Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 28 January 2002
The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A couple of weeks ago, my Colleague, Kieran McCarthy, highlighted the paucity of Executive business. Last week, the Executive managed to give one statement during the entire week’s business. This week, they will not even manage that. Have you received any requests, under Standing Order 18, from any Ministers to make statements to the House on their failure to bring forward any significant matter of legislative business for some weeks?
Secondly, will you issue guidelines, under Standing Order 28, on the introduction of private Member’s business or private Member’s Bills, so that those Members who wish to see this place work can take over from where the Executive have apparently left off?
The Member raises several issues. First, I have been asked, on several occasions, if I have had requests from Ministers to make statements. Although I do not wish to give any hostage to fortune, I have never yet refused any Minister the opportunity to make a statement. On almost every occasion, I have been able to facilitate their making statements on the days that they wished. There has been no change as far as that is concerned — [Interruption].
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.
I shall complete this particular point of order.
Each week, the Business Committee looks at all the business that comes from the Executive, Committees, private Members or anywhere else and tries to arrange for it to be put forward in a reasonable order. In the absence of a Leader of the House, and as Chairperson of the Business Committee, I try to ensure that the Government have their business properly attended to and that Back-Benchers in Executive parties and Members of non-Executive parties have the opportunity to scrutinise the business that comes forward. The Member is familiar with that procedure. In all honesty, the Business Committee does its best to order the business properly.
As far as private Member’s Bills are concerned, there is nothing at all to obstruct any private Member from bringing forward a Bill. The only issue at stake is whether the Assembly will provide financial assistance for the drafting of Bills. That is a matter that has been attended to by the Commission and by the Procedures Committee, who are both looking at arrangements to facilitate that. However, there is no reason whatsoever for any Member’s not bringing forward a private Member’s Bill if he or she wishes. That has already been done on one occasion.
There is also no reason for a Committee’s not bringing forward a Bill. Committees can bring forward legislation in their own right, but that option has not yet been taken up.
I trust that that answers the points of order raised by the Member. Dr Paisley had a point of order.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Perhaps you can help me, Mr Speaker. The words in the question put to you were
"where the Executive have apparently left off".
I did not know that the Executive had ever started. The Agriculture Committee had one piece of legislation on dangerous dogs, which was the sole legislative contribution that the Department of Agriculture brought before the House.
I am not aware that there has been either laying on or laying off as far as the Executive are concerned, but the Business Committee is at liberty to order only the business that is brought to it. As Chairman of that Committee, I must say that all its members do their best to ensure that the business is well ordered. As Members will see from the No Day Named List, several matters can still be raised, although they are almost exclusively from private Members.
That Mr John Tierney replace Mr Eddie McGrady MP as a member of the Business Committee. — [Dr McDonnell.]
Mrs E Bell:
I beg to move
That this Assembly condemns the breakdown of law and order in Northern Ireland society, including attacks on postal workers, ambulance staff, bus and train personnel and elderly members of the community, and calls on the Secretary of State to allocate sufficient, specific resources to enable the PSNI and other organisations to improve the situation at the earliest opportunity.
The motion is timely, and I hope that Members will treat it in a constructive and consensual way.
I begin with an apt quotation.
"First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me — and by then there was no one left to speak out for me."
That quotation has crossed my mind several times in the past few weeks, and I hope that its relevance will become more clear. Members will have read with mounting horror and frustration the daily reports of attacks, robberies and physical assaults on people of all ages and backgrounds. Attacks have been made on the police, ambulance staff, firefighters and even teachers, who have all been carrying out their respective duties in their different ways to protect and improve our community. In the past 24 hours, there have been several such instances. Robberies have been planned and carried out against people from all walks of life, from families in the Belfast suburbs to 80- and 90-year-old pensioners in homes in the city or in isolated accommodation. Personal attacks vary from ripping a mobile phone from a schoolchild’s hand to mugging the elderly for a few pounds, often in a town centre in broad daylight, as happened on Sunday.
