Northern Ireland Assembly Flax Flower Logo

Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 8 October 2001


Exclusion of Sinn Féin

Oral Answers to Questions

Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

Department for Regional Development

Department of the Environment

Exclusion of Sinn Féin


The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.


Exclusion of Sinn Féin

Mr Speaker:

I propose to conduct proceedings in accordance with the decisions of the Business Committee, which has allocated four hours to the debate. As the next two motions relate to the exclusion of members of a political party from holding ministerial office, I propose to conduct one debate. I will ask Mr Trimble to move the motion, and I will then call Mr Adams to respond. Both those Members may speak for up to 30 minutes. All the timings I am giving are maximum timings, not minimum or normative timings. The debate will then be open to Members, and each of those called may speak for up to 10 minutes.

At the end of the debate, I will call on a Sinn Féin Member to respond and on Mr Trimble or his nominee to make a winding-up speech, each being allocated 15 minutes to do so. I will then put the Question on the first motion, and if the first motion is agreed the second motion falls. If the first motion is negatived, I will call Dr Paisley to move the second motion formally, and, without debate, I will put the Question. I remind Members that the votes on those motions will be on a cross- community basis.

Mr Trimble:

I beg to move

That this Assembly resolves that the political party Sinn Féin does not enjoy the confidence of the Assembly because it is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

The following motion stood in the Order Paper:

That in consequence of, the failure of the Provisional IRA to offer up its illegal weaponry for destruction; the Republican Movement’s continuing terrorist threat, and active pursuit, of terrorist outrages to secure its aims; the maintenance by the IRA of an active terrorist organisation; the growing number of cases of IRA involvement in terrorist activity in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and across the globe; the fact that the Provisional IRA is inextricably linked to Sinn Féin; and the involvement and dominance of members of Sinn Féin in the decision-making "Army Council" of the Provisional IRA, this Assembly resolves that Sinn Féin does not enjoy its confidence because it is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful means, and further, in accordance with Section 30 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, determines that members of Sinn Féin shall be excluded from holding office as Ministers for a period of 12 months from the date of this resolution. - [Rev Dr Ian Paisley]

Mr Trimble:

First, I will explain what the consequences of the motion will be. I expect that later today the motion will be endorsed by a majority of Members. If it fails to receive the requisite cross-community support, it will have no effect. However, if it does receive that support, the motion will effect the removal of Sinn Féin Ministers from office. I wish to make that clear from the outset. The draft of the motion sticks to the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. A motion passed on those terms will exclude that party’s representatives from office. We decided that there was no point in having any surplus verbiage. If the motion does not receive the requisite cross-community support, my party and I shall act. First, we shall withdraw; secondly, the Ulster Unionist Ministers will resign. We will follow that procedure with the objective of bringing about the complete and indefinite suspension of the Assembly. I hope that that will be achieved in a week or two.

Our withdrawal will mean that we shall not participate in Executive business, which means that the Executive will not meet. The purpose of the interval is to enable Ministers to tidy their desk and arrange an orderly transfer of responsibility to those who succeed them. At the begin­ning of next week, I shall announce the precise arrange­ments for resignation. I say that to make our position clear.

I wish to express my appreciation to the Progressive Unionist Party for its support of the motion. Some people have expressed surprise that we have accepted that support, but we are glad of it. As I stated at the first sitting of the Assembly, we have always taken the position that the fact that people have a past, does not mean that they cannot have a future. We knew that when we embarked on the process, which we hoped would be transitional. I have no doubt about the PUP’s commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

As the Speaker said, the DUP motion will be moved should the Ulster Unionist Party motion fail to achieve the requisite cross-community support. We shall support that motion, as it will have the same effect as our motion.

We have tabled the motion because, in the past three and a half years - indeed in the 17 months that we have been in office - the Republican movement has failed to demonstrate that it is committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. We embarked upon the process in the belief that it would be a process of transition, giving an opportunity to those who have been involved in paramilitarism to leave violence behind, move into the democratic process and commit them­selves to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. That opportunity existed. We have been patient, but it is now more than seven years since the Downing Street declaration first put that to the test. It has been more than three and a half years since the agreement was made, and we have had periods of office that amount to 20 months. There has been ample opportunity for transition. We have been extremely patient, but we have not seen any evidence.

