Decommissioning

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:45 am on 17th January 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 11:45 am, 17th January 2000

I beg to move the following motion:

This House demands the handing over of all illegal terrorist weaponry and its destruction in accordance with legislative provisions; acknowledges that the people of Northern Ireland will not accept token decommissioning; and calls for the process of decommissioning to be verifiable, transparent and credible.

The issue of decommissioning continues to frustrate the people of Northern Ireland and constrain genuine political development in the Province. The Unionist people are sick of being misled and lied to over the issue of decommissioning. Even the "Yes" voters must be embarrassed by their misplaced political judgement in putting their trust in the word of the IRA.

It remains my firm conviction that the IRA has no intention of decommissioning. That is confirmed by a recent statement made by the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin before he left these shores to go to the United States. He pointed out that he was talking about the decommissioning of all weaponry, including that of the security forces, members of the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Police Reserve. Decommissioning in the so-called peace agreement, as any ordinary individual reads it, has to do with terrorist weapons and not with legally held weapons. Not so with the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin.

At present it appears that the Official Unionists will be satisfied with, if not relieved by, a token gesture — one which will be hyped up by Gen de Chastelain and the two Governments as a credible start to decommissioning. It will, of course, be no such thing. Like all of the First Minister’s previous claims about decommissioning, the idea that the IRA will give up its guns when their presence has secured it a place in the Government of Northern Ireland is simply untenable.

I noted, with a sense of some irony, the statement by the recently knighted Josias Cunningham that the Official Unionists would not stomach any more drift over the issue of decommissioning. We have had nothing but drift from the Official Unionists on this matter. In June 1996, Mr Trimble told the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ that he would end the talks if decommissioning did not commence. That was in June 1996. He did no such thing. Since then the leader of the Official Unionists has twisted, turned, digressed and avoided dealing genuinely with this issue, while the IRA has held to its position and held on to its arsenal of murder weapons.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Is the Member aware of a statement and, indeed, an article written by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party on 18 April 1998, just before the referendum? In that article the First Minister said

"As for the eligibility of those seeking to hold ministerial positions, the Unionist Party negotiators have, in writing from the Prime Minister, an assurance that no member of a terrorist-related party can hold such office until it has commenced the decommissioning of all its illegal weapons. Without this there should be no early release of prisoners."

He went on to say

"Any attempt to bring into office paramilitaries who have not proved a commitment to peaceful means by decommissioning will precipitate a crisis in the Assembly. We will not serve alongside such persons."

Can he tell us his view on the Ulster Unionist Party’s change of heart on this most critical matter?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Lines have been drawn in the sand by Mr Trimble, but he always drew the line where the tide could reach it. When the tide came in, the line was conveniently wiped out. That has been happening all along on this issue.

I resent the attempt by the scurrilous ‘News Letter’ to tell us that we have no right to discuss this matter in the Assembly. Who does it think it is? Has Geoffrey Martin suddenly got the infallibility of the papacy? Does he feel that he should tell us what we ought to discuss? Mr Martin never submitted himself to the electorate. He has no mandate. He is the paid stooge of the Mirror Group, and he will no doubt advocate what they are advocating. As long as I am in this House, Mr Speaker, I will be using my mandate to speak up for what I believe, and no amount of ‘News Letter’ garbage will keep me from doing my duty.

I am reminded that when I first came to this House the same newspaper, on the day of the election, had a full banner headline across the front page "Minford X". That is exactly what the people of Bannside did. They axed Minford and put me into this House to represent the constituency of the former Speaker. Well done, the Belfast ‘News Letter’! Let it continue its acts of folly if it will.

Far from being penalised, the IRA has been put into government without a single shred of evidence that there will be any decommissioning and without a single shred of evidence from the other partners in the Government. I am glad that there is an amendment. It is very interesting — a sort of attempt by the SDLP to be neutral, as if that were possible. The SDLP and the UUP are together on this matter. There will be no punitive action against the IRA when it fails to decommission.

I am angry at the deceit of the Official Unionists and at the way Mr Trimble, in conjunction with Tony Blair, has tricked a number of the Unionist electorate into supporting the Belfast Agreement. But I am equally disgusted at the behaviour of the SDLP. That party poses as a party of peacemakers, yet it has ridden to political advantage on the back of IRA violence. It has refused to take on IRA/Sinn Féin but has been taken in by them.

The release of 30-year-old Government papers reveals that while they may have talked publicly about peace, privately their members sought to arm Nationalists in Northern Ireland on the pretence of self-defence, but really for the murder of Protestants. There is no prospect of the IRA’s disarming. It knows that the SDLP will not take it on or vote to eject Sinn Féin/IRA from the Executive.

It was claimed that under the Belfast Agreement, decommissioning would happen. I do not see where or how it is going to happen. The "Yes" campaign claimed that it would be achieved. Gen de Chastelain claimed that IRA weapons would have to be destroyed, as well as their residue. In June, "destroyed" was changed to "put beyond use". I challenged the general to define "put beyond use". He said that it had the same meaning as "destroyed". In that case, why use it?