Hit-and-run incidents are also on the increase, and the number of families who are being forced out of their homes and from their livelihoods is escalating.
Those who took the brave and caring decision to police our community, to care for the ill and take them to hospital, to fight our fires with little thought for their personal safety, and to serve by teaching the young are now named as legitimate targets by the different organisations that wish to keep intact their reigns of terror and influence.
Why do we allow that to happen? It used to be the proud boast of those who lived on the Falls and the Shankill — and I remember it personally — that they could leave their doors unlocked, and move about freely and undisturbed. That is no longer so.
Taxi, bus and rail drivers are another group who have tried to carry on with their jobs while under almost permanent threat. Increasingly, they come under direct attack. In my days as co-ordinator of the Peace Train organisation, I saw at first hand the risks that some of those people took to ensure that we could travel in safety. The organisation was wound up some years ago in the hope that that phase had ended with the ceasefires. However, it clearly has not ended.
The frightening aspect of the rapid rise in widespread violence and intimidation is that it is not all paramilitary-based. Young people, who have not been taught any discipline or control when dealing with others, are to blame. We were concerned that, following the ceasefires, the men and women of violence would turn to activities such as drug trafficking to maintain their lifestyles and influence. I am sorry to say that that has happened.
I am convinced that it was society’s initial ignorance of how to deal with the situation and achieve relative normality that gave the lawbreakers no motivation to mend their ways. No attempt was made to encourage a more considerate and lawful lifestyle. No respect has been shown to others, and there has been no sign of the development of any self-control. We have almost ended up with a free-for-all.
The most obvious example of that is the way in which the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been thoroughly demoralised through being treated, by most sides, as a party political football. Is it any wonder that our policemen and women are so concerned that, because of the questionable tactics of the main parties, the majority of the public have, so far, failed to adopt the PSNI in the way that was anticipated? As a direct result of that politicking, and because of the refusal of some to encourage enrolment, it has taken much longer than it should have done for the PSNI to recruit sufficient numbers to maintain satisfactory manpower levels to deal with the many areas of conflict, not least in north Belfast.
While the Police Service looks for support and recruits, the leaders of the largest parties tend to cry crocodile tears for the men and women whom they claim to support. It is to the PSNI’s credit that it continues to work for all people, even in the face of death threats, blast bombs, spitting and personal abuse of the most vicious and filthy nature. All PSNI members may not be perfect, but those who oppose them are invariably greatly distanced from perfection themselves.
Local PSNI sections have also felt the pressure of increased burglaries and attacks, and, as is the case in my constituency, several recent murders. However, they have drawn up plans of action to meet the needs of the communities that they serve. That action, and the resources that are made available to them, must be greatly increased in the near future. I am sorry to say that we are not in the safety area that Patten envisaged.
For far too long, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service has called for new, more up to date ambulances and equipment. In spite of some improvements, it remains under-resourced for both personnel and finance. It answers all calls, an unacceptable number of which are hoaxes, and, until a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable that its work would be hindered in any way. However, we were brought out of our complacency several weeks ago by an attack — one of many — that resulted in a brick’s being thrown through the windscreen of a speeding ambulance.
What sort of reasoning led to that act? Did the person who threw the brick not realise what could have happened? We must fully support those workers and deal severely with anyone caught displaying such false bravado. Similarly, what went through the minds of the young boys who threw a brick at the driver of a Northern Ireland Railways’ train? Luckily, although the train was moving, it was not travelling fast and the driver was able to come to a halt, before receiving medical help. What would have happened if it had been an express train? The carriages would invariably have been crowded with homeward-bound schoolchildren and workers.
Last week, my niece went to the funeral of a teaching colleague. Three weeks ago, he shouted at a pupil who was disrupting the class. The pupil threw a stone, which he just happened to have, at the teacher. It hit him on the temple. He recovered from the initial shock, but had to take leave for stress. Last week, he was buried. He left a wife and three children, one of whom suffers from Down’s syndrome, another of whom has severe hearing difficulties. What is our society coming to when such things are happening?
