Northern Ireland Assembly
Tuesday 16 February 1999
The sitting begun and suspended on Monday 15 February 1999 was resumed at 10.30 am.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
Yesterday Mr Gregory Campbell and Mr Cedric Wilson asked me to consider the use by Mr Martin McGuinness of a visual aid during his speech. It appears that the grenade component referred to by Mr McGuinness was the lever from a used grenade. It was therefore an inert piece of metal which was not, and could not of itself be used as, a weapon, although its symbolic significance is quite clear.
Members are not searched on entering the building but are requested to place weapons in the armoury. However, this item was not a weapon, as far as I can ascertain, and so no regulations were breached. If Members feel strongly that they should be searched on entering the building, as others are, I would be grateful if this could be conveyed to me through the usual channels. However, I emphasise that, even if there were a security search, there would not necessarily be any prohibition on the bringing in of any such metal item as a trophy or visual aid.
The Standing Orders Committee may wish to address the question of Members using visual aids to illustrate speeches — that is not dealt with under the current Standing Orders. In addition, the Standing Orders Committee may wish to note that while visitors and members of the press are prohibited under the Initial Standing Orders from bringing various items into the Chamber, including certain recording and other devices and large bags, no such prohibition applies to Members. The Committee might wish to look at this matter.
I was requested by Mr Martin McGuinness to rule on whether the term —
Mr P Robinson:
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. You have given a ruling, which I accept, and the Assembly and its Committees need to consider it. However, there is a much more serious matter relating to the same incident. If the component part of a grenade held up by Mr McGuinness is what he claims it to be, then it is evidence and he should be arrested for withholding evidence from the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
The question —
On a point of order.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
Perhaps I could rule on this point of order, and then I will take Mr McElduff’s point of order. As far as its being an item of evidence is concerned, that may or may not be the case. However, it is not a matter for me or for a ruling from this Chair.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Perhaps it tells Members that the RUC investigation was less than thorough.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I have made the position regarding the question of evidence clear, as I see it.
I was requested by Mr Martin McGuinness to rule on whether the term "Sinn Féin/IRA", as used in the Chamber, is unparliamentary. He clearly found it unwelcome, but that does not make it unparliamentary. He suggested that its application to his party left all members under an accusation and perhaps even in danger. There is no Standing Order which addresses this issue. There is, however, a parliamentary convention that statements made in respect of a party are not considered to impugn the motives of individual members of that party in various circumstances. The reference — and I know that some Members are keen for references on these matters — is to ‘Erskine May’, page 387. I can supply that to Members if necessary. There are various contexts in which comments may be made about other parties, but they should not be taken to refer to all members, or even individual members, of a particular party.
Dr Paisley raised the matter of a large number of Members’ guests in the coffee room. I asked for an immediate report, but when the Keeper of the House got to the coffee room he found —I was going to say that the cupboard was bare — that the room was empty. The problem Dr Paisley raised, however, is a real one. I will ask the Assembly Commission to examine the regulations about the number of visitors who may at any one time be admitted to certain parts of the building.
The fact that Members had not received some documentation even by yesterday was also raised. It would be helpful if Members who did not have the report delivered to their registered address by Saturday morning would inform the Clerk of Business by the end of today’s sitting, since the Assembly delivered the Executive’s report to the Royal Mail in sufficient time for it to be delivered by Saturday morning under the special arrangements which the Assembly has negotiated with the Royal Mail. It would be very helpful to know if these arrangements are not working.
On a point of order, Mr Presiding Officer. Is it not normal parliamentary practice for papers such as these to be sent out three business days in advance rather than at the weekend?
The Initial Presiding Officer:
That is not necessarily the case in respect of the presentation of reports. In other places the practice is emerging whereby they are not even delivered, in the first instance, to the Chamber involved but published at press conferences in advance. It would be regrettable if that were to become the practice here. The procedure that you referred to is not, as I understand it, extant elsewhere.
On a point of order, a Chathaoirligh. This debate is topical, and I have no doubt that the reference in Hansard to guns on the table, under the table, outside the door and inside the room will dog us for the next few weeks. Can you tell me whether or not Members have actually breached their honour and the practice of putting their weapons in the armoury? I see from Hansard that you have made reference to this matter already, and I am curious to know whether Members have or have not complied with the practice. It would be good to know whether we do actually have guns in the Chamber during our debates.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I have made enquiries on this matter on a number of occasions over the last months because Members who have not read avidly the minutes of the Assembly Commission may not have noted that the Commission made an early decision to delegate responsibility and authority for security matters to me. I have taken responsibility for that as best I can, and I have made enquiries from time to time about that matter.