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

Given the Member’s comments on the 30-year-old papers, would it not now be appropriate to call for a public inquiry into the SDLP-inspired gun-running by the Irish Government?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

There can be a public inquiry provided that it is against the overall Unionist position. Those who call for a public inquiry on anything that might vindicate the Unionist position will not get it. If the public inquiry into "bloody Sunday", which has been very slow in starting, does not come out with the answers that the Nationalist community in Londonderry wants, it will be rejected. That will be £20 million down the drain. Public inquiries are acceptable only if they come out with what the Nationalists want.

I understand that the Official Unionists are being briefed privately to the effect that the deadline is not February, or any meeting of their council, but has been moved to May. More drift and indecision seem to be the order of the day for the Official Unionist Council meeting. Public confidence demands movement on this issue. I note that even Bertie Ahern said in South Africa that the public will not accept excuses on decommissioning. According to Bertie Ahern "No surrender" is not an option, but he will be the first to bow the knee before the IRA when the day comes.

Action must be taken against IRA/Sinn Féin. They should be punished if they do not decommission. The people cannot be held to ransom. There must be decommissioning. If there is not, it is not Unionists who should be put out of the Executive but IRA/Sinn Féin. Some people, even in the Unionist camp, seem to have a twisted imagination on that issue. There is a concerted effort to move this issue away from the politicians. There was an attempt to get a leading South African publicly to call on Ulster politicians to leave this matter in the hands of the general. In an interview that was embarrassing for the "Yes" campaign, he changed his mind and called for politicians to get involved.

This key political issue must be faced. The largest arsenal of terrorist weaponry in the Western world is in the charge of IRA/Sinn Féin and can be used at a moment’s notice, as the Canary Wharf tragedy showed, against the peace-loving, law-abiding citizens of any part of this United Kingdom.

Time is very limited, and Members are getting hungry and desire to eat. One of them said that he was flummoxed and tired by the amount of work that he had to do as an Assembly Member. I would not like that man to pass away. I will therefore draw my consideration of this matter to a close, and I look forward to having a brief opportunity to respond to any vital points that may be made.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all after "House" and add

"will work to implement all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, including decommissioning, consistent with the three principles agreed on 25 June 1999 and reiterated by Senator Mitchell in his concluding report on the review."

The amendment which has been tabled in my name, on behalf of the SDLP, seeks to address the question of decommissioning on the basis that has already been agreed by the parties participating in the Executive.

One would have hoped that at the first meeting of the Assembly in this new year, this new century and this new millennium the Northern Ireland community would be treated to a much more worthwhile and meaningful debate — a debate on health, education or employment, instead of on the endlessly rehearsed subject of decommissioning. Members are faced with so many problems whichever way they turn — problems with health and education, jobs, farming and fisheries — but yet again we are debating decommissioning, even though the framework has been put in place for its total achievement.

By bringing forward this motion and the next two, the DUP is again engaging in the ritualistic performances which seem to me to be geared to grabbing the headlines or creating a confrontation in the Chamber that will make the news later. It does this instead of addressing and participating in the reality of trying to achieve decommissioning in its best form. Perhaps the ‘News Letter’, which Dr Paisley referred to, was right when it said that there might be a bit of headline-seeking in what is currently a rather dull political scenario for the DUP.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not correct to say that every party in the Assembly had an opportunity to put down a motion for today? They could have put down motions on health or on the other matters that Mr McGrady referred to, but they did not do so. It is no wonder that they are mad that the DUP was able to table three motions. Even I was amazed.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. It would be inappropriate to go into the discussions and dealings of the Business Committee, save to note that Dr Paisley is obviously gratified at the opportunity to have three motions in one day.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

That request for a ruling under the guise of a point of order merely illustrates the point that I was making: anyone could have tabled these motions. I have no objection to any number of motions being tabled, but I am entitled to address the motivation behind them. Are they effective or simply a means of giving the impression of real political movement? The DUP has failed to prevent the creation of the power-sharing Executive, having lost out to the common sense of the great majority of people in Northern Ireland. Its political credibility is now being reduced to nothing.

How else could one describe the gross, audacious hypocrisy of the DUP in accepting two ministerial positions in the Executive, the very creation of which it says is a threat to Northern Ireland’s existence?

12.00

How can they participate so fully in government? No amount of verbal camouflage can conceal the reality of the DUP’s participation in the Government of Northern Ireland. The DUP knows that this process is going to succeed — that is its real problem. However, it should also remember, in the terms of these motions, that part of the process that I hope will succeed is that the decommissioning of all illegal paramilitary weapons takes place. That is part of the process that we are in.

Do the proposers of the substantive motion think that they have a unique claim to the need and the desire for decommissioning? Let me assure them that they have not. All the people of this island, and beyond, have a deep and pervasive desire to see the end of guns and explosives in this society. Unless the question of arms is dealt with now, we all know the dangers they represent to peace and harmony, to our future and to the future of the next generation.

Decommissioning should not be achieved by the extraction of benefits for those who hold weapons.

A Member:

On a point of information —

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

I have had enough heckling and interventions from a sedentary position to do me for this particular debate. It is not a question of giving benefits for decommissioning; it is a question of fundamental rights and the demands of this society, as expressed in referenda and in elections, being heeded and protected. One of those demands — and we all know this; it was endorsed and agreed upon — is that all illegal weapons should be decommissioned by May 2000. I do not quarrel with people’s need and desire for decommissioning. Indeed, I support such people in their proper endeavours to achieve it, but what I object to is the DUP’s attempt to gain party political advantage by tabling these motions, even at the risk of sacrificing the actuality of decommissioning. I fear that that is the manner and intent of the substantive motions.

