I wish to advise the House how I propose to conduct the debate, to which two and a half hours have been allocated by the Business Committee. The mover of the motion will have 15 minutes to open and 10 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members will have seven minutes to speak.
I caution Members and remind them that, in criminal matters, the sub judice rule applies strictly from the moment a person is charged until the verdict and sentence have been announced. I mention that because it has clear relevance to the events described in the motion.
Members should also be aware that parliamentary privilege, covering what they say in the Chamber, applies to the law of defamation and not to other matters. It would not, for example, give Members protection in matters of contempt of court. I draw that to Members’ attention.
I beg to move
That this Assembly expresses deep concern at the implications of events on Friday 4 October 2002.
I am glad that the debate is being broadcast on BBC2. Viewers will see the bareness of the seats and also hear at first hand what the argument should be. I want to put it on record that we are here to discuss a Democratic Unionist Party motion. When I came to the House on Monday, I thought that all parties would want to discuss the matter. However, Mr Speaker, it was only after meeting with you that we were able to get the Business Committee to agree to put the motion on the Order Paper. The people of Northern Ireland should know that this debate is on a motion that originated with the DUP. It is an urgent matter, and the Assembly would have no credibility whatever if, when everybody else was talking about it, we were not permitted to do so. I am glad that the debate is taking place.
Mr Speaker, I refer to the letter that I delivered to you, which you have just read to the House. We had contacted the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and had already delivered a letter to you that would take effect when he and his Ministers resigned. We thought that all Unionists would have united in this matter no matter what their opinions are on other things, but Mr Trimble treated my letter with contempt. We then informed the public that we would act unilaterally, and that is what we have done.
I was amazed to hear the BBC correspondent, Mr Denis Murray, saying that the letter could be withdrawn before Friday. The only reason that the letter is dated for Friday is that the Ministers have to clear their offices and do some business that has to be done so as to leave the offices free for whoever else might occupy them. That scurrilous remark was made to try to blight the credibility of the party that I serve. Of course, we live in a day of religious discrimination, and the BBC is a mastermind of that — I have said that to the head of the BBC in Belfast.
On 26 July, I met the Prime Minister of our country. I had some figures with me. I said "Prime Minister, you go around the country telling people that Ulster is a great place — far better since the agreement was signed, wonderful because of the so-called Good Friday Agreement. However, I will read some statistics to you. From 1995 to 1998, there were 430 shootings. From 1999 to 2002, under that peace process, there were 820 shootings. Again, from 1995 to 1998 there were 123 bombings, while from 1999 to 2002 there were 361. Please note those figures. From 1995 to 1998 there were 156 bombing devices, from 1999 to 2002 there were 699." The Secretary of State had the cheek and the audacity to say that he did not accept those figures, but then I produced the police’s annual report.
Those were figures that he knew, and he made no protest. The Prime Minister, in fairness, told the Secretary of State that if those figures were right, then what he was saying around the country about things being better in Northern Ireland could not be true. I said that those figures were his, not ours.
Let us clear away the mists spread by those who want to tell us that everything is well in Northern Ireland — everything is not well in Northern Ireland. To all intents and purposes, there is no peace process; there is, rather, a war process.
I turn to IRA/Sinn Féin attendance as Ministers of the Executive of the Assembly — right in the heart of the Government. It is well known that the DUP has opposed that from the beginning and that our Members, who were entitled to do so, took their offices but did not attend one meeting of the Executive. Everyone knows that. What we said would happen has happened. We said that the IRA would continue to plan and carry out its acts of terror at will. Since the Belfast Agreement was signed, the IRA has updated its weapons and bombing techniques in Colombia. It has rearmed from Russia and Florida. It has targeted leading political, judicial, security, forensic and Loyalist figures, using updated intelligence files. The police have identified the IRA as the only major line of enquiry into the break-in at Special Branch Headquarters at Castlereagh. The IRA has murdered more than a dozen people since 1998 and has orchestrated violence in north and east Belfast.
Those are the facts. Then there is the uncovering of the fact that the IRA had access to documents, information and intelligence through people who were employed by Government. That access was used to give very sensitive intelligence material, which would put lives in danger, to IRA/Sinn Féin. That is a very serious matter — it could not be more serious. I have heard the police attacked, but I have heard no attacks on the people who passed that information.
Recent arrests have proved that the authorities have information that they will bring before the courts. I am well aware of the sub judice laws; however, I am within my rights to say that because it was announced in the press. The security vetting of people in offices in this Building is absolutely ridiculous. A person came into this Building who had been employed by one of the Departments. This person had access to the documents of the Secretary of State and of the lady in charge of security in Northern Ireland. That person was caught red-handed, only to be shifted out of the office to another job in another Department. Think about it: a person was caught and, instead of being sacked, he was shifted to another Department. After that, he was shifted again to work in the office of a Sinn Féin Member.
If that is not a blatant breach of the vetting system, I do not know what is. The Secretary of State should forthwith resign because, although he was told that a person had been caught red-handed printing documents, he allowed those documents to be passed on. That is a serious matter, which must be attended to. If it had happened across the water, there would have been a hue and cry for the Secretary of State’s political scalp. Here, however, it seems to be that, if one is connected to Sinn Féin, one is outside the rule of law.
In the past 12 months, the peace process has resulted in an 80% increase in violence. Shootings have trebled since the agreement was signed. Unsolved crimes have reached a new high. Only last week, the IRA shot a bus driver in Londonderry while he was conveying a group of pensioners. The IRA also beat up a young man in south Armagh, leaving him with injuries that doctors tell us are the worst that they have seen since the troubles began.
Those are the matters that concern the DUP. IRA/Sinn Féin has no right to be in the Government of Northern Ireland — it had no right from the beginning. However, Republicans have now proved that they are in this business for the day on which they think that they will make the last move and take over the Province. I have news for them. There may be a weak-kneed Government in Westminster, and the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party may be weak-kneed, but Ulster has people who are determined that the IRA will not win the war. They are determined that the IRA will not impose itself on our generation or on generations to come. Come what may, we are determined that we shall not tolerate in the Government of this country those who are allied to, and those who direct, Sinn Féin/IRA. And, to crown it all, Gerry Adams tells us that he was never a member of the IRA.
I think of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who both said publicly in the House of Commons, and were joined in this by Mr Trimble, that those organisations are inextricably joined. If they are inextricably joined, they cannot be parted, yet the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has told Members that he advised IRA members to join Sinn Féin. If those organisations are inextricably united, members of the IRA are already in Sinn Féin.
No half measures are needed now. We must realise that all the people who have been mentioned are at risk. After the break-in at Castlereagh, millions of pounds had to be spent on the special purchase of evacuated dwellings scheme to re-house the hundreds of people who had been put at risk. What about the 1,000 people who are now at risk?
Surely the time has come for Members to acknowledge that they recognise the gravity of the situation and declare on which side they are. My party is against the IRA’s being in Government. It should be removed forthwith.
The Prime Minister said on the lunchtime news that the agreement is the only way forward. I represent my party as one who wished to work the agreement — it was the best way forward for Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister said that the agreement will work only if all of its parts are made to work. He then mentioned two aspects of the agreement that are often discussed: he said that on the one hand, there is equality and justice, but on the other, there is paramilitarism.
I am often told about equality. I am glad that Sinn Féin is present, because I looked its Members straight in the eye. Over the weekend I listened carefully to Sinn Féin accuse my party of being against the agreement, against equality, against change. Indeed, Martin McGuinness said on Friday evening that we were against having Catholics in Government. I totally reject all of that: none of that is true of my party.
As I said, the Prime Minister referred to equality earlier today. Sinn Féin often trumpets equality, but is it conscious of what the Irish Government and the United Kingdom Government have signed up to? Is it conscious — I see that no one from Sinn Fein is looking at me — of what the premier body, the Council of Europe, has clearly stated about groupings that do not feel at home in a particular country? That means Sinn Féin. Is Sinn Féin conscious of the cultural, linguistic, educational and religious rights advocated by the Council of Europe? Lest someone say that I must speak through the Chair, I am doing so, but that does not preclude me from looking at anyone. In speaking through the Chair while looking at a certain quarter, I say that none of those rights is debarred to anyone in Northern Ireland, be they Unionist, Nationalist, Republican or whatever. Their rights are protected and preserved; the United Kingdom Government have signed up to that. I advise people to study those rights carefully and then tell me that they are denied them.
When Sinn Féin repeats the word "against", it is simply a smokescreen. I represent a party that wanted, and still wants, to work the agreement. We have been let down, and we have been let down big time.
The problem is simple. I live in a liberal democracy; I am a citizen of the European Union; and I expect the same principles and practices of democracy to abide in Northern Ireland as abide elsewhere in the democratic world. Let us not duck, weave, or prevaricate: let us stick to the simple point. The basic principle of democracy is that one cannot participate in Government while being linked with paramilitarism. Mr Ahern made that clear when he said that he would have nothing to do with Sinn Féin for as long as it was linked with paramilitarism.
Indeed, Mr Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, was clear in Dublin some weeks ago when he said that
"The IRA is not merely an army of soldiers, it is also an army of political activists."
There it is in one statement — in one breath: political activism and an army of soldiers. That is the clear, inextricable link between Sinn Féin and the IRA.
Many in the Chamber will remember a certain Jörg Haider from Austria. He merely said that Adolf Hitler had good employment practices. What happened to him? He was ostracised by the whole EU. To use the vernacular, he was "sent to Coventry". Some people say to us that principles are different in Northern Ireland, that we have to allow for paramilitarism. I do not accept that.
I am told that our request for the Republican movement to put war behind it cannot be met. Not too long ago it was thought impossible to have Sinn Féin in Government. That "impossibility" was made a reality. Sinn Féin has been at the heart of Government.
