Clerk was aware that, despite the fact that there were 14 Members still waiting to speak, some kind of guillotine was about to be imposed. In those circumstances, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you have a duty to inform Members that this kind of thing is about to happen and that Members would be well advised to stay in the House.
With regard to the Member’s dealings with the Deputy Clerk, I do not know precisely what was said, but I will look into the matter.
With regard to the Member’s other point which appears to suggest that the Presiding Officer should constantly be reminding Members about the detail of Standing Orders, I have to say that this is not the responsibility of the Presiding Officer. I have done my best to give guidance to the Assembly as to the meaning of particular votes, and so on. I intend to do that when we come to the next item concerning whether or not Rev Dr Ian Paisley will move his amendment. I do this in order to ensure that the Assembly is not uncertain, at any given point, about the precise matter on which Members are voting. But I think you are asking rather a lot of me in respect of your other request.
I raise this point of order with considerable caution. I am not accusing the Clerk of anything — he works under your direction — but some Members feel that the Chair was aware of the intention on the part of the proposer of the motion to close the debate. As Initial Presiding Officer, you determined that there would be a two-day debate, with a third day if a vote was required. When you did that, you did it in the full knowledge of the number of speeches that could be made in the course of two days’ debate. It cannot, therefore, be said that the number of speakers who have taken part in the debate today was reasonable when it had previously been judged that there should be two days of debate on the matter. I ask this because it is not covered by any specific Standing Order, but you will accept the suggestion that it should be covered by Standing Orders.
Some of us feel that, if any circumstances merit a motion of no confidence in the Initial Presiding Officer, these do. I want a ruling from you as to how such a motion might be put forward.
You will recall that when the question of the number of days was raised, the matter of the time to be allowed for each speaker had not been resolved. You shake your head, but that is a fact. Matters did not turn out in the way that a number of Members felt was appropriate. The question is not whether I want the debate to last two days; it is what does the Assembly want. Does the questioner have the right to put forward the question? Does he have the right to seek the views of the Assembly? Those are the questions I must answer.
I made the judgement that the Assembly had the right to govern itself in this matter. I may have been wrong, but 75 Members seem to have believed that that was correct, although 24 Members wished to take things further.
If I ask for the views of the Assembly and the Assembly votes 75 to 24, then it seems to me that that is the appropriate action to take. I understand the unhappiness of some Members.
With regard to the final part of your question, my understanding is that the procedure for putting down a vote of no confidence in the Presiding Officer is to put it down as a motion, and I think that is the sort of motion that would need to be considered at the next Assembly meeting. I am making that ruling without there being a relevant Standing Order; it seems to me that it is a matter of such gravity that it could not be dealt with in any other way. It would not be possible for a Presiding Officer to continue if there were a feeling that he had acted in bad faith.
As to what the Presiding Officer knows or does not know, surmises or does not surmise, if it is seriously thought that someone can do this job and serve all the differing enterprises and initiatives in this Assembly without being prepared to keep matters to himself — or herself, in the case of a Madam Speaker — then there is not much understanding of what needs to be done. I try to ensure that Members who approach me are as well informed as possible, and some Members, both individually and as parties, take full advantage of that between sittings. If there is not sufficient confidence in me, it would be quite right to put down such a motion and to find an alternative who would enjoy that confidence. If the Member wishes to discuss the matter with me afterwards, I shall ensure that I am available.
The point that Mr Robinson has already made is that everyone in this Assembly was aware that this debate was scheduled to last two days. At some time today, Mr Presiding Officer, you became aware that it might be terminated well short of that. As Presiding Officer, you have to make a judgement that is fair to everyone, but you must have been aware that many Members were making inquiries so as to ensure that they would be present for any vote.
It appears that you must have known that a motion of this kind might be made. Consequently, in justice to all Members and to ensure that there was no misapprehension or unfairness or use of some procedural technique to secure unfair advantage, it was your duty not to babysit Members but to alert them to something that they would not otherwise have been aware of.
The Member, of all the Members here, must know that over the last number of weeks I have been made aware of all sorts of possible developments and changes, and I have treated them in a professional way. I have not broken confidence of any kind. I have done that all through the time here, and for whatever short period I continue, I will continue to do that. However, I fear that what is happening is that Members are mistaking their political disgruntlement for something else completely.
We have taken an extensive number of points of order. We are in danger of breaching the Standing Orders, which indicate that this matter is not a matter for debate. While many of these may indeed be legitimate and understandable points of order, it is beginning to become a debate on the issue. That takes us well outside Standing Orders. I was going to say that I do not think there is any Member asking to give a point of order who has not already given one, but I see Mr Sammy Wilson rising to his feet.