It has not come to my attention that any Members have brought in weapons and have not deposited them in the armoury. A very small number of Members have deposited weapons on a regular basis, and others have, to my knowledge, made other arrangements outside the building. My enquiries have not led to anything further in that regard. I cannot say more.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Further to that point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. It is very clear that there are people in the Assembly, in the IRA/Sinn Féin party, who are deliberately fishing to try to ascertain how many Members carry authorised personal protection weapons and how many do not; to find out how many register those weapons at the front door and how many do not. It is highly dangerous for the personal protection of individuals who have made private security arrangements for you to give out details of how many Members are doing what with their weapons. I do not think that this matter should go any further.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I am responding as frankly and as appropriately as I can to the Assembly. I am a servant of the Assembly. You obviously have serious concerns with regard to this matter, and that will perhaps help the Assembly to understand why the question of Members being searched for weapons and so on on the way into the building is not straightforward in any way. It is a difficult and complex matter about which there are great sensitivities. I do not think that I need to elaborate any further, and I trust that we can proceed, as we have done until now, in reasonable security and with some element of trust.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. You mentioned that some Members left their weapons in the armoury at the door. There are some people who come to this Assembly who are generally called minders of Members. I wonder how many of them leave weapons at the door. Has your attention been drawn to the fact that some of these so-called minders have refused to obey the regulation in respect of being searched at the door which involves passing through the machinery?
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I am somewhat hesitant to go very far down the road along which the Member directs me. There are authorised servants of the state who bring weapons into the building, and searches do not apply to them. Nor do they apply to Assembly Members, but they do apply to all other entrants to the building, save — I think I am correct in saying this — President Clinton and the Prime Minister when they visit. Indeed, some very senior members of the judiciary have submitted themselves to a search.
There have been one or two occasions when people entering the building — from all sides, I might add — have chafed a little at the regulations that have been put in place. As far as I am aware, there has been a remarkable degree of co-operation from not only Members but also the staff and others from all parties, given the difficulty and sensitivity of the matter, and I wish to convey to all Members, their staff and officials my appreciation of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people, on an overwhelming number of occasions, have been extremely co-operative.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
In order to clarify this matter I wish to point out that I was not referring in any way to any member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
I wish to point out that there is an omission in the Official Report of yesterday’s proceedings. In advance of my comments I wish to state that I appreciate the difficulties experienced by the Hansard staff in what can be a noisy Chamber.
On page 30, at the end of Mr David Ervine’s speech — some might describe it as a diatribe, but it was a speech — there is no mention whatsoever of the audible signs of approval which came from the Sinn Féin/IRA Benches. Normally it would be appropriate to insert "Hear, hear." While this would not have been attributed to any particular party, the content of the speech would make it fairly obvious to a reader of the Official Report who was giving their approval. Perhaps you, Sir, could ask the staff to have a look at this.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
When Members ask me to review something that appears in Hansard I now have a procedure which involves viewing the tapes. I will, of course, follow that procedure, but I have to say that my immediate response is that this is a rather ingenious point of order.
Mr B Hutchinson:
If Gregory Campbell’s point of order is to be accepted, I wish to request another addition to the Official Report. Following Sammy Wilson’s speech, Jim Wells said that the House should be a debating Chamber and that Members should not read from prepared texts. I asked if he was referring to people on his own Benches and named Jim Shannon. That does not appear in the Official Report either.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
There are a number of understandings about how Hansard operates. One of these is that comments off microphone are generally not included unless they are referred to by the Member who is speaking or by the Speaker. That brings them into the property of the debate, and they have to be included. In this case, for example, had your comment triggered some response from the Member, it would have been included in Hansard, but it may have been off microphone and not heard by the reporter. By raising the question at this point you have ensured that it will now be included in Hansard. While that is an ingenious ploy, I might have to rule that such a ploy was an abuse of Standing Orders to ensure that it did not become a habit.
On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. This is connected not with what has not been included in Hansard, but with what has been. It is the practice in the House of Commons for the Hansard officials to notify Members that a draft of their speech will be available for checking within a specified time. That enables clear errors or misunderstandings to be dealt with. I have just read the Hansard report of my speech, and in at least one substantial and significant way it is completely wrong. At no time was it suggested by the Hansard officials that I should take a look at what they were proposing to print.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
I have a couple of comments in regard to this. It is not possible for Hansard always to include things, and always to include them absolutely correctly. That is the case everywhere. As far as I am aware, it is not usually the practice, and certainly not in the other place where I operate, that every Member is advised of a particular time when he may be able to make corrections. Members may go to the Hansard office to check things. That is also the position here, I think up until two hours after the speech. At that stage things start to get into the system. Perhaps it would be helpful, in reply to the point of order, to advise all Members that if they wish to check that their speeches have been, as they feel, correctly reported, they should go to the Hansard office about two hours after they have spoken. It takes about two hours for a speech to go through the system.
However, even with that arrangement, Members may see in Hansard the following day or subsequently items which, in their view, are not accurate. Those can be drawn, initially, to the attention of the Editor of the Official Report. The substantive text is always the bound volume of Hansard, when it is finalised. I have been making enquiries to ensure that bound copies of our Official Report will be available, and corrections can be included in that. A different printing arrangement is necessary.
In summary, if Members wish to check whether their speech is accurate, from about two hours after they have made the speech they may be able to change or correct it. They may not change matters of substance, however. If they got it wrong on the Floor of the House, then they got it wrong, but if Hansard got it wrong, a change can be made. Subsequently, if that is not satisfactory, they may draw the matter to the attention of the Editor of Debates. If they are still not satisfied they may draw it directly to my attention or to the attention of the Presiding Officer on the Floor of the House. The final version will be the bound volume, and that will be made available when there is sufficient material to justify its production. We are not far away from that.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Further to that point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is there a time limit? In the House of Commons Members have a week to submit corrections for the bound volume. Will seven days’ notice be required?