It is regrettable that supposedly fellow Unionists — and I emphasise the word "supposedly" — attack me when I am attacking in the right direction.
I understand I have seven minutes. Dr Paisley talks about the weak-kneed Ulster Unionist party leadership. I remind the House — [Interruption].
Silence. I need the space, Mr Speaker. I remind the House — [Interruption].
I shall sit down until I get silence.
The House should be rightly concerned about the implications of last Friday’s events — just as it should be concerned about the implications of the recent Ulster Unionist Council motion, which severely dented Nationalist confidence in the Ulster Unionist leadership and its real commitment to the Good Friday Agreement. That motion was an attack on all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and on the new beginning in policing. It was an attempt to reverse the important progress being made in that area.
I said at that time, and I repeat it now; the Nationalist community, having taken a leap of faith —
No, I will not give way: I only have seven minutes. Having taken a leap of faith in David Trimble, despite its grave reservations about certain scenes on Garvaghy Road in 1995, the Nationalist community felt betrayed by that Ulster Unionist Council motion, which moved it into the anti-Good Friday Agreement camp.
Since last Friday’s events, the anti-agreement Unionists have been rubbing their hands in glee. Nothing could have played more into their hands than to see the total collapse of confidence within the pro-agreement section of the Unionist community, coupled with the confusion and mistrust that now permeates the whole body politic — [Interruption].
This is a vastly different place to what it was 10 years ago. Yes, there are still problems. Yes, the Loyalist paramilitaries have continued to carry out murderous attacks on innocent Catholics in Larne, Carrickfergus, north Belfast, Coleraine, and everywhere else. That does not seem to have come under the notice of Dr Paisley — [Interruption].
Yes, sectarianism is still rife. Yes, people are being brutally beaten in south Armagh and in Derry, as happened recently. Despite that, progress has been made and is still being made, and we can build on that progress. The SDLP is genuinely concerned about the future. Its members are determined to live up to their responsibilities to the vast majority of people, North and South — [Interruption].
Order. Members accept, and are accorded by others, the dignity and courtesy of being heard.
It is proper that they should expect that — is it also proper that they should reciprocate.
We are genuinely committed, and we are concerned about the future. We are determined to live up to our responsibilities to the vast majority of the people of this island who voted for the Good Friday Agreement. Others are jumping to conclusions that they wish, and need to arrive at, for their own destructive purposes. For them, the welfare of the ordinary citizen seems to be a matter of little concern. By the way, the retention of these institutions is a matter of no concern to them.
It was clear last year that these very institutions, which are now being brought down, were crucial for this country during the foot-and-mouth-disease crisis, when, together, we were able to ensure that we did not suffer the devastating consequences that Great Britain suffered. That was because these institutions were in place. I wish to make it very clear that, given the serious implications of the present situation, this is not the time for rushing to judgements or for kangaroo courts.
It is clear that some people in the House are more comfortable with the old certainties and bogeymen. That is not to say that it is not a time for asking serious questions. It is a time for honest answers. I have questions to ask Sinn Féin. Why were allegedly serious and sensitive documents found in the possession of a senior member of Sinn Féin? Can it come clean and respond to the rumours and speculation that are causing such confusion and consternation, especially in the Nationalist community? Was it spying on the British Government or the Irish Government, or on other parties in the House?
I warned Members at the beginning of the debate. I warned them previously, and I warn them again. Members must understand. I hear the Minister suggesting that she asked a question. It was not merely a question. Neither the Minister nor anyone else can expect the protection of the Speaker in this regard because these are sub judice matters, which will be matters for the courts. I can do nothing but warn Members to be careful; they cannot expect my protection in matters that go outside the House. I do my best to give them good advice.
I sustain the Member’s point of order. It is not a question of whether they were allegedly serious and sensitive documents, it is that they were alleged to be found in someone’s possession. That is where the Member was wrong, and is wrong again, as Mr Kelly has pointed out. Please continue, Ms Rodgers.
Can I say that the documents are alleged to have been found? I correct myself, and say that everything that I say is with regard to allegations. Allegations have been made, and they have created suspicion. I ask the British Government how much they knew — [Interruption].
If the Member repeats allegations as allegations and is clear about that, it seems that she is unlikely to fall foul of sub judice rules, but is being extremely unwise. Previously when this matter arose, I said that wisdom was in driving as far away from the edge of a cliff, not driving as close as possible to it. In other Parliaments — for example, in the practice of the Canadian Parliament — the advice is to steer as far away from the question of sub judice, not to come as close to it as possible. I have given the best advice I can, and I have also indicated that in the end I can do little other. It seems exceptionally foolish for people to go where they have no need to go.
I have been asking questions; I can make no assumptions because I do not know any of the facts.
I want to ask the British Government how much they knew. For how long have they known that information? Why were the rest of us kept in the dark if they did know about it? We will put those questions to the Prime Minister tomorrow when we meet with him.
I want to say to the PSNI that the manner in which the search in Parliament Buildings was carried out was incomprehensible and inexcusable. It was at least refreshing to hear the Chief Constable apologise for that. However, there are still serious questions to be addressed. Who made the decision? Was the Chief Constable informed? Was the timing at such a sensitive point in the peace process a mere coincidence, or was there another agenda at work? Those questions all now need answers.
The implications of all these issues are serious. The question is what we do about it. I ask all parties to recognise, and to stop underplaying, the implications of their own actions. I ask Sinn Féin to address the many questions that may now arise and that must be answered to restore confidence across the board. I refer to the editorial yesterday in ‘The Irish News’, a paper that has been supportive of the peace process and encouraging to the steps that Sinn Féin had taken to move forward. I refer Sinn Féin to that editorial and ask it to pay attention to what it was being asked to do as the Republican movement to restore confidence.
Order. The Member’s time is up.
Before calling the next Member, I wish to refresh Members’ memories of Standing Orders. The Standing Order on sub judice — Standing Order 68(1) — states that
"matters awaiting or under adjudication in all courts exercising a criminal jurisdiction and in courts martial should not be referred to:
(b) in debate".
They should not be referred to in debate. That seems pretty clear. It is neither necessary nor appropriate, and it seems to me that it is in conflict with Standing Orders. I appeal to the House and all responsible Members to observe Standing Orders. They are rather clear. I do not see why people must test the limits of these things.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. What you have read out is quite correct in so far as allegations, inferences or statements are made about named individuals who may be the subject of proceedings. [Interruption]. It does not include organisations or parties believed to be involved in that activity.
The Member is absolutely correct. Whoever’s mobile went off is also out of order. The Member is correct. The reason that I drew it to Members’ attention was because it is quite clear that there were references to a specific case and a specific person. However, the Member is correct about the generality. There is no reason for the debate not to take place on the generality. If that had not been the case, I would have declared the motion not competent. I have permitted its competence because it is perfectly possible to conduct a debate on the generalities. That is the context in which it is couched.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I express my concerns at the events of the weekend, particularly the activities of the RUC/PSNI. As the Nationalist community has always believed, and as the weekend events have shown, there appears to be an acceptable level of Unionist terrorist violence — acceptable by the British Government and by those who scream the loudest in this Chamber about the IRA. In terms of the RUC — whatever its name — there is sufficient and overwhelming evidence of the cosy relationship between that organisation and Unionist terrorism, even to the point of dual membership.
We have been through this door before. Sinn Féin was excluded from this Chamber during the talks process, on the basis of security briefings and the advice of the Chief Constable and the arrest of three men. Those three men were stitched up to facilitate the UUP and DUP agenda. The media focused their attention on the arrest and the exclusion of Sinn Féin. Those men were accorded a trial by media, and the same thing is likely to happen to those arrested at the weekend.
When those three men were released nine months later without charge, the media in general were notable by their absence. There was no attempt to ask why those men were arrested. Was there a political agenda being worked out? In whose interest was it that those men were arrested? Indeed, in whose interests were the arrests at the weekend? With few exceptions, investigative journalism has died here. We now know that the arrests then were an attempt at the "save Dave" campaign.
We have seen the delight with which the RUC/PSNI raid Nationalist and Republican homes. Sledgehammers, guns and batons, instruments of brutality — [Interruption].
The RUC has not gone away. They may masquerade as the PSNI — the darling of the SDLP — but in reality they "are you see" the organisation that is the tool of Unionism.
Yesterday, members of this so-called new police service forced their way into the home of a prominent Fermanagh Republican, Kevin Lynch, at 6.30 am on the pretext of collecting an outstanding fine. They then brutally attacked this man and his pregnant wife in front of four very frightened children, and beat him into a jeep. They refused to accept a settlement of the fine. It seems that they are taking their lead from the heavy-handed actions — [Interruption].
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. We all saw the heavy-handed actions of the RUC/PSNI raid of our party offices in this Building on television, and Denis Bradley, vice chairman of the Policing Board, went on television and on radio saying that that was not right. But was it right to sledgehammer in the door of a house of young mothers with two children at 4.30 in the morning? Was it right that she woke to see men in ski masks with guns standing over her bed? [Interruption].
Is that right? Is Denis Bradley saying that that was right? Those who have given this unreconstructed police force political cover have to make important choices. Will they continue to back a clearly politically motivated police force that can brutally assault a father and terrorise a mother and children, raid homes, collude with Unionist terrorists, and cover the backs of the "no" camp in this Assembly?
One could clearly see — as Bríd Rodgers said — the glee on the faces of Unionist politicians as they lined up on public television to accuse Sinn Féin, and individuals who have not been convicted of anything, of violating democracy. What democracy are they talking about? [Interruption].
What democracy are the RUC storm troopers who raided this Building talking about? Do Members have any understanding of the political ramifications of the RUC’s conduct? Its actions, in raiding our office, are more in keeping with Chile and the coup d’état that toppled Allende. The motion before the House expresses deep concerns. Have those Unionists, who will use the activities of the RUC/PSNI who raided our offices and arrested people in order to destroy the Assembly, any concept of what they are doing? [Interruption].
