The motion in the name of Mr Neeson also addresses this matter. Should the Assembly express its wish that Mr Mallon withdraw his offer of resignation, in accordance with the terms of Mr Neeson’s motion, the revised Standing Order would permit that, and it would be by majority vote unless anything else supervened. Some Members have only just had an opportunity to read this, but I trust that everyone is familiar with the terms set down.
When we received the notice of today’s sitting it was a surprise to many Members to see the motion from Mr Neeson. It was quite clear at the last sitting that Mr Mallon did resign. The Secretary of State even mentioned it in the House of Commons and expressed the hope that another position would be available for him some day.
I understand that all the facilities that accompany ministerial office — the things in which the press seem to most interested — were stripped from him. I have not made enquiry as to whether he lost his salary for that period, but I am sure that it too was stripped from him. However, on the Order Paper there is a motion which seems to ignore these facts. I remind Mr Neeson that in his speech at that time he referred to the resignation. It is quite clear that Mr Mallon did resign. It was reckoned to be a resignation by everyone in this House and in the Westminster Parliament.
I now come to the amazing collusion involving this motion and the Secretary of State. A few minutes before this sitting commenced, the Secretary of State presented Members with an ultimatum. He can, of course, do that because he is able to change the Standing Orders. I am sure that he was tempted to prevent all those Members who oppose him from even entering this Building but thought that that would be too severe.
By a dictatorial act he is seeking to give credence to this motion and to take away the right of the Assembly to have the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister elected together on the basis of the parallel consent that is written into the Act, under which a majority of those registered as Unionists must agree.
Under this motion, those registered as Unionists will not be given the right to approve the reappointment of Mr Mallon on the terms on which he was first appointed. People talk about standing democracy on its head. This is democracy being stood on its head.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, I would like you to rule whether this motion is competent. Should its wording not be to the effect that the House accepts the Standing Orders and wishes them to be put into operation on this issue?
Further to that point of order. The motion on the Order Paper refers to Mr Mallon’s "offer of resignation" and therefore requires some definition of when a resignation is a resignation. Mr Mallon told the House that his resignation would take immediate effect. I think that Mr Mallon would be the first to accept that with his resignation he accepted the loss of his emoluments. Seamus Mallon would not have continued to accept the emoluments of an office which he had vacated.
Dr Paisley is correct. In the House of Commons the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr Mowlam, acknowledged the resignation with regret. There has been some suggestion that if the resignation was not in writing, and was not accepted in writing, it was not valid. Such a submission is without any legal validity. If the Standing Orders are silent on the manner in which a resignation must be offered or accepted, there is absolutely no requirement for the offer or the acceptance to be in writing.
I fear that we are back to Humpty-Dumpty. When Alice commented on the meaning of a word, he replied
"It means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. The question is which is to be master — that’s all."
Are the Members in the Assembly to perform like Humpty-Dumpty, or are we to accept that a resignation — openly made before the Assembly and accepted by the Secretary of State in the House of Commons — is not a resignation? If that is the basis on which the proceedings of the Assembly are to continue, there is a grave question over the propriety of our procedures.
It is not good enough that the Secretary of State, just minutes before the Assembly sits to discuss this matter, provides to some Members a Standing Order overturning one of the fundamental requirements on which this whole process has been built — the requirement for consensus. It specifically outlines that — different from all the other decisions made in the Assembly — the decision as to the choice of the First and Deputy First Ministers requires a majority of those designated as "Unionist" and a majority of those designated as "Nationalist". For the Secretary of State to abolish with the stroke of a pen the fundamental and central principle of consensus for purposes of political expediency is a disgrace to this House.
Let me respond to the points of order. First of all, it is clear that the Secretary of State has authority to determine Standing Orders. Whether or not Mr Mallon offered and, in fact, gave an effective resignation is more difficult to determine. I have no doubt that Mr Mallon, when he made his statement and tendered his resignation with immediate effect, believed that he was offering his resignation and that it was effective. It is quite clear from my response to Mr Mallon’s resignation that I too believed that to be the case. It seemed to me a matter of common sense. However, the validity of Mr Mallon’s resignation is a matter of law and not of common sense.
I did not have an opportunity to seek legal advice prior to Mr Mallon’s statement, but I did seek advice after the sitting. During the sitting I was asked various questions, notably by Mr Robinson. The Member asked if the resignation had to be given in writing and, if so, whether I had a copy of it. I said that there was no Standing Order requiring a written resignation. The resignation would be recorded in Hansard — and only there.
Mr Robinson asked what were the Standing Orders dealing with a resignation. I did not answer the question as I knew that while there were such Standing Orders, they applied only in a post-devolution situation. Having sought legal advice, I was told that one could not be sure that the offer of resignation, though made in good faith, was effective as there was not a Standing Order addressing the matter.
Subsequent legal advice took different turns. Some advocates agreed with the initial advice, while others stated that the resignation was full and complete as it was given in good faith and was recognised by others. In these circumstances, it seems to me, there were only two or three possible courses of action. I could have sought a judicial review on my own behalf to clarify the matter. I readily admit that the circumstances were unusual, but it would have been most unusual to seek a judicial review not on something that had been done but on questions that were incompletely answered. Others, of course, could have sought a judicial review in regard to the matter, but that was not something for me.
When I was presented with a motion, the question was whether it was competent, in particular when it appeared on the Order Paper, as distinct from subsequently, the new Standing Order having been put in place. The advice that I received was that by determining that it was not competent I would have been taking a particular legal view in terms of the actions that had been taken. I would, in that sense, have been acting as though I were a court, and that would not be appropriate. Therefore I had no option but to accept as competent the motion that was given, have it put on the Order Paper and see how things turned out.
You now have a Standing Order that makes the motion not only competent but relevant. That is clearly so. Whether the position is satisfactory from a legal point of view is not a matter for me. This is not a court, and whether others seek confirmation is up to them.
That is the clearest and fullest answer I can give.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Have you sought legal advice on this issue? When the resignation took place on 15 July the rules were clear. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) had been elected by a certain mechanism. He resigned with immediate effect. The resignation was confirmed at Westminster, every newspaper in the country covered it, people in their tens of thousands watched it on television, and Mr Mallon came on afterwards to explain his reason for resigning. It was complete and final. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind.
This is an ex post facto change in the rules. How can it apply to a past situation? I could well understand it if the Secretary of State did not like the rules under which the Assembly had been set up and wanted to change them. I would be unhappy about that, but a retrospective change is worse. If Mr Mallon had resigned with the new Initial Standing Orders in place the procedure would have been straightforward, but that is not the case.
It is a well-established principle that any office which includes the provision of personal services, as the Office of First Minister does, is not subject in the courts to a mandatory injunction that it perform them. That is the rule for the simplest of reasons: the law and the courts implementing it do nothing in vain, and it is impossible to compel any office or contract that involves personal services. Even the Queen may abdicate. No principle that I am aware of could possibly validate the retrospective withdrawal of a resignation legitimately given and accepted at the time by the Members of this Assembly, who were all present, and by the then Secretary of State.
There is deep suspicion — confirmed by what Mr Robinson has said — that there are no rules in the Assembly by which we will abide. There are only the rules governed by the will of the Secretary of State. Everyone knows that if there were a rerun of the process it would be impossible for the First Minister (Designate) to be elected — and he and his Deputy must stand together to get a majority. This is an example — the most obvious and profane example — of executive power undercutting democratic procedure and principle, and it should be refused.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, there is another matter on which I would like you to rule. Is it right to demand of this Assembly, by motion, something that is not accurate? There was more than an offer of resignation; there was acceptance. Everyone knows that it was accepted — right up to the highest court in the land, the Westminster Parliament. The new Standing Order is inaccurate in that it ignores the fact that the resignation was accepted. The words "has offered" do not deal with the fact that it was accepted and acted upon, with every "i" dotted and every "t" crossed.
I understand that Mr Mallon had to get somebody to take him home because his official car had been taken from him immediately. Surely, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, we should not be asked, by you or anyone else, to debate a motion the terms of which are not factually correct.
I do not want to go over the same ground again and again, but I shall do my best to clarify matters, even if my clarification is not appealing or acceptable.
There is no doubt that the Secretary of State has the right to determine Standing Orders as he chooses, even if people disagree with or despise them. I cannot gainsay that right; it is my responsibility to implement the rules as set down.