The Initial Presiding Officer:
At this stage there is no regulation in that regard. The reason for the seven days’ notice at Westminster is that there is a regular output of Hansards, and every so often they produce the bound copies, for which they have a time limit. We have not had sufficient regular sittings to have reached that stage. There is no time limit on it. This matter will be attended to in the near future so that things can work properly. I am grateful to Dr Paisley for raising the matter.
Determination of Ministerial Offices
Debate resumed on ammendment to motion:
This Assembly takes note of the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), and approves the proposals in relation to establishing the consultative Civic Forum (as recorded in section 5 of that report). — [the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate)]
Which amendment was: Leave out from "Assembly" and add
", having noted the contents of the report prepared by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), requires them to take back the report and reconsider it with a view to ensuring that —
it contains a specific requirement that any North/South body is accountable to the Assembly and does not perform any executive role;
the Civic Forum is properly appointed in order to ensure a balance of community interests and is merely consultative and not publicly deliberative; and
unnatural departmental divisions are corrected."
The following motion stood on the Order Paper in the names of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate):
This Assembly approves the determination by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) of the number of ministerial offices to be held by Northern Ireland Ministers and the functions which would be exercisable by the holder of each such office after the appointed day (as recorded in Annex 2 of their report to the Assembly).
The following amendment to that motion stood on the Marshalled List in the name of Mr P Robinson: Leave out from "Assembly" and add
"declines to approve the determination by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) of the number of ministerial offices to be held by Northern Ireland Ministers and the functions which would be exercisable by the holder of each such office after the appointed day (as recorded in Annex 2 of their report to the Assembly) before Sinn Féin Members are excluded from holding office as Ministers or the IRA has decommissioned its illegal weaponry and dismantled its terror machine."
I welcome the report of the First and Deputy First Ministers (Designate), and I support the motions. The sooner we have devolution, with the setting up of the 10 Departments, the better. Targeting Social Need (TSN) must be at the top of our agenda. TSN is, unfortunately, not a separate spending programme; rather it is a theme which runs through other spending programmes. Relevant Departments include Social Development, Education, Health, and so on. The best way to deliver TSN is through health action zones. These will focus on improving services for young people so that health and social needs are clearly identified and adequately addressed.
With regard to the North/South implementation bodies and co-operation bodies, the matter of health is of paramount importance. Already great strides have been made in developing cancer research, and I pay tribute to Patrick Johnston, Professor of Oncology at Queen’s University, and to Mr Roy Spence, senior cancer surgeon. I know that Sam Foster of the Ulster Unionists will agree with me. Age Concern has launched the millennium debate to address issues concerning the ever-increasing number of elderly people.
I listened to most of yesterday’s debate. There is very great support for the Good Friday Agreement across the land, from Aughnacloy to Ahoghill, from Dungannon to Dungiven, and in Portadown too. There is powerful support from both communities. In my own constituency of West Belfast it is supported by the people of the Falls Road and the Shankill Road. West Belfast is a microcosm of the problems of Northern Ireland. Yesterday Mr Campbell of the DUP talked about self-destruction within Unionism. The biggest danger to the Union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain is not from paramilitaries but from the abominable no-men of the DUP. They cry "No surrender"—
Rev William McCrea:
On a point of order. The Member for West Belfast is getting carried away with his supposed eloquence. However, the clocks are not moving, and Dr Hendron will want extra time.
The Initial Presiding Officer:
His eloquence has affected the time machines, but not mine. I have the accurate time here, and he has approximately seven minutes. The clocks will come to heel soon.
I have referred to the abominable no-men of the DUP. They cry "No" to compromise; "No" to meaningful dialogue with those with whom they differ; "No surrender"; "Ulster says ‘No’ "; and "Ulster says ‘Never’ ". Do they not realise that you make peace with your enemies and not with your friends? The fact that Dr Paisley and his Colleagues are in this Chamber is, indeed, progress. We must keep making progress and building on that. However, it is the Ulster Unionists who are taking the political risks on the other side of the House, while the DUP acquiesce in a state of rolling negativity, suckled in outworn creeds. Politics is the art of the possible. There are many politicians in this Chamber who take great risks.
I know that there are great sensitivities for both Unionism and Republicanism. I agree with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, who has repeated what he has been saying for some time. We should remember that the agreement in its entirety is sacrosanct. I emphasise the words "in its entirety". We must also remember that there is a pledge of office for those entering the Executive, and that it includes a commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Of course, decommissioning is an extremely important and integral part of the agreement, but Gen de Chastelain and his colleagues will be the judges of that process.
The Good Friday Agreement and the Assembly must work for the future of our children. It is a fundamental principle that the state must support families. Family life is the foundation on which our communities, our society and our country are built. The interests of children must be paramount. We must ensure that the next generation gets the best possible start in life. Families want to see an end to the nightmare of the past 25 years.
The children in our schools, primary or secondary, want to live in peace and to walk our streets without fear of paramilitaries or confrontation with the security forces. I know that because I have asked them. Above all, they want equality of opportunity in education and jobs. They want a future. Therefore it is beholden on every Member to see that they have that future.