Go raibh maith agat. Let me look at other examples of politically sensitive information being leaked. Chris McGimpsey of the UUP revealed that an impeccable NIO source leaked to him a stolen document that detailed the sensitive talks between the British and Irish Governments. Security sources passed details of the policing report to the BBC —
There was no investigation there. Details of the Police Ombudsman’s inquiry into the Omagh bombing were leaked, but there was no investigation by the PSNI/RUC. The raids on our offices were a clear indication that political policing, whatever the police’s name, has not gone away. That policing is directed at the destruction of the best attempt at peace on this island for more than 100 years. As a leading American has stated, there is no place in a democratic society for staged raids on the offices of a democratically elected party. Go raibh míle maith agat. [Interruption].
Order. These matters have come before the House in a special sitting because they are matters of gravity. Clowning around is not the best way to deal with them. Some of the Members who jump quickly are perhaps finding that that applies to Colleagues. I ask the House to treat the matter seriously.
Order. Dr Paisley will take his seat. He is aware that the point that he makes is not a point of order; therefore, I shall not rule on it. I am aware that some have grave feelings about what is happening. However, others are dealing with it with a degree of mirth and jollity that is inappropriate to the debate. I think the Member would not disagree with that.
I was surprised by the wording of the motion, which, given the level of rhetoric in which the DUP has indulged over the past couple of days, seems to be remarkably bland. Alliance Members are concerned about actions, not only last Friday, but in the weeks and months preceding that day. I say that as a strong supporter of the agreement, which presented, and still presents, the best opportunity we have to promote peace and stability to build a liberal, pluralist non-sectarian society. Our concern is to protect and defend that agreement, and to ensure that it does not collapse.
The agreement’s principal aim was to remove both the use and the threat of violence from our politics. Four years ago, people could accept that there was an imperfect peace. They could accept that in the context that we were moving in the right direction, towards normality, over time. However, it seems that what we have today is an imperfect peace which is getting worse; it is becoming more imperfect. That is not what people voted for four years ago.
I listened with interest to what Dr Paisley said in his opening remarks about his lecture to the Prime Minister at the end of July. It is a great pity that the Democratic Unionist Party has absented itself from discussions with other parties, because had Dr Paisley been at Hillsborough with the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister on 4 July, he would have heard me make exactly the same point — that the Prime Minister’s bland assurances of matters being better than they were ten years ago are irrelevant. The question is: are things as people expected four years ago? No, matters are worse.
We cannot have a process where these uncomfortable truths are conveniently swept under the carpet for the sake of expediency and maintaining the process. People know what is going on, and they are not being fooled. Confidence is being drained away from the agreement. The lack of trust in the actions of Sinn Féin is not just a reaction to the arrests of last Friday. It is the culmination of a litany of activities over months and years. We have seen acts of violence — including murder by paramilitaries from both sides of the divide — sectarian attacks and the so-called punishment attacks on people from the perceived background of the perpetrators. We have seen an increase in organised crime, frequent riots in many sectarian interfaces and the ever-spreading flags and graffiti promoting illegal organisations.
Those matters should be of grave concern to the House, because so many of them have come from those who are ostensibly pro-agreement parties. But those who ought to know better than to allow other people not to live up their obligations have fudged and winked at them.
The Alliance Party, more than most, has tried to work to make the agreement come into place and to consolidate an inclusive process. It has been prepared to work to bring people into that inclusive process. The Alliance Party has attempted to encourage Republicans to engage in normal democratic politics, but it is not possible to overlook actions which are detrimental and destabilising to the process, wherever those actions come from. On the one hand Republicans seem to be trying to look forward, but on the other hand there is evidence on the streets that they are seeking to move backwards. They are clinging to the violent past, and they cannot have it both ways.
The Alliance Party has never been frightened to stand up and make difficult decisions for the sake of the process. It tabled indictments against the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party in the post-Drumcree 1996 situation. It tabled indictments against the Ulster Democratic Party and Sinn Féin in early 1998 — when others conveniently ignored the opportunity — in order to improve the integrity of the talks and to give integrity to the process that made the agreement possible. That agreement would not have been possible without introducing a measure of integrity.
Aside from any judicial process, there is an ongoing political process that requires political judgements on our behalf. The agreement and the Northern Ireland Act 1998 provide a basis for exclusion from office of Ministers and parties that are not abiding by exclusively peaceful and democratic means. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that it is the duty and the responsibility of the Secretary of State to make determinations on the status of ceasefires and to table exclusion motions in the Assembly when the grounds are there to justify such a move.
In July 2002, Dr Reid publicly warned Sinn Féin about Republican involvement in violence and preparation for violence. That was the so-called yellow card. It was justified on the basis of information which was then in the public domain. Since Friday, more developments have come to light in the statements of the Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State now fails to act, confidence in the integrity of the process will drain away even further. If the Government do not table an exclusion motion, or if they do and it is unsuccessful, the only viable option that remains is to temporarily suspend the institutions, and that suspension must be treated as an opportunity for a review of the agreement to refine its structures and to restore trust and integrity to the process.
The review is envisaged in the agreement and in the Northern Ireland Act 1998. It is not the renegotiation demanded by those who have nothing to negotiate and nobody to negotiate with. It is a necessary correction to the workings in the context of the agreement.
The issue before the Assembly is whether anything can be done to save the institutions as they stand. It is time that Sinn Féin stopped listening to its own propaganda and started listening to the honest views of agreement supporters from across the community.
Republicans complain about the behaviour of Unionists, most notably since the Ulster Unionist Council meeting, and I share their concerns. Pro-agreement Ulster Unionist Party Members have failed to defend the agreement as they should have. They have run frightened of the Democratic Unionist Party, and they have run frightened of members of their own party. However, Republicans must also recognise that those who genuinely support the agreement, in spite of everything, have grave concerns about their actions over recent months.
It is not simply a matter of what may or may not have happened last week; it is about the ongoing violence. This is not about sectarianism, and it is not about not wanting Catholics in the Government. It is a real and genuine concern at a catalogue of continuing violence.
The collapse of the Assembly would dash our hopes for a generation; it would gravely threaten jobs, investment and the chance of better governance for Northern Ireland. If that is the threat that faces us, the least worst option is suspension and a review.
At the outset, I should like to place on record the Northern Ireland Unionist Party’s disgust at the betrayal by the Chief Constable yesterday in his comments about the gallant members of the Police Service who attempted to carry out instructions with regard to gathering intelligence.
The Chief Constable’s behaviour and comments were in stark contrast to the behaviour of Mr Adams and leading members of Sinn Féin who stood behind their men and went to court to defend their actions; actions about which, no doubt, we will hear more. The Chief Constable is further undermining a Police Service that has already been demoralised because of attempts to appease and bring into the democratic process, and the Police Service, those who are still wed to the Armalite and the ballot box. Mr Orde should resign, as he has been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
We have heard plenty of bile directed against the Police Service by that representative of Sinn Féin. I congratulate the police for their behaviour and activity. Despite the comments of the Sinn Féin Member, the Catholic community has nothing to fear from the forces of law and order; the people who are murdering and carrying out punishment beatings against their co-religionists are in the Sinn Féin/IRA movement. No amount of mirrors and smoke will disguise that, even from those in the United States of America.
Mr Trimble is meeting the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State today about the events of 4 October. He has gone to seek assurances that sanctions and action will be taken against Sinn Féin/IRA. We know the answer that Mr Trimble will get, because the Secretary of State, with full knowledge of the activities of Sinn Féin and its intelligence gathering information service, made a statement in Blackpool. He directly addressed Sinn Féin/IRA saying:
"We believe that your leadership is committed to pursuing its aims for a united Ireland through democratic means."
That was an indication that despite the targeting, murdering and beatings carried out by its sister party, the IRA, the Secretary of State was prepared to turn a blind eye or to clean the slate for Sinn Féin — that, starting from now, it would have to behave itself.
That was the approach adopted by the British Prime Minister and this Administration. Even when he and the Secretary of State, through the intelligence services, must have been aware of gunrunning and the events in Columbia and that senior police officers were attributing murder on the streets to Sinn Féin/IRA, the Prime Minister was talking about the rugged integrity of Sinn Féin/IRA.
He was prepared to turn a blind eye to, or even to acquiesce in, the worst behaviour of that terrorist organisation. I do not expect that such a slight misdemeanour, as far as he is concerned, will result in his bringing them to book.
I welcome the announcement that you made, Mr Speaker, about the post-dated resignation of Mr Peter Robinson and Mr Nigel Dodds. Dr Paisley said that this is not the time for half measures. It would be logical for the DUP and the UUP to withdraw their Members from the Executive Committees. After all, it would be an anomaly if Mr Robinson and Mr Dodds were to resign their ministerial posts yet remain subservient to the Sinn Féin Ministers of Education or Health or sit on Committees subservient to Sinn Féin Chairpersons.
I will make it clear that I mean Committees that make a contribution towards the work of the Ministers and the Departments.
I will move on quickly to the position — [Interruption].
We will see what the word is on the street.
In what may be the last debate in the Assembly, I want to make it clear that our principled opposition to the Belfast Agreement has been based on the fact that we are opposed to the wholesale release of terrorists onto the streets, putting terrorists into the Government and the latest spectacle of terrorists, and those related to them, being placed on the Policing Board and the district policing partnerships around the Province.
It will be a blessing for the Province and its people if the Assembly is brought speedily to an end, so that we can set about the real task of putting in place a proper, accountable Government that is free from the scourge of terrorism. The British Government have sent a clear message, and no doubt the Prime Minister will send no further word of encouragement. It seems that in other parts of the UK there are normal means of putting democratic institutions in place, but there cannot be Government in Northern Ireland unless those who front and represent the armed forces of Republicanism are included.
