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14 Apr 2003 : Column 638continued
Mr. Murphy: I agree with the hon. Gentleman regarding the nature of any statement that might be made by the IRAit should be clear and people should be able to understand it, right across the religious and political communities in Northern Ireland. I also agree that decommissioning is a vital part of the agreement. There are few of us still in the Chamber today who were present when the Belfast agreement was signed. All of us know that decommissioning was an essential part of it. We also know, of course, that the agreement says that we wanted decommissioning to take place, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, within two years of the Assembly elections.
It is important, as the hon. Gentleman also rightly said, to look at the picture as a whole. That is why it is important that we want to deal with the joint declaration in a way that is consistent with the commitment of everybody in this process, which is why we do not believe that now is the right time to publish it. I agree with him, too, on the importance of our allies. Certainly, there have never been better relations between the British and Irish Governments. Particularly in the past number of days, the whole House will have recognised that the unity in the approach taken by the two Governments has been uniquely good for the process. I think, too, that the role of the United States Administration has been particularly significant over the past number of years, but also over the past number of weeks and days, when Ambassador Richard Haas has played an enormously important role in the process.
The hon. Gentleman is right that, ultimately, we have to ensure that the democratic process in Northern Ireland continues. People in Northern Ireland have been pleased with devolution. They want Ministers who are from Northern Ireland, elected by the people of Northern Ireland and accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that the days ahead ensure that devolution will indeed be back with us in Northern Ireland.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Does he not think that Northern Ireland people are entitled to transparency when it comes to this issue? Therefore, will he consider publishing the so-called draft statement that the IRA has produced? Does he agree with me that there are people in IRA-Sinn Fein who will never be satisfied with anything that the Government give, or any agreement, unless it means that the people of Northern Ireland are no longer British and are part of a united Ireland? Will he therefore consider that at some stage we may have to accept that Sinn Fein-IRA are no longer entitled to be part of the democratic process in Northern Ireland, and that we shall have to go ahead and try to bring the democratic parties together to work for a devolved Northern Ireland?
Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend refers to the role of Sinn Fein. The reality is that Sinn Fein had about 17 per cent. of the vote at the last elections to the Assembly and as a result of that was entitled to two Ministries in the Executive. I believe that the leadership of Sinn Fein and
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for early sight of his statement. Does he agree that permanent acts of cessation of violence are ultimately the outcome and that acts of completion of decommissioning are the process? The problem is that there is not real confidence that either has yet been achieved.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that we need to see from paramilitaries more than one-off decommissioning gestures, which could be criticised as apparent public relations exercises rather than strategic intent totally to decommission? Even more to the point, does the right hon. Gentleman further agree that paramilitaries should also be expected to allow exiles back to their homes to ensure that paramilitary activity stops in those communities? Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that while Sinn Fein asks the Government to publish their declaration, the IRA has given no explanation for not having published its own declaration? That sort of opportunism begins genuinely to try the good faith that many of us have shown in believing many of the statements that the IRA has made in the past, claiming that it is genuinely committed to acts of long-term completion.
Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right that there is no place in Northern Ireland, or anywhere else that claims to be a democratic society, for paramilitarism. There is no room for it. It has gone out of fashion. It is no longer relevant. For those reasons alone, and there are many others, there should be no paramilitarism or paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman is right also in drawing the attention of the House to the important question of exiles. Many families in Northern Ireland want their loved ones back. People want to return to Northern Ireland. Those issues and the issue of victims are the result of 30 to 40 years of troubles in Northern Ireland. They need to be resolved in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. That is what we have been talking about over the past number of months.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Does the Secretary of State agree that the principles behind the Belfast agreement were an inclusive future for all political persuasions and traditions in the future of Ireland as a whole, and particularly in Northern Ireland, and that the statement that has been sent to the two Governments by the IRA and the intentions behind it are to be welcomed? Will my right hon. Friend indicate how long he expects further consultations to continue between the two Governments and the IRA so that this
Mr. Murphy: I cannot give my hon. Friend details about the timing because we are still considering these matters. Where he is right, of course, is that there has to be confidence in the process across the political and social spectrum in Northern Ireland. That confidence is built on trust. Until we can rebuild the trust that collapsed during the course of last year, we shall get nowhere in the democratic and political process in Northern Ireland.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): The Secretary of State referred in his statement to the Prime Minister's speech at the Belfast Harbour Commission last October and his reference to a fork in the road. Does he also recall the reference in that speech to this not being yet another inch-by-inch negotiation? The Prime Minister's objective was rightly to try to change the way in which things are done, and the expectations with regard to the way in which things are done, but is it not the case that since October we have unfortunately had another inch-by-inch negotiation? Is it not the case, too, that the very limited progress between last Wednesday night and today in terms of the IRA statement shows that the IRA does not feel any compelling need to address the fork in the road? Is not that the problem: there is lots of exhortation, but no significant pressure has yet been brought to bear to compel the IRA to make a choice? Is that not the issue on which the Government should now focus their attention?
Mr. Murphy: My experience, like the right hon. Gentleman's, is that things can sometimes go rather slowly in Northern Ireland as long as at the end of the day we get the right result, and the right result in this case is to try to restore the institutions, get devolution back and move forward in the political and peace process. As for the IRA, he and others who have followed the media in the past number of days will have read every editorial in every newspaper, whether in Great Britain or Northern Ireland, that has pointed to the absolute need for the IRA to realise that we have entered a different world in Northern Ireland and that, in 2003, there is no need for paramilitarism.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I was pleased to assist my right hon. Friend as his Parliamentary Private Secretary five years ago when he played such a vital role in negotiating the Belfast agreement. He will remember that the clocks were held for some time and we went beyond deadlines until we got an agreement, but does he agree that the clock cannot be held indefinitely and that there is increasing frustration among many of us in the House at the intransigence and obstructionism that now seem to be in evidence? It is time that we made that decisive completion of the full implementation of the agreement.
Mr. Murphy: I fully agree with my hon. Friend. He will recall from those weeks and months leading up to the signing of the Good Friday agreement in 1998 that it was sometimes very difficult, very painful and very stressful, but at the end of it we thoughtand I hope we