Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 17 January 2000 (continued)
On a point of information -
I have had enough heckling and interventions from a sedentary position to do me for this particular debate. It is not a question of giving benefits for decommissioning; it is a question of fundamental rights and the demands of this society, as expressed in referenda and in elections, being heeded and protected. One of those demands - and we all know this; it was endorsed and agreed upon - is that all illegal weapons should be decommissioned by May 2000. I do not quarrel with people's need and desire for decommissioning. Indeed, I support such people in their proper endeavours to achieve it, but what I object to is the DUP's attempt to gain party political advantage by tabling these motions, even at the risk of sacrificing the actuality of decommissioning. I fear that that is the manner and intent of the substantive motions.
We have collectively - slowly and painfully - put together a process to achieve decommissioning. We should now allow it to proceed without placing further pressures on it.
Many Members have sufficient influence in the appropriate quarters to ensure that decommissioning will take place as set out in the agreement and in my party's amendment to the DUP motion. The amendment deals with the principles of the agreements made on 25 June 1999 and reiterated by Senator Mitchell in his review: an inclusive Executive exercising devolved powers; decommissioning of all paramilitary arms by May 2000; and the decommissioning to be carried out by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. That is what was agreed, and that is the basis on which we sit in this Chamber. My amendment, on behalf of my party, tries to put that in the context of decommissioning.
Decommissioning is a difficult and a delicate task to achieve. The process for decommissioning has already been laid down by the agreement of the parties; by the conclusion of the Mitchell Report; and by the current and ongoing work of the decommissioning commission. We all know that Gen de Chastelain is to report by the end of this month. Let us wait for the outcome of his report and not make the process any more difficult for him than it has to be.
We have seen how difficult it is - sometimes impossible - in other parts of the world. We can achieve a tremendous breakthrough on decommissioning - one which will set the foundations for a new beginning.
It is not only the DUP which is putting unnecessary stress on the current process of achieving decommissioning. One has only to note the recent speech by the Sinn Féin president in which he anticipated a united Ireland within 16 years. There is nothing wrong with that aspiration. Indeed, I support a similar concept for a new Ireland, but how much more easily could that be achieved if the IRA were to immediately, voluntarily and totally decommission its weapons, and the Loyalists were to do likewise. There is a responsibility as well. In the aftermath of decommissioning, decisions regarding our political future would be the result of the only acceptable weapon in any democracy, and that weapon is the will of the people, freely expressed. That too is guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement.
When this motion was being moved some very scurrilous remarks were made about the SDLP. Since its foundation in 1970 - it did not exist in 1969 - my party has taken on all those who perpetrated violence, particularly those who were operating insidiously from within our own communities. Members of my party were assassinated. They and their families suffered intimidation at the hands of their electorate, and I resent the insinuation made in this House that the SDLP piggybacks on anybody. We were our own men and women, and we stood up to violence while others were creating semi-paramilitary groupings and leaping up and down hills waving gun licences, and the like. I defy any Member of this House, or anybody outside it, to give me one instance of any member of the SDLP participating in any form of militarism.
Not only that, but when the SDLP initiated a new beginning in the early 1970s we created a framework of thought and a new process, the result of which, whether Members like it or not, is that the most extreme groups, the DUP, Sinn Féin - the lot - are in this Chamber today. That has been our achievement, and we are proud of it. We do not accept any scurrilous, unfounded character assassinations of people who are now dead. I have heard all Members comment on the grief and the suffering of members of their community. There was grief and suffering in our community too.
This amendment contains the reality of that, which has been agreed by the parties, by the Mitchell Review and by the process now being undertaken by Gen de Chastelain. I commend it for the Assembly's endorsement.
I am broadly in favour of this motion, with which, strangely, I find myself in agreement. I have to say to members of the DUP, however, that they are not achieving much by moving motions like this. They know that it will not achieve anything; they know that they are not going to bring about decommissioning; and they know that nothing that they have done in the past is in any way going to change anything in this society. All they do is act constantly as a catalyst for aggression -
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Will the Member give way?
Members of your party never give way to members of my party - or very rarely - so I will not give way to you.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you make it clear that the record reflects that in every debate I have given way to every Member across the House on those issues.