The view of the majority of decent people, on all sides of the community — Catholic, Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist — is that they are not prepared to accept a Government that has in it those who are out to destroy the state and the stability of law and order on our streets.
I ask that the Assembly endorse the position that we reject Sinn Féin/IRA in the Government of Northern Ireland.
Like many of my Colleagues, I was concerned and surprised about the events of last week. One had to make up one’s own mind about what was going on. I thought at first that it was some sort of political act to protect David Trimble from the men in grey suits, but it was not. Although there may have been some political considerations in the actions of the Chief Constable, one must accept that he acted on information.
Let us suppose that the Chief Constable had evidence that there had been a theft and that someone was in possession of confidential Government documents, that there were allegations and evidence to suggest that there were transcripts of telephone calls and minutes of sensitive meetings and that there was intelligence gathering. If there was evidence of moles and telephone tapping, the Chief Constable had a right to carry out an investigation. Of course, we have even heard allegations about MI5 briefing files on IRA and Loyalist terrorists. If the Chief Constable had circumstantial evidence, he was entitled to take the action that he did. Sinn Féin should know that being involved in the political process does not mean that it is not amenable to the law. The actions of some Members opposite seem to suggest that they feel that they are above the law because they are involved in a shoddy, political process.
One does not know how to put it, but we heard something of a rant about human rights and all the rest. What greater human right can anyone have than that to life? What about La Mon, Teebane, Darkley, Bloody Friday, Claudy and Omagh? One could go on; innocent people have lost their lives because of a murderous campaign launched by those associated with the Members opposite. No one should criticise the actions of the Police Service of Northern Ireland last week. The police had an obligation, a moral responsibility, to take the action that they did.
Last week’s incident and the comments since it highlight the fact that Republicans generally have little or no commitment to the democratic process or to democratic principles. At the back of their minds is still the idea of the Armalite and the ballot box.
We hear talk of the problems at the community interfaces. Today we heard once again — and Mrs Rodgers touched on it — a very much one-sided criticism of what has been happening there. It is as if all the violence had come from Loyalist sources. Of course, those of us who have seen what has happened at many such interfaces at first hand know that the sinister hand of the Republican physical force tradition is very much evident. One need only look at events in the Short Strand. Five Protestants were shot, evidence that the physical force tradition is alive and well in the thinking of Provisional Sinn Féin. We cannot escape the fact that it operates from a dual platform, with the military on one hand and the political on the other.
I speak unashamedly as one who was opposed to the Belfast Agreement. However, if I had some sympathy or support for it, I would be saying to myself "Hold on. There seems to be a flaw in this agreement, for if someone misbehaves in the Executive, the whole thing collapses." Even those who are pro-agreement must recognise that that is a weakness in its structure. If one party defaults, everyone is tarred with the same brush, and the whole edifice collapses as a result. I do not say that as one who was in favour of the Belfast Agreement. I am merely making an observation.
In recent days, we have seen Sinn Féin protests at police stations and courts. Its members believe that when they are involved in politics, they should be above the law. They must learn the lesson that they are amenable to the law like anyone else. They have no right to intimidate the courts, this House or anyone else. If they do wrong, they should feel the full rigour of the law and accept their sentences, and that includes being thrown out of the Executive. This is not the first time that they have defaulted; many of these things have been going on for some time. They have been in default many times by their activities, particularly at community interfaces and particularly in the past year or so.
Finally, I have no difficulty in supporting the motion. The House should have faced up to Sinn Féin many months or years ago, because the threat of people who have been involved in violence is clear. It is a threat that they were born and brought up with. They have been indoctrinated. They will not change. A leopard does not change its spots. Neither does Sinn Féin.
I share Mr Ford’s concerns about the events of Friday, 4 October 2002. Although the Assembly has met to discuss what happened on that date, Members are clearly more concerned about the events that occurred beforehand.
The Women’s Coalition has had serious reservations about the games that people have played with the agreement. Mr Speaker, you said that the debate is so serious that no Member should behave badly in the Chamber, or, indeed, outside it. It is possible that there was wrongdoing by both sides on Friday 4 October 2002, and in the events that took place before that date. That is a good question. The questions that people could ask go far beyond who sanctioned the raid and what was found.
Why do Republicans not move forward on the issue of policing, given that it is such a phenomenally important part of the agreement? Indeed, in the light of the events of last Friday, we might well ask how the support of the whole community can be won for policing. Why have leaks been coming in all directions except to us, the political parties, who generally find so much secrecy and lack of transparency? In fact, to find out whether we will be negotiating important issues of the agreement in the morning, it is better to pick up the newspapers than do what we all should have been doing from the start — talking to each other.
Why are punishment beatings still going on? Why is the antisocial behaviour that triggers them not being tackled in a legal and constructive way? Perhaps the most serious question of all is this: if parties are committed to peace and to the agreement, why have they not been in dialogue day and night, both in and out of crises? Why have they not brought their problems to the table rather than pretend that they are someone else’s responsibility? Every day we hear that it is all John Reid’s fault. Unionists say that he has not done enough. Republicans say that he has not done enough. John Reid says that if he hears that from both Unionists and Republicans he must be doing something right. He is entirely wrong. That is not my analysis of how to sort out a problem.
The Women’s Coalition has continually called for the establishment of an implementation committee during the past three years. The easy part of the agreement was signing it; the hard part is implementing it. Therefore, like any other business project, those who are involved should ask each other what they must do to ensure that it works. That is the part that has failed. Some failed to take the implementation of the process seriously. They failed to come to the table. Now people are saying that it never would have worked. I believe that it never had a chance. If everyone knows what caused the breakdown of trust and the breakdown of the institutions, if they can say that they know what the problem is — [Interruption].
If Members wish to have conversations, will they please have them outside? I am hearing conversations from all sides of the House. It is difficult at the Chair to hear the Member.
If everyone knows what has caused the problem, surely everyone has a responsibility to put forward what is believed to be the solution. The Assembly has the capacity to sort it out. So far, it has chosen not to. Hence, it has arrived at this state of affairs. The Women’s Coalition believes that it is time that the Assembly had some political maturity, accepted responsibility for its own failures and stopped blaming people outside the Chamber for those failures. If it cannot sort the problem out, can it stop the press asking whether a rabbit is to be pulled out of a large hat?
When people are held accountable by society, it is through the legal process, at the ballot box, or by the institutions of Government. The legal process will work; the ballot box will work — and the sooner the better. Some people are saying that they will hold people accountable by pulling down the institutions — shame on those who decide that that has to be the way forward.
Let us be honest: the Assembly and the agreement have not failed. It is the political parties in the Assembly who have failed to trust each other and be worthy of trust. They have been secretive and aloof and have only looked after their own interests. If a peace agreement is about anything, it is about looking after the interests of others as well as your own.
If the Assembly is plunged into limbo, either by resignations or suspension, we must be clear about what that means. The institutions will be disrupted, leaving a very dangerous political void. The only people who will clap their hands at that prospect are those who never wanted it to work and used very violent means to ensure that it did not.
This is not the end: this is the beginning of a new and difficult phase of the peace process. There is no question that, if we are political representatives and if politics is about the art of the possible, we must find a way out of this serious crisis.
Returning to direct rule or to the violent stalemate that existed before 1994 are not options, and no one here should consider them as such. If the future looks bleak, how much more bleak will it look if the ceasefires break down, if there is nothing to encourage paramilitaries to hold back, and if there is no framework for moving forward on policing and on how Northern Ireland is governed?
All of the Ministers, even those who will resign on Friday, did a good job. I am not in the Executive, and I have criticised them. However, they were proud of the job that they did. Why, to their shame, are they walking away from the Executive? The losers will not be the IRA or the security services or, indeed, the parties in the Chamber. We heard on the radio today who the losers are — we hear it every day. The losers are the ordinary citizens.
People from Arthritis Care came to lobby the Assembly today. Their physical pain was very obvious to us. They said "How can you possibly let this go? Whom will we talk to in your absence?" If the British and Irish Governments take the decision to govern together, then we, as British and Irish citizens, will have handed over governance to them. If that happens, shame on us all.
A House divided cannot stand, nor can institutions that claim to be democratic coexist with the representatives of political terrorism. Democracy and terror cannot coexist, not even if the joint between them is greased with power, money and patronage.
It is claimed that Sinn Féin/IRA has an electoral mandate that must be recognised. I say "electoral mandate" rather than democratic mandate because no party — nay, not even a Government — can have a democratic mandate to do wrong, be violent, terrorise, murder and intimidate or ignore and violate the conventions of the democratic process.
Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party had an electoral majority, but it had no democratic mandate to commit genocide. Henry Kissinger stated that the cost of appeasing Hitler was millions of graves across Europe. Mr Milosevic had an electoral mandate from a Serb majority, but he currently stands trial for crimes that no mandate could excuse. Pinochet had an electoral mandate, and Mugabe still has such a mandate. Sinn Féin/IRA has no mandate for terror, violence and murder.
The British Government, under the leadership of the one whom Sinn Féin describes as the "naïve idiot", stand indicted of moral and political cowardice. Like that other naïve idiot, his predecessor in office, Neville Chamberlain, who thought that he could do business with Herr Hitler, the present Prime Minister believed that Sinn Féin/IRA would behave in accordance with the principles of democratic government.
As Chamberlain sacrificed the Czechs to keep German bombs out of London and failed, so the current naïve idiot was prepared to sacrifice the democratic people of Northern Ireland — not just Unionists, but Nationalists as well — to keep IRA bombs off the mainland. To achieve that end, democratic principle and the rule of law have been sacrificed. Not only do these devolved institutions make a mockery of the true democratic process by withholding free elections, but they are a constitutional Taliban that provide not for change but for stagnation.