If the Assembly were to adopt a resolution mandating me to express a particular view on its behalf I would be quite content to do so. However, I could not put forth a view simply because it was the view of a number of Assembly Members. The Secretary of State has a right to do these things, and there is no point in our going round the houses with regard to them.
I have expressed the belief that Mr Mallon was clear in his own mind that he was tendering his resignation with immediate effect, and subsequent events may have tended to confirm that for him. My immediate response, which I described as being made on the hoof, was based on common sense rather than on the law.
Legal views that were expressed subsequently and others that we have just heard make it clear that common sense and the law are not necessarily the same. Doctors differ and lawyers differ, but the consequences are not the same. It is clear, therefore, that I must take the best advice. Of course, a court might judge that it was not the best advice. It would be exceptional to prejudge this by going to court, and after consideration I decided not to do so, though others may take that course.
Mr Robinson asked if there were Standing Orders dealing with the matter of resignation. The immediate answer, had I been able to respond at the time, would have been no. However, I studied the matter to make sure that I was right. Had there been such Standing Orders at the time, and had the Secretary of State changed them, there would be more substance in the Member’s point. In the absence of such provision, the Secretary of State has put in place Standing Orders which address the matter.
This is not an ex post facto matter; it is a question of closing a gaping hole. It must have seemed so to Mr Robinson, given the speed with which he pointed out that there were no relevant Standing Orders. It is clear that there will be differences of opinion. Following the last sitting, it is apparent to me that there are differing legal views on the issue and that there is no way to resolve the differences. I had to make a decision, and I have given my ruling as clearly as I can. I do not want to stop people responding, but neither do I want to go over the same ground again and again. Of course, Members will have an opportunity to express their views on the motion. I propose that if we get to that stage the normal procedure be followed. That would give Members a couple of hours to have their say.
It is very difficult for me to keep ruling on the same points of order — and not profitable.
Further to that point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. The response you have given is informative but tangential. No one questions the right of the Secretary of State to make a Standing Order, but the Standing Order which he has made refers, as Dr Paisley has pointed out, to an offer of resignation. So if you are going to apply this Standing Order, it must be applied not to a de facto and fully effective resignation but to an offer of resignation. The issue is not the power of the Secretary of State; it is whether, in the terms of the Standing Order so lately delivered, the resignation of Mr Mallon, complete in every way, can be treated as an offer of resignation.
A sovereign power — and this includes the delegated powers of the Secretary of State under statute — can do many things, but we come back to a question that was put to Sir Thomas More when he was asked to subscribe to the Act of Supremacy. Referring to the absolute sovereignty of Parliament, he said to the then Attorney-General
"Tell me, Master Rich, can Parliament make of man a woman?"
I pose this question: can the Secretary of State turn a resignation into an offer of resignation?
I am advised that the offer, which was made with full integrity and in the expectation that it would be effective, may not have been more than an offer, although it may have been deemed to be otherwise.
We must proceed to the motion standing in the name of Mr Neeson.
We should not move to the motion quite so quickly. By concentrating on whether or not a man can be turned into a woman, we are losing sight of one or two things. Mr Mallon resigned when he gave his resignation to the House. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
Only one of us at a time may stand.
Let us not keep going over this question of the offer of resignation. Hansard clearly shows what was said:
"accordingly, I offer my resignation now, with immediate effect."
I can only judge what is most appropriate, based on the advice that I am given. If Members or others feel that they have a proper case to take and wish to seek guidance elsewhere, it would be entirely proper for them to do so. However, we should not go round and round on the same issue.
You wanted to address a further matter, Mr Roche.
I had not finished my point of order. Neither the Standing Order — and all that has been said about the Standing Order is perfectly correct — nor the motion applies to the circumstances of Mr Mallon’s resignation. That is my point.
You said that you were prepared to accept the motion standing in the name of Mr Neeson, even though you were not able to say whether it was competent. Is that not an amazing statement? Surely it is necessary for you, as Presiding Officer, to ensure that any motion on the Order Paper is competent at the time of tabling, rather than hope that it will become competent.
I recommend that you read in Hansard tomorrow what I said. I did not say that I was unable to judge whether the motion was competent; I said that it was not possible for me to rule that it was not competent. If something is clearly not competent it will not be allowed through. If I had ruled that this motion was not competent I would have been making an alternative legal determination which I did not believe I was entitled to make. In that context, it is appropriate to allow it to go forward as competent until proven otherwise. In another situation it might be clearly incompetent, and in that case it would be ruled out.
Mr Mallon and his party colleagues have pontificated numerous times about how cross-community support is important to the validation of this process. Mr Mallon is listening to our debate now, and he knows whether he offered to resign or resigned that day. Given our concerns and the need for cross-community support, is he prepared to ignore the democratic process and cheat the people of Ulster by taking up a position by the back door, or does he agree that in political life honour and integrity are more important than personal position?
First, that is not a point of order. Secondly, it is not a question of what Mr Mallon’s belief was at the time or of his integrity with regard to the matter; it is a question of law — a disputed question of law, but a question of law nonetheless. If someone believes a decision to be wrong, there is an appropriate context in which to challenge it.
That is not a point of order. It is quite legitimate to make points in the context of the debate, but I must insist that points of order be genuine and that they should not relate to matters that I have already addressed.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you have stated that you have received conflicting legal advice from two quarters. It seems to me that there is no pressing requirement for you to prefer what has come from one of them if you are left in limbo. And it is equally wrong for you to take the view that it is for individual Members, or any group of Members, to seek a court decision on this issue. It is for the House, through you, to seek that decision.
It would be quite wrong to allow this to proceed on the basis that there may be a subsequent court action or construction summons rendering, or possibly rendering, nugatory all that takes place here. Surely prevention is better than cure. The proper course is to take legal advice — not judicial advice — as to whether or not this is in order and to act upon it. It is wrong to throw upon the Members of the Assembly, or any group of them, the responsibility to do what your Office ought to do.
First of all, I did not seek a whole array of legal advice. I sought my own legal advice, but other legal views were drawn to my attention. That is where the uncertainty arose. It was not other advice that I sought. I am not putting it onto individual Members. If the Assembly as a whole were to request me to seek advice, of course I would do so. I asked for advice for myself, and, having received it, I am making the best judgements I can. It is clear that other legal minds have been at work and have come up with a range of views as to precisely what has been going on here. I have to make my own judgement and move ahead as best I can.
That would not be competent as I have already taken legal advice. It seems to me that what was being looked for was a court decision.
I shall put the matter to the House. Do Members give leave for such a motion?
That is not a point of order. I have already ruled that it is not a question of what Mr Mallon believed himself to be doing — that is clear. It is a question of law and of making a judgement under Standing Orders.
May I draw attention to annex C of the Code of Conduct and to part A of the Initial Standing Orders, which state that all Ministers, including the Deputy First Minister (Designate), must observe the highest standards of propriety, regularity and integrity. If the action that the Secretary of State has proposed is agreed, how will that meet these criteria and the code of conduct requirement for the highest standard of integrity? What does Mr Mallon fear? [Interruption]
Order. When raising points regarding the integrity of others, Members need to be very careful. Those who operate in other places will know just how careful. Lest there be any doubt, I repeat that this is not about the integrity of Mr Mallon. It is clear that he believed that he was fully and completely resigning. The question is whether the law in that regard was complete. It is clear from the questions that have been raised that the Standing Orders were not adequate to deal with the matter.
We now need to discuss whether the Assembly wishes to operate on the basis of the new Standing Order and request a different outcome, and that means that we must proceed to the motion standing the name of Mr Neeson.
I beg to move the following motion:
We have talked about the democratic process. A major purpose in my introducing this motion is to ensure that the will of the people is carried out in accordance with the result of the referendum in Northern Ireland last year. I want to see the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
This is the first sitting of the Assembly since 15 July, when Seamus Mallon stated
"I wish to inform the Assembly that, accordingly, I offer my resignation now".
Many of us shared his frustration about the lack of progress in implementing the Good Friday Agreement and the failure to elect the Executive. Since then a great deal has happened, including the welcome success of Senator Mitchell’s review.
We have the greatest opportunity now to establish an inclusive, power-sharing Executive and thereby fulfil the responsibility with which we were charged by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland when they voted in the referendum.
This sitting is the first real opportunity to consider Mr Mallon’s offer of resignation. Support for the motion will allow us to move forward and create the Executive. It will also lead to the setting up of the necessary scrutiny Committees, thus giving Northern Ireland accountable democracy, ending the democratic deficit that the people have endured for 25 years.