We have collectively — slowly and painfully — put together a process to achieve decommissioning. We should now allow it to proceed without placing further pressures on it.

Many Members have sufficient influence in the appropriate quarters to ensure that decommissioning will take place as set out in the agreement and in my party’s amendment to the DUP motion. The amendment deals with the principles of the agreements made on 25 June 1999 and reiterated by Senator Mitchell in his review: an inclusive Executive exercising devolved powers; decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000; and the decommissioning to be carried out by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. That is what was agreed, and that is the basis on which we sit in this Chamber. My amendment, on behalf of my party, tries to put that in the context of decommissioning.

Decommissioning is a difficult and a delicate task to achieve. The process for decommissioning has already been laid down by the agreement of the parties; by the conclusion of the Mitchell Report; and by the current and ongoing work of the decommissioning commission. We all know that Gen de Chastelain is to report by the end of this month. Let us wait for the outcome of his report and not make the process any more difficult for him than it has to be.

We have seen how difficult it is — sometimes impossible — in other parts of the world. We can achieve a tremendous breakthrough on decommissioning — one which will set the foundations for a new beginning.

It is not only the DUP which is putting unnecessary stress on the current process of achieving decommissioning. One has only to note the recent speech by the Sinn Féin president in which he anticipated a united Ireland within 16 years. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration. Indeed, I support a similar concept for a new Ireland, but how much more easily could that be achieved if the IRA were to immediately, voluntarily and totally decommission its weapons, and the Loyalists were to do likewise. There is a responsibility as well. In the aftermath of decommissioning, decisions regarding our political future would be the result of the only acceptable weapon in any democracy, and that weapon is the will of the people, freely expressed. That too is guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement.

When this motion was being moved some very scurrilous remarks were made about the SDLP. Since its foundation in 1970 — it did not exist in 1969 — my party has taken on all those who perpetrated violence, particularly those who were operating insidiously from within our own communities. Members of my party were assassinated. They and their families suffered intimidation at the hands of their electorate, and I resent the insinuation made in this House that the SDLP piggybacks on anybody. We were our own men and women, and we stood up to violence while others were creating semi-paramilitary groupings and leaping up and down hills waving gun licences, and the like. I defy any Member of this House, or anybody outside it, to give me one instance of any member of the SDLP participating in any form of militarism.

Not only that, but when the SDLP initiated a new beginning in the early 1970s we created a framework of thought and a new process, the result of which, whether Members like it or not, is that the most extreme groups, the DUP, Sinn Féin — the lot — are in this Chamber today. That has been our achievement, and we are proud of it. We do not accept any scurrilous, unfounded character assassinations of people who are now dead. I have heard all Members comment on the grief and the suffering of members of their community. There was grief and suffering in our community too.

This amendment contains the reality of that, which has been agreed by the parties, by the Mitchell Review and by the process now being undertaken by Gen de Chastelain. I commend it for the Assembly’s endorsement.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I am broadly in favour of this motion, with which, strangely, I find myself in agreement. I have to say to members of the DUP, however, that they are not achieving much by moving motions like this. They know that it will not achieve anything; they know that they are not going to bring about decommissioning; and they know that nothing that they have done in the past is in any way going to change anything in this society. All they do is act constantly as a catalyst for aggression —

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

Members of your party never give way to members of my party — or very rarely — so I will not give way to you.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you make it clear that the record reflects that in every debate I have given way to every Member across the House on those issues.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

That is not a point of order, although may I take this opportunity to draw Members’ attention to the fact that remarks need to be addressed through the Chair.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

I apologise, Mr Speaker. I will make my remarks through the Chair. The debate today is a relatively pointless exercise, but, again, I want to say that I speak in favour of the motion. We have heard from the DUP why it supports this motion. This is the party whose hypocrisy knows no bounds. It takes part in the agreement; it takes part in the institutions of the agreement; it says that the agreement is going to lead to the sky falling in and a united Ireland in its members’ lifetime, yet it feels that it can take part in it somehow. If the agreement is such a disaster, why is the DUP not outside this place? But I think we all know how hypocritical the DUP is.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

If it is so meaningless, why is the Member taking part in it?

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

This is coming from a Member who said he did not even think that decommissioning was a priority.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

It is not a point of order; you know it is not a point of order.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Let me be the judge of that one.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Is it in order for a Member to grossly mislead the House by stating that I said that decommissioning was not a priority? What I said — and it is clearly on the record — was that it was not the priority. The priority should have been the maintenance of democracy and the upholding of the Union. Maybe it is not for Mr Dalton.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

It could not really be a point of order for me to try to ensure that Members do not mislead each other, or the House, in a general sense, but I rather suspect the point has been made.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

My premonition was correct in that it was not a point of order. The Mitchell review took place at the end of last year, and in it there was a general discussion and debate. An attempt made by this party and by Members opposite to find some way of moving the entire decommissioning process forward. We tried to come to a sensible arrangement whereby the institutions of the agreement could be set up and, in reciprocation, expected that decommissioning would progress under the auspices of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. I am one of the more liberal members of the Unionist community who had hoped that the new year would see the destruction of weaponry. I had hoped that the new millennium would bring about a new era in politics and that the gun would be removed from politics in Northern Ireland, but unfortunately that has not been the case.

