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Northern Ireland Assembly

Monday 29 November 1999 (continued)

Before the Assembly makes that response I want to make my position clear. The imperative for me is the implementation of the agreement. I have made it clear to the First Minister (Designate) and to the Secretary of State that the working of the institutions requires a sufficient level of support. It is now for the Assembly to decide and indicate that level of support.

May I remind Members (as if it had not been ingrained in us) that we have had 601 days of negotiation since the Good Friday Agreement was made - 601 days of almost continuous negotiation. For that period we have had this lacuna, this gap in the political process. Now we have an opportunity to create the inclusive Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council, the British/Irish Council, the Civic Forum - all those institutions. Can anybody rationally suggest that I, who offered my resignation to the Assembly as the only way I saw at that time to protect this agreement, would stand in the way of the creation of those institutions?

At a personal level, and as a member of a party that has struggled for 30 years to bring about power-sharing and a meaningful all-Ireland institution, I regard this as a landmark day. I feel, and my party feels, a special responsibility for the success of these institutions. We are determined to work with all our Colleagues - and I mean all our Colleagues - in the Assembly for all our people. Today the hard work of creating that new future can begin. But it is not in my hands; it is a decision of the Assembly, and, as a democrat, I think that that is only right. I await the decision of the Assembly.

3.45 pm

Mr P Robinson:

Mr Mallon reminds us of 601 days during which we have not had one detonator; 601 days, and not one ounce of Semtex; 601 days, and not one bullet; 601 days, and not one gun. That is how valuable the negotiations have been.

I am glad, however, that he said that this is not a personal issue. I am glad because I would have had more enthusiasm if it had been about someone central to the issue for whom I had less respect. But it is a key and vital issue, as he himself says. The first matter that the Assembly needs to look at is whether the motion can trigger the Standing Order. It was clearly designed to have that effect. However, you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, in particular will have to satisfy yourself that it does.

It has already been said that the motion indicates that there was an offer of resignation. If it was only an offer of resignation, even though the Standing Order asks us to allow it to have prior effect, clearly you may so rule. However, if you judge that it was not simply an offer of resignation but a full and complete resignation, the Standing Order does not have effect and cannot be used in this context.

The first step that the Assembly has to take is to determine whether there was an offer of resignation or an actual resignation. The best way of deciding that is to look at Mr Mallon's words. In parliamentary terms I cannot call anyone a liar, and I would not do so. However, I wonder whether it is parliamentary to indicate that someone has told a half-truth. Mr Neeson was careful to read only part of the sentence that Mr Mallon used. I will read all of it. Mr Mallon said - and this is the sentence which was quoted by Mr Neeson -

"It is now necessary that I resign as Deputy First Minister. I wish to inform the Assembly that, accordingly, I offer my resignation ..."

(so far as Mr Neeson is concerned, there is a full stop here, but in fact there is not)

"with immediate effect."

Then he said - and this is vital -

"It was this Assembly that elected me to that position, and it is essential that I announce my resignation"

(not "my offer of resignation" but "my resignation" )

"to the Assembly."

Confirming that it was a resignation, the Secretary of State rose in the House of Commons at 12.30 pm on the same day and made the following statement:

"The House will be as sad as I am to hear that the Deputy First Minister designate of Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr Mallon), has just resigned."

She said not that he has offered his resignation but that he had resigned. It is very clear that at the moment of this resignation the writers of Initial Standing Orders and the Secretary of State were satisfied that it was a resignation. The Secretary of State was so satisfied that it was a resignation that she was prepared to go to the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and announce that it had taken place. Clearly it was not simply an offer of resignation. It was confirmed by Mr Mallon and the Secretary of State that it was a full-blown resignation.

If it was an offer of resignation very little will have happened until this moment. However, if it was a resignation there will have been consequences. First, did Mr Mallon continue to receive his salary? Secondly, were the trappings of office taken from him? Everyone knows that his car was taken, and I think that the fax machine was pulled out of his house. Certainly his offices and staff were taken away, and his salary was stopped. Is that what is done when someone offers his resignation? That is what is done when someone has resigned and his resignation has been accepted as final. There cannot be the slightest doubt that this was a full-blown and accepted resignation.

If this was the case, under the Standing Orders which applied then, and which apply today, there is a requirement for a reappointment, a re-election. That is the heart of the issue. All this chicanery is for one purpose. The mechanism for getting Mr Mallon, or whoever else it might be, back into office is an absurd voting system. It is a voting system that the Democratic Unionist Party had nothing to do with.

