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Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 (Specified Organisations) Order 1999

Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1996 (Amendment) Order 1999

12.5 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order and the order (S.I. 525/99) laid before the House on 3rd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful that it has been agreed that we should consider these two orders together since their effect is similar. The emergency provisions Act amendment order adds the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders to the list of proscribed organisations in Schedule 2 to the Emergency Provisions Act 1996.

The specified organisations order has the effect of adding the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders to the list of organisations who are ineligible for the benefit of the Northern Ireland Sentences Act 1998. That benefit is the early release of prisoners convicted of scheduled, that is to say, terrorist-type, offences. If an organisation is specified, supporters of that organisation do not qualify for early release. Neither of these organisations currently has any members or supporters in prison but I am sure your Lordships would agree that it is entirely right that they should be listed as specified organisations. The order also removes the Irish National Liberation Army from the list and thus entitles its supporters to benefit from early release.

Before I go into more detail on the provisions of the orders and the need for them, I should like to set them in context. Northern Ireland has in recent weeks attracted much news coverage as the parties and the governments have been urgently seeking to secure the full implementation of the Belfast agreement. However, the past week has, tragically, seen the focus of attention shift back to the dark days of murder on the streets. There have been two more murders, including that of Rosemary Nelson, a well-respected and courageous solicitor, a wife and mother of three, which appalled everyone who has been working so long for peace. That murder was claimed by the Red Hand Defenders.

The Government very much welcome the swift action taken by the Chief Constable in involving David Phillips, Chief Constable of Kent, and the FBI in investigating this horrendous murder. As the Chief Constable, Mr. Flanagan, said,

The Chief Constable has further emphasised that no constraints and no limit whatever will be placed upon Chief Constable Phillips and the FBI.

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Set against these recent despicable acts, and with the memory of Omagh very much in our minds, is the fact that Northern Ireland has seen over the past year a transformation in the political climate. The Good Friday agreement has provided, for the first time in Northern Ireland's history, an opportunity to secure long-term peace and political stability based on an agreed accommodation between the two communities. There has already been a great deal of progress in implementing that agreement. The new Assembly has been set up; treaties have been signed to establish agreed cross-border bodies; the Human Rights Commission has been established; and reviews of policing and criminal justice are well underway. Only a year ago, all this would have been unthinkable.

There is still hard work to be done but the prize is within our reach. That is what those organisations not on ceasefire want to destroy. They want to bring to an end the hard-won progress which has been made. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Because the order proscribing the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders was made under the urgency procedure provided for by Section 60(3) of the Emergency Provisions Act, they were proscribed with effect from 4th March 1999 and we are now seeking to have that proscription endorsed by Parliament. The main effect of proscription is that membership of the organisation in question becomes a criminal offence. Apart from making membership of the named organisation an offence, proscription creates offences in relation to soliciting or inviting financial or other material support; helping to arrange, manage or address a meeting; and dressing or carrying articles in a way which is likely to arouse reasonable apprehension that the person is a member or a supporter of the organisation. I should add that the Orange Volunteers are described within both orders as:

    "The organisation using the name 'The Orange Volunteers' and being the organisation in whose name a statement described as a press release was published on 14th October 1998".
A copy of the press release has been deposited in the Library for the convenience of Members. This rather tortured piece of wording was deemed necessary in order to differentiate between the present-day Orange Volunteers and an organisation of the same name, but unrelated, which was formed in the 1970s. Although the 1970s organisation has apparently been inactive for some years, we consider that it does still exist. It is not, however, an organisation which we consider should be specified, nor does it meet the criteria for specification.

Similarly, the other order specifies both the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders as organisations ineligible for benefit from the prisoner early release scheme. But it does have the effect of despecifying the Irish National Liberation Army and thus brings it within the early release scheme. This is in recognition of the fact that the Secretary of State now believes that it is observing a complete and unequivocal ceasefire.

The two orders should be seen as evidence of the flexible approach we take, responding to the ever- changing nature of the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

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Moved, That the draft order and the order (S.I. 525/99) laid before the House on 3rd March be approved [12th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Dubs.)

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the orders, which we fully support. The orders were made before the murder of Mrs. Nelson, on which I shall say more later. It is also a sad fact that the splinter groups that we see appearing are, in general, anti-agreement. One difficulty is that we are aiming at a moving target, and no doubt further splinter groups will appear, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will take similar firm and prompt action as required.