I have to say to the Members opposite, in particular to Sinn Féin, that some members of the Unionist community, like myself, have tried very hard to make the agreement work. We have tried our best to bring about a society in which there is tolerance, in which there is respect for the diversity of nationality, of identity, and for the aspirations in Northern Ireland. We have tried hard to make this process work. It has not been easy for us.

Many of us have felt a great moral difficulty in dealing with certain aspects of the agreement — prisoner releases and changes to the RUC cut many of us very deeply and are extraordinarily difficult to deal with — but in good faith we have tried to make this work. We find that, as the new year dawns, nothing has happened. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning does not seem to have produced any result, and the decommissioning issue, brought up again by the DUP, raises its head as merely another obstacle in this process. Before the new year I made a number of comments on the establishment of the institutions of the agreement and on the way in which they should be set up. I suggested that we should try to take this process forward by setting up these institutions in order to create the conditions that would allow those members of the IRA to bring about decommissioning — [Interruption]

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the Member aware that nine months ago, at the Easter celebrations in my constituency of Carrickmore, the present Minister of Education advised those assembled not to hand over a single gun or an ounce of Semtex?

That was a person, now a Minister in the Government, addressing his own flock. The same people have now threatened the local primary school headmaster in Pomeroy, telling him not to allow a representative of the Pushkin award, the Duchess of Abercorn, into their school. Threats and intimidation are still part of the IRA policy of the ballot box in one hand and institutional or violent intimidation in the other.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP 12:15 pm, 17th January 2000

I would like to be able to say to the Member that we live in a society where threats and intimidation are not part of day-to-day life. I woke up this morning to find that two members of my constituency in Newtownabbey had been shot through the legs by members of Loyalist paramilitary groups. This type of thing does occur on a daily basis, but we are trying to make it stop. We are trying to bring about a society where this does not happen; where there is not that degree of intimidation on a regular basis; where paramilitary groups do not walk about and wield weaponry threatening people whenever they have political disagreements with them.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

No.

Before the beginning of the year I suggested that the institutions should be set up. This is something which it seems has now come about through the Mitchell review. At the time some senior Members of Sinn Féin — the Member from Mid Ulster in particular — suggested that others should listen to me. May I say to that Member that he should listen to me now. There is no more room for compromise on this side of the House. Members of the Unionist community, like myself, will not give any further. We are not able on this occasion simple to allow things to change yet again and for the Unionist community to slide one more time in order to allow a little more room, or opportunity, in the hope that one day the weaponry will be destroyed. I want to make it clear to the Members opposite that under the terms of the Mitchell review there is an expectation that there will be a report from Gen de Chastelain by the end of January.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

No. I expect that the report on 31 January will contain some reference to decommissioning. I, unlike other Members, do not expect the IRA to surrender weapons, to bend the knee, or in any way to indicate its surrender. We are asking that those weapons, which are a threat to the lives and well-being of this community and of this society, both in the North and South of Ireland, are got rid off. I do not care whether this is done by way of a big bang in a forest and watched by Gen de Chastelain or by some other method. I want to see those weapons destroyed and the threat of the gun removed from politics in Northern Ireland.

I must indicate to those Members that I would be unwilling and unable to support the continuation of the institutions of the Assembly if decommissioning does not occur by the end of January. I say that as one of the most liberal Members one could probably find on this side of the House. On this occasion I want to make sure that the Members opposite realise the strength of feeling that exists in the Unionist community.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Will the Member give way? [Interruption]

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Order. I have noticed that there is a little pattern developing. Because there is no limit on the time Members may speak, there is a tendency for them to give way to members of their own party merely to increase the number of speakers and the amount of speaking time available. Mr Paisley Jnr looks shocked. I assure him that I think it may be so. Therefore, whilst it is not inappropriate to give way to members of their own party, neither is it inappropriate to give way to members of other parties.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP

Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot accuse the Member of that, as he is refusing to give way to a member of his own party but quite willing to give way to a member of Sinn Féin/IRA.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I was not begging any questions of what this Member was doing; I was merely responding to a singularly noisy response from others when he gave way to a Member from another party.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

When a person is making a motion in another place he is entitled to give way at least two or three times to people who are naturally questioning him about his motion. It has always been the custom that when a person is proposing a main motion he has the flexibility of giving way.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I am not suggesting that Members have gone outside what is appropriate; I am just a little aware that when patterns develop they can become inappropriate.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I have a comment to make through you, Mr Speaker, to Mr Shipley Dalton . I sympathise and empathise with many of Mr Shipley Dalton’s comments in relation to how the people within the community he represents feel about this whole vexed question of decommissioning. By the same token, he neglects to understand that there are many views on that issue within all the communities on these islands. Most importantly, when he says that he will not be able to support the institutions after next month that runs directly contrary to the position adopted by his party leadership during the Mitchell review, particularly at the conclusion of the review. I am making the point that, regardless of the promises and guarantees which were given by its leadership at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting, what Mr Shipley Dalton is saying is contrary to the position adopted by his party at the Mitchell review, when the deal was done. I think the people on the UUP Benches need to bear that in mind.