That is not a point of order, although may I take this opportunity to draw Members' attention to the fact that remarks need to be addressed through the Chair.
I apologise, Mr Speaker. I will make my remarks through the Chair. The debate today is a relatively pointless exercise, but, again, I want to say that I speak in favour of the motion. We have heard from the DUP why it supports this motion. This is the party whose hypocrisy knows no bounds. It takes part in the agreement; it takes part in the institutions of the agreement; it says that the agreement is going to lead to the sky falling in and a united Ireland in its members' lifetime, yet it feels that it can take part in it somehow. If the agreement is such a disaster, why is the DUP not outside this place? But I think we all know how hypocritical the DUP is.
Mr P Robinson:
If it is so meaningless, why is the Member taking part in it?
This is coming from a Member who said he did not even think that decommissioning was a priority.
Rev Dr William McCrea:
Mr P Robinson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
It is not a point of order; you know it is not a point of order.
Let me be the judge of that one.
Mr P Robinson:
Is it in order for a Member to grossly mislead the House by stating that I said that decommissioning was not a priority? What I said - and it is clearly on the record - was that it was not the priority. The priority should have been the maintenance of democracy and the upholding of the Union. Maybe it is not for Mr Dalton.
It could not really be a point of order for me to try to ensure that Members do not mislead each other, or the House, in a general sense, but I rather suspect the point has been made.
My premonition was correct in that it was not a point of order. The Mitchell review took place at the end of last year, and in it there was a general discussion and debate. An attempt made by this party and by Members opposite to find some way of moving the entire decommissioning process forward. We tried to come to a sensible arrangement whereby the institutions of the agreement could be set up and, in reciprocation, expected that decommissioning would progress under the auspices of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. I am one of the more liberal members of the Unionist community who had hoped that the new year would see the destruction of weaponry. I had hoped that the new millennium would bring about a new era in politics and that the gun would be removed from politics in Northern Ireland, but unfortunately that has not been the case.
I have to say to the Members opposite, in particular to Sinn Féin, that some members of the Unionist community, like myself, have tried very hard to make the agreement work. We have tried our best to bring about a society in which there is tolerance, in which there is respect for the diversity of nationality, of identity, and for the aspirations in Northern Ireland. We have tried hard to make this process work. It has not been easy for us.
Many of us have felt a great moral difficulty in dealing with certain aspects of the agreement - prisoner releases and changes to the RUC cut many of us very deeply and are extraordinarily difficult to deal with - but in good faith we have tried to make this work. We find that, as the new year dawns, nothing has happened. The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning does not seem to have produced any result, and the decommissioning issue, brought up again by the DUP, raises its head as merely another obstacle in this process. Before the new year I made a number of comments on the establishment of the institutions of the agreement and on the way in which they should be set up. I suggested that we should try to take this process forward by setting up these institutions in order to create the conditions that would allow those members of the IRA to bring about decommissioning - [Interruption]
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the Member aware that nine months ago, at the Easter celebrations in my constituency of Carrickmore, the present Minister of Education advised those assembled not to hand over a single gun or an ounce of Semtex?
That was a person, now a Minister in the Government, addressing his own flock. The same people have now threatened the local primary school headmaster in Pomeroy, telling him not to allow a representative of the Pushkin award, the Duchess of Abercorn, into their school. Threats and intimidation are still part of the IRA policy of the ballot box in one hand and institutional or violent intimidation in the other.
I would like to be able to say to the Member that we live in a society where threats and intimidation are not part of day-to-day life. I woke up this morning to find that two members of my constituency in Newtownabbey had been shot through the legs by members of Loyalist paramilitary groups. This type of thing does occur on a daily basis, but we are trying to make it stop. We are trying to bring about a society where this does not happen; where there is not that degree of intimidation on a regular basis; where paramilitary groups do not walk about and wield weaponry threatening people whenever they have political disagreements with them.
Mr R Hutchinson:
Will the Member give way?