If Tony Blair is a naïve idiot, then David Trimble, Empey, Nesbitt et al, coupled with the media, the Archbishop, the church and government committee of the Presbyterian Church and some captains of industry, represent Lenin’s "useful fools". Murder, mutilation, intimidation and destruction have all been dismissed as risks to peace. The most patent violations of ceasefires by all the paramilitaries have been held, in the round, not to be so.
As the last in a catalogue of terrorist activity, the events of last Friday have demonstrated that Sinn Féin/ IRA has no place in even this form of alleged democracy. The institutions, like the mule, have neither pride of ancestry nor any hope of posterity. The current violations are so invasive of the democratic process as to stick in the craw of even a British Government who have demonstrated their ability to swallow almost anything and a total inability to speak the truth or behave with a scintilla of moral integrity.
Let me make it clear that my views on terrorist representation are unqualified. They include the IRA, the UDA, the UVF, the UFF, the Real IRA and any other form of the IRA. If those views appear to concentrate on Sinn Féin/IRA, it is only because Sinn Féin is in office. I assure every Assembly Member that if the boot were on the other foot, and the PUP had sufficient electoral support to gain places in Government, I would make exactly the same speech. Terrorists of any hue or colour, be it orange, green or polka-dotted, have no place in a democratic Assembly. Perhaps the biggest indictment of the total falsity of Gerry and Martin’s brave new world in which Unionists will be cherished equally is the vicious, vitriolic, prejudiced rant of Mary Nelis.
It is not open for Mr Dermot Nesbitt to speak with all the rage of a toothless sheep and threaten Sinn Féin with some sort of desperate gum bite. The truth is that his party stood with the representatives of Loyalism behind them — they were the power behind the throne. They are on record: their votes were used to put the First Minister in position. Nor is the SDLP free from shame. On 10 December 1998, the SDLP was invited to join in a motion to exclude Sinn Féin from Government, not permanently, but until such time as it showed a willingness to abide by the undertakings, not the sanctions, which it had given in spirit in the Belfast Agreement.
Just as honey came forth from the lion’s mouth, it may be that something worthwhile will come out of the collapse of the Assembly and that we will be able to review the mistakes that have been made and set forth on a new path towards reconciliation, but a path too on which repentance and admittance to the democratic process depend on showing what Sinn Féin/IRA has not shown — a true spirit of conciliation.
I welcome this debate. Our party was absolutely right to stress the need to have such matters debated on the Floor of the Assembly, given that so many people in the community are rightly concerned at the meaning of last weekend’s events and the implications for the political process in Northern Ireland. The events, particularly those of last Friday, were the latest manifestation of the reality of IRA/Sinn Féin’s participation in the so-called "peace process". [Interruption].
We have had a litany of events and allegations. There has been one illustration after another that IRA/Sinn Féin is not committed in any way to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. The Florida gunrunning trial proved that the IRA was up to its neck in the importation of illegal weaponry.
Then there were the events in Colombia and the association of Sinn Féin/IRA with narco-terrorists. There was the break-in at Castlereagh, as well as the ongoing violence, referred to by other Members, on the streets of Belfast and elsewhere, in which the police have made it clear — and others know this for a fact — that Sinn Féin/IRA figures are heavily involved. Targets and hit lists of politicians and others on the mainland and here, drawn up by IRA/Sinn Féin, have been discovered. All of those demonstrate that IRA/Sinn Féin is not committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful means.
Sinn Féin is in denial. Gerry Adams even claims that he was never in the IRA. I listened to Martin McGuinness on the radio the other day, claiming that he did not even know if the IRA apparatus was still in existence. Sinn Féin will deny, lie, camouflage and prevaricate to cover up the truth that it is not committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means — that it is, in effect, a criminal conspiracy.
That party is different from every other political party here and on this island because it is in Government at the same time as it retains an illegal terrorist organisation at its beck and call. That fact is recognised by the political parties in the Irish Republic, who said that they would not accept Sinn Féin under any circumstances in their Government, while demanding that we follow David Trimble’s lead and put Sinn Féin into the Government of Northern Ireland.
We listened to the ranting and raving of Mary Nelis. We see Sinn Féin, from the unreconstructed to those who are up on charges, setting people up for murder and claiming that there is an overlap between membership of the police force and Loyalist terrorist organisations. That comment, from a party in Government, is scandalous and outrageous. [Interruption].
The reaction of its Members shows that that hit home.
Remember that that party is in Government in part of the United Kingdom — a western democracy. In the Assembly, through its official spokespersons, it accuses the police force of having in its membership members of an illegal terrorist organisation. I hurl those scandalous and outrageous comments back in its teeth. Not a single shred of evidence has been produced. What about the clear evidence that exists among its rank and file of convicted IRA terrorists? Leading Members of the Assembly in the Sinn Féin ranks are leading members of the IRA army council.
There is no mention of the hypocrisy of that position from the likes of Mary Nelis. She knows all about what is meant by people calling at the dead of night, rapping on doors and brutality. Mr Gerry Kelly, Mr Molloy, Mr Martin McGuinness and all the rest of them know what that means, since they know full well what it meant for many innocent people and families in this community. All their words about commitment to peace have been shown up for a sham and a hypocrisy. Mrs Nelis and others get themselves so worked up into a rant and a rage because they realise that the veneer has been stripped away and that people see them for what they really are.
Mr Nesbitt referred to Jörg Haider, the need for the same principles to apply here as apply in the rest of the European Union, and the way in which Sinn Féin/IRA and paramilitarism cannot coexist with democratic Government. His tough talking does not disguise that those were the points that the DUP made when the UUP put Sinn Féin in the Government. To say now — [Interruption].
No, I shall not. We have had more than enough information from Mr Nesbitt. Unfortunately, the actions of Mr Nesbitt, Mr Leslie and their Colleagues, including Mr Trimble, have done more damage to Unionism, the Province and democracy than anything else in our history. There they sit — the retired, the redundant, the deselected and the rejected. More people on those Benches are either retiring or have been deselected than are running again, which shows their commitment.
Having been warned that IRA/Sinn Féin was not committed to exclusively democratic and peaceful means, UUP members cannot deny that they put their names, signatures and support behind an agreement and strategy that placed IRA/Sinn Féin in the Government of Northern Ireland. To lecture Sinn Féin/IRA now, when previously they supported, aided and abetted them, will neither wash in the House nor with the people of Northern Ireland.
I join with other Members who welcomed the debate. I point out that my party supported its inclusion in the Order Paper because these matters are of enormous importance and must be debated in the House.
Anyone who has read the newspapers recently, watched the media coverage or listened to Mrs Nelis earlier can be in absolutely no doubt as to who is responsible for the predicament that we are in today. Apparently, responsibility lies with the Secretary of State, the Police Service, the Unionists — just about everyone, apart from the Republicans.
I am absolutely clear about one benefit that may come from the situation. If the confidential documents are in such wide circulation, perhaps a few of them could be published. What their publication would make abundantly clear is the absolute, total commitment of the Ulster Unionist Party leadership to making the agreement work. In the light of the information that it had in its possession, Sinn Féin’s degree of dissembling on the matter, and about our intentions, is quite extraordinary.
However, inevitably in such circumstances, Unionist support for the agreement has been tested almost to destruction. That is because the Republican movement has failed to fulfil its commitment to switch completely to the use of democratic and peaceful means. There was no doubt that that would be a momentous event, should it occur; and it was a major step to take, which is why we understood that it would take much time, determination and nurturing. We appear to have evidence now that we have not yet reached that point.
However, taking into account the future needs of the people of Northern Ireland, and the need to live in a society that is not dominated by Loyalist gangsters or Republican paramilitaries, we must continue to nurture the hope that we can eventually, if we all hold faith, get the Republican movement to understand that, if it wishes, it has a place in democracy. There is no need for it to continue with its terrorist ways, which, furthermore, are totally abhorred by the population. We must know soon whether the Republican movement is committed to its halfway house of tactical armed struggle or whether it really has a desire to change.
Mrs Nelis, in her bravura performance of implausible denial, and in common with others in recent weeks, said that Sinn Féin has denied that the Republican movement was involved in the Castlereagh break-in; it has denied that Republican activists in Colombia were anything other than innocent tourists; and now it denies that Republicans were involved in anything unusual in Castle Buildings. I am beginning to wonder whether Sinn Féin is still a Republican group if Republicans were not responsible for any of those things.
Sinn Féin gives us a smokescreen. It describes the supposedly nefarious activities of "securocrats", but it would be more helpful for us to scrutinise the actions of the Sinn Féin "deniocrats". When questioned on Radio Ulster this morning, Mr Martin McGuinness could think of nothing more that Republicans could have done to stabilise the peace process. Having watched Mr McGuinness over the years, I had no idea that he had so little imagination.
These people cannot accept responsibility for anything. It is interesting that this time the allegations are that Sinn Féin has been caught with its fingers in the cookie jar. Therefore, we do not have to go through the pantomime of hearing that this somehow is not Sinn Féin’s fault, but the IRA’s, or is somehow connected to other Republican organisations —
I note your caution, Mr Speaker. I point out that those were allegations, and I was referring to a cookie jar.
It is unfortunate that recent events have obscured other violent events in the Province in the past few weeks — for example, the appalling beating of Mr Raymond Kelly on 6 September in south Armagh, which he seems to believe has something to do with members of the IRA, and the beating and shooting of Mr McBrearty last weekend in the Creggan. That has caused outrage among those who live in the Creggan. If observers’ accounts are to be believed, people with characteristics remarkably similar to those of some members of the IRA seem to have been involved. A reader of ‘The Irish News’ was moved to write to that paper on 4 October, saying:
"Years ago a generation marched for civil rights but today we have none because this gang can do what it likes without opposition. Anyone who ever marched for civil rights should now condemn what was done to this man, and they should rally to his family. Any politician who truly believes in democracy and opposes gang rule must condemn this atrocity and publicly offer their support to Danny McBrearty."
