Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 24 January 2000 (continued)
4. Mr Attwood asked the Minister of the Environment to confirm, on the basis of current production, the number of years quarrying will continue at the Whitemountain Quarries at Black Mountain quarry, Hannahstown, Belfast.
The Department understands from the quarry operator that at the present rates of extraction the company has sufficient reserves to carry operations forward for 20 years at least.
I thank the Minister for that unsurprising answer. Given that he is now a more regular visitor to Belfast, he will be aware that one of our great natural assets are the hills around the city. East Belfast has the Castlereagh hills; north Belfast has Cave Hill; and in west Belfast there is Black Mountain. About 10 years ago Richard Needham, the then Minister responsible for the environment, conducted a review of quarrying on Black Mountain. This was, on one hand, to minimise the environmental damage being caused by the quarry and, on the other, to consider whether the quarry should be closed owing to its adverse environmental impact.
The Minister will be advised by his civil servants not to conduct any further review on planning, historical and financial grounds and certainly not to countenance the closure of the quarry. I am asking the Minister to consider whether it might now be appropriate, given the past 10 years and the probability of at least 20 more years of quarrying on the mountain, to carry out a review aimed at minimising the environmental damage that continues to be caused to this natural asset of the city or even to close the quarry.
I am aware that for a long time local politicians have been critical of the quarry because of the loss of visual amenity and its impact on the environment. As I said earlier, its life expectancy is another 20 years. It has been inspected by my officials. We understand that it operates with valid planning permission and that there is nothing to justify closing it at this stage. The Department monitors the site from time to time to ensure that it complies with planning conditions, and I want to emphasise that there are no planning grounds on which to revoke its existing planning permission.
Is the Minister aware that the backlog is not specific to the area plans and that some 8,500 planning applications are outstanding?
Order. That relates to a previous question. We are now on the question about Whitemountain Quarries.
The question has not been answered.
That is because it was not asked at the right time.
We have a written question to him.
A Chathaoirligh. Given the likelihood of a further 20 years' quarrying at that site, will the Minister say if the Department proposes to look at options such as a buy-out to stop the quarrying or if there is some kind of proposal to return the mountain to its former state?
There are no plans at present to do what the Member asks.
The mountain takes in not just west Belfast but north Belfast also. There is no reason why that whole area could not be a magnificent amenity for the people of Belfast, particularly west and north Belfast. There was speculation within the Department when Richard Needham was Minister that it might be possible to buy the mountain. I appreciate that the present owners want to continue, but they would consider selling it. I would like to ask the Minister whether, over the next couple of years, his Department could look at this issue again. As I have said, this could be a magnificent amenity for west and north Belfast. With the help of private finance a buy-out from the present owners could happen.
I take the point that the hon Member has made. I sympathise with a number of the remarks that have been made this afternoon. Mr Needham has been quoted as saying that no further extensions to the quarry would be granted. In future, under the law, any new planning application would have to be considered on its own merits. With regard to its being an amenity area, I do not know what might happen. One cannot be absolute about anything in the future. I do not know what recommendations or suggestions might be made under the Belfast metropolitan plan. There could be a change of thought.
With regard to this and other planning applications and development plans, does the Minister agree that there is not nearly enough consultation with neighbours and communities, and will he take more account of that in future?
Order. I have already given a ruling that we cannot move from the particular to the general. This is a very particular question. One might raise the issue of quarrying, but the general issue of neighbourhood notification is not one that I can accept.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I suggest that on this issue of the quarry, consultation with the neighbours might be valuable.
Mr B Hutchinson:
Is the Minister aware of the allegations that this company sponsored a golf tournament for the Department of the Environment. If so, what is he going to do about it?
I am not aware of any such action.
Dangerous Animals: Legislation
Mr Beggs asked the Minister of the Environment if he has any plans to introduce legislation equivalent to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
Mr Gibson asked the Minister of the Environment what plans are in place to introduce legislation on the keeping of dangerous animals.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take questions 5 and 10 together.
I intend to bring a Bill before the Assembly as soon as possible, after consultation with the Environment Committee. This will, of course, be subject to the Executive Committee's prioritisation of legislative proposals from all Departments and to the availability of legislative time in the Assembly.
Is the Minister aware that the general public and livestock have been endangered by inadequately controlled wolves in my constituency of East Antrim and by big cats in other parts of Northern Ireland?