I cited those examples because we cannot point out often enough what is happening in our midst. If we do not come together as a society with a common purpose, the terror will not only continue, it will steadily worsen. The Assembly’s remit does not yet include justice and security. However, we have been elected to take a lead. We must stop putting political interests before society. We should stop referring to men, women or children as "Loyalist", "Republican", "Catholic" or "Protestant". We should refer to people as fellow citizens, human beings or Northern Irish people. Everyone must be on a level playing field.
We must stand squarely with the public services against the purveyors of hatred and intimidation. The problem is not only theirs — it is ours too. We have a common enemy, if only we would recognise it as such. Only when we work together to bring respect to all citizens, can we pursue our own road to peace and safety. It can be done. The peace organisations in the beleaguered communities faced the local "hoods", as we called them, with common purpose and confidence during the troubles. We marched and attended peace rallies, such as those held on Friday 18 January, and eventually we brought it home to them that people want peace, stability and hope. Those priorities come far ahead of territorial aspirations.
The Good Friday Agreement is not responsible for the law and order problems in Northern Ireland. The agreement provides the means to tackle the problem, through establishing the primacy of democracy, human rights and the law. We must deal with division and inequality as the precursor to achieving real democracy, real human rights and the full implementation of the rule of law. Those are not contradictory aims; they go hand in hand. Human rights cannot be achieved without the rule of law, and the rule of law cannot mean anything without democracy — they are interdependent. Together we must tackle the increasing level of lawlessness and the negative attitude to the rule of law, for the benefit of everyone. It is up to the state, the political processes and civil society to adopt a positive approach to upholding the law.
Because of the level of violence and the increasing influence of paramilitaries, people do not have confidence in the judicial system. Therefore, we must establish a criminal justice strategy that has sufficient resources to enable the police, Customs and Excise, and all other organs of the state to tackle the wide range of offences and the threats that are felt in our communities. Rioting, intimidation and drugs must be eradicated as a first step towards normality. The preservation of the rule of law must top everyone’s agenda. All politicians must be seen to give a very public lead at every possible opportunity. Politicians must act together, not as political parties.
Sufficient resources must be made available to all organisations that tackle those problems at the coalface, from the PSNI, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service, to schools and community groups. That will enable the work to be done. We must all be seen to be tackling sectarianism and intimidation head-on. We must cast aside the annual idiocy of controversy over graffiti, parades and flags. Those must be forgotten once and for all, and consensus must be reached.
We must be seen to be helping victims rather than increasing the number of victims by upholding traditional medieval practices. We must strive for an overarching sense of community identity that embraces all cultures without offending any. We must engender respect for all. While we talk and disagree about issues that do not matter in the wider scheme of things, the paramilitaries flourish. Parents must assume full responsibility for the actions of their children; they must teach respect for others. Anyone who listened to the radio this morning would have heard those views being echoed by other people.
I appeal directly to the Secretary of State. There is nothing new in my speech —- he knows as much about what is happening as we do. He stated recently that the hate agenda must fail. That will happen only if we support fully the organisations that I have mentioned, which will help in turn to create a more peaceful and stable society. Rallies and the right words are great, but what we need is positive consensual action.
Dr Reid also pledges to do all he can to secure a better future for all. The Assembly asks him to do just that by providing sufficient resources to tackle the wider problem. As Members, we pledge that we shall work with all sections of society to make a better life for all, thereby reducing the motivations of those who riot, steal and attack. The message must be clear — we need immediate action and immediate resources. We are at the point when we can either overcome those problems, or we can go under completely.
I would like to make two points before I call the next Member. First, I have listened carefully to what Mrs Bell, the mover of the motion, has said. However, I draw her attention, and all Members’ attention, to the specific terms of the motion. The motion refers to the issue of resources, and the Speaker must draw that to the attention of Members, including the mover. Members must also note that the debate must not range over a wider field to the point where the specific issue in the motion is little referred to.