This is extending well beyond the question about points of order. I am prepared to take only two further points of order. The two Members who got to their feet at the same time as myself are both out of order. I will, nevertheless, take them as points of order. First of all, Mr Wilson.
With respect, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, first of all, I do not think you can anticipate what I was going to say. You may have anticipated, because you had prior knowledge, what was going to happen at the end of the proceedings today, but you certainly cannot anticipate the point of order which I was going to make, whether it was a new point of order or a follow-on from some of the other ones.
In light of your ruling today and the consequences of that, I would like some guidance from you on the Initial Standing Orders. Under Item 6, the Business of the Assembly, it states that you, the Presiding Officer, will, subject to the provisions of paragraph 5, publish the business for each day.
Furthermore, under 6(3) you should prepare at least twice weekly when the Assembly is sitting and at least fortnightly when in recess a paper listing notices of future business received. I would like some guidance as to whether or not such a document is for the guidance of people like myself and other Members as to when we will be required to attend and when a vote is likely to be taken. That is my understanding of the notice which I am given.
If that is not the case — [Interruption] It is a point of order.
I understood that the business which we started today would be carried on tomorrow with a vote being taken either tomorrow or on Wednesday. Other Members, who are not here, worked on that basis. In the light of your decision, may I ask whether the papers we get from you represent an aspiration, a fact or a fairy tale which can be altered on a whim? We have heard frequent references — I have counted three — from Members of the Ulster Unionist Party who talk about the fact that they and the SDLP are working this Assembly.
It is clear that a considerable number of Members are completely oblivious to normal parliamentary practice.
First of all, the paper which comes out twice per week giving forthcoming business is not an Order Paper.
The second paper the Member referred to is not designed to let people know when votes may or may not be taken; it merely gives guidance on what is coming up.
The paper that the Member is looking for should be coming from the party Whip. It will tell him the times, the likely votes, the members of his party who should be speaking and leading in debates, and when there will be a one-, two- or three-line Whip and will alert him to situations where either his party or another one may try to ambush. That is the business of a Whip; that is his responsibility. Even though it is not my responsibility, I have tried to advise the party Whips on these matters, and some of them are trying valiantly to ensure that they attend to everybody’s needs. However, the matters the Member refers to are not relevant to the Business Office.
Having been ambushed and guillotined again, I am asking for a ruling on the putting of the Question. My freedom of speech has been affected. I had been told that I was to speak and was on my feet when I was interrupted. Was the putting of the Question ultra vires?
How is the vote going to take place? Since it is after six o’clock the motion would have to be regarded as having lapsed. Will the House not have to make another decision as to whether it will carry on its business?
The House does not have to take another decision. In the past the House has continued past the appointed hour, and I said earlier that we would be doing so unless the House voted otherwise. I sought the view of the House, and it was quite clear. I will return to one other issue which Mr Robinson raised.
Yes, but I wish to ask you one question. You have already said that this House has to decide whether it is going to carry on after 6.00 pm. Why do you not put that question to us?
I am sorry but you are out of order. I have to inform the House that if the amendment is carried it will supersede the substantive motion and no further vote will be necessary.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs Jnr, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, Dr Esmond Birnie, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Seamus Close, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sir Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michele Gildernew, Sir John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Dr Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Prof Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamon ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, The Rt Hon John Taylor, John Tierney, Rt Hon David Trimble, Jim Wilson.
Question accordingly negatived.
It is clear that the doorkeepers’ job is being made very difficult. Let the Keeper of the House note that the doorkeepers have been asked to make fast the doors. It appears that their work is being obstructed. I would appreciate it if the Keeper of the House would free up the doors for them.
Main Question put.
Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Pauline Armitage, Billy Armstrong, Alex Attwood, Roy Beggs Jnr, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, Esmond Birnie, Patrick Bradley, Joe Byrne, Joan Carson, Seamus Close, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, John Dallat, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Bairbre de Brún, Arthur Doherty, Pat Doherty, Mark Durkan, Sir Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Sir John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Dr Joe Hendron, Derek Hussey, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, David McClarty, Donovan McClelland, Dr Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Eddie McGrady, Martin McGuinness, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Prof Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamon ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, Rt Hon John Taylor, John Tierney, Rt Hon David Trimble, Jim Wilson.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Main Question accordingly agreed to.
This Assembly approves the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate).
That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]
On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. Earlier today your office circulated details about a meeting of the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer. As a protest against your actions, I am informing you that the DUP does not intend to be present at a Committee which agrees on the number of sitting days only to go back on it so quickly.
Thank you for raising that matter, as I should have raised it myself. It has been expressed to me that, at this late hour, it would be best to leave the meeting of the Committee to Advise the Presiding Officer at the call of the Chair since there are no pressing issues.
There were eight applications for the Adjournment debate. Two were ineligible and six were successful.
Will those Members leaving the Chamber do so quietly.