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Rev. Martin Smyth: In the light of the "Not one bullet, not one ounce of Semtex" slogan, one might accept that meaning of "significance". However, is it not more significant that people talk about seeing decommissioning although they did not see it, and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Irish Republic demands further steps from the British side so that demilitarisation—knocking down the watch towers and so on—is visible? Surely, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Mr. Robinson: I could not agree more. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said that we saw that act of decommissioning, but we saw nothing at all. The only people who saw it were a bunch of IRA men and three people from the international decommissioning body, who left the site of the so-called act of decommissioning, while the IRA men stayed behind with whatever weaponry was there.

Mr. McCabe: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not intend to mislead the House, but when he says that the general said that he would regard the decommissioning of

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one gun as significant, is it not the case that the general's report stated that a quantity of guns, arms and explosives were decommissioned?

Mr. Robinson: It would not be correct to say that. The report said that arms, ammunition and explosives were included—no quantities were given. My reference to the statement that one gun was significant was intended to show Members how easily the general is persuaded that something minor is of significance—something that might also be considered minor by the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

In a legal context, we are often told by respected members of the judiciary—people whom we have learned to trust—that for justice to be done, it has to be seen to be done, yet we tell a bunch of gangsters, "Oh well, we don't need to see it." Why should we need to see weapons destroyed? If the whole idea of decommissioning is to build up confidence within the Unionist community, to let it know that the IRA has changed its ways for ever and that it has left its horrible past behind, it is essential that people see decommissioning take place.

However, all we have is that unspecified event—and no timetable. We specifically asked the general whether he had any indication as to when another act of decommissioning might take place and he said, "No, there is no timetable for further decommissioning." Indeed, the Bill is testimony to that fact. If there had been a timetable for decommissioning, the Bill could have fitted into it, but the Secretary of State, on a wing and a prayer—if he either flies or prays—tells us that we shall let the process go on for another five years and then see what happens.

The shadow Secretary of State turned the arguments of the Secretary of State back on to him in a way that was evident to everyone. If the Secretary of State says that it is in the nature of deadlines that people in Northern Ireland—the Provisional IRA and others—will take things to the wire, that must also apply to the Bill. If he shows them that five years are available, we can be dead sure that, when that five years come around, either the Provisional IRA will be looking for more concessions to meet the demands placed on it, or the Secretary of State or his successor will have to come to the Dispatch Box once again to extend the period.

It is clear that the Secretary of State has the difficult task of convincing people in Northern Ireland and throughout this kingdom that the Provisional IRA deserves that further chance. The reality is that the Provisional IRA has not been acting solely as democrats since the signing of the Belfast agreement. The House needs to know something about what a ceasefire means to the Provisional IRA. During that period, the Provisional IRA murdered 12 people—the last of them only last week. The Provisional IRA shot 150 people. They carried out so-called punishment beatings on 250 people during that ceasefire period.

As I pointed out earlier, the Provisional IRA has been running guns in from Florida. It has been involved in its usual gangsterism throughout the Province, including major robberies when millions of pounds worth of goods were stolen. As everybody knows, it has been engaged with the FARC in Colombia, attempting to improve its terror machine. As recently as this weekend, we heard that it was leaving manuals so that FARC could learn the deadly business of terrorism at the feet of the masters—the Provisional IRA.

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That is the record of the Provisional IRA—still engaged in terrorism. Who are these people? They include, as chief of staff of the Provisional IRA, the Minister of Education. Let us think about that for a moment: the Minister of Education in Northern Ireland, as chief of staff, sits down in the army council of the Provisional IRA and sanctions the murders that take place. That is the reality. That is what he did last week when a person was killed in south Armagh at the hands of the Provisional IRA, when the IRA was sent off to Colombia and when the guns were being run from Florida. While that same Mr. McGuinness was talking to the general and, indeed, Senator Mitchell, about decommissioning, he was sanctioning the bringing in of weaponry from Florida.

That is the organisation with which we shall be rubbing shoulders in the corridors if the Government have their way during the next few weeks. Three of its four Members of Parliament are members of the army council of the IRA: the head of its southern command, Pat Doherty; Gerry Adams, former chief of staff of the IRA; and its present chief of staff, Martin McGuinness. Those are the people we are dealing with—people with high positions in the Government of Northern Ireland.

That is the difference from the position adopted by the Conservatives in 1997. They took that position when the Provisional IRA did not run Departments in Northern Ireland—but now it does. The Secretary of State urges us to allow the IRA to continue its ministerial role in Northern Ireland without handing over its weaponry for five years, because everyone knows that for the IRA that deadline has become a period of relaxation.

It is essential to consider a further factor. The measure takes us beyond the last possible date for the next Assembly election in 2003. In theory at least, that means that the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister—whichever of those positions is held by Sinn Fein after that election—will have the power, under Government-sponsored legislation, to appoint High Court judges. At the same time, they will be in command of an armed terrorist organisation. That certainly should give people some cause for concern.

The Bill shows that the Government are not really serious about imposing deadlines on decommissioning. They have relaxed, taken a laid-back approach and shown that they have no bottom line when it comes to dealing with Sinn Fein-IRA. The Bill removes the pressure from the IRA and shows that it has until 2007 to bury the issue. The Government have made it fairly clear—this Bill is evidence—that they have not agreed with the Provisional IRA a timetable for decommissioning, which proves that the event that took place was nothing more than a stunt and a con. Indeed, it makes a mockery of the Prime Minister's statement that the event was in some way historic.

The Bill is evidence of weak government. There is nothing that requires the scheme to run for five years. The legislation could say one year just as easily as five; it could say two or 10. The Secretary of State chose five years so that he can stretch out the process and allow the IRA even more time in government.

It ill becomes the purported Northern Ireland First Minister to indicate to the House that, as far as he is concerned, the burden of ensuring decommissioning rests on his shoulders. The purported First Minister would not have done anything if it had not been for the reality of

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facing the electorate. As he faced the consequences of the concessions that he made to secure decommissioning, he was forced to take some action by way of putting the matter to Sinn Fein-IRA.

I agree with the comments of hon. Members across the Floor that by far the most relevant issue to the IRA's event—whatever it may have been—was it being caught out in Colombia, and the fact that it was losing support in the United States, losing its funding and losing the gentrification that its leadership had been given over the previous months. The bottom line is of course that, since then, the events of 11 September have shown clearly that there is a view in civilised democracies across the world that those who engage in violence to advance political causes are persona non grata and that to a much greater extent it is hard for Sinn Fein-IRA to peddle its argument across the world.

The Government, by this Bill, have become complicit in Sinn Fein-IRA's charade. If the Secretary of State had meant what he said and shown that he felt that the Unionists were in a cold house, he would have approached the Dispatch Box very differently today. Indeed, I recall it being said—I think by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), although it may have been the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies)—in reply to the Secretary of State, that words simply would not be enough to do that. If, as I believe, that is right on that point, is it not also right on decommissioning?

To a community of people who were born under the threat and actuality of IRA violence and witnessed its activities over many decades, words simply are not enough. The general's few lines in a press statement will not convince them. Opinion polls have shown that the majority of Unionists are not convinced that the event is one of some significance, so decommissioning needs to be seen to be believed.

Nothing that the Secretary of State has said will have convinced by one iota any Unionist in Northern Ireland that he is right in giving the IRA a further period of time. It would be far better if it did what the Prime Minister indicated should be done. If it does not meet its obligations on decommissioning, we shall have to make proposals to ensure either that it does so or that its representatives are put out of Government until it does so.

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