NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
Monday 5 November 2001
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
I trust that all Members received a draft Order Paper at the weekend and were advised that the draft was subject to approval by the Business Committee. That was not an absolute procedural requirement, but it seemed to me to be a proper way of dealing with matters. The Business Committee met at 9.30 am today and agreed the order of business and timings for today’s proceedings.
I have been asked to rule on two matters. Mr Cedric Wilson asked me to look at Hansard in respect of a comment made by Mr Billy Hutchinson during the debate on 2 November. I told him at the time that I had not heard the comment, but that I would check the Official Report. Hansard reads:
"You’ll never find me hiding behind anyone, you eejit, shut up."
In the 1982-86 Assembly a Member raised a point of order and asked the Speaker at the time, Mr (later Sir) James Kilfedder, whether or not it was in order for a Member to "act the eejit". The Speaker’s ruling was that
"The Member is not acting."
He did not, however, rule that the word "eejit" was unparliamentary.
Regarding the use of the words "shut up", it might have been better if the Member, on a point of order, had asked if the Speaker would rule that the speech was repetitive or otherwise unwelcome to the Floor, rather than use those words. Although they are not unparliamentary, they are perhaps tactless.
The second matter was raised by Mr Edwin Poots, regarding Mr John Kelly’s comment
"What about the terrorists beside you?"
when Mr Robert McCartney was speaking. I recall occasions when DUP Members have used similar terms about Sinn Féin/IRA, as they describe it. On those occasions, when they did not refer to specific Members and there was no legal indication that their comments were correct — if there were, that would be a different matter — I have ruled that it is not unparliamentary. Mr John Kelly did not refer to specific Members, although Mr Poots did. It seems to me therefore that this was also not unparliamentary.
I have received a petition of concern:
"As provided by Standing Order 27 we, the undersigned, submit this petition of concern in resect of the business stipulated below: ‘Motion to Amend Standing Orders’."
I have checked this and it appears to be in order. Members will recall that although the debate on such an issue may take place today, the vote cannot take place until tomorrow at the earliest. There is some uncertainty about this issue. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that a petition of concern is in order to facilitate a cross-community vote. Another good reason for a petition of concern, especially in a legislature that does not have a second Chamber, is that the Assembly has an opportunity to consider the matter overnight and to vote on it the following day. The petition of concern is not only in respect of the cross-community aspect of the legislation; it is also in respect of timing.
I have received a second petition of concern:
"As provided by Standing Order 27 we, the undersigned, submit this petition of concern in respect of the business stipulated below: ‘Election of First Minister and Deputy First Minister’."
I have checked this and it seems to be in order. It is possible to proceed with the debates today on both these issues. The timings have been agreed by the Business Committee. However, I must ask the Assembly to resume tomorrow purely for the purpose of conducting the votes on those matters. Are Members content with that?
I shall now take a point of order from Dr Paisley, followed by a point of order from Mr Peter Robinson.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At least one member of my party, my Chief Whip, did not receive an invitation to the meeting until 7.35 this morning. All Members were not notified yesterday.
I know that my staff — and I pay tribute to them — worked extremely hard and did their utmost over the weekend to facilitate the arrangements. Your Chief Whip is not a member of the Business Committee until perhaps later on today when there is a motion standing in your name nominating him to that Committee.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
I did not make myself clear, Mr Speaker. Our Chief Whip did not receive notice of this meeting.
I appreciate what the Member is saying. I extend my apologies, but my staff have done the very best they can to try to get messages to everybody.
Mr P Robinson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Whose are the lead signatures on the two petitions of concern?
I see no difficulty in advising the House of at least the first signature on each petition of concern. It is a public document which will be available from the Business Office later. The first signature on the petition of concern with regard to the motion to amend Standing Orders is that of the Rev Dr Ian R K Paisley. The lead signature on the other petition of concern is that of the Rt Hon David Trimble MP.
