Tuesday 19 September 2006
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Madam Speaker: In accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 2006, the Secretary of State has directed that the Assembly should sit on Tuesday 19 September 2006 at 10.30 am, and again, subject to the continuation of debate, on Wednesday 20 September 2006 at 10.30 am, to consider business as it appears on the Order Paper.
Report on Law and Order Issues
Madam Speaker: Item 3 on the Order Paper is the motion on the second report from the Committee on the Preparation for Government (PFG), on law and order issues.
The Business Committee has agreed that the arrangements for today’s debate should be the same as those for last week’s debate on the Report on the Economic Challenges facing Northern Ireland.
Therefore, a Chairperson of the Committee on the Preparation for Government will formally move the motion, but will not attempt to represent the views of the Committee, and there will be no winding-up speech on behalf of the Committee.
Members will be called to speak to the motion, according to the usual conventions, with an upper time limit of 15 minutes to be applied to all those called to speak.
In view of the Secretary of State’s direction that the Assembly meet today and again tomorrow, subject to the continuation of debate, I propose to suspend proceedings today around 6.00 pm and resume at 10.30 am tomorrow. Any variation from this arrangement will be discussed through the usual channels.
If that is clear, I shall proceed.
Mr Wells: I beg to move
That the Assembly approves the second report from the Committee on the Preparation for Government, on Law and Order Issues; agrees that it should be submitted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, pending restoration of the Institutions, calls on the Secretary of State and others to address those matters identified in the report as requiring resolution or further discussion.
At the outset, Madam Speaker, I believe that it is appropriate that the House congratulates a member of the PFG Committee, Mrs Arlene Foster, on the birth of her baby son yesterday. That is tremendous news. Mrs Foster was one of the most faithful attendees up to the last, as it were. Knowing her dedication, it would not surprise me if she were to turn up tomorrow to take part in the debate. We wish her, and her husband and family, all the best on this excellent news.
Mr Kennedy: Is there a name yet?
Mr Wells: No name has been chosen yet.
I am sure that many Members will make contributions on this lengthy and detailed report, so I do not intend to spend time dealing with its finer points. However, I place on record my gratitude to those who made the report possible. While some hon Members were, no doubt, lying on sun-kissed beaches in July and August, a select few were locked in rooms, working their way through the details of the report. I am particularly grateful to those who attended all, or almost all, of the meetings for their dedication to the cause.
I also thank the staff who worked so diligently throughout the summer: the secretariat; the clerking staff; the Hansard staff who delivered such accurate and timely reports of the proceedings; and last, but not least, the catering staff who provided sustenance. I have nothing but praise for the staff who made the report possible. I ask Members to support the motion.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I welcome the publication of the report and the opportunity to debate the issues raised in it. I congratulate the Committee officials for their work on the preparation and presentation of the report. Its findings are detailed, and the debate will allow us to deal with the main themes.
In recent days, it has become clear that IRA/Sinn Féin is engaged in a wrecking agenda. Again, its seats in the Chamber are vacant. Yet again, the boycotters have refused to come to the Assembly and have, at every opportunity, frustrated the work of democratic parties on the Committee on the Preparation for Government.
The report highlights that all democratic parties represented on the Committee and in the Assembly are united in their view that Sinn Féin/IRA’s refusal to support the rule of law is the main obstacle to progress. At the heart of IRA/Sinn Féin’s agenda is a hatred for the police and the rule of law. The IRA machine is built on lawlessness and criminality — there can be no escaping that fact. To this day, IRA/Sinn Féiners cannot bring themselves to support the police and the courts, or to uphold the rule of law.
Although some progress has been made on the issues before the Committee, we cannot deceive ourselves into believing that all is well. Sinn Féin/IRA has done nothing to demonstrate practical support for the forces of law and order in our Province. There are those who lecture that all would be well if an Executive were established, but there will be no Executive that includes those who refuse to support the police by word and deed. We will accept no sleight of hand on this issue.
Law and order is absolutely fundamental to the establishment of any lasting democratic form of devolution in Northern Ireland. As representatives of the majority community, we intend to maintain integrity in the democratic process. A party that wishes to sit in Government over the people of Northern Ireland yet, at the same time, does not support the police, will be resisted by all right-thinking people.
We will have no truck with those who try to foist such a programme on us for their own narrow political agendas. Those who will not support the police will not be in any Government over us. The days of those who would undermine democracy and the rule of law in Government are over for ever. All parties stated a preference for a single devolved Department for policing and justice issues. However, there will be no such devolution while the people of Northern Ireland have no faith that the IRA is out of business.
The unionist community must be convinced that the conditions are right for any transfer of policing and justice powers. Will we see in the days, weeks and months ahead the disbandment of paramilitary organisations, including the IRA? If that were to happen, it would greatly enhance the prospects of political progress in the Province and boost confidence across the entire community.
Sinn Féin/IRA is the only party in the House that refuses to support law and order. There can be no covering up that fact; no detailed reports are necessary to establish why it refuses to support policing. Sinn Féin remains committed at heart to crime, terror and an organisation that, by its nature, is structured to destroy our country. It is for Sinn Féin to step up to the mark. What is required from all those who aspire to Government is clear and simple. Support for the police cannot be, and must not be, a trade-off or precondition for undeserved rewards.
The unionist people resent the proposal that if the IRA gets all that it is promised — and we do not know what that is — Sinn Féin will have a party conference at which its members will decide our destiny as a member of the United Kingdom and how we should be governed. We cannot be governed by the party conference of any political party. We must be governed by the rule of democracy, and democracy demands that criminality be laid aside and that there be support for the properly constituted police forces.
Support must be offered and given without strings attached. It must be given with full recognition that the police are the exclusive, lawful, impartial upholders of law and order. There is no room for a second tier under the control of, or made up by, republicans. Suggestions that Northern Ireland should have a second tier must be rejected. There can be no second tier of the police in Northern Ireland. There is one tier and one police force.
The multimillion-pound crime empire must be practically and openly given up. Those involved in the £300 million empire must be handed over to the police. The ill-gotten gains of crime will be abandoned and law enforcement agencies will be supported in the seizure of those illegal gains.
There must be no reward for support for the police; it is a precondition of democracy. Republicans — like all other citizens — must submit themselves to the rule of law by the police and the courts. That means that the IRA must be stood down and abandoned. I regret the recent statement that we should welcome the structures of IRA/Sinn Féin because that would help to forward peace in the Province. No terrorist structure can do that. Those republican activists who will not give up crime and who were integral to the republican movement in the past must be handed over to the police with any available evidence. There are no “get out of jail free” cards to be handed out to the IRA or any other terrorist organisation.
There could be no question of anyone sitting in the Cabinet of the United Kingdom who refused to support and endorse the police and the law enforcement agencies.