I organised an all-party meeting this morning to discuss with the Economy Minister, John McFall, the matter of extending the natural-gas pipeline to other areas of Northern Ireland.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. The Member referred in the last debate in the House to "the former Deputy First Minister". He kept saying "the former". Is it in order for him now to try to tell the House that Mr Mallon is not the former Deputy First Minister but was just offering his resignation?
From the Democratic Unionist Party’s conference last weekend one can only conclude that they have not learned a lot.
Mr John McFall has been a very good Northern Ireland Office Minister, but from Thursday morning a Member of this Assembly will have that responsibility, and it would be appropriate to thank all the Westminster Ministers for their time and effort during the long years of direct rule.
It is implicit in Senator Mitchell’s review that the process of decommissioning illegal paramilitary arms will begin, and the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland take the view that this must involve all paramilitary groups. That is why a vote for the motion is so important. A positive vote would lead to the establishment of the North/South bodies as outlined in Mr Trimble’s and Mr Mallon’s report of 15 February. I also hope that an early start will be made to the appointment of the Civic Forum. And the establishment of the Executive will herald the end of the Anglo-Irish secretariat, set up under the aegis of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We will also see changes in articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, which laid claim to Northern Ireland.
On the radio this morning I heard the sincere pleas of a representative of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. He urged the Assembly to move forward so that local representatives would be dealing with the current dire situation.
The way ahead will not be easy, but if politicians really want to see progress they must grasp the opportunity that is before us today.
On 15 July I stated that there were no victors — only losers — as a result of what had happened that day. I firmly believe that there will be many winners today, and they will be the people of Northern Ireland — young and old, and from every community.
I do not intend to say very much, for I am sure that the press and the visitors here today have come for business that is further down the Order Paper, and we all want to get to that as quickly as possible. We certainly do not want to see a repetition of the interminable points of order that were intended to delay the proceedings.
On behalf of the Ulster Unionist Party I am very happy to support Mr Neeson’s motion. We very much want to see the team reconstituted and Mr Mallon back in office, as handling business over the last few months has been most inconvenient. In the light of developments over recent weeks and months I am sure that Mr Mallon will be glad, in the changed circumstances, to come back. I am tempted to go back over some of the points of order, particularly some very poorly argued legal points that were not, in my view, accurate, but I shall not do so.
On 15 July I asked for the leave of the Assembly to make a personal statement about my position as Deputy First Minister (Designate). I said
"The key element of the pledge of office taken by the First Minister and myself was our commitment to work in good faith to bring into being the arrangements set out in the Good Friday Agreement."
I informed the Assembly that I was offering my resignation as Deputy First Minister (Designate) in the belief that this was the only way to ensure
"that a meaningful review of all aspects of the agreement will be carried out and that, subsequent to that, a fully inclusive Executive can be created".
Those were my words of 15 July to the Assembly. Since then, quite obviously, I have not acted at Deputy First Minister (Designate). As a result of the events of 15 July — inside and outside the Chamber — and for many other reasons, Senator Mitchell was asked to carry out a review of the agreement. My colleagues and I in the SDLP participated fully in that review without office or benefit of title, as I said we would. The review was meaningful and successful.
What was sought on 15 July, so far as I was concerned, was achieved. All pro-agreement parties have fully endorsed the way through the impasse over decommissioning and the formation of the institutions, as proposed by Senator Mitchell. We expect all parties to honour those commitments in relation to both the institutions and decommissioning. For me, the implementation of the agreement was then, and is now, the only motivation. It is, for me, the enduring imperative.
This motion is not about me, either as a politician or as a person. It is not about any individual. It is about the agreement, and it is my conviction that I will do, and have done, everything in my power to ensure that the agreement will work, with all its requirements met and institutions set up. I repeat: this is not about me personally but about the workings of the agreement. Today we are called upon, as the collective body of the political process in Northern Ireland, to put in place the institutions — called upon by the agreement and the Pledge of Office that Ministers will take subsequently; called upon by our agreement to the Mitchell review; and called upon in the referendum by the people of Ireland, North and South.
Putting the institutions in place requires resolving the issue of the joint offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers. I repeat: the issue is not about personalities, who they may be, or which political party might serve in those offices, but about the requirement to put the institutions in place. Without that, there is no way forward. D’Hondt will not be operative, and devolution cannot occur. In July last year the Assembly bestowed on the First Minister, David Trimble, and me the honour — I regarded it as an honour then, and I still do — of appointment to the positions of First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate).
On 15 July 1999 I offered my position as Deputy First Minister (Designate) — not to a Secretary of State, not on a piece of paper, not to the media, but on the Floor of this Assembly, to this Assembly, because it was this Assembly that appointed me to that office. Whatever views one might have about my motivation and about what the impact might have been, I came to the Assembly, to the people who had elected me as Deputy First Minister (Designate), and offered my resignation to them. With regard to the Secretary of State’s Standing Order and this motion, these people, the Members of the Assembly, will decide their response. It will be the response not of Seamus Mallon or of any individual but of the Assembly.
Before the Assembly makes that response I want to make my position clear. The imperative for me is the implementation of the agreement. I have made it clear to the First Minister (Designate) and to the Secretary of State that the working of the institutions requires a sufficient level of support. It is now for the Assembly to decide and indicate that level of support.
May I remind Members (as if it had not been ingrained in us) that we have had 601 days of negotiation since the Good Friday Agreement was made — 601 days of almost continuous negotiation. For that period we have had this lacuna, this gap in the political process. Now we have an opportunity to create the inclusive Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council, the British/Irish Council, the Civic Forum — all those institutions. Can anybody rationally suggest that I, who offered my resignation to the Assembly as the only way I saw at that time to protect this agreement, would stand in the way of the creation of those institutions?
At a personal level, and as a member of a party that has struggled for 30 years to bring about power-sharing and a meaningful all-Ireland institution, I regard this as a landmark day. I feel, and my party feels, a special responsibility for the success of these institutions. We are determined to work with all our Colleagues — and I mean all our Colleagues — in the Assembly for all our people. Today the hard work of creating that new future can begin. But it is not in my hands; it is a decision of the Assembly, and, as a democrat, I think that that is only right. I await the decision of the Assembly.
Mr Mallon reminds us of 601 days during which we have not had one detonator; 601 days, and not one ounce of Semtex; 601 days, and not one bullet; 601 days, and not one gun. That is how valuable the negotiations have been.
I am glad, however, that he said that this is not a personal issue. I am glad because I would have had more enthusiasm if it had been about someone central to the issue for whom I had less respect. But it is a key and vital issue, as he himself says. The first matter that the Assembly needs to look at is whether the motion can trigger the Standing Order. It was clearly designed to have that effect. However, you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, in particular will have to satisfy yourself that it does.
It has already been said that the motion indicates that there was an offer of resignation. If it was only an offer of resignation, even though the Standing Order asks us to allow it to have prior effect, clearly you may so rule. However, if you judge that it was not simply an offer of resignation but a full and complete resignation, the Standing Order does not have effect and cannot be used in this context.
The first step that the Assembly has to take is to determine whether there was an offer of resignation or an actual resignation. The best way of deciding that is to look at Mr Mallon’s words. In parliamentary terms I cannot call anyone a liar, and I would not do so. However, I wonder whether it is parliamentary to indicate that someone has told a half-truth. Mr Neeson was careful to read only part of the sentence that Mr Mallon used. I will read all of it. Mr Mallon said — and this is the sentence which was quoted by Mr Neeson —
"It is now necessary that I resign as Deputy First Minister. I wish to inform the Assembly that, accordingly, I offer my resignation ..."
(so far as Mr Neeson is concerned, there is a full stop here, but in fact there is not)
"with immediate effect."
Then he said — and this is vital —
"It was this Assembly that elected me to that position, and it is essential that I announce my resignation"
(not "my offer of resignation" but "my resignation" )
"to the Assembly."
She said not that he has offered his resignation but that he had resigned. It is very clear that at the moment of this resignation the writers of Initial Standing Orders and the Secretary of State were satisfied that it was a resignation. The Secretary of State was so satisfied that it was a resignation that she was prepared to go to the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and announce that it had taken place. Clearly it was not simply an offer of resignation. It was confirmed by Mr Mallon and the Secretary of State that it was a full-blown resignation.
