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9.32 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down): I, too, welcome the opportunity to debate the peace process in Northern Ireland. The positive statements made by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) in moving the motion and the eloquent response by the Secretary of State indicate the progress that has been made in the aftermath of the Good Friday agreement. I must say that I cannot completely agree with the Opposition spokesman's description of today's IRA

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statement as having been precipitated by the threat of the debate—that stretches credulity rather far. I would proffer the explanation mentioned by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) as a more likely cause, but my favourite choice would be the imminent prime ministerial statement that is forecast to take place before 24 July, which is only next week.

No single Act of Parliament, no single event, no single speech, no single comment and no single tragedy sums up the peace process. It is an accumulation of all those things. In Northern Ireland, the peace process is the assimilation of the experiences that we all have while living in that community on a day-to-day basis. It is not surprising that our experiences vary, even from area to area, nor that all have not benefited equally from the peace process. But to argue that it is collapsing is a false argument indeed. Anyone who lives in our community knows quite well that even the most superficial comparison between the past four or eight years and today would indicate very clearly that the peace process is working. That is not to say that it is a complete or perfect peace. A physicist once explained to me that darkness is the absence of light, so I can parallel that by saying that peace is the absence of violence or of those things that are the antithesis of peace. So, our interpretation of peace is that it is a summation of all our experiences, but that is not to say that they are not important milestones for us to note and to gauge as retrograde or progressive.

The ceasefires and the decommissioning were significant events for both sets paramilitaries. Last weekend, it was terrible in certain areas of east and north Belfast, but, generally speaking, 12 July 2002 was the most peaceful 12 July for many years, and, as a community, we are thankful for that. I pay tribute, as have other hon. Members, to those responsible members of the Orange Order who did not besmirch their true tradition by engaging in violence, to the general good order and to the by and large non-political expressions from the various platforms throughout Northern Ireland.

Let us dwell for a moment on what we mean by peace. It will not simply involve another round of decommissioning—important and welcome though that will be—or the disbanding of the paramilitaries' apparatus and the cessation of their activities, essential though that will be. As I said earlier, peace will be the sum total of our experiences.

The Secretary of State described the enormous strides that Northern Ireland has made over the last eight to 10 years in terms of economic improvement, industrial growth, social betterment, the equality agenda, amendments to criminal jurisdiction, and the reform and re-organisation of the police, all of which have made a major contribution to pinning down the existing quality of peace.

Neither peace nor the prosperity to which the Secretary of State referred have been enjoyed equally throughout our community, however. In fact, one could generalise by saying that many of the areas that suffer sectarian strife are the very areas that have not benefited from the peace dividend of higher employment, permanent jobs, better social conditions and better housing. It is no coincidence that that should be the case.

One of the most difficult aspects of progressing the peace process in the months and years ahead will be the question not of whether there is another tranche of

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decommissioning, nor of whether there will be evidence of complete demobilisation of the paramilitaries whom I abhor. It will be the question of whether we can create an atmosphere in which we can overcome the sectarian hatreds of centuries—not decades—that have been expressed by petrol bombs and pipe bombs, by the burning of houses, and by the eviction of one community by the other and vice versa.

Everything that we say contributes to the question of whether that problem can be resolved. Each of us, in the House and in Northern Ireland, has a responsibility to ensure that nothing that we say or do adds to the sense of injustice felt—correctly or incorrectly—by many. The reality is that injustices are felt, and we must do our best to alleviate them. That will eventually eradicate the hatred and sectarianism that are the root cause of all the inter-community strife that poses such a threat to the peace process.

I have no doubt that there are forces in Northern Ireland intent on destroying the peace process. There are others—we have heard expressions of this in tonight's debate—who, in some perverse way, would like to see the peace process falter, purely for political purposes. That would be a grave tragedy for the people of Northern Ireland, and I hope and pray that it will not happen.

It all depends on the approach that we take to these issues. Quite honestly, the 24 July deadline referred to by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson)—I heard it said also by a Member of the Legislative Assembly, possibly for Belfast North—which threatens withdrawal from the Executive by the Ulster Unionist party, is an invitation to disaster. It is playing into the hands of those who want to wreck the entire process and the relative stability that our community has established with great difficulty and sacrifice.

