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28 Oct 2002 : Column 590—continued

Mr. Mackay: That might have been a better point of order if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) had bothered to turn up for most of the debate.

The key point of the motion is that, as the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, the matter is one of judgment. We believe that the judgment was wrong last December, and that it is doubly wrong now in the light of events. We also think that only in the most exceptional circumstances should two tiers of Members be allowed, and that such circumstances are not apparent at the moment. I therefore urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and other Members—I know that some Labour Members will be voting with us tonight—to vote for this motion and reverse the decision that was wrongly taken last December.

6.27 pm

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): I shall try to be as brief as possible, as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) wishes to speak as well.

The peace process is one of the greatest things that Labour has achieved since we came to power in 1997. I have a personal perspective on this issue. In 1916, my taid—my Welsh grandfather—Ned Roberts was in the trenches of the Somme, and my Irish grandfather, Tom Ruane, was imprisoned in Frongoch, in Wales, for his part in the uprising. When I talk to my cousins in Ireland, they agree that the peace process is the greatest thing that we have achieved. We need to keep a sense of history and a perspective on where we are today. We are looking at the potential solving of a 900-year-old problem, and that is the way in which to pursue it. We must not behave like political pigmies who try to score cheap party political points on this issue. We must retain a sense of the moment, and of the magnitude of our achievement, in the context of the past 900 years. As far as I am concerned, the progress that we have made is as great as the ending of apartheid in South Africa, and, from a UK security sense, as the collapse of the Berlin wall.

28 Oct 2002 : Column 591

It was Winston Churchill, a previous Conservative leader, who said:

This issue is about opening dialogue at all levels: in Northern Ireland, in the voluntary sector, in the Churches, and in the trade unions. It is also about opening dialogue between politicians who have not talked to each other, and whose main means of communication for 50 years has been the bomb and the bullet. Channels of communication have indeed been opened by Lord Temple-Morris—again, a former Conservative—who set up the excellent British-Irish inter-parliamentary group. I recently joined that group, which includes representatives from Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, from the Assemblies of Northern Ireland and of Wales, and from the Parliaments of Scotland, southern Ireland and the UK. Indeed, all political parties are represented—except the Unionists. I urge them to join the British-Irish inter-parliamentary group.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): It is called the council.

Chris Ruane: Indeed. I should at this point pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) on behalf of that organisation.

When I go to those meetings, I am impressed by the contributions of Conservative members of the council. They seem to lose their party political bias—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should address his remarks to the motion on the Order Paper.

Chris Ruane: Conservative Members speak on that council with a clarity that is missing in the Chamber today.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out that opening the facilities of the House to Sinn Fein has led to that party holding open sessions here, and I hope that Members on both sides of the House have attended those. I attended one last week, with Mitchel McLaughlin, and I made several points to him, the key one of which was the need to look after the working class Protestant vote in Northern Ireland. Everybody else appears to have benefited from the peace process, except that group. They have lost trust, and that was the message that I—as the Catholic grandson of a 1916 man—took to Sinn Fein. Without the Palace being open to Sinn Fein, I would not have been able to pass that message on. Sinn Fein is realising that more needs to be done for working class Protestants and understands that trust needs to be earned. It is not present at the moment and we all need to do as much as we can to foster it.

We have seen what can be achieved through dialogue. The abstentionism that we used to see in southern Ireland is now gone. Sinn Fein is in the Dail. It is part of an effective partnership in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Its representatives do not talk about bullets there, but about bed spaces and the educational curriculum—the bread and butter of ordinary politics in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein representatives sit on committees and act as Ministers. That is the way forward—opening dialogue and building peace and trust, through forums, groups and elected bodies.

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We have seen the benefits of the peace process: no members of the police or Army have been shot. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) pointed out, 353 members of the public were shot in the three years before the peace process started, but only 53—still 53 too many—in the years after. Unemployment has fallen dramatically; house prices are up; the café culture is back and people can go to nightclubs. A sense of normality is now present.