I sympathise fully with the owner of the sheep recently attacked by timber wolves in the Larne area, which is in Mr Beggs's constituency. I am also aware of the concerns of local people about the keeping of big cats in the Seskinore area, which is in Mr Gibson's constituency. I am pleased that the animals in question are being cared for by the USPCA at its compound at Benvarden.
At present my Department has no real power to stop people from keeping such animals, and so I call on owners to act responsibly. In Great Britain the keeping of dangerous wild animals by private individuals is controlled under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. We have no such legislation.
Order. I have to bring the response to a close as the time for questions is up.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Mr Speaker, you remind us of examples from another place, but today at Question Time most of the supplementary questions were read. Secondly, with regard to supplementary questions, statements were made prior to questions being asked. We only got to number 6 on the last page. If Members have urgent questions we are not going to reach them. Do you rule against the reading of supplementary questions?
It was interesting that some Ministers were reading replies to supplementaries, which they were supposed to have just heard. One Minister's private secretary was going around those asking questions and saying "Please tell me your supplementary". That is not good parliamentary procedure. If it continues, these Question Times will not give Members the information they need.
The Member raises a number of important questions. For me and, I suspect, for Members and Ministers, there is an element of learning. We will take our time to get into the way of it.
Members at least ought not to have to read supplementaries. In other places even reading speeches is not the thing to do. But Members ought at least to be able to memorise supplementary questions.
With reference to the making of statements, it is not unreasonable that the preface - and by that I mean the first part of a sentence - might make a statement that places the question in context, but Members should move on quickly to the question. That question ought to be a question, and not something with two or three parts. The asking of the centipede questions that one sometimes gets, with hundreds of legs, is not the proper way to go about things.
In the House of Commons this past week one Minister took 11 minutes to respond to a question. Madam Speaker made her displeasure known, not only to the Minister and to the House but also to the Members whose questions were neither clear nor to the point.
Everyone here is learning, and we do not get it right immediately. We try to keep to a limited number of questions, and the shorter the questions and the responses, the more questions Members may ask. Then we may get beyond question 4 or 5 or 6, which we have been unable to do until now. I value the Member's intervention. We will all keep it in mind.
Debate resumed on amendment to motion:
This House rejects the Patten Commission's report and calls upon the Secretary of State to reject proposals which would reward and elevate terrorists while demoralising and destroying the Royal Ulster Constabulary, whose members, both full-time and part-time, have diligently and with great distinction served the whole community. - [Mr Dodds]
Which amendment was: Delete all after "This" and add
"Assembly believes that while the Patten Report causes pain to many, it can provide a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland, responsive to and representative of the entire community.
This Assembly urges leaders from all sections of the community to give full support to the proposed reformed police service and to encourage people to join." - [Mr Neeson]
I remind Members that there is a limit to the length of the debate, which must end at 6.00 pm. The winding-up speeches for the amendment and motion have to be completed before that. Then there is the vote - and I expect that there will be one. I asked the leave of the House in the later part of this morning to put a time limit of five minutes on all speeches to try to get through as many as possible. Members from all parties will have a chance to speak at some length.
The House gave leave when the matter was put before lunch.
Sir John Gorman:
During last week's discussion, I was struck by the words of Bishop Mehaffey, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry. I agree with him that many elements in the Nationalist tradition have failed to appreciate the sense of hurt and loss felt in Unionist circles over the Government's decision to implement, almost in full, the Patten Report. Nor do they understand the Protestant - and I use the word advisedly - sense of policing which differs from the concept of policing held by most Nationalists.
The first duty of the police is to uphold law and order; its purpose is not to be owned by any section of the community - by the Unionist tradition any more than by the Nationalist tradition.
When I spoke in the Ulster Hall in support of the RUC, I made the point that the name of the force was hated by those who had reason to fear retribution for their murderous activities. It would be a shame if the SDLP were to find common cause with them today - I hope this does not occur.
Since that rally, there has been a new factor in the equation. The most cherished award for civilian bravery - the George Cross - has been awarded to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The designation "Royal" was also vouchsafed by the sovereign. Neither award can be removed by political sleight of hand. Would it be right for the RUC to be treated in the same fashion as the traitor Anthony Blunt? The presentation of the George Cross will be an extraordinary occasion.