Secondly, the debate must finish by 2.30 pm, and many Members have already indicated that they wish to speak. Therefore, I must restrict each Member’s time to no more that eight minutes.
I welcome the motion and congratulate the Alliance Party for moving it. I hope to adapt the Prime Minister’s phrase of a few years ago that his Government aim to be tough on criminals and on the causes of criminality. We all know that there is a problem. The situation is serious, although perhaps it is not yet the case that there has been a breakdown in law and order, albeit that some localities are heading in that direction.
According to police figures, in the south Belfast district command unit in my constituency, between 1999-2000 and the following year, burglaries rose by 19%, and robberies by 36% — an increase of more than one third. The National Federation of Retail Newsagents has impressed on me, as a constituency representative, that it is under severe pressure because many of its members have been attacked and robbed, not once but repeatedly, over many months, and often threateningly and violently. General crime figures are rising, especially crimes against property, although fortunately that is not necessarily true for all categories of crime. Again, using police statistics, between 1999-2000 and the following year, offences against the person declined in the so-called urban region of Greater Belfast, south Antrim and north Down.
What is to be done, bearing in mind the Speaker’s instruction about resourcing issues? There is the wider application of CCTV, which has been installed in Belfast city centre and in some other town centres. There is evidence that CCTV has had some impact on crime, although admittedly it may also simply displace it to the suburbs and the streets not similarly covered. We must consider police numbers, which is a subject that some people have used as a political football. The total nominal strength of the police service has reduced, but not by as much as is sometimes suggested. In 1996, according to police statistics, there were 12,830 officers. That had declined to 11,459 in 2000-01, and there have been some further reductions since. Additional to that reduction, there has been a decline in the effective strength of the service due to sickness and absence. Nevertheless, taking all of that into account, the number of police officers per head of population here is still markedly greater than for any city in Great Britain. It stands at roughly one officer for every 170 people, compared with one officer for every 285 people in Greater London and one officer for every 545 people in Sheffield. I hope that Assembly Colleagues on the Northern Ireland Policing Board will address the allocation and management of police strength cost effectively.
The police service is labouring in a difficult situation. There is still an appreciable threat of terrorism, and large- scale public order problems, notably in north Belfast have drawn police strength from other areas and left openings for criminality. The civilianisation of back-up services should be encouraged — especially the administrative services in police stations — to allow more bobbies to be on the beat.
Shopkeepers, who have repeatedly suffered attacks, have impressed on me that they fear that judges and magistrates have not sufficiently recognised the seriousness of crime against property. I recognise that that is Westminster’s responsibility, and on that point I agree with Mrs Bell that devolution of power on law and order to this House would be welcome.
A rise in crime — especially violent crime — is regrettably a general phenomenon found in almost every Western society. Therefore, to blame it on the 1998 agreement seems simplistic. As recently as this morning on ‘Good Morning Ulster’, it was noted that much of the background criminality is generated by youths who are technically children. Moreover, if left to their own devices, they will tend to become the hard core criminals of the future. Sometimes, perhaps rightly, we hear much about human rights. What about responsibilities, which should always balance rights? In particular, what about the responsibility of parents? Do they know where their teenage sons are? I say "sons" deliberately because most of this crime is a male phenomenon.
Sadly, we have the ridiculous situation in which the Office of Law Reform in the Department of Finance and Personnel is leaning towards an attempt to criminalise parents who use reasonable means to chastise their children — the so-called smacking debate. However, we lack the will to discipline the youths who create so much trouble on our streets. There are broader issues of attitude, which go beyond politics, as well as the particular points about resourcing raised in the motion.
I support the motion.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Sir John Gorman] in the Chair)
I too support the motion and congratulate Eileen Bell and Kieran McCarthy for bringing the problem to the Assembly’s attention. We have seen the escalation of violence in all constituencies, with almost daily attacks on our ambulance and fire crews, bus and train personnel, the elderly and children.
