I will advise Members as to how I propose to conduct the debate, which has been allocated two and a half hours by the Business Committee. Three amendments have been tabled and published on the Marshalled List. Speaking times will be as follows: the proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes to wind up; the proposers of each of the amendments will have seven minutes to propose and five minutes to wind up; and all other Members will have five minutes each.
The amendments will be proposed in the order in which they appear on the Marshalled List. When the debate has been concluded, I shall put the question on amendment 1. Whether or not amendment 1 is made, I shall put the question on amendment 2. However, amendment 3 may not be called if either of the other amendments is made. The Speaker’s ruling on this matter has been explained to the Business Committee at its lunchtime meeting. If that is clear, I shall proceed.
I beg to move that
In its belief that all sections of our community have the right to exist and all people have the right to live free from violence and intimidation whether at home, at school, or the workplace, this Assembly expresses its sympathy to all those who have been the victims of sectarian murder, violence and intimidation in recent times, and rejects sectarianism and commits itself to providing leadership on this issue in practical ways. That this Assembly also re-affirms its commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means to resolve disputes.
Go raibh maith agat, LeasCheann Comhairle. The motion should have been easy to pass — we kept it simple, to the point, easy to agree and non-controversial. We made every effort to get cross-party support. What does the motion say? It says simply that we express our sympathy to all victims of sectarianism and that all of us reject sectarianism and commit ourselves to practical means to eradicate it. Regardless of our political differences, the motion was designed to be a united and public voice of anti-sectarianism from the Assembly.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Belfast City Council, the trade union movement, and the Churches have all spoken out against recent sectarianism, and there is a movement towards anti-sectarianism building momentum, which must continue and grow. It is our turn to show leadership and strengthen the message.
As we all know, sectarianism is not a new phenomenon; it has been with us all our lives. However, in the past two years, the body of it has sat heavily on the so-called interfaces of Belfast, with its stinging tentacles reaching further afield into Larne, Derry and Antrim and to isolated families in all parts of the Six Counties. Sectarianism has been unrelenting in interface areas.
For those who may not know it, life for people in Alliance Avenue, Newington Street or in the Parkside, Clandeboye or Serpentine areas is a living hell. There is a constant expectation of a stone, petrol bomb, bullet or bomb coming through a kitchen or bedroom window. Family homes have rooms which cannot be used — beds are abandoned and kids sleep on camp beds, sofas or chairs in sitting rooms. Back or front doors are never used: nerve tablets are overused.
Sectarianism is the growing nervousness that never leaves: it is the alienating and isolating experience that is hard to comprehend, even if you live just a couple of streets away. It is living with buckets of sand and hosepipes and not redecorating the house because it is not worth it, and it is the deep anxiety every time your child or your spouse leaves the house.
What has made the problem stand out over the past few years is that it has been concentrated 24 hours a day on the same groups of ordinary families. I have been in their homes and know that others in the Assembly have been there also. The challenge often heard being offered to visitors or observers is to spend some nights living there: "Come and live with me in these homes and see what it is like."
That challenge is not made by people who wish to be clever or smart alecs. It is made because of the frustration felt by the victims of sectarian attacks. No matter how they describe their lives, they feel that others must experience them to understand how bad the situation really is.
In the past two years, six people have been killed by Loyalist attacks — four were Catholics and two were Protestants who were unfortunately mistaken for Catholics. There have been hundreds of gun and bomb attacks and innumerable other sectarian attacks on people and property. There is documented evidence of more than 360 sectarian attacks in a single three-month period. In north Belfast, since the Loyalist Commission’s "no first strike" statement on 15 June, we have seen at least 25 gun attacks, 29 bomb attacks and more than 66 other attacks, including stabbings, petrol bomb attacks and massive damage to property in the Nationalist part of the community.
Churches and schools have been far from immune, with the Holy Cross blockade serving as a dark monument to bigotry. Other Members, Unionist and Loyalist, can supply their own horrific lists. Although I can speak of the consequences and experience of anti-Catholic sectarian attacks only, I am not blind to the suffering of many Protestants over the various walls. The majority of sectarian attacks are against Catholics and Nationalists. However, the fact that Loyalists carry out the most significant proportion of attacks does not help Protestants who suffer from similar attacks. Therefore, we must make it crystal clear that we are against sectarianism, regardless of where it emanates from and whoever the victim may be.
The debate may turn into a dogfight. I hope that it does not, and it is certainly not the intention of the motion. People are suffering. They are watching this debate, and they want to know whether the Assembly can do anything to help them. A unified, anti-sectarian voice would go some way towards assisting them. Our parties are already meeting in a subgroup to try to find more practical ways to make progress. For example, agreeing a series of cross-community communications would be a practical step. Let us show our leadership today. Let the pro-agreement parties demonstrate their belief in dialogue as a process for resolution. We must lead by example on an issue that we can all support.
I call on the Assembly to support the motion. Go raibh maith agat, LeasCheann Comhairle.
"terrorist murder, violence and intimidation, rejects Republican and Loyalist sectarianism and commits itself to providing leadership on this issue in practical ways. This Assembly re-affirms its commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and calls upon all parties to actively support and co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in securing evidence against those involved in violence and in default of their ceasefires."
The UUP has tabled an amendment to Sinn Féin’s motion because that motion seems to mix pious aspiration with a complete abdication of responsibility on its part. Yes, sectarianism as it has developed in Northern Ireland is an evil. It is wrong that people’s views are warped by brutal prejudice. It is wrong that there is an inability to tolerate difference. Notice that I said "difference", because it is inevitable that there are differences in a plural society. It is wrong that parts of this city, and indeed the Province, are cut up into a patchwork of zones, between which many fear to move.
However, the Sinn Féin motion falls prey to a fallacy, which is that, in a sense, everyone is to blame, so that therefore no one in particular is to blame. The motion, from Sinn Féin’s point of view, does not face the uncomfortable truth that paramilitaries’ activities have often been major drivers of sectarian tension. Alas, such terrorist groups are still active, and, in many respects, the Loyalist groups are often as bad as, and sometimes worse than, Republican groups. The wording of our amendment tries to reflect that point.
I am not an exponent of some notion of collective or communal guilt. However, in moving the amendment, I recognise that sometimes parts of Unionism — broadly defined — have not met its high ideals, and that they have had a nasty underbelly in their treatment of other sections of the population.
The UUP is certainly not soft on Loyalist paramilitarism. I do not distinguish between those terrorists who are considered to be "our terrorists" and, therefore, by implication, excusable, and other terrorists — "their terrorists" — who are deemed to be inexcusable. They are all simply wrong.
The record has been dismal, and, sadly, it is not yet a history on which the book has been definitively closed. Since 1969, as is well known, almost 3,700 lives have been lost. Of these, about 59% were the responsibility of Republican terrorist groups, and a further 28% died at the hands of Loyalists. There were up to 50,000 injuries, too. If one is to be seriously anti-sectarian then one must call for a halt to all paramilitary activity, and for this to be done in transparent and verifiable ways. For example, there must be an end to the exiling of unfortunate individuals from their homes in Northern Ireland. There must be an end to torture beatings — the so-called punishment beatings. The August 2001 report titled ‘They Shoot Children Don’t They’ by Prof Liam Kennedy says that during the three years 1998 to 2000 there were 636 Loyalist shootings and 496 Republican ones — one fifth and one third of these victims, respectively, were under the age of 20.
The Sinn Féin motion, which we are attempting to amend, concludes weakly by asking the Assembly to reaffirm its commitment to peaceful politics. That is all very well, but is an evasion of responsibility on its part. The Westminster Government have responsibility for applying adequate standards for the maintenance of the rule of law. In this regard, one might contrast and compare Prime Minister Blair’s pliable approach to that of his Spanish counterpart, Mr Aznar, who has recently banned the political apologists of the Basque terrorist grouping, ETA. As we saw last autumn, international public opinion — especially American — has a crucial role in the restraint of terrorism in this part of the world, as in other parts.
Ultimately, Sinn Féin should recognise its own responsibility. Will it, as our amendment suggests, accept that the PSNI has a majority support in public opinion, and is the sole legitimate force to apply the rule of law? Finally, how does the motion, with its various pious exhortations, compare with the recent IRA apology? Will Sinn Fein now be in a position to condemn all deaths inflicted by paramilitaries since 1969, which would be a constructive step towards improving the climate for reducing sectarianism?
"this Assembly expresses its sympathy to all the innocent victims of terrorist attack, murder, violence and intimidation, notes the continued participation by all paramilitary groupings in a campaign of violence and street disorder thus confirming the breakdown of their ceasefires and therefore calls upon the community to support the Police Service of Northern Ireland as part of the battle against all types of terrorism and continuing disorder. This Assembly affirms its commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means."