The key element that has been used as a litmus test of commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means is the decommissioning of weapons and other materiel. Decommissioning has always been important, and other parties recognise that. It is not responsible to leave lying around many hundreds, if not thousands, of weapons and quantities of bomb-making material in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Modern weapons do not rust if they are stored carefully - which is probably the case in these instances - so the danger is always present. It is important that decom­missioning take place, not only to deprive other people of the opportunity of using the weapons, but as an indication that people are not reserving for themselves the possibility of a future resort to violence. It is an indicator of future intent.

If there had been any clear expressions of future intent over the past three and a half years, things might have been different. We did not even receive what I asked for on the afternoon of 10 April 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, which was for people to say that the war was over. There have been no clear statements or any clear actions to indicate intent.

As others have done, we must emphasise that the retention of a private army shows that there is no com­mitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. Even if the private army were wholly inactive, its mere existence shows that those people are not committed to exclusively peaceful means. If one is committed to exclu­sively peaceful means, there will be no private army.

I shall restate the commitments that were made and will go back to the agreement and beyond, right back to the Mitchell principles, published in January 1996 and endorsed by Sinn Féin. Then, Sinn Féin said that they would be committed to

"democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations; to agree that such disarmament must be verifiable to the satisfaction of an independent commission; to renounce for themselves, and to oppose any efforts by others, to use force, or threaten to use force, to influence the course or the outcome of all-party negotiations; to agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in all-party negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree; and to urge that ‘punishment’ killings and beatings stop and to take effective steps to prevent such actions."

I have read out the Mitchell principles in full because they are, sadly, still relevant to the state of society in Northern Ireland. Those principles were agreed by the parties in January 1996, and here we are in October 2001. Have all parties in the Chamber taken effective steps to prevent punishment killings and beatings? They have not.

The Mitchell principles were subsequently incor­porated in the Good Friday Agreement. The commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means is cited again and again in the agreement. I could refer to para­graph 4 of the declaration of support, or to paragraph (b) of the Pledge of Office in annex A of strand one, in which there is reference to the commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means. There are over half a dozen points at which that commitment occurs. That is the first Mitchell principle.

12.15 pm

The second Mitchell principle, which refers to

"the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations"

is also in the agreement, in the section on decom­missioning. Paragraph 3 states:

"All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations."

That in itself is a commitment and an obligation. That in itself imposes an obligation on all participants with regard to the disarmament of paramilitary organisations. I know that there is a qualification to that - the qual­ification that refers to working constructively and in good faith - which is frequently resorted to by those who pretend that they have no obligation. However, that qualifier is merely a statement that people will act in good faith, which is assumed to be the case for all the obligations that people undertake. In any event, the second sentence, in which it appears, refers only to the time­scale, not the obligation itself. There is no doubt, therefore, that there is an obligation in the agreement. I make that point in order to establish that people have been in breach of that obligation ever since the agreement was made.

The interpretation of the agreement that I have given also gains support from a certain letter - a significant letter - which was sent to me by the Prime Minister on the afternoon of 10 April 1998. It is significant because it was issued and circulated before the agreement was made, and it was not objected to by any party to the agree­ment. Consequently, in so far as it gave us an interpretation of the agreement, it is to be regarded as an authoritative interpretation of that part of the agreement. The letter said:

"I confirm that in our view the effect of the decommissioning section of the agreement, with decommissioning schemes coming into effect in June, is that the process of decommissioning should start right away."

That was written before the agreement was made. It was circulated and not objected to, and, consequently, it is an authoritative interpretation of the agreement. Therefore, since June 1998 Republicans - Sinn Féin - have been in breach of the agreement.

We would all have liked the Government to have been more active in enforcing that obligation and in proceeding against those who were in breach of the agreement. The obvious way to do that would have been by linking decommissioning with prisoner releases. Unfortunately, they did not do that. However, because of the failure of Republicans to keep to the agreement - they were in breach of the agreement - the Government, on two occasions, proposed modifications to the procedures in the agreement in response. The first of those was included in the Hillsborough declaration of 1 April 1999. Proposed nominations for the posts of Ministers were to be made, but those would fail to take effect if there were no decommissioning. Secondly, the paper of 2 July 1999, entitled ‘The Way Forward’, formally proposed the suspen­sion of devolution if no decommissioning occurred.