Mr C Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have asked leave of the House to determine whether the Assembly should meet tomorrow morning. Can you inform the House if it is at liberty to take that decision as the Secretary of State’s decision to allow the Assembly to sit today is at present subject to legal action? In making that decision today we should be certain that we are not acting contrary to a court decision that such a sitting may not be appropriate. On behalf of my party, I object to the suggestion that we should predetermine that the Assembly meet tomorrow. It may not be appropriate.
I understand a little of the Member’s concern, so I shall clarify the matter. His concern comes perhaps from a question of whether an election of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister would be ultra vires, given that six weeks have passed. I would not be happy for a matter that I believed to be ultra vires to go on the Order Paper. That would not be proper. When I looked at the question my first thought was that it seemed uncertain that after six weeks it was possible for the Assembly to hold such an election. However, unlike some other distinguished Members of the House, I am not a lawyer so I did not presume to come to a conclusion on the matter without consulting senior counsel. That advice, which I proffer briefly to the House, was as follows.
The requirement is that there shall be an election within six weeks, and of course we have had an attempted election within the six weeks. We are not in default on that matter. Does it say that after six weeks there cannot be an election by the Assembly? It does not, so the question must be: would this be a reasonable interpretation? The Northern Ireland Act 1998 makes it clear that after six weeks the Secretary of State shall propose a date for an election. It does not say how long he has to propose a date. It may not be unreasonable for the Secretary of State to take a day or two to consult political parties about the matter and then to set a date. The Act states that the Secretary of State "shall" set a date. That in itself does not bring about the dissolution of the Assembly. It is Her Majesty by Order in Council who "may" take the advice of the Secretary of State. That is "may", not "shall". Often, when speaking of the sovereign, the term is couched as "may" because of the royal prerogative. Parliament had to take a view that the Secretary of State "shall" put forward a date, but Her Majesty "may" call a dissolution. That opens the possibility that the Secretary of State would propose a date for an election, but that Her Majesty would not call one. That would leave the Assembly without a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister for, from this point, 18 months. Would that have been a reasonable interpretation of the wishes of Parliament? It seems reasonable to assume that it would not. Therefore it is a wholly tenable proposition that an election of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister by the Assembly may take place after the six weeks, but of course at a time when the Secretary of State may be proposing dissolution and Assembly elections.
Having considered those matters, it seemed clear that it was not ultra vires for the matter to be included on the Order Paper; and that it was reasonable to argue that the Assembly should have the right to elect a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. I do not therefore accept the Member’s argument that it would be unreasonable for the Assembly to proceed.
It is not a question of leave of the House. If leave of the House is not given, it is a question for the Business Committee, which will meet today. If the House gave its leave, that would make matters easier, but it is otherwise a matter for the Business Committee. I trust that I have clarified the matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My first point concerns the commencement of this meeting at 10.30 am. Standing Order 10(2) states that a Monday sitting shall commence at 12.00 noon. I find it difficult to understand how that Standing Order can be varied as a result of calling a meeting at 10.30 am, contrary to that Standing Order, to validate retrospectively the earlier starting time.
Secondly, in regard to Mr Cedric Wilson’s point of order, it is clear from the Northern Ireland Act that on the expiry of the six-week period during which a First Minister and Deputy First Minister have not been elected, the Secretary of State has a mandatory — not a precatory — duty to propose a date for an election. He "shall" propose a date for an election; he does not appear to have any other option.
The matters that you, Mr Speaker, described as counter-arguments are contained in section 32(4), which reads
"If the Secretary of State proposes a date under subsection (1) or (3), Her Majesty may by Order in Council —
(a) direct that the date of the poll for the election of the next Assembly shall, instead of being determined in accordance with section 31, be the date proposed;"
Section 31 deals with the expiration of the term of that Assembly, rather than an extraordinary situation such as occurs when the offices of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister become vacant and are not filled within six weeks. That section has nothing to do with the date on which the Secretary of State has a mandatory requirement to propose a date for elections. It relates only to the question of whether or not the sovereign decides to confirm that date. However, the Secretary of State must propose a date, regardless of whether the sovereign subsequently decides to accept it.