At the outset it is interesting to note that neither of the Members who have spoken has made an attempt to define the word "sectarianism", and it is here that we have to come to grips with the motion before the House today. The word "sectarian" comes from the word "sect". I looked at the Catholic encyclopedia to find out what it had to say officially, as a Church, about this matter.
To the Catholic the distinction between Church and sect presents no difficulty. For him, any Christian denomination that has set itself up independently of his own Church is a sect. According to Catholic teaching, any Christians who banded together and refused to accept the entire doctrine, or acknowledge the supreme authority, of the Catholic Church constitute merely a religious party under human, unauthorised leadership. The Catholic Church alone is that universal society, instituted by Jesus Christ, which has a rightful claim to the allegiance of all men. It is the sole custodian of the complete teaching of Jesus Christ, which must be accepted in its entirety by all mankind. Its members do not constitute a sect, nor will they consent to be known as such. The word "sectarian" was coined in Reformation times to label those opposed to the claims of the Roman Catholic Church.
When I was being brought up in the Province, Nationalist politicians labelled everything that was Protestant as sectarian. The Orange Institution, Protestant churches, the police, the old House of Commons here, and so on, were labelled as sectarian.
We see the hypocrisy of a party that represents those who have murdered and wrought mayhem through our Province; who, in their bloodlust, have slain men, women and children; and who have also laid their hands on their co-religionists because they associated in any way with Protestant people. Sinn Féin then tells us that this is a simple resolution. Of course it is — because in its interpretation, its members are not sectarian. I have heard them boast in the House that they are not sectarian. We are asked today to give them an excuse — to join with them in an absolutely meaningless resolution.
The word "sectarian" must be defined. I ran into one of the leading Protestant clergymen of the Province the other day. I did not have a confrontation with him; I met him in the British Airways lounge in London. I asked him why clergymen do not tell people what sectarianism is. He said, "Ian, it is a very convenient word; we like it." We should not be dealing with conveniences in the House; we should be dealing with realities. It is a reality that this word, with which Nationalism and Republicanism has branded Protestantism for a long time and to this day, should be set in its proper context.
I was struck recently by the contents of the report on children. I am sorry that the full report was not made available to us by our information services; part of it was omitted. However, it is interesting to note that when children were asked whether they liked the police, three-year-old Roman Catholic children were more than twice as likely to say that they hated the police as were Protestant children of that age. The seeds that IRA/Sinn Féin has sown are bearing fruit, as it has brought its people up to hate the police. Hence, there is no mention of the police or support for the police in the motion.
The Official Unionist resolution is not strong enough; it should have been far stronger. We must affirm, not reaffirm. What is the use of calling people who say they have already affirmed this resolution? There has been no real affirmation that everyone in the Assembly is committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. The acts of those who proposed the motion and lead the debate today give the lie to that very effectively.
We need only to look at IRA/Sinn Féin’s record. It has been updating weapons and bomb techniques in Colombia; exchanging tips with its colleagues in the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) movement; rearming from Russia and Florida; and targeting leading political, judicial, security, forensic and Loyalist figures using updated intelligence files. It has been identified as the major line of inquiry into the break-in at Special Branch headquarters in Castlereagh; has murdered dozens of individuals in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast Agreement; and has been consistent in its role as judge and jury in the community to say who will be beaten, shot, murdered and intimidated. Recently, it has orchestrated terrible violence against the Belfast community. Let us throw out this hypocritical and treacherous motion.
I beg to move amendment No 3: In line 3 delete all after "school" to line 6 "in practical ways" and insert:
"in workplaces, in local communities and in political and policing institutions, this Assembly expresses its sympathy for all those who have been murdered in the course of the current conflict, to all those who have been subject to violence and intimidation from whatever source, rejects sectarianism and commits itself to provide leadership on the issue in practical ways, including: support for local efforts to develop opportunities for good relations; by calling on political parties to oppose any words, actions or displays of a sectarian nature; and by emphasising the importance that the police ensure that vulnerable communities are adequately protected and that those who direct or are involved in criminal or sectarian activities are prosecuted."
I will outline the SDLP’s two-phased approach to the motion and the amendments. First, if the political leadership of Northern Ireland is to demonstrate its political calibre, it should do more than simply talk; it should take practical steps to confront sectarianism, and it should begin to outline what those steps should be. The SDLP’s amendment is the only one that outlines a strategic approach to deal with sectarianism and to see that it is dealt a body blow.
Secondly, the motion and the other amendments are, to a greater or lesser extent, partial or selective in the treatment of sectarianism. The Assembly should be holistic and inclusive in dealing with sectarianism. Whatever sectarianism is, we must pursue, prosecute, penalise and purge it from wherever it resides in society. We should not ignore or forget the fact that that includes the political parties and Members.
However, where there is genuine alienation and dissent, and where people are genuinely distressed or in conflict with the state, we must interpret and understand that dissent and learn from it. That balanced approach, and a ruthless confrontation of sectarianism and an understanding of what is genuinely alienating in our communities, is the prescription to deal with the problem.
The SDLP proposes a three-pronged offensive against sectarianism, part of which has already been put in place at interfaces and through the political institutions. However, it must be upgraded and fast-forwarded.
The first of those three dimensions is security, which requires that the PSNI provide adequate protection and vigorous prosecution of those involved in sectarian tensions and interface violence. It requires mechanisms at locations of tension and disorder so that people in the community, and those working in the institutions of the state who are trying to manage tensions, can deal with them better. It also requires mechanisms, probably put in place by third-party agencies, to ensure that, even though there is mistrust and differences at those interfaces, a third party can maintain communication between the communities.
The second dimension involves a community element, which would include putting mechanisms in place to manage interface and sectarian tensions better. It would also involve the creation of a community mechanism, whereby people can begin to process the issues that have given rise to their worst fears and which fuel sectarian tensions and interface violence. That is a medium-term structured approach to dealing with sectarianism and bad community relations.
The third dimension is the political element, and requires sustained dialogue not only between parties but also between parties and Government in order to understand what is happening on the ground and to begin to develop shared strategies for confronting sectarianism. In the longer term our understanding is upgraded, and economic, social and community strategies are put in place to ensure that all expressions of sectarianism are dealt a body blow.
It is the three-pronged security, community and political strategy that in the immediate, medium and long term can begin to address the issue. However, we still have a long road to travel, and that is evident in some of the content of the motion and the amendments, which are selective and partial. That ill informs this debate and ill informs our community as it struggles with the excesses of sectarianism.
Why are the motion and the amendments partial? It is because, as we might have anticipated, Unionism sees sectarianism arising from features and factors in our society other than from the past nature of the state and the past conduct of agencies of the state. That has caused people to have worst fears rather than best hopes about elements within the state and has seen them experience bad practice and conduct at the hands of the state. If we do not acknowledge that, then we are not acknowledging all of the truth.
Similarly, the Sinn Féin motion is partial because while it condemns intimidation, Sinn Féin refused to condemn the intimidation of PSNI trainees. It condemns threats and disorder, yet Sinn Féin members, in a council chamber in the North in the last 10 days, openly threatened SDLP people who are taking part in district policing partnerships. They asked if the people concerned had spoken to their families about what they were doing, whether they would be carrying firearms, whether they knew that posters of them would appear on lampposts all over Newry and if they knew who was going to pay for the damage caused to their houses while they sat on the district policing partnerships.
If we had a normal society that was based on trust and tolerance, and in which we all worked together in good faith for the benefit of all, such a motion, even as tabled by Sinn Féin, could probably be passed unanimously without debate. Yet, four years after the Good Friday Agreement, we are using such a motion and three partial amendments to demonstrate the lack of trust that exists in the House and, thus, in the wider population. Today we are exposing the tribal divides that exist in Northern Ireland.
Sectarianism is rife. The intolerance that goes with it is part of the daily diet throughout Northern Ireland. Hardly a day passes without some graphic reminder of some group or individual vomiting intolerance upon another. It is indisputable that this intolerance is primarily orchestrated by the bigotry of thugs and gangsters collectively referred to as paramilitary organisations from both Loyalist and Republican factions.
Their quest to gain and maintain control of areas and people through terror is a scourge, which can be used to the potential gain of some who will constantly blame the other side and ignore the faults of their own. If all the elected representatives in the House were genuinely opposed to all violence and to the use or threat of force by others, I do not believe that we would be witnessing the level of intolerance that exists on our streets today. We are supposed to represent the community.
Let us look at the statistics. In 1999-2000 there were 131 shooting incidents. In 2001-02 there were 358. In 1999-2000 there were 66 bombing incidents, and in 2001-02 there were 318. Each and every one of those incidents is an example of bigoted, tribal sectarianism that underpins intolerance.