Before the beginning of the year I suggested that the institutions should be set up. This is something which it seems has now come about through the Mitchell review. At the time some senior Members of Sinn Féin - the Member from Mid Ulster in particular - suggested that others should listen to me. May I say to that Member that he should listen to me now. There is no more room for compromise on this side of the House. Members of the Unionist community, like myself, will not give any further. We are not able on this occasion simple to allow things to change yet again and for the Unionist community to slide one more time in order to allow a little more room, or opportunity, in the hope that one day the weaponry will be destroyed. I want to make it clear to the Members opposite that under the terms of the Mitchell review there is an expectation that there will be a report from Gen de Chastelain by the end of January.
Mr R Hutchinson:
Will the Member give way?
No. I expect that the report on 31 January will contain some reference to decommissioning. I, unlike other Members, do not expect the IRA to surrender weapons, to bend the knee, or in any way to indicate its surrender. We are asking that those weapons, which are a threat to the lives and well-being of this community and of this society, both in the North and South of Ireland, are got rid off. I do not care whether this is done by way of a big bang in a forest and watched by Gen de Chastelain or by some other method. I want to see those weapons destroyed and the threat of the gun removed from politics in Northern Ireland.
I must indicate to those Members that I would be unwilling and unable to support the continuation of the institutions of the Assembly if decommissioning does not occur by the end of January. I say that as one of the most liberal Members one could probably find on this side of the House. On this occasion I want to make sure that the Members opposite realise the strength of feeling that exists in the Unionist community.
Will the Member give way? [Interruption]
Order. I have noticed that there is a little pattern developing. Because there is no limit on the time Members may speak, there is a tendency for them to give way to members of their own party merely to increase the number of speakers and the amount of speaking time available. Mr Paisley Jnr looks shocked. I assure him that I think it may be so. Therefore, whilst it is not inappropriate to give way to members of their own party, neither is it inappropriate to give way to members of other parties.
Mr P Robinson:
Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot accuse the Member of that, as he is refusing to give way to a member of his own party but quite willing to give way to a member of Sinn Féin/IRA.
I was not begging any questions of what this Member was doing; I was merely responding to a singularly noisy response from others when he gave way to a Member from another party.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
When a person is making a motion in another place he is entitled to give way at least two or three times to people who are naturally questioning him about his motion. It has always been the custom that when a person is proposing a main motion he has the flexibility of giving way.
I am not suggesting that Members have gone outside what is appropriate; I am just a little aware that when patterns develop they can become inappropriate.
I have a comment to make through you, Mr Speaker, to Mr Shipley Dalton . I sympathise and empathise with many of Mr Shipley Dalton's comments in relation to how the people within the community he represents feel about this whole vexed question of decommissioning. By the same token, he neglects to understand that there are many views on that issue within all the communities on these islands. Most importantly, when he says that he will not be able to support the institutions after next month that runs directly contrary to the position adopted by his party leadership during the Mitchell review, particularly at the conclusion of the review. I am making the point that, regardless of the promises and guarantees which were given by its leadership at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting, what Mr Shipley Dalton is saying is contrary to the position adopted by his party at the Mitchell review, when the deal was done. I think the people on the UUP Benches need to bear that in mind.
The Member is saying that we must not set up more preconditions; that we are attempting to lay down a condition that the IRA is not going to agree with or accept; and that it is unreasonable for us to do that. The institutions of the agreement are set up in order to provide an opportunity for those of us who have hugely different aspirations and views about our way of life to try to find a way to accommodate those within a democratic political framework. The maintenance of standing armies and weaponry cannot in any way be compatible with that. That is something accepted on this side of the House and also throughout the entire island of Ireland. The Member knows that.
It is quite clear that at this stage in the process of the agreement, the future of the institutions of this Assembly is in the hands of the IRA. It is now up to the IRA to decide if it is going to see these institutions continue; if it genuinely wishes to see the agreement work and if it wants a genuine attempt to be made to bring about toleration, acceptance and accommodation between the two vastly different communities in Northern Ireland and throughout Ireland. That decision is the IRA's, and it is one which must be made quickly, because there is no more room or patience, even amongst those who are the most moderate, most liberal and most willing in the Unionist community, to try to make this process work.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have now had some of the main contributors, and you indicated that you would look at the possibility of some sort of time limit to enable as many as possible to speak. Have you come to any view on that, and at what time do you aim to have this debate completed so that Members may know whether they will get a chance to speak?