Photo of Mr Duncan Dalton Mr Duncan Dalton UUP

The Member is saying that we must not set up more preconditions; that we are attempting to lay down a condition that the IRA is not going to agree with or accept; and that it is unreasonable for us to do that. The institutions of the agreement are set up in order to provide an opportunity for those of us who have hugely different aspirations and views about our way of life to try to find a way to accommodate those within a democratic political framework. The maintenance of standing armies and weaponry cannot in any way be compatible with that. That is something accepted on this side of the House and also throughout the entire island of Ireland. The Member knows that.

It is quite clear that at this stage in the process of the agreement, the future of the institutions of this Assembly is in the hands of the IRA. It is now up to the IRA to decide if it is going to see these institutions continue; if it genuinely wishes to see the agreement work and if it wants a genuine attempt to be made to bring about toleration, acceptance and accommodation between the two vastly different communities in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland. That decision is the IRA’s, and it is one which must be made quickly, because there is no more room or patience, even amongst those who are the most moderate, most liberal and most willing in the Unionist community, to try to make this process work.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have now had some of the main contributors, and you indicated that you would look at the possibility of some sort of time limit to enable as many as possible to speak. Have you come to any view on that, and at what time do you aim to have this debate completed so that Members may know whether they will get a chance to speak?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I requested that Members indicate at an early stage whether they wished to speak. That did not happen, which makes it rather difficult for me to indicate a time limit. The Business Committee thought that one hour was reasonable in respect of each of these three debates. We started at about 11.40 am, so this debate would end at 12.40 pm. Within that time both the proposer of the amendment and the proposer of the substantive motion have the right to respond. It is clear from that that the amount of time available for speaking is now very limited, and I appeal to Members to limit themselves as much as possible.

Under Standing Orders, time can be limited only at the beginning of the debate. Members did not raise that until after the debate had started, and that makes it difficult. I will try to ensure that the different sides of the argument are put, but that is not necessarily the same thing as everyone’s having a chance to speak.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The next business is Question Time at 2.30 pm. If we were to break at 12.40 pm, or shortly after, we would be allowing ourselves almost two hours for lunch. As some Members who have not had the opportunity to speak wish to do so, should we not break later than 12.40 pm?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I will consider what the Member says, but he should understand that under Standing Orders the Business Committee set down the time, and the question was whether there would be three hours for one debate or three hours for three debates. The Member needs to be aware of that, but I will see what I can do.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. Will we still have the vote immediately after this debate?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin

Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.

I start by saying that it is not within the remit of the House to demand the handover of anything. The Good Friday Agreement and the Mitchell review both state quite clearly that decommissioning, when it occurs, will be a voluntary act. Setting deadlines or making demands will not achieve decommissioning. For years and years the Unionists have stalled and used the tactic of deadline and demand. They have wasted — [Interruption]

Does the Member wish to intervene?

Through the tactic of deadline and demand the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party — Unionists in general — have succeeded only in delaying matters for two years and wasting very valuable time which would have been more productively spent establishing the political institutions and demonstrating that politics work. Decommissioning has been dealt with in the Good Friday Agreement and in the Mitchell review, and it should be left where it rightly belongs — with Gen de Chastelain.

The Good Friday Agreement requires all parties to use their influence to create the conditions to remove the gun from the equation. Sinn Féin has been using its influence to bring this about. Other parties have failed to do so.

I ask the proposer of the motion what the DUP is doing to bring this about. What is it doing to establish the status of the weapons brought here from South Africa by a British agent, Mr Brian Nelson, for the Ulster Resistance movement, a movement with which it is clearly inextricably linked? This was evident at the Ulster Hall, where they wore the red beret and insignia of the Ulster Resistance, in Portadown and on various hillsides throughout the country where members of the DUP waved weapons, both licensed and unlicensed.

Where are those weapons now? They are still being targeted at the Nationalist community in the North. The party in question was instrumental in forming the Ulster Resistance, so we need to have an answer. What is it doing to bring about decommissioning?

The House should get on with the business that it was elected to do — fill the vacuum and demonstrate that politics works. The decommissioning issue is now where it should be — with Gen de Chastelain and his committee.

We should not underestimate the efforts made by the IRA in creating the opportunity to bring about the political climate in which progress can be made. It created the opportunity by calling the cessation of violence in the first place, and it has also linked in and co-operated with Gen de Chastelain, meeting him regularly to try to bring about the decommissioning of weapons. When decommissioning happens, it will be a voluntary act — it cannot be brought about by force or demand.

I ask the House to support Mr McGrady’s amendment. Decommissioning should be dealt with under the terms of the Mitchell review and in keeping with the three principles set out on 25 June 1999.

Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP 12:30 pm, 17th January 2000

I support the motion standing in the names of Rev Dr Ian Paisley and Mr P Robinson. It is important to consider why decommissioning is such a crucial issue for the entire community in Northern Ireland. It is vital to remove from those who have terrorised Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists, the tools of their trade, the guns and explosives that are required to carry on, sustain or resume a campaign of death and destruction that has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 innocent victims, citizens of Northern Ireland.

Let us not lose sight of the true nature of decommissioning and of exactly what it means. There has been an attempt to equate decommissioning with a devolved administration in Northern Ireland and to sanitise the issue beyond all recognition. We need to remind ourselves and the community — if it needs any reminding — exactly what the past 30 years have meant to the people of Northern Ireland. The terror has been directed by Sinn Féin/IRA not only against the forces of the Crown, the British Army and the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland. They have also terrorised those in their own communities and their co-religionists.