Four years ago, Members who supported the Good Friday Agreement reaffirmed their opposition to any use or threat of force by others. Is the political leadership in this House so weak that it has no impact upon the society that we are supposed to be leading — or is a blind eye being turned to violence for political reasons? Even worse, are some political parties happy to ride on the back of the terrorist monster and help to feed its insatiable appetite?
It is not only security statistics that highlight bigoted sectarianism: our cities, towns, villages and estates provide colourful evidence of intolerance. There is the illegal painting of paths, kerbs and roadways with green, white and gold or red, white and blue. There are the illegal murals glorifying murderers on gable walls and depicting some murderous exploit by thugs — inviting the gullible to join illegal organisations. There are the slogans informing us that we are entering Loyalist or Republican estates; the scrawled messages that the police are not acceptable, and the flying of an assortment of flags from every possible post or pole. This is the overt evidence of intolerance and a warning to the "other side" that they are not welcome. The desecration of churches and graveyards and the burning of schools are further examples of sectarianism at its worst.
All so-called paramilitary organisations — be they the UDA, IRA, UFF, Continuity IRA, real-fat IRA or low-fat UDA — are by their nature and existence sectarian, bigoted and intolerant. They exist to instil terror and thus promote their bigoted and sectarian cause.
The motion refers to providing practical leadership on sectarianism. Let us start by supporting the PSNI. Policing cannot work effectively without the support of the entire community. If you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Those who threaten the police or withhold their support from the police or who are seen to be anti-police are demonstrating bigotry in adherence to their political doctrine or intolerance: they are sectarian.
How can one claim to reject sectarianism while at the same time refuse to support a cross-community police service whose raison d’être is to provide effective, good policing throughout the community — the word "hypocrisy" springs to mind.
Another example of political leadership would be to call for the immediate disbandment of all paramilitary organisations.
Before I address the IRA/Sinn Féin motion I want to reiterate the NIUP’s rejection of paramilitary violence. The Republican movement and the so-called Loyalist terror groups are mirror images of each other with a common commitment to criminality, murder and barbarity. Despite those considerations, the NIUP also rejects the motion tabled by the members of IRA/Sinn Féin because it is shot through with gross moral hypocrisy. I say that for four reasons.
First, the motion is being tabled by members of IRA/Sinn Féin, an organisation that is a murder machine that has been responsible for the murder and injury of thousands of people over many decades. Secondly, the active membership of IRA/Sinn Féin is sustained by the driving force of a political sectarianism — a denigration and hatred of fellow citizens because of their religious and political commitments. That is what drives IRA/Sinn Féin. Despite that, the motion asks Members to express sympathy to all those who have been the victims of sectarian murder. It is difficult to conceive of a more blatant example of gross moral hypocrisy.
Thirdly, the motion is being tabled by members of an organisation whose leader is an unqualified apologist for IRA murder. In the ‘Politics of Irish Freedom’ Gerry Adams states without the slightest indication of moral scruple:
"The tactic of armed struggle", that is, IRA/Sinn Féin terrorism,
"is of primary importance because it provides a vital cutting edge. Without it the issue of Ireland would not even be an issue."
The Sinn Féin leader’s commitment to armed struggle — that is, to IRA bombing and murder — is entirely incompatible with any genuine commitment to what the motion refers to as non-violent and exclusively peaceful and democratic means to resolve disputes.
Fourthly, the motion requiring the Assembly to express its sympathy to all those who have been the victims of sectarian murder is signed by a member of IRA/Sinn Féin who is a convicted murderer. In 1973, Gerry Kelly was convicted, along with Marian and Dolores Price, for planting four bombs in London, two of which exploded, killing one person and wounding 180 others.
Order. It is the convention in such circumstances to ask Members to clarify their remarks so as to remove the objections to them or to withdraw them. If he or she is not prepared to clarify or withdraw his or her remarks, further action may be unavoidable. I ask the Member to clarify.
The Member has not refuted the allegation. He may have denied the allegation, but he certainly has not refuted it. You need to make a distinction between a refutation and a denial.
That being so, Mr Roche, I have no option but to take action under Standing Order 60(1) and ask you to withdraw immediately from the Chamber and its precincts for the remainder of today’s sitting.
The Member withdrew from the Chamber.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not understand your ruling, Sir, and I would like clarification on it. An accusation which has been published and widely circulated and has never been challenged by the Member has been read to the House, but because the Member against whom the allegation was made denies it, you say that the Member who made the allegation must withdraw. Is it the rule of the House that anyone who makes an accusation against any Member, which that Member denies, has to leave the Assembly? Is that the effect of your ruling?
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is all very well, Sir, for you to say that. However, the sentence has been carried out. You put a Member out of the House for quoting hard evidence from a book that has never been challenged. If that is the sort of ruling we can expect in the House, we cannot expect democracy.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Mr Roche, Member for Lagan Valley, referred in certain terms to a Mr Kelly from north Belfast. When pressed, he elaborated upon his source material. If there is a problem with the source material and a successful appeal against it in the courts, the person who used the material may be asked to withdraw at that point — but not until then.
I have been elevated. It seems that I am now Dr Ervine — among many doctors in this place.
We heard an academic qualification of sectarianism from Dr Paisley. I can only comment on what I understand it to be: namely the degree of brutality and irrational division that exists in this society. It is not a one-sided situation.
We should consider the fact that there are people who hate each other, yet they know not the person whom they hate. That to me seems alien to the human condition, yet we seem to be pretty comfortable with it. Having listened to the debate so far, one would think that sectarianism was happening only today for today, and that it did not lay the foundations of this society, and that we were not all generated in an atmosphere of hate and bitterness.
That was amplified by the amendment proposed by my Colleague, Esmond Birnie, which says that the House "rejects Republican and Loyalist sectarianism". What does it say about sectarianism in the schools and on the street corners — not just that on interfaces or involving paramilitaries? There is no mention or hint of the sectarianism that is expressed in drawing rooms.
The three amendments seem to suggest that if all the bad people would just go away, Northern Ireland would be a wonderful place.
In fact, the bad people come from the womb of this society. The politics of this society influence the way in which they live their lives — the divisive, hateful politics that guarantee that the politicians will never want a single community, because they benefit so much from a divided one. There is no question that we in this Chamber luxuriate in sectarianism, because there is great merit in, and benefit to be gained from, attacking the other side.
Some people might suggest that the demise of the Alliance Party is a result of its argument that two communities should come together and function as one. Recent electoral performances suggest that the extremists on both sides benefit from the tensions and bitterness of this sectarian, divided society. We have a problem that has not been defined by the motion or the amendments: our people are sectarian.
Since I have been on this earth — and my appearance belies my 49 years — I do not remember anyone, certainly no one in the political arena, trying to deal with sectarianism. All those who have been politicians for a long time — or even a short time — should look at their failure even to address the issue let alone deal with it.
There are places in Northern Ireland where there are few paramilitaries but a great deal of sectarianism. Of course, there are places where there are plenty of paramilitaries and plenty of sectarianism: it would be foolish to refute that. Our communities, which have been led by many in the Chamber, are sectarian, and one could argue that they are encouraged to be so. In many ways drawing-room sectarianism is more insidious and frightening than working-class sectarianism. At working-class level it is brutal, and we see it all the time. However, we can deal with it. Many people in the Chamber come from places where drawing-room sectarianism is at its worst, and they have luxuriated and benefited as society, divided more and more, crashes on the rocks.
People have said that the Assembly is out of touch when it comes to responding to sectarian trouble on our streets: we are not. We are deeply concerned about sectarian violence, and we must be deeply involved in the fight against it — a point made by David Ervine.
This debate shows that we are at least starting to face up to sectarianism, and that is why it is important. However, we are disappointed that there are so many variations of wording before the House today. What kind of message does it send to the public? This debate should not be about ownership of the fight against sectarianism — that is very important. It must be about a united front against sectarian bigotry. Through unanimity today we can show that we are ready to move forward together. It is only if we act together that we can truly fight sectarianism.
I recall the debate on the motion on firefighters’ pay. The DUP supported the UUP amendment. Sinn Féin and the PUP withdrew their amendments to support the DUP motion amended by the UUP — that is called co-operation.
It may not be the real world, but it was the Assembly yesterday. Firefighters’ pay is an issue we all believe in. Why can we not do the same thing as regards sectarianism? I accept that perhaps we are not ready to co-operate to the same extent; however, we must move towards that.
We need action, not just fine words. Members should be aware of their responsibilities because just as leadership against sectarianism can calm a situation, inflammatory rhetoric can make divisions more bitter.
