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11.3 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): The thesis that has been stated in this House over and over again about the agreement--so-called--has been a simple one. It is that

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we can wean people away from criminal acts, violence and murder by making concessions to them. The whole of the agreement is built on that thesis. We have heard it repeatedly. People have emphasised that if we give it time, it will certainly succeed.

The people of Northern Ireland see the leaders of Sinn Fein-IRA every day. They hear what they say on television; they hear what they say in the Assembly and at their political meetings. There is no reason to believe that they have changed any of their views. A recent leaflet from Sinn Fein-IRA circulated in west Belfast makes that very clear. It tells the people of west Belfast, "We are able to make an announcement that we have succeeded in ridding you of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The police reserve which persecuted and tortured you and helped to destroy you will be off the streets in one year's time."

The leaflet goes on to say, "These people carried out against the nationalist people this campaign of torture and murder and on every occasion did that which they ought not to have done." It says, however, that the RUC will be off the streets. It says that those people are scum. It also says, "If they take employment among you, you have to make their life hell on earth. You must report them, and you must break the scum." Those are not my words, but the words being circulated among the Sinn Fein constituency. The heart has not changed.

Anyone in Northern Ireland listening to us will know how far this debate is from reality.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should inform the House that the document to which he refers is available on the internet.

Rev. Ian Paisley: I am sure that it is, and I am sure that it will be widely circulated.

Can any hon. Member bring me evidence showing that any of the leaders of IRA-Sinn Fein have changed at all in regard to the Royal Ulster Constabulary or the British Army? We remember the days when, every Christmas, the IRA and Sinn Fein issued the statement, "Have a member of the British Army for dinner--they taste beautiful." That is the nature of the matter.

We need to read the history of the republican leaders in the south of Ireland, De Valera and the rest of them. They knew that those men would not be changed. Their own leaders knew that they would not be changed. Hon. Members may think that they have changed because we have let them all out of prison, given them this, that and the other thing, put money into their hands and did all those other things, but they have not changed. There will come a reaping day for Northern Ireland, but it will be the people of Northern Ireland and not hon. Members sitting comfortably in this place who will have that reaping day. As was rightly said, why do they want to hold on to their arms if they are not going to use them?

It is absolutely wrong for any hon. Member to say that the IRA's arms are under constant inspection. Only a very small part of their arms has ever been properly inspected. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does not know how many arms they have or what percentage of arms is in those bunkers. Nor were those who inspected the arms in the bunkers the second time able to count every one of them and say, "They are all totted up and everything is all right." The inspectors had no idea whatever.

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We have had a demonstration to try to alleviate people's fears, but they have not been alleviated. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) tells us that people are happy about the situation, but I have met no one who is happy about the situation. I have met no one of the Roman Catholic faith attending one of my advice centres who was happy about the situation. People are concerned when guns are in the hands of any section of the community and held on to. For what purpose are those guns held on to? As a leading MLA told us some time ago, if those people do not get their way, they will go back to doing what they do best. That man is the Chairman of one of the Assembly's important Committees. That is what we are up against.

We have put off this evil day. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann tells us that an agreement was made that June was to be the deadline. He says that we should not depart from that. If we are not departing from that, what are we doing by spreading the matter into next year? Why do we not stick to June and say that that is it? But we are not doing that; we are putting it off for another year because some Members of the House think that Unionist people will tire and say, "Oh, let them keep their arms. After all, they're not doing any harm."

No democratic Government can survive when members of that Government have access to arms that they will use if they cannot get their own way. That is the position in Northern Ireland.

As for the so-called loyalist paramilitaries, they will not disarm either. They have made that clear. No matter what they say to the general, they will not disarm. However, because they have little strength in the polls, they are not in the Government, whereas the leaders of IRA-Sinn Fein are in the Government of Northern Ireland.

Tonight, the House is putting its hand to a very, very foolish measure. It is giving IRA-Sinn Fein a prolonged period--another year--to plan, scheme and keep moving in the direction of their agenda. Their agenda is not peace; it is control. If that control does not come through the ballot box, it will come through the bullet and the bomb.

I shall vote against the motion. I think that the majority of people in Northern Ireland would want it voted against, because it extends to the IRA the liberty to go on and on--to hold on to weapons of murder and to attack those who bore the heat and the burden in those hard and evil days. It is a shame and a disgrace that we should be asked to do that tonight.

11.13 pm

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): People in Northern Ireland who may be watching the debate on satellite television will consider it most unreal. Once again, the Government show that they are being strung along by the Provisional IRA. They are extending the amnesty beyond the time that they themselves said would be the final period for the full implementation of decommissioning in Northern Ireland.

It was a sad spectacle when the leader of the Ulster Unionist party made his comments in the debate. He should hang his head in shame. He was suckered by the IRA into making concessions to it, on the basis that he believed IRA members when they said that they would

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decommission within a two-year period. Although they have not delivered, he believes them again, makes more concessions and allows them a further year to decommission.

Does any hon. Member believe that the full decommissioning process will have taken place by the end of June, as required in the agreement that was reached last May? I suspect that not too many hon. Members believe that that will happen--if any. Certainly, the Minister of State does not believe it, because if he really did believe it, he would not be asking for the period to be extended beyond June to next February. That is a clear indication that the Government recognise that, once again, the IRA will not decommission.