I shall give a few examples in order to make people aware or to familiarise them with some of the past atrocities. A book by Mr Peter Taylor, entitled ‘Provos: the IRA and Sinn Féin’, gives an account of an incident which went beyond the bounds of human decency for any group of people in the world, let alone Northern Ireland. It says

"The IRA took hostage the family of Patsy Gillespie, strapped him into a car loaded with a thousand pounds of explosives and told him to drive to the checkpoint. The IRA told his family he would be released when he carried out their orders. Patsy Gillespie became a ‘human bomb’ and when he arrived at the checkpoint the IRA detonated the explosives by remote control killing him and five soldiers. The IRA claimed Gillespie was a ‘legitimate target’ because he worked at an army base."

In fact, Mr Gillespie was baking buns for the Army. That was his crime.

Others who are too numerous to name are documented in the book ‘Lost Lives’. People were taken by Mr Molloy’s, Mr Adams’s and Mr McGuinness’s associates in the IRA to destinations and tortured for days. They were nailed to barn floors, killed in the most horrific fashion, their stomachs gouged out and filled with explosives. When we talk about the handing in of weapons and explosives, let us never lose sight of how these guns and explosives have been used or of the families who still suffer mentally and physically and who will bear the scars for their entire lives.

It is with great regret, in light of the incidents I have mentioned, that I have to say that some members of the Ulster Unionist Party view decommissioning not in light of the atrocities or of the fact that no civilised community can continue with such people in its midst, let alone in its Government, but simply as a way of getting around the issue that faces them in relation to sitting in government with unreconstructed terrorists.

They do not seek, as they pledged to the electorate many years ago, to put Sinn Féin/IRA out of business, rather they seek to find a way to sit in government and work with them as full partners in the Government in Northern Ireland.

The fear of Mr Shipley Dalton and others in the Ulster Unionist Party is what Gen de Chastelain may come up with on the issue of decommissioning. We have heard Mr Molloy say that he has great faith in the General’s future plans, which worries me slightly. The fear in the Ulster Unionist camp is that the General may find a way around the decommissioning issue. He may find a way of allowing the Ulster Unionists to continue beyond their February deadline that would be acceptable to the other side of the House and to the weaker brethren in the Ulster Unionist Party. They may hope that it might be sufficient to swing the Ulster Unionist Council.

However, Mr Trimble’s dilemma is that it will not cover their nakedness before the majority of people whom they have deceived, both in their own ranks and in the wider community. They told the people that they would not sit in government with murderers. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party will continue to oppose the presence of Sinn Féin in government while the IRA exists and while Sinn Féin remains inextricably linked to that organisation. We do not support the concept of guns for government. We do not accept the barter system whereby a feeble gesture guarantees the continuation of those fronting terrorist organisations in the Government of Northern Ireland.

The implementation of the Belfast Agreement has politically institutionalised the very opposite of democratic practice and the rule of law. The outworking of the agreement has secured a central role in government for Sinn Féin, backed by the terrorist arsenal of the IRA. This means that the threat of force has been fully incorporated into the government of Northern Ireland.

The outcome of the Mitchell review fully legitimised this state of affairs. It established that decommissioning, if it ever occurs, must be voluntary, as Mr Molloy has just informed us. An act on the part of the terrorist — and this has to be fully endorsed by the Government of the United Kingdom — is absolutely incompatible with democracy. The conduct of politics, free from threat or use of violence, must be the core of democracy. Democratic practice is ultimately rooted in respect for the fundamentals of human rights. Democratic government must be based entirely on electoral support, which means that no political party can claim a right to be involved in government on the basis of a so-called electoral mandate, while at the same time retaining at its disposal the persuasion that comes from the barrel of a gun — to use one Sinn Féin Member’s comments.

The implementation of the Belfast Agreement has institutionalised the combination of the Armalite and the ballot box into the Government of Northern Ireland. This is entirely incompatible with the most fundamental of human rights. Northern Ireland citizens are now, in effect, governed, not on the basis of respect for human rights, but on the basis of nothing more commendable than the strategic thinking of Sinn Féin/IRA.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

We are now coming to a point where I can only move to the winding-up speeches by the proposer of the amendment and the proposer of the substantive motion.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

My comments are virtually at an end.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

In any case, I will bring them to an end.

Photo of Mr Cedric Wilson Mr Cedric Wilson NIUP

The law-abiding community in Northern Ireland is now asking "Where are the church leaders and the captains of commerce and industry?" In the weeks prior to the "Jump together" or "You jump first, David" syndromes they were lobbying Members of the House and encouraging them to put in place Members of Sinn Féin. They have been strangely silent and conspicuous by their silence. There have been no marches to Stormont demanding decommissioning. I have heard nothing from Sir George Quigley and his "Magnificent Seven" — the G7 — encouraging or commanding them to jump in the same way as they did of the Unionists. We will not hear that. It does not fit in with the plan. The plan is that Sinn Féin/IRA will remain in the Government of Northern Ireland for as long as they wish; it is in the Belfast Agreement.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

Mr Speaker, are you going to consider, as you earlier said you would, Mr Weir’s point about an extension?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I did consider the question, and the fact that we are now about to hear the winding-up speeches at 12.40 pm rather than having completed the whole debate by 12.40 pm shows that I have looked kindly upon what Mr Weir said. I would have been bringing the debate to a close at an earlier stage in order that the winding-up speeches for the amendment and the substantive motion could have been completed by 12.40 pm. One could argue that I should have moved to the vote before that time. I have been flexible.