Alex Attwood talked about the three phases of dealing with sectarianism. In the short term, we must tackle and control the naked violence that results from sectarianism. However, in the long term, we must also tackle the drawing-room sectarianism that Mr Ervine mentioned. Therefore we propose that politicians adopt a code of conduct for dealing with interface violence; that they commit themselves to that code and do not play the blame game or seek to score points, which makes divisions worse. They must try to meet or to visit all sides in a conflict if they are to get involved.
I agree with Séamus Close that we must have support for the PSNI. If we ask the police to protect people on all sides and contain the violent clashes on our streets, they must have the support of all politicians.
Political dialogue must go beyond scribbled sectarian slogans on walls or megaphone diplomacy using loudhailers and the media. Politicians must get together in a room and look for practical steps that they can take.
The Women’s Coalition welcomes the initiative of the Northern Ireland Office Minister, Des Brown, to tackle the problem and to get all parties involved. However, my party recognises that sectarianism will not disappear overnight; it would be unrealistic to expect that. Sectarianism must be challenged on all fronts — in education, the media, community relations, schools and churches, and by politicians.
The recent report produced for Barnardo’s by the University of Ulster, which cites three-year-olds who use sectarian language, proves a point that I have not heard mentioned in the debate — the value of integrated education. Where is integrated education in the Assembly’s long-term strategy of trying to understand one another? The integrated education model is superb for those reasons, but where is the political support for it? Where are the resources for integrated education?
Advertising campaigns and more support for community workers are required. The work of community workers in interface areas is praised, but why must they scramble for money to get the resources that they need? There have been amazing initiatives that have provided much help, but much more is needed. Experts must be gathered together in a forum so that they can tackle sectarianism together.
The Women’s Coalition welcomes Sinn Féin’s reaffirmation of its commitment to non-violence and to the resolution of disputes through exclusively peaceful means. However, the motion should go further, and although my party believes that the SDLP’s amendment does go further, it does not go far enough.
The tabling of the motion by members of IRA/Sinn Féin represents a new height in monumental, gut-wrenching hypocrisy. Mr Adams might like to tell the House what contribution he made against sectarianism when he carried the coffin of a man who murdered nine innocent people in a fish shop. The Minister of Education might like to inform the House of the part that he played in the death of Mr Gillespie at a checkpoint in Derry. Various others could make contributions about the La Mon House Hotel, Kingsmills, the Droppin’ Well and countless other atrocities.
The truth is that every party in the Assembly has its own definition of sectarianism, and every party thinks that sectarianism comes from the other side. Therefore, no party has any difficulty in condemning sectarianism, as the various shades of condemnation in the motion and the three amendments demonstrate. The only dispute is about the exact form of words to be used in that condemnation.
The truth is that the Assembly is a cathedral of sectarianism. That is shown in the institutions, the communal designations of Unionist, Nationalist and Other, the d’Hondt principles for the selection of Ministers, and the ritual and dogma of the sectarianism that is practised in the Assembly. The truth is that no one wants to admit that the Assembly is founded on institutionalised sectarianism. No one should be surprised that a political system that is based and built on sectarianism encourages and magnifies that sectarianism throughout society. That is happening on the streets as the relationship between the two communities deteriorates.
The Belfast Agreement has not brought peace. It has not brought reconciliation. It has brought into being institutions that are guaranteed to increase division and community hatred, and to foment the sort of confrontation that is seen on the streets. The public is entitled to be dissatisfied with the efforts of a political class that aggravates a problem and then blames everyone else because things are getting worse. I referred to that yesterday in a question to the Deputy First Minister during Question Time.
Mr Attwood spoke about purging and prosecuting everyone, including parties and Members. What has the SDLP done about Sinn Féin? It has protected Sinn Féin on every occasion that an attempt was made to purge it.
What have the Ulster Unionists done about the PUP? They utilised their votes to have the First Minister — an Ulster Unionist — elected. The truth is that sectarianism is rife and manifest throughout all the institutions of the Assembly.
An American politician was once asked, "What is your position on sin?". He readily replied, "I am agin it." In a similar way, all parties in the Assembly are piously queuing up to condemn sectarianism.
Mr Ervine, whose usual performance is an amalgam of Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and the local probation officer, tells us of dreadful sectarianism in the drawing room while the organisation that he fronts is shooting, murdering, beating, exiling and intimidating its own co-religionists. Exactly the same thing is happening among the party and Members of the group represented by that other newfound member of the piety association, Gerry Kelly.
The truth is that the Assembly should be leading the way by purging those representatives in the Assembly who front the paramilitaries, who in turn benefit from the exploitation of the people on the street. That must be our first step.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the Sinn Féin motion, which simply seeks the support of Members in rejecting sectarianism and committing ourselves to provide leadership in practical ways on that issue. All three amendments seek to avoid the issue by turning the debate on sectarianism — the sickness that has afflicted the north-eastern part of Ireland for hundreds of years — into a debate on whether the RUC, or whatever name it now goes under, is acceptable.
Should we be surprised? Politicians who have refused to acknowledge their part in the sectarian violence of the past years and have abandoned any attempts to address the issue can only seek to hide behind an organisation founded on the sectarian headcount of a Protestant state for a Protestant people and a Protestant paramilitary police force, whose inbuilt allegiance was to uphold that state.
The ethos is still the same. Where else in the world would an assistant chief constable unequivocally state that an illegal organisation, the UDA, is behind the sectarian violence in north Belfast, which resulted in shots and blast bombs being fired from Tiger’s Bay at the police and army, and do nothing about it? There were no house searches or arrests, and no UDA leaders were even questioned.
Can you imagine what would happen if the Assistant Chief Constable said that the IRA was responsible for throwing blast bombs at the police? Unionists would be fighting their way to John Reid and the media demanding action, and we would be picking the bodies of Nationalists off the ground.
People looking into the communal disturbances, which are the essence of the motion, may wonder at the utterances from Unionist politicians who, rather than confront sectarianism, are seeking to excuse the violent excesses of their community that Alan McQuillan talked about, and which they euphemistically describe as law-abiding citizenship.
What’s new? Religious violence, sectarianism and Unionism are inextricably linked — it has been that way since 1830. If people want to understand the connection, they should read Andrew Boyd’s book, ‘Holy War in Belfast’, which says a great deal about sects and even more about clergymen fermenting sectarianism. He attributes the rise in sectarian violence then as a reaction to the tolerant and liberal alliance between Catholics and Presbyterians in the early 1800s; an alliance that the English and the wealthy landlord class sought to destroy through the vehicles of Orangeism and class conflict.
The Orange Order generated the first religious sectarian riots in Belfast, and it still generates them.
The essayist Robert Lynd once wrote that all history is but a repetition of the same story, with variations. We can trace the history of sectarianism and violence from the Sandy Row riots in 1835 to Drumcree, the Ardoyne, Tiger’s Bay and all the interface violence that has inflicted so much suffering on those communities that have been on the receiving end. Sectarian murder, intimidation, threats and violence, whether against schoolchildren, workers or community leaders, are evils that must be eradicated.
It is sad to see a new generation of Loyalist paramilitaries — many of whom are no more than young people — involved in violent sectarianism that does not even attempt to disguise itself as a political front. Why should people be surprised if the pathological nature of sectarianism, especially in the working-class Unionist population, is worked out against that small Catholic enclave in the Short Strand, Skegoneill or Holy Cross Primary School? It merely carries on the tradition of Harryville, Garvaghy Road and the burning of the little Quinn children in Ballymoney. After all, they are carrying on the tradition of the north Belfast community that spawned the Shankill Butchers. It is not surprising that the majority of sectarian violence takes place in the traditional Unionist strongholds of north and east Belfast, Coleraine and Antrim, which are areas represented by DUP Assemblymen — [Interruption].
I support the UUP amendment, which seeks to address the democratic view of civic society, namely that sectarianism from any quarter deserves to be rejected. The amendment affords every party and every individual who believes in the democratic process an opportunity to publicly register their rejection of sectarianism. It will also provide Members with an opportunity to expose the blatant hypocrisy of the Sinn Féin motion, which has revealed the party’s true agenda, highlighted its failure to grasp the central tenets of democracy and exposed its political bankruptcy. It has shown Sinn Féin’s inability to decommission that bunker mentality that leads it to deny that those to whom it is inextricably linked are up to their necks in the orchestration of sectarian violence where and when they want it.
Perhaps the pertinent question is why they want it and, more specifically, why they want it now. Could the scandal of sectarian attacks in Cluan Place literally have provided a convenient smokescreen to divert attention from those embarrassing adventures in Castlereagh, Cuba and Colombia? Could the Sinn Féin/IRA dilemma be so serious that, not content with 200 serious attacks on Orange Halls and with preventing Orange parades passing along major thoroughfares, the only way that it can find to employ its foot soldiers is to engage them in physical attacks on Orangemen and isolated Protestant communities?
