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8.5 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): I come to this debate in disappointment as much as anything else, as it is a very sad day. Those of us who want a lasting and just peace in Northern Ireland—I hope that includes everyone present—will agree that there must be concessions and some pragmatic ways of making progress, because to get an agreement one must be pragmatic. Unfortunately, experience of the past three to four years teaches us that the pragmatism is all on one side and that a long history of appeasement began with the Belfast agreement.

I was in the Chamber when the original Bill was passed in February 1997. It implemented a framework to allow an amnesty for people handing in weapons in the future. It did not say that people could have an amnesty. That was nearly five years ago, and as some Labour Members have said, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since

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then. Sadly, we have since seen nothing, apart from an event that General de Chastelain believed was significant. I do not think that that is really what anybody expected when the Belfast agreement was trumpeted as such good news in April 1998.

I say with sadness, not with anger, that this Bill is another step down the road of appeasement. I remind newer Members of the Mitchell principles and what Senator Mitchell said in 1996 for John Major's Government. He produced six principles and said in the second that to be involved in all-party talks, participants had to agree to

Talks occurred in 1997–98, but I do not think that all participants did so agree. That was a pity, but of course we were being pragmatic and as a result went one step down the road.

Then we had the Belfast agreement. It is now getting on for four years old and some hon. Members may not have read it. I remind Members present that it says on page 20:

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): On a recent television programme on Ulster Television, the hon. Gentleman stated that he did not support the Good Friday agreement and said that that view was shared by many members of the Conservative party. Will he take this opportunity to clarify once and for all whether he is with his party or without his party?

Mr. Robathan: There must be some mistake; I do not remember doing any interview in the past year or so with Ulster Television. I have done one in the past, but I think that that was before the hon. Gentleman became a Member of the House. I will clearly state that the Belfast agreement was entirely reasonable. I did not agree with everything in it. There are disagreements in all parties, but that is why there is a coming together to form a consensus. My point has always been—I do not think that I said it on Ulster Television—that all parts of the agreement had to be implemented. Indeed, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Marjorie Mowlam, said that we cannot "cherry-pick" the agreement and that "all parts" must be implemented.

The two years ran out in May or June 2000—some time ago. The two years came and the two years went. There was then another year of extension, and then another six months. There is still 10 weeks left to decommission all loyalist as well as IRA weapons. Apparently, the IRA has made the decision to decommission. How long does it take to tell everybody? There are all sorts of ways to let people know—telephone, e-mail, even snail mail. How long does it take to tell the fighters in the field—or whatever those ghastly terrorists call themselves—to hand in their weapons? Surely not longer than 10 weeks. As I said previously, it took only two months in Rhodesia, as it then was, in 1980, and 30 days in Macedonia. It does not take very long to organise the handing in, the destruction or the decommissioning of weapons.

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Mr. Pound: I do not want to trespass on the House's patience, but is the hon. Gentleman really positing Rhodesia-Zimbabwe as a model of a peaceful, pacifist democratic state?

Mr. Robathan: No—I would not insult the hon. Gentleman's intelligence by pretending anything of the sort. My point is that the handing in of terrorist weapons in 1980 under the Lancaster House agreement was given a total of two months—it might even have been less, and the process certainly took less than two months. That was a far more difficult situation, with fighters out in the bush, not a country that has e-mail, television and other means of communication.

The hon. Gentleman is clearly unhappy, so let me help by quoting from his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In February 1996, before the Mitchell principles were published, in reference to the IRA attack on the tallest building in London—he was very firm on that, as he was on the attack on New York's twin towers—the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said:

He added:

Two years later, on 22 April 1998, in reference to the Belfast agreement, he said:

We know that McGuinness, Adams and the IRA are still engaged in intimidation, in threatening terrorism and possibly—as the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) says—in carrying out acts of terrorism. The IRA has continued to commit terrorist acts while McGuinness sits as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I hope that everyone agrees with the Prime Minister on how that is a travesty of democracy.