Indeed, it is a voting system devised to help people on the other side of the House in case Unionists gang up with one another and have a majority. So they decided to have a consensus-based voting system which required majorities on both sides. A parallel vote was required whereby a majority of both Unionists and Nationalists, so designated in this House, was needed to approve the appointment of the new Deputy First Minister (Designate) or the re-appointment of the former one. Could they have achieved that? As everybody knows, the realpolitik is that they could not.

The best they could have achieved would have been an equal number of designated Unionists, something like 29 to 29. However, that would not have been a majority. Alternatively, members of the Women's Coalition might have designated themselves as Unionists, but, as everyone knows, the Member for South Belfast does not have a Unionist corpuscle in her veins. She would have been hypocritical had she designated herself as a Unionist. The reality is that if they had not been able to get that through, the whole process would have come to an end.

I do not entirely agree with Mr Mallon and his view that the running of d'Hondt to appoint the Ministers could not have taken place. I believe that it could. It would not, however, have had any effect, because the First Minister (Designate) could not himself have called the Executive together, since it is a joint decision. We do not have a Prime Minister as such. We have a First Minister (Designate) and a Deputy First Minister (Designate) who are joined at the hip. They cannot take independent decisions. They must act together, in accordance with the legislation. Without their both having been present, there could never have been a meeting of the Northern Ireland Executive, hence the dilemma. Under the rules, we cannot get Seamus back, and we cannot call an Executive together unless we do. What is the answer? Let us change the rules.

They wrote the rules; they decided that they would frame those rules to ensure that they would win, and now that they have discovered they cannot, they decide that the rules must be changed. It does no credit to the person in question that he should be elected as a lesser Minister, a Minister for loopholes, a Minister elected by the back door. Indeed, one might even refer to him as a Minister who is being asked to slither under the door. What honour is there in being elected by a procedure other than the proper one which everyone recognised was required? First they duck and dodge the rules and then they change them.

I do not believe that those who support this agreement would want Seamus Mallon to gain office by some shabby, back-door trickery. That would demean their cause. They should face up to the reality. If on day one they do not have the numbers to get this through, how long will they allow this farce, this charade, to continue?

Mr Adams:

Tá mé ag labhairt i leith an rúin, agus tá mé an-sásta sin a dhéanamh. The last time we were in this Chamber I remember thinking that, collectively, we were facing the most difficult crisis of this process to date. The most visible manifestation of that was the collapse of the Executive within minutes of its being formed and the Deputy First Minister (Designate), Seamus Mallon's subsequent offer of resignation.

At that time, I paid tribute to Mr Mallon, and Sinn Féin decided to support him because, in our view, he had no choice. Today, we want to support the motion that the Deputy First Minister (Designate) should continue to hold that office. I am very touched by the DUP's concern for him, as, I am sure, is he. This is the same DUP who tried to silence him and prevent him from making his statement in July. The difference between July and today is that there is now an opportunity for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is time for all of us to move forward in a spirit of partnership, inclusiveness and camaraderie, and this motion gives us the opportunity to do that.

The words "historic", "momentous" and "new beginning" have often been used to describe pivotal points in the development - the very slow development - of the peace process. Nevertheless, the Mitchell review represents a watershed in our recent history. Making this work will require all of us to reshape the political context in which we live. Sinn Féin is very proud to stand in the tradition of the Presbyterians - the truly "free" Presbyterians - of the 1790s, who fought for liberty, equality and fraternity. Our goal remains the establishment of a united, free and independent Ireland. We believe that the Good Friday Agreement is a transitional structure that will allow us to achieve that legitimate objective. Others in this Assembly hold the opposite view - that is fair enough - but there is now the possibility for all of us to pursue our different and opposing political goals in partnership, as equals, in mutual respect and toleration.

Opponents of this motion - and no one here is deceived by the legalistic bombast - are opposed to progress of all sorts. At least Peter Robinson is almost frank enough to admit this: he asks how much longer the Assembly and these institutions will continue to survive. But what have they got to offer ordinary people outside the sectional, sectarian element they have sought to lead astray over the years? What vision of the future do they have to offer? The rejectionists have, to date, had their way, it could be claimed, in pursuance of their objective of impeding progress. It would be fair to say that they have not done too badly. There have been 600-odd days of preventing forward movement. But here, this afternoon, we might see the beginning of an end to all that, the beginning of an end to all the reluctance, hesitancy, begrudging and naysaying. We can commence our new future.