Perhaps it is a cynical attempt to divert media attention from the continuing failure of Sinn Féin/IRA to honour its commitment to decommission fully. I am sure that the mover of the motion can offer an insight into that situation. After all, he appears to have been present at more Orange parades than the Grand Master himself.
The continuing Republican pogrom against the elderly and vulnerable residents of the White City, Glenbryn and Twaddell Avenue was suddenly switched, as if by magic, to include the isolated communities of Thistle Court and Cluan Place. Why? Perhaps it was not for the reasons that I have outlined. Perhaps Republican habits die hard and the tactics that led to the expulsion of Protestants from the border areas, the west bank of the Foyle, and Churchill Park, Ballyoran Park and Garvaghy Road in Portadown are too engrained in the Republican psyche.
Perhaps they are not democrats at all, but are merely pursuing their war by other means. That is why they have such difficulty saying that the war is over. Today presents an opportunity for the mover of the motion and his Colleagues to assure the House that they totally and unequivocally reject attacks by Republicans on those besieged communities. They may also avail themselves of the opportunity provided by this debate to call for the immediate and total cessation of those attacks.
At this point I should mention that when a Catholic workman in my East Antrim constituency was murdered by Loyalists I, together with the local community, unreservedly condemned that killing. On President Clinton’s second visit to this Building, I referred to that killing to illustrate the need for total decommissioning by all paramilitaries, using the following words:
"Mr President, anyone, anywhere, at any time with access to illegal weapons can commit the sort of murder that was recently perpetrated in my constituency. It must stop!"
Needless to say, President Clinton agreed to work towards the cessation of such acts.
I was under the impression that every Member was pledged to remove such violence from our streets. Sadly, it is obvious that some still cannot decommission that mindset and are willing to pursue the "blame game" approach. They remind me of the alcoholic, whose first step towards salvation is to admit that he has a problem. Until Sinn Féin members admit that they have a problem, they are caught in their straitjacket. They blame the Loyalists, the Unionists, the Orange Order, the RUC and the PSNI. Only last night, they blamed the police ombudsman. It is no wonder that they oppose the installation of closed-circuit television cameras at interface areas, or that existing cameras are subject to sustained attack to put them out of action. Why the sudden reluctance to use the power of the media, after so many successful years of manipulating it? The video cameras and other evidence from the White City and Twaddell Avenue show a very different face of the real Republican approach to sectarian violence, and it is not a pleasant sight.
Moreover, Mr Maskey, whose name is also on the motion, has failed to grasp that the activities of his organisation over the years have led to the perception of the flag which he recently installed in his office as a sectarian symbol rather than the flag of a neighbouring European state.
The origin and definition of sectarianism have been stated clearly. Sectarianism is the creation of Roman Catholicism. In Ireland, that was always a stated doctrinal position. Some Members will remember the slogan repeated in this generation: "A Catholic school for Catholic pupils by Catholic teachers". Cardinal Connell got it right. He was stating the sectarian, domineering position that the Church always aspired to hold. That meant that, although it could be lax in its doctrine, it was always intolerant of the legitimate demands of others.
That is the hallmark of sectarianism, and it has been injected into the political life of practically every century of our history. The greatest sectarian position was taken in universities and schools. It was followed, however, by the very serious destroying, disestablishing and dismantling of anything that was considered an obstacle to the Church’s domineering position.
That pursuit and that position are being repeated. Violence, intimidation and all other expedients can be accommodated as long as they assist in the pursuit of domination. That is the theological equivalent of those who moved the motion today, a political statement of a theological position. In 1904, "Ourselves alone" was the political equivalent of the theological position of the proposer’s church. More recently, the term "Tiocfaidh ár lá" may have been used, but it has the same meaning and domination and is the sectarian equivalent.
No, I have only a few seconds left.
There are those who try to escape and deny their sectarian heritage. I was amazed to hear some of the statements made here today. Robert McCartney was right to say that the Belfast Agreement is institutionalised sectarianism, and Members must accept that, because it was the wish of many. Advocates of the Belfast Agreement view it as the road to their aspiration of a united Ireland, whether under the slogan "Tiocfaidh ár lá" or "Ourselves alone", or through another sectarian creation of the church. Perhaps the greatest example of this last occurred just over two decades ago when, on the command of the Sinn Féin/IRA leadership, the hunger strikers committed suicide to order. The church could not allow such sectarian domination to be hijacked and, therefore, it provided the golden cross of absolution.
Institutional sectarianism is a part of their church, but it is also practised in their politics and enunciated in every slogan. Just as, then, I had nothing whatsoever —
I support the amendment in the name of Alex Attwood. I have some reservations about the motion, which addresses sectarian murder only. I would like to expand its remit to include all murder, because all murder is wrong, regardless of the circumstances in which it occurs. The words "in recent times" also cause me concern. Has a line been drawn in the sand under a time before which murder was acceptable? Murder is wrong, regardless of when it is committed or by whom.
Other Members who spoke mentioned hypocrisy, which has been plentiful. The DUP has attempted to blame the Catholic Church for everything that is wrong with society. Did the Catholic Church make the death threats that stopped Neil Lennon playing at Windsor Park? Sectarianism has been institutionalised since this state’s foundation in a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. Robert McCartney rightly said that the Assembly was founded on sectarianism, but the institutions are seeking to change that.
Mary Nelis was right about the institutionalised sectarianism of the Orange Order. When it realised that Catholics and Presbyterians could unite under the common name of an Irishman, it did what it could to divide and conquer by admitting Presbyterians for the first time.
I have the greatest respect for Ken Robinson, but his speech disappointed me. He spoke about Twaddell Avenue, the White City area, Glenbryn and other Loyalist communities in north Belfast. Mr Attwood’s amendment mentions the protection of vulnerable communities everywhere. Mr K Robinson and I represent the East Antrim constituency, but he has not said one word about Greenisland, Carrickfergus or Larne. There have been hundreds of attacks against Catholic communities in those areas over the past few years. In the 1970s, over 400 Catholic children attended a school in Greenisland, but that school closed in 1992 with only 27 pupils. That is ethnic cleansing. We have seen —
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker — my apologies to the Chair for disregarding that.
Mr Attwood’s amendment seeks to protect vulnerable communities. Some of what has been cobbled together to protect vulnerable communities actually benefits those who live in ghettos. For example, the Department for Social Development, through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, has cobbled together schemes that allow people who live on interfaces to receive £1,500 to support the security of their homes. However, minority communities living in majority areas receive nothing. I would like to see such schemes being extended to everyone to ensure that proper community support is available to all: we have a duty to promote good relations.
We must oppose sectarian displays such as those mentioned in Mr Attwood’s amendment. People begin by marking the kerbstones in their colours, be they green, white and orange or red, white and blue. Then flags go up on lamp-posts and murals appear on walls to create a chill factor for the minority living in those communities. The institutions and Departments are reluctant to intervene and remove such symbols of hatred: that must be addressed.
However, the underlying issue is sectarianism. It is a cancer in our society, and it must be rooted out if we are all to move together to a more prosperous and beneficial society.
After all that has been said today, sincerity may be a big word to consider. I must ask whether the Sinn Féin motion represents a road to Damascus conversion or is merely for the optics. It is difficult to comprehend the mindset of the Republican movement, particularly because it has been associated with so much terrorism over the years and still jumps to the defence of terrorists when the net is closing in on them. Is Sinn Féin involved in mere oratory; making deep noises from the chest sound like important messages from the brain? Take, for instance, the Colombia trio, Castlereagh, and the commemoration activity that occasionally occurs for those who terrorised this community over the past three decades.
Terrorism occurred all over the Province, but I refer to my own constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone. When we talk about peace, I must ask if people who live along the border in my constituency had the right to live free from violence and intimidation whether they were at home, school or work. In Fermanagh alone, terrorists who were on a mission to put British citizens out of their homes, farms and businesses murdered 106 people. There was never a cheep about ethnic cleansing then — I wonder what Mrs Nelis has to say about that?
I could read a litany of deaths, but I do not have time to do so. However, can we ever forget the Enniskillen bomb of 8 November 1987? Twelve good people were murdered by the infidels whom members of Sinn Féin would pay tribute to for fighting a war, as they wrongly call it. Let us not forget that after 15 years nobody has been made accountable for the atrocity in Enniskillen. That is shameful and disgracefully hurtful to those in the town who lost their loved ones on that fateful day.
I also feel hurt personally, and I know that the wife and family of my cousin, Charles Johnston, are heartbroken at the murder near St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast in 1981 of a dear husband and father. To this day nothing has been seen or heard of the murdering scum who, for no reason, committed that terrible act against someone who did a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay. That family, like many others in the community, never enjoyed a long life together, because terrorism roamed the streets and byways of our country, and murdered and maimed remorselessly.