One of the most recent attacks in my constituency was a serious sexual assault on a young woman in the grounds of Altnagelvin Hospital. Apart from street violence, these attacks seem to be part and parcel of our daily lives. There is lawlessness about a society if the emergency services are fair game for thugs who take pleasure in throwing stones, bricks, bottles and other missiles at their vehicles. For example, there have been more than 100 attacks on the emergency services in Derry since the start of the year.
In September 2001 Derry City Council invited representatives of the fire and ambulance services to make a presentation, detailing such attacks. Both services gave a catalogued list of occasions on which emergency crews were unable to attend to 999 calls because of such incidents. In the city centre ambulance crews were attacked by a hostile crowd and prevented from giving first aid. In other incidents fire crews were stoned, and they narrowly escaped injury when bottles were thrown at the driver of the vehicle. In one incident only the driver’s skill prevented the vehicle from going out of control and causing further injuries to pedestrians. Last night a fire crew, on its way to attend to a fire, was stoned in the Shantallow area. Thankfully nobody was injured. It is only by the grace of God and the good will and good skills of the drivers that more injuries do not occur.
Also in Derry, a young woman bus driver was stopped and ordered out of the vehicle. Money was taken from her, and the bus was burned. It is little wonder that Ulsterbus has to take preventative measures and stop bus services, at least temporarily. Not so long ago, also in my city, a vigilante warned members of an ambulance crew, who were attending to injured people, that if they sent for the police, they would be attacked. That is an example of how society has broken down. There was a public rally that called for such attacks on services to stop. That helped but did not stop further violence.
Hospital attacks, which have been so vicious in last few months, even in my city, have not been included in my consideration so far. Headlines such as these continue to be the order of the day: 15 January, "Politician Slams School Attacks"; 21 January, "Brutal Hospital Fight Slammed"; 21 January again, "Emergency Crews Attacked"; 22 January, "Police Hunt Hospital Sex Attacker"; 25 January, "Translink in Bid to Stop Bus Attacks"; and on 23 January, "Escalation of Attacks on the Elderly Warning". Last night an 81-year-old woman and a 92-year-old woman were attacked in their homes.
One of the headlines that I saw recently was "Footballer’s Dad Slams Attack Thugs", which is only one incident when street violence seemed to be the order of the day. That headline referred to the unprovoked attack on a young Ballymena footballer, Kevin Duff, aged 17 years. Not only was he viciously attacked and beaten by a gang of four, but he had part of his ear bitten off. He is probably still receiving emergency treatment.
Those are all vicious attacks, which have led to the loss of morale among all public service workers, leaving ambulance men and women, fire crews, busmen, doctors and nurses afraid to go to work. In the midst of it all, we still have sectarian violence, which culminated recently in the sickening death of the young postal worker, Danny McColgan. Following that we saw the headline "300,000 UK Postal Workers Pay Silent Tribute to Danny". Indeed, we all paid tribute to Danny, but if the wave of revulsion that spread through the community that day does not continue, another innocent life will be lost.
We have had too many killings, and I do not intend to highlight many more. Suffice it to say that deliberate attacks using syringes full of blood on police officers and others, necessitating their having to have HIV tests are among the most sickening.
A County Antrim ambulance man was headbutted and had his nose broken. People felt disgusted when they saw that the young fellow who committed the assault received only a £200 fine, £150 of which was to be given to the ambulance man in compensation — a 62-year-old man who had worked all of his life. He said that if he met the fellow, he would tell him what to do with the £150.
We need a strong deterrent if we are to overcome this culture of violence. Fines are not enough. More money must be put into the police service if we are going to stop these attacks; a point that was mentioned in the motion. A custodial sentence seems to be the only answer.