There are three important points about those papers. First, in the paper of 1 April 1999, Sinn Féin expressly accepted the obligation to decommission. The paper said:

"There is agreement among all parties that decommissioning is not a pre-condition but is an obligation deriving from their commitment in the Agreement."

It also stated:

"Sinn Féin have acknowledged these obligations."

The obligation was in the agreement, and Sinn Féin was in breach of it from June 1998. In June 1998, as Members will recall, Sinn Féin was in denial about the obligation, but in April 1999 it expressly accepted the obligation.

The 2 July paper reaffirmed the principles agreed by the parties on 25 June, which put inclusiveness and decommissioning side by side. The parties agreed to three principles on 25 June: the principle of an inclusive Executive; the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons by May 2000; and decommissioning to be carried out in a manner determined by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. Those three principles were agreed, and I noticed at the time that Mr Pat Doherty of Sinn Féin said that the three principles - firmly embedded in the terms of the Good Friday Agree­ment - could resolve the impasse if there was the political will. Over the past three years, where was the political will? Where was the absence of will? Some things have happened, and some things have not.

The third point is that the 2 July paper provided for suspension, and that was agreed by the Irish Government. A myth is growing, supported by some so-called academic writers, that suspension in some way creates constitutional difficulties for the Irish Government; that is bunkum. The Irish Government agreed and proposed suspension. The 2 July paper itself said that the Governments - plural -

"undertake that, in accordance with the review provisions of the agreement, if commitments under the agreement are not met, either in relation to decommissioning or to devolution, they will automatically, and with immediate effect, suspend the operation of the institutions set up by the agreement."

The words

"automatically and with immediate effect"

are useful in the present context. Indeed, the Irish Prime Minister made his support for suspension in that situation explicit when he said in the Dáil on 23 November 1999 that, if there were default, the two Governments would

"step in and assume their responsibilities, including . appropriate suspension arrangements."

Unfortunately, as we know, there was no progress during the summer of 1999. It was not until after the Mitchell review that devolution occurred. Indeed, in bringing devolution about at the end of November 1999, we demonstrated our political will. The best - though rather pithy - statement about the precise content of that review was that made by the deputy leader of the SDLP, Mr Mallon, who said that the SDLP had been told by Senator Mitchell that he understood that devolution would happen on 29 November and that decommissioning would start by the end of January 2000. That was, indeed, the understanding. From my own direct knowledge, I can say that the Sinn Féin negotiators were left in absolutely no doubt by us, and by George Mitchell, about the importance of 31 January. It was made absolutely clear:

"31 January is the final cut-off date".

We proceeded to put devolution in place on the under­standing that there would be decommissioning, but unfortunately, by 31 January, it had not happened. That prompted the Government, in fulfilment of their promise, to suspend the Assembly and its associated institutions in February 2000. It is rather sad that, in October 2001, we are back at exactly the same point, without having made as much progress as we would have liked.

Suspension in 2000 produced results. One result came as the 22 May deadline loomed - there was movement from Republicans in the shape of the IRA statement of 6 May 2000. The crucial aspect of that statement was the promise made by the Republican movement that it would initiate a process that would put its weapons beyond use and, moreover, that it would do so in a way that would maximise public confidence. We look back at May 2000 and ask ourselves what exactly has been done to maximise public confidence.

The Governments, of course, had some foreknowledge of that statement. We know that because, on the previous day - 5 May - they made a statement that set June 2001 as the date for the full implementation of the agree­ment. In that context, full implementation includes decom­mission­ing. The Governments made that statement because we were approaching 22 June 2000 - the deadline set in the agreement - without decommissioning. The deadline for full implementation was moved forward to June 2001.

On the basis of the promise made by Republicans, we agreed to re-form the administration, and we did that. Moreover, we re-formed it in a way that did not set an explicit time for reconsideration. In our operations in June 1999, we had announced a date on which the Ulster Unionist Council would meet to consider the situation. We did not make that an explicit deadline, although people interpreted it as such and we were criticised for that. On re-forming the administration, we did not there­fore set any explicit time for reconsideration. The leader of Sinn Féin will recall that we spoke together on one occasion immediately after the summer of 2000. On that occasion, I lamented the fact that we were not seeing steady progress on the decommissioning track and said that, without progress, a crisis would be inevitable - even if we did nothing.