I requested that Members indicate at an early stage whether they wished to speak. That did not happen, which makes it rather difficult for me to indicate a time limit. The Business Committee thought that one hour was reasonable in respect of each of these three debates. We started at about 11.40 am, so this debate would end at 12.40 pm. Within that time both the proposer of the amendment and the proposer of the substantive motion have the right to respond. It is clear from that that the amount of time available for speaking is now very limited, and I appeal to Members to limit themselves as much as possible.
Under Standing Orders, time can be limited only at the beginning of the debate. Members did not raise that until after the debate had started, and that makes it difficult. I will try to ensure that the different sides of the argument are put, but that is not necessarily the same thing as everyone's having a chance to speak.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The next business is Question Time at 2.30 pm. If we were to break at 12.40 pm, or shortly after, we would be allowing ourselves almost two hours for lunch. As some Members who have not had the opportunity to speak wish to do so, should we not break later than 12.40 pm?
I will consider what the Member says, but he should understand that under Standing Orders the Business Committee set down the time, and the question was whether there would be three hours for one debate or three hours for three debates. The Member needs to be aware of that, but I will see what I can do.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Further to the point of order, Mr Speaker. Will we still have the vote immediately after this debate?
That is correct.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh.
I start by saying that it is not within the remit of the House to demand the handover of anything. The Good Friday Agreement and the Mitchell review both state quite clearly that decommissioning, when it occurs, will be a voluntary act. Setting deadlines or making demands will not achieve decommissioning. For years and years the Unionists have stalled and used the tactic of deadline and demand. They have wasted - [Interruption]
Does the Member wish to intervene?
Through the tactic of deadline and demand the Ulster Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party - Unionists in general - have succeeded only in delaying matters for two years and wasting very valuable time which would have been more productively spent establishing the political institutions and demonstrating that politics work. Decommissioning has been dealt with in the Good Friday Agreement and in the Mitchell review, and it should be left where it rightly belongs - with Gen de Chastelain.
The Good Friday Agreement requires all parties to use their influence to create the conditions to remove the gun from the equation. Sinn Féin has been using its influence to bring this about. Other parties have failed to do so.
I ask the proposer of the motion what the DUP is doing to bring this about. What is it doing to establish the status of the weapons brought here from South Africa by a British agent, Mr Brian Nelson, for the Ulster Resistance movement, a movement with which it is clearly inextricably linked? This was evident at the Ulster Hall, where they wore the red beret and insignia of the Ulster Resistance, in Portadown and on various hillsides throughout the country where members of the DUP waved weapons, both licensed and unlicensed.
Where are those weapons now? They are still being targeted at the Nationalist community in the North. The party in question was instrumental in forming the Ulster Resistance, so we need to have an answer. What is it doing to bring about decommissioning?
The House should get on with the business that it was elected to do - fill the vacuum and demonstrate that politics works. The decommissioning issue is now where it should be - with Gen de Chastelain and his committee.
We should not underestimate the efforts made by the IRA in creating the opportunity to bring about the political climate in which progress can be made. It created the opportunity by calling the cessation of violence in the first place, and it has also linked in and co-operated with Gen de Chastelain, meeting him regularly to try to bring about the decommissioning of weapons. When decommissioning happens, it will be a voluntary act - it cannot be brought about by force or demand.
I ask the House to support Mr McGrady's amendment. Decommissioning should be dealt with under the terms of the Mitchell review and in keeping with the three principles set out on 25 June 1999.
Go raibh maith agat.
Mr C Wilson:
I support the motion standing in the names of Rev Dr Ian Paisley and Mr P Robinson. It is important to consider why decommissioning is such a crucial issue for the entire community in Northern Ireland. It is vital to remove from those who have terrorised Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists, the tools of their trade, the guns and explosives that are required to carry on, sustain or resume a campaign of death and destruction that has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 innocent victims, citizens of Northern Ireland.
