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15 Oct 2002 : Column 201—continued

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): I welcome the two new Ministers on what is, for me, an especially sad day. In another place at another time, more than 30 years ago, I saw a power sharing arrangement dissolved in the same way. It took more than 30 years to re-establish such an arrangement, yet this is the fourth suspension in four years.

I welcome and agree entirely with the Secretary of State's statement that the full implementation of the Good Friday agreement, in all its aspects, is the only way forward. I agree also that if devolution is to be workable and durable, there must be trust—but let us not enter a state of denial when looking at where the lack of trust lies. Of course Sinn Fein has broken faith with everybody, not least with those of us in the nationalist community who have insisted and will continue to insist on inclusivity. Sinn Fein has to rid itself of the discredited dual strategy and commit itself to democratic, peaceful means.

Another example of lack of trust is the view in the nationalist community that not all Ulster Unionists are in favour of inclusive government and partnership politics. That is not a criticism of those in the Ulster Unionist party who are in favour of those things, but if we are to solve the problem it is right to specify that lack

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of trust. A third example of lack of trust is that many in the Unionist and nationalist communities wonder in what type of an arrangement two Ministers can have as their policy the destruction of the very agreement from which they derive their ministerial office—[Interruption.] DUP members are abusing it.

Those three elements will have to be addressed if we are to re-establish devolution. Unless we find answers, we will not be able to reinstate devolution in the way that is necessary to make the full agreement work.

Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman points to the complexity of addressing even that limited question of trust within the limited area of power sharing. I merely say that many things undermine trust—for example, the ongoing murderous campaign of loyalists, which will be combated. However, because they are not partners in power sharing, their campaign does not necessarily undermine power sharing. Many Unionists are sceptical, but because other Unionists are involved in the partnership, that scepticism does not, in itself, undermine power sharing.

The problem is the element of concern about the partners in the power sharing from the republican movement—Sinn Fein. If Sinn Fein is thought to be involved in an ambiguous dual-track strategy, its involvement in power sharing makes that far more important in undermining power sharing. That is why I have emphasised that, among all the issues that affect confidence, we have to address that one perhaps more keenly than any of the others.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): May I join other Members in welcoming the two new members of the Northern Ireland Office ministerial team? I assure the Secretary of State that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and I are happy to meet our successors in office to talk over the issues that affect those Departments.

I also join the Secretary of State in his condemnation of terrorism. Members on this Bench, at whichever end they sit, will not soften that criticism one iota for loyalist terrorists. We consider their activities despicable, murderous and foul, and will take every opportunity to say so. May I disabuse the Secretary of State of the notion that the problems that affect the process are confined to a narrow area? Wide-ranging opposition within the Unionist community is affecting Unionist trust in the whole process. Rather than the Secretary of State undertaking an idle review with yesterday's men, who cannot deliver, is it not time for him to go to the people and allow the electorate to speak? Let politicians get a fresh mandate and enter negotiations for stable political structures in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I do not question at all—indeed, I am well aware of—his condemnation of all violence and murder wherever it originates, including on the loyalist side. I also thank him for saying that his ministerial colleagues are willing to discuss matters with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. I do not disagree that if trust is badly affected in one area it is liable to affect a range of areas. These things develop; we get an understanding—an increasing or decreasing trust—as time goes on, just as the hon. Gentleman's own policies and awareness of

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Realpolitik have developed. I was glad that he shared a table, if not words, with Martin McGuinness the other night. I noticed that he said clearly that if Sinn Fein has the mandate that we expect it to have after an election, that is a reality that has to be taken into account. I always welcome pragmatism, however late it is, and will engage with him.

As for the report of the political death of the First Minister, I am afraid that not only is it greatly exaggerated, but I have read about it so often that I never take it for granted, even when it is posted in the newspapers in Northern Ireland.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Does my right hon. Friend agree that now is the time to be honest and recognise the breakdown of trust that has led the Government to take action, not least since one party believes, or says it does, in a political way forward, but does not recognise the need to engage with a civil police service? Does he also accept that we must pick up the pieces and consider how that trust can be rebuilt? Will he say how he and his team will involve in that process many people—both elected representatives in Northern Ireland and those who have played their part in the Northern Ireland Policing Board and other commissions that have been set up following the Good Friday agreement—so that elements of trust that have been lost can start to be regained?

Dr. Reid: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that, in the new Northern Ireland, the efforts that we are making—which involve considerable pain for those who were previously associated with the RUC—to create a new, reformed, revitalised, community-based, effective police service that has cross-community support deserve to be rewarded by the participation of those who have been demanding precisely that for eight decades. I do not think that one can demand rights but not face up to one's responsibilities. Sinn Fein will eventually have to face up to that.

It is not for me to tell Gerry Adams how to lead Sinn Fein, but since he continually tells me how to do my job, it might be worth saying that what has happened has handicapped not only this process and power sharing but Sinn Fein itself. Its alleged association with violence in these cases is a ball and chain around the feet of a political party that has received further and further support precisely because it was moving into the political arena and away from violence. For that reason, as well as the reason that we shall not be able to sustain the future of power sharing in Northern Ireland unless Sinn Fein shifts, it would be as well to do so.

I agree that we need to revitalise support for the agreement across the community, beyond the political parties. We have let that slip. It is not easy to rejuvenate it. It is common to all peace processes of this nature that, after the initial euphoria, it is the aficionados who tend to become involved. I will gladly consider any ideas in that direction.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): In the light of the remarks that the Secretary of State has just made about Sinn Fein, what possible justification is there for continuing the special facilities that its

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members have in this House? Given that they will not play a proper part as Members of Parliament, should not their privileged access to this place be suspended, at least during the suspension of the Assembly?

Dr. Reid: First, that is a matter for the House. Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) certainly feels that it has already offered some advantages—Mr. McCloskey met Gerry Adams here the other day. I sincerely hope that they manage to resolve the problem.

Sometimes, the apparently small things move the process forward. We have spent a lot of time, quite correctly, on the big issues such as Castlereagh, Colombia, and so on, but it should not go unnoticed, for instance, that Martin McGuinness said on Remembrance day that we should all respect the right of the British to remember the dead—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen can throw that back in his face if they like, but I welcome that as a recognition of our failings on these matters. I welcome the fact that Alex Maskey, the Sinn Fein Mayor of Belfast, laid a wreath at the Somme. I welcome the fact that an alleged leading member of the Provisional IRA, Martin Meehan, said this morning that, in his opinion, the war had been over for some time. I just wish that mixed messages were not sent out and that there was no ambiguity in telling us that violence was in the past. If that were done and done definitively with clarity and backed by action, we would find power sharing a bit easier in the future than it has been in the past.

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): I welcome my right hon. Friend's calm and reasoned approach. Can we reiterate very strongly the message that exclusion in Northern Ireland has always been easy and that it is inclusion that has been so difficult? Despite the sad and unnecessary rise in violence perpetrated by both Unionists and republicans in recent months, we need to remember that long-term progress has been rather good and that the atrocities that we used to experience weekly no longer disfigure that society. It would be very nice if all the paramilitary groups could wind themselves up and go away over the next few months—we must never lose sight of that message—but we need to take a long-term view and recognise where we have come from, that we are making progress and that inclusion is vital.

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