Members need to understand the importance of indicating their wish to speak before the start of a debate so that I may make a decision about the amount of time to allow for it. However, if they look at those who have spoken, they will have to agree that the range of views has been as fully expressed as I can make it in the time.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

I have to say, with the greatest respect, that there was no indication that this motion would be taken at the time it is being taken. There would have been the luncheon interval and other intervals in order to give you — [Interruption] May I have the courtesy of being allowed to finish, unless you do not want me to speak. I have not been able to speak in this debate. I believe I would have had a relevant and material contribution to make. There is small purpose in being here if one is not allowed to make a contribution.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Let me respond to the point of order. First, the reason that the Member is not aware of that fact is that he and his Colleagues do not have a representative on the Business Committee. The matter was discussed and decided by the Committee; that is one of the problems of not having representation.

Secondly, there is no requirement that all parties have an opportunity to speak in a debate, and it is clearly impossible for them to be able to do that. Thirdly, the Standing Orders Committee, of which the Member was a member, decided to remove the question of time limits and to institute only a time limit put in by the Speaker on the basis of the requests made to speak received in advance. That has tied my hands in that regard, and it is very difficult to ensure that Members are able to speak.

From such experiences Members will begin to understand the Assembly’s imperfections and the way in which we conduct ourselves may then lead to changes in the Standing Orders. That is the proper way to proceed.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you acknowledge that some Members who, before the debate began, expressed a wish to speak have not, as yet, been called?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

Yes. The Member needs to be aware that that is a perfectly common experience in other places. Members frequently travel many miles to get to other places and do not get a chance to speak. The Speaker has to make a decision based on the balance of those who wish to speak and their arguments, and also, perhaps, the fact that Members have had the opportunity to speak at other times.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

In all of the contributions to today’s debate there was no absence of a desire to have full and immediate decommissioning. All of the contributions were really determined, and, in good faith, I would like to see decommissioning take place. It should happen, not just for its own sake, but in order to underpin the peace which we have and the more permanent peace we would have following decommissioning.

Regarding the remarks about timing, what my amendment is trying to do is to make sure, as far as we can in the process, that decommissioning takes place. There is no point in having futile and empty debates unless there is a mechanism there to achieve what we want.

My amendment says that we should proceed and support the principles laid down by the agreement between the parties on 25 June and subsequently endorsed and reiterated by Senator Mitchell. That process is still ongoing in terms of the de Chastelain Committee and its report at the end of this month.

The practical way for the Assembly to go forward and achieve decommissioning is to support this amendment. If we support the Executive and participation in it, if we really want to achieve decommissioning as a fact, the only way forward — one which has been agreed by all parties, those representing paramilitaries and others — is the way I have described.

That is the purpose of the amendment, and for that reason I am sure it will commend itself to the entire Assembly, including the mover and supporters of the substantive motion. I exhort the Assembly to give it its full endorsement.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 12:45 pm, 17th January 2000

It is to be regretted that more time was not allocated to this debate. It was neither in your gift, Mr Speaker, nor in mine. However, I wish to state that I took 14 minutes to move the motion. Mr McGrady took 12 minutes for his amendment. Mr Shipley Dalton spoke for eight minutes and Mr Wilson for 10. The time taken by the DUP, the sponsor of the motion, was extremely short indeed compared to that which would have been taken in another place. Members of this House say that I am to blame for their not getting permission to speak. It has nothing to do with me. Their row should be with the Business Committee. I do not see why the Business Committee did not say that this debate could go on until at least one o’clock rather than saying that it should end before that time.

We have before the House today a pan-Nationalist amendment supported by IRA/Sinn Féin and the SDLP. I shall not pass any remarks about the Gentleman from South Down. I understand his beliefs. I understand how he feels. No man can feel sorer than he, having been passed over for office. I can understand his frustration, especially since he is sitting beside the two hon Gentlemen who are hounding him. I think we shall leave it there.

The Mitchell review has been bandied about. The Mitchell resolutions, however, were sell-out resolutions. At the time of the review I said at Westminster what would take place. Nobody refuted it, not even Mr Mitchell. I faced Mr Mitchell on these issues.

A deal was done for the Mitchell review — get Sinn Féin/IRA into offices at Westminster. A deal was done for the Patten Report. A deal has been done for all these things, yet in spite of all their wheeling and dealing and agreement, they have got nowhere. We even have a man who has gone down the road to Damascus and has completely changed. Who would have thought —

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

He is still blind.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

No, he is not blind. He is beginning to see the nature of the beast across the House. He is beginning to see what it is really after.