But will the present plan proceed? Even in its attenuated state, the Lords threw out the jury Bill last week. I know that some will say that Blair has a 170-seat majority, but if the Lords show the same virility over Patten's plan and reject its worst features, will the Government want yet another battle with them? We shall have to wait and see.
Surely even Patten's power, which we have already seen has had the effect of reprieving his dogs Whiskey and Soda from quarantine, must not be invulnerable to the persuasive power of those who see the injustice and obeisance to hatred which the name change represents.
The two DUP Ministers have been calling on the UUP to withdraw from the Executive. If they feel so strongly about this and believe it will do any good, why do they not have the courage of their convictions and take the lead?
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Will the Member give way?
Sir John Gorman:
No; I have only two minutes left.
They insist this battle be fought not here but at Westminster. Has no one in the "No surrender" party learned the lessons for Unionism of repeated boycotts? If anyone in the DUP dares to suggest that the UUP is not prepared to fight on this issue, he will have me to deal with - [Interruption]
Face the Chair.
Sir John Gorman:
I will face wherever I want.
Sir John Gorman:
I challenge anyone on their Benches to match my credentials on this issue.
While I support the spirit of today's motion, we must understand what it represents is an attempt to rend asunder the middle ground in this Assembly, to create a split between the UUP and the SDLP and to undermine confidence in the new arrangements. I urge the SDLP not to fall into that trap but instead to heed the advice of the Catholic bishops and show some generosity of spirit. It can best do this by addressing Msgr Faul's suggestion of a dual name - a name that both traditions can feel comfortable with and identify with. Any lack of confidence in the police on the part of Nationalists should not be replaced by a lack of confidence in another section of the community.
As it stands, the Patten Report in its entirety has not received cross-community approval. That should be no less of a concern than if the situation were reversed. It would be folly for constitutional Nationalists to forget that the agreement talks of a police service acceptable to all - Unionists as well as Nationalists. We on these Benches have taken on board the need for police reform and a changed security environment.
Order. I must ask you to bring your remarks to a close.
Sir John Gorman:
It is time for those on the Benches opposite to take seriously what the Unionist Party is saying.
Mr A Maginness:
I assure Sir John Gorman that the SDLP has never had common cause with paramilitaries of any kind, nor will it in the future.
The debate has been disappointing. I was dismayed by some of the remarks by Unionist Members, particularly among the DUP. Perhaps that is not surprising. The reality is that there seems to be a blind failure by the DUP and the general body of Unionism to realise that police reform is essential to our future. The DUP made no attempt to admit that there was something wrong with the way in which the RUC was constituted, that it was not representative and that it was far from being an effective policing service.
The criticisms of the SDLP and, indeed, of Seamus Mallon who acted for many years as our justice spokesman, were unwarranted. The SDLP has given consistent leadership on the policing debate. It has consistently criticised the RUC and policing in Northern Ireland. It has highlighted the inadequacy of the RUC as a policing service and its failure to provide effective and representative policing in Northern Ireland. That case has been consistently put over the past 25 years. The Patten Report vindicated our position because it recognised the inadequacy of the RUC.
Our position has nothing to do with Sinn Féin, which has adopted an unrealistic stance in calling for the disbandment of the RUC. We want to see a transformation of policing in Northern Ireland through the implementation of the radical policing reforms which Patten represents. Patten provides an opportunity and a challenge for all Members. Our reputations as politicians could be determined by how we respond to this issue.
Naturally, we are divided in the Assembly and have different political points of view. But I suspect that we are united by a common vision of creating a police service that would naturally attract and enjoy, rather than command, the loyalty and support of the widest possible spectrum of our society.
Much has been said today about the gardaí. It is useful to look at the history of the gardaí which was formed in the midst of a civil war in the Irish Free State. It managed successfully to establish itself as a legitimate police service despite the political turmoil of the early 1920s. Part of its success was due to the decision to abandon guns for normal duties and to create a truly civilian police service for the whole community. As Commissioner Staines, the first Commissioner of the gardaí, said
"The civic guard will succeed not by force of arms, or numbers, but on their moral authority as servants of the people."
I hope that the new policing service will learn that lesson and create a moral authority as servants of all the people of Northern Ireland, irrespective of their political viewpoints.
There is little doubt that throughout its history the RUC was not acceptable to the Nationalist community, and the Hunt report illustrated that. At its highest, Catholic membership of the RUC was at 11%, very little different from the level during the course of the troubles.