By the way, the same is true of the Government of the Irish Republic. In May, when the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Ahern number two, was asked whether he would sit in Government with anybody who did not, as a matter of principle, support the gardaí, he confirmed instantly that no, he would not. There would be no place for such a party in the Irish Republic’s Cabinet.
No western democracy would admit into Government a party that does not support its police force. The DUP intends to ensure that democracy and commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means applies to Northern Ireland. On this there cannot, and will not, be any lowering of standards.
It is not a move towards full acceptance of policing that is required before Government can be restored in Northern Ireland, nor is it a hint or a nod that some kind of acceptance might be required: it is full acceptance and support of the police. I disagree with the Secretary of State’s comments that we have made great advances in dealing with the matter; I do not know of any such advances. This week, it was quite clear from my meeting with the Prime Minister that there have been no advances in this area.
My message to republicans is that they must get on with delivering. Why should democratic parties have to wait for the IRA to decide whether it will go out of business? There is much other work to be done.
To date, the record of republicans has not been encouraging. Take, for example, the case of the young 15-year-old girl who was attacked by a man armed with a screwdriver while walking with three friends along Blacks Road in west Belfast in August last year. A second man used a metal bar to batter the three boys who were with her and stopped them from rescuing her. Their mobile phones and cash were stolen, and the girl was dragged onto a BP petrol station forecourt and raped.
In response to that most despicable of all crimes, a Sinn Féin representative for West Belfast was quoted in ‘The Guardian’ newspaper as saying:
“I would urge local women not to travel home alone and … to be vigilant.”
When questioned on BBC Radio Ulster following that attack, he made it quite clear that he would not encourage anyone with evidence to come forward to help to bring those brutal attackers to justice. The current situation is that Sinn Féin/IRA advises people that if they fall victim to the most brutal and depraved attacks, they should say nothing to the police and do nothing. Victims are forbidden from going to the police. We also know of the wall of silence that was evident in the investigation into the murder of Robert McCartney.
I said at the outset that law-and-order issues go to the core of this debate and are fundamental to the possibility of progress. It is Sinn Féin that stands indicted by this report. It is Sinn Féin that must tackle its failure to support the police and the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland. That party must support the police and must encourage others to do so. When that happens, we will be on the way to establishing full democracy in our beloved Province.
Madam Speaker: I remind Members who wish to use examples in their contributions that sub judice rules apply in cases for which charges are being proferred. That may be relevant to this debate.
Mr McFarland: I thank the Chairmen of the Committee on the Preparation for Government, Mr Wells and Mr Molloy, for their outstanding handling of its business. So fair and impartial have they been, that each may shortly be looking for a new party.
I stand before you, a weary survivor of the Preparation for Government Committee. I warn the Assembly that there may be some Members so severely psychologically traumatised by their time in the PFG Committee over the summer that they may need treatment. I suspect that there may be a medical bill for the Assembly at the end of its proceedings. It is arguable that the mental torture of Room 144 will be synonymous with that at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay when the annals of infamy are written.
This is the first and probably only debate that we will have in this Chamber on the business of the full Committee on the Preparation for Government. Sinn Féin has blocked the other two reports. It agreed the content of the reports but refused permission for them to be printed. That, apparently, is based on a statement that Dr Paisley made, in which he drew attention to the fact that the DUP might have problems meeting the 24 November deadline. Sinn Féin’s objection was that he was strong and vociferous about that. Members have known Dr Paisley for many years, and I do not understand why Sinn Féin is surprised that Dr Paisley is strong and vociferous about anything.
The Committee was set up to scope issues, and it was very particular about that. I want Members to note the word “scope”. On no account are they to use the word “negotiation”. That distinction was drawn daily by the DUP, which insisted that the Committee was not — whatever else it did — to become involved in any form of negotiation.
However, I could forgive Members who peruse Hansard for making that mistake, because they will discover that many issues have been agreed in the Committee. Other issues have been parked for the talks. Therefore, perhaps it could be argued that a small degree of negotiation was involved. Peter Robinson proposed in Committee that its reports should go forward to the Assembly for debate and be used as the basis for negotiation in October. That seemed to be a sensible use of the reports.
For the first time, the five major political parties in Northern Ireland sat in a room, around a table, and examined the issues that prevent a Government in Northern Ireland from getting up and running. That is encouraging.
I got into trouble over the summer, as some will have spotted, for pointing out in Committee that, for some reason that I could not understand, all of our work had entirely bypassed the media. The first journalist to spot that was Gerry Moriarty, who produced an excellent article for ‘The Irish Times’, which included some analysis. In that analysis, he examined Hansard — he had obviously read it — and worked out that there had been, over those months, a substantial thaw in the relationship between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin.
The Committee started wearily, and members spent several weeks scrapping across the table. That is only to be expected. Members began without eye contact. The Committee developed like a Greek village main street on a Sunday evening, where chaperoned young ladies walk on one side, while chaperoned young men walk on the other, each trying to meet one another’s eyes, but refusing to do so. In this case, it looked as though the Ulster Unionist Party was chaperoning the DUP, and the SDLP was chaperoning Sinn Féin to get to a point where they could make eye contact across the room. That indeed happened.
Since August, there has been serious engagement in that Committee, with much good work completed. At one stage, with Martin McGuinness on one side and Rev McCrea on the other, Rev McCrea invited Martin to call him “William”, which was very exciting.
Mr Robert McCartney: It is difficult to discern how the contents of the report are the subject of the Member’s speech. Is it not time that he was asked to confine himself at least to the general ambit of the report?
Madam Speaker: Mr McFarland’s contribution is relevant to the PFG Committee’s report.
Mr McFarland: That was my verbose Bob McCartney introduction, which Members were well used to for the four years of the previous Assembly.
Mr Robert McCartney: At least there was some content.
Mr McFarland: Well, I will give you content. I want to give some background, and get into the issue of where all this came from, which was the Belfast Agreement. At the beginning of this process, the Prime Minister reminded us that we were examining the Belfast Agreement, which was the “only deal in town”. It has to be said that if this process comes to fruition, a great deal will be owed to the courage of the Ulster Unionist Party in creating a peaceful Northern Ireland and getting Northern Ireland to where it is now, so that the DUP can take it the rest of the way.
We have to remind ourselves, of course, that in November 2004 we got within a grubby Polaroid of a deal, and we had the comprehensive agreement. It is worth reminding ourselves again what Sinn Féin said in the comprehensive agreement about the policing issue:
“As a result of our discussions we now have a commitment from the British government and the DUP to the transfer of powers on policing and justice to the Assembly as soon as possible, a DUP commitment to a speedy, time framed discussion on the departmental model and the powers to be transferred with a view to agreement by the time the Executive is established”.