Let us not lose sight of the true nature of decommissioning and of exactly what it means. There has been an attempt to equate decommissioning with a devolved administration in Northern Ireland and to sanitise the issue beyond all recognition. We need to remind ourselves and the community - if it needs any reminding - exactly what the past 30 years have meant to the people of Northern Ireland. The terror has been directed by Sinn Féin/IRA not only against the forces of the Crown, the British Army and the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland. They have also terrorised those in their own communities and their co-religionists.
I shall give a few examples in order to make people aware or to familiarise them with some of the past atrocities. A book by Mr Peter Taylor, entitled 'Provos: the IRA and Sinn Féin', gives an account of an incident which went beyond the bounds of human decency for any group of people in the world, let alone Northern Ireland. It says
"The IRA took hostage the family of Patsy Gillespie, strapped him into a car loaded with a thousand pounds of explosives and told him to drive to the checkpoint. The IRA told his family he would be released when he carried out their orders. Patsy Gillespie became a 'human bomb' and when he arrived at the checkpoint the IRA detonated the explosives by remote control killing him and five soldiers. The IRA claimed Gillespie was a 'legitimate target' because he worked at an army base."
In fact, Mr Gillespie was baking buns for the Army. That was his crime.
Others who are too numerous to name are documented in the book 'Lost Lives'. People were taken by Mr Molloy's, Mr Adams's and Mr McGuinness's associates in the IRA to destinations and tortured for days. They were nailed to barn floors, killed in the most horrific fashion, their stomachs gouged out and filled with explosives. When we talk about the handing in of weapons and explosives, let us never lose sight of how these guns and explosives have been used or of the families who still suffer mentally and physically and who will bear the scars for their entire lives.
It is with great regret, in light of the incidents I have mentioned, that I have to say that some members of the Ulster Unionist Party view decommissioning not in light of the atrocities or of the fact that no civilised community can continue with such people in its midst, let alone in its Government, but simply as a way of getting around the issue that faces them in relation to sitting in government with unreconstructed terrorists.
They do not seek, as they pledged to the electorate many years ago, to put Sinn Féin/IRA out of business, rather they seek to find a way to sit in government and work with them as full partners in the Government in Northern Ireland.
The fear of Mr Shipley Dalton and others in the Ulster Unionist Party is what Gen de Chastelain may come up with on the issue of decommissioning. We have heard Mr Molloy say that he has great faith in the General's future plans, which worries me slightly. The fear in the Ulster Unionist camp is that the General may find a way around the decommissioning issue. He may find a way of allowing the Ulster Unionists to continue beyond their February deadline that would be acceptable to the other side of the House and to the weaker brethren in the Ulster Unionist Party. They may hope that it might be sufficient to swing the Ulster Unionist Council.
However, Mr Trimble's dilemma is that it will not cover their nakedness before the majority of people whom they have deceived, both in their own ranks and in the wider community. They told the people that they would not sit in government with murderers. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party will continue to oppose the presence of Sinn Féin in government while the IRA exists and while Sinn Féin remains inextricably linked to that organisation. We do not support the concept of guns for government. We do not accept the barter system whereby a feeble gesture guarantees the continuation of those fronting terrorist organisations in the Government of Northern Ireland.
The implementation of the Belfast Agreement has politically institutionalised the very opposite of democratic practice and the rule of law. The outworking of the agreement has secured a central role in government for Sinn Féin, backed by the terrorist arsenal of the IRA. This means that the threat of force has been fully incorporated into the government of Northern Ireland.
The outcome of the Mitchell review fully legitimised this state of affairs. It established that decommissioning, if it ever occurs, must be voluntary, as Mr Molloy has just informed us. An act on the part of the terrorist - and this has to be fully endorsed by the Government of the United Kingdom - is absolutely incompatible with democracy. The conduct of politics, free from threat or use of violence, must be the core of democracy. Democratic practice is ultimately rooted in respect for the fundamentals of human rights. Democratic government must be based entirely on electoral support, which means that no political party can claim a right to be involved in government on the basis of a so-called electoral mandate, while at the same time retaining at its disposal the persuasion that comes from the barrel of a gun - to use one Sinn Féin Member's comments.