I explained our position to our party conference on 7 October. I am tempted to recall the precise words that I used on that occasion, but I will not, because time is pressing. I made it clear that we would take action if Republicans failed to make progress. I did not announce the action at that stage, because I suspected that some of my dearly beloved party colleagues would use Sinn Féin’s failure to move as an excuse to summon a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, with a view to changing party policy. Although we had a clear plan of action on 7 October, we held back until 27 October. On that day, I announced our decision to exclude Sinn Féin represent­atives from participation in the North/South Ministerial Council. We have sustained that exclusion since and will, if necessary, continue to sustain it until such times as the Sinn Féin Ministers demonstrate clearly that they are no longer in breach of the agreement. So far they have failed to do that, but we hope that they will.

The Minister of Education (Mr McGuinness):

Will the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party give way?

Mr Trimble:

No. I am sorry, but I will not give way. I am running short of time. I am often told that, at party meetings, I bore the party into submission and it looks as though I am doing that on this occasion.

We took action in October with regard to Sinn Fein’s failure. We proceeded in a careful and graduated way. There was a reason for that. We are not using decommissioning as an excuse to destroy devolution. Our objective was, and is, to achieve devolution and decommissioning; even my opponents in the party understood that. The alternative proposals put to the council on that date - over the signature of, among others, Jeffrey Donaldson - expressly endorsed the concept of inclusive devolution. The sig­nificance of that has not been fully appreciated.

We could not wait for ever. We had consultations in the party in January, and there was a consensus that 2001, the date set by the Government, was the key date. To convey the importance of that to the public, I made it clear on the anniversary of the IRA promise that if there were no decommissioning by June, I would resign with effect from 1 July. I kept my promise.

A further three months have elapsed, and it is, consequently, inevitable that we come to this point. The motion and the consequent withdrawal of Ministers are the logical and inevitable results of that resignation, and that was the inevitable consequence of the failure of the Republican movement to keep its word.

When I announced the resignation on 8 May, there was an interesting comment in ‘The Irish News’ editorial the following day:

"the circumstances might have been different if the IRA ceasefire had been properly observed, but this has simply not been the case."

Nor has it. There have been 30 murders by the IRA since the ceasefires, and matters are not improving. We cannot see any progress on that.

12.30 pm

We have seen the dreadful behaviour that has been occurring in north Belfast; the behaviour of the Loyalists in Ardoyne is dreadful. However, we must bear in mind that that comes after Sinn Féin spent the summer hotting up the interfaces of north Belfast and after an attack, in June, by Republicans on Loyalists in the Protestant part of Ardoyne. Therefore one must remember where the origins of that were.

After the summer I said that Republicans have no credibility left with any segment of Unionist opinion and very little credibility without it. I hope, even at this late stage, that Republicans will make some effort to rebuild credibility, but they must do it clearly, cleanly, openly and honestly. I hope that that happens.

There are two motions today. There was the possibility of a joint motion with the DUP. I was not enthusiastic about a joint motion. It would have made the debate a clash between two sectarian blocks - Unionists on this side and Nationalists on the other. I thought that undesirable. To avoid that situation I was prepared to risk what might have been the embarrassing consequence of not getting the necessary signatures. I did not want to turn the debate into a sectarian confront­ation. There are some Members who would like that, but I do not want that. I must ask the SDLP to consider carefully what it will do. Will it allow the debate to become a purely sectarian confrontation? Will it vote with Sinn Féin purely out of sectarian solidarity? Will it endorse the position that I think it ought to - namely, that a clear obligation has not been kept and there are consequences that must flow from that? If it is not prepared to do that now, when will it do that? How much longer must we wait? We have waited three and a half years since the agreement. We have waited nearly a year and a half since forming the Administration. Promises that were made by Republicans during that time have not been kept; violence has continued. There comes a point where a line must be drawn or the community will come to the conclusion that the process is failing and will not achieve its results.

As was said in one of the Dublin newspapers yesterday, the action that I am taking is done in the hope that we will preserve the agreement. There is more to the agree­ment than the participation of Sinn Féin, desirable though that might be. We must consider how to preserve what is important and see whether that can still provide a basis for society here to move on. I hope that it will, but I believe that the action we are taking today is necessary, just as it was in February 2000. I believe that it will be fruitful, just as that action was fruitful. The only question is how long we will have to wait, and that is a question I must leave with others.