Sacrifices have been made by all parts of our community. No one can claim the privilege of being alone in making sacrifices for the greater good. We should acknowledge those sacrifices and compromises for what they are: a massive contribution to the common good of our community. It is legitimate to make robust statements on the political platform, but not to the extent of jeopardising the peace process, which has been so tenderly nurtured.

Lest my remarks on decommissioning and paramilitaries be misunderstood, I stress that it is an anathema that we have bodies in Northern Ireland with access to illegal guns and bombs. It is a constant background threat to the peace and stability that we are discussing, and it must be eradicated.

It is imperative that, in the fullness of time, without putting a deadline on it, paramilitary trappings be done away with. The organisation of paramilitarism has been translated partly into a political machine and partly into a mafia-type machine. It is a disgrace that the sovereign Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland should tolerate the existence of unofficial armed, trained and active armies within their jurisdictions.

Unfortunately, however, we shall have to wear that anomaly for yet another short while. I hope that that stain will soon be removed from our community.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Has it struck my hon. Friend that many of those who urge the leaders of the

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community to destroy the current basis of the Northern Ireland Executive are those who did not support it in its current form right from the start?

Mr. McGrady: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I agree entirely with the implication of what he said. Certainly, those who opposed the Good Friday agreement from its inception and those who oppose the concept of partnership, of working it out and living together, are the very ones who are now saying that the peace process is in danger, and exacerbating that danger by so doing.

I welcome some elements of the motion. It asks the House to regard the Belfast agreement

I subscribe fully to that. It then calls on "all parties"—I hope that that includes the Conservatives' sister party, the Ulster Unionist party—

I support that.

9.45 pm

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): In last Wednesday's Westminster Hall debate, the hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) suggested that a better description of that debate, which was entitled "Northern Ireland Peace Process", would have been "Northern Ireland political process". In doing so, he made a fair point. As I said then, it is difficult to reconcile Northern Ireland's recent history with anything remotely resembling peace.

We have heard again today of the IRA's alleged involvement in the break-in at Castlereagh police station. There are also the revelations of IRA activity in Colombia and its links with the narco-terrorist FARC group. We still await the chairman of Sinn Fein's unequivocal condemnation of the attempted murder of a Catholic policeman in Ballymena. The personal details of more than 200 people have been discovered on IRA intelligence files—from senior Conservative Members of Parliament, to forensic scientists. A rural police station in Rosslea, County Fermanagh, was attacked by Sinn Fein-IRA youth wing members, and violence recently broke out in Drumcree and the Short Strand area of Belfast.

That is hardly the stuff of peace. One need only look at the statistics on the shootings and assaults carried out by so-called loyalist and republican groups to see the hard evidence. There is the cowardly and brutish behaviour of the thugs and gangsters who carry out so-called punishment beatings. A stench of fear and intimidation is created by people who are little more than criminals. They carve out their turf in order to extort, threaten, peddle their illicit wares, and contribute to the misery of thousands of decent, law-abiding British citizens. The behaviour of those groups—their members are not all paramilitaries; some are straightforward criminals—would not be tolerated on the mainland, and nor should it be tolerated in Northern Ireland.

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The problem is that organised crime in Northern Ireland is becoming institutionalised. As the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee's detailed report on the financing of terrorism in Northern Ireland states:

The report includes a chilling table that estimates the running costs and fund-raising capabilities of such groups, according to which the Provisional IRA's running costs are in the region of £1.5 million a year, and its fund-raising capabilities are between £5 million and £8 million. The Real IRA's running costs are estimated at £500,000 a year, and its fund-raising capabilities are between £500,000 and £1 million. The UDA's running costs are estimated at £500,000 a year, and its fund-raising capabilities are between £500,000 and £1 million.

It is clear that many of those organisations have money left over to invest—to launder—in perfectly respectable mainland businesses, as well as in Northern Ireland itself. Indeed, it is reported that the Provisional IRA has employed accountants. One can only hope that the firm was Andersen.

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