Policing and justice were well on their way in November 2004, so we have, in fact, been revisiting several of these issues over the past few weeks. What are the issues? All five parties attended the meetings, and all agreed that whatever talks should take place, all five parties should be involved. However, in the end, it will come down eventually to the two largest parties having to agree what happens.
I wish to briefly examine the positions of those two parties on several issues. The Democratic Unionist Party raised three main concerns; the first, decommissioning, has raised its head again. Having said that, Dr McCrea and Ian Paisley Jnr accepted that substantial decommissioning had taken place, which is an encouraging step forward. The Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) pointed out that some weapons were outstanding. Shortly after that, ‘The Sunday Tribune’ newspaper reported that the south Derry brigade of the Provisional IRA had seceded from the organisation, “taking its weapons with it.” We will have to wait and see whether the IMC’s October report shows that those were the outstanding weapons. If they were, that clears up the issue of decommissioning for the DUP.
The issues of criminality and paramilitarism were raised: those are as much an issue for us as they are for the DUP. We have the Organised Crime Task Force and the IMC, and it is suspected — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker, there is a burble in my ear.
Mr Robert McCartney: It is your hearing.
Madam Speaker: Members obviously did not listen to what I said last week. Perhaps the Business Committee will revisit that issue today.
Mr McFarland: The Secretary of State then said that he and the Minister for Justice in the Republic accepted that the Provisional IRA leadership was now committed to peaceful means and that there had been a decrease in criminality. We will have to wait for the IMC report in the autumn to see whether that assessment is correct.
However, the key issue is whether or not Sinn Féin will sign up to policing. Where has Sinn Féin got to on that? It has told us in the press and in the PFG Committee that it has had discussions with all its people and that it intends, when it reaches agreement with the Secretary of State and the Government, to hold an Ard-Fheis and take a decision.
Mr Adams told us at the weekend that Sinn Féin is waiting for the Government to produce their part of the deal. We questioned the Secretary of State yesterday in the Senate Chamber as to what their part of the deal was. The Government claim that they have met their obligations, and that the legislation is in place. Technically, according to the Government, all that they are required to do for Sinn Féin has been done, so we await Sinn Féin’s response.
Sinn Féin is demanding from the DUP agreement on, and a timescale for, the devolution of policing and justice. We know from the comprehensive agreement that Sinn Féin secured both of those in November 2004, so, presumably, some sort of deal will be achieved in the autumn.
Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Like you, I am generous in allowing a substantial introduction. However, I am becoming a bit worried that Mr McFarland is so far into his allotted speaking time that he may forget to touch on the report at some stage.
Madam Speaker: I accept your remarks, Mr Robinson, but it is Mr McFarland’s speech to make, so it is his time. If he does not speak as you want him to, that is his problem.
Mr McFarland: I am not speaking in the way in which the DUP would like me to speak. The DUP is clearly getting annoyed at what I am saying.
Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you saying that we can speak about anything?
Madam Speaker: No. I am saying that the time is Mr McFarland’s. If he chooses to make a lengthy introduction, that is his prerogative. If he were not to mention the report and not keep to the motion, I would have to say something.
Mr P Robinson: I simply want to be clear that we can all make a 10-minute introduction on any subject of our choosing, without touching on the report.
Madam Speaker: No. Members must touch on the report. Mr McFarland has referred to the report several times, and, in doing so, he is keeping to the motion. Every Member will be treated similarly.
Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the deputy leader of the DUP to interrupt proceedings repeatedly at the mere mention of the comprehensive agreement? I can understand why he would want to interrupt, given that he is the author of that insidious document, but is it in order for him to interrupt continually — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order, Mr Attwood. I remind all Members that they must speak to the motion. Mr Robinson, you are correct to say that I must ensure that everyone speaks to the motion. I contend that, so far, Mr McFarland has referred to the motion — however scant you may think that reference to have been — and I hope that he will continue to do so.
Mr McFarland: My entire speech so far has related to the work of the PFG Committee dealing with law and order issues that led to this report. All the issues can be found in Hansard, and they are mentioned in the report. The DUP may not like what I am saying, but it should at least sit quietly and listen.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr McFarland: An aspect of the Secretary of State’s speech in Glenties was slightly disturbing. He appeared to herald a two-tier police service, by which Sinn Féin does not have to be represented on the policing institutions as long as it supports policing on the ground. The Secretary of State was questioned again about that yesterday in Committee, but I am not sure that we received a clear answer. Some dealing may be going on in the background between Gerry Adams and the Secretary of State on how and in what format Sinn Féin will join the Policing Board.
Mr Donaldson: The Member has talked a great deal about other parties’ policies and views. I ask him to elucidate a little on his party’s policy. His leader has said that we must meet the deadline of 24 November. Does he share my party’s view that that means that Sinn Féin must sign up to policing before that date, and that if it does not, we cannot go into Government with it? [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr McFarland: The Member has clearly not read the Official Report of the entire PFG Committee dealing with law and order issues, because all those issues are dealt with therein. We have said that Sinn Féin must sign up to policing before anything goes anywhere. We remain to be convinced as to whether Sinn Féin will do that by 24 November, but, in the end, that is its choice to make.
There are institutional issues that need to be resolved before the establishment of any Executive, and policing will be at the core of any future agreement. Sinn Féin must sign up to policing. Despite DUP encouragement that Sean Kelly be allowed to join the PSNI, the outstanding issues need to be resolved. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr McFarland: My colleagues will deal with other issues in detail, but one issue that I want to cover briefly before I finish concerns the fact that the PFG Committee decided that there should be one Ministry for policing and justice. That makes sense, as policing and justice are both currently handled by the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). It would appear to be effective and efficient to have one Ministry. Safeguards need to be put in place, however, and no doubt that issue will arise during the talks.
We discussed what some of those safeguards might be. The Government have a number of options from which to choose. The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister could have responsibility for policing and justice. Alternatively, responsibility could fall to two Ministers, or to a Minister and a “super junior Minister”. That issue will be a key part of any upcoming talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP, because we must have safeguards in place to ensure that no single party is allowed to have a free run on policing and justice.
Having said all that, a Department of policing and justice would be a strange organisation. As the Chief Constable of the PSNI has complete operational control, no Minister or Assembly Committee could interfere with his decisions. The PFG Committee has agreed that the Policing Board should remain in its present form, with the same number of MLAs in its membership. The Policing Board has responsibility for policing, and I cannot see a Minister being able to interfere in its work.
The legal system is fairly independent, and it is ring-fenced in such a way that it would be difficult to interfere with its structures. Indeed, as the Prison Service now has agency status, it is fairly independent. Therefore it is not at all clear how a Minister, outside the authority of the Assembly, could interfere with policing and justice. However, public perception of policing is a sensitive issue, and the Assembly needs to take account of that.