Excess drink is often the excuse put forward for violence in hospitals. Drink is never a reason for violence; it is only an excuse. One reason is that the culprits want to fight. Custodial sentences must be mandatory for attacks on hospital personnel and to stop this type of violence in society.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
The motion is in two parts. The first part is condemnatory, and my party associates itself totally with that. Most Members are aware of people in Northern Ireland who have been attacked and suffered because of what has been called "this culture of violence" and the breakdown in law and order. This must be condemned roundly, and our sympathy must go to those who have been attacked.
The second part of the motion, which we can also support, deals with allocating sufficient resources to the police service. Some truth must be injected into the debate. Everyone on the anti-agreement side of the House could say "We told you so". During the referendum, we said that there would be a breakdown in law and order as a result of bringing the agreement into place, and we were ridiculed. We were told that we were engaging in scare tactics. It has come to fruition.
Mr J Kelly:
By whom was it being orchestrated?
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Someone has shouted "orchestrated": I cannot orchestrate IRA violence. I cannot orchestrate the 137 shootings that took place last year by the guns of the Provisional IRA and their people in this country. That Member well knows that.
We did tell you so. However, it is not good enough; because the House must now deal with the consequences. It is unfair and complete nonsense to compare the situation in Northern Ireland with Sheffield. Vast rural parts of Northern Ireland have been compared with Sheffield. The breakdown in law and order — in which people can use those rural areas as a backdrop for their crimes — cannot be compared with Sheffield. An organised task force in the police has identified another problem that does not exist in Sheffield — paramilitarism — yet it is a major feature in their identification of the problem.
Some honesty must be injected into the debate; people should not skirt around the issues by saying that they are opposed to crime, that it is terrible and then hope that the debate goes away. The debate is timely; I congratulate the Alliance Party for getting it on the agenda, but some people on the other side of the House resent the fact that we are going to see some truth and some consequences for people’s actions.
People must face the consequences of their actions. If they support a system that reduces the number of police officers and then girn about crime being on the increase and police detection rates going down, they must take the consequences of their action to support a reduction in the number of police officers. Many people cry about a culture of violence — I have heard that term used in the debate — when a system has been created in which gunmen and criminals have been let out of jail. What such people do when they get out of jail does not matter; they may become the most law-abiding of people, but it creates a society where people think that one can get away with murder — and many of them have.
Another system has been created — one in which the gunmen have been put into the Government of Northern Ireland. Some boast about it saying,"I was a commander of the Provisional IRA in Londonderry during Bloody Sunday" — then he is in Government. What type of message does that send out to young people who, it has been said, are the real culprits? Those young people might feel that if he can get away with it, so can they.
We have a system in which a party in Government refuses to call on people to give evidence to the police. We have a party in Government which refuses to tell people to give evidence so that criminals can be convicted. What sort of message does that send out to society? Then we wonder why we have a culture of crime. We have a party in Government that not only refuses to support the police but calls for them to be treated in the same way as they were treated by Republicans during 30 years of troubles. The leader of Sinn Féin said that — [Interruption].
Will the Member give way?
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I do not have the time to give way — as the Member rightly knows.
We have a situation where the leader of one party in Government quite happily encourages people to go on the offensive against police officers, whether those police officers are Nationalist or Unionist, or whether they see themselves as British or Irish. We are getting to the real crux of the issue. The attacks on the police over the past 30 years have not been about whether it is a British police force, or whether the police officers are Protestant or Catholic — they have been because the attackers were anti-law and order, and for crime. [Interruption].
Some Members are getting upset. Perhaps the cap fits them too well. [Interruption]. We have another situation where another party — [Interruption].
Mr Deputy Speaker:
If Members want to make remarks they should address them through the Chair.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
Another party in another place employs a terrorist killer as its chief adviser, yet we wonder why crime is on the increase. The House should face the consequences of its actions. If you create that system, you have to live with its consequences. Clearly today Members are not prepared to live with them.
