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Mr. Barnes: I was not necessarily envisaging such a split. I drew an analogy with the Labour party and the trade unions. Just as the trade unions have become somewhat distanced from the Labour party, I hope that the Provisional IRA will become distanced from Sinn Fein. There may be a formal break. There was a formal break between the official IRA and the body that was known as the workers' party. Those who represented the democratic left in the Republic of Ireland had a battle inside the workers' party, which they failed to win and had to establish a separate organisation. Heaven knows what the future holds for the activity and organisation of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA.

Why did the Provisional IRA put a certain number of arms beyond use? Unfortunately, it was not the pressure of deadlines. Pressure was put on the IRA by the Leader of the Ulster Unionists because of his party's position, which was an important part of the network of pressure that was brought to bear. However, the essential element was the pressure from the United States, especially that in connection with the Colombian incidents, although the events of 11 September increased the pressure.

What does that tell us about Sinn Fein-IRA? It will act as an organisation to maximise its political advantage or minimise its disadvantage according to the circumstances. That is not the position that the Provisional IRA has traditionally adopted. Sinn Fein-IRA stood to lose heavily

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in elections in the Republic of Ireland, where it was hoping to hold the balance of power in the future, and it was being pushed back in the republican community in Northern Ireland, so it was willing to consider minimising its disadvantages. Therefore, it was responding to those pressures.

More pressure may be put on Sinn Fein-IRA from America as a result of Gerry Adams's visit to Cuba. I do not usually criticise Castro, but he seems to have made a fundamental blunder in inviting Gerry Adams to Cuba and to celebrate provisions dealing with the problem of the people who died in the Maze. That political responsiveness and interest in gaining political seats is of considerable importance, and alters Sinn Fein's position on the situation in the island of Ireland and our response to it.

I have no illusions about Sinn Fein and the IRA. I want to undermine their political stance. We should all try to engage with the electorate and people of Northern Ireland to ensure that Sinn Fein is not able to make progress. I regret the fact that the Labour party refuses to organise in Northern Ireland. It is the one place in the world where a person is not allowed to be a member of the Labour party, which is not only an injustice, but is politically naive. We should be there arguing these alternative positions.

David Burnside: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Sinn Fein took 51 per cent. of the so-called Catholic- nationalist community—I do not like using that term—at recent elections, and overtook the SDLP because of the amount of concessions from Her Majesty's Government towards republicanism and not towards unionism?

Mr. Barnes: I was concerned about the concessions that were made, as I showed with the point I made about prisoner releases. However, I do not want to keep going over yesterday's arguments. We must move from our current position. Much advantage has come out of the agreement and the progress that has been made under it. If I had had control of or great influence over the situation, I would have operated it differently and would have brought different values to the fore, and I think we might have been in a stronger position. I did not have such control, and the role that the present Government and the previous Conservative Government have played has been honourable. We must now move on.

We must stress to the Unionist community in Northern Ireland that the IRA and Sinn Fein have shifted their position. They have more or less given up the military struggle—their paramilitary activities. Unacceptable activity still takes place, and the loyalist and republican paramilitary groups have much control over their communities. They want to retain that control. We should enable people in exile to return and ensure that the paramilitaries back off. Such matters should be brought forward on behalf of the Unionist community so that the Government can respond. That is the other side of the coin. I do not entirely accept the argument that there should not be a balance of concessions to both sides. It has always been a matter of trying to get people involved.

There has been a dramatic change in Sinn Fein-IRA's principled attitudes. They were distorted principles, but it adhered to them. It would not involve itself in the institutions of the Republic or of Northern Ireland, because it was a divided Ireland. Now, not only is it keen

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to manoeuvre to win whatever seats it can in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, but it is on the Executive. That poses problems because of the nature of its links, and it is trying to get rid of its past connections. It would take its seats in the United Kingdom Parliament if it were not for the problem of the Oath. That is a dramatic change from any position it has held in the past, but it means recognising the body that it believes has divided Ireland into two. It sees the possibility of advancing politically by engaging in the De Valera technique.

Those who were associated with paramilitary activity at one stage and lost out should switch to the ballot box. When they do so, they will take a constituency with them—a constituency that never wanted them to engage in such activity, but will support them now because they have proved that they are the stronger, as it were, republicans through the very activity that they engaged in before.