I have dealt with some of the issues; my colleagues will cover the others. I support the motion.
Mr Attwood: First, I agree with the comments of my colleagues and the Deputy Speaker in acknowledging the work of the staff. I acknowledge also the work of the two Deputy Speakers in chairing the PFG Committee. I echo Alan McFarland’s belief that some useful work has been done. Although that work has centred on the soft issues rather than the hard issues of law, order and justice, it has been important.
It is also appropriate to acknowledge the catering staff who fed us during our meetings.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr Attwood: Indeed, the Deputy Speaker wanted, in particular, to acknowledge the vegetarian options on the menu. On one occasion, however, he did not realise that he was eating duck sandwiches. [Laughter.]
He may want to comment on that later.
Madam Speaker: Mr Attwood, will you keep to the motion? [Laughter.]
Mr Attwood: The approach of Downing Street and the Secretary of State to law, order and justice is fundamentally flawed. The triple lock that sustains and builds confidence in policing, law, order and justice is the primacy of the police; full acceptance of policing responsibility; and the authority of the justice system. However, the British Government have undone that triple lock, replacing the primacy of the police with the primacy of MI5; the full acceptance of policing responsibility with the false policing responsibility outlined in the Glenties speech; and the authority of the justice system with a foolhardy protocol for restorative justice.
The combination of the triple lock is delicate. If we get it wrong now — given the possibility that there may be no Executive or Assembly — we will have to live with the consequences for a very long time. Given the potential impact of that scenario, the SDLP urges the British Government, even at this stage, to revisit those three issues.
At yesterday’s meeting of the PFG Committee, the Secretary of State was understandably evasive about MI5 primacy. He was repeatedly asked a simple question: could he confirm that, in fulfilling his executive responsibility, he has instructed MI5, when it takes primacy in the North, to share all information with the PSNI — not essential information, not relevant information, but all information? Despite being asked that question three times, the Secretary of State refused to confirm that, in exercising his executive responsibility, he had so instructed MI5.
Every party and every Member should be alarmed that the British Government are not endorsing that principle. Consequently, when there is a serious incident that may have led to the death of a citizen or to important questions being asked about the administration of law and justice in the North, an Executive or a Minister of justice in this Building, a Chief Constable down the road or the Policing Board will not have the authority to find out what is happening. Members opposite talk about the stability of the institutions in the future. However, that lack of authority has not been addressed, and MI5 primacy is being revisited, so we will live with the grave consequences of that for a long time.
As Arlene Foster said during the Committee’s deliberations on law-and-order issues, in his Glenties speech the Secretary of State established a new legitimacy on policing. He has now publicly stated that as well as the legitimacy that all parties in the Chamber signed up to — which is the legitimacy of the PSNI and the accountability mechanisms that surround it — there is now a second legitimacy in this part of Ireland: the legitimacy of merely having a relationship with the police. The Secretary of State refers to that as progress, and he has repeated that point since he made his speech in Glenties. The consequence of that is that the policing institutions and the authority of the police are devalued. That is a false position that creates a second authority in the delivery of policing in this part of Ireland. It is a little change masquerading as a big leap. As the Committee told the Secretary of State yesterday, that issue must also be revisited.
The Committee also said that all parties should face up to important policing issues; namely, they should recommend that anyone who wants to should join the police; everybody should be advised to assist the police with their inquiries; and no impediment should be placed in the way of those who participate in the police accountability structures. That is the proper way to resolve policing. The false dawn of the Glenties proposal will not suffice.
Restorative justice is the third issue that the British Government must face. In his speech to the Police Federation last week, the Secretary of State said that he accepted that the original protocol was “not sufficiently robust”. He told the federation and everybody else that they were right, and he said that the Government had listened. However, he did not listen hard enough. In that speech he outlined three areas in which the restorative justice protocol had been changed to be, in his view, more robust. First, he said that there will be direct communication between restorative justice schemes and the PSNI. However, no one has defined the nature of that direct communication. Will it merely be writing anonymous, vague or standard letters to the PSNI to confirm that an incident occurred the previous Friday night on the Falls Road? Alternatively, does it mean full and proper co-operation with the police as they attempt to fulfil their duty? Direct communication is better than third-party reporting, but if it is undefined and ill defined, it will only harbour future problems.
Mr Robert McCartney: Does the Member accept that the three areas that he has so clearly pointed out do not square with the most recent IMC report, which suggests that it is helpful to the political process for the IRA’s control and command structure to be maintained?
Mr Attwood: Ultimately, we need to reach a point when organisations that are currently illegal change their form to become no threat to anybody on any part of this island. It is one thing for those organisations to end up becoming “old boys’ clubs”, to borrow a phrase; however, it is unacceptable for any such organisation that continues to exist in this part of the island to maintain its authority and impose its will on citizens. That extends not only to republican organisations but to loyalist organisations.
A complaints mechanism was the second issue that the Secretary of State discussed in his speech to the Police Federation. He said that a new complaints system will be established through the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.
However, he fails to acknowledge that that complaints system will include no power to compel witnesses to be interviewed, to search properties or to seize documents. How does that measure up for the young boy in Ballymurphy who gets hit by some IRA commander masquerading under the banner of community restorative justice (CRJ)? How will that reassure that young boy and his family that, if he makes a complaint about that IRA commander and about his treatment under that restorative justice scheme, his complaint will be rigorously and properly investigated?
The third issue named by the Secretary of State in his speech to the Police Federation was that of oversight. He said that the Criminal Justice Inspectorate would have the power to inspect schemes. What he did not point out was that the Criminal Justice Inspection has no powers to seize documents and to investigate individual complaints. In any case, that body is already stretched in the light of the fact that it investigates 20 other organisations.
We say to the Secretary of State that, when it comes to the triple lock of sustaining confidence in law, order and justice, he should not go down the road of the primacy of MI5; he should revisit his protocol on restorative justice and, fundamentally, revisit the Glenties approach to policing.
I would like to make two comments about the Irish Government. Today, I ask the Irish Government not to wait a single week longer to help to fund the police college recommended by the Patten Report. Patten offered a range of reasons why the Irish Government should sign up to that. There could be joint training, joint planning and joint investigation — enough reasons for a multimillion-euro injection of Irish Government funds into a police college in the North of Ireland. I urge them, as this decision comes before the Minister, not to wait a week longer in making a commitment to the training of police on the island of Ireland.
There are wider reasons that the Irish Government should do that. They are involved in a wide range of reconstruction projects in conflict areas around the world, including Sierra Leone and Liberia. The British Government are also involved in such projects. The police college in the North can become an international centre for training. The British and Irish Governments’ efforts to reconstruct societies that are emerging from conflict can enable the police services from those societies to come to this part of Ireland and share in the best training facility in Europe.