I want to work not just with the UUP, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Women's Coalition and the PUP, but also with the DUP. Unionists have nothing to fear from sharing power with Irish Republicans, because our future is bound up together. Our future is the concern and responsibility of each of us - as individuals, political leaders and parties, governments, communities, organisations and businesses. The engine at the core of this will dictate the pace of events, and it will have to ensure that a new partnership of equals is created. There must be open, transparent and accountable government - a people-centred government - interlocked with and interdependent on the North/South Ministerial Councils and the policy implementation bodies. These institutions have to be owned by and be responsible to the people - not the Unionist people, or the Republican people, or the Nationalist people, or the people of the North or of the South, but all the people.

That is the challenge. For too long in this statelet, the no-men have had it easy. I appeal to Dr Paisley once again, as he goes into the twilight of his life and his career, to reflect not on the past but on the future. A future that will be a new future for the children of this nation. I call upon the Assembly to support the motion that Seamus Mallon hold Office as Deputy First Minister (Designate). Go raibh maith agaibh.

Mr C Wilson:

My party will not be supporting this proposal. Furthermore, I wish to reject the suggestion that Mr Neeson made today that the majority of decent, law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland support the placing in government of those fronting terrorist organisations. What is taking place in this House today has nothing to do with the outworking of the expression of the will of the people of this Province; it has come about as a result of a programme driven by lies and deception and designed to subvert the will of the majority community in Northern Ireland. For this plan to succeed, the Northern Ireland Office required a Unionist leader who could deliver a sizeable section of the pro-Union community. Enter, stage left, Mr David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, and his two bit players, Ms McWilliams, and Mr David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, plus a cast of hundreds of church leaders and so-called captains of industry. They are all puppets dancing to the tune of the Northern Ireland Office, choreographed -

Mr Ervine:

Will the Member give way?

Mr C Wilson:

No, I will not give way.

Choreographed, as I was saying, by Mr Tom Kelly of the Northern Ireland Office, the man who has used the church leaders and the captains of industry to, in his words, "champion the cause of the Belfast Agreement". All these people are dancing to Mr Kelly's tune in his guise as "Minister of Information" in the Northern Ireland Office. I say to Mr Trimble and the section of Unionism which he leads today that he does not have a mandate to do what he is currently doing in this House.

I know how Lord Carson felt when, in 1933, he said

"now I have lived to see every one of the safeguards absolutely set to naught and made useless. This is not a pleasant political career. I belong, I believe, to what is called the Unionist party. Why it is called the Unionist party I fail to understand, unless it is to remind people in this country that it was the party which betrayed the Union."

Those words apply today as I address the Members from the Ulster Unionist Party - a party that, if it moves to elect Sinn Féin Members as Ministers, will finally have betrayed the people who elected its members to this Assembly. Mr Trimble has left a trail of broken promises over the past weeks and months. Today we shall see what most people, even a few short months ago, would have believed unthinkable: the seating in government of those who have terrorised this community over the last thirty years. Think of Mr Adams and of the movement that brought us Enniskillen, the Shankill bomb, La Mon -

Mr Tierney:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is the Member not talking to the wrong motion?

Mr C Wilson:

- and Oxford Street, to name but a few. Think of the organisation which, as a result of its campaign of terror, has been responsible for the deaths of thousands of citizens, Catholic and Protestant, for the maiming of tens of thousands and for destroying countless homes. That is the vision that Mr Adams has had for the last 30 years. I take it very ill that he chides Members about visions for the future. His vision for the last 30 years has been pregnant women lying on the streets of this Province with their stomachs open, with babies being washed down the street.

Mr Ervine:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. I am aware of the terrible events being described by Mr Wilson, and I agree with him that they were horrible. However, neither Seamus Mallon nor the Office of the Deputy First Minister (Designate) was responsible for any of them, and that is what this motion is about.

Mr C Wilson:

Is that a point of order?

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is a reasonable point of order; it suggests that you attempt to stay close to the motion, Mr Wilson.

Mr C Wilson:

I trust that my time will be appropriately adjusted. I do not intend to take any further points unless -

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Order. It is not a matter of choice whether a Member takes a point of order. When a point of order is taken, that time is not taken out of the Member's speaking time.