It is important that we all understand what it is we are to vote on. Last Thursday, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) pointed out that when he interviewed Martin McGuinness in 1974, McGuinness told him that

I do not recall Mr. McGuiness ever being put on trial for that. He remains a member of the Provisional Army Council of the IRA—if the Minister has any intelligence that says otherwise, perhaps she will tell us about it. We all know that he is deeply involved, as is Adams, yet the Secretary of State says that we must give those people more time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) made an excellent point about whether the Secretary of State was again trying to distance Sinn Fein from the IRA, as he appeared to be doing. The right hon. Gentleman said that Sinn Fein had no power over the IRA, yet on 22 October—seven or eight weeks ago—Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness both made statements indicating that they had asked the IRA to begin the decommissioning process and, amazingly enough, General de Chastelain put out a statement on 23 October

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saying that the IRA had decommissioned some weapons. Is the juxtaposition of the two events mere coincidence, or is it conceivable that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have significant influence on—or might even be the same people as—the IRA?

The Government are being disingenuous in the extreme, they are being economic with the actualité, they are guilty of dissembling. I shall not name individuals, because I would be ruled out of order. We are fighting a laudable war against terrorism in Afghanistan—a war that most hon. Members present support—yet we will not fight a war against the terrorists who have killed British citizens on British soil on the mainland and in Northern Ireland. We will not fight a war against those who attacked the tallest buildings in London, but we will against those who attacked the tallest buildings in New York. I am not arguing that we should fight such a war; I am saying that we must be honest with ourselves.

In the Terrorism Act 2000, at the top of the list of proscribed organisations we see "the Irish Republican Army". In March last year, when asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) whether that meant the Real IRA, the Provisional IRA or Continuity IRA, the then Home Secretary said that it meant all the Irish Republican Army: Provisional, Continuity, Real, Official if that still exists—the lot. That Act specifically states in section 11:

We know that Martin McGuinness is a member of the Provisional Army Council—the Secretary of State is free to intervene to tell me otherwise. The Act further states in section 12:


I seem to recall Gerry Adams visiting America once or twice to collect money. There seems no doubt that those people should be prosecuted under the Government's own Act, yet they are not.

I am willing to accept that the Real IRA and Continuity IRA are splinter groups—different from the IRA. However, the truth is that the explosives used in Omagh had been in Provisional IRA stockpiles. Anyone with knowledge of Northern Ireland knows that in the organisations in which Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are involved much is known about where those explosives came from, and that they might be able to help. They could show good faith, as we are doing by giving them an extra five years, by letting us know who committed that outrage and providing some evidence, instead of shedding crocodile tears. They could help us to nail the bombers who murdered those 20-odd people in Omagh.

We have seen little good faith from the IRA since the Belfast agreement, except for the fact that, although they have not stopped killing people, they have, very decently, killed fewer people than they killed before. They have not stopped intimidation beatings, nor have they ceased organising. We all want peace, but the Government—motivated by the good intentions with which the road to

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hell is paved—have acted shamefully. They have, as a Government, been dishonest and dishonourable. Ministers should hang their heads in shame over their appeasement on decommissioning.

The Prime Minister has been quoted as saying:

None of that has happened. We should be honest about that. Although the end may desirable, we should remember that only rarely is an end justified by dishonest means.

Unbelievably, in their appeasement, the Government intend to allow public funding for IRA propaganda by allowing four Sinn Fein MPs to take the generous—over-generous, in my opinion—office allowances. The money will be public funding for propaganda on behalf of an organisation that commits murder—an organisation that has in the recent past murdered Members of Parliament, as every one of us remembers.

It will allow terrorists with access to illegal weapons to walk the corridors around us all. Surely that can give no one any pleasure, and should worry everybody. I know the Sinn Fein office in the Falls road. I used to walk past it with a rifle quite often. I was well protected by several other people. It was known then, and now, that that office acts as a nerve centre or control centre for intimidation and beating. People could be found who have been beaten and knee-capped. They are taken there first to be told—

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