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Lord Hylton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say that he has made a powerful and very emotional speech. However, does he agree that some progress has been made? During the past year, nine times as many people have been charged with terrorist-type offences as have been killed by terrorists. Is that not a step forward?
Viscount Slim: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for catching my eye and allowing me to say a few words. Of course I support the order. It is only right that most of us in the House do so. You can have an order, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, if you do not use it and its powers you have only a piece of paper. If the Government continue--their predecessors were much of the same ilk--the doctrine of appeasement as they have done throughout the past few years, this order is of little value. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, if you have got something in your hand, use it to stop what is today a Sinn Fein/IRA mafia which demands its dues and completely dominates many sectors of the commercial world and the people of Northern Ireland.
The point about the order is that in the hands of any government--your Lordships know that I am not concerned with Right, Left, Liberal Democrat or anything of the kind but with good, strong, positive government when it is needed--it should be used. If you have a piece of paper, use it. It is ridiculous to pass such orders and do nothing.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, had a point. We have the power; do we have the guts to use it? I say to the Minister, who has a most unenviable job and undertakes it with great compassion and skill, that when he is given something he should use it in a way which will bring peace and a little happiness to a very troubled part of our land.
I am becoming slightly persuaded that the whole thing is a bit of a hoax and that really the Government's intentions are eventually to give Ireland away; to have nothing more to do with it and to make wonderful speeches about everyone being nationalistic, independent and having one Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and others have said, there is a feeling of betrayal. Any government which goes in for betrayal will be very much taken to task. I say to the noble Lord, let us pass this order, but let us hope that somebody somewhere will have the guts to use it.
Yesterday morning, hours before the funeral of Elizabeth O'Neill--I believe that all noble Lords echo the sentiments expressed by the Minister and many noble Lords--another pipe bomb, with the potential to kill and maim was discovered at a primary school in Ballymena. It is not possible to describe the horror of that act.
Those are just two incidents out of many which have occurred in recent weeks and months. There is absolutely no justification for the terrible spate of violence we have witnessed in Northern Ireland, not just in recent days, but indeed since the signing of the Good Friday agreement last year. Recent reports have indicated that there have been some 144 bombing incidents since 10th April 1998 as well as countless paramilitary beatings and other such attacks, each one of them abhorrent in itself. That continuing sectarian violence has caused the implementation of this legislation.
This legislation, regrettably, is still necessary. My Liberal Democrat colleague in another place argued that, when considering this legislation, we must balance the rights of the public and civil liberties with the rights of people accused of terrorist crimes. If those crimes are committed, some members of the public will lose their lives or be caused serious injuries, yet as civil democrats
The considerable evidence in the Rowe report and elsewhere suggest that this legislation has saved lives, and will continue to save lives in the current circumstances. The noble Viscount, Lord Slim, suggested that this legislation is not used. That is far from the case. However, it does not offer terrorists some distorted justification to carry out their crimes by claiming that their rights have been limited. There is no justification for the paramilitaries to perpetuate the kind of violence that has been seen in Northern Ireland. This legislation is, in our view, still necessary.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the consequences of passing the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. As someone who was quoted in the press as a lone voice in support of that piece of legislation, I have not changed my position, even after the results that we have seen. I do not lay the blame for the non-retrieval of the bodies at the door of the Government. We supported the Government because we believed that this was a humanitarian Bill. I want to echo the words of the noble Lords, Lord Fitt and Lord Dunleath, and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in saying that we also suffered the wake of revulsion about the way in which the IRA failed to live up to their promises.
I was hopeful, when the first body was discovered, that others would be found, because the purpose of the legislation was to return the bodies to the families so that they could be buried with dignity. I find it incredible that those people who were acting as intermediaries, with the legislation in place, could not come in person and point to the spot. The press need not have been looking over their shoulders, but the offer should be made. It is not too late for that to come about.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, in a powerful speech during the passage of that Bill, used the articles in the press as an indication of what the IRA was up to. Having read the press cuttings, I am sure that the wave of revulsion expressed has affected everybody north and south of the border. I believe that it will have a detrimental effect. I believe that Sinn Fein cannot wash its hands of this. It must be accountable. It claims to be a democratic organisation. It will have to answer to the voters. I hope that Sinn Fein is punished in the forthcoming elections.