Mr Adams:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Mr Adams has a point of order and then Dr Paisley.

Mr Adams:

Not only was Seamus Mallon not involved in these incidents - neither was Mr Adams.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

It is only right that the clock should be reset. It ill becomes you, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, to listen to what a spokesman for IRA/Sinn Féin has to say. Members could all have risen with points of order. He said that I tried to stop Mr Mallon from speaking. I never tried anything of the sort. I pointed out - and Hansard can be checked - that a personal statement, which he claimed he was making, had to be personal and could not go into other matters. Members are being told by the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin that we tried to stop Mr Mallon. That is untrue. I and my Colleagues could continue to raise points of order. The hon Member who was speaking has every right to lay down the law. The people that we represent have been murdered, maimed, killed, slaughtered by these men - and now they want into the Government of the country.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

When the issue was raised about Mr Mallon's capacity to speak being restricted, I took it as a reference not to the personal statement but to a previous occasion when there was a vote in the Assembly about whether Mr Mallon would be permitted to continue to speak. I took it that that was the occasion being referred to and not the personal statement - but I may be wrong.

Mr Adams:

You are right, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, and Dr Paisley is wrong - again.

Mr P Robinson:

Please make it clear that Mr Mallon had spoken. It was a matter of whether he had spoken for more than his time; it was not about whether he had got his time.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

That is correct. The question was whether to extend the time.

Mr C Wilson:

It will not be lost on Members, or on the people watching in the Galleries, that it was a bomber from the Loyalist paramilitaries who rose to protect those in the Republican movement who have been responsible for murdering and bombing this community. What is being presented to Members - and it will be a fait accompli undoubtedly - is the welcoming into the Executive Government of Northern Ireland of those involved in armed struggle, in spite of Mr Adams's attempt to distance himself.

If I am quoting correctly from the book 'Lost Lives' - written by a very reliable journalist - Mr Adams was the brigadier in charge of the Belfast brigade of the IRA on "bloody Friday", the day of the Oxford Street bus station bombing. Mr Adams would had to have given his agreement to those atrocities.

I make no apologies for these statements. The people of Northern Ireland know the roles that Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness - who is going to be placed in government - have played in trying to destroy the community that we live in.

The admission of the IRA into government is being done without the surrender of a single weapon; without the renunciation of the use of violence; and with no admission that the murderous work of the IRA is anything other than justified. Mr Adams, in a speech at Belfast city hall, made it clear that nothing he would ever say should be taken as criticism of the IRA volunteers. Mr Adams will have opportunity to criticise me if that statement is incorrect.

Mr Trimble has no doubts about whom he is handing power over to and whom he is bringing into the Executive. Recently, he told a 'Good Morning Ulster' interviewer that, with one or two exceptions, all the Sinn Féin Assembly team were members of the IRA. I am sorry that Mr Trimble is not present to point out the two non-subscribing members of the IRA. I believe that Mr Mitchel McLaughlin is referred to as "the draft dodger" in IRA circles, as he has not been involved in active service. I do not know Ms de Brún's background -

4.15 pm

A Member:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. Is the Member currently speaking to the motion?


The Initial Presiding Officer:

Mr Wilson, you are some way down the road on the clock and some way off the mark as far as the motion is concerned. The motion refers to Mr Mallon's position and not to the position of Sinn Féin Assembly Members.

Mr C Wilson:

Mr Mallon, Mr Adams, Mr Neeson and everyone else were given a degree of latitude when making their speeches, and I will take the same latitude.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I am generous to a fault on these matters. Mr Mallon may not thank me for drawing attention to the matter, but it is my duty to point out that you are some way off the subject of the motion.

Mr C Wilson:

I wish to make it clear that these matters flow from the fact that Mr Mallon is being reinstated as the Deputy First Minister (Designate), so my comments are very relevant. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party will not be giving any credibility to the structures that will be put in place today, and we will not be giving any assistance to those who wish to operate this undemocratic process. The Northern Ireland Unionist Party has another agenda - to demolish this affront to decency and justice. What are our chances of success as a small party opposed to the Belfast Agreement? It is similar to the chance that David had against Goliath. David was told that he had no chance. I have heard the chorus from across the Floor, from the Gallery, from the captains of industry and from church leaders. They are all saying that there is no alternative. With God's help there is an alternative, and we will see off this affront to the democratic process.

