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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,
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:
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.
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.
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.
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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