If it was an offer of resignation very little will have happened until this moment. However, if it was a resignation there will have been consequences. First, did Mr Mallon continue to receive his salary? Secondly, were the trappings of office taken from him? Everyone knows that his car was taken, and I think that the fax machine was pulled out of his house. Certainly his offices and staff were taken away, and his salary was stopped. Is that what is done when someone offers his resignation? That is what is done when someone has resigned and his resignation has been accepted as final. There cannot be the slightest doubt that this was a full-blown and accepted resignation.
If this was the case, under the Standing Orders which applied then, and which apply today, there is a requirement for a reappointment, a re-election. That is the heart of the issue. All this chicanery is for one purpose. The mechanism for getting Mr Mallon, or whoever else it might be, back into office is an absurd voting system. It is a voting system that the Democratic Unionist Party had nothing to do with.
Indeed, it is a voting system devised to help people on the other side of the House in case Unionists gang up with one another and have a majority. So they decided to have a consensus-based voting system which required majorities on both sides. A parallel vote was required whereby a majority of both Unionists and Nationalists, so designated in this House, was needed to approve the appointment of the new Deputy First Minister (Designate) or the re-appointment of the former one. Could they have achieved that? As everybody knows, the realpolitik is that they could not.
The best they could have achieved would have been an equal number of designated Unionists, something like 29 to 29. However, that would not have been a majority. Alternatively, members of the Women’s Coalition might have designated themselves as Unionists, but, as everyone knows, the Member for South Belfast does not have a Unionist corpuscle in her veins. She would have been hypocritical had she designated herself as a Unionist. The reality is that if they had not been able to get that through, the whole process would have come to an end.
I do not entirely agree with Mr Mallon and his view that the running of d’Hondt to appoint the Ministers could not have taken place. I believe that it could. It would not, however, have had any effect, because the First Minister (Designate) could not himself have called the Executive together, since it is a joint decision. We do not have a Prime Minister as such. We have a First Minister (Designate) and a Deputy First Minister (Designate) who are joined at the hip. They cannot take independent decisions. They must act together, in accordance with the legislation. Without their both having been present, there could never have been a meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive, hence the dilemma. Under the rules, we cannot get Seamus back, and we cannot call an Executive together unless we do. What is the answer? Let us change the rules.
They wrote the rules; they decided that they would frame those rules to ensure that they would win, and now that they have discovered they cannot, they decide that the rules must be changed. It does no credit to the person in question that he should be elected as a lesser Minister, a Minister for loopholes, a Minister elected by the back door. Indeed, one might even refer to him as a Minister who is being asked to slither under the door. What honour is there in being elected by a procedure other than the proper one which everyone recognised was required? First they duck and dodge the rules and then they change them.
I do not believe that those who support this agreement would want Seamus Mallon to gain office by some shabby, back-door trickery. That would demean their cause. They should face up to the reality. If on day one they do not have the numbers to get this through, how long will they allow this farce, this charade, to continue?
Tá mé ag labhairt i leith an rúin, agus tá mé an-sásta sin a dhéanamh. The last time we were in this Chamber I remember thinking that, collectively, we were facing the most difficult crisis of this process to date. The most visible manifestation of that was the collapse of the Executive within minutes of its being formed and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), Seamus Mallon’s subsequent offer of resignation.
At that time, I paid tribute to Mr Mallon, and Sinn Féin decided to support him because, in our view, he had no choice. Today, we want to support the motion that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) should continue to hold that office. I am very touched by the DUP’s concern for him, as, I am sure, is he. This is the same DUP who tried to silence him and prevent him from making his statement in July. The difference between July and today is that there is now an opportunity for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is time for all of us to move forward in a spirit of partnership, inclusiveness and camaraderie, and this motion gives us the opportunity to do that.
The words "historic", "momentous" and "new beginning" have often been used to describe pivotal points in the development — the very slow development — of the peace process. Nevertheless, the Mitchell review represents a watershed in our recent history. Making this work will require all of us to reshape the political context in which we live. Sinn Féin is very proud to stand in the tradition of the Presbyterians — the truly "free" Presbyterians — of the 1790s, who fought for liberty, equality and fraternity. Our goal remains the establishment of a united, free and independent Ireland. We believe that the Good Friday Agreement is a transitional structure that will allow us to achieve that legitimate objective. Others in this Assembly hold the opposite view — that is fair enough — but there is now the possibility for all of us to pursue our different and opposing political goals in partnership, as equals, in mutual respect and toleration.
Opponents of this motion — and no one here is deceived by the legalistic bombast — are opposed to progress of all sorts. At least Peter Robinson is almost frank enough to admit this: he asks how much longer the Assembly and these institutions will continue to survive. But what have they got to offer ordinary people outside the sectional, sectarian element they have sought to lead astray over the years? What vision of the future do they have to offer? The rejectionists have, to date, had their way, it could be claimed, in pursuance of their objective of impeding progress. It would be fair to say that they have not done too badly. There have been 600-odd days of preventing forward movement. But here, this afternoon, we might see the beginning of an end to all that, the beginning of an end to all the reluctance, hesitancy, begrudging and naysaying. We can commence our new future.
I want to work not just with the UUP, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Women’s Coalition and the PUP, but also with the DUP. Unionists have nothing to fear from sharing power with Irish Republicans, because our future is bound up together. Our future is the concern and responsibility of each of us — as individuals, political leaders and parties, governments, communities, organisations and businesses. The engine at the core of this will dictate the pace of events, and it will have to ensure that a new partnership of equals is created. There must be open, transparent and accountable government — a people-centred government — interlocked with and interdependent on the North/South Ministerial Councils and the policy implementation bodies. These institutions have to be owned by and be responsible to the people — not the Unionist people, or the Republican people, or the Nationalist people, or the people of the North or of the South, but all the people.
That is the challenge. For too long in this statelet, the no-men have had it easy. I appeal to Dr Paisley once again, as he goes into the twilight of his life and his career, to reflect not on the past but on the future. A future that will be a new future for the children of this nation. I call upon the Assembly to support the motion that Seamus Mallon hold Office as Deputy First Minister (Designate). Go raibh maith agaibh.
My party will not be supporting this proposal. Furthermore, I wish to reject the suggestion that Mr Neeson made today that the majority of decent, law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland support the placing in government of those fronting terrorist organisations. What is taking place in this House today has nothing to do with the outworking of the expression of the will of the people of this Province; it has come about as a result of a programme driven by lies and deception and designed to subvert the will of the majority community in Northern Ireland. For this plan to succeed, the Northern Ireland Office required a Unionist leader who could deliver a sizeable section of the pro-Union community. Enter, stage left, Mr David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and his two bit players, Ms McWilliams, and Mr David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, plus a cast of hundreds of church leaders and so-called captains of industry. They are all puppets dancing to the tune of the Northern Ireland Office, choreographed —
No, I will not give way.
Choreographed, as I was saying, by Mr Tom Kelly of the Northern Ireland Office, the man who has used the church leaders and the captains of industry to, in his words, "champion the cause of the Belfast Agreement". All these people are dancing to Mr Kelly’s tune in his guise as "Minister of Information" in the Northern Ireland Office. I say to Mr Trimble and the section of Unionism which he leads today that he does not have a mandate to do what he is currently doing in this House.
I know how Lord Carson felt when, in 1933, he said
"now I have lived to see every one of the safeguards absolutely set to naught and made useless. This is not a pleasant political career. I belong, I believe, to what is called the Unionist party. Why it is called the Unionist party I fail to understand, unless it is to remind people in this country that it was the party which betrayed the Union."
Those words apply today as I address the Members from the Ulster Unionist Party — a party that, if it moves to elect Sinn Féin Members as Ministers, will finally have betrayed the people who elected its members to this Assembly. Mr Trimble has left a trail of broken promises over the past weeks and months. Today we shall see what most people, even a few short months ago, would have believed unthinkable: the seating in government of those who have terrorised this community over the last thirty years. Think of Mr Adams and of the movement that brought us Enniskillen, the Shankill bomb, La Mon —
— and Oxford Street, to name but a few. Think of the organisation which, as a result of its campaign of terror, has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of citizens, Catholic and Protestant, for the maiming of tens of thousands and for destroying countless homes. That is the vision that Mr Adams has had for the last 30 years. I take it very ill that he chides Members about visions for the future. His vision for the last 30 years has been pregnant women lying on the streets of this Province with their stomachs open, with babies being washed down the street.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I am aware of the terrible events being described by Mr Wilson, and I agree with him that they were horrible. However, neither Seamus Mallon nor the Office of the Deputy First Minister (Designate) was responsible for any of them, and that is what this motion is about.