I should like to acknowledge Mr McBrearty’s and Mrs McCloskey’s courage in what they have said about recent events. We should salute their courage in doing that, because we all know how dangerous their words could be for them.
I do not excuse the constant squalid behaviour of Loyalist paramilitaries. There is little as obnoxious as an organisation that publicly proclaims that "their only crime was loyalty", while simultaneously indulging in drug dealing, extortion, and squalid, lethal turf wars. Ulster can do without such defenders.
People in this country want permanent peace — something that Republicans are never done telling us.
It is obvious that there is a crisis of political confidence on both sides of the community. That is reflected not merely in Friday’s events but in the events of the preceding weekend, particularly the Ulster Unionist Council meeting. That did not inspire confidence in the Nationalist community. Friday’s events did not inspire confidence in the Unionist community or, I stress, in the Nationalist community.
Three questions arise from Friday’s events — the first must be addressed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland; the second to the Northern Ireland Office, and the Secretary of State in particular; and the third to Sinn Féin.
The Chief Constable of the PSNI issued a statement in which he said:
"I regret the way it was done. You can take that as a general apology."
At least he has expressed regret about how the raid was carried out. Further explanations must be forthcoming to the Policing Board.
Questions must also be asked of the Northern Ireland Office. If the NIO was in possession of such information for so long, why did it not act on it? Leaving aside security information for the moment, what political information was involved? Were there reports about the position of the Irish Government, the DUP or the SDLP, leading up to the policing issue? We demand answers from the NIO, and we are entitled to them. Why did the NIO act when it did? The timing is of great concern, particularly to the Nationalist community.
The most important questions are for Sinn Féin, and it has not given any explanations or answers. Was Sinn Féin involved in any way in the events that led up to Friday’s occurrences? The questions that we must ask are without prejudice to any of the individuals involved. Political rather than legal questions arise, and we are entitled to hear the answers from Sinn Féin today. Was Sinn Féin or the Republican movement involved? It must be remembered that it is one movement made up of two parts, and each part knows what is going on in that movement.
That brings me to an important issue — continuing paramilitarism in our society. I listened carefully to Mary Nelis as she ignored the elephant standing in her kitchen — the IRA. All Sinn Féin spokespersons ignore that elephant, yet it is there, and it does not seem to want to go away. Sinn Féin is in denial about it; it will not face up to the fact that paramilitarism corrodes the political process. Although Loyalists represent the gravest security threat to peace in Northern Ireland, the IRA represents the gravest threat to political stability in Northern Ireland. That is the reality, whether the IRA is involved in an active campaign or is quiescent but involved in something else on the fringes. Sinn Féin must come to terms with paramilitarism and the continued existence of the IRA.
As the editorial in ‘The Irish News’ of Monday 7 October 2002 stated
"Stand down the IRA once and for all."
That is the nub of the problem. If we are to restore credibility in Sinn Féin — and that is a matter for itself — and if we are to restore credibility and confidence in the political process, Sinn Féin must face that problem. It can no longer ignore it. Friday’s crisis has brought the matter to a head.
We must all face up to that issue, and Sinn Féin, in particular, must face up to it. If it does not, the process of recreating confidence and of restoring the strength and vitality of the institutions will be lost. We have made enormous progress here, politically and economically, since devolution.
No, I shall not. I have only seven minutes.
Are we going to throw away the enormous progress that we have made? Sinn Féin has made an enormous contribution to that political progress through its membership, its chairmanship, and through its Ministers. Today, I welcomed Martin McGuinness’s decision to abolish the 11-plus. Let that social and economic progress continue, but let us restore confidence and credibility to the institutions.
A major step forward would be for Sinn Féin and the Republican movement to come to terms with what ‘The Irish News’ rightly identified as a central problem — the continued existence of the IRA.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Here are a few facts. First, the death knell for the institutions was not sounded on Friday. It was sounded at the most recent Ulster Unionist Council conference. The raids, arrests and charges are a convenient, but transparent, cover for political leaders who are anti-agreement. They are a bogus excuse to take action that is aimed at wrecking the agreement and the peace process, which has been nurtured over 10 years.
Ian Paisley’s DUP has always been against the agreement. Jeffrey Donaldson walked out of the negotiations on Good Friday, four years ago. He has been an implacable opponent of the agreement ever since, and has been promoting and gathering anti-agreement support in the UUP since that day. A few weeks ago, the UUP formally moved to become an anti-agreement party. In September, it issued a wreckers’ charter, penned largely by Jeffrey Donaldson, which set out the stages of the timetable that it would adopt to wreck the institutions that the agreement established. David Trimble had already set out that scenario at the UUP’s annual general meeting in March. Therefore, although Dermot Nesbitt read out a list of pro-agreement actions, all those are in the past. Now, he is anti-agreement, as is his party.
The wrecking of the institutions, regardless of the convoluted tactical moves and counter-moves involved, is a common objective of the DUP and the UUP. The relevance of the electoral battle between those two parties is not lost on anyone. Ian Paisley now calls the tune. The political battle is being fought entirely on anti-agreement territory. Anti-agreement forces will win out; David Trimble cannot out-Paisley Ian Paisley.
I am saddened by the Alliance Party’s taking the same route, also for electoral reasons. That indicates the exclusively Unionist base from which it draws its vote. Nevertheless, it is sad to see the Alliance Party join the clamour of the UUP and the DUP in demanding that the agreement be set aside and that the wishes of the electorate be ignored.
I turn to the invasion of the Assembly and the bogus raid on the Sinn Féin offices. That was a direct political intervention by the PSNI into the political situation. It was political theatre. Two discs were stolen at random from dozens of desks to give pretence to a raid in order to spuriously justify the action, and that has rebounded on police. I have with me what was taken — a disc and a CD-ROM.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order, given that the PSNI entered the Building with a warrant and took away items for its investigations, for any Member of the Assembly to charge those police officers with theft? The search was perfectly in order, and it could not be considered to be theft.
Let me be clear that the discs were taken — stolen or otherwise, depending on which word people wish to use. One of the discs is a canvassing plan for an election strategy, so we shall probably see it in the papers very soon. After taking those, Hugh Orde’s words about the manner in which that was done cut no ice. Like the RUC, the PSNI is operating to a Unionist agenda. It proves that there was no reason for the invasion of our offices except to make a political point. The two discs were taken so that the police could publicly later show them and say that that was the reason for the invasion.
Does the Member agree that it is the Ulster Unionist Party that has a case to answer in relation to leaked documents? It is now the employer of Alastair Patterson, the former deputy returning officer for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, who was suspended from his job for leaking documents to the Ulster Unionist Party. He is now working with the Ulster Unionist Party as its electoral officer.
I thank the Member for that point. Like his predecessors, Hugh Orde will defend the PSNI, whether it is right or wrong. That is the inevitable first step of the corruption of the head of a police force that continues to have a political agenda. That is one reason among others why the PSNI remains unacceptable. Some people have correctly spoken out about this. Others have been more concerned about imagery and the further damage that that would do to the PSNI and to those who have wrongly stuck their necks out to support it. Few voices have been raised to declare how unacceptable the invasion of an elected Assembly by a partisan police force is. That in itself was politically partisan. Those who remain willing to allow a police force to commit these unacceptable abuses without criticism may in future find themselves the victims of the same abusers. They are short-sighted indeed.
A great deal of hypocrisy and cant surround the issue of leaks. There is a great deal of bogus outrage, all to serve the wreckers’ agenda of the DUP and the UUP. British Government agencies, the RUC, RUC Special Branch, the UDR and members of the British Army regularly handed over montages of photographs by the wheelbarrowful to Unionist paramilitaries. That process and policy of collusion resulted in the deaths of hundreds of members of the Nationalist community.
Douglas Hogg, that central figure in the events leading up to the killing of human rights lawyer, Pat Finucane, was briefed by the most senior levels of the RUC and the RUC Special Branch before uttering his comments that some lawyers were too close to the IRA. That became the prelude to Pat Finucane’s killing.
I also remind the Assembly that on 27 January 1999, Ian Paisley claimed, under parliamentary privilege, that a list of 22 people whom he named as IRA members had been supplied to him by the RUC. There was no investigation into that. Personnel in the NIO leaked the Garvaghy Road game plan in 1997 to embarrass Mo Mowlam. There was no investigation into that.
As Mary Nelis has already stated, on 4 May 2000, Chris McGimpsey produced another document from what he described as an "impeccable" NIO source. There was no investigation into that. On 26 July 2001, security sources passed details of a policing report to the BBC. There was no investigation into that. On 8 December 2001, details were leaked of the Ombudsman’s inquiry into the Omagh bombing. There was no investigation into that.
Those leaks continued time and again. My time to speak is running out. I note that the SDLP is taking up the Unionist position in asking a series of questions of Sinn Féin. Alban Maginness, a Member for North Belfast, at no time mentioned the attacks by Loyalism on his constituency.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I said that Loyalists are the gravest threat to peace and security in Northern Ireland. I further mentioned that at the same time the IRA is the gravest threat to political stability in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the debate. I just wonder why it has taken so long to bring it about. When one looks at the circumstances that have prevailed over the past couple of years, I suspect that we would have been at this position long ago had it not been for some parties in the House deciding to turn a Nelson’s eye to events that have been happening all around us.
When the Belfast Agreement was signed, we were told in clear and unambiguous terms that it would be the beginning of a new era. Transparency would be the order of the day, and everyone would understand exactly what was going on. Certainly, some things were transparent. The destruction of the RUC had to be transparent; bringing Sinn Féin/IRA into the Government had to be transparent; and the setting up of the all-powerful, all-Ireland bodies had to be transparent. Those matters had to be seen and understood by everybody.