My third point relates to Sinn Féin. In one way, I agree with Ian Paisley; I anticipate that after 24 November 2006 and before 17 March 2007, for reasons of a political bounce before St Patrick’s Day and an electoral bounce before the Dáil elections next June, Sinn Féin will convene a special Ard-Fheis. There will be a hullabaloo about that: Blair will have kittens about it, people will get excited about it, and Adams will deliver that Ard-Fheis. However, he will deliver it to the proposition outlined by the Secretary of State at Glenties.
He will deliver the Ard-Fheis to the point of the republican movement having a relationship with the police on the ground, when it wants it, where it wants it and on the terms that it wants it. That is what the republican strategy is going to be, and if it is not done at an Ard-Fheis, it will be done at some other event, manufactured and engineered for the sole purpose of a political and electoral bounce, rather than the compelling purpose of properly signing up to policing.
I warn the British Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, that he is particularly vulnerable to that approach at this time, given that he is interested in his legacy rather than in the right approach for this part of Ireland when it comes to the police.
I wish to say a few words to the DUP before I conclude. On some issues, when it comes to law, order and justice, I am on the same page as some elements of the DUP, if that page means the right approach to policing, the acceptance of the rule of law, and lawful authority.
However, I want to advise the DUP that, although we may share some issues and even have a few places of common concern, there is little sense that the DUP is serious about sharing power with the nationalist community. Nationalists understood why the SDLP went into this Assembly and participated fully in the Committee on the Preparation for Government. They understood that it was necessary for democratic culture and was needed in order to scope out political problems; they understood that it was necessary to look for some tentative agreement around a handful of issues.
The mainstream nationalists that we represent do not see any evidence or proof that the DUP is up for shared institutions. On behalf of that mainstream nationalism, the SDLP has challenged Sinn Féin, both in its absence and its presence, to sign up to the policing arrangements in this part of the world and to share responsibility for policing. However, there is another challenge that, in the run-up to the October negotiations and the 24 November deadline, the DUP still fails to live up to: the responsibility of sharing power with nationalists in this Assembly.
Madam Speaker: Members, this will be the first occasion on which the Assembly has heard from Mrs Long. It is her maiden speech, and Members will know the convention that such a speech is heard without interruption.
Mrs Long: Madam Speaker, I hope that you have not given me too much of a build-up, for I fear that I may not live up to it.
I want to associate myself with the comments made by my fellow members of the Committee on the Preparation for Government. I especially thank the Deputy Speakers, Mr Wells and Mr Molloy, who chaired and managed our discussions so effectively over the summer. I also thank the staff, who managed to extract a coherent and comprehensive report from the fog of those discussions.
Other members of my party will speak later about the definition of ceasefires, community restorative justice and fifty-fifty recruitment, among other issues. I want to begin my own contribution at the fundamental starting point for any discussion of policing and justice, which is the rule of law.
We must strive to ensure that we build our society, and the structures that govern it, on the foundation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Those values are intertwined; none can survive without the others. If we are to make progress on policing and justice issues, we must start by building a culture of lawfulness where the dominant or mainstream thinking in society is sympathetic to, and consistent with, the rule of law. By doing that, we prevent crimes and other violations of the law, as people have a common understanding of the role that they can play in creating a lawful society by addressing their own behaviour and by actively working with the appropriate authorities to stop the lawless behaviour of those around them. In such a culture, most people act in a manner that is consistent with the law, because they expect others to behave similarly. Crucial to that is the need for the state and its institutions to act — and to be seen to act — in a lawful and impartial manner.
The alternative to a culture of lawfulness is a culture of lawlessness, where might equals right and the strong exploit the weak. While such a culture prevails, we cannot build a fair, equitable and just society. Northern Ireland suffers from a range of threats to the rule of law, including the continued threat of terrorist violence; the continued activities of paramilitaries and, in particular, their efforts to perpetuate social control over large areas of Northern Ireland; high levels of organised crime; and the highest rate of recorded hate crimes in the United Kingdom. Those threats have huge economic, social and personal costs for our community.
In far too many ways, the state and its agencies contribute to that situation through accepting that the local strongmen are the legitimate voices of communities and allowing them to broker what does or does not happen in certain areas. Often it seems expedient to cut deals and accommodations in such a situation rather than tackle it head on. What may seem to be a short-term gain often exacerbates the problem further.
Similarly, it is often the perception in the community that there is selectivity in how the law is enforced. Too often, it seems that those who engage in mass public disorder, or act with paramilitary muscle, or use implied threats, are only to be managed by the state rather than addressed properly. Such perceived impunity is a threat to the rule of law and undermines public confidence in it. There must be a wider debate on how, as a society, we can adequately ensure that the rule of law is not only upheld but is seen to be upheld. There must be a concerted plan to address paramilitarism rather than pander to it.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Jim Wells] in the Chair)
The Alliance Party believes that the recommendations of the Patten Commission represented a fair and realistic set of proposals for the creation of a single, professional police service for all the people of Northern Ireland. We recognise also that the proposals have, largely, been implemented. Those who allege that the Patten Report has not been implemented are often very vague on the detail.
Furthermore, the Northern Ireland Policing Board has been one of the few institutional success stories of the agreement. In fact, it is a good illustration of how bodies that are established on an integrative principle can make a successful contribution to positive change in a deeply divided society. The Alliance Party takes the firm view that the Patten Report should be the conclusion of major policing reform. Accordingly, there are no grounds to open a wider debate on policing.
However, the Alliance Party recognises that, since the Patten Report was written in 1999, significant changes in best practice for policing have occurred, and it is appropriate for those to be taken on board. The biggest difficulty is the failure of all parties to recognise fully the legitimacy of the police and to give their full support to the rule of law. Even though such a situation has existed in previous Executives, it has become increasingly clear that, in the medium term, it is not sustainable for any party to be part of Government, with responsibilities for upholding the rule of law, while not supporting the Police Service.
If the suspended institutions of the agreement are to be restored in the near future, it is critical that they are placed on a durable and sustainable footing. A key element of achieving that is to ensure that all parties that would, potentially, be in Government support fully policing structures and the rule of law. To date, much of that need has been distilled into the simplistic demand for Sinn Féin to sign up to policing. However, what that entails has yet to be properly spelled out by the British and Irish Governments.
Although most attention might fall on the nature of Sinn Féin’s commitment to policing and the rule of law, it raises questions for others who, while engaging or partially engaging in the structures of policing, are not consistent on the rule of law. It is important that both the British and Irish Governments define what is entailed in parties’ signing up to policing in the coming weeks. To that end, the Alliance Party has designed five benchmarks to assess parties’ commitment to policing.