The winning post is in sight. Let us not lose our nerve. Unionism has come a long way from being a traditional majority to being a consensual majority — a point that was made in a recent editorial in the ‘News Letter’. Equally, Nationalism has come a long way in acknowledging the new Ireland, but especially the new Northern Ireland.
Let us set the example. Let us lead from the front. This is an evolving situation. Be Irish, be British or whatever, but respect diversity and difference. Above all, let us put our children first in the pursuit of peace. We now have the opportunity to do that, and another opportunity will not come this way until well into the new millennium.
The people of Northern Ireland have suffered grievously over the past 30 years. Few of us have not had personal tragedies to bear because of people who are intent on forcing their views and aspirations on us through the bomb and the bullet. By negotiation and compromise, the Belfast Agreement has given us a form of peace, which we have appreciated. While it is not perfect, as those who have suffered from brutal punishment beatings will testify, we would not want to go back to the bad old days when terrorists and terrorism were rife. Much has happened since the signing of the agreement, and it has given us hope for the future. That hope must grow, and its potential must be realised if we are to keep faith with our people who voted so overwhelmingly for peace.
There is only one way forward, and that is through trust. There must be trust that we will do what we undertook to do when we signed up to the Mitchell principles and the Belfast Agreement. That involves trust at all levels. There must be trust between the parties in the Assembly that they mean what they say; trust between our divided communities to bring about reconciliation; and trust between the Governments who are involved in the agreement that they are not working to a hidden agenda.
This report builds upon the agreement and is the result of long and arduous discussions, negotiations and compromise. While it is not perfect, it is the sound way forward, and it has the support of the great majority of Assembly Members.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
While understanding where the Member is coming from, may I ask whether he is seriously telling Unionists that we are now in a position to trust IRA/Sinn Féin Members in a Northern Ireland Government? Have we reached the point at which people who for years have destroyed this country will suddenly be governing it? We cannot place trust in this sort of thing.
Everyone is entitled to his opinion.
We must support such proposals rather than oppose them. If the report is defeated, I fear for the future of this Province and fear a return to violence. Such fears have existed for far too long.
I have said that the proposals are not perfect, but the Departments, the cross-border bodies, the Civic Forum and the British-Irish Council, with their respective responsibilities as laid out, seem to be the way forward, and we cannot afford to let this opportunity slip. Therefore, I must support the First Minister (Designate) and his deputy on this matter. However, I do not subscribe to peace at all costs. I would not like this report to be as meaningless as Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 "peace for our time" remarks that followed his discussions with Hitler.
Sinn Féin/IRA must keep their part of the bargain and decommission their weapons before taking up ministerial appointments; otherwise the agreement will be as meaningless as Chamberlain’s piece of paper. We cannot progress to a peaceful co-existence if one side retains an armed wing ready to turn to what it knows best. Without the progress that people wish to see, Northern Ireland will be at the crossroads. We can either accept the principle of democracy and seek to make progress together in a democratic manner, or return to a totally divided community, with each persuasion seeking to dominate by force of weapons. Once again, that would make the Royal Ulster Constabulary a piggy in the middle. We cannot allow that to happen.
I support the report, with the rider that there must be decommissioning as proof that Sinn Féin/IRA wish to make progress in a democratic way like all right-minded people in the Province.
Reference was made yesterday to many important matters, including health and agriculture. An opportunity that is now staring us in the face is for people to take on responsibility. We have shouted for far too long to get peace back into the hands of local people. Now we have the opportunity, and I plead with all Members of the Unionist family to my right to think, and think positively. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. The media are watching every move in the Assembly. A generation of young people out there will never ever forgive us if we make a boob this time.
I support the amendment in the name of Dr Paisley and Mr P Robinson. I hope that Ulster Unionist Party Members will take Mr Savage’s words to heart and not make a terrible mistake for future generations by voting for the report. I hope that they will secure the future of Northern Ireland within the Union. I reject the report.
An SDLP Member yesterday spoke about where we are today and where we have come from. This report points us in the direction of where we are going to go to. It has been described as a staging post, as a blueprint, as laying the foundation — all words that were used in the Chamber yesterday about it. It is true that this is a staging post, not just in terms of the implementation of the Belfast Agreement but, I submit, in terms of moving Northern Ireland from its secure position within the Union further down the road to Irish unity. That is the road that this is a staging post on.
We have to look at the report in the context of everything else that is happening in Northern Ireland today: the release of terrorist prisoners on to our streets, the dismantling of our security apparatus, the withdrawal of security personnel, and the ongoing threat to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
This report is paving the way for the entry of IRA/Sinn Féin into Government without a substantial handing over of weapons and without a dismantling of the machinery of terror. It will also lead to the creation of all-Ireland bodies, which will have executive authority among their powers. This is not a good day for Unionism; this will be a black day for Unionism if the report goes through.
I want to deal with several aspects that have already been referred to by others, and make a few comments about departmental structures. The First Minister (Designate) admitted in his opening speech yesterday that these were unnatural Departments. How can someone who is to take on the responsibilities of the First Minister in Northern Ireland credibly put before the House a programme for departmental structures which he himself admits will be unnatural? As Mr S Wilson said yesterday, many of the linkages which were natural between the various Departments have been broken. This has been done for purely political reasons, not in the interests of efficient Government, not in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, but purely for party political reasons. "Snouts in the trough", the worst aspects of old Fianna Fáilism — and these are not my words but the words of a leading member of the Ulster Unionist Party.