Let us look at the crime picture in Northern Ireland. Many Members have said that it is frightening, and I agree. Armed robberies are on the increase. There were 450 more armed robberies in the last 12 months than in the previous 12, netting £6·5 million for the criminals. Much of that has gone into the coffers of the IRA and other organisations, and is used in criminality. Attacks on persons are on the increase. Paramilitary shootings have increased — there were 137 last year — and there have been 225 beatings by paramilitaries.
There have been attacks on the police. Some people have said that there is a problem with sickness levels in the police and that that is why we have crime. In other words, crime is the fault of police officers, because some of them are sick. Fourteen hundred and fifty officers happen to be sick because they are injured — injured by criminals. People do not want to say that, because they cannot identify this society with injuring people. But that is exactly what has happened.
Motor theft is on the increase. Over 11,000 vehicles were broken into, damaged or stolen last year. Drug crime has also increased massively. Eighty-seven thousand crimes were reported to the police last year. That is a 10% increase on the previous year, and a 15% increase on the year before that. Why? Does the Belfast Agreement not have something to do with it? Are people not prepared to face some of the consequences of their actions? They should be.
During this period there has been a sharp decrease — 18% — in the ability of the police to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice. Why is that? It is because police manpower has also decreased. It is interesting to see that the decreased levels are running at a similar level. We have had 99 killings in the last two years, and only one conviction. People must be very alarmed at that.
The second part of the motion deals with resources. There is a massive shortfall in resources, and I hope that the motion shows the Secretary of State that we want to see the £40 million deficit addressed — [Interruption].
Mr Deputy Speaker:
I ask the Member to bring his remarks to a close.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
I will. The police are currently running at a £40 million deficit, and we want to see that deficit addressed. I hope that through Members supporting the motion we will see an increase in funding for the police that will bring funding up to the level required to ensure that policing runs effectively, so that we have more people and so that the Patten Report cannot be implemented in the way that people wanted it implemented.
Mr G Kelly:
The motion is somewhat confusing. It calls for resources for the PSNI, but it lumps a reference to postal workers, ambulance staff and other services in with that. My party will not support the motion, because we believe that putting more resources into a police force that is not representative, that is still under partisan political control and that is not properly accountable is the wrong thing to do.
The motion is divided in a way that can be easily identified. Like Annie Courtney, I have spoken to the staff and management of the Fire Brigade and the Ambulance Service in north Belfast. Many of the incidents described are not matters for the police. They can be addressed through adequate resources in the community. At the meeting it was agreed that more communication between these services and schools, community organisations and political leaders was needed.
We have to differentiate between attacks of a sectarian nature and sporadic attacks on fire crews and ambulances. I have been told that there is not a massive rise in sporadic attacks, in spite of their having have had a high profile in recent months. Resources would be better used to highlight the work that the fire and ambulance services have been doing for the last 30 years and show that they are neutral. A community safety relations officer for these services, for instance, would help to create a better understanding. The vast majority know that these are caring people doing very dangerous jobs.
Against the background of the call for more support for the PSNI, there have been some 300 bomb and gun attacks in the last year. People in Catholic areas do not believe that the PSNI is a representative or accountable organisation. The revelations of the last few weeks about Special Branch, a force within a force, do not give people more confidence that the PSNI will be fair or impartial. Indeed, people are worried that if more resources are given to the PSNI, they will go to the very part of the organisation that will be used against Nationalists, which is Special Branch. What will that money be used for? It will certainly not be used to protect Nationalists.
People are worried that informers and Special Branch agents run the UDA, which has carried out the bulk of recent attacks. In the well-documented Finucane case, the person in charge of the attack, Tommy Lyttle, was a Special Branch agent. The person who handed over the weapons, William Stobie, was a Special Branch agent. One of the people who confessed to the murder, Ken Barrett, was a Special Branch agent. Another agent, Brian Nelson, was in charge of bringing the weapons into the country. How can people stand up and argue that more resources should be given to what is a repackaged RUC? How can that deal with the current situation? North Belfast, which I represent, has been mentioned on a number of occasions. I can tell you that whatever resources are going in there are not going to protect the Nationalist people.