We are debating the issue against the background of another bigger conflict and the consequences of terrorism elsewhere. It would be appropriate for my Colleagues and I, and for many people in the Chamber, to say that, while we must focus on our own circumstances, we do so conscious of a sense of solidarity with those people in the United States who were recently the victims of terrorism; with the American and British Governments in the action that they are taking and with our own armed forces that have been in action today. They have our full support and will continue to have it, regardless of what problems we have here. We are conscious that we operate in a wider world and have obligations to the rest of our nation and to the world as a whole.

Mr Adams:

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeachas a dhéanamh le David Ford mar Cheannaire Pháirtí an Chomhaontais; agus ba mhaith liom fosta an t-ádh a ghuí leis an iarCheannaire, Seán Neeson, agus lena bhean chéile.

Before I respond to what Mr Trimble said, I want to congratulate David Ford on his elevation to the leadership of the Alliance Party and to wish Sean Neeson, his family and his wife best wishes for the time ahead.

In considering the motion and figuring out the best way to approach it, I will try to be reasoned and reasonable, because everyone here has a very serious responsibility. For too long we have tended to see processes, the future and even each other’s remarks from a very sectional viewpoint. The motion reads:

"That this Assembly resolves that the political party Sinn Féin does not enjoy the confidence of the Assembly because it is not committed to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means."

I could bridle against that, or I could outline the background of the Members on the opposite Benches who are either in the armed forces of the state or the unnofficial armed forces of the state. However, I will not do that because I agree with David Trimble - the fact that a person has a past does not mean that he cannot have a future.

I want to make one thing clear: there is no basis for the exclusion of this party or for motions to exclude this party. There is no basis in the agreement for this sort of motion. I listened to what Mr Trimble said, and I want to make it clear that Sinn Féin has honoured every commitment that it made. It may not be good enough, and the party has a lot more to do, but it has tried to play a positive, leadership role in the peace process. Sinn Féin has taken risks; it changed its party policy; it changed its party constitution and created real initiatives - all to advance the peace process and demonstrate a real, forward-thinking way of advancing the search for peace. The motion is about the battle within Unionism - it is about the battle for the leadership of Unionism at this difficult time for Unionism.

Sinn Féin has worked hard and consistently in the Assembly. The party’s two Ministers - the Minister of Education, Martin McGuinness, and the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Bairbre de Brún - have carried out their duties without favour and in an exemplary manner. At every level of the structures that were established under the agreement - the all-Ireland structures, the implementation bodies and the Committees - Sinn Féin members have performed their duties with diligence. I reject the motion, and I reject the accusations that were directed at the party to excuse the behaviour of Unionism.

No one is surprised at the motion from the DUP. Some of the smaller parties that have become smaller since they came in here are resolutely opposed to the peace process and have said so from the very beginning. The DUP never had the gumption to deal with the issues properly with Sinn Féin or the Ulster Unionist Party. At every opportunity the DUP has sought to undermine and frustrate the potential for progress and the Good Friday Agreement. It does so because it is against change - that is the reason. It is against the principles of inclusiveness, and equality and justice. The DUP draws its aspirations and inspirations from the old failed politics of the apartheid system that used to exist here. It is anti-Catholic, anti- Nationalist and anti-democratic - [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


Mr Adams:

The DUP’s political philosophy, which is shared by some legal types opposite me, is based on discrimination, prejudice and real fear. It has a lack of confidence in itself to make peace and to move forward with other people.

I reject that philosophy, as will all thinking people. However, the DUP has a mandate, which we must recognise. We must try to come to terms with that party’s opposite view of the world. It is also interesting that, of all the parties, the DUP takes the most delight from being here and from the influence that comes with attendance of this institution. Essentially, the DUP’s big problem is that there are Fenians about the place - and that we are Fenians who are unrepentant, who can represent our constituency, and who also have a vision for the future.

Regretfully, there are those in the UUP who share that odd, quaint and played-out old view of the world. While some in the UUP signed up for the Good Friday Agreement, they did not really support the fundamental changes that it required. From the beginning they refused to embrace the principles at the heart of the agreement. They engaged tactically and initiated an approach, the purpose of which was to dilute the potential of that historic breakthrough.