Mention has also been made of the public inquiry. I still understand the reason that the Minister gave for the Government's inability to intervene in a public inquiry--that is, because it must be independent. The Minister said that he was quite sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, would probably take account of the feelings of the House and also the feelings expressed widely throughout the country, but I feel uneasy that he still is not looking to introduce anonymity for those who will give evidence.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I too am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order that he has given us tonight and we, of course, support it. I join with him in his well-justified praise of the security forces for their outstanding and persistent efforts in providing as secure an environment as possible. When we return from the Summer Recess we can look forward to examining the conclusions of the Patten Commission. I hope that the unique contribution that the security forces have made will be properly recognised.
We on these Benches believe that the Belfast agreement, signed on Good Friday last year, offers the prospect of a genuine and lasting peace in Northern Ireland. There is now a real chance that the politically motivated violence and sustained terrorist campaign that have characterised the past 30 years may well be over for good if we can put in the last few pieces of the jig-saw puzzle.
However, nobody need be in any doubt of the difficulties that lie ahead. The peace that currently exists in Northern Ireland is in many respects an imperfect or partial peace because the main terrorist organisations, complete with their command and control structures, remain firmly intact. They are continuing to target potential victims and recruit and train members. The terrorist organisations have yet to make a start to the decommissioning of their illegally held arms and explosives as they are required to do under the Belfast agreement. All the main terrorist groups have been engaged in savage mutilations, beatings and bombings, the most recent being Mrs. O'Neill. That is confirmed by Mr. John Rowe in his most recent report.
However, even in the event of the agreement succeeding--we hope that it does--the terrorist threat will remain high for some time. The history of Irish republicanism in particular is littered with splits. For example, the Provisional IRA itself was born out of a split with the old Official IRA in 1970. The Omagh bomb in 1998--the single worst atrocity in the past 30 years, in which 29 people were murdered--was carried out by a republican splinter group. The prospect of an IRA split remains very real indeed. It would be folly to underestimate the ability of a breakaway IRA, in addition to other groups, to destablise Northern Ireland.
A return to violence by republicans would almost certainly lead to a breakdown in the loyalist ceasefires which have held since October 1994. In the years immediately preceding the ceasefire the UDF and the
That said, the outlook today is definitely more optimistic than at any point since the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969. I hope that the process of normalisation will continue and that we can then move to permanent UK-wide security provisions alluded to by the Minister. We on these Benches certainly look forward to the Bill that the Minister mentioned and the advent of the conditions that will make it possible.
Several noble Lords mentioned the regular ritual of extending the EPA and other legislation and the fact that nothing changes. But matters are changing, and for the better. I have been in Northern Ireland many times since my appointment, but I have yet to see the Army on patrol, let alone arresting anyone. That applies especially to Belfast. Progress is being made, but there are still challenges and I hope the Government can meet them.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and others raised the issue of the Bloody Sunday inquiry. When the Minister winds up he will no doubt suggest that anonymity for witnesses is a matter for the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville of Newdigate, and his inquiry. It may well be that the Government cannot instruct the inquiry--I believe that was the position of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. However, the Minister and his right honourable friends have responsibility as they themselves set up the terms of reference for the inquiry. If they had added a few simple words such as, "without jeopardising the safety and security of witnesses", they would have avoided the current difficulties. More importantly, it would have increased the chances of the inquiry identifying any new evidence relating to that fateful day.
But who knows what the effect of this inquiry will have on the members of the Parachute Regiment. They are just about to engage in hazardous operations, but at the same time their predecessors' safety is being disregarded by the Government. A large proportion of today's paras were not even born at the time of the Bloody Sunday events. What comfort can the Minister offer to your Lordships and members of the Armed Forces that suitable arrangements will be made for former members of the security forces giving evidence to the inquiry?