May I end by saying that an American police expert who visited me recently was of the opinion that Patten was a blueprint for the policing of any society in today's world. That is a great tribute to Commissioner Patten and his esteemed colleagues such as Senator Maurice Hayes, Miss Kathleen O'Toole and Mr Peter Smith QC. These are men and women of learning and wisdom to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Rev Dr William McCrea:
The 19 January 2000 was a dark day for the people of Ulster. On that day the gravy train of concessions to the IRA continued firmly on the Belfast Agreement track, and the gallant members of the RUC and the RUCR were bundled together to be led as lambs to the slaughter. The Secretary of State had the audacity to tell the House of Commons
"In the last 30 years, the Royal Ulster Constabulary has faced demands completely unlike those faced by any other force in the United Kingdom or, indeed, elsewhere in the developed world. I would like to place on record the Government's deep admiration for the courage, resilience and professionalism with which the RUC has met these challenges. The accounts that I have heard of personal tragedy, pain and loss in the RUC family are profoundly moving and humbling. Three hundred and two officers have been killed, and many thousands injured. We all owe the RUC a huge debt of gratitude."
This all sounds wonderful, and with such a recommendation one would have expected a different announcement from the one that followed that statement by the Secretary of State. He said that, in spite of its professionalism, courage and resilience, it had to go. And not only did it have to go, but every vestige of it had to go too - the badge and every other recognisable RUC symbol.
One must ask this question: how did we ever get ourselves into this mess? The answer lies with those yes-men of the Belfast Agreement. Mr Ken Maginnis claimed that he had achieved an outstanding success in getting the police issue on to the agenda - it was not there, but he got it on. Now, having got it on and having read the Patten Report, he tells us that he is totally dismayed because the RUC has been degraded, demeaned and denigrated by the Secretary of State.
That is interesting. Did the Secretary of State not say in the House of Commons that the security spokesman for the UUP was using rhetoric in the House and that his remarks were more hostile in public than those he made in private. In other words, he says one thing in public and another thing in private. That was an interesting confession by the Secretary of State.
Then Mr Trimble was asked about the RUC. He referred to the police controversy as
"a very difficult issue that is bound to cause problems."
"Many people feel - and I share the feelings myself - that we did not get the mixture just right yesterday."
What is he talking about? Whom does he think he is talking about? They "did not get the mixture just right". But he says that he will continue to work at it - put a little more salt into the wounds of those who are already hurting. Concerning the "mixture" that Mr Trimble says "we did not get just right yesterday", an RUC member whose legs were blown off in a booby-trap bomb said
"The dirty tramps. They paid no heed to our feelings, but then I always suspected they would get their way. It has been concession after concession after concession. It seems that the bomb and the bullet win every time."
We call this a peace process, but in reality what is it? It is a piece-by-piece process on the road to Dublin, a process that will destroy not only the United Kingdom but everything that is recognised as being good and decent in our society, such as the RUC and the RUCR.
We should not be surprised when Sir John Gorman tells us that the Ulster Unionists are going to take a stand for the RUC. That will be interesting. What about the stand they took for the Ulster Special Constabulary? What about the stand they took for the Ulster Defence Regiment? Is this the type of stand that is going to be taken for the RUC?
I heard others talking pious words today. It was interesting to hear Sinn Féin talking -indeed, the Member for Foyle spoke. What she did not tell us, when she said that the RUC must go, was that her son was sentenced to imprisonment for trying to murder an RUC man. The gun did not fire. Also, she did not say that her husband was a member of the UDR. We ought to be proud of the RUC. It is time for Ministers to do the decent thing and resign. The First Minister should give the lead - his resignation would really mean something.
Mr G Kelly:
A Chathaoirligh, I see they are calling for resignations again.
It is no surprise that the DUP is defending the RUC - it is a Unionist force and has been since partition. It was put in as an armed political force to represent Unionism and to be used against Nationalists and Republicans. There is a myth - and the DUP and other Unionists are in denial of this - that the RUC served the whole community in the North. I would like to know where that myth came from. From the inception of partition the make-up has been 90% Protestant.
There is another myth which says that Catholics were intimidated out of the RUC, or were intimidated from joining it. Again, I refer to the statistics. Well before the last 30 years that people keep referring to, the figures were very consistent. From the inception of this statelet the make-up of the RUC has been 90% Protestant.