First, are the representatives of the parties engaging with the PSNI in a regular, consistent and constructive manner, both locally and centrally? Secondly, are parties prepared to recognise the PSNI as the sole legitimate policing agency in Northern Ireland, and to promote such a view in their communities? Thirdly, are parties prepared to take the seats that they are entitled to on the Policing Board and on the district policing partnerships (DPPs)? Fourthly, are Ministers prepared to take a revised Pledge of Office, containing a specific commitment to upholding and promoting the rule of law in a fair and consistent manner? Finally, are parties prepared to co-operate with the lawful authorities to address so-called individual acts of criminality that arise from any paramilitary organisation with which they may be, or may have been, associated?
The devolution of policing and criminal justice powers needs to be handled with great sensitivity, as it goes straight to the heart of people’s sense of security. More than any other aspect of current or potential devolved responsibilities, the conduct and control of policing has been at the heart of the political disputes and conflicts that have afflicted Northern Ireland. Although there is little public discussion on the matter, that should not be mistaken for a lack of interest. Fear and tension, with the associated political repercussions, could easily build in the face of the imminent implementation of decisions.
Most of that fear may be based on a Sinn Féin Minister taking responsibility for policing and justice not long after the end of the IRA campaign of violence, and in the face of continuing republican criminality and ambiguity on the rule of law.
In other quarters, however, there will be concern over a unionist taking control of that Ministry, given the legacy of historical abuse of power in the 1921-72 Stormont regime, and the failure of unionist politicians in more recent times to demonstrate unambiguous commitment to the rule of law, primarily in relation to public order problems surrounding contentious parades.
In the worst-case scenario, a politicised Minister for justice or policing could seek to influence the operational decisions of the police — a situation that would, rightly, concern the public. Those fears can only be ameliorated by parties making the commitments that we have already outlined within the appropriate institutional structures. Notwithstanding such problems, the Alliance Party sees great potential in creating a sense of cross-community ownership of policing and criminal justice through the devolution of such powers to the Assembly. This party has been a consistent advocate of devolution in that area.
With regard to structures, the devolution of those powers to a Department that is part of a power-sharing Executive must go hand in hand with significant changes in the mechanisms for accountability and collective responsibility within that Executive. At present, the Executive structures in the Assembly are inadequate. There are few incentives for moderation and accommodation. Instead, once posts are allocated, Ministers have considerable discretion to take decisions within their own area of responsibility with little or no reference to their ministerial colleagues or to the Assembly overall. Although that situation is problematic with most portfolios, it could be disastrous in relation to policing and criminal justice. Structures must be put in place that recognise and facilitate the genuine interest in, and concern about, those issues, right across the community.
The Alliance Party does not believe that any of the structures offered in the joint declaration would provide an ideal way forward. In the absence of collective responsibility, the criminal justice and policing functions are far too politically sensitive to be given to one particular party through one Minister heading up a single Department. The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) structure, either in its current form or in a replica for these particular functions, has proven to be far too unwieldy. Although there are international examples of policing and criminal justice functions being split between two Departments, this model could cause substantial confusion, on top of the split between the powers devolved to the Assembly and those retained by Westminster. In any event, even though powers would be distributed, the same problems of lack of accountability and collective decision-making would remain.
By contrast, the dangers of placing those functions within a single Department for justice would be substantially mitigated if that Department were part of an Executive working on the basis of collective responsibility. The Minister in question would be allocated his or her portfolio as part of inter-party negotiations, serve with the confidence of the Assembly and operate to collective responsibility, and could be removed from office — either with or without the collapse of the entire Executive — in the event of a major breach of faith.
The timing of the devolution of policing and criminal justice powers should primarily be determined by the correct conditions existing in society, not by an arbitrary timetable. Nevertheless, we can accept a target of two years from the restoration of political institutions for the transfer of such powers. Such a target was referred to in the comprehensive agreement and reflects my party’s position on the matter. That is different from a firm timetable. The two years would allow the institutions to be tested through two marching seasons, irrespective of the starting point.
The Alliance Party supports the Secretary of State’s assuming enabling powers with respect to eventual devolution, but that should happen after the parties reach agreement on the modalities of devolution, rather than before. Before powers are devolved, we recommend that a triple lock be put in place: first, and most crucially, a cross-community vote should be required in the Assembly; secondly, there must be a certification by the Secretary of State that the conditions are appropriate; and, thirdly, there needs to be an affirmative vote in Parliament. We note that in comments made in the House of Commons during the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, Government Ministers outlined such a triple lock. In practice, however, it is a quadruple lock as the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will be required to table any motion in the Assembly to support devolution.
The Alliance Party is generally content with the proposed policing and criminal justice powers to be transferred to the Northern Ireland Administration as set out in the Northern Ireland Office publication, ‘Devolving Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland: A Discussion Paper’. However, there is an additional need for checks and balances to prevent a Minister, through either direct or indirect pressure, from influencing operational decisions. That could be addressed through the ministerial code of conduct or the Pledge of Office. We recognise the need for powers to be retained and exercised at national level and regard the list of those to be transferred as fairly expansive.
There is some concern at the lack of accountability in how UK-wide structures relate to Northern Ireland. Part of the solution lies with a more general reform of the UK structures for tackling terrorism, defending national security, dealing with organised crime and addressing other policing issues.
Another related problem is the perception that there are different approaches and responsibilities for continued republican and loyalist terrorism, with the former being addressed at a UK level and the latter at a Northern Ireland level, based on the rationale that only the former is a threat to national security. The Alliance Party has major concerns about that differentiation.
Part of the problem lies in the traditional view of terrorism; in practice, the organisations involved have diversified into a wider range of paramilitary and organised criminal activity. The definition and parameters of the concept of terrorism must be restored, and the wider threat to democracy and the rule of law that is posed by paramilitary and organised crime needs to be better understood.
I call on Members to endorse the report and the work undertaken by the Committee on the Preparation for Government. I also call on all the parties of the Assembly, both those present today and, importantly, the party that is absent, to redouble their efforts to create conditions where a common understanding of, and support for, the rule of law can underpin the political process to the benefit of our entire community.
Mr Weir: I associate myself with the earlier remarks thanking the Committee staff for their hard work over the summer, and also with your remarks, Mr Deputy Speaker, congratulating our colleague Arlene Foster on the birth of her third child.
Before turning to the substance of my speech, I want to deal with two issues raised by Members who have already spoken. It is unfortunate that Mr Attwood has left the Chamber. He seemed to be labouring under a degree of confusion today, challenging the DUP by saying that it is not prepared to share power with nationalists. Let me deal with that confusion.