What we need and what we have repeatedly argued for is proper legislation and the full implementation of the Patten Report. The British Government have admitted that they did not do that and that amending legislation is possible. We want to see that amending legislation, and we want NIO and the British Secretary of State to produce it. Let us deal with the new beginning to policing that we were promised and that was agreed in the Good Friday Agreement and the Patten Report.
I stand against the motion on the basis that it would put money into the wrong area, and while it lumps several issues together, it does not deal effectively with the matters in hand. It is all over the place. Many of the problems are not policing matters, and we do not have a proper police force for the problems that are.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is it not appropriate that when a Member speaks on a motion concerned with the breakdown of law and order, he should declare an interest where it is relevant, and if individual Members have previously been involved in illegal activities, they should be declared?
I find it disgusting that Gerry Kelly is talking on a motion on law and order and about attacks on post office workers when his Assembly Colleague, Gerry McHugh, was convicted of the murder of a postman. That should be put clearly on the record. I want to highlight - [Interruption].
Mr J Kelly:
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Is he talking about Assembly Member Gerry McHugh?
I want to highlight - [Interruption].
Mr J Kelly:
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want clarification on whether the Member is talking about Assembly Member Gerry McHugh's being convicted of the murder of a postal officer.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Will you confirm what you have just said, Mr Boyd? Is this true or not?
I want to make it clear that the Assembly Member Gerry McHugh, a party Colleague of Gerry Kelly, was convicted of the murder of a postal worker.
Mr J Kelly:
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Please sit down. I call - [Interruption].
Mr J Kelly:
On a further point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Mr Deputy Speaker:
Please sit down.
Mr J Kelly:
Very well, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
I want to highlight some of the crimes committed in my constituency and to demonstrate how low the perpetrators have stooped to commit them. Sadly these crimes are mirrored throughout Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I live in Newtownabbey, which is a few miles from Carnmoney cemetery. Every Sunday, in all weathers, a young person sits at the gate selling flowers to relatives and loved ones who are visiting graves. However, even cemeteries are not exempt from criminals; a car pulled up, robbed the young person and then sped off.
In the past 12 months, thugs with screwdrivers have assaulted and robbed several old-age pensioners. In the past 12 months a small retail unit in Glengormley was ram-raided, and the proprietor lost thousands of pounds worth of stock. In the past few months the shop was robbed again at knifepoint and thousands of pounds worth of stock was taken. The owner has also been visited by so-called Loyalist paramilitaries for the purposes of extortion, and they have threatened his family. His family are solid Unionists and law-abiding citizens.
Last year, a garage was robbed three times in one month and was forced to close. A contractor was working on houses in a Protestant area and was approached for the purposes of extortion by a group of men claiming to be from a Loyalist paramilitary organisation. Next day another group of men approached him claiming to be from a different so-called Loyalist paramilitary organisation.
The people who suffer are the decent law-abiding citizens of the area. Recently I spoke to a constituent who is a Protestant businessman. Paramilitaries went to his premises in Belfast and demanded £4,000. He refused to hand over the money, and, at great danger to himself and his family, he helped the police to catch the criminals in an undercover operation in which few would have had the courage to be involved. However, he had to close the business that he had set up for his son to run when he left school. The business was doing well, but it had to close for obvious reasons. The son, who is only 18, is now on income support. I wrote to the Security Minister, Jane Kennedy, and she referred the matter to the Compensation Agency. The agency could do nothing as there had been no criminal damage to the business premises. This graphically illustrates how the Government and its agencies have failed innocent victims, yet millions of pounds are allocated to prisoners.
In October 2000 an armed man robbed the Antrim Credit Union; he assaulted two female staff and escaped with £7,400. At his court case last year the police opposed bail on the grounds that he would not appear for his trial. In October 2001 he was sentenced to only three years for a violent armed robbery.