Sectarianism is still being perpetuated by the continued thrust of Republicanism despite the Belfast Agreement, which committed those who accepted it to recognise Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland so long as the majority so declare through the ballot box. By hoisting the tricolour in the city hall, Alex Maskey further perpetuates sectarianism, and Alex needs to realise that there is equality and parity of esteem within the system, but not of the system. There is but one sovereignty — that of Her Majesty The Queen. There is but one sovereign flag — the Union flag. Alex should try to fulfil the agreement fully, and he should not try to claw back what he and his party have accepted, or said they accepted, in 1998 — or perhaps he is as insincere as this pretentious motion really is.
In my home town of Enniskillen, Sinn Féin, along with the SDLP, is taking down all emblems of Britishness in the town hall. That is sickening. It even extends to removing Somme and British Legion certificates, which is disgraceful. I hope that the motion is genuine, although Sinn Féin has still to convince me, because, on past and present experiences, there is no spectacle as ridiculous as Sinn Féin in one of its periodic fits of morality.
It is common knowledge that Sinn Féin, over the years, has associated itself with those who have burned our towns, doomed Northern Ireland to destruction and murdered our people. It is said that "by their fruits ye shall know them". Why does Sinn Féin not declare its intent to recognise the state of Northern Ireland, as provided for in the agreement? Regrettably, it instead continues to perpetuate division by its continued thrust against this jurisdiction, and hence sectarianism arises. Why can we not all work together peaceably so that all our citizens can enjoy better times ahead?
There are four freedoms that should apply throughout the world. The first is freedom of speech and expression. The second is freedom for everyone to worship God in their own way. The third is freedom from want, and the fourth is freedom from fear. Who wants violence? We should never think about violence or war again, no matter how necessary or justified it may seem. Some say that it is not a crime, but ask the infantry or ask the dead. Ernest Hemingway wrote:
"But in modern war there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason."
All good citizens should speak for Northern Ireland and be good citizens —
This is an obnoxious motion put forward by IRA/Sinn Féin. It states that it expresses
"sympathy to all those who have been the victims of sectarian murder, violence and intimidation in recent times".
That is disgraceful. It is saying that only those who have been murdered and terrorised in recent times should receive sympathy, and should receive it from this source. Sinn Féin wants to forget the past and introduce political amnesia. It is saying that sectarianism is not all right today, but it was all right yesterday. According to Sinn Féin, sectarianism was fine before April 1998, and it was all right to terrorise and to murder up to that date. IRA/Sinn Féin would not want to condemn the La Mon House massacre or those of Bloody Friday, Teebane, Shankill, Claudy, Whitecross or Kingsmills, to name a few, because Sinn Féin was up to its eyeballs in it. There are people sitting in this Chamber who helped to organise, and who were involved to the highest level in setting off, some of those bombs, murdering people simply because they were Protestants. Here they are today, crying crocodile tears about sectarianism and terrorism, after they have terrorised the community to get what they want over the years. That has not just affected Protestants. Roman Catholics have been, and still are being, terrorised by IRA/Sinn Féin.
If people wanted to see what was in the heart of IRA/Sinn Féin today, they had only to listen to the sectarian bile pouring out of Mary Nelis as she made her sectarian speech. Sinn Féin/IRA recommends that the Police Service of Northern Ireland be treated in the same way that the RUC was treated. What happened to the RUC? More than 300 members lost their lives, and almost 10,000 were injured in attacks by the IRA and their cohorts. Sinn Féin tells us that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be treated in the same way, and in the next breath it tells the Assembly that it is against sectarianism and violence. It is up to its eyeballs in violence right now.
I have obtained some information about how the conflict began in the Short Strand area. The Army and police moved in to make several house searches in Short Strand. Sinn Féin was concerned because weapons were being held in safe houses in that area, and immediately instigated a riot to divert the Army away from its legitimate business. That riot began the sectarian conflict at the Short Strand interface.
Sinn Féin deplores Protestants and says that the Protestant UDA is up to its eyeballs in the conflict. However, it claims that the Roman Catholic IRA has nothing to do with it. I use that term because Sinn Féin introduced the term "Protestant UDA" earlier in the debate. The facts are that of the 22 houses in that east Belfast area that have been vacated, 19 were vacated by Protestant families, and three by Roman Catholic families. All five people shot in that area were Protestant — none were Roman Catholic. Sinn Féin/IRA has been involved in that. It is responsible for starting the sectarian tension in Short Strand and for a great deal of the sectarian tension that exists.
The DUP amendment is best placed to state Northern Ireland’s position. The Assembly has not previously affirmed its commitment to non-violent and exclusively peaceful means, and therefore it is not appropriate for Members to reaffirm something that they have not already affirmed.
I encourage everyone to support the DUP motion, and to reject the crocodile tears of Sinn Féin/IRA, which is the most sectarian party in Northern Ireland and in this Chamber.
This has been a disheartening and disappointing debate. The issue of sectarianism goes to the very heart of our political problem, and therefore it is perhaps not surprising that we have had such a disappointing debate. We heard from the DUP that the Catholic Church has stirred up sectarianism, and we heard from Sinn Féin that this is primarily a Unionist problem that stems from Loyalist paramilitaries. Others have cast blame on other sections of the community. The fact is that our society is structurally sectarian. That sectarianism is endemic, and if we were all honest enough we would accept that we all, to some extent, have a degree of sectarianism in our lives.
We must face up to the realities of sectarianism. We must admit that it exists, and, rather than deny it, try to address it. Bob McCartney said that the Assembly represents institutionalised sectarianism. There may be some truth in that. However, if we are to free ourselves of the problems of our society, we must learn to manage that sectarianism in order to transform our society. I hope that the Assembly and the Executive will address sectarianism in a concerted fashion so that we can change this society.
The means for tackling sectarianism are in the agreement and in our hands. We can transform this society by creating a living partnership based on friendship and justice between the two political traditions in our society.
Unfortunately, what we have at present is not true partnership. We have cold co-existence — some might even refer to it as benign apartheid. However, that is unacceptable. We have to build a partnership between both traditions to get out of the quagmire of sectarianism. Our amendment puts forward practical ways of doing that. I welcome the Sinn Féin motion, but I cannot agree with it all because it is selective: it qualifies murder, and it emphasises the recent instances of sectarianism. However, at least it is a step forward for Sinn Féin to now commit itself to non-sectarianism, because, unfortunately, its history as a party is one of extreme sectarianism. The Republican movement became an engine of extreme sectarianism in our society. That is the reality.
If we see an end to the daubing of streets, the misuse of flags, sectarian graffiti and hostile language, then we can go forward and redeem our society. Sectarianism is a disease — a pathology that affects every aspect of our society. Dr Dunlop, the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, said that sectarianism was a sick form of communal identification. If we realise that we have more in common with those on the other side of the sectarian divide, then we are taking a step in the right direction. Reconciliation must be the goal of the Assembly. Today, at least, may be a start in examining the problems of sectarianism —bad-tempered and negative though some of the comments have been. Perhaps we have taken a step forward.
On Saturday 15 June 1991 Portadown District LOL No 1 held a mini-twelfth Orange pageant in commemoration of the drowning of Protestants in the River Bann in November 1641. Portadown bridge, coupled with the contemporary massacre of 17 men, women and children in the parish of Drumcree, has come to epitomise for them all that occurred throughout Ulster in the year of the 1641 rebellion. It was at that time that the sectarian battle lines that have dogged Ulster to this day were drawn.
It is often forgotten today that towards the end of the 18th century Belfast Protestants first promoted the idea of an insular Irish nation to unite all classes and creeds, while fully supporting Catholic emancipation and attempting to revive the ancient music and literature of Ireland. However, after Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for a Catholic parliament for a Catholic people, Irish Nationalism became identified with Catholic Nationalism. By the middle of the 19th century, writers of romantic fiction had incorporated the ideal into medieval Gaelic Ireland and fostered the mythology of Gaelic patriotic racialism into a new Gaelic Nationalism.
In 1926, de Valera formed his Fianna Fáil (Warriors of Destiny) party. The Free State Party (Cumann na nGaedheal) lost power to Fianna Fáil in 1932 and changed its name to Fine Gael (Tribe of Gaels) the following year. How many of either party were Gaels in language, culture or ethnic origins is open to discussion. However, de Valera’s basic Catholic Nationalism was highlighted by a radio broadcast on St Patrick’s Day, 1935, when he said:
"Since the coming of St Patrick… Ireland has been a Christian and a Catholic nation…. She remains a Catholic nation."
According to Conor Cruise O’Brien, this statement demonstrates
"the peculiar nature of Irish nationalism, as it is actually felt, not as it is rhetorically expressed. The nation is felt to be the Gaelic nation, Catholic by religion. Protestants are welcome to join this nation. If they do, they may or may not retain their religious profession, but they become as it were, Catholic by nationality."