It used emergency laws during the whole of that time. Incidentally, one of the South African Presidents, before the end of apartheid, said that he would give up all of his past laws, and emergency law, for one clause in the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act. That is the type of emergency law and paramilitary policing that we have been faced with over the past 80 years.
The DUP and the Ulster Unionists deny this. They have never even admitted doing anything wrong politically, never mind the RUC. They have come through a series of organisations including the RUC Reserve and the UDR, all of which were sectarian in their make-up. They were looked upon by Nationalists - and there is a lot of evidence to support this view - as a very political police force over that time. The DUP and Ulster Unionists are in denial because they do not think that anything ever went wrong here, so why should they want the RUC done away with?
The RUC has been criticised and condemned by many reputable human rights groups, and we cannot ignore that. Whatever I may say about it, why ignore those groups? They are the European Court of Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the United Nations Committee on Torture, the United Nations Special Rapporteur, the European Parliament's International Relations Committee, the International Relations Committee of the US Congress and Amnesty International, among others.
There is a strong desire, as shown by the Good Friday Agreement, for a real policing service that will serve the whole community. That desire - and I have listened to the DUP - is greater in the Nationalist heartland because they are the people who have suffered its lack. The desire for a policing service is very genuine and important. It was an essential part of the Good Friday Agreement that we all signed up to - except the DUP, of course. The litmus test for any police service that may emerge lies not with me or with anybody sitting on these Benches. The litmus test is whether young people in Ardoyne, or Ballymurphy, or the Bogside, or South Armagh believe that this is a policing service that they can join.
Why did Catholic youth not join the RUC? Because the combined force of the RUC and the British Army has been directly involved in 360 deaths, half of them civilians. No member of the RUC has ever been convicted of murder in all that time.
There is evidence of collusion between the RUC and Loyalist death squads, and the sheer volume of personal details that have been released can only be guessed at. We have documentation that proves collusion through a number of informers and agents such as Brian Nelson, who is probably the best-known of them. The Pat Finucane killing; the Robert Hamill killing; and the Rosemary Nelson killing all show the depth and extent of the collusion. The famous wall of silence within the RUC in the face of belated inquiries shows again what type of organisation it has been and why Catholics do not join it.
There are all sorts of reasons why the RUC is not acceptable and why Nationalists should not join it. Through the Stalker and Sampson inquiries we learned that the RUC was trained by the SAS.
Please bring your remarks to a close.
Mr G Kelly:
I will come to my conclusion very quickly. I am opposing the motion, not because I support the Patten Report, which falls short of what is needed -
Mr G Kelly:
Sinn Féin will wait for the legislation. Let me finally say this. The policing service is not a concession to anyone. Either we need a policing service or we do not. Let us have a proper policing service.
All Members need to hold to time, otherwise they just call back and forwards to each other across the Chamber. Particularly during a debate about law and order outside the Chamber, Members should remember to preserve law and order inside.
Many of the original 175 Patten Report proposals make sense. That is not surprising, since roughly 160 of them were anticipated by previous studies, such as the RUC's own fundamental review. However, there are two basic flaws in both the Patten Report and the Secretary of State's recent statement.
First, there is the assertion that the proposals follow on from the terms of the Belfast Agreement. Secondly, there is the idea that the changes now proposed are either necessary or sufficient to engineer the wider community acceptance of policing that all of us here wish for.
I will deal initially with the relationship between the Belfast Agreement and the Patten Report. It has been asserted that there is a strong link between the two, but the Belfast Agreement simply laid down the terms of reference for the Commission. The final recommendations do not follow inexorably or necessarily from the agreement.
In this debate we have witnessed an unholy alliance between Chris Patten - who has argued that the Belfast Agreement is the cover, as it were, for his recommendations - and those people who represent the "No" side of Unionism and who will use the Patten and Mandelson reforms as further ammunition to hurl against the structure of the Belfast Agreement. All this is rank hypocrisy from members of a party who have often hurled verbal abuse, or worse, against the same RUC whose best defenders they now claim to be. I noted earlier the strong rhetoric from the Minister for Social Development, among others, but if the DUP really felt so strongly about the Mandelson statement, why were its MPs not present in the Commons when he made it? The image of the DUP as the guardian of the future of the RUC brings to mind the idea of Charles Manson endorsing Barnardo's.