Order. It is not a matter of choice whether a Member takes a point of order. When a point of order is taken, that time is not taken out of the Member’s speaking time.
It is only right that the clock should be reset. It ill becomes you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, to listen to what a spokesman for IRA/Sinn Féin has to say. Members could all have risen with points of order. He said that I tried to stop Mr Mallon from speaking. I never tried anything of the sort. I pointed out — and Hansard can be checked — that a personal statement, which he claimed he was making, had to be personal and could not go into other matters. Members are being told by the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin that we tried to stop Mr Mallon. That is untrue. I and my Colleagues could continue to raise points of order. The hon Member who was speaking has every right to lay down the law. The people that we represent have been murdered, maimed, killed, slaughtered by these men — and now they want into the Government of the country.
When the issue was raised about Mr Mallon’s capacity to speak being restricted, I took it as a reference not to the personal statement but to a previous occasion when there was a vote in the Assembly about whether Mr Mallon would be permitted to continue to speak. I took it that that was the occasion being referred to and not the personal statement — but I may be wrong.
It will not be lost on Members, or on the people watching in the Galleries, that it was a bomber from the Loyalist paramilitaries who rose to protect those in the Republican movement who have been responsible for murdering and bombing this community. What is being presented to Members — and it will be a fait accompli undoubtedly — is the welcoming into the Executive Government of Northern Ireland of those involved in armed struggle, in spite of Mr Adams’s attempt to distance himself.
If I am quoting correctly from the book ‘Lost Lives’ — written by a very reliable journalist — Mr Adams was the brigadier in charge of the Belfast brigade of the IRA on "bloody Friday", the day of the Oxford Street bus station bombing. Mr Adams would had to have given his agreement to those atrocities.
I make no apologies for these statements. The people of Northern Ireland know the roles that Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness — who is going to be placed in government — have played in trying to destroy the community that we live in.
The admission of the IRA into government is being done without the surrender of a single weapon; without the renunciation of the use of violence; and with no admission that the murderous work of the IRA is anything other than justified. Mr Adams, in a speech at Belfast city hall, made it clear that nothing he would ever say should be taken as criticism of the IRA volunteers. Mr Adams will have opportunity to criticise me if that statement is incorrect.
Mr Trimble has no doubts about whom he is handing power over to and whom he is bringing into the Executive. Recently, he told a ‘Good Morning Ulster’ interviewer that, with one or two exceptions, all the Sinn Féin Assembly team were members of the IRA. I am sorry that Mr Trimble is not present to point out the two non-subscribing members of the IRA. I believe that Mr Mitchel McLaughlin is referred to as "the draft dodger" in IRA circles, as he has not been involved in active service. I do not know Ms de Brún’s background —
I am generous to a fault on these matters. Mr Mallon may not thank me for drawing attention to the matter, but it is my duty to point out that you are some way off the subject of the motion.
I wish to make it clear that these matters flow from the fact that Mr Mallon is being reinstated as the Deputy First Minister (Designate), so my comments are very relevant. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party will not be giving any credibility to the structures that will be put in place today, and we will not be giving any assistance to those who wish to operate this undemocratic process. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party has another agenda — to demolish this affront to decency and justice. What are our chances of success as a small party opposed to the Belfast Agreement? It is similar to the chance that David had against Goliath. David was told that he had no chance. I have heard the chorus from across the Floor, from the Gallery, from the captains of industry and from church leaders. They are all saying that there is no alternative. With God’s help there is an alternative, and we will see off this affront to the democratic process.
What are we to do? In 1911 Lord Carson said
"We are out once more upon a great campaign against betrayal, a betrayal of the most foul and humiliating character. Let every man take that betrayal to his own heart. Talk of it in your offices, talk of it in your workplaces, talk of it at your firesides and teach your children of it so that it sinks deep into your heart as to what is proposed to be done" — and today we propose to bring terrorists into government —
"and as this comes home to each and every one of you, let your actions be guided by this: it is never a man’s part to submit to betrayal and if you do a man’s part in resisting it you will at least have done your duty and will be able to face in history those who come after you."
Outside this Chamber — and the members of the Ulster Unionist Party know this well — there is a memorial stone to Mr Edgar Graham, a former Unionist Assembly Member murdered in 1983 by Mr Adams’s, Mr McGuinness’s and Ms de Brún’s colleagues in the IRA. The epitaph on the stone says "Keep alive the light of justice". Now these people are going to be placed in government over the community that they have terrorised for the last 30 years. Is this in the cause of justice? Is it right to seat in the new Northern Ireland Government those who have terrorised people for 30 years? We should see them brought to justice and punished for their crimes.
I would like to add my comments and reflect on Mr Seamus Mallon’s personal statement of 15 July. At that time I said that it was a very depressing day for us, but I recall that Rev Ian Paisley said that it was a good day for the DUP — that democracy had triumphed. On that day, as a result of those views, I felt that we had to move mountains. In the Mitchell review some of those mountains have been moved, but it is clear from today’s discussion so far that there are many more to move. I have compared this to queuing up to get into a concert — to waiting and waiting and waiting. The poor people in Northern Ireland have been the watchers and the waiters, and it is now time for us to give them some action. While you are waiting in this queue you may have the feeling that when you do get in, the concert will be a good one, but, from what I have heard today, the mood music has not changed at all.
If Peter Robinson, the Member for East Belfast, feels that he can cast aspersions on people’s politics, then he must be able to see inside their minds. We have long said that the Women’s Coalition is made up of Nationalists and Unionists. What is wrong in Northern Ireland is that people stand on the self-righteousness of the purity of their pedigree. I would like to tell you, Mr Robinson, that I have been a unionist — a trade unionist — all my life.
You will take it! The Initial Presiding Officer will take it.
Mr Initial Presiding Officer, can you confirm that there is absolutely no doubt in our Standing Orders or in the Act that the Unionist designation that is required is a community one? We are talking not about a European unionist or a trade unionist but about a Unionist who wants to maintain the link with the rest of the United Kingdom.
It is clear from the Act and from the agreement that what is meant is a Unionist in the Northern Ireland political sense and not a trade unionist or other.
May I also remind Members — and a number have transgressed slightly in this regard — that responses should be made through the Chair, not directly to each other. I am not sure that I should advise you to do this; it can be painful enough, but Members should make their responses through the Chair.
On a further point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. If it was not a proper point of order, why did you rule on it and affirm that my Colleague was right? Ms McWilliams cannot question the integrity of the Chair, and as a good trade unionist she should know that. A Member cannot question the integrity of the Chair. You made a ruling, and you could not have made a ruling if it had not been a proper point of order. The trouble with the hon Member is that you ruled in favour of my Colleague.
This is the type of politics that we are trying to move away from: the politics expressed by Mr Cedric Wilson, in which God is entirely on his side — the politics of self-righteousness. I hope that in this period of change we are beginning to move out of the politics of blood and loyalty towards a new kind of politics. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) — I hope that the Member will be holding that office — will remind us once again that he addressed this in his speech, when he spoke of the politics of civic principles, tolerance and mutual respect.
I was delighted to see in the Ulster Unionist Party’s recent statement a new kind of politics, based on equal opportunity and — perhaps before the end of the day — on open and accountable government. It is depressing that those who are so good at naming and blaming have done so little to shape this new kind of government.
In his personal statement of 15 July Mr Mallon referred to the willingness of the then Secretary of State, Dr Mowlam, to think the unthinkable and to go an extra mile, every time, to see the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is good that, today, we have an opportunity to reflect on that personal statement and, indeed, on the hard work of the last Secretary of State. I hope that we can move on from the politics of jostling and jeering and get down to the work that the people have expected from us for so long. It is good for us to be able to support this motion, which will ensure that Mr Seamus Mallon will hold office as Deputy First Minister (Designate).
When Mr Seamus Mallon resigned, with immediate effect, in this Assembly I stated that in personal terms I regretted his resignation. He was good enough to acknowledge this in very courteous and kind terms in a letter. However, I do not think that any reasonable, sensible person could possibly believe that Seamus did not resign. His resignation was in the records of the House, its acceptance was recorded in the Westminster Hansard, and all the privileges and profits of his office were withdrawn. I do not for a moment believe that Mr Seamus Mallon would have accepted a single penny in regard to that office once he had publicly offered his resignation and had it accepted.