There has been a widespread diffusion of the Irish Nationalist mythos, which has progressed from being a political to an intellectual and finally a spiritual ideal. Genuine Loyalist and Unionist fears for their ancient British heritage, for their economic well-being, for their religious freedom and, last but not least, for their fundamental right to self-determination have been dismissed by Nationalist apologists as sectarianism.
Furthermore, the basic failure of the Northern Ireland intelligentsia to promote the Ulster identity has led to an inevitable clash between the two sections of our community. Thus, Ulster Protestants have been left to relive their past instead of using it to build up a normal national consciousness for the present. Derry has been besieged and the Battle of the Boyne fought in Belfast over and over again, with Ulster Catholics still fighting for Ireland. The complete expression of a native Ulster tradition, broader than Irish Protestantism and Catholicism and populist in sentiment, could assist our political development of a new Ulster based on co-operative democracy. That and that alone would allow the consensus in Government necessary to end at last sectarianism in Ireland.
(Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr McClelland) in the Chair)
Sectarianism is ugly and unacceptable in all its forms. That does not need declension, categorised definition or qualification. In this debate, and using every means at our disposal as an Assembly and at our respective disposals as parties, we should make that unambiguously clear. Sectarianism attacks the vulnerable — vulnerable communities, families, workers and children. Sectarianism does not just hurt its victims; its also corrupts its carriers. We see the corrosive effect of sectarianism in the divisions and tensions in the community. We also see sectarianism in the arrogant strut of paramilitary violence.
This debate has involved some heated exchanges. We must ensure that in our work in the Assembly we respond to the violent divisions that are apparent in our community. We will not do so through pointing the finger in blame at each other, nor by engaging in "whataboutery" in relation to different aspects of sectarianism but in making clear that we repudiate and renounce all aspects and forms of sectarianism.
It is not a matter of trying to use a debate such as this to define sectarianism as belonging predominantly in one end of the political spectrum. It is not a matter of using this debate to say how clear and pure each of us is from sectarianism and that the problem really belongs to someone else. It is not a matter of deciding in this debate or elsewhere that sectarianism is confined to those streets and areas that most graphically suffer from violent sectarianism at the hands of paramilitaries. It is not good enough for people in some areas to smugly decide "Thank God we are not like some of those interface areas in Belfast where people cannot get on."
We must recognise the scale and nature of sectarianism, and of the response needed from political leadership.
I welcome much of the content of the motion and the amendments. I will be supporting the SDLP’s amendment, as it gives the most rounded, truly balanced and clear-headed response to sectarianism. The motion and the other amendments are more pointed and partial in different aspects.
Nevertheless, I welcome these declarations that Members are opposed to sectarianism and want to stand against it. That may be new light out of old windows as far as some parties are concerned. When I hear the statements and the renunciation of sectarianism I am tempted to recall the observation of Groucho Marx that he knew Doris Day "before she was a virgin". People cannot bathe publicly in the waters of a new interest in reconciliation while continuing to shower in sectarian attitudes at other levels and on other fronts. Many of us can stoke sectarian sentiment in our own community by how we say and do things. Let all parties ask whether, in some of the things that we have done and said, we have been stoking sectarian sentiment inside our own communities.
Our words and actions can stoke sectarian resentment in other communities as well. Instead of lecturing each other, let us question ourselves and lay down markers and standards that we and our parties can adhere to.
Sectarianism manifests itself in many ways. Not least is the clutter of flags, symbols and ugly, violent graffiti that is passed off as a normal and acceptable expression of community identity and affinity. It is not. We should not allow national flags that mean a unity of different territories to one community, and a unity of different religions to another, to continue to be abused and used as visual aids to sectarianism in the way that parties in this House do.
Mary Nelis has shown that she never lets the truth get in the way of her speeches. I will correct her. She said that there had been no searches or arrests in north Belfast, and that is wrong. The figures from January to May show that there were 66 searches in north Belfast — 55 in Loyalist areas and 11 in Nationalist/Republican areas. That search policy is not enough to reassure people about what is going on there, but it is also unhelpful and inaccurate to say that there were no searches and no arrests in north Belfast when the evidence — whatever that may be — flatly contradicts that. The sooner we start to tell the truth, rather than a collection of lies to sell some party-political approach, the better it will be for us all.
It is a similar story with Gerry Kelly, although he made a speech that was markedly dissimilar to that of Mary Nelis. Sinn Féin must reconcile itself to its opposition to "violence and intimidation" as stated in its motion. Even the best speeches will ring hollow until it can reconcile its warm words with what is actually happening in parts of the North, where Republicans are involved in the intimidation of PSNI trainees and of future SDLP and civilian members of district policing partnerships; and until it can demonstrably confirm that it is opposed to that intimidation.
Several others suggested that people should simply support the police. That has not been, and is not now, the approach of the SDLP, even now that it is represented on the Policing Board. The rigorous and correct approach is to acknowledge the police when they get things right, and to criticise and challenge them when they get it wrong. If Unionism in particular would take that perspective in this debate, we might be better informed and better placed to deal with policing and sectarianism.
How does this debate end? It ends with Sinn Féin condemning sectarianism and blaming the Protestant community for it. The DUP condemned sectarianism and blamed the Catholic Church for it. The UUP condemned sectarianism and listed constituencies under threat — all of them were Unionist. As Mark Durkan eloquently pointed out, sectarianism infects all sections of society. Each side is guilty of it, and each side has suffered from it. Combating sectarianism has to begin with an acceptance that none of us, inside or outside the Chamber, can afford to adopt a high moral tone on sectarianism. All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, have contributed to the position that we are now in, and we must all contribute to its undoing.
I have listened to much of today’s debate — some of it was good, some bad and parts of it downright bad. I was interested to hear Mark Durkan’s condemnation of paramilitaries. What a pity that he was not as forthright when the Belfast Agreement was signed. It would never have been signed if it had not been propped up by the paramilitaries who are being castigated today for their sectarianism.
Of all that we have heard, however, I suspect that the rant by Mary Nelis will take some beating. I think that she lives in cloud cuckoo land, because she certainly does not live on this planet. Some of the stuff that she comes out with beggars belief. I wonder at times where she is. She belongs to a party that is inextricably linked to the most ruthless killing machine in the whole of the Western world. For 30 years, it has carried out a naked sectarian terrorist campaign in this country. It waged war along the border and drove the Protestants from it. It waged war at La Mon, in Enniskillen, Teebane, Darkley and Warrenpoint; on Bloody Friday, in Omagh, at the Droppin’ Well, on the Shankill, and on police stations, including Newry RUC station; with human bombs, ethnic cleansing, and against civilians working in Army bases.
Yet they sit here today, and some of them would make a powerful stand-in for Worzel Gummidge. They have a pious look on their faces, yet they are at the cutting edge of naked sectarianism that has been waged in this country for 30 years. This debate has been brought about as a result of their hypocrisy. Members on the Benches opposite them realise that they are looking into the face of sectarianism in its most ruthless form. [Interruption]. I can understand why you would not look in the mirror.
Jane Morrice also mentioned the clergy. Will she cast her mind back a few weeks to an incident in Randalstown when a minister led his congregation with the news of the Gospel? How was he treated? He was treated in a most ruthless, sectarian manner; the congregation was taken apart and its instruments smashed into tiny pieces. That was done in the name of Republicanism. What support did he get from those who tell us that, in this ecumenical age, we are all together? One minister phoned him and apologised. Where were the hundreds and thousands of others? What were they doing? I suspect that by their silence they were giving consent to what happened.
The DUP’s amendment contains what is missing in most of the others. Mr Attwood from west Belfast is a member of the Policing Board. I am amazed that he cannot bring himself to state publicly that Members should throw their lot behind the agencies of law and order. He has not said that because it would not be politically expedient for him to do so, and, on occasion, the SDLP want somehow to out-Sinn Féin Sinn Féin. Instead of drawing a definitive line between the two and saying that the SDLP is different, what does it do? It sidles up to Sinn Féin and gives it succour and support when it should be treated as the cast-out of society. Remember what Sinn Féin has been involved in over the years, yet its representatives come to the Chamber as if they were statesmen, as if the past 30 years never happened and was all just a bad dream.
I urge Members, before they cast their votes, to consider what the DUP is trying to achieve. The Assembly has been sectarianised because there has to be a sectarian headcount for every important vote — sectarianism has, in fact, been institutionalised.