This is going to cost us over £90 million, we are told; and why? Mr Mallon, in the ‘Sunday Tribune’ on 13 September gave the game away. He said that they had argued for the creation of a larger rather than a smaller number of Departments not because this would make for better Government in Northern Ireland, not because it would make the administration more efficient, not because it would be in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, but because it would, in his words, "facilitate the inclusion of parties in Government". That is what this is all about: getting as many "jobs for the boys" as possible, in the words of Mr Mallon himself. That is the wrong basis on which to proceed towards setting up a Government for Northern Ireland.
I read in the report that the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) hope to recoup some of the costs by rationalising the remainder of public administration in Northern Ireland. Good for them. Would this not have been a great opportunity to reap some dividend by getting rid of the quangos and the administrative bureaucracy and thus get more money for public services? Instead of that the money is going to be spent on covering the costs of the political carve-up that will result from this report.
One of the most significant aspects is that the departmental structure means that we have a 50:50 carve-up between Unionists and Nationalists. Is this what the Unionist electorate voted for: those who cannot muster 40% of the votes in this House or 40% of the votes of the electorate actually get 50% of the seats in the Government of Northern Ireland? Is that what the Unionist people voted for at the time of the Assembly elections? I do not believe that it is; I think that it is wrong. This is not a reflection of the democratic make-up of the House or of the electorate’s wishes.
I want to deal with the all-Ireland aspect of this, something which, amazingly, the First Minister (Designate) did not deal with in his speech. This is one of the most important aspects, the creation of all-Ireland institutions for the first time with executive powers, and the First Minister did not even deal with it in his opening remarks. For us the crucial issues are the issues of accountability and executive authority, and that is why we have referred to them in the amendments we have tabled.
We have said very clearly that there must be a specific requirement for any North/South body to be accountable to the Assembly and not have any executive role. There should be no difficulty for the Ulster Unionist Members in siding with that because that is precisely what they said in their manifesto. That is precisely what they promised the people before the election. But that is not what is contained in this report or in the Northern Ireland Act. The Northern Ireland Act does not make any provision for accountability, in any true sense, for the Assembly to ratify anything that is done —
Will the Member give way?
No, I will not give way, because the SDLP was noticeable in not giving way to the DUP.
The reality is that the North/South bodies will have a range of executive powers. That is very clear through the decision-making authority that is given to them in this report, and that goes beyond the agreement. There will be an implementation body on trade and cross-border development and a cross-border, all-Ireland institution on language — things that were never contained in the Belfast Agreement.
Within six or seven months of the agreement’s being signed some of us were predicting that the thing would develop; but we never imagined that it would develop as quickly as it has. The Ulster Unionist Members are proposing today to set up bodies which go to the heart of the economic welfare of Northern Ireland.
And then there is the British-Irish Council, something which is made much of by the Ulster Unionist Party, but which the First Minister (Designate) failed to mention in his speech. It was left to Mr Esmond Birnie valiantly — and vainly, in my view — to grapple with the issue. He spoke about the great poet Rabbie Burns and reminded the House that Bertie Ahern had gone to Edinburgh and called him Bobbie Burns. That may have them shaking on the Lisburn Road and in Finaghy, but it does not get to the real issue which, of course, is that there is very little detail and substance about the British-Irish Council in comparison with the detail and substance that we have for the North/South all-Ireland body.
We have a draft programme of work and an agenda for the initial meetings of the North/South bodies but nothing similar for the British-Irish Council — yet this was the body that much was being made of by the Ulster Unionist Party.
I will not deal with the Civic Forum because others have already dealt with it. I want to deal with the crucial issue of decommissioning, an issue which Mr Birnie did not take the opportunity to deal with in his speech. I question why he did not deal with that issue when he had the opportunity to. There is no mention in the report of decommissioning either.
Members should remember that this is the last opportunity that they will have to put the brake on IRA/Sinn Féin’s getting into government without their handing over weaponry or dismantling the terror machine. After this motion is passed, the process — and this was described by Mr P Robinson — becomes automatic and will be in the hands of the Secretary of State. Therefore every Unionist who votes today is voting to hand over control of the process which will lead to the eventual seating of the IRA/Sinn Féin in the Government of Northern Ireland.
People have said time and time again — the Deputy First Minister (Designate) and others said it yesterday — that this is the only vehicle by which to achieve decommissioning, that there is no other way to bring it about. But the crucial issue is this: should those who refuse to decommission get into Government? Is there any sanction to prevent those who refuse to decommission from getting into the Government of Northern Ireland.
The Deputy First Minister (Designate) rose.
I would give way to the Deputy First Minister (Designate), but he did have time to develop this point, and I am taking the remainder of the time to deal with it.
The crucial point is this: should there be a sanction? The Mitchell Report failed because there was no sanction. Even when some of us tried to raise the issue of breaches of the Mitchell Report, we were swept aside and discounted in the greater interests of the peace process. The reality is that there is no sanction.
Mr Hume who failed to speak in the House said on television last night that there is a sanction, that they can automatically be put out if they breach their pledge of office. This is complete nonsense — there is no automatic sanction. Sinn Féin/IRA can only be voted out through a cross-community vote. That would mean the SDLP’s voting to put Sinn Féin out of office, and that is as likely to happen as John Hume’s getting a new speech writer or Sammy Wilson’s needing one.
Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh
Sinn Féin gives a qualified welcome to the report, and will support it on that basis. We are not entirely happy with the content, the structures of the Departments or, indeed, with the process by which the report was produced.
Sinn Féin welcomes the proposal to set up the consultative Civic Forum, but it has major concerns about the representation on that body, about how members will be appointed and about the division of the representation under the various headings in section 5.6 of the report. Sinn Féin also questions the range of responsibilities that lie with the office of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), which will be a Department. We also question their influence on the control of the Civic Forum and the appointments system for it. In particular, I would like to refer to the representation on the Civic Forum in terms of education.
Sinn Féin proposed 10 Departments, but not structured as they are structured in this report. Other Members have said that it is illogical and impractical to have two education Departments. One cannot draw a line to divide education to say that education stops here or begins there. It would make much more sense for education to be a single Department.
Given that there are to be two Departments dealing with education, it is odd that education will have only two representatives on the Civic Forum.
Employment or unemployment figures are used in many countries as a measure of economic prosperity, or the lack of it. Members know that Governments massage statistics on unemployment to indicate their success in promoting economic prosperity. I hope that the Assembly will not use such measures in presenting unemployment figures. The Assembly should take whatever measures are required to deal with unemployment. Given the developments in technology, there are no permanent jobs — no jobs for life, not even for Assembly Members. Young people need the education and training that will enable them to take up employment and be flexible in the changing world of employment.
The Civic Forum is unbalanced as it has merely two nominees to represent education. The office of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) will nominate six people to the Civic Forum. That, in addition to the significant list of responsibilities already added to the office of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) since 18 January, brings into question the whole nature of the power and influence of that office.
Members should note that the arithmetic of party representation in the Assembly is not a constant factor. I am not referring to those who were elected while standing for one party and, when in the Assembly, became Members of another party; I am referring to the fact that in the future there will, we hope, be another election to the Assembly, and it is quite possible that the UUP will not be the largest Unionist party in it. It is also possible that the SDLP will not be the largest Nationalist party.
Members should consider the weight of control and responsibility that lies with the office of the First and Deputy First Ministers. They hold those offices because they are members of the two largest parties in the Assembly. They should look to the future when they are carving up Departments and allocating responsibility and control, and they should visualise the possible consequences of their actions.
We are giving our qualified support to the report and accepting it warts and all. In addition, we are supporting the report because we should have been having this debate last October. The public expects the Assembly to provide the new way forward that we hear about so often. So far, the Assembly has provided people with nothing. The public has expectations and is losing patience with the performance of the Assembly.
Since June there has been lethargy and uncertainty in statutory bodies. The Assembly, far from offering a new opportunity, has stagnated the operation and planning of existing Departments. Civil servants and Government Ministers are hesitating and avoiding dealing with issues, waiting until the Assembly is up and running. It is long past time that we got down to business. It is long past time that the Executive was in place and performing its function. The implementation bodies, however limited their responsibilities will be, and the North/South Ministerial Council should be in place.
A friend of mine often says "Long churning makes bad butter." It is time we were getting down to business and doing what the public expects of us. We will be giving our qualified support to this report, warts and all. We want to get down to the business of government and the implementation of all aspects of the agreement to provide a new way forward.
Go raibh maith agat.
It has taken a long time to produce this report, yet it clearly has many faults. More important, perhaps, is that there are many areas on which we still require considerable clarification. My Colleagues Sean Neeson and Eileen Bell have already raised some of our concerns about the allocation of functions to Departments and about the operation and membership of the Civic Forum.
I received the report at the weekend — I was luckier than some Members from the DUP. I studied it in some detail on my own, even though my party did not have an opportunity to discuss it at a meeting on Friday. The first thing I looked at was the allocation of the functions that had not been allocated on 18 December. The number of functions in the office of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) has increased from 11 to 26. I thought that there was something wrong. However, when I read the list I decided that most of the extra 15 were clearly either part of a central co-ordination function or relatively minor. It is obvious that my concerns in that respect were brought about by paranoia.
Perhaps, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, you realised that the issues that arose last Friday would lead to that feeling of paranoia. But the mere fact that I am paranoid does not mean that they are not out to get you, me and everyone else who does not fit into the cosy arrangement at the moment.
The real problem with the central Department is not those additional functions. The problem is one which has already been highlighted by some Members, and especially by Members from Sinn Féin — the inclusion of equality and the entire equality function within that Department, rather than having a separate Department for it that could combine equality, community relations and victims’ concerns.
I was interested to hear the comments from Mr John Kelly yesterday. He informed the Assembly that the SDLP wanted equality at the centre because Unionists could not be trusted with it. I found that very interesting, but I also remembered informally hearing from members of the SDLP that it had to be at the centre because the DUP or Sinn Féin could not be trusted with it.
Can you trust the SDLP with it?
One might well ask that.
The point was amplified in the maiden speech — an excellent speech — of Danny O’Connor of the SDLP yesterday. He said that if people want to do anything about equality, Nationalists and Unionists have to do it together. If it is done together, everything will be right. As a representative of the Alliance Party, I am not interested in a concept of equality and rights which says that a Prod and a Teague is all that is required to stitch it up and then everything will be well.