The Member raised two points. First, on the question of Assembly sittings and whether a sitting at 10.30 am on a Monday is contrary to Standing Orders; Standing Order 10(2) states how sittings of the Assembly "shall ordinarily be arranged". However, it also makes it clear that the Business Committee can respond to the exigencies of the Assembly.
Members of the Business Committee were contacted. The Member’s party is, by choice, not represented on the Business Committee, nor is the party of his Colleague, Mr Cedric Wilson. They would not therefore have been contacted. Not all the Committee members were content with the decision, but an overwhelming majority was. I nevertheless deemed it appropriate that the Business Committee meet at 9.30 this morning to make the matter clear. It met, and a vote was taken on the matter.
On his second point, the Member adduces a legitimate legal argument, and I have no doubt that in another place those arguments will be thought through and debated.
A court may choose to strike down the outcome of our proceedings. However, there is a wholly tenable legal argument that allows us to proceed in a proper and seemly fashion, and it seems to me that we should do so. I have one further point of order from Mr Roche.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is worth reinforcing what has already been said with respect to — [Interruption].
Order. I am sorry, but it is not for Members to reinforce a point of order. If I have made a ruling on a matter, that is the ruling. If the Member has another point of order, he may, of course, put it, but he may not support robustly arguments against a ruling that I have made.
This is another point of order.
We shall see.
The point of order is that it is absolutely beyond dispute that there is a legal requirement if the Assembly fails to appoint a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister within six weeks. There is a legal requirement — [Interruption].
Order. I fear that the Member has not been listening or perhaps has not understood the fine legal argument, but it is quite clear that I have made a ruling on the issue. Another ruling from another place may, of course, supersede us. If that should happen, the Assembly and I will be subject to the law. Unlike Westminster, we are a statutory body and subject to the law. I would not dream of suggesting otherwise.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Act one of the pantomime was on Friday; act two looks as if it will be rather short; and we await the entrance of the pantomime horse and the rider tomorrow in act three.
Can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the Business Committee only met this morning at 9.30 am, and that there was no meeting of the Business Committee before that meeting about this morning’s Assembly meeting at 10.30 am?
Can you also confirm what you consider to be an appropriate time for requisite notice for meetings of the Assembly? Heretofore, it has been understood that there would be at least two working days’ notice — you have said that several times. Why has that been breached on this occasion?
I confirm that, although there were telephone conversations, there was no meeting. I am absolutely clear about that. However, Standing Orders do not stipulate that there must be a meeting — they say that sittings may be arranged. The Member is aware that sittings have often been so arranged. There may be Luddites who believe that virtual meetings may not be possible these days. Well, so be it. There is no doubt in my mind that what was done was entirely legitimate.
The Member asked another question about the timely warning of meetings. There were those — and I do not think that it is any great secret — who felt that it would have been good to have had an earlier meeting. I strongly took the view, although some have chosen to interpret it differently, that it was not possible to conduct the business on today’s Order Paper before today. Some Members may think that there was insufficient notice; others would like to have moved more quickly. I have tried to maintain some degree of decorum in a difficult situation. I shall take one final point of order from Mr C Wilson.
Mr C Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Did you say that the House would reconvene to vote on this matter at 10.30 am tomorrow by leave of the House? I take it that, as you had an objection to it, the matter will go before the Business Committee and you will not rule that the Assembly will meet tomorrow at 10.30 am before the meeting with the Business Committee.
The Member has made clear his objection. The Business Committee will decide today. I shall recommend that the House meets at 10.30 am tomorrow morning purely for the votes on the two issues. Do you have a further point of order, Dr Paisley?
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to make it clear that in the Business Committee my party and Mr Denis Watson’s party voted against this meeting.
That is perhaps a piece of information for the wider world, but it is not a point of order.
The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee for Finance and Personnel (Mr Leslie):
I beg to move
That this Assembly suspends Standing Order 10(2) and Standing Order 10(6) for Monday 5 November 2001.
