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Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) mentioned in his speech that certain Members of the House had been briefed on a Privy Council basis regarding evidence in relation to the Northern bank robbery. Can the Secretary of State confirm who exactly has been given special briefings on this issue, and whether that will be extended to the leaders of other parties in the House?
The hon. Gentleman may recall from, I think, the statement on the Northern bank robbery some weeks ago that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked whether the leader of the Liberal Democrats could be given some
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sort of briefing on the robbery by the Chief Constable. I promised to pass on his request to the Chief Constable, whose decision it must ultimately be.
Mr. Swayne: Was there not any whiff among the security services that an operation of that dimension was in the offing? I understand that the Secretary of State will not be able to answer that question, but were the answer to be "Not much", would he reflect on why that might have been, given the record of the Northern Ireland security services in respect of intelligence, which was formidable?
The last thing I wanted was for the debate to take place at all. It is seven years since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and Northern Ireland Members will recall that only a few months ago we were again very close to an agreement. That would have meant a period between the agreement and the restoration of the Assembly and the Executive during which the IMC would have verified whether criminality had been carried on during those months by the Provisional IRA. But it was not to be.
I agree with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who said that in a sense this debate about support for Members who have chosen not to take their seats masks something very simple. The debate is, of course, about sanctions, about penalties and about effectively imposing a fine on Sinn Feinbut what it is really about is what has happened over the past few weeks in relation to the criminality associated with the Provisional IRA, and the way in which events described by Member after Member this afternoon have to all intents and purposes torpedoed the political process that we have seen in recent months.The hon. Gentleman spoke of the sins of those who had committed those acts. Indeed, this three-hour debate is, or at least should be, about those sins, and its title is inadequate to describe what we are dealing with today.
The hon. Members for South Staffordshire and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), my hon. Friend the. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), the hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and, of course, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) all referred to recent eventsin particular the Northern bank robbery, which was mentioned just now by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds), and the murder of Robert McCartney. In the last couple of days there has also been the IRA's statement. All of those things have contributed to why we are having this debate.
: The Secretary of State is making a very good case in describing the criminality that continues in the Provisional IRA. I believe that he is going to the United States in the next few days. When he announces to the American Congress, President and people that the sanction against the IRA is taking away
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their allowances in the Palace of Westminster, what reaction does he think he will get, in the context of the fight against international terrorism?
Mr. Murphy: I shall come to that shortly, but the IMC said that whatever we did here in the House of Commons, and whatever I had to do about allowances for the Northern Ireland Assembly, it would all be deeply inadequate to address the issue with which we are dealing today. There are differences between Members, but they all agree that we must address the criminality that lies behind the events of the past few weeks which is poisoning the political process. We can take away the allowances of the Members whom we are discussingfine them, in other words. It has been said today that if we take half a million pounds from Sinn Fein it will not matter, but I think it will demonstrate the profound disagreement in the House of Commons with what has happened.
If we extend that to other aspects such as access to the House of Commons, there is a disagreement among us about whether we should do that as well. The disagreement is not about a question of principlewhether there should be sanctionsbut about the balance that we need to strike. On the one hand we penalise the party, but on the other hand we do not want to penalise the people who voted for certain people in certain constituencies. There are genuine disagreements about that matter, but in both cases the argument is inadequate to address the issue of criminality, which has brought down the political processes and talks over the last number of weeks.
Sir Patrick Cormack: Before he finishes, will the Secretary of State address the paradox that I mentioned earlierthat we are going to slap control orders on people who are probably not terrorists, while allowing terrorists in our midst?
Mr. Murphy: The issue is not about control orders or sanctions. It is about how we deal effectively with the process in Northern Ireland that has resulted in the criminal activity that we have seen over the last number of weeks. It is about how we ensure that Sinn Fein goes back into the talks, having rid itself of all that the IRA has done over the last number of weeks. There must be a split between criminality on the one hand and the proper political process on the other.
Mr. Robathan: I thank the Secretary of State for his customary courtesy, which is what I would expect from an old Orielensis. He has spoken about the criminality of the last few weeks, but is it not a fact that the IRA has been deep in criminality throughout its existence and throughout the time of the Belfast agreement? Does he remember that, under the terms of the document on decommissioning published in April 1998, all weapons were meant to be decommissioned within two years of the referendums? They are now about five years late.
I must say to the hon. Gentleman that no one thought for one second that criminality had ended. The joint declaration document that the two Governments published some time ago made reference
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to criminal activity. What everyone thought in 1998 was that there would be a period of transition during which such criminality would wither away, eventually leading to a period of normal politics in Northern Ireland. The problem over the last number of years, and particularly over the last number of months when the events that we are discussing took place, is that that has not happened. It has not happened quickly enough and it has not happened in respect of quantity, either. The type of criminality that we have seen in Northern Irelandit has been associated with the Provisional IRA and the equivalent loyalist paramilitary groupshas not gone away. That is the issue that the House has to consider today. Whether we vote for the amendments or for the Government motion, we are expressing the deep and profound disapproval of the House of Commons for what has happened to the political and peace process in Northern Ireland.
Lembit Öpik: Does the Secretary of State agree that Sinn Fein should take note of the fact that those who have sought and sustained a constructive dialogue nevertheless find themselves with no alternative but to support the sanctions? That is a consequence of the strains that the IRA's actions have now placed on the process. Sinn Fein really must reflectI am sure that it willon our debate and start visibly to put its house in order before relationships based on good will are strained even further.
Mr. Murphy: That is absolutely right. The hon. Member for Aylesbury was also absolutely right when he said that the onus in this process is now entirely on Sinn Fein to prove to the people and the political leaders of Northern Ireland, to the House of Commons and to both Governments that it is truly going down the non-violent, democratic political road that lay at the heart of the Good Friday agreement. The criminal activities that we have seen over the last number of months clearly violate the principles of that agreement and everything that anyone involved in the talks leading up to it expected. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann will remember, as they were so involved in the talks leading up to the agreement, that everything was based on the principle of non-violence and the democratic process. Robbing banks, murdering people, so-called punishment beatings and racketeering are all completely unacceptable when more than 2 million people in Ireland, north and south, voted for a peaceful future in 1998. Regardless of whether they agree with the Good Friday agreement, all Members of the House believe that that is the right thing to do.
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