David Trimble was forthright earlier. In his letter of last October, and in his remarks to the UUP conference, he said that he was about achieving suspension of the institutions by creating a rolling crisis within the process and seeking to blame Republicans and Nationalists.

I have no doubt that the issue of weapons is a huge one for Unionists, as it is for Republicans and Nationalists. Many people listening to the debate will question whether the focus is on only one section of the arms debate. They will ask why Unionism is silent, or at the very most mumbling, about the almost 250 bomb attacks and the other killings and attempted killings that have taken place. The Unionists must also bear in mind that many people do not understand why a Unionist leader has not walked up to Holy Cross Primary School with the little Catholic schoolchildren.

Secondly, Members on this side of the Chamber may appreciate that there are real concerns in the Unionist fixation on IRA guns. Apart from the tactical use of the issue as a blockage and a precondition for progress, there are other real concerns. We must ask ourselves how we can seek to sort that out. Can it be sorted out with people who will not even talk to us - people who are perhaps decent enough within their own families, but who reduce the debate to cat-calling across the Floor? Can it be sorted out with people who are in denial, who will not even ask why there had to be a peace process and a Good Friday Agreement in the first place? [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:


Mr Adams:

Mr Trimble brought us to the core of the flaw in the process. That flaw was the letter that Mr Blair gave him at the time of the Good Friday Agreement negotiations. We all know that the letter is worthless, but Unionists have clung to it since then, and that is the fault-line. Every crisis since that Good Friday can be traced to that point. The letter showed a willingness on behalf of the British Government to pander to Unionism, to acquiesce to a Unionist veto and to create a space for those who wanted to hollow out, and seek a renegotiation of, the agreement.

It is also clear that the British Government has not honoured its obligations or commitments under the Good Friday Agreement - on policing and demilitarisation, on equality and on justice issues. We have done our best and will continue to do so.

Just for the record, it is worth noting that great progress has been made on a range of issues, not least that of IRA weapons.

12.45 pm

There are two indisputable facts. First, the peace process exists because of initiatives taken by Republicans. While others have conspired to weaken, fracture, collapse or bore us all to submission, we have wedded ourselves to continue a succession of initiatives with the objective of enhancing the process. Secondly, no matter about the heckling or hectoring, the lies and false accusations, Sinn Féin is determined to do all it can to make this process work and to make it work in the interests of all the people of this island.

The issue of weapons can be resolved - that is my clear view. I also believe that if Unionists, the British Government, the Irish Government and all the other parties are prepared to work together in a true partnership, we can collectively, as the Good Friday Agreement says, achieve this goal as quickly as possible. I have said many times, and I am sure you will agree, that it is not possible to resolve this issue on terms laid down by the DUP, or indeed the UUP and the British Government, or on the basis of threat, veto or ultimatum. It can be worked out only on the basis of the Good Friday Agreement. And what is the mechanism for that - the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD). The IICD together with all armed groups should be allowed to get on with making that mechanism work.

Last month a historic breakthrough was rejected by Unionists - a mistake in my view. The historic break­through was when the IICD announced that it had agreed a scheme with the IRA to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use. It is also in the public arena that the IRA continues to be engaged with the commission. Now, if I have to listen and try to understand what Unionism is saying, Unionism has to understand, or at least try to understand it, when I say that these are not small, unimportant events.

No one who lived in, and survived, the 1970s, the 1980s, most of the 1990s, or who has any understanding at all of conflict resolution, Republican history or theology, would have considered any of these things possible back then. In a Republican context, these are huge develop­ments. They actually point, if you have the vision to see it, to a future free from IRA weapons. But what has Unionism done? It has walked away from these openings. It refused to engage when these openings were created, and it is now threatening to walk away from the political institutions. Unionism, which said that Republicans would walk away, is now threatening to bring down the institutions. Mr Trimble has been found to have acted unlawfully. As a man of the law, legally trained in that profession, I am sure he finds this very irksome. He is the only one - the only one - who has been found to have acted unlawfully. It is he who is ignoring the mandates of all the other parties, the referendums on the Good Friday Agreement itself, his responsibilities and obligations and the obligations of his party under the agreement.