The truth is that, far from decommissioning, the IRA is stockpiling more weapons. We had some evidence of that when a court case took place in Florida. The FBI in Miami undertook an investigation, at the end of which it concluded that the decisions that related to that particular gun-running effort were taken

What is the highest level of the Provisional IRA? It is its army council. Who is on the army council of the Provisional IRA? The chief of staff is Thomas "Slab" Murphy. The assistant chief is Brian Keenan. The other members are Martin McGuinness, the Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland Assembly; Gerard Adams, leader of Sinn Fein; Martin Ferris, another Sinn Fein member; Patrick Doherty, another Sinn Fein member; and Brian Gillen. They are the seven members of the army council of the Provisional IRA, a majority of whom are members of Sinn Fein.

Those are the people with whom the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has been dealing. They are the people who he is prepared to believe would decommission the weapons. According to the FBI in Miami, they are the people who took the decision to run more guns into the country, and we are told that their word is being taken in considering decommissioning in Northern Ireland.

How much do the Government have to be suckered? How much does the right hon. Member for Upper Bann have to be suckered before he recognises that Sinn Fein-IRA are simply stringing them all along, sucking the concessions from them and giving nothing in return? They may not understand that, but the people of Northern Ireland do. The people of Northern Ireland will take the earliest opportunity to tell the right hon. Gentleman what they think of his trusting the Provisional IRA.

11.17 pm

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): When I sat down to read the order, I thought that it would be instructive to look at the chronology of events. I noticed that the first piece of delegated legislation on decommissioning appeared in March 1998, and the second appeared in February 1999, extending the deadline to February 2000. In February 2000, the deadline was extended to 23 May 2000, which gives an indication of the high hopes that were around at that time. On 20 May 2000, the deadline was extended to 20 May 2001--for a year, which is all that was possible.

It is fairly certain that the general election will be held on 7 June, although Ministers may not think so. If they

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do not, they must be the only people in the country who do not think that it will take place on 7 June. We are now debating the issue again today, so that the deadline can be extended to 27 February 2002--the last day of the five-year period, when the sunset clause takes effect and the legislation falls.

Of course, that raises a very interesting question. The Secretary of State made it perfectly plain very recently that the June deadline remained. What happens in June when no weapons have been surrendered for destruction? Beyond that, what happens in February next year when the decommissioning legislation dies? We have not been told that. Before we are finished this evening, we should be told what the consequences will be in June of the failure to decommission or destroy weapons and what happens as from February next year. Do all the benefits of the legislation fall? Can any weapons that are surrendered then be taken for forensic testing? I think that we should be told. If the legislation falls, surely we go back to the situation that existed before it went on the statute book.

The chronology of events shows that the Government have exhibited in relation to the IRA an annual triumph of hope over experience, We should not be under any illusions as to the views that Lord Mayhew--the former Secretary of State--took when proposing the legislation originally. As far as he was concerned, it was an absolutely vital element of the peace process that weaponry was surrendered and destroyed. It was not only Lord Mayhew who took that as a litmus test; it was treated as such by the right hon. Member for Redcar (Marjorie Mowlam) when she was Secretary of State. She made it absolutely clear that this was a most unusual piece of legislation, in that it suspended the normal criminal law, as she said on 22 February 1999 when the legislation was being renewed.

We have taken the serious step of suspending the normal criminal law, allowing people to do things that normally constitute criminal acts and to get away with them without charge, all in the hope that we would get the Provisional IRA, their fellow travellers and other terrorist organisations on the republican and loyalist side to surrender their weapons.

The Minister of State made it clear in May last year that if there were no extension, there was no hope of progress on decommissioning. Apparently the right hon. Gentleman was convinced--less than a year ago--that there was going to be progress on decommissioning. I hope that he does not feel too disappointed this evening that he has had to come back for another year. Perhaps he is just a slow learner and has not yet understood that the Provisional IRA and their fellow travellers have not the slightest intention of giving up their weapons.

A number of different wordings have been used at one time or another and, given that the debate only has a short time to run, I will not go into them. However, the right hon. Member for Redcar made it perfectly clear that the Decommissioning Commission was intended to collect and destroy the arms or to bring about the destruction of the arms by those who possessed them. Other options were also open, including the handing over of weapons for destruction.

Later on, the language changed. We had "decommissioning", "putting permanently beyond use" and "looking at things in the round". In other words, all

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sorts of excuses were being made for not making it clear to the IRA that weapons had to be handed over and visibly and verifiably destroyed. If I were a member of the IRA and I saw the Government changing their language and softening their approach, I would be greatly encouraged not to move one millimetre. That has happened; the IRA never had any intention of giving up their weapons. They intend to hold on to them and use them as blackmail against the democratic process, the ordinary citizens of Northern Ireland and the Government. The threat is there; they have the guns and the bombs and, if necessary, they will use them to get their own way.

The Secretary of State made it clear a week or so ago that the target date of June this year would not be affected by the order. If he had not extended the deadline to February but had made the cut-off date 1 July, the Provisional IRA might have been more likely to believe him. Be that as it may, he has decided on February next year. His reputation in Northern Ireland will depend on whether he sticks to that date. It was not my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) or me but the Secretary of State--speaking for the Government--who said the end of June. If he cannot keep his word, he need not tell the people of Northern Ireland anything else. They will just not believe him.

June rather than February is still the operative date, but I still want to know what will happen at the end of June and what will happen next February if no weapons have been given up. What will the outcome be? Are we expected to forget completely the fact that an armed terrorist organisation with the capability to cause considerable death and destruction is sitting in government in Northern Ireland? It is being treated as a normal political party and it is feted across the world as though it has not been all that bad. Its members are viewed as though they fought a little war for freedom rather than as the ruthless, murderous thugs that they are. They live off the backs of the people of Northern Ireland and are involved in every sort of crime. They practise intimidation and terror every single day. The sooner we have clear answers to my questions, the better for all concerned.

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