Some time ago, my party made an offer to the other constitutional parties, and the SDLP in particular, to let go of the hand of Sinn Féin and join us, and other constitutional parties, in a voluntary coalition. Today, and with respect to my party leader, I reissue that invitation. If the SDLP wants to test the DUP’s bona fides on sharing power with nationalists, it should take up that offer. There could be a voluntary coalition tomorrow morning, with democrats running Northern Ireland. The ball is in the SDLP’s court.
Mrs D Kelly: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is not the experience of nationalists in many councils throughout the North. One need only look at Lisburn City Council.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I am sorry, Mrs Kelly; that is not a point of order.
Mr Weir: I turn now to the remarks — indeed, the lecture — of the second Member to speak in this debate, Mr McFarland. Perhaps he is now the scriptwriter of ‘Zorba the Greek’. I am here not to meet his eyes across a crowded table as in some latter-day love story, but rather to respond to his lecturing of the DUP on its record on policing and justice.
If I were to take a leaf out of Mr McFarland’s book, I could probably spend the next 13 minutes of my speech dealing with the record of the Ulster Unionist Party on that subject. I could deal with the fact that the origins of the proposals for fifty-fifty recruitment to the PSNI do not lie with Mr Patten; the original progenitor was a certain Mr Kenneth Maginnis MP. I could deal with the fact that the Patten Commission led to the destruction of the RUC, at a time when Mr Trimble was giving assurances that Ken Maginnis and Cecil Walker had saved the RUC.
Mr Kennedy: I congratulate the Member on his excellent memory. Can I perhaps bring him a little closer to the present? I ask him whether he agrees with his party colleague the Member for East Londonderry, who is unfortunately not present in the Chamber, that people who are repentant can, in some shape or form, join the police? That is more relevant and more topical. Mr Weir might advise his colleague to go down the same line as the Pope, who has recently apologised to everybody — although that raises the question of what has happened to papal infallibility.
Mr Weir: I do not intend to drag sectarian issues into this debate.
The DUP has made it clear that it does not support, and has never supported, terrorists joining the police or getting into Government. In order to repent, people must remember what they did. It was not Gregory Campbell who destroyed the RUC; it was the Ulster Unionist Party. It was not Gregory Campbell who put terrorists in Government who not only had not decommissioned a single weapon but who did not support the police. In relation to the issue of justice, it was not Gregory Campbell who helped to open up the jails, allowing the vilest criminals in western Europe out onto the streets.
Mr Kennedy: Which party was the Member in at that time?
Mr Weir: My views on this issue have been entirely consistent. However, let me, in a spirit of generosity, welcome the repentance of the Ulster Unionist Party, which today has adopted the DUP position that 24 November is not a sacrosanct deadline. Rather, that date is only applicable if people are committed not only to ending terrorism and criminality but have signed up to supporting the rule of law and policing. I welcome that party’s conversion to the DUP position because, for many years, that was not its position.
I want to discuss the report on law-and-order issues. At least my introductory remarks have been slightly shorter than the opening contribution from the Ulster Unionist Party. In preparing for Government, and identifying obstacles to Government, it is commonly agreed that law and order is the most important issue. I attended a number of meetings of the economic challenges subgroup, where most issues gained consensus. However, it will come as no surprise to hear that, on the PFG Committee that dealt with law-and-order issues, agreement was not reached on a wide range of issues, the reason being that many of those issues go to the very heart of how we should proceed in Northern Ireland and, indeed, demonstrate why we currently have no Government.
I want to deal with three issues from the report. Mr McFarland referred to the fact that the DUP position on the devolution of policing and justice powers is that they should be devolved as soon as possible. He threw up that fact as if it were a revelation. In fact, the DUP took that position on the Committee.
Where Mr McFarland has gone wrong is that he has misread the comprehensive agreement. We should not be surprised to learn that, given that he also misread the Belfast Agreement in 1998. The key point is that the conditions must be right before policing and justice powers are devolved. That is why, when proposals were put forward regarding a time frame for the devolution of those powers, the DUP said no. The DUP wants the people of Northern Ireland to have maximum powers but only if the system is run by democrats. It must be recognised — and at least it was recognised in 1998 — that there must be a higher level of public confidence in the devolution of policing and justice powers than in the devolution of any other powers. At this stage, there is not enough public confidence for policing and justice to be devolved. We must wait until the conditions are right.
Mr Attwood has already mentioned restorative justice, which is an important issue that was examined in great detail by the Committee. There are two key points about restorative justice. In the same way that there cannot be two-tier policing in Northern Ireland, there cannot be two-tier restorative justice. Groups that do not co-operate with the police cannot be put on an equal footing with groups that do co-operate. Everyone must sign up to precisely the same protocols. Government cannot ease the way for those who do not support policing by trying to use restorative justice as an alternative, back-door form of policing.
Page 311 of the report lists the proposals that were not agreed by the Committee.
A number of parties raised concerns in Committee about the present protocols. Unlike other aspects of policing here, restorative justice does not appear to have an accountability framework in place that would enable it to be scrutinised. The protocols seem to provide a loophole that allows criminality to be covered but not antisocial behaviour. All who are involved in restorative justice will say that cases of antisocial behaviour make up about 80% or 90% of their work. We cannot have the primacy of the police being undermined. Above all, the police should be responsible for vetting anyone working in restorative justice schemes.
Four out of the five parties on the PFG Committee were able to agree all the propositions that are outlined in more detail on page 311 of the report, should Members wish to read them. However, our voting system allows parties a veto, and the party that vetoed those proposals was Sinn Féin. It is clear throughout the report, not simply on restorative justice issues, that the flaw that lies at the heart of this matter is that Sinn Féin has a fundamentally different view of the rule of law. Indeed, it lacks an acceptance of the rule of law, and that makes Sinn Féin fundamentally different from the democrats in the Chamber.
That goes to the heart of the problem. We cannot have two-tier policing or two-tier support for policing. I join others in expressing concern about the Secretary of State’s Glenties speech. Sinn Féin cannot just mumble a few words and, at some Ard-Fheis, sign up to a particular line that the Secretary of State has put out. Indeed, we cannot have Sinn Féin signing up to anything that falls short of full support for policing.
Mr Robert McCartney: Does the Member recall that Sinn Féin played exactly the same card with the Mitchell principles? Its alter ego, the IRA, then ran a coach and horses through them.
Mr Weir: Yes, and we should all benefit from our experience of what happened.
No half measures on policing are acceptable. There must either be full support for the rule of law, or nothing. As other Members have said, that should not only entail support for the institutions of the rule of law, such as the Policing Board. People could join the Policing Board tomorrow yet not support the police. Sinn Féin must recognise the police and co-operate with them. It must encourage people to provide information on crime, and, by saying that it is a worthwhile occupation, it must encourage young people, from the nationalist community in particular, to join the police.