We are entitled to talk about this matter today. Mr McGrady told us that we were putting decommissioning at risk by talking about it. Then he said that we should not put it at risk. We need to see the decommissioning of all weapons held by outlaws and terrorists. We are not dealing with Army weapons; we are not dealing with police weapons, be they those of the Reserve or otherwise. Of course, since 10,000 soldiers are about to leave, that will mean 10,000 fewer weapons. Eight thousand RUC men will be paid off. Eight thousand Reserve men will go. The rest of them will be disarmed. That is how they will be decommissioned. The IRA, however, will still have its weapons, and those on the so-called Protestant side who wish to hold on to their weapons will hold on to them.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

I would like to thank my hon Friend for giving way. Let us bear in mind that this is the eighth anniversary of the slaughter at Teebane in my constituency.

I stood with my constituents at a headstone to remember. There are Members in this House from IRA/Sinn Féin who know all about Teebane. Will my hon Friend tell the House that this idea of voluntary decommissioning is total nonsense? The IRA has never wanted to give up one of its weapons and will not give up one. Now it is a demand of the people of Northern Ireland. Would my hon Friend agree that, rather than sanitise IRA/Sinn Féin, it is about time that McGuinness, Adams and Molloy were arrested for war crimes against the people of this country?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

I advise the Member that I will be studying Hansard afterwards to see whether some of his remarks constitute unparliamentary allegations.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Speaker, you will have great difficulty. You will have to read Hansard at Westminster to see some of the things that have been said by Government Ministers. We can leave that to your good intentions.

This matter runs right into the depths of this community. There is no use brushing it under the carpet. There is no use saying we are going to get it when we are not. The IRA leadership and the Sinn Féin leadership have told us that we are not going to get it, but they are going to get every concession they can squeeze out of a British Government that is terrorised. The Government are afraid of a bomb going off elsewhere in the United Kingdom. They can bomb here, and the British Government will close their eyes to it. However, they cannot bomb across the water for that would disturb the peace of one Tony Blair. To every Unionist and every person who believes in law and order and believes in the safety of the community, I say that, from whatever side these terrorists come, they have got to be faced up to. I say that we can do it in the House today by reflecting the real wishes of the people.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir UUP

Will the hon Member agree with me that the people of Northern Ireland will not accept what might be described as the "David Copperfield" solution to decommissioning? David Copperfield, the well-known American magician, appeared to make the Taj Mahal and the Empire State Building disappear when it was, in fact, a trick with smoke and mirrors. Will the hon Member agree with me that the people of Northern Ireland will not accept a trick with smoke and mirrors with regard to decommissioning? Decommissioning must be real and transparent. It must not only be done, but be seen to be done.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I am sure that the hon Member will take hope from the conversion of his erstwhile Colleague and realise that the holy smoke is over and the mirrors are not reflecting right as far as he is concerned.

Question put

The Assembly proceeded to a division.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker

May I remind Members that there are three minutes between the Division bells sounding and the Questions being put again, and four minutes from the Questions being put and the Doors being secured. Members have, in total, seven minutes from the Division bells starting to ring to get to the Chamber to vote.

The Assembly having divided: Ayes 43; Noes 45.

AYES

Alex Attwood, Eileen Bell, P J Bradley, Seamus Close, John Dallat, Arthur Doherty, Mark Durkan, David Ervine, Sean Farren, John Fee, David Ford, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Billy Hutchinson, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Seamus Mallon, Alex Maskey, Kieran McCarthy, Donovan McClelland, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Eddie McGrady, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Eugene McMenamin, Pat McNamee, Monica McWilliams, Francie Molloy, Jane Morrice, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Sean Neeson, Mary Nelis, Danny O’Connor, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Brid Rodgers, John Tierney.

NOES

Ian Adamson, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Tom Benson, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Fred Cobain, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, William Hay, David Hilditch, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, James Leslie, David McClarty, William McCrea, Alan McFarland, Maurice Morrow, Dermot Nesbitt, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Patrick Roche, George Savage, Jim Shannon, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson, Sammy Wilson.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main question put and agreed to.

Resolved:

This House demands the handing over of all illegal terrorist weaponry and its destruction in accordance with legislative provisions; acknowledges that the people of Northern Ireland will not accept token decommissioning; and calls for the process of decommissioning to be verifiable, transparent and credible.

The sitting was, by leave, suspended at 1.10 pm.

On resuming —

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Speaker 2:30 pm, 17th January 2000

As this is the first occasion on which the Assembly has taken Question Time, I would like to make one or two remarks about how we intend to proceed. I shall call for questions to the Minister — in this case the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment — and I shall call the first Member named on the published list, who is Mr McClelland. The Member shall rise and simply say, in this case, "Question 1, Mr Speaker." The Minister will then rise and respond, as he sees fit. When he has answered, I may call the Member who asked the question to pose a supplementary. That will not always be the case, but in most cases it will be. Again the Minister will rise and answer.

I may then call other Members, or, indeed, I may call the same Member again, but I will then call other Members to pose further supplementary questions. Those questions, to be in order, should be relevant to the initial question. I will do my best to judge that they are.

Standing Orders set down that there will be such questions each Monday when the House is sitting, from 2.30 pm until 4.00 pm. The Business Committee, in discussion with the Executive Committee, has determined that on each Monday when there are Questions three Ministers shall be available, each to answer questions for 30 minutes, or, from time to time, two Ministers and a representative of the Assembly Commission to respond to questions for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes we will move on to the next Minister today, or, on some future occasion, to a Minister or a member of the Commission.

I trust that Members are clear about this.