The SDLP amendment corrects at least some of the flaws in the Sinn Féin motion; the DUP amendment correctly notes that ceasefires have been breached; and in the UUP amendment the word "re-affirms" could be replaced by "affirms". With regard to the motion, it is not for the Assembly to affirm its commitment to non-violence — that is for the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries to do. It is Sinn Féin, not the Assembly, that must demonstrate that it truly believes that all sections of the community have the right to live free from violence by encouraging IRA inactivity.
The Assembly does not need to express its sympathy to victims of violence by means of this orchestrated, manipulative and insincere motion. It is the IRA by its terrorism, and Sinn Féin by its continued hypocrisy, who have proven themselves to be institutionally sectarian. To support the motion would be to mock the victims of the troubles since 1969.
The wording of the motion bears striking similarities to the so-called "apology" from the IRA of a few months ago. There is no mention of the security force members who were killed by the IRA and whose deaths were not at that time, or this afternoon, condemned by Sinn Féin. That is one of the most disturbing features of the motion.
With regard to the PSNI, the Sinn Féin president said:
"I think they will be accorded exactly the same treatment the republican movement accorded to the RUC. No more, no less."
His words stand testimony to the residual sectarian element in Sinn Féin.
I support amendment No 1.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. First, I want to return to the motion in my name and in Gerry Kelly’s, to make the point that it is in the spirit of sub-priority 2 of section 2.4, entitled ‘Growing as a Community’, in the Programme for Government. The motion was deliberately designed to allow Members to give support and encouragement to the public, to offer some way out of the sectarianism that we face and to help to bring an end to the discrimination, death and destruction which afflict many communities in the North. Therefore, the motion, by its very nature, is not prescriptive or partial, and it is open-ended.
Sinn Féin rejects and opposes all forms of sectarianism — be it murder or whatever — for ever and a day. We oppose sectarianism totally, and we will stand accountable, like any other political party, to the public on that stance. I remind the public that all parties present had the opportunity to propose a motion this week, or at any other time, but none of them saw fit to do that. People can draw their own conclusions from that.
The Sinn Féin motion is designed to have a debate about sectarianism. Although listeners to the debate may find it hard to detect, sectarianism is a problem that transcends Republicanism, policing, and it transcends any one section of our community.
I commend the Deputy First Minister for his contribution, and for his acknowledgement of the issue and of the fact that sectarianism is all-pervasive. It is regrettable that the First Minister and other Members of the Executive have not contributed this afternoon. No one here can say that they have no responsibility or that they have all the answers. We need an inclusive, rational debate on sectarianism in which Members can put their analysis and solutions on the table. Regrettably, I have heard very few solutions this afternoon. All our constituents want answers and solutions. They do not want the finger-pointing which, for the most part, is simply an excuse for those who make those allegations and arguments to do nothing.
It is also clear that there is a need for a forum for all sections of society to participate in and to shape a campaign that will tackle sectarianism in all its forms. If the motion is passed today — and even if it is not passed — it shows that the Assembly can provide that forum. Sinn Féin has an analysis of what may or may not constitute sectarianism. The substance of the amendments today is simply that if Sinn Féin were to support the PSNI, our problems would no longer exist. That is not the simple answer. Unfortunately, if you believe Alan McQuillan’s comments last week — and you do not have to — the bulk of the violence came from Loyalists. That community very strongly supports the police and all their policing structures.
In recent months, the SDLP has not stopped running to the NIO, delegation after delegation, to complain that the PSNI is a part of the problem in so far as it is not giving protection to vulnerable communities. Regrettably, policing is still part of the problem, and that is why we did not include it in our motion. However, we stand ready to debate all forms of sectarianism and all solutions to tackle it, because the people that we all represent deserve and want much better.
Today very few Members made any specific proposals, other than some generalised suggestions such as telephone link-ups, which are being dealt with at implementation group level. Sinn Féin made some of those suggestions during discussions. Many Members spent their time criticising Sinn Féin, and none of them have accepted that they are responsible for any of the attitudes, policies or actions that ferment sectarianism in society. If you are listening to this debate or you were listening to a radio programme at lunchtime, you would be forgiven for thinking, four years after the establishment of the Assembly, "is this the best that they can do?"
We should be debating the strategy that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister was supposed to introduce this year. That strategy ought to lead to a cross-departmental plan to tackle sectarianism and offer solutions to our communities.
It is now September 2002. We are a long way behind schedule in our attempts to deal with one of the biggest scourges of our society — sectarianism — and the death and destruction that it has caused in the streets. Although I commend the Deputy First Minister’s contribution, we should be debating a fully thought-out, advanced strategy for solving the problems.
I want to be positive. Despite the negativity that was displayed today, Belfast City Council carried out good work in July when the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister was on holiday. The political leaders and the Departments were not available to tackle the many difficulties that faced communities. I spoke to Loyalist residents in east Belfast, the NIO, the Housing Executive and many other organisations about repairing houses and reinstating tenants. No senior officials were available from any Department.
Despite Belfast City Council’s history, local councillors were able to meet in July and organise a rally with the trade union movement, the Churches and the private sector. They agreed to form a working group on sectarianism, which will meet for the first time later this month. Despite what some politicians said today, their party colleagues on Belfast City Council have been working together. They organised a programme of work and sought nominations to the working group. That sends out an encouraging and positive message. Despite difficulties, various analyses and differences of opinion about the origins of the conflict and the causes and definition of sectarianism, councillors did come together. That contrasts with today’s debate. I hope that Belfast City Council will be able to demonstrate to the people of Belfast — perhaps for the first time and belatedly — that it is starting to agree on steps to tackle sectarianism.
We will all stand in the spotlight, all stand accused. Today I heard lily-white, halo-laden people deny that they had anything to do with sectarianism and say that it was not their problem. As Mark Durkan and other Members said, sectarianism is all-pervasive and has existed for a long time.
Despite all the nonsense that has been spewed out this afternoon, let us agree that there is a period of relative calm in some areas in Belfast. That is because many people have worked hard behind the scenes to bring a lull to those areas and achieve peace and respect in both the Unionist and Nationalist communities. Those communities deserve better from their political leadership.
If I was not a politician, and I listened to some of the contributions, I would advocate closing the Assembly, because if that is the best that Members can offer, they should not be here. I am delighted that the parties whose Members are here and have offered nothing but negativity and criticism are given much better and more mature leadership in local councils. Sinn Féin rejects the amendments, because they are not a total solution.
That may only be done by leave of the House. It will not be possible to withdraw the amendment if there are dissenting voices. Do I have the leave of the House?
I will look at Hansard, but I understand that it was stated. To be fair, Mr Kennedy, by now we should all know the rule that amendments may only be withdrawn by leave of the House.
The Assembly divided:
Ian Adamson, Fraser Agnew, Billy Armstrong, Roy Beggs, Billy Bell, Paul Berry, Esmond Birnie, Norman Boyd, Gregory Campbell, Mervyn Carrick, Joan Carson, Wilson Clyde, Robert Coulter, Duncan Shipley Dalton, Ivan Davis, Nigel Dodds, Boyd Douglas, Reg Empey, Sam Foster, Oliver Gibson, John Gorman, Tom Hamilton, William Hay, David Hilditch, Derek Hussey, Roger Hutchinson, Gardiner Kane, Danny Kennedy, James Leslie, Robert McCartney, Alan McFarland, Michael McGimpsey, Maurice Morrow, Ian Paisley Jnr, Ian R K Paisley, Edwin Poots, Iris Robinson, Ken Robinson, Mark Robinson, Peter Robinson, Jim Shannon, David Trimble, Denis Watson, Peter Weir, Jim Wells, Cedric Wilson, Jim Wilson.
Gerry Adams, Alex Attwood, P J Bradley, Joe Byrne, Michael Coyle, Bairbre de Brún, Mark Durkan, Sean Farren, John Fee, Tommy Gallagher, Michelle Gildernew, Carmel Hanna, Denis Haughey, Joe Hendron, Gerry Kelly, John Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, Alban Maginness, Alex Maskey, Alasdair McDonnell, Barry McElduff, Martin McGuinness, Gerry McHugh, Mitchel McLaughlin, Francie Molloy, Conor Murphy, Mick Murphy, Mary Nelis, Danny O’Connor, Dara O’Hagan, Eamonn ONeill, Sue Ramsey, Brid Rodgers.
Amendment No 1 accordingly agreed to.
They do not pay me enough for this. The amendment falls.
Amendment No 2 negatived.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
In its belief that all sections of our community have the right to exist and all people have the right to live free from violence and intimidation whether at home, at school, or the workplace, this Assembly expresses its sympathy to all those who have been the victims of terrorist murder, violence and intimidation, rejects Republican and Loyalist sectarianism and commits itself to providing leadership on this issue in practical ways. This Assembly re-affirms its commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means and calls upon all parties to actively support and co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in securing evidence against those involved in violence and in default of their ceasefires.