If the legal opinion which the Initial Presiding Officer has received about whether a resignation in those terms amounts only to an offer of resignation represents the legal position, then, as Charles Dickens said,
"the law is an ass".
No rational human acquainted with such facts could have come to any other conclusion than that he had resigned — and resigned finally. The truth is that if Seamus had submitted himself for re-election in accordance with the original Standing Orders he would have been re-elected. I have no doubt of that. But the First Minister (Designate) would almost certainly not have been re-elected.
So we go through the farce of the Secretary of State’s making a new Standing Order minutes before we come here so that what is an established fact, which any simpleton would understand without the need to take the opinion of Queen’s Counsel, is not a fact. If that is the basis upon which we are to proceed in the House, it is a very sandy foundation indeed. But it is typical of the violations of all the principles of democracy and personal honesty, truthfulness and integrity that have beset this process from the beginning, and I do not direct this remark towards Seamus Mallon personally. There is only one rule, and that is that the process must continue.
The greatest derelictions from honesty, truth and decency, if uncovered, do not bring any odium upon the person who committed them, because he has a catch-all defence — "I did it for peace." You can get away with murder, you can get away with mutilation, intimidation and bending the rules, and you can get away with having the political representatives of terrorists, who remain armed, in executive government, as long as you are doing it for peace.
I read the debate of 15 December 1998 in this House. The motion was that those who were inextricably linked with an armed terrorist organisation could not possibly give an unqualified commitment to exclusively peaceful means and, therefore, could not participate in executive government.
I heard Mr Taylor, the right hon Member for Strangford, say that there could be no question of executive government unless there was decommissioning. I heard Mr Sam Foster talking about arms, men and equipment in the undergrowth outside and saying that to talk about an executive government including these people, without actual decommissioning, was ludicrous. I heard others, including Maj McFarland, saying that they had been deluded and deceived by Mr Blair. Mr McFarland believed his promise that no prisoners would be given early release until there was decommissioning, and said, in a plaintive tone, in the last sentence of his address, that but for those pledges they would not have signed up to the agreement. Mr Armstrong said that no reasonable person could conceivably let the representatives of terrorists, and those with whom they are inextricably linked, into government without decommissioning.
Where are all these worthies now? Where are all these people who have violated what they said publicly, on indelible record in Hansard? These people, who know that they are currently unelectable, are agreeing and using subterfuges such as the present one to maintain their position and have violated all the principles of democracy. They have violated all the principles of truth, public decency and honour. They have sown the wind, and surely they will reap the whirlwind of electoral destruction, for that is where they are headed.
I was not present when the First Minister (Designate) referred to the legal arguments which I had put forward. I do not claim that those legal arguments are unanswerable.
In the House I expounded those arguments, for good or ill. Did we hear the First Minister (Designate) rejecting any of them or making any analysis of the principles of law or democracy that would have confounded them? We heard only the usual snide, throwaway line that has become the hallmark of his addresses.
This is a sad day for democracy. The Assembly and the devolved Government, which I opposed, have not been set up on an honourable and straightforward basis. If the Administration had been mounted on the truth and on the promises which the parties concerned had made to the electorate, I should have said that I disagreed with it and that it might cause difficulties. But I should also have said that as it is the product of a democratic process, I must accept it. However, I cannot accept a devolved Government that is elected as a result of political chicanery, put in place by the devious means we have seen today and constructed at the diktat of the Secretary of State to provide cover for the unelectable. If the original rules were observed, Mr Trimble would be unelectable today as First Minister. He knows it, the public know it, and so do the electorate. If that is a sound basis for the future democratic welfare of the Assembly, I fear for it.
Peace is a worthy objective, but peace obtained by the sacrifice of the principles of democracy and of personal integrity, and at the price of forsaking the promises that parties make to the electorate is surely doomed to disaster. The motion should not be accepted.
When I laid out the terms for the debate I said that it would extend to two hours so that all parties wishing to speak could do so, and that amount of time would have allowed each party its full time to speak. After about one hour all the parties who wished speak have done so. Some parties have extensive lists of Members wishing to contribute, and I am minded to allow those parties, of which there are about three, to have another bite of the cherry. We shall then proceed to the winding-up speeches and the vote.
Today’s proceedings have been described as verging on farce. In the light of the background to today’s debate and the point that we have reached in the proceedings, it has to be said that there is some justification in that description. In our pigeon-holes this morning we found a set of rules which were devised and printed on 26 November. By lunchtime those rules had been revised, purely for the purpose of getting us to our present stage and, of course, beyond that to the point which the First Minister (Designate) has told us that he cannot wait to reach. Indeed, he waived many of his speaking rights to get to that point.
We are at this stage because the Ulster Unionist Party has been prepared to tear up its manifesto. Had it not been prepared to do that, we would not have reached this point. The Secretary of State has turned a blind eye to arms smuggling, shootings and beatings to get us to this stage. As I have said, the debate and the background to it are farcical.
Of course, in this farce, we are operating under rules which are as bent as — I suppose you know how I was going to finish that one off, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, so before you rule that I am being unparliamentary, I will not say any more. That is where we have got to.
Those looking at this objectively from the outside would see that what is going on here is not normal parliamentary democracy. The casual observer would see that we have bent and torn up the rules and that we are now debating whether Mr Mallon resigned. Does he believe he resigned, or have we imagined it? Ms McWilliams mentioned that this is like a concert. It is more like a pantomime — the Christmas pantomime season has started early. When I looked at the motion, its subject and the author, the words "Snow White" and "dwarf" came to mind. I think I had better clarify what I mean by that.
I am referring, of course, to the effect of age on Mr Mallon’s hair and to the political standing with the electorate of Mr Neeson’s party: 2% — the political dwarfs.
The debate has been like a pantomime. Has he resigned? Yes he has; no he has not. Speaking as a member of the "Yes" camp — this is role reversal now — I am going to steal a line from someone else. I must say to those who are in the "No" camp that they cannot keep saying "No", especially when all the evidence is against them. We have seen it in Hansard, and we have talked about it in the House. We have heard what Mr Mallon has said. He talked about his offer of resignation having immediate effect, and the Secretary of State stood up in the House of Commons and announced it. She said that it was a setback. If this was not a resignation, if it was only an offer, why would it be a setback? According to the Secretary of State, it was a sad day.
My Colleague Mr Robinson spoke about the removal of the trappings of office, and I noted Mr Mallon’s comments. He has not acted in his capacity as Deputy First Minister (Designate) since that resignation took effect. What some Members are saying today seems to be totally at odds with what they were saying on 15 July 1999 when it was like a wake here. We had weeping, wailing and lamenting.
Mr Neeson paid tribute to the Deputy First Minister (Designate). He said that that was a very sad day for the Assembly. This was, supposedly, just an offer of resignation. If it was not a real resignation, why was it a sad day? Why did he pay tribute to the former Deputy First Minister (Designate) if this was only an offer? No wonder his face was red when the motion was read out; he knows in his heart that there was a real resignation.
I listened to Mr Ervine’s unusually terse contribution. [Interruption]
Mr Ervine spoke on the day of Mr Mallon’s resignation, and he was at his sanctimonious best. Did he talk about how disappointed, frightened and worried he was about the consequences of the offer of resignation? No. He talked about the consequences of the resignation, and he went on to describe the death of the political process.
No. You have been doing all the giving away in the last month or two. Mr Ervine obviously believed that Mr Mallon had resigned. Ms McWilliams talked about her position on this and was happy to accept an offer of resignation. She talked about how wonderful Mr Mallon had been in his efforts to pursue the peace process. She said
"He never stopped, and I hope that, despite his resignation ...".
I could go through what others said. The Ulster Unionist Party, of course, were not here; they decided to run away because they were not ready to move to the despicable position that they are at today. Mr Mallon’s words — what he said about his personal standing — were heard in the Assembly, were reported in the House of Commons by the Secretary of State and were made known to the public. The headline in the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ said "Mallon resigns"; the ‘News Letter’ used the same terminology. Of course, we cannot believe everything we read in the ‘News Letter’, but on this occasion it confirmed what everyone else was saying. So there was an element of truth in it.
Today’s motion, as has been outlined very well by my Colleague Peter Robinson and by Mr McCartney, seeks to pretend that there was only an offer of resignation, for the simple reason that otherwise the rules would not allow us to go through the majority voting procedure that will occur at the end of this debate.
