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Mr. Trimble: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the whole point of the Oath is to make a formal statement of acceptance of the current legal and constitutional structure, which the House embodies and within which Members have to work? Does he also accept that refusal to accept it and failure to take an oaththe only way it can be accepted is through the Oath of Allegiance, because, apart from the House and the monarchy, we do not have many institutions that cover the whole country and we do not have a written constitution that embodies that structureare not just a mere technicality involving the monarchy, but a repudiation of that structure? As such, they ought to be an affront to the hon. Gentleman, just as they are to everybody else.
Mr. McNamara: No, I do not accept that at all. I believe that people can be elected to this place who can accept the state as it exists, but who seek to change that state fundamentally in respect of how the Head of State is chosen. They can do that by taking another form of oath, which does not mean that they are being asked to betray their principles.
I do not believe for one moment that if we had changed the Oath that would necessarily have brought people from Sinn Fein here, but we should not insist on things and say that there are not obstacles to their being here that we can remove.
My next point is that the House should bear it in mind that there has been considerable movement on the part of Sinn Fein and its leadership, despite all the thingsI admitwe have seen and know about. They are trying to lead their movement towards a peaceful acceptance. Indeed, we are told by the Government and the Democratic Unionist party that, but for want of a photograph, we would have had that in December. So, there has been movement, although hon. Members, the Government and the Taoiseach are right to point out that, probably at the same time, they were planning the robbery of the Northern bank. However, that robbery would not have affected the basic support of Sinn Fein one iota in the north of Ireland, although it might well have had an effect in the Republic. As the hon. Member for North Antrim pointed out, £10 million has been robbed from bank and post offices and that has not affected Sinn Fein's position.
Sinn Fein's position has been affected by the savage murder of Robert McCartney. That has been the real blow to Sinn Fein and the IRA because it has undermined their position in their community. The event has done far more damage than any that we can do by passing the motion. The effect of the incident has been shown by their reaction to it, which was slow at first, but quickly became greater as they realised the
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affront that had happened in their community. The fact that they have now deplored the murder, urged people to come forward and placed names before the police ombudsman shows the pressure that the community has put on the leadership of IRA. That, more than anything, will hasten division in the republican movement. People at the head of Sinn Fein will eventually have to make a real and positive decision about that.
Although it was reported little over here, the speech made by Gerry Kelly at the Ard Fheis in Dublin was interesting. He spoke about a need for acceptance of the development of police boards and the need for the disappearance of the IRA as an organisation. He used words and phrases that had not been heard before. It was also interesting that Gerry Adams accepted clearly and without qualification the legitimacy of the Government of the Republic because that represented a breakdown of the old mythology.
Mr. McNamara: If one recognises the institutions of the state as legitimate, given that their legitimacy comes from the state and their acceptance by the people of the Republic, it is fair to say, despite the words that Mr. Adams used, that his comments represent an enormous step forward from the old mythology of denying the legitimacy of the Republic. My hon. Friend and I can argue about the words and reach different conclusions, but I thought that the speech was a helpful sign, rather than something negative.
Despite what has happened at the Ard Fheis, we have had a savage murder and the Northern bank robbery. We are in a position in which some Members of the House either knew about those events, or were negligent in not knowing about them, given their positions in the organisations. I have served on the Standards and Privileges Committee, which is both a privilege and an awesome task. The Committee has investigated complaints against normal Members. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards examines such cases and the Committee makes a recommendation regarding Members' conduct. In recent times, we have criticised Members for negligence and the House has upheld such findings. They have been suspended and sanctions and penalties have been put on them, but we are unable to do that in the present circumstances.
We have one sanction that we can use to show our displeasure in a positive way. The motion will not affect the Members' pockets because they do not draw salaries, although sadly it might affect the pockets of their staff. However, it will be as powerful a sanction as that made when we have suspended people from the House without their wages or the right to use their offices in the House, although Sinn Fein Members will still have that right.
I regret reaching this situation because I have spent a long time in the House trying to explain how I think the IRA behaves. I have tried to explain its philosophy and why it is treating the present situation as a ceasefire and waiting for the culmination of matters before final decommissioning. However, there is no way in which
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any sort of mythology of a guerrilla army can justify the savage murder of Robert McCartney, so I support the motion.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I offer the House some guidance? The Modernisation Committee urges Mr. Speaker to put time limits on debates whenever possible, but it is not helpful if as many as eight hon. Members indicate that they wish to participate in a debate too late after such a decision has been made. The 12-minute limit on the debate is thus clearly inappropriate, given the number of hon. Members who are seeking to catch my eye. If hon. Members will bear that in mind, we will try hard to accommodate everyone.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): On 18 December 2001, my colleagues and I voted against the motion that gave a privileged position to Sinn Fein Members, so naturally we will vote for the amendments because they would reverse that motion, which is what should happen at the very least. I suppose that we give lukewarm support to the weak and feeble Government motion, so we will reflect that as well.
It is a pity that the Leader of the House has not remained in the Chamber to hear the debate, because it would have been useful for him to do so. If he did not intend to stay in the Chamber, perhaps he should have given the Secretary of State or someone else the responsibility of leading for the Government. I wish to comment on several things that the Leader of the House said. His behaviour was rather similar to that of the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), the then Leader of the House, in 2001. We know from the right hon. Gentleman's memoirs that he had reservations about the 2001 motion, so I wonder whether the current Leader of the House has similar reservations about the motion's failure to be appropriately effective.
The first point about the Leader of the House's speech might seem small, but it is important. He said that Sinn Fein is signed up to the agreement, but strictly speaking that is not true. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will knowbecause he was therethat no one signed an agreement. Votes were cast around the table to determine whether there was sufficient consensus. When the roll call for the vote was called, Sinn Fein abstained, so it cannot be colloquially said that it signed up to the agreement. There was subsequently a Sinn Fein Ard Fheis at which a motion was passed to approve the actions of the leadership, but the party did not sign up to the agreement. That fact is crucial to the way in which one approaches the matter.
My view at the timeit remains my viewwas that the republicans were locked into an agreement that they did not like. They did not like it then and they do not like it now. They are locked into the agreement because they are participating in the democratic process. When they were simply engaged in a terrorist campaign, they were
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not subject to any such constraints. However, once they entered negotiations, they found themselves locked into them.
I was slow to take this view, but it was not until after 1998 that I decided that even though Sinn Fein did not like the fundamentals of the agreementat that stage I did not think that its members had completely changed and become normal politiciansit was possible to bring pressure to bear on it and drag it towards normal, peaceful and democratic political activity.
I disagree fundamentally with Members on the other side of the House who said that Sinn Fein rejoiced in its victimisation. I accept that its members try to exploit their victimisation, but it is wrong to argue that therefore we should not put pressure on them or subject them to sanctions. They have only moved under pressure, and the events of recent weeks and the activities of the McCartney relatives clearly demonstrate that that is the case. If it were not for the action of those families and the public support for them, republicans would not have done anything. It is only pressure that moves them, and it is only the pressure that my colleagues and I brought to bear that led to decommissioning, and to republicans moving towards a transition. That has been undermined, however, by the fact that the Government have not policed the process correctly.
The agreement sets out some fundamental principles. On 18 December 2001, I said in the House that the motion that we were considering had undermined the agreement by sending republicans the message that they could disregard the obligations imposed on them by the agreement. I said that the Government would bend the rules and reward themthat is partly the fair point made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who spoke about the way in which people were conducting negotiations outside the structures and principles of the agreement.
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