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Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is an obligation on all the parties in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Fein, to denounce violence from whatever source it comes and to do so on every occasion, and to do so in practice?
Dr. Reid: I certainly hope that they will do so, and I agree with my hon. Friend. We can all complain that the rose bush has a thorn, but sometimes we should just rejoice that the thorn bush has a rose. On Northern Ireland, we have to appreciate just how far we have come, as my hon. Friend pointed out.
However, that is not the real test. As I said earlier, the real test is not, "Are we better?" because, for all the rhetoric that we sometimes hear, everyone in their senses knows that we are in a better position than we were once in. The real test is, "Are we in the position that the people in Northern Ireland have the right to expect us to be in?" They should have a right to expect, if we have not arrived at the destination, that we will at least still be travelling, and be seen to be travelling, towards the destination that gives them the same comfort, security, rights, equality and way of life as those that the rest of the people of the United Kingdom have.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): Will the Secretary of State reflect that his statement was a woefully inadequate response to a desperate situation, not least because all the measures that he announced should have been common practice all along? Will he further reflect that the Government's failure to act decisively against paramilitaries and their political representatives can only increase the despair and disillusionment of law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland?
Dr. Reid: Well, I will certainly reflect on what the hon. Gentleman asks me to reflect on. If he asks me for my instant reflection, I would say that, however bad the situation is just now, if it is a commentary on the inadequacy of the Government, then when we were 10 times worse in terms of killings and injuries, it must have been a fairly critical commentary on the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported for almost 20 years.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is not the honesty that we need about the situation in Northern Ireland the recognition that there are clear sides to the coin? On the one hand there are all the achievements that have been put in place since the Belfast agreement, and on the other, there is the continuing paramilitary activity, which is degenerating even further into Mafia-type activity. Perhaps all of us should try to ensure that we do not use a one-sided die of examples to push one matter or the other. Is not one way in which we can advance the principles involved in the Belfast agreement and ensure that peace is finally established in Northern Ireland action to cut off paramilitary funding? The House will consider the Proceeds of Crime Bill later today, and there is the
Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley): This statement may offer security measures, and I welcome that, but in political terms it offers absolutely nothing new. There is no proposal in this statement to deal with the political crisis in Northern Irelandand it is a crisis.
The Secretary of State says that there is no acceptable level of violence, yet he ignores Colombia, he ignores Castlereagh and he ignores the violence on the streets of Northern Ireland when he decides that the IRA ceasefire is still intact, so clearly there is some acceptable level of violence if the IRA ceasefire is deemed still be to be intact. So what confidence can we have that the Secretary of State will make a ruling in the future that the violence that has occurred, or that may occur in the future, represents a breach of any of the ceasefires? I must say personally that I do not have the confidence that the Government will act.
The Secretary of State says that he has written to all the political parties asking them to reaffirm the Mitchell principles. Can I ask the Secretary of State what the Ulster Unionist party, the Democratic Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour party or the Alliance party have done that requires us to reaffirm the Mitchell principles? Why is he putting those parties on a par with the paramilitary-related parties? That is an insult to the integrity of the democratic parties in Northern Ireland, which have forsworn violence and opposed violence at every turn. Why does he need us to affirm or reaffirm the Mitchell principles?
Dr. Reid: On the second point, no one is questioning the integrity of the hon. Gentleman or his party, but he will know that, throughout this process, we have used a combination of individual and collective approaches to problem solving, to overcoming challenges and to putting forward new proposals. On this occasion, it seemed sensible to do things collectively. I have no doubt that a reaffirmation for everyone committed to the principles would be a useful starting point.
As regards the hon. Gentleman's other comments, I will be quite honest with him. I owe that to him, as he owes it to me. Nothing I said today short of putting Sinn Fein out of government would have satisfied him. He has made that absolutely plain, as have several of his colleagues. His solution to moving the republican movement away from violence and into politics is to exclude them from politics. That is not to me intuitively a position that should be pursued at all times, given all the consequences that it has. I respect the hon. Gentleman's positionwe have a disagreement over it but I do not question his integrity in reaching that judgment and I hope that he does not attack my integrity in reaching mine.
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): Does the Secretary of State not think that there should be some form of independent mechanism that would examine breaches in the ceasefire? Given the increasing violence in parts of Northern Ireland,
Dr. Reid: On the first question, my answer is no. I have the duty and the obligation to make the decision on the ceasefire. It will be my decisionI will maintain, not abrogate, that duty. As regards whether we can find a mechanism for putting into the public domain further information on these matters, that is another question on which I said I would consult. On the question of the FTR, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is already in consultation with the Policing Board. I have no intention of overruling the Policing Board, pre-empting it or taking away those rightswe have waited almost 80 years to get a cross-community board of elected representatives, and I will not pre-empt their decisions.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman pause for a moment and considerif he wishes to buttress democracy and to increase confidence in the peace process, in which I wish him wellappointing at least an advisory committee on the ceasefire, consisting of Privy Councillors and perhaps chaired by somebody like Lord Bingham, the former Lord Chief Justice, who would bring an objectivity and a credibility to this whole process?
Dr. Reid: Having paused and reflected on the matter, were I to have such a committee, the hon. Gentleman would be a marvellous chairman. I am afraid, however, that I will not abrogate that decision. I will make the decisions, either de jure or de facto, as the law prescribes, as empowered by Parliament, and as obliged as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
David Hamilton (Midlothian): I congratulate the Secretary of State on the measured way in which he has approached the subject. I also congratulate him on the amount of work that has been done. I find it disappointing that the Opposition take an opportunist attitude in relation to what has happened. As someone who has been to Northern Ireland on several occasionsthe last occasion was just over a month agoI have met many of the victims, including Omagh victims. I would suggest two or three small measures that may be of help.
The Prime Minister gave a pledge that he would meet the victims of Omagh after the bombing there. During the recess, during these difficult times, that promise could be kept. That may be a way forward. The people of Northern Ireland feel isolatedon the one side, there is a community who want a united Ireland, and on the other, a community who feel betrayed, for whatever reason, and who feel that the Government have let them down. I do not believe that that is the case, but during the recess, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland team, who have done a tremendous job, should pool all their resources to make sure that the people of Northern Ireland know that as long as they wish to remain British, they will continue to remain so.