I must return the House to more prosaic matters. Later today, we shall have the take-note debate on the draft Budget, a matter that normally requires much attention from Members. Matters spanning the remit of all Committees will be raised. Consequently, I ask the House to extend today’s sitting beyond 6 o’clock, if necessary. I trust that there will be cross-community support for that.
It seemed that several matters on the Order Paper would absorb the House’s attention for some time today, and that we might have had to sit very late. However, as circumstances have changed during the past half-hour, we may not need to continue so late. Nonetheless, the motion is appropriate.
Mr P Robinson:
Mr Speaker, if under your earlier ruling on a point of order, it is possible to bring forward the starting time of the sitting as the result of a decision of the Business Committee, why is it not possible for the Business Committee to decide to open the floodgates at the other end? Why do we need this motion?
That point was made in an intervention, but I am not sure that it is within my bailiwick to deal with it.
Order. I do not wish to be presumptuous, but I must say that the Member is correct; it is not for him to rule on that. However, there is, perhaps, some misunderstanding. The petitions of concern will not postpone the debates on the issues; the debates will take place today. The only question is the time of the votes on the issues, and they will take place tomorrow. The procedure for arranging the time that the Member may require still applies. That is simply a matter of order.
Mr P Robinson :
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When the point of order was raised about whether it was in order for the Business Committee to change the time of the start of today’s sitting from 12 o’clock to 10.30, you said that the Committee had such power. If it has the power to start the sitting earlier than the time in Standing Orders, does it not also have the power to extend the sitting beyond 6 o’clock, without the need for us to consider a motion to suspend Standing Orders?
No. The Deputy Chairperson is doing things properly. Members should read their Standing Orders.
You should, indeed.
The House can judge whether I am sufficiently familiar with Standing Orders; I am entirely prepared to throw myself on the mercy of the House in that regard. However, it would be an abuse of the right to make points of order if we were to continue in this vein rather than continue with the proper business of the House.
Mr Leslie has moved the motion. I have had no further requests to speak on the issue, and, hearing no requests, I shall put the Question. Suspension of Standing Orders requires cross-community support. If I hear "Ayes" from all parts of the House and no "Noes", we shall take it that there is cross-community support. If there are "Noes", we shall go through the Lobbies.
The Assembly divided: Ayes 68; Noes 29.
Mr Attwood, Mr Bradley, Mr Byrne, Mrs Courtney, Ms de Brún, Mr A Doherty, Mr Durkan, Dr Farren, Mr Fee, Mr Gallagher, Ms Hanna, Mr Haughey, Dr Hendron, Mr G Kelly, Mr J Kelly, Ms Lewsley, Mr Maginness, Mr Mallon, Mr McClelland, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Mr McGrady, Mr M McGuinness, Mr McHugh, Mr McLaughlin, Mr McMenamin, Ms McWilliams, Mr C Murphy, Mr M Murphy, Mrs Nelis, Mr O’Connor, Dr O’Hagan, Mr ONeill, Ms Ramsey, Ms Rodgers, Mr Tierney.
Dr Adamson, Mr Armstrong, Mr Beggs, Mr B Bell, Dr Birnie, Mrs Carson, Mr Cobain, Rev Robert Coulter, Mr Dalton, Mr Davis, Sir Reg Empey, Mr Foster, Sir John Gorman, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hussey, Mr B Hutchinson, Mr Kennedy, Lord Kilclooney, Mr Leslie, Mr McClarty, Mr McFarland, Mr McGimpsey, Ms Morrice, Mr Nesbitt, Mr K Robinson, Mr Savage, Mr Trimble, Mr J Wilson.
Mrs E Bell, Mr Ford, Mr McCarthy, Mr Neeson.
Mr Agnew, Mr Berry, Mr Boyd, Mr Campbell, Mr Carrick, Mr Clyde, Mr Dodds, Mr Douglas, Mr Gibson, Mr Hay, Mr Hilditch, Mr R Hutchinson, Mr Kane, Mr McCartney, Rev Dr William McCrea, Mr Morrow, Mr Paisley Jnr, Rev Dr Ian Paisley, Mr Poots, Mrs I Robinson, Mr M Robinson, Mr P Robinson, Mr Roche, Mr Shannon, Mr Watson, Mr Weir, Mr Wells, Mr C Wilson, Mr S Wilson.