There are many divisions in this society, and to suggest that if we get an Ulster Unionist member and an SDLP member together everything will be fixed and perfect is completely wrong. It is a fantasy.
I can remember an early fair-employment case, and I suspect that some DUP members may remember it too. It was one of the first cases to reach the courts. It concerned a public body in which an Ulster Unionist Presbyterian majority was discriminating against a Free Presbyterian DUP activist. I am not sure that Mr O’Connor’s concept of equality would cover that kind of thing. I suspect that similar difficulties may arise in Nationalism at some stage in the future. For me, the most important thing is the treatment of those people in Northern Ireland who do not identify themselves primarily as Nationalist or Unionist.
What happens in respect of the various minorities who do not fit into those categories? How do we respect their rights? I would prefer to see the creation of a powerful Department of equality and community relations. This should have been the sole responsibility of a designated Minister, not a minor function coming under the auspices of the two over-busy Ministers or, indeed, delegated to a junior. Also, a proper scrutiny committee, representing all interests in the House, would have ensured that this important work was done properly.
A few months ago, speaking from the platform at the Liberal Democrat conference, I referred to comments made by the First Minister (Designate) in a speech made in the presence of President Clinton about the need for "a pluralist parliament for a pluralist people". The First Minister (Designate) has quoted other parts of that speech to me since, but he has not referred to that section of it. I said then that I feared that we were going to have not a pluralist society but a dualist system which would be appropriate for mainstream Protestants who vote Ulster Unionist or for orthodox Catholics voting for the SDLP but which would exclude the voices of others. I will be watching to see how the structures work before I decide whether that statement was prescient or merely pessimistic.
There is a raft of related issues — transparency, openness, the operation of scrutiny committees and procedures for review — on which we need to hear much more than the rhetoric we have heard so far.
Members will remember the night of the 17-18 December. On that night the announcement of these new structures was made as if they were matters that related exclusively to the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. I accept that we did ask the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate) to produce a report and that, in the early stages, consultations took place — there were discussions in two different formats — but there was no attempt to keep other parties informed as the negotiations reached a conclusion.
Alliance Party Members were present in the building on that night, as were Members from the Women’s Coalition and Sinn Féin, but no attempt was made to keep us informed of the progress of negotiations. The two parties kept all this to themselves. Is this what the Deputy First Minister (Designate) meant yesterday when he spoke about being true to the Good Friday Agreement?
This report, for the first time, sets out detailed proposals for the Civic Forum. Members have already referred to the six appointments to be made on the nomination of the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). Together, the two Ministers represent 0·00012% of the population of Northern Ireland, yet they will appoint 10% of the Civic Forum’s membership. The agreement states that appointments will be made under arrangements to be established by the First Minister (Designate) and the Deputy First Minister (Designate). It does not state that they will appoint their cronies to the body without further reference to any section of civic society. We need some clarification on this.
A truly imaginative report would have set out arrangements for groups such as young people and the disabled to be represented. If we are to address youth issues seriously, perhaps we should have 16- and 17-year-old members of the Forum. There is a danger that the proposals, as they stand, will make it too easy for all the usual figures to be represented rather than produce a body that is genuinely open.
I was also disappointed to see that there was no reference to the rotation of membership, to allow for the representation of different interests.
I spoke recently to a farmer about the representation of agricultural interests on the Forum. He was concerned about how the new Minister would relate to the whole spectrum of the industry. He represented a small but significant group of farmers. Under current proposals, farmers and fishermen cannot expect more than three representatives on the Forum, but there ought to be a way of establishing a larger group — a special interest sub-committee — which could offer advice to the Forum and to the relevant Assembly Committee.
I am also concerned about the proposal to reserve five seats for the churches. My party suggested in an initial proposal that there should not be specific representation for churches. There are two issues. I am not sure how five church representatives can be expected to represent the entire faith community in Northern Ireland. If we assume that there will be one representative for each of the four largest groups, does that mean that the other person will represent everybody else? Do the Free Presbyterians want to share a representative with the Muslims and Fr Pat Buckley? It would be well-nigh impossible to represent the range of beliefs, but this is an important issue.
The churches do a great deal of community work in Northern Ireland, and they provide a great deal of formal and informal care. They may well do the majority of youth work in Northern Ireland. I have no objection to church representation in that way — indeed that is desirable — but there should not be special rights for some churches over others. I say that in spite of the likelihood that the denomination to which I belong will be directly represented.
On openness, the First and Deputy First Ministers have drawn attention to the issue of the North/South parliamentary body, which has almost been ignored. However, they have not put any flesh on the bones. I want to see firm proposals, and it would be a good idea if Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators were to meet DUP and Ulster Unionist members face to face. It would be very educational for both sides, and it would be useful to hear the discussions — for example, on agriculture, my particular interest. What Mr Dodds highlighted earlier could be suggested for the British-Irish Council aspect: replace the current interparliamentary body with a body which allowed full representation from both parts of this island and from Scotland and Wales.