Sinn Féin is a long way behind the rest of its community on policing. Many brave young men and women from the nationalist community have joined the police force, and there is a gradual acceptance of the police in the nationalist community. Sinn Féin’s mindset is lacking, and there is no greater illustration of that than what we saw at the weekend in New Lodge, where 11 police officers were injured simply for making an arrest.
As one would expect in a riot-type situation, the local representative, who happened to be a Sinn Féin councillor, was interviewed afterwards. What were her conclusions? Did she condemn the rioters? No. She complained that the police had been provocative and heavy-handed. Presumably, they were being heavy-handed when they put their shields in the way of missiles. Presumably, the way in which they headbutted the missiles that were being thrown at them was provocative. When faced with a choice between the lawless and the law enforcers, Sinn Féin still consistently comes down on the side of the lawless. The fundamental challenge for Sinn Féin is to cross that Rubicon. As my colleagues have made clear, that is a fundamental prerequisite to the establishment of any Government of which Sinn Féin hopes to be a part.
At yesterday’s meeting of the PFG Committee, my colleagues asked the Secretary of State whether he would accept Ministers of the realm who did not support the rule of law anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and it was clear that that would not be tolerated in any other jurisdiction. If a junior Minister in Tony Blair’s Administration spoke in defence of rioters over the police, he would be out of office that day.
Similarly, in the Republic of Ireland, Michael McDowell or Bertie Ahern would not tolerate any Minister taking that sort of line. That is a fundamental point. We were told yesterday that we could not wait for perfection. Let me make it clear: to seek support for the rule of law and policing institutions is not to seek perfection; it is to seek the bare minimum that any democracy requires. It is a reasonable position, and without that bare minimum the DUP will not be moving forward to any Government that involves Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin must sign up in totality to policing.
The report highlights repeatedly, on a range of issues, the gulf between Sinn Féin and the other constitutional parties. That shows how far Sinn Féin has yet to go. Whether it is on 24 November or any other date, unless Sinn Féin signs up to the rule of law and policing, there will be no place for it in the Government of Northern Ireland. I commend the report.
Mr Cobain: I want to address the issue of restorative justice, which is included in the report.
Restorative justice, as a concept, can be of tremendous assistance to the police in large working-class areas across the United Kingdom, in which antisocial behaviour restricts the quality of life for many, and traditional policing is often seen as ineffective.
This matter was recognised by the Prime Minister himself in his Respect Action Plan launch speech in January of this year, when he said:
“spitting at an old lady on her way to the shops is and has always been a crime; graffiti is a crime and always has been. Petty vandalism, the same.”
“In theory, in each case the police charge, the prosecutor prosecutes and the court decides.”
However, he added:
“Except that, in practice, it’s not what happens. In practice, the person who spits at the old lady is not prosecuted because to do so takes many police hours, much resource, and if all of that is overcome, the outcome is a fine.”
That is how the Prime Minister summarised the challenge posed by antisocial behaviour in communities across the United Kingdom. It is a reminder that alongside the headline crime stories is a harsh reality of vandalism, abusive and loutish behaviour and other antisocial behaviour, which mars the lives of individuals, families and entire communities.
Restorative justice offers an effective alternative to the status quo, which, as the Prime Minister said, can at best result in a fine. Too often victims and local communities can be left asking what exactly the system has done to make them feel more secure. In Northern Ireland, the situation is made worse by the presence and activities of paramilitaries. The beatings and shootings carried out by paramilitaries in response to antisocial behaviour can only further intimidate communities, reminding them that the rule of law does not apply to their locality.
How does restorative justice offer an alternative to the status quo of a hard-pressed policing and judicial system and to the rule of fear imposed by paramilitaries? Restorative justice seeks to change the behaviour of offenders. In other words, it seeks to end antisocial behaviour rather than merely impose fines.
I am aware that people across the community have voiced genuine concerns about community restorative justice. Some fear it will legitimise paramilitary justice; others fear that it will become an alternative policing service. To allay such fears, the Government have prepared draft protocols dealing with restorative justice, which are currently out for consultation.
The UUP position has always been that the restorative justice concept is valuable, but it must be done right and policing must be central to the entire process. My colleagues and I were relieved when, in July, Minister of State David Hanson recognised that:
“the centrality of the police to the way in which schemes operate is non-negotiable.”
The UUP believes that as an integral part of the restorative justice system, all organisations wishing to participate must give unqualified acceptance to the role of the Police Service within the criminal justice system of which CRJ schemes will become a part.
When the draft restorative justice guidelines were published in December 2005, I said that the Government’s proposals contained numerous grey areas and loopholes and that it was a loose system that practically invited manipulation. That was implicitly acknowledged in July when the Minister himself accepted that the first draft guidelines were not sufficiently robust to command public confidence.
In March, the Northern Ireland Policing Board published its detailed response to the consultation on the Northern Ireland Office draft guidelines on community-based restorative justice schemes. One of the main aspects of the first draft guidelines was that offences could be reported through a third party, bypassing the police. That is completely unacceptable. The Ulster Unionist Party is in no doubt that confidence in the system could be adversely affected if any participating organisations, endorsed by the Government, did not acknowledge the legitimacy of one of the scheme’s key partners, namely the police.
For that, and other reasons, the Ulster Unionist Party considers the Northern Ireland draft guidelines unacceptable and wishes new guidelines to be drafted. The party has also asked for a clear definition of the types of low-level crime with which the community-based restorative justice schemes would deal. Although the UUP welcomes the need for adherence to robust international standards, it believes that overall responsibility for ensuring that the schemes are held to account should be given to an oversight body and that a new organisation be established for that purpose.
My party also found it unacceptable that any complaint made by a victim of crime involved in the community-based restorative justice process would, under the current draft guidelines, be referred back to the same scheme about which they complained. The UUP believes that a truly independent external complaints system must be established. We also demand that the scheme operate to the highest human rights standards and that robust human resources and training management systems are in place to enable schemes to recruit, train and access their staff.
Northern Ireland Alternatives is an organisation that is active in the restorative justice field within certain working-class unionist areas. It operates in north Belfast, the greater Shankill area, east Belfast and north Down. Northern Ireland Alternatives found that there is a desire in working-class communities for an effective system for addressing crime, other than the paramilitary system. Its annual report published in December 2005 indicated what could be achieved when such schemes are properly operated and resourced.
The report stated that the recruitment of new staff enabled the areas where Northern Ireland Alternatives operates to become much more rooted at local level, enabling the prevention of many punishment attacks. The organisation works intensively with young people, and each group has intervened in approximately 20 cases.
In total, Northern Ireland Alternatives has prevented approximately 80 young people from