That is the avenue that those people are going down, the avenue that they should be encouraged to go down, and the avenue in which we should defeat them politically by saying that there are alternatives that will give people in Northern Ireland a better life. I am thinking of Labour's provision for pensions and welfare generally—for instance, its attempts to improve health services. Such matters should form part of day-to-day discussion of politics in Northern Ireland, and it would help if we engaged in the tussle.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): As my hon. Friend knows, more than 100 Labour Members agree with his last point. How quickly does he think we could give all United Kingdom citizens the right to be members of the Labour party?

Mr. Barnes: That involves an internal battle in the Labour party. It is not a question of constitutional positions, unless some feel that human rights are infringed when people are not allowed a say and an involvement in a body that forms the Government of the country, but must sit and watch on television a Labour party conference that will affect their lives. The sooner my comrades do something about that, the better.

Lembit Öpik: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those Labour supporters could register their protest by joining the Northern Ireland branch of the Liberal Democrats?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I think we are straying rather wide of the Second Reading debate.

Mr. Barnes: I agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. When we talk of joining the allies of the Liberal Democrats, we are moving very far from the politics that need to develop in Northern Ireland.

I said earlier that certain moves had been made to tackle Sinn Fein and its links with the IRA, and referred to the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Bill. I think that discussion of the basic building block of a democratic system—the right to a vote—is tremendously important. I know that democracy cannot be secured merely through votes; there must be the proper pressure groups and other organisations, there must be some freedom of expression, and there must be an end to pressures that have existed for too long in Northern Ireland communities. I think, however, that we are beginning to move in that direction.

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What I have said does not mean that I will agree entirely with everything in the Bill if it is given a Committee stage, but the general principles strike me as necessary at this stage. I am not sure what the objections in the amendment are meant to be about, apart from an attempt to establish some political link with various members of Unionist communities and to carry them along—and to sound as though something very different is being said from what is actually being said.

We could have a much more sensible and open debate today about what, in Committee, could be added to the Bill to deal with problems that still exist in Northern Ireland, such as the increasing Unionist disillusionment with the whole process. We must be very aware of the need to do that, but we can do it without damning the Bill.

7.5 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), who, as always, made a serious speech—although I fear that his keenness on the trade union movement and its relationship with the Labour party led him to stretch an analogy a bit too far, in a way that was not entirely helpful.

The Bill relates to arms decommissioning, and in that context we must first welcome a first act of such decommissioning by the IRA. [Interruption.] It is important. Those whom I hear offstage to the left should bear in mind, when trying to cast doubt, that they are undermining their own case. They want to see the transition of organisations away from paramilitarism; they want to see an end to terrorism; they must want to see decommissioning. Therefore, they should not try to undermine the progress that has been made.

I have no doubt that the decommissioning did occur, and I have no doubt that it was significant. Indeed, I suspect that it was more than just significant: I think it was substantial, and that that should be welcomed. The act of decommissioning was carried out by the IRA, and after a beginning of decommissioning by the IRA—a beginning that we hope will lead to a continuation; indeed, must lead to a continuation—it is appropriate to make a couple of points. First, we hope the decommissioning will indeed continue. Secondly, it returns the focus to loyalists.

Until the IRA's act of decommissioning, loyalist paramilitaries hid behind the IRA—engaging in discussions with the international commission, agreeing the modalities of decommissioning in general terms, but not actually doing anything, and saying that they would not do anything unless republicans did. Now republicans have acted, and consequently I think loyalists need to think very seriously. I hope they will think very seriously not just about their relationship with the agreement and the political process in Northern Ireland, but about their relationship with society in Northern Ireland as a whole.

Over the last year or so, we have observed with great sadness the lack of coherence in certain elements of the loyalist community, and the continued and increasing violence perpetrated by some of them. There have, however, been a few hopeful signs in recent weeks and months. The fact that some loyalists helped to resolve the difficulties in north Belfast with regard to Holy Cross is welcome, and they should be congratulated. There are other signs of an effort to bring about coherence and

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serious thought in loyalism, which should also be welcomed. I think the Secretary of State could do a bit more to encourage the process.