It is clear that when the vote is taken Members will be rerunning the Good Friday Agreement and the referendum. Given the format of the debate and the way in which the report has been presented, there is no scope for constructive amendments at this stage. I shall vote, with my Colleagues, in favour of the motions and against the amendments. My party rejects the negative stance of those who are simply coming up with objections and have nothing firm to put in their place. However, I must ask the Ministers to add detail to what they have said to date, to prove that what they have said regarding openness will be realised. Otherwise I can give no assurance that my party will continue to support these proposals when they are discussed in detail in the future.
Mr C Wilson:
My party will not be supporting the motion and the report standing in the names of the First and Deputy First Ministers. I seek peace, reconciliation and stability, as I believe the majority of people from both the Unionist and Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland do. I have every reason to do so. I have a family - a wife and children - and a business. My roots are firmly in this community. My future and that of my family lie in Northern Ireland. Therefore I took it ill yesterday when Members from the other side of the Chamber attempted to brand those on this side of the House who are opposed to the seating of Sinn Féin/IRA in Government as "wreckers". Members had the spectacle of Mr Gerry Adams, the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin, and Mr David Ervine, whom I now see in the Chamber, chiding and pointing the finger at Members on this side of the House and describing them as "wreckers".
The wreckers in this Chamber are those who have represented and fronted paramilitary, fully armed organisations which have terrorised this community for 30 years. The wreckers are those who have wrecked the lives of a large number of people in the community. They have wrecked families, entire communities, business, commerce and industry, and they are represented on the other side of this House in the faces of Mr Adams and Mr Ervine.
Last evening Mr Hume - I am pleased to see him in the House, although he makes most of his comments and statements outside the Chamber - again chided Members for living in the past. He said that the Unionists were unfortunately unable to look to the future and that they continued to cast up past misdemeanours and crimes. Mr Hume, may I tell you today that we are not talking about past events; we are talking about current affairs because even as the Assembly has been meeting over the last number of months and weeks -
The Initial Presiding Officer:
May I encourage Members to use the normal convention of addressing their comments through the Chair? Yesterday that meant that I was accused of many things, which surprised me a great deal. However, it would be helpful if comments were channelled through the Chair.
Mr C Wilson:
Sorry. I will do so.
The things which happened in this community have not come to an end. We are not just talking about crimes that have been committed by the terrorist groups in Northern Ireland in the past. People are still being subjected to punishment shootings and beatings of the most horrendous and horrific description on a daily and nightly basis. They are still terrorising this community, and they will continue to do so.
The reason I am opposed to this agreement is simple. If we look at the history of this process we can see the shape of things to come. At the very foundation of the negotiations - the secret talks initiated by Sir Patrick Mayhew and the last Administration at Westminster - people involved in active terrorism were brought over to London to discuss talks about talks about getting this process initiated. That was given to us courtesy of Sir Patrick Mayhew, who has had some kind of road-to-Damascus experience and who now sheds tears about the very same people being released onto our streets.
In the negotiations which took place in Castle Buildings the armed forces of Republicans and other terrorist groups were brought into the process. That was given to us courtesy of Mr David Trimble. It was the Ulster Unionists who, despite pledges that they had given to fellow Unionists, permitted Sinn Féin/IRA to enter into the negotiations at Castle Buildings and, therefore, to corrupt that process.
We now have a situation where those who front terrorist organisations, fully armed and still involved in acts of terrorism, are sitting in this Chamber. That has been brought to us courtesy of Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State, Mo Mowlam.
The situation that faces the Members of the Assembly now is the prospect of fully armed terrorists and those fronting such organisations being brought into a Northern Ireland Government.
I have listed those who sponsored the admission of these people in the past. This is the challenge which faces those on the Ulster Unionists Benches and, indeed, those in the SDLP. Are they going to admit these people now? In the past we could point the finger of blame at others, but it is now the responsibility of this House. The decision which will be taken today, which will effect the further movement of the process of bringing closer the day when Sinn Féin/IRA is admitted into the Government in Northern Ireland, will be determined by us.
I can state categorically where the Northern Ireland Unionist Party stands on this issue. We will not be supporting that movement, and I appeal to fellow Unionists to deny these people the right to come in. This is not the end of the story. There are those who believe naively that if only we can get past this hurdle - not over it but past it: round the decommissioning issue - and bring these people, fully armed, into government, they will change their colours, and that if they do not we can exclude them. That is not the truth, and they know it in their hearts.
This is not the end of the story for Mr Adams and the Sinn Féin movement. This Assembly and the restoration of democracy in Northern Ireland is not their goal. We know that. They have been very forthright on that. Their goal is a united Ireland. They are not content with coming into the Government of Northern Ireland fully armed and ready to return to war. They will carry on this process - because it is transitional - into a united Ireland, fully armed. That is their stated aim and objective.
It was not Sinn Féin/IRA's aim to come into this process to enhance it or to establish democracy, justice, law and order for all of the people of Northern Ireland. It has spent 30 years with its cohorts in the IRA trying to destabilise and wreck the state. Now it wants in to destroy it from within. We can deny it that today if we vote solidly.
I appeal not only to the Unionists in the Chamber but also to Mr Mallon. He made it clear recently that he did not believe that decommissioning was a precondition of the Unionists alone. It was a demand by those who believe in the democratic process - Nationalist, Unionist, Irish or British. All believe that people cannot be involved in a democratic process, let alone in government, while remaining fully armed and part of a terrorist organisation.