Total Votes 97 Total Ayes 68 ( 70.1%)
Nationalist Votes 36 Nationalist Ayes 36 ( 100.0%)
Unionist Votes 57 Unionist Ayes 28 ( 49.1%)
Question accordingly agreed to (cross-community vote).
That this Assembly suspends Standing Order 10(2) and Standing Order 10(6) for Monday 5 November 2001.
The Business Committee allocated one hour for this debate at its meeting this morning. I have received one amendment, which I have accepted, and it is published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the motion and the proposer of the amendment will each be allocated seven minutes, and the remaining speakers will be allocated five minutes. I have already advised the House of the petition of concern with regard to this matter.
Mr J Wilson:
I beg to move:
From 5 November 2001, until the commencement of a review under paragraph 36 of Strand One of the Belfast Agreement, Standing Order 3(8) has effect as if it read:
"A Member may change his/her designation of identity. Any such change takes effect immediately after notification in writing is submitted to the Speaker. Any subsequent change shall take effect seven days after the day of such notification."
We regard this as a purely technical motion. [Interruption].
Order. I have received one amendment to the motion.
Mr P Robinson:
I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all after "Speaker" in line 6 and add:
"and the change is endorsed by a majority of those already registered to this designation."
I am not sure that the Assembly was convinced by the argument advanced by the proposer of the original motion. The motion might be tactical or contemptible, but it is not technical.
We covered much of this ground when Members sought to amend Standing Orders last Friday. Today, the ink is not even dry on that change, yet they are attempting to change it once again. They wrote the rules — the rulebook is in their handwriting — and decided the rules of engagement in this political process. When they were defeated even under their own rules, regulations and laws, they decided last Friday to change them. Having changed them, they found out that they still could not win, even by fixing the game. They decided to change it all again.
It is an unseemly spectacle when the Chief Whip of the Ulster Unionist Party is unable to muster an argument. He cannot marshal one single, coherent reason why this Assembly should support this motion. He simply proposes it and resumes his seat. That shows that there is no substance behind his argument; it is purely to obtain an outcome. It is a Jesuitical necessity that the ends justify the means. That is the present proposal of the Ulster Unionist Party. It does not matter if its members have to drive their coach and horses through the Northern Ireland Act 1998 — they will do it. It does not matter if they have to drive their coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement — they will do that too, and they will certainly not stop when it comes to the Standing Orders of the Assembly.
What did the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party tell us, only eight or nine days ago? He said it simply would not be credible if he were to find himself elected as First Minister on the back of a re-designation of the Women’s Coalition. A matter of days later, he went through the Lobbies of this Assembly to allow the Women’s Coalition to re-designate — even though it would not be credible. He then spent the rest of his morning twisting the arm of the Alliance Party to get it to do the same.
The Ulster Unionist Party is now proposing the mechanism for re-designation in the Assembly. It shows the unprincipled stand of that party that it is prepared, within a matter of 10 days, to do a complete about-turn on the issue. Perhaps it will swivel a few more times before the issue is finally decided.
I seem to remember the reason that the First Minister gave for his resignation. [Interruption]. He does not do justice to the dignity of his proposed office by shouting with red face from a sedentary position. He should contain himself, and really should not get excited to the extent that he does.
When the First Minister resigned, the Ulster Unionist Party made very clear the reasons for his resignation and the conditions he required before he would change his position. Those requirements have not been met. The Unionist community can find no confidence in the unspecified location where an unspecified event took place, when an unspecified number of weapons of an unspecified variety were put beyond use in an unspecified way. This is the kind of certainty that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party was looking for before he would take back his resignation and seek to become First Minister again.