The objective of the extremist paramilitaries is to ruin the agreement and stop the peace process because peace is not in their interests. The last thing they want to see is normalisation in Northern Ireland. These extremists are becoming increasingly desperate as they see the efforts of all the parties to the Belfast agreement getting tantalisingly close to achieving full implementation. However, I also believe that they are attempting to take advantage of their window of opportunity arising from the current difficulties over decommissioning.

Last week I said that I would elaborate on my views of the foul murder of Mrs. Nelson. She was a member of the legal profession who handled many high-profile cases involving republicans. Her work was important as there would be something wrong in terms of human rights if, yes, even alleged terrorists did not have access to legal advice that they could be confident in. Furthermore, it is in no one's interest for a person, whatever his background, to be convicted of a crime that he did not commit.

Mrs. Nelson was part of our criminal justice system, but it is worth pointing out that so, too, are judges, the RUC, prison officers and, indeed, witnesses. It is well known that members of these groups have been killed and they remain vulnerable to terrorist attack.

I accept that I am relatively inexperienced in these matters, and no doubt I will see further disappointments and set-backs for us to overcome. Last week I said that I was bitter about Mrs. Nelson's murder, but I do not shed crocodile tears. I am sincere. I have described the important role that she undertook, but she was attacked despite the fact that she was also the mother of three young children, one of whom was at school very near to where the attack was planned to take place. To target a woman in that way was quite despicable even in terms of international terrorism. I join with the Minister in supporting the prompt action of the Chief Constable of the RUC in setting up the investigation into the murder.

What will concern many, both inside and outside this House, is whether the brutal attack by the so-called loyalists, who will be caught by the orders, will have the effect that they desire. That is in the hands of the republicans. They could do nothing; they could just ignore the attack and pretend that it did not happen. Or they could do exactly what the loyalist extremists want.

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They could follow the extremists' own agenda, jeopardise the Belfast agreement and, in the process, throw away all the advantages of the agreement that they signed. Incidentally, as that approach would make the extremists' attack a successful one, it would put other soft targets at risk. In making that point, I wish to make it clear that I see no silver lining in Mrs. Nelson's murder. It is all entirely negative.

On the other hand, the republicans could salvage something. They could do precisely what the extremists do not want. They could defeat them by carrying on with the peace process, however difficult that might be. All the parties have met their obligations, with one major exception--decommissioning. Decommissioning has to happen. I was disappointed that the Prime Minister did not take a firmer stand in the US. But I recognise that last week we were unlikely to see the breakthrough for which we had hoped.

It is disappointing that the need for this order has arisen at all. However, we fully support the timely action taken by the Secretary of State in making the order, and we are content.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, we on these Benches also support these orders, which are specific in their aims.

    "Ordinary Catholics have nothing to fear from us". That claim was made by the Orange Volunteers during a display of strength for journalists shortly after the group's formation late last year. Since then, the organisation has claimed responsibility for a spate of attacks on Catholic families and bars which can only be described as senseless and indiscriminate. At Magherafelt's O'Donovan Rossa GAA club, a bricklayer who was working there was injured in a bomb attack. Patrick Shields was injured in an explosion at his home in Loughinisland in January. And it was sheer luck that a bomb left outside a bar near Toome Bridge did not kill the customers inside, or anyone else using the main Belfast to Derry road. It is clear that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland have much to fear from the Orange Volunteers.

I welcome the decision by the Secretary of State to add the Orange Volunteers to the list of proscribed organisations under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act. I also welcome the decision to proscribe the Red Hand Defenders in the same way. Like the Orange Volunteers, that organisation has shown nothing but savage brutality towards the Northern Ireland community. As well as admitting that they have been behind a number of gun, bomb and arson attacks in the past year, the Red Hand Defenders have been responsible for the loss of three lives in the past six months or so. Constable Frankie O'Reilly died after blast bombs were lobbed at the police during Drumcree protests in Portadown. Last November Brian Service was shot and killed in North Belfast. Their latest attack claimed the life of Rosemary Nelson last Monday when

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a bomb exploded under her car in Lurgan. This was a particularly deliberate and barbarous incident which robbed Northern Ireland of a gifted lawyer and robbed three young children of their mother. Such foul deeds must be condemned in the strongest political terms.

Those in the Orange Volunteers and the Red Hand Defenders who planned and carried out these attacks in recent months have no place in today's society. There is absolutely no justification for such blatant sectarian aggression. It is clear that at such a critical point in the peace process, these organisations are intent not only on destroying life but also on destroying the prospects of peace and political stability in Northern Ireland.

I am in full support of the Secretary of State's decision to add these groups to the list of proscribed organisations. We also welcome the recognition of the INLA's six-month cease-fire and the decision to remove this group from the proscribed list. We support the orders.

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