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Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the situation to my father, who is
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89 years old anddespite his agea very active farmer in County Tyrone in the Mid-Ulster constituency? In the absence of the Assembly, the only legislation that could affect my father will be passed in this House. How does Martin McGuinness, my father's MP, do anything to represent, either in parliamentary or representative terms, pensioners and farmers such as my father?
Mr. Hogg: I start from the fact that we do not have a perfect system. The position of the hon. Lady's father is not very different from the position of a committed Conservative in a constituency represented by a Labour Member. With the whipping system as it is, and given the practices and conventions to which we adhere, the majority of Labour Members would not table amendments that a Conservative voter would prefer. Sinn Fein Members may write to Ministers and make representations, but it is true that they do not articulate them on the Floor of the House. However, to the extent that I have outlined, their constituents are not in a position different from that of Conservative voters represented by Labour Members.
Sir Patrick Cormack: It is true that he is a hereditary peer and, following recent changes, entitled to sit in this House. He is also very learned. However, he is not really doing justice to the role of Member of Parliament. Were the father of the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) to be represented by somebody who took their seat in this place, they would be able to raise his concerns in Adjournment debates and in other ways. Very few of us take any notice of the political affiliations of those who come to see us. If they are our constituents, we seek to help them regardless of whether they voted for us. I am sure that my right hon., learned and noble Friend is no different in that respect.
Mr. Hogg: I hope that my hon. Friend is right when he is so complimentary, and I believe that he is, for these purposes. But the truth is that Members of Parliament can articulate their constituents' anxieties in a variety of ways other than on the Floor of the House. The Floor of the House is one way of doing it, but it is not the only way. Although I am a fairly active parliamentarian, I suspect that it is not even the most important way.
Dr. McCrea: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not realise the difficulty? A Conservative voter may differ with their Labour Member of Parliament on certain issues, but that MP is not a terrorist. It would be very difficult for the hon. Lady's father to go to Martin McGuinness, who has been a member of the Army Council of the IRA, which has murdered people in that constituency.
I accept that the principle that I have enunciated is capable of exceptions. The exception should be that when Members of Parliament have committed criminal
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offences so that they are disqualified, we are entitled to remove their allowances. When Members are suspended, because the House finds them guilty of misconduct, we are also entitled to take away the allowances. However, that happens after due process, when the allegations have been carefully examined. What we are doing now is using the giving and taking of allowances to further policy, and that undermines the status of Members of Parliament.
I recognise that there is a diversity of opinion in the House, and that is healthy. However, I approach the matter as a parliamentarian who will assert that my only legitimacy in this place comes from the electorate. I find it difficult to make a distinction in principle between the process by which I was elected and the process that elected Sinn Fein Members. If that is true, Sinn Fein Members are entitled to the same rights and benefits as I am. That flows from the fact that they have been chosen by an electorate that knew full well that they would not sit in this place.
The Government's approach to the political process, specifically their confidence in the democratisation of Sinn Fein, has been characterised over the years by premature actions and excessive expectations. No action illustrates that over-eagerness more clearly than their seeking to restore allowances to republicans only days after a devastating IMC report.
I say to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan): DUP Members do not ignore the fact that the IMC noted that in some small areas there had been recognised improvements in terms of the republican movement, although there is nothing in the report indicating that such improvements will be permanent. In many areas, however, the report indicates that there is no improvement and that the leadership is heavily involved.
"In 1998, everyone thought that there would be a transitional period in which there would be a withering away . . . of criminality and all the other activities that paramilitaries get up to. However, the reality is that the robbery of the Northern bank and other activities show that it has not gone away."
"the measures that we are proposing are designed to express the disapproval of all those who are committed to purely democratic politics at the actions of the Provisional IRA."[Official Report, 22 February 2005; Vol. 431, c. 17179.]
That was a logical position, but, given the damning report of the IMC last week, the people of Northern Ireland will wonder whether the Government no longer disapprove of IRA activitiesfor why else would republicans be rewarded by the House?
At a time when the Provisional IRA is in the dog house, exposed on the international stage for its ongoing criminal activities, what message are the Government sending? Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is willing to issue threats to Assembly
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Members in Northern Ireland and those who staff their offices that he will remove their allowances. They are democratspeople to whom the IMC reports make no referenceserving their communities through a network of offices, yet they are expected to live with ongoing uncertainty about their employment.
It is not as though the IMC report was lukewarm or vague about the Provisional IRA's involvement in criminality. Many observers were taken by surprise at the frankness of the report's description of the "new phase" of the IRA's activity. The report stated:
"are involved in money laundering and other crime . . . Not all PIRA's weapons and ammunition were handed over for decommissioning in September. The material goes beyond a limited number of handguns kept for personal protection."
The Secretary of State might like to explain the following. The IICD report makes it clear that the commission had received evidence from UK intelligence sourcesMI5 and the PSNIthat the IRA had held on to weaponry. The IICD, having been caught out committing itself publicly to saying that all decommissioning had been completed, tried to find someone to support that belief. It went to the Provisional IRA. Of course, those in the Provisional IRA said, "We have decommissioned all our weapons." It went to the Garda Siochana, who said that they had no such evidence in their jurisdiction, but that if the PSNI did it was clearly because it was in the United Kingdom jurisdiction.
What did the IICD do? It had the choice to believe, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland does, either MI5 and the PSNI or the IRA. The IICD chose to believe the Provisional IRA, and I am glad to say that the IMC did not. I was glad to hear Lord Alderdice, the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, very clearly indicate that he could not agree with the IICD's judgment.
"continues to engage in intelligence gathering, and has no present intention of doing otherwise. This is an activity we believe is authorised by the leadership and which involves some very senior members."
"It involves efforts to penetrate public and other institutions with the intention of illegally obtaining or handling sensitive information. The organisation continues to accumulate information about individuals and groups, including members of the security forces."
The notion that ongoing IRA criminality is down to a handful of individuals, far removed from the republican leadership, has been dispelled. The illegality comes not from one or two on the fringes; it goes right to the very top of the republican movement. The information that I have quoted about intelligence gathering is probably the most directly relevant to the House.
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Hon. Members should not forget that a republican spy ring at Stormont brought down the old Assembly in Northern Ireland three and a half years ago. Furthermore, within the last week, Ministers in the Irish Republic, including the Minister for Defence, and elected representatives in the Dáil were ordered by their parties to check out of and not return to a popular Dublin hotel on account of evidence of IRA surveillance activities at the hotel. While the IRA is brazenly continuing to gather intelligence targeted at public institutions, surely it would be ridiculous for the House to vote to restore allowances to those republicans, some of whom are the leaders who control those very activities.
The Government's fascination with applying the allowances raises the question of whether anything could have appeared in the eighth IMC report about IRA activity that would have dissuaded the Government from following such a foolish course of action. Is it only when the IRA is found to have been behind a £26.5 million robbery that it is deemed appropriate that allowances should be withheld? Yet, under the motions, the Government are reducing the sanction that they set for that offence and setting no sanction for all the crimes that have been committed since.
The proceeds of the Northern bank raidthe largest ever in the British isleshave still not been recovered. They are retained by the republican movement, and the IRA has done nothing to assist in the recovery of that cashin fact, it has done the opposite. Holding and using the proceeds of a bank robbery is a continuing crime.
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