What are we to do? In 1911 Lord Carson said

"We are out once more upon a great campaign against betrayal, a betrayal of the most foul and humiliating character. Let every man take that betrayal to his own heart. Talk of it in your offices, talk of it in your workplaces, talk of it at your firesides and teach your children of it so that it sinks deep into your heart as to what is proposed to be done" -

and today we propose to bring terrorists into government -

"and as this comes home to each and every one of you, let your actions be guided by this: it is never a man's part to submit to betrayal and if you do a man's part in resisting it you will at least have done your duty and will be able to face in history those who come after you."

Outside this Chamber - and the members of the Ulster Unionist Party know this well - there is a memorial stone to Mr Edgar Graham, a former Unionist Assembly Member murdered in 1983 by Mr Adams's, Mr McGuinness's and Ms de Brún's colleagues in the IRA. The epitaph on the stone says "Keep alive the light of justice". Now these people are going to be placed in government over the community that they have terrorised for the last 30 years. Is this in the cause of justice? Is it right to seat in the new Northern Ireland Government those who have terrorised people for 30 years? We should see them brought to justice and punished for their crimes.

Ms McWilliams:

I would like to add my comments and reflect on Mr Seamus Mallon's personal statement of 15 July. At that time I said that it was a very depressing day for us, but I recall that Rev Ian Paisley said that it was a good day for the DUP - that democracy had triumphed. On that day, as a result of those views, I felt that we had to move mountains. In the Mitchell review some of those mountains have been moved, but it is clear from today's discussion so far that there are many more to move. I have compared this to queuing up to get into a concert - to waiting and waiting and waiting. The poor people in Northern Ireland have been the watchers and the waiters, and it is now time for us to give them some action. While you are waiting in this queue you may have the feeling that when you do get in, the concert will be a good one, but, from what I have heard today, the mood music has not changed at all.

If Peter Robinson, the Member for East Belfast, feels that he can cast aspersions on people's politics, then he must be able to see inside their minds. We have long said that the Women's Coalition is made up of Nationalists and Unionists. What is wrong in Northern Ireland is that people stand on the self-righteousness of the purity of their pedigree. I would like to tell you, Mr Robinson, that I have been a unionist - a trade unionist - all my life.

Mr P Robinson:

On a point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer.

Ms McWilliams:

I will take it.

Mr P Robinson:

You will take it! The Initial Presiding Officer will take it.

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, can you confirm that there is absolutely no doubt in our Standing Orders or in the Act that the Unionist designation that is required is a community one? We are talking not about a European unionist or a trade unionist but about a Unionist who wants to maintain the link with the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

It is clear from the Act and from the agreement that what is meant is a Unionist in the Northern Ireland political sense and not a trade unionist or other.

May I also remind Members - and a number have transgressed slightly in this regard - that responses should be made through the Chair, not directly to each other. I am not sure that I should advise you to do this; it can be painful enough, but Members should make their responses through the Chair.

Ms McWilliams:

Again I have to say that that was not a point of order. Mr Robinson was predicting how we would have designated ourselves, and he could not have known.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a further point of order, Mr Initial Presiding Officer. If it was not a proper point of order, why did you rule on it and affirm that my Colleague was right? Ms McWilliams cannot question the integrity of the Chair, and as a good trade unionist she should know that. A Member cannot question the integrity of the Chair. You made a ruling, and you could not have made a ruling if it had not been a proper point of order. The trouble with the hon Member is that you ruled in favour of my Colleague.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

I confirm that I gave the ruling, because I judged that it was a proper point of order, responding to a proper issue.

Ms McWilliams:

This discussion reminds me of the DUP's conference on Saturday. First they undermine you; then they ridicule you; then they fight you; and then - may I say to the Ulster Unionists - you win.

This is the type of politics that we are trying to move away from: the politics expressed by Mr Cedric Wilson, in which God is entirely on his side - the politics of self-righteousness. I hope that in this period of change we are beginning to move out of the politics of blood and loyalty towards a new kind of politics. The Deputy First Minister (Designate) - I hope that the Member will be holding that office - will remind us once again that he addressed this in his speech, when he spoke of the politics of civic principles, tolerance and mutual respect.