All of this twisting and turning is to place in the Government of Northern Ireland people who, for the last 30 years, have killed, maimed and bombed. Many people will find it incomprehensible that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party said that he wished to hurry along, to get to the main part of the business — to place those people in government. That is despicable. It makes this a farce and is something the people in Northern Ireland will not forgive, especially those who have been victims.
When people outside watch this Assembly and listen to what has been going on, I wonder what they will think. Up to the moment we have had the spectacle of those who perhaps do not understand the meaning of the word "democracy"; and they certainly do not want to put it into practice. Their wish is for the voice of the people to be thwarted or overturned. If more than 71% of the people had voted "No" to the agreement the Members on the Benches to my left would be perfectly happy and content. Sadly that was not the fact. They were defeated — not for the first time, and certainly not for the last.
I hear them quote strange figures, but I understand that the figure was 71·2%. We are speaking about the will of the people. Let us learn how to accept the will of the people — [Interruption] If the echoes were to die down I might be able to get on to the real substance of the motion.
This motion is very clear. It restates the obvious: that the Assembly wishes Seamus Mallon to hold office as Deputy First Minister (Designate). This is not some fairy-tale wish; it is a wish based on hard statistical facts. Mr Mallon was elected Deputy First Minister (Designate) on 1 July 1998, and the voting on that day was 61 votes for and 27 votes against — 69·3% for and 30·7% against. That is over two to one in favour. That was the will of the House, and, from that day until 15 July 1999, Seamus Mallon carried out his duties in an admirable fashion — a fact that was recognised by the vast majority of Members.
Then, on 15 July 1999, in order, as he saw it, to
"ensure that a meaningful review of aspects of the agreement will be carried out",
Mr Mallon offered his resignation. Some people might want to wish it otherwise, but the fact remains that he offered his resignation.
Mr Mallon has emphasised the point that the offer to resign was made to the Assembly. It was, after all, as has already been pointed out, the Assembly that elected him. I believe that it is a fact of law, though I am prepared to concede to those better qualified in the legal profession, that an offer is made for acceptance or rejection. I do not see it said in Hansard that the Assembly refused to accept that offer. It was pointed out, in response to a question from Mr Peter Robinson, that there were no procedures, no Standing Orders and no opportunities for the House to discuss or debate that offer. The record demonstrates very clearly that there was much regret and sadness, and this is evidence that it is the will and the desire of the House that Mr Mallon continue as Deputy First Minister (Designate). Even some of those who are absent from the Chamber now, who were opposed to his election, expressed their sadness at his offer to resign.
I take this opportunity to assert my right as a Member of the Assembly to reject Mr Mallon’s offer to resign. I believe that, as an Assembly, we can collectively confirm our desire, first voted upon and agreed in July 1998, that Mr Mallon hold office as Deputy First Minister (Designate) of the House. In so doing we can and will move forward and make progress and thus meet the demand of the greater majority of the people who want to see us making progress.
When we make that progress later this evening we will see pseudo-reluctant Ministers, with tears in their eyes, coming forward and grabbing with both hands the portfolios offered and the trappings of office. Then, with their usual dignity and, some might say, hypocrisy, they will ride off and claim that they are doing this for the salvation of Ulster. It reminds me of the old cliché
"If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em."
I make no apology for opposing the motion to reinstate Seamus Mallon as Deputy First Minister (Designate). Mr Mallon refuses to recognise Northern Ireland’s status as an integral part of the United Kingdom and consistently insults our people by referring to Northern Ireland as "the North of Ireland". I refuse to accept a Deputy First Minister (Designate) who wants the destruction of Northern Ireland, wants it subsumed into an all-Ireland republic. Mr Mallon and the SDLP have consistently opposed any devolved Government which will maintain Northern Ireland’s position as an integral part of the United Kingdom and which excludes terrorists.
During 30 years of terror the SDLP consistently condemned violence while not hesitating to profit politically from it. The SDLP tells us that we should forget the past. Will John Hume and his party now state publicly that "bloody Sunday" is a thing of the past and best left there? The SDLP now faces a clear choice between support for democracy and the rule of law and support for Sinn Féin/IRA in its demand to participate in the Executive, while retaining its arsenal and its terrorist structures. If the SDLP supports Sinn Féin/IRA in its refusal to decommission, this will render it indistinguishable from Sinn Féin/IRA. The alternative is for the SDLP to align itself with the democratic demand that Sinn Féin/IRA must decommission its terrorist arsenal and dismantle its terrorist structures. Pan- Nationalism, for which Seamus Mallon is a key strategist, has never flinched from its agenda of power-sharing with an Irish dimension, leading to Irish unity. Placing Seamus Mallon in the position of Deputy First Minister (Designate) is part of the pan-Nationalist agenda.
Sinn Féin/IRA, a key part of the pan-Nationalist front, are not democrats. They have arrived where they are today not by legitimate means but through murder and intimidation. The threat of more bombs in the business centre of London has forced the British Government to capitulate. The Republican definition of democracy is to explode a bomb underneath a car or gun down opposing politicians. The clear message today is that victims still suffer. There must be no terrorists in government. The victims’ agony is compounded by allowing unrepentant armed killers and their apologists into our Government.
A policy of appeasement of Fascists was tried in the 1930s, and it failed. This Government has also turned a blind eye. Today Tony Blair, in a style reminiscent of Chamberlain, preaches "peace for our time". If only we could turn a blind eye to the ongoing murders and beatings. Just like Germany in the pre-war period, the IRA continues to build up its arsenal. They have peace on their lips but war in their hearts.
The Belfast Agreement has delivered nothing for Unionists. Our Loyal Order parades are banned and our culture attacked. The terrorists continue to be released. The sniper team which murdered seven British soldiers and two RUC officers will serve only 13 months. The killer of retired RUC Reservist Cyril Stewart, who was gunned down in front of his wife while out shopping, will serve only nine months. This is not peace, justice and democracy; this is appeasement. We face the destruction of the RUC and the prospect of terrorists in control of policing. Eighty per cent of IRA murders are unsolved, and we have continual human rights abuses by Sinn Féin/IRA. Since 10 April 1998 there have been five IRA murders, 62 shootings, 160 beatings and 464 exilings — all carried out by paramilitaries associated with pro-agreement parties. The statistics relating to Loyalist terrorists are similar. Martin McGuinness is on record as having said on 23 June 1986
"Freedom can only be gained at the point of an IRA rifle".
He also stated
"I apologise to no one for saying that we support and admire the freedom fighters of the IRA." No revolutionary organisation enjoys as much popular support as we do."
This is clear evidence that Martin McGuinness is a member of the Provisional IRA. Yet he is to take a place in the Government of Northern Ireland. Republicans have murdered over 2,000 people — both Protestant and Catholic — and Loyalists have murdered over 1,000. Yet these organisations are still fully intact and retain their illegal guns and explosives.
The back-stepping by pro-agreement parties and the naive acceptance by some Ulster Unionists of a meaningless form of words on decommissioning will do nothing to ease the concerns of the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland. In all this charade the real victims of terror have been forgotten.
The reality is that there are enough illegal arms and explosives to kill every person in Northern Ireland. Republican terrorists are estimated to have 2,658 kg of Semtex, 1,200 detonators, 1,000 rifles, 40 sub-machine guns and 30 machine guns. After 600 days not one ounce of Semtex has been handed in. Republican terrorists are also estimated to have 600 handguns and 1·5 million rounds of ammunition as well as ground-to-air missiles, RPG 7 launchers and two Barrett Light Fifty rifles. Loyalist terrorist arsenals include 100 rifles, 80 sub-machine guns, and 700 handguns. Yet as democrats, we have to listen to people saying that we are not in favour of peace, justice and democracy.
A phoney commitment by the IRA to decommissioning is an insult to the people of Northern Ireland — particularly to the forgotten victims. The Union is in crisis, and a split within the Ulster Unionist party is inevitable if David Trimble pursues his reckless policy of attempting to place the representatives of terrorism in government. It is time for anti-agreement Unionists within the Ulster Unionist Party to realign with other like-minded Unionists to prevent Sinn Féin/IRA from being placed in the Executive.
We should all be reminded of the dastardly deeds of the Provisional IRA. On 19 April 1972 Corporal "A"— I shall refer to him in that way for the sake of his family — who was a UDR member, was abducted whilst driving a lorry along the Armagh and Republic of Ireland border. His badly tortured body, which was booby-trapped, was found at Altnamachin near Newtownhamilton. He suffered a terrible death at the hands of his IRA captors following his abduction and imprisonment at an IRA safe house in County Monaghan.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is Mr Boyd speaking to the motion? [Interruption] Someone asks if he is reading his essay.