Ten days ago, at the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis in Dublin, I said that there was no easy way to sort these issues out. I reiterated my commitment, and that of our leadership, to playing a positive leadership role in bringing a permanent end to political conflict on our island, including the end of physical-force Republicanism. Maybe Unionists do not believe me when I say that, but I am committed to it - I have said it publicly. I wonder if Unionism really wants the end of physical-force Republicanism. I am put in mind very much of James Molyneaux’s remarks that the IRA cessation of 1994 was the most disturbing develop­ment in the history of this statelet.

Coming out of 30 years of conflict, all of us perhaps have to learn that when Republicans take initiatives, they are seen as threatening by Unionists, and when Unionists behave as they do and say the things they do, that is seen as threatening by Republicans and Nationalists.

In respect of all of that, I am on a learning curve. I believe that Mr Trimble - though he may deny it - believes that we who have met him are committed to peaceful and democratic means. In my heart and mind, I believe that very clearly.

We have to continue to work in that broad Republican constituency, which has suffered grievously. There is no monopoly on suffering, but it has suffered grievously since partition. We are trying to bring an end to all of the armed groups, including the Irish Republican Army.

However, perhaps to the great joy of those on the opposite Benches, Sinn Féin will not be any part of any effort to criminalise or to deem as terrorists those men and women who fought when they thought that they had no option, but who seized - [Interruption].

Mr Speaker:

Order. Members in all other areas in the Chamber seem to have sufficient emotional continence to sit and listen to what is happening, and sufficient confidence in their spokesmen, that when necessary they will express their views. It is in the interest of the whole House that Members who are on their feet be listened to.

Mr Adams:

Go raibh maith agat. We will not be part of any effort to criminalise, or to deem as terrorists, those men and women who fought when they considered that they had no choice, but who had the integrity, the courage and the wisdom to support a peace process when they had that choice.

Let me go further: as I said at the burial place of Tom Williams, there are brave people on all sides of each conflict. There are brave people in the British forces, in the Loyalist forces and among those who fought on the Irish Republican side. We have that shared past, and I urge Unionists to think again.

I urge Unionists to not turn their backs on the potential for permanent peace and a new future, and to take up the leadership challenge presented to us all by the process. I ask those more enlightened Unionists who might believe that there is such a thing as pluralist Unionism to stop looking over their shoulders at less progressive elements, including the quaintly named Democratic Unionist Party, or even those in their own party who represent a minority opinion. They should give leadership to the section of Unionism that voted for the Good Friday Agreement.

Not for one second do I underestimate the difficulties that the process poses and represents to Unionists. I do not think that people on the opposite Benches really appreciate the difficulties that it also presents for Republicans or Nationalists. However, notwithstanding that, we all have to make peace with each other, and we all have to get into the shadow of each other to get some sense of how to move the process forward.

We want to try to address Unionists’ concerns in a spirit of goodwill and respect, but the process cannot continue to be regarded as a zero-sum gain in which equality, justice and democratic rights and entitlements are seen as concessions to Nationalists and Republicans.

The process is unique - in the Irish and the British experience. It presents us all with an opportunity to reach across divisions and try to shape out a new dispensation. The Good Friday Agreement is three and a half years old. It was a defining moment in the history of Ireland and the Irish peace process. It was the result of lengthy discussions, and of protracted and difficult dialogue.

Unionists were not involved in that process - not with our party - and that is a great pity. At a time of international conflict, when other peace processes continue to disintegrate, and when we have an opportunity to demonstrate that there is another way, I appeal to Unionists not to squander that opportunity. Unionists have a different view of the situation, but they should take note that if the political institutions collapse as a result of Unionism’s refusal to work them, Unionism will have raised the thres­hold when we return to put the institutions together again.

The old days are finished. We are committed to making the current model, even in its flawed and fractured form, work. Unionism must get real; the world has moved on. One-party rule is no longer acceptable. Nationalists and Republicans are no longer a powerless, abandoned, leader­less minority in an Orange state. Those days are gone forever. Unionism is no longer a monolithic power block. "Not an inch", or schoolboy hectoring from the Back Benches, are no longer any substitute for real courage and the ability to carve out a real future for people.