Nevertheless, there is a difficulty involving loyalists, which others have mentioned today. A certain leverage can be exerted in the case of republicans. Sinn Fein participates in the Administration, and is therefore vulnerable to political pressure. Loyalist paramilitaries are not vulnerable in the same way because they are not part of the Administration; indeed, a whole segment is not represented in the Assembly. The only pressures that can be exerted are pressures of a different kind, one of which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). If the Secretary of State were to look more closely at the prisoner release scheme and the legislation, he would find that they contain means whereby he could exert pressure, so I hope that he will consider that.

The Bill can be regarded as a technical measure to facilitate decommissioning, because if decommissioning is to occur, there must be a legislative framework for it and a provision whereby the Commission can, when it is appropriate, grant amnesties for those engaged in decommissioning. However, I can understand some of the frustration of Labour Members because it is clear that, despite its being a technical measure, the Bill's consideration this evening has become a point of controversy, leading to the tabling of a reasoned amendment. I have signed that amendment and will support it, along with my colleagues, in the Division Lobby.

The reason for that controversy over what would otherwise be a technical measure is simple. When the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act was passed in 1997, providing a five-year period in which renewable intervals could be set for amnesties, it was not controversial. The Act itself does not contain any element of timetabling, any deadlines or any target dates. Those came separately, from the agreement. We had hoped that they would come from the original report by Senator Mitchell and his colleagues way back in January 1996, but it was not until we had the agreement in 1998 that we had a framework that gave targets.

As I said in an intervention, those targets were in the agreement itself, which set a deadline of 22 May 2000, which was extended to June 2001. Now, there is no target, and that is where the Secretary of State is making a serious mistake. That is why we have to register our position through tabling and voting on the reasoned amendment. We need targets.

The Bill would not have been controversial if the Secretary of State had done what I thought the Government were going to do a few months ago. They should have responded positively to the ideas expressed by Mr. Mark Durkan, now the leader of the SDLP, when he said, after the first act of decommissioning, that it was necessary to get together the parties that support the agreement so that they could recommit to the decommissioning process to General de Chastelain. Inevitably, a fresh target would have had to form part of that recommitment. That target, like the original one in the agreement, would have been endorsed by all the parties, which is important because it would have been better than a target that does not really exist. The best

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that the Secretary of State could say in response to my intervention was that the target is implicit in the date that has been set, which is 27 February 2003. That is where the mistake has been made.

The Secretary of State made comments with which I profoundly disagree. Unfortunately, they are almost an accepted part of the normal discourse on this matter. He said that deadlines do not work and that there should be no pressure. That is absolute rubbish. No other word can be used to describe it. Of course pressure works. Of course deadlines are important. Targets may not always be met, but if we do not set them, we do not have the opportunity to say to certain parties, "You are in default." It will not now be so easy to tell republicans that they are in default, and being able to say that is the beginning of being able to apply pressure to them. That is the Government's mistake.

Over the past three years, there has been movement by republicans on decommissioning. They started off, in April 1998, denying that they were under any obligation from the agreement. They were wrong, but worse was the error made by those who supported republicans in their error. [Laughter.] We hear them laughing, but the agreement placed a clear obligation on republicans and we moved them, by stages, to a point at which they accepted that obligation. At the first Hillsborough meetings, Sinn Fein accepted that an obligation stemmed from the agreement. In May 2000, the IRA accepted that obligation. It was on the basis of their acceptance of it and their promise to fulfil it that the Government, with the consent of the parties, shifted the timetable.

Those moves were achieved only as the result of pressure. We got the IRA's promise to decommission only after devolution was suspended in February 2000. That produced movement. The IRA were dilatory in carrying out its promise, thus confirming our suspicion that, given time, it would spin things out and Mr. Adams would waste that time. That is precisely what he did. It was necessary then for me to take action. Are the Government going to hide behind me again? Are they going to leave it to other people to start to take action?

The Government need to think about this very carefully. It is primarily their responsibility to achieve decommissioning. It should not be up to us to carry that burden, to a large extent without support from others. Tonight the Government are shirking their responsibility. They should have faced up to it, and could have done so by taking the opportunity offered by Mr. Durkan to bring the parties to agreement on the way in which the process would continue.

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