Many noble Lords raised the issue of the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill, and nobody made a more passionate contribution than the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We on these Benches made our feelings clear when we debated the Bill. My greatest practical concern then, never mind the moral issues, was that the relatives would be tormented due to the terrorists not releasing the relevant information. I feared that they would try to extract further concessions from the two governments. My concerns almost immediately became reality, but not for exactly the reasons I expected.
It was always recognised that in some cases location would be extremely difficult. But we are now facing a humanitarian challenge greater than the one that the Bill was supposed to overcome. Whether the terrorists are now facing a public relations disaster for the reasons anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at the Committee stage of the Bill I know not. It is certainly hard to understand the terrorists' motivation if the information that they had available was always so hazy.
During the passage of the Bill the Minister challenged the House--or it may have been the Committee; I cannot remember--to say what was the alternative to the Bill. My noble friend Lord Cranborne had the courage to answer. He said, "Do nothing", or words to that effect. In the current situation does the Minister now regret not taking the advice of my noble friend?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, despite reservations about some aspects of what is happening in Northern Ireland, I am grateful that every noble Lord who spoke supported the renewal of these provisions. However, perhaps I can deal with some of the specific points which arose during the debate, although they do not arise directly under this order. It is a tradition of this House that we tend to go wider than the subject under debate on occasions such as this.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, asked about sanctions being taken against political representatives of paramilitary organisations. Some terrible things have certainly happened recently, and I described some of them in my opening speech. But we need clear evidence and the ability to link the people who perpetrated these offences to specific organisations which in turn are linked to political parties represented in the Assembly. That evidence is not easy to come by. I am certain that the RUC will leave no stone unturned in its pursuit of those who committed these dreadful acts, and of course its inquiries continue. Indeed the Secretary of State keeps under continuous review the state of the ceasefires. But there are paramilitary organisations which are not on ceasefire, and there are some which are on ceasefire but which do not have political representation in the Assembly. So it is not as easy as the noble Lord suggested, but I can assure him that the RUC acts diligently.
Of course we would like people in the community who have evidence to come forward with it; that is always the wish of the police. I can assure your Lordships that the RUC has been very diligent in pursuing the many inquiries about what has happened recently.
The noble Viscount and other speakers, including the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned the Saville inquiry. I repeat that I understand the concerns and I also repeat that any decisions made by that inquiry are a matter for that inquiry alone. I do not think it would be appropriate for an independent inquiry to be, as it were, compelled by the Government to act in a particular way. I do not think it is proper for the Government to comment on the workings or the decisions of the inquiry. Of course the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, will be aware of
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, referred to the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Act 1998 and said that it had not been used. We have the legislation on the statute book, as does the government in the Republic. It is there to be used by the RUC and the Gardai as and when appropriate. We have given the police additional powers in that Act, and it is up to them to decide whether or not they wish to use those powers in any particular instance. In any case, the fact that they have not been used yet does not mean that they will not be used in the future. I think it is too soon to make judgments about the value of legislation which has only recently reached the statute book.
I think that every noble Lord who has contributed to this debate referred to the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Act. I am as aware as anyone of the horror that has swept Northern Ireland, and indeed the Republic, at what has been happening. We are all aware of the grief of the families of the victims and of their very visible distress when they see the Gardai searching in a number of locations and, with one exception, finding no bodies as yet.
I understand that and I am bound to say that I cannot help feeling that the publicity associated with it must have been damaging to the IRA and Sinn Fein. I cannot draw any other conclusion about that. I believe it was right for the Government to put forward a measure which had only one aim: we wanted to alleviate the suffering of the families of the disappeared, because those families believed, as we did, that the IRA would come forward with an indication of the location of the bodies.
It may well be--and I very much hope that it will be--that further digging and searching will reveal the bodies, but we acted in good faith and the families wanted us to act in this way. They have been in an intolerable position for far too long. To ensure that the information would be forthcoming, we accepted the principle that no one giving information should be disadvantaged by doing so. However, let me stress that does not mean there is an amnesty.
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