Agus seo iad mo fhocail dheireannacha. The Good Friday Agreement cannot be renegotiated. Conflict is not the way forward; dialogue is the only way forward. I call on the Assembly to reject the motion. Go raibh maith agat.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

I welcome today's debate. I regret that we do not have a joint Unionist motion. However, my party will vote for the Ulster Unionist Party motion, and I welcome the fact that its leader has indicated that his party will vote for our motion. I regret that immediate resignations will not be forthcoming, merely a withdrawal of all Unionists from the Executive. I am glad at that belated withdrawal; they should never have been there in the first place. My party brought down the first appoint­ments to office in the Assembly, which we would do today if we could. We have lodged our letters of resignation, but those resignations should take place immediately and should not be postponed.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has told the people that they must make a choice. Do they side with justice or with terror? The Assembly must face that choice. No amount of special pleading by the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin can cover over the fact that his party is associated in the lodge - if I may call it that - of international terrorism. Who attended his party's conference in Dublin? He had ETA, the Basque terrorist group in Spain, a representation from the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Puerto Rican separatists in attendance. What are his men doing in Colombia with terrorists - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)? That group kidnapped three missionaries from the New Tribes Mission organisation in 1993, whom it has now murdered. Is that freedom fighting? That is an act of murder and terrorism.

IRA/Sinn Féin says that Unionists are not with it. There has been a change across the whole world, and people are opening their eyes to what terrorism is, and what it really intends to do. The regime established in Northern Ireland by the Belfast Agreement shares the same characteristics of that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Men of violence who have actively supported terrorism in any so-called democratic Government can no longer be tolerated in Northern Ireland. That is injustice at its height. It demeans, not enhances, the democratic process.

1.00 pm

Mr Rumsfeld, the US Defense Secretary, said yesterday that harbouring a terrorist carries a price. If Northern Ireland continues to harbour terrorism in its Government that also carries a price. That price has been too high, and the consequences are clear for all to see.

We have a corrupt arrangement that postpones violence until the men of violence require the next concession, then that is followed by another threat of violence, and so strategically escalated concession after concession goes on. Today must mark the end of these concessions. Weapons that have the mark of the murderers' finger­prints on them must be taken in and destroyed, and those who have used them must not be pleaded with to hand them over. The British Government should be honest, cease from their hypocrisy and treat all terrorists alike. They did not send a letter to the Afghan Government saying "Please do this": they demanded it. The Afghan Government did not do it, hence the bombings and the war declared on international terrorism. The so-called peace process has not been moving towards peace but towards concession after concession.

The House has an opportunity to declare that it is with world opinion and with those who believe in democracy, justice, fair play and the right to live. The House can vote to declare on whose side it is. Terrorists have no place in a democracy, no matter from what section of the community they come, and they must realise that there is no place for them until they repent and

"bring forth fruits meet for repentance".

Why does IRA/Sinn Féin want to keep its weapons? Why does it not hand them over? If it is dedicated to peace and living in peace with its Unionist neighbours and the rest of the community, as we have heard today, why does it hold on to its murder weapons? Murder weapons have to be surrendered.

We also have the hiding of those murder weapons and the immunity given to that hiding by the Government of the Irish Republic. Let the Governments of the world come clean on this issue and declare to all terrorists, including IRA/Sinn Féin that is represented in this House, that this day is over. All terrorism must be dealt with, and all terrorists must suffer as a result, by ridding them of the weapons that they keep in reserve so that they can continue to blackmail democratic people and squeeze concessions from them.

The time has come for action. We will not get cross- community support today. Members will not vote for the motion because, along with IRA/Sinn Féin, they are tied in to a process that they think will eventually bring about a united Ireland. I have more votes from the people of Ulster than any other politician in this House or outside, and I say that Ulster's Unionist people will not be beaten. They will stand for what is their right - to decide their future as part of this United Kingdom. No amount of black­mail, murder, terrorism or tormenting the people of this land will bring the Ulster Unionist people to their knees.

We are going to defend that which is our right. With no malice against anyone, we believe that all men should be equal under the law, and all men equally subject to the law. Until the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin learns that lesson, there will be no peace in this Province.

Think of the orphans. Think of the widows. Think of those who mourn today, and as we think of them, let us think of the insult that has been hurled in their faces by Mr Adams that the men who shot down their loved ones were freedom fighters - freedom fighters who killed innocent children and innocent babes-in-arms, who murdered fathers before their families and carried out atrocity after atrocity. When votes of sympathy were passed in public places, they refused even to stand to their feet, but identified themselves with all the terror and bloodletting that had been brought about.

Today, the House must declare what side it is on. Unionists will be declaring that they are not on the side of terror.


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