I was delighted to see in the Ulster Unionist Party's recent statement a new kind of politics, based on equal opportunity and - perhaps before the end of the day - on open and accountable government. It is depressing that those who are so good at naming and blaming have done so little to shape this new kind of government.

In his personal statement of 15 July Mr Mallon referred to the willingness of the then Secretary of State, Dr Mowlam, to think the unthinkable and to go an extra mile, every time, to see the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. It is good that, today, we have an opportunity to reflect on that personal statement and, indeed, on the hard work of the last Secretary of State. I hope that we can move on from the politics of jostling and jeering and get down to the work that the people have expected from us for so long. It is good for us to be able to support this motion, which will ensure that Mr Seamus Mallon will hold office as Deputy First Minister (Designate).

Mr McCartney:

When Mr Seamus Mallon resigned, with immediate effect, in this Assembly I stated that in personal terms I regretted his resignation. He was good enough to acknowledge this in very courteous and kind terms in a letter. However, I do not think that any reasonable, sensible person could possibly believe that Seamus did not resign. His resignation was in the records of the House, its acceptance was recorded in the Westminster Hansard, and all the privileges and profits of his office were withdrawn. I do not for a moment believe that Mr Seamus Mallon would have accepted a single penny in regard to that office once he had publicly offered his resignation and had it accepted.

If the legal opinion which the Initial Presiding Officer has received about whether a resignation in those terms amounts only to an offer of resignation represents the legal position, then, as Charles Dickens said,

"the law is an ass".

No rational human acquainted with such facts could have come to any other conclusion than that he had resigned - and resigned finally. The truth is that if Seamus had submitted himself for re-election in accordance with the original Standing Orders he would have been re-elected. I have no doubt of that. But the First Minister (Designate) would almost certainly not have been re-elected.

So we go through the farce of the Secretary of State's making a new Standing Order minutes before we come here so that what is an established fact, which any simpleton would understand without the need to take the opinion of Queen's Counsel, is not a fact. If that is the basis upon which we are to proceed in the House, it is a very sandy foundation indeed. But it is typical of the violations of all the principles of democracy and personal honesty, truthfulness and integrity that have beset this process from the beginning, and I do not direct this remark towards Seamus Mallon personally. There is only one rule, and that is that the process must continue.

The greatest derelictions from honesty, truth and decency, if uncovered, do not bring any odium upon the person who committed them, because he has a catch-all defence - "I did it for peace." You can get away with murder, you can get away with mutilation, intimidation and bending the rules, and you can get away with having the political representatives of terrorists, who remain armed, in executive government, as long as you are doing it for peace.

I read the debate of 15 December 1998 in this House. The motion was that those who were inextricably linked with an armed terrorist organisation could not possibly give an unqualified commitment to exclusively peaceful means and, therefore, could not participate in executive government.

I heard Mr Taylor, the right hon Member for Strangford, say that there could be no question of executive government unless there was decommissioning. I heard Mr Sam Foster talking about arms, men and equipment in the undergrowth outside and saying that to talk about an executive government including these people, without actual decommissioning, was ludicrous. I heard others, including Maj McFarland, saying that they had been deluded and deceived by Mr Blair. Mr McFarland believed his promise that no prisoners would be given early release until there was decommissioning, and said, in a plaintive tone, in the last sentence of his address, that but for those pledges they would not have signed up to the agreement. Mr Armstrong said that no reasonable person could conceivably let the representatives of terrorists, and those with whom they are inextricably linked, into government without decommissioning.

Where are all these worthies now? Where are all these people who have violated what they said publicly, on indelible record in Hansard? These people, who know that they are currently unelectable, are agreeing and using subterfuges such as the present one to maintain their position and have violated all the principles of democracy. They have violated all the principles of truth, public decency and honour. They have sown the wind, and surely they will reap the whirlwind of electoral destruction, for that is where they are headed.

I was not present when the First Minister (Designate) referred to the legal arguments which I had put forward. I do not claim that those legal arguments are unanswerable.

In the House I expounded those arguments, for good or ill. Did we hear the First Minister (Designate) rejecting any of them or making any analysis of the principles of law or democracy that would have confounded them? We heard only the usual snide, throwaway line that has become the hallmark of his addresses.