However, one thing did not have to be transparent, and that was decommissioning. When it came to decommissioning, not only could the Prime Minister not tell us what happened, but the closest that General de Chastelain could come to an answer was to say that "an event took place". That was the only answer he could give. We have to assume that the event was a non-event and that, in fact, the Provos are better armed and equipped today, than when they first started off.
It is amazing what has been said not only here today, but in the weeks and months that have gone before. One wonders why we have had to wait until today to bring the charges that have been brought, when we hear some of the things that have been said. Let us see what has been said over those months.
"We must acknowledge that there have been serious breaches of the IRA ceasefire". — [Official Report, Bound Volume 16, p34].
However, it was not enough for him to sign an exclusion motion to put the Provos out of Government.
Speaking on the BBC on 30 April, Mark Durkan said that the IRA remained active, yet that was not enough for the SDLP to put the Provos out of Government. It would not have been politically expedient for him to do that. However, he will find that if the election is called, the Provos will put him out very soon.
Speaking on the BBC on 17 June, the Assistant Chief Constable said:
"Certainly in terms of the street disorder on the Republican side, we have seen large numbers of members of the IRA, many of them from inside the area, in the area. We believe that they are involved in organising the violence".
We then had another quote:
"What is true is that intelligence, evidence and information exists to show that all paramilitaries had been involved in orchestrating or organising such violence at various stages."
I listened intently to Monica McWilliams. She posed a very important question. She asked what happens if the ceasefires break down. At that point I asked myself where Ms McWilliams had been living for the past couple of years. I would have thought that clear evidence was all around us that the ceasefire had broken down.
Let us look at what has been happening. There is the trial in Colombia of three IRA suspects accused of training and passing on bomb-making techniques to the FARC guerrillas. If found guilty, Connolly, Monaghan and McCauley could face a minimum of 15 years in jail. At first they were just innocent sightseers.
I have previously pointed out that sub judice applies within a jurisdiction, and I gave definitions of what the jurisdiction was. While in some cases people might be doubtful, there is fair agreement that Colombia is sufficiently outside this jurisdiction.
Mary Nelis, in her typical rant, had a lot to say. However, I notice that she forgot to mention something that happened in her home city. In Londonderry, a bus driver is recovering in hospital after being shot and beaten while driving a group of pensioners through the Nationalist Creggan area last Sunday. The Assistant Chief Constable has confirmed that the Provisional IRA was responsible for the shooting. I suspect that Mrs Nelis did not hear about that. Well, she is hearing about it now, and I hope that she takes cognisance of it.
The IRA has been accused of carrying out a brutal attack on a south Armagh student who has sustained injuries that have been described by doctors as the worst they ever saw throughout the troubles. Again, the Provos are not guilty. The police in Belfast have confirmed that the IRA is behind the violence in east Belfast that has been festering for months. The Provos and Sinn Féin know absolutely nothing about that either. You would think that an angelic host was guiding Sinn Féin. Its members sit in here with pious looks on their faces as if they were the epitome of innocence, but all the time, its sinister, dirty, grubby little hand has been in every act of destruction that has gone on in this country.
New evidence emerged on Thursday 3 October to strengthen police claims that the IRA was responsible for the March break-in at Special Branch headquarters in Castlereagh. In September, members of Sinn Féin youth attacked a police station in Lurgan, County Armagh. No doubt Sinn Féin did not hear about that either. The IRA murdered William Morgan by deliberately running him down with a car —
The burden on the Chair is already substantial, Dr O’Hagan, without its having to determine the factual accuracy of what some Members say. I do my best, but you are asking me to go further than I possibly can. The point of order is on the record.
I shall bring you my own town of Dungannon, where the biggest embarrassment yet for the Provos is that Barney McDonald, a taxi driver, was lured to pick up a fare in Donaghmore. What happened to him? He was done to death. The Provos have been conspicuous by their silence in their condemnation of that murder. The McDonald family still ask today why the Provos will not admit their involvement and why Sinn Féin has been silent about it.
In April, an IRA hit list was found in Belfast, and proof that the IRA had been —
This is truly a defining moment in our political process. Over the past four years the democrats in our society have been waiting for evidence that those who have in the past been inextricably linked to violence have clearly broken that link. Today members of my party have been criticised from two sides: those who think we have waited too long to collect such evidence, and those who think we should wait a little longer. I believe that we have got the balance right.
Sadly, the evidence is mounting that the change so far has been insufficient. The list of events is as familiar as it is dismal: Florida, Castlereagh, Colombia, street agitation in the city, continued targeting and horrific shootings and beatings. In many of those indicators, things are worse now than they were some years ago.
In saying all that, my party is not being soft on the Loyalist variant of terrorism. It utterly condemns all attacks on the innocent and what may be the development of a sordid feud within Loyalism, which has continued to take lives in recent days. Although the difference between the IRA and the LVF is not a moral one, it is of a political nature. Unlike the latter, the IRA is inextricably linked to a party in Government here. That is why the Ulster Unionist Party now focuses on the IRA, but that is not to ignore the wrong that is ongoing with regard to Loyalist violence.
Sadly, there is much denial about the true source of instability in the political process, and Members have seen much of that denial today. The true source is paramilitary activity. We saw one example of denial from a Fianna Fáil senator, Dr Martin Mansergh, in Dublin yesterday. He likened the events of 4 October, which the House is supposed to be discussing today, to some of the activities of the thugs in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. That is a ridiculous and hypocritical comparison, because democrats in Northern Ireland have been forced to endure from Sinn Féin and the Republican movement a type of behaviour that Governments in Dublin have said they would not put up with.
My Friend will realise that there have been motions from my right and from the Ulster Unionist Party to try to exclude unreconstructed terrorists. Alban Maginness referred to the elephant in the kitchen. Does Dr Birnie agree that Nationalists, represented by the SDLP, must consider their lack of contribution to any effort by other constitutional parties to remove these unreconstructed terrorists from the Government? That is the SDLP’s problem, and one that it must address.
All democrats have a joint responsibility to construct a form of Government here that is solidly based and can endure. The Blair Government, the London Government, must act, because Number 10 retains powers over law and order. The British Government are responsible for law and order in Northern Ireland — even if they do not want to be. The Prime Minister’s anxiety to contest terrorism internationally, be it in Afghanistan or, perhaps, Iraq in the future, will be the rule of consistency against which we measure his actions here on terrorism and law-breaking in this part of the United Kingdom.
Now is the moment of truth. It is up to the paramilitaries to disband; it will take no less than that. Republican rhetoric often focuses on their mandate from the people of Ireland, and that is usually historically based, going back, for instance, to the 1918 election in Ireland. However, there have been more up-to-date tests of opinion, most notably the vote in 1998 for the agreement in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which clearly endorsed an end to paramilitarism. As suggested by ‘The Irish News’ in its editorial yesterday, there should be disbandment of all paramilitaries, and, as the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said in February, there can be only one army and one system of justice in any one state.
The Assembly meets today, not for the first time, in a state of concern, confusion, and pending disarray as it faces possible resignations, talk of suspension and dissolution, et cetera. We represent the entire community. Whatever doubts and difficulties surround us and the process in which we are involved, by working here together we have been able to do good work on behalf of the public. Good work has been done in the Executive, the Assembly, Committees, the North/ South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council.
All that good work is jeopardised by the various suggestions about collapsing the institutions and arrangements. Members have been able to do their good work on the basis of certain working levels of trust, expectations and understandings that have not only been sourced from the agreement but also from the discussions and negotiations that led to the agreement and that took place when there were difficulties in its implementation.
I was listening to the debate on the radio as I travelled from Dublin. There was much talk about distrust and very little talk about trust. Many Members have doubts and questions based on the events of last Friday and based on stories that have been pouring through the media since then. Some people have doubts and questions about the police operation on these premises, never mind doubts about wider activities. The SDLP expressed its concerns and criticisms directly to the Chief Constable, and he was clear, direct and professional enough to state publicly that he regarded the performance here on Friday as being somewhat inappropriate.
There are also doubts about the British Government’s handling of the situation, if we are to believe the stories in the papers that seem to be coming from sources close to the NIO. How much did they know? When did they know it? Did they have reason to believe that something serious was afoot, but, for reasons of expediency, did nothing, and now, for different reasons of expediency, have decided to do something about it? Those are some of our suspicions and concerns. People who previously did not want to rock the boat may have decided that it is now time to scare the horses with something. We simply do not know.
There are fundamental concerns about whether Sinn Féin or the wider Republican movement or a paramilitary element were involved in an extensive, systematic exercise to purloin information and to intercept political or other intelligence information. Republicans, Nationalists and Unionists have concerns and suspicions, though they may express them in different ways. It may be a case of everyone advertising his prejudices in this situation, but, in all the finger-pointing, speculation and counter-accusation of the past few days, let none of us get away from the fact that the concerns and suspicions are not entirely unexpected or invalid, given our experiences throughout the process and also given our experiences with each other.
We must therefore brace ourselves for a crash and prepare for the latest stage of the blame game. We must not gloat at the crash, as some anti-agreement people are clearly preparing to do. We must prepare ourselves for the task of ensuring that we preserve the democratic hopes and expectations that attach to the Assembly.
The agreement set up new arrangements and created new guarantees and protections for both Unionists and Nationalists. The agreement is a covenant of honour between Unionism and Nationalism, and the protections and equality that it affords stand now and for the future, regardless of what the constitutional status of Northern Ireland might be.
Whatever happens in the next few days — and I do not want anyone to do anything that cannot be undone — the agreement remains the only agenda for many of us. Its principles, models, protections and commitments remain the agenda. If we are going to restore democratic potential and hope and get back to the prospect of dealing with the cultural, environmental, social and economic issues that we, as an Assembly, have been grappling with, it will be through the model of this agreement.