Corporal "A" suffered a terrible death at the hands of his IRA captors following his abduction and imprisonment at an IRA safe house in County Monaghan. It is alleged that he was nailed to the floor during his ordeal. Following his torture, which included burns, shocks, drowning and a variety of horrific abuses, he was finally shot. His genitals were placed in his mouth, and his stomach was removed and replaced with a booby-trap bomb. This was carried out by an organisation which our Prime Minister says is inextricably linked to Sinn Féin. They are one and the same.
On 25 May 1986 the Garda informed the RUC of the location of the body of Mr "D", an IRA informer. He was found with his hands tied behind his back, tape covering his eyes and a bullet wound to his head. At the request of Martin McGuinness — who in a few hours’ time will be a Minister in this Government — the mother of this victim helped to persuade her son to come home to Londonderry following an assurance from the Sinn Féin leader that he would be safe. When he had been home for two weeks, he was taken away by the IRA to County Donegal, never to return. Severe mental and physical torture was used on this victim.
These evil people would have the world believe that they are fighting the just war of an oppressed people, but all the emerging evidence is that they are carrying out a psychopathic serial killing campaign against those with whom they disagree politically and, indeed, against any who would dare to stand in the way of their achieving their true objective — a united Ireland governed by fear and violence.
As a democrat, I make reasonable and legitimate demands on behalf of the victims and all those who believe in democracy and the rule of law. We demand a declaration from the IRA that the war is over; the handover of the terrorists’ arsenals; the ballistic testing of the terrorists’ weaponry; the verified destruction of the terrorists’ arsenals; the disbandment of the terrorist organisations; the setting-up by Her Majesty’s Government of a public inquiry into human-rights abuses by the terrorists; and an international tribunal to investigate the role of the Government of the Irish Republic in the establishment, funding, training and arming of Sinn Féin/IRA. The victims still suffer, and the clear message is that there must be no terrorists in government —
There may be some misunderstanding with reference to some comments made earlier. I have been trying to understand what link there is between this and the motion. I have to assume that there is the thought that if Mr Mallon does not find himself in the position of Deputy First Minister (Designate), that will obstruct the running of the d’Hondt mechanism and the appointments to which the Member refers.
In case there is any uncertainty on that issue, let me be clear on the point that whatever happens in respect of this motion, the running of the d’Hondt mechanism will take place. I assume that that is the connection between what the Member has said and this motion, and I draw this matter to the Member’s attention lest he should spend the remainder of his time addressing a question which is not in order.
While what you have said is true, it is also true to say that if the 10 members of the Executive are appointed today the Executive cannot take over devolved government unless it is ordered so to do by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). If we do not have a First Minister (Designate) and a Deputy First Minister (Designate) what we do today cannot come into operation. Therefore the hon Gentleman has every right to argue that if the IRA has to get into government in this way he is opposed to it.
He does. However, to carry forward the procedure you are describing, it would be entirely possible for the d’Hondt mechanism to be applied, for 10 Ministers to be put into place, and for there then to be an election of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). I am making this point in case the Member feels that his speech is directed towards the motion, when it seems to me that this is not entirely the case. The Member may continue.
I would like to return to the issue of Members on the opposite side of the Chamber naming individuals in this Chamber today. The Initial Presiding Officer rebuked Mr Paisley Jnr on the matter of the integrity of Members in this Chamber. I am concerned that, although few Members will take much notice of some of the comments and drivel that we have been hearing from some Members today, there has been too much latitude given to some Members with regard to allegations they have been making. I do not know whether the people against whom the allegations have been made are that concerned. However, the Initial Presiding Officer made a ruling concerning the questioning of the integrity of Members, and far too much latitude has been given. I want to put on record that people have been defamed in the Chamber this afternoon. We will all be carefully scrutinising Hansard tomorrow morning because some of the comments that have been allowed have been absolutely disgraceful.
As I have said on a number of occasions, I listen as carefully as I can to all the things being said, as they are being said, and I also scrutinise Hansard afterwards. It is not an easy task because sometimes things are said which raise questions, including questions about particular parliamentary procedure. I try to keep my mind focused, and I do try to get constant legal advice. I will certainly be scrutinising Hansard after this — and not only because you will be doing so too.
That is all very well. However, some Members could stray — and perhaps some Members do not have a lot of experience — and inadvertently make a comment. Some Members are reading from lengthy scripts which are entirely defamatory and personal towards members of Sinn Féin. These are not accidental comments. They are well-prepared and well-delivered scripts. It is painfully obvious that this is so.
No, I cannot confirm that, since comments made in this context now have privilege, although they initially did not. It is important that Members do not abuse their rights. My attention has been drawn to the question of whether this might be the case. I will therefore scrutinise the matter carefully.
On a point of order. It might be useful if you could give us some guidance in this matter. In the House of Commons, for instance, one might well believe that a Minister or other individual has told a lie, but one may not call that person a liar. If we believe that someone has been responsible for murder, may we not call him a murderer?
On a point of order. We must be very careful of how we use language. The language associated with this so-called peace process is couched in the most general and vacuous terms, intended to lend a commendable linguistic aura to what is happening without ever addressing specifics. The question was raised, if Mr Mallon is confirmed as Deputy First Minister (Designate) and d’Hondt is triggered, of what sort of people will be governing Northern Ireland, and what these people represent.
We should be exceptionally careful that we do not place a prohibition on the use of language, which would prevent the use of concrete descriptions which can be proven. If, for example, one takes the word "murderer", its use is totally inappropriate merely as a term of abuse. When that word is used to describe what a person is and has done, however, it can be entirely appropriate.
At the last meeting of the Assembly specific allegations were made against myself and other members of my party by the SDLP. I hope you will also investigate those.
I shall draw my remarks to a close. The victims are still suffering. The clear message must be that there can be no terrorists in government. The Belfast Agreement has failed in three crucial areas: there has been no decommissioning, nor will there be; over 300 terrorists have been released early; and the Patten Report will almost certainly destroy the RUC. Today we witness the death of democracy and the surrender by some Unionists to Sinn Féin/IRA. However, as Unionists, we all have to face the electorate, it is to be hoped, sooner rather than later.
In line with the pledge we gave at the election, my party and I shall continue to oppose the implementation of the Belfast Agreement and its implications. In the words of Mrs Sylvia Callaghan, whose son was murdered in the Ballykelly bombing,
"Any deal that benefits terrorists by putting them in positions of authority in our land would be an insult to the memory of my son, murdered by the people the authorities are now falling over themselves to placate."
I oppose the motion.
This Assembly offers the people of Northern Ireland two choices today. The first is to keep them tied to the shackles of hatred, bitterness and continued sectarian conflict. The second offers the opportunity to move forward and take us out of that conflict, providing hope for the future for all the people of Northern Ireland. In the Northern Ireland Forum, I once said that the word "yes" is not part of the DUP’s vocabulary.
I am glad to see that things are changing. They will say "Yes", and rightly so, to the two ministerial posts. That underlines the hypocrisy that is emerging from the Democratic Unionist Party and the other "no" men, who are determined to take the people of Northern Ireland "no where".
This motion is about whether we accept the offer made by Mr Mallon to resign. At the outset I stated that my main reason for moving this motion was to bring about the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We have waited 601 days, and I do not want us to delay any further.
Gerry Adams, Ian Adamson, Alex Attwood, Billy Bell, Eileen Bell, Tom Benson, 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, Reg Empey, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Sam Foster, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, John Gorman, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, John Hume, Billy Hutchinson, Gerry Kelly, John 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, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Jane Morrice, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Dermot Nesbitt, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamon ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Ken Robinson, Brid Rodgers, George Savage, John Tierney, David Trimble, Jim Wilson.
Fraser Agnew, Paul Berry, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Wilson Clyde, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Robert McCartney, William McCrea, Maurice Morrow, Ian R K Paisley, Ian Paisley Jnr, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, Jim Shannon, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Sammy Wilson.
Question accordingly agreed to.
I do, and I regard this as cross-community support — the touchstone by which I measure the vote. I thank all Members, including those who spoke and/or voted against the motion. It is in the Assembly that our myriad problems will be solved. This vote allows us to move forward and start to solve those problems.