This is a sad day for democracy. The Assembly and the devolved Government, which I opposed, have not been set up on an honourable and straightforward basis. If the Administration had been mounted on the truth and on the promises which the parties concerned had made to the electorate, I should have said that I disagreed with it and that it might cause difficulties. But I should also have said that as it is the product of a democratic process, I must accept it. However, I cannot accept a devolved Government that is elected as a result of political chicanery, put in place by the devious means we have seen today and constructed at the diktat of the Secretary of State to provide cover for the unelectable. If the original rules were observed, Mr Trimble would be unelectable today as First Minister. He knows it, the public know it, and so do the electorate. If that is a sound basis for the future democratic welfare of the Assembly, I fear for it.

Peace is a worthy objective, but peace obtained by the sacrifice of the principles of democracy and of personal integrity, and at the price of forsaking the promises that parties make to the electorate is surely doomed to disaster. The motion should not be accepted.

4.30 pm

Mr Ervine:

I do not intend to get into the slanging matches that have been going on. I merely say that the Progressive Unionist Party supports the motion.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

When I laid out the terms for the debate I said that it would extend to two hours so that all parties wishing to speak could do so, and that amount of time would have allowed each party its full time to speak. After about one hour all the parties who wished speak have done so. Some parties have extensive lists of Members wishing to contribute, and I am minded to allow those parties, of which there are about three, to have another bite of the cherry. We shall then proceed to the winding-up speeches and the vote.

Mr S Wilson:

Today's proceedings have been described as verging on farce. In the light of the background to today's debate and the point that we have reached in the proceedings, it has to be said that there is some justification in that description. In our pigeon-holes this morning we found a set of rules which were devised and printed on 26 November. By lunchtime those rules had been revised, purely for the purpose of getting us to our present stage and, of course, beyond that to the point which the First Minister (Designate) has told us that he cannot wait to reach. Indeed, he waived many of his speaking rights to get to that point.

We are at this stage because the Ulster Unionist Party has been prepared to tear up its manifesto. Had it not been prepared to do that, we would not have reached this point. The Secretary of State has turned a blind eye to arms smuggling, shootings and beatings to get us to this stage. As I have said, the debate and the background to it are farcical.

Of course, in this farce, we are operating under rules which are as bent as - I suppose you know how I was going to finish that one off, Mr Initial Presiding Officer, so before you rule that I am being unparliamentary, I will not say any more. That is where we have got to.

Those looking at this objectively from the outside would see that what is going on here is not normal parliamentary democracy. The casual observer would see that we have bent and torn up the rules and that we are now debating whether Mr Mallon resigned. Does he believe he resigned, or have we imagined it? Ms McWilliams mentioned that this is like a concert. It is more like a pantomime - the Christmas pantomime season has started early. When I looked at the motion, its subject and the author, the words "Snow White" and "dwarf" came to mind. I think I had better clarify what I mean by that.

The Initial Presiding Officer:

Personal references to Members ought to be made with some caution.

Mr S Wilson:

I am referring, of course, to the effect of age on Mr Mallon's hair and to the political standing with the electorate of Mr Neeson's party: 2% - the political dwarfs.

The debate has been like a pantomime. Has he resigned? Yes he has; no he has not. Speaking as a member of the "Yes" camp - this is role reversal now - I am going to steal a line from someone else. I must say to those who are in the "No" camp that they cannot keep saying "No", especially when all the evidence is against them. We have seen it in Hansard, and we have talked about it in the House. We have heard what Mr Mallon has said. He talked about his offer of resignation having immediate effect, and the Secretary of State stood up in the House of Commons and announced it. She said that it was a setback. If this was not a resignation, if it was only an offer, why would it be a setback? According to the Secretary of State, it was a sad day.

My Colleague Mr Robinson spoke about the removal of the trappings of office, and I noted Mr Mallon's comments. He has not acted in his capacity as Deputy First Minister (Designate) since that resignation took effect. What some Members are saying today seems to be totally at odds with what they were saying on 15 July 1999 when it was like a wake here. We had weeping, wailing and lamenting.

Mr Neeson paid tribute to the Deputy First Minister (Designate). He said that that was a very sad day for the Assembly. This was, supposedly, just an offer of resignation. If it was not a real resignation, why was it a sad day? Why did he pay tribute to the former Deputy First Minister (Designate) if this was only an offer? No wonder his face was red when the motion was read out; he knows in his heart that there was a real resignation.

I listened to Mr Ervine's unusually terse contribution. [Interruption]

4.45 pm

Mr Ervine:

Sammy talks about red faces. If he had a mirror he would see a very large red face.


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