That is not to say that, in restoring the agreement, we do not all have to look for deep answers to the questions of the last few days. We do not know enough to do what some people want — to exclude Members. I know what the accusations are; we have heard many stories and much speculation. However, we do not have facts or material evidence. We do not know what other people claim to know, and this is not the time to plunge democracy into the unknown.
I have just returned from visiting a primary school in one of the most socially deprived areas of Belfast. The teachers, parents and children who greeted me there were absolutely delighted that I announced this morning that the 11-plus is to be abolished. I was conscious that this morning’s debate took place against the backdrop of a seriously crisis-ridden political situation with the Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist Parties vying with one another in their threats to withdraw from the institutions.
I was struck by the reality that many children in the state depend on all the Members. I do not exclude the DUP or the other rejectionist Unionists. The children depend on all of us to make the proper decisions to enable us to provide a first-class, modern education system — [Interruption].
— and we should not lose sight of that. Not only are we responsible for their education; we are responsible for their entire future. We have a responsibility to ensure that the political process works, that it deals with the causes of conflict, removes them and ensures that political leaders move forward together.
I am one of those people from the Republican tradition who want to work with the Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Robert McCartney, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the other parties in the Assembly to make the place where we live a better place. That journey has undoubtedly been difficult for everyone. The process is imperfect, and the peace on our streets is imperfect, but the place we are in today is far better than it was 10 years ago. If we only work at the process, in 10 years from now it will be an even better place.
The debate has been dominated by the events of last Friday when the PSNI raided the Sinn Féin offices in this Building. Did it do that for two disks? I am holding the two disks, which were returned to Sinn Féin by lawyers 30 minutes ago. Obviously, there is nothing on them.
Serious questions have been asked about why that raid was authorised. Behind the almost ludicrous situation — and Mr Hugh Orde apologised yesterday for the way in which the raid was conducted — lies an implicit question about whether he was aware that the raid was going to take place. It also begs questions about what was going on last Friday and what agenda was at play.
If Members examine the way in which the process has moved forward, and the way in which policing has not moved forward in line with the full terms of the Good Friday Agreement, they will not be able to escape the reality that the old RUC vanguard is still in the PSNI with its own agenda. It has been working flat out to undermine the Republican contribution to the peace process — [Interruption].
Why does it do that? It does it because it cannot accept the type of change that has come about thus far. It does it because it cannot face up to the reality that more change is required. Legislative amendments are required to bring policing legislation into line with the Patten Report to deliver the fully accountable and representative policing service that this community needs.
If anything proves our case, quite apart from all our submissions, it is the events of last Friday. They show that we still do not have the accountable and representative policing service that we deserve. We should also face up to a further analysis: those represented by such people as Alan McQuillan cannot abide the type of political change that has taken place through the Good Friday Agreement. They sympathise with and are loyal to rejectionist Unionists, and they are beavering away continuously to undermine the Good Friday Agreement.
Of course, that brings us to the heart of the present difficulties. The reason that we are in difficulty today is the Ulster Unionist Council meeting of two weeks ago. At that meeting, the Ulster Unionist Council effectively slipped into anti-agreement mode at the behest of Jeffrey Donaldson, David Burnside and those rejectionist forces that cannot abide equality. Mr Donaldson’s mentor is Lord Molyneaux. I often recall his very significant words, hours after the first IRA cessation in 1994, when he described it as the most destabilising event since partition. I also remember how Willie Ross, probably one of the most honest rejectionists on the Ulster Unionist side, was asked why he did not like the Good Friday Agreement. He said very clearly on television that it was because Unionists were in the majority and he believed that the majority should rule. He said that he was opposed to power sharing and all-Ireland institutions. Now we have seen — and I take no satisfaction whatsoever from it —
I cannot give way; I do not have the time. It saddens me to see the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party effectively throwing in its lot with the rejectionists, vying with one another to see who can get out of these institutions the quickest. That is a betrayal of our children. It is political cowardice of the worst kind.
Can you confirm that this Assembly is constituted under the Belfast Agreement, which is dependent on the Mitchell principles, and that if a party fails to adhere to those principles, the agreement and the party’s presence in this Assembly are in question?
I am afraid that I cannot oblige the Member in what he says precisely. The Assembly is constituted on Acts of the Westminster Parliament which clearly identify how the matter to which he refers — that of the exclusion of a party which does not enjoy confidence — can be dealt with. I believe it is in section 30 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
The events of Friday last were, objectively speaking, not the most significant of the past four years. Even if the charges made in this case were proven and sustained, it would be clear that much more significant events have taken place in this process over that time.
No one could say that Friday’s events were more significant than the IRA’s murder of 13 people during its so-called ceasefire. No one could say that they were more significant than the shooting of 160 people during its ceasefire. Nor could anyone say that they were more significant than the paramilitary beatings of 250 people during its ceasefire. Nor could anyone say that they were more significant than the IRA’s gunrunning from Florida, for which its members were found guilty in the courts. Nor could anyone say that they were more significant than training narco-terrorists in Colombia. Nor could anyone say that they were more significant than breaking into the Special Branch headquarters in Castlereagh. Nor, indeed, were they more significant than their attempts to cause difficulty along the interfaces in Belfast and the shooting of five of my constituents in the Cluan Place area. They were all major events. Therefore, while it is significant, it is in line with many previous events.
Friday was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was a reality check for many people. Perhaps it is the imminence of an election that brought fear into the UUP and a recognition that it must do something different.
I want to respond to some of the points raised in the debate. The SDLP’s position is one of pious hypocrisy. Its members stand up with lily-white hands and attempt to blame everyone inside and outside the Chamber for the difficulties that now attend the peace process. Throughout the process they had the power to deal with those who were inextricably linked to violence, but they did not. They had the opportunity to sign and support an exclusion motion, but they did not take it. How many people had to be killed by the IRA before members of the SDLP would act? They never had the guts to take on the Provisional IRA’s representatives in the House. They need not come before the House now and cry crocodile tears over the breakdown of the institutions. They had the power to do something about it but were silent. It ill-becomes the leader of the SDLP to lecture the House and tell it that there will be no agenda other than the failed agenda that is going down the tubes. The people will decide what the agenda is. The days of dealing with pushover Unionists are past. In future, Unionists will be of firmer stock.
The venom that dripped from the lips of the now absent Mary Nelis during her rant only demonstrated that she is politically incontinent. She said that documents are leaked everywhere — a point taken up by the MLA for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly. They suggested that because documents are leaked here, there, and everywhere, that is just as bad as running a spy network at the heart of the Government and stealing Government documents. There is no equating the two. Parliamentarians throughout the world receive leaked documents. They do not, however, set up a spy network to get them. Indeed, none of the documents involved was being put into the public arena. They were listening to what was being said in Government circles and using that information to plan strategies that gave them a distinct advantage in negotiations.
The Assembly has its own naïve idiots. One of them stood up and admitted to that during the debate. Mr Nesbitt said that his party considered the Belfast Agreement to be
"the best way forward for Northern Ireland".
He went on to say:
"We have been let down".
With tears welling up his eyes he continued:
"we have been let down big time".
The members of the UUP trusted the IRA and the Prime Minister and his pledges — that is why they were let down. Every politician has the responsibility to make a political judgement before he or she enters into any agreement. The political judgement that UUP members made will be the one that stands over them, and it is the one that they will have to answer for at the polls.
The political judgement that the UUP made was that the IRA could be trusted. The political judgment that the UUP made was that Tony Blair could be trusted. Mr Nesbitt said:
"We have been let down, and we have been let down big time."
The reality is that UUP members were warned, yet they walked into the agreement with their eyes wide open.
Mr Nesbitt says that those who are linked to terrorism cannot have a place in the Government. What a truism. It seems strange that it took four years for that to dawn on him. We told him that in the run-up to the referendum. We told him that during the Assembly elections. We have been telling him that for four years, as we have tabled exclusion and no-confidence motions in this House, but he and his party were not prepared to listen then. Of course, those who are inextricably linked to violence cannot be in the Cabinet of Northern Ireland, but the UUP voted for that.
The Minister of Education managed to choke back the tears when he told us how he had met some young schoolchildren and how we had a responsibility for their future. Of course, he also has a responsibility for the past and the present. As a commander on the army council of the IRA, he took all the decisions to kill people over a number of years in Northern Ireland. He decided to send people to Colombia, the Northern Ireland Office, Castlereagh and Florida. He has a very real responsibility for the circumstances that we now face, and he cannot wash his hands of that.
The one constant feature of the Sinn Féin/IRA rhetoric is that it can point the finger at the Northern Ireland Office, at Unionists, at the RUC and at the PSNI, but it never looks at its own sins and the evil within its organisation. Its members are the guilty men; they are responsible for perpetuating violence in Northern Ireland, and there is no need for — [Interruption].
There is no need for Francie "We’ll go back to what we do best" Molloy to try to lecture anybody in this House, because the IRA has gone back to what he thinks that it does best.
The Ulster Unionist Party must now face up to the reality that no spin, briefings, revisionism, smoke or mirrors will change the fact that its members were taken for fools. They trusted the IRA, and the IRA let them down. John Taylor had the gut feeling that the IRA was genuine, but it turned out to be nothing more than indigestion.
The DUP was right. Its position has been vindicated, yet it took four years and an impending election for the Ulster Unionist Party to face that reality. The Belfast Agreement has been a fools’ charter for Unionism. Never again should Unionists trust the Provisional IRA. Never again should Unionists support those who have destroyed the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Never again should the Unionist community place its future in the hands of the Ulster Unionist Party. That party bears the responsibility for the elevation of the Provisional IRA and the damage that has been done to the Union.
I will end where I began: Friday 4 October was not a more serious incident than those that we have witnessed over the last four years. It only lifted the veil and shook reality into this failed and discredited process.
Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly expresses deep concern at the implications of events on Friday 4 October 2002.