The implementation of the Belfast Agreement has institutionalised the combination of the Armalite and the ballot box into the Government of Northern Ireland. This is entirely incompatible with the most fundamental of human rights. Northern Ireland citizens are now, in effect, governed, not on the basis of respect for human rights, but on the basis of nothing more commendable than the strategic thinking of Sinn Féin/IRA.
We are now coming to a point where I can only move to the winding-up speeches by the proposer of the amendment and the proposer of the substantive motion.
Mr C Wilson:
My comments are virtually at an end.
In any case, I will bring them to an end.
Mr C Wilson:
The law-abiding community in Northern Ireland is now asking "Where are the church leaders and the captains of commerce and industry?" In the weeks prior to the "Jump together" or "You jump first, David" syndromes they were lobbying Members of the House and encouraging them to put in place Members of Sinn Féin. They have been strangely silent and conspicuous by their silence. There have been no marches to Stormont demanding decommissioning. I have heard nothing from Sir George Quigley and his "Magnificent Seven" - the G7 - encouraging or commanding them to jump in the same way as they did of the Unionists. We will not hear that. It does not fit in with the plan. The plan is that Sinn Féin/IRA will remain in the Government of Northern Ireland for as long as they wish; it is in the Belfast Agreement.
Mr Speaker, are you going to consider, as you earlier said you would, Mr Weir's point about an extension?
I did consider the question, and the fact that we are now about to hear the winding-up speeches at 12.40 pm rather than having completed the whole debate by 12.40 pm shows that I have looked kindly upon what Mr Weir said. I would have been bringing the debate to a close at an earlier stage in order that the winding-up speeches for the amendment and the substantive motion could have been completed by 12.40 pm. One could argue that I should have moved to the vote before that time. I have been flexible.
Members need to understand the importance of indicating their wish to speak before the start of a debate so that I may make a decision about the amount of time to allow for it. However, if they look at those who have spoken, they will have to agree that the range of views has been as fully expressed as I can make it in the time.
I have to say, with the greatest respect, that there was no indication that this motion would be taken at the time it is being taken. There would have been the luncheon interval and other intervals in order to give you - [Interruption] May I have the courtesy of being allowed to finish, unless you do not want me to speak. I have not been able to speak in this debate. I believe I would have had a relevant and material contribution to make. There is small purpose in being here if one is not allowed to make a contribution.
Let me respond to the point of order. First, the reason that the Member is not aware of that fact is that he and his Colleagues do not have a representative on the Business Committee. The matter was discussed and decided by the Committee; that is one of the problems of not having representation.
Secondly, there is no requirement that all parties have an opportunity to speak in a debate, and it is clearly impossible for them to be able to do that. Thirdly, the Standing Orders Committee, of which the Member was a member, decided to remove the question of time limits and to institute only a time limit put in by the Speaker on the basis of the requests made to speak received in advance. That has tied my hands in that regard, and it is very difficult to ensure that Members are able to speak.
From such experiences Members will begin to understand the Assembly's imperfections and the way in which we conduct ourselves may then lead to changes in the Standing Orders. That is the proper way to proceed.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you acknowledge that some Members who, before the debate began, expressed a wish to speak have not, as yet, been called?
Yes. The Member needs to be aware that that is a perfectly common experience in other places. Members frequently travel many miles to get to other places and do not get a chance to speak. The Speaker has to make a decision based on the balance of those who wish to speak and their arguments, and also, perhaps, the fact that Members have had the opportunity to speak at other times.
In all of the contributions to today's debate there was no absence of a desire to have full and immediate decommissioning. All of the contributions were really determined, and, in good faith, I would like to see decommissioning take place. It should happen, not just for its own sake, but in order to underpin the peace which we have and the more permanent peace we would have following decommissioning.
Regarding the remarks about timing, what my amendment is trying to do is to make sure, as far as we can in the process, that decommissioning takes place. There is no point in having futile and empty debates unless there is a mechanism there to achieve what we want.
My amendment says that we should proceed and support the principles laid down by the agreement between the parties on 25 June and subsequently endorsed and reiterated by Senator Mitchell. That process is still ongoing in terms of the de Chastelain Committee and its report at the end of this month.