There has been some progress—Sinn Fein members in the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly have been talking to British Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Movement has taken place on decommissioning. We have also seen an apology—although some people view it as only weasel words—from Sinn Fein for the deaths on all sides over the past 30 years. This weekend, Gerry Adams even said that he could foresee a day on which the IRA would disband.

Mr. Swire: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Ruane: No, I do not have time. I have been told by my Whip that I must finish, and I never disobey the Whips.

Progress has been made and will continue to be made, as long as we are not party political. I ask Opposition Members to give peace a chance.

6.33 pm

David Burnside (South Antrim): If I were not an Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament, I would still vote the same way tonight because of my concern about the double standards being set for Members of this House. If I had never been to Northern Ireland or known anything about it, I would still recognise the double standard that has been set, with two classes of MP. Because Sinn Fein threatens violence, it gets something special that would not have been allowed to a Scottish nationalist or a Welsh nationalist. That is a double standard. It demeans this House to grant facilities to that organisation,

I am slightly concerned by the suggestion in the motion that Sinn Fein should say something and then everything will be all right. The issue is larger and it is a matter of principle. When I came to the House for the first time, I swore my allegiance—some choose to affirm theirs. I then had the responsibilities of a Member of this House and can be called to account by it. I can be disciplined by this House. Can Sinn Fein Members be disciplined by the House? Of course not, but they can take #400,000 out of the generous office costs allowance to help the campaign of a political and terrorist organisation.

I do not know what dream world the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) lives in—somewhere near Hollywood, I think, and I do not mean Hollywood in Northern Ireland—but the proof has been seen in the last four and half years. It includes international terrorism in Colombia, which saw drug money from FARC going into Sinn Fein-IRA's coffers. That needs to be investigated. We have seen violence on the streets with Sinn Fein-IRA involved. It is one unitary organisation. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are on the army council. Decommissioning is a joke and the 2008 deadline is meaningless. The importing of arms from Florida was a major crime.

28 Oct 2002 : Column 593

What took place while we were fighting an election? The #5 million robbery of spirits and cigarettes from the docks in Belfast was by Sinn Fein-IRA—one organisation. The Secretary of State should ask his security advisers who carried out that robbery. He should also ask his security advisers about the events at Castlereagh and Mr. Bobby Storey, who reports to the army council and is on the general headquarters staff, Belfast, which reports to Adams and McGuinness. Is that a ceasefire? We are not fools in Northern Ireland.

We have seen spying at the heart of Government in the Northern Ireland Office. The Secretary of State's predecessor, the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid), was supposed to be tough. He was not very tough when the NIO was infiltrated. If the Home Office or the Foreign Office had been infiltrated, would those responsible be granted concessions in this House? Of course not, and that is double standards. We await the report on that spying at the heart of Government, but we know what will happen. It will be put behind us and we will hear nice words from Sinn Fein-IRA. Those nice words will be more lies. After all, an organisation based on revolutionary terrorism—Sinn Fein-IRA—has no problem with telling lies to the Secretary of State's face, in 10 Downing street or in the White House.

Sinn Fein representatives should not have been granted the facilities in this House. We welcome the opportunity that the Conservatives have provided for this debate. All the democratic politicians—which excludes Sinn Fein—in Northern Ireland, certainly all Unionists, feel distaste that while we spend some #100,000 on constituency offices to provide a service as Members of Parliament, Sinn Fein-IRA is granted a special class of membership of this House. Sinn Fein-IRA is an illegal terrorist organisation that has not given up violence, does not adhere to the Mitchell principles and is involved in international crime and terrorism. That special treatment is what used to be called appeasement. There has been nothing but appeasement of Sinn Fein-IRA from the time that the agreement was signed four and a half years ago.

I hope that the motion and debate tonight will put even a little bit of pressure on Sinn Fein-IRA to make progress. I do not trust them. I do not believe that they are committed to going the full way to become fully democratic politicians. The evidence of the past four and a half years suggests that they are still playing the double game of the Armalite and the ballot box. They talk about their mandate, but they are involved in national and international crime and terrorism. The Unionists will support the official Opposition tonight and we thank them for giving time for this debate, which is necessary because the Government continue to refuse to face up to Sinn Fein-IRA as a terrorist organisation with a political front.

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