Groping as much as he can to return to office, he is prepared to forget about the commitments he made to the people of Northern Ireland. He is prepared to turn on the words that he gave to the people of Northern Ireland a week ago, and he is prepared to reverse Standing Orders in order to do it. That is the credibility of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
He said on radio this morning that he was not afraid of an election. Can anybody think of anybody who is trying more deeply and sincerely than the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party to avoid an election? If he thought for one minute that he had half a chance in the election, he would do the decent and honourable thing. He would say, "I cannot get a majority in this Assembly; I am going to the people to see if I can get my majority."
On the subject of unprincipled positions, let me turn to the person who says that he is part of the pantomime. He volunteered for the position of rear end of the pantomime horse, but he did not tell us who would be the front end and who would carry the nosebag. The leader of the Alliance Party takes that credible position, yet his principled stand on these matters is on record, as he made his party’s position very clear on Friday. That was a few days ago. It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but for the Alliance Party it takes even less. Only a few days ago, the leader of the Alliance Party, who cannot look anybody in the eye, said,
"The candidate for First Minister wishes that to be a majority of ‘genuine’ Unionists, and he can rest assured that we will not disrupt his concerns in that regard. We will not ‘dress up for Halloween’ as one Member described it. We will allow him to seek his majority among genuine Unionists".
He went on to say,
"We will take no part in this charade of tinkering with Standing Orders".
We can see that in the space of a few days the leader of the Alliance Party will not only take part in that charade but will have the principal part, and he is prepared to dress up in Halloween clothes.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I rise on behalf of my party to support the motion. Much work was done over the weekend in order to arrange the motion and to overcome the remaining difficulties, and I am satisfied that the motion allows us to proceed in an appropriate fashion. The rejectionists and wreckers across in the corner thought that they had their day on Friday. Of course, they will continue with their attempts to stall, to delay and to frustrate the process, and that is what the petition of concern is about.
They will not and cannot be allowed to succeed in their wrecking tactics, now or in the future. That is what the motion is about. Those people can only offer a return to the bad old days of the past. The pro-agreement parties — certainly those who worked over the weekend — wish to create a process of change, to re-establish the political institutions and to make sure that they fulfil the aspirations of the people who voted in the referendum across this island.
We want to make sure that the institutions are bedded down, including the all-Ireland institutions, which have been disrupted and stalled for more than a year. Our mandate is to resolve the conflict, which is of long standing. It is our view that we have accomplished much, but we need to accomplish much more.
Despite the odds, and despite the tactics of the wreckers’ charter which we have heard so often, considerable progress has been made in recent years, and it is up to all of us to ensure that we continue with that progress. We have a collective mandate from the overwhelming majority of the electorate, not only in the Six Counties, but across the island: we will fulfil that mandate. We are here to attempt to bed down the political institutions and the process that spawned them in order to give everybody a brighter future.
I support the motion and reject the DUP’s amendment.
It is always interesting to have one’s remarks quoted by another Member. It is particularly interesting to see the bits that they select, including selective extracts from one sentence. It would be useful if I carried on from the point where Mr P Robinson finished his quotation of my remarks:
"We will allow [Mr Trimble] to seek his majority among genuine Unionists".
He did not finish the sentence. The sentence continues:
"because the rule stating that our votes count for considerably less than those of others is fundamentally sick and wrong."
In that context, today’s debate is completely different from the debate that we had on Friday. [Interruption].
The debate may appear remarkably similar, given the Standing Orders and the business in the Chamber. However, as we have seen, a small minority are hijacking the overall wish of the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland that a First Minister and Deputy First Minister be elected and the institutions given stability. There is an issue about addressing the rule that allows that to happen.
I welcome the fact that, on Friday, the Secretary of State and colleagues from other parties that support the agreement informally initiated the process of the review of strand one. The first item on the agenda will be to address the failure of the voting system, designed to protect minorities, to enable progress to be made. We cannot have a system that is designed to protect minorities allowing a tiny minority to hijack all progress. I welcome that interest — [Interruption].
Order. From time to time, Members ask me to rule on whether what a Member says is in order. I am happy to do that, but I can only do so if I hear what the Member says. That is becoming increasingly difficult. I ask the House to listen to what all Members have to say.
I welcome the review, and the participation of other parties in that review, because, as I said in my speech on Friday, we are not interested in simply tinkering with Standing Orders. We must address the fundamental problem that caused us to be back here this morning. That is what we are now proceeding to do.
I welcome the fact that Ulster Unionist Party and SDLP Members have put their names to the motion, which will make an appropriate and temporary change to the Standing Order in the context of the review. I would have appreciated it if either party had been a little more enthusiastic than they have been in the Chamber this morning, but I welcome the fact that they have participated in that respect at least. It gives a degree of collectivity to the approach that we have sought. It continues the process that we sought to operate during the negotiations that led to the agreement. We made progress then only when parties worked collectively. There is now an option for us to continue to make progress.
There is no doubt that the stability of the institutions of Government rests on proceeding to elect a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister. The stability of Northern Ireland as an entity rests on that. Progress has been made in recent weeks, and we must continue to make that progress. I am not the least bit interested in the personal future of David Trimble and Mark Durkan; I am interested in the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that this represents the best way forward. I support the motion.
First, it is the opinion of our party that the motion - [Interruption].
The motion is designed to effect the election of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, which, at this stage, is illegal under the requirements of section 16(8) and section 32(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The motion also represents a debasement of politics in Northern Ireland. That is apparent from the wording of the motion, which requires us to understand Standing Order 3(8) in a certain way.
The way it wants us to understand the reading of Standing Order 3 (8) exactly contradicts the existing content of Standing Order 3 (8). That is an intellectual somersault that reflects the emptiness of any coherent argument from those who are putting this forward and represents an absurd debasement of politics in Northern Ireland. The instrument driving this debasement is the Alliance Party. The point has been made by a previous Member that this is a party that is now splitting itself on the basis of its internal contradictions and lack of political principle.
The assumption behind this debasement of politics that we are witnessing this morning is that the objective of implementing the Belfast Agreement justifies using any means to achieve that objective. I point out to the members of the Ulster Unionist Party that it is a fundamental political miscalculation to use any means to implement the agreement. The miscalculation is that the pro-Unionist electorate is so willing to prostrate itself before a Government incorporating IRA/Sinn Féin representatives of the terrorism that was directed against the Unionist electorate that the Unionist community will accept whatever political skulduggery is required to put such a Government into operation. That is a fundamental political miscalculation that is being made by members of the Ulster Unionist Party. Even from their own prospective as pro-agreement members, the strategy is self-defeating. The very process of implementing the agreement is alienating, and continues to alienate, a growing majority of the Unionist electorate.
The Unionist electorate wants peace. We are a peace-loving people, but we do not want peace at the price of legitimising those who have terrorised us for 30 years. That is a price for peace that is too high for any self-regarding electorate to pay within a democracy, particularly at a time when the civilised world is saying that we should draw the line between terrorism and democracy.
Finally I address the self-interest of the UUP Members. The leadership of their party is set on implementing an agreement that is being rejected by their electorate. It does not require any great amount of intelligence to understand that their leadership is sowing the seeds of political self-destruction. Apart from any commitment to the principle of democracy, their own self-interest should dictate that they reject this course of action.
I heard Mr Trimble on the radio this morning discounting the possibility of a significant legal challenge against what is happening here today. I remind Ulster Unionist Members that on every issue relating to the legality of the implementation of the Belfast Agreement their leader has got it wrong. I appeal to them, in the interests of their party, and especially in the interests of democracy at a time when the entire civilised world is orientating itself towards drawing the line between terrorism and democracy to fall into line and vote appropriately.
I take this opportunity to express our concerns to the people of Birmingham over what happened at the weekend.
I am pleased that other parties have the opportunity to follow the initiative that we took on Friday. Peter Robinson said here on Friday that our sole purpose for doing what we did was to protect the agreement. I am pleased that he said that, and I am glad that he has it on the record. He may note too that we asked for nothing in return: we did it solely to protect the agreement.
That people should be allowed to define themselves as they wish, and not have others decide that definition for them, is intrinsic to the agreement. People should have free choice in relation to their political aspirations and citizenship. We have always described ourselves as a cross-community party, not a party of the centre. We are a cross-community coalition supporting a cross-community coalition in government.
What are this Government if they are not cross-community? What is so strange about being cross-community? [Interruption].
The agreement had something unique written into it - something that the DUP signed up to when its members became Ministers in the cross-community Government. These are good times, when people can finally accept that cross-community politics works. It is also very important to say that inclusivity works, and that inclusivity counts. We have, once again, an opportunity to show that not just the big parties in the Executive count, but that the smaller parties in the Assembly also count. Otherwise, we would not be here today. It is good to see that we again have the opportunity to make our votes count. They counted on Friday when we re-designated as one Nationalist and one Unionist. [Interruption].
I said of those who went out gloating on Friday that their views are not what Northern Ireland wants to hear any more. Their days will be short. The people do not want to hear the voice of intransigence.
I have one other point to make. We too welcome a review. During the Weston Park talks, and, indeed, when Senator Mitchell first came to consider a review of the agreement, we asked for the establishment of an implementation committee. We asked for it again on subsequent occasions. I am pleased that at times such as this it is recognised that an implementation committee should be established, so that when problems such as we are currently experiencing arise, those Members who are pro-agreement, and, indeed, those on the anti-agreement side, can come together to discuss them. That is what people are supposed to do in government. In moving this country forward, we expect nothing less.
The atmosphere and ambience of the House has often oscillated between farce and pantomime. However, I never thought the time would come when its future would depend upon the decision of a self-confessed horse's ass. That is exactly how Mr Ford described himself this morning on the radio. He has given an entirely new meaning to the aphorism "leading from behind".
On a more serious note, strand one of the Belfast Agreement provided a number of safeguards. One of those safeguards was that, in the election of a First Minister and a Deputy First Minister, each community would have to have a simple majority of those who had designated themselves either Nationalist or Unionist. That was specifically put in to guarantee the sort of cross-community support that Monica McWilliams has prattled on about. What she fails to realise is that the farce that was conducted on Friday, when the Women's Coalition designated themselves as the transvestite party, is being taken further today by the verbal and political gymnastics of Mr Ford and his Colleagues. They have demonstrated that their proper place is not in the political arena but in the circus, as a gymnastic troupe, because they have violated the whole principle of the matter.
Mr Ford suggested that Mr Peter Robinson read out only selected quotes. However, what did Mr Ford read out? He talked on Friday about fundamental changes, but what is he now seeking to do? He is seeking to make a change so fundamental in the political description of members of his party that it will last for exactly seven days after which his members can revert to being Alliance Party members. If that is the sort of thing that in Mr Ford's dictionary of political ideas and thoughts amounts to "fundamental" the Assembly is doomed.
On Friday Mr Ford declared that he would not be a Halloween Unionist, but on Monday he declares that he will be a Guy Fawkes Unionist. He will don his Unionist hat and posture as a Unionist. The public are not deceived. One very sensible but not politically acute member of the public has compared this to a football match at which when one side scores the winning goal the referee disallows it because the ball was not kicked from the player's own half with his left foot. The referee then cancels the match and reschedules it for Monday when the losing team would have 14 players compared with the winning team's eleven.
That is how members of the public see the charade, the fraud, the defilement, distortion and disfigurement of the basic principles of democracy that are occurring in the Chamber today. They are not fooled. They do not believe that the ends justify the means. If the intention is to create institutions that are respected and accorded parity of esteem from both sides of the community, one cannot base them on the sort of despicable horse-trading that went on over the weekend. Members cannot continue to violate the rules that have been set by the Assembly and at the same time expect public regard and respect. Those sentiments will not be there.
This is not a tactical manoeuvre as described by Mr Wilson or by Mr Ford. It is a disgraceful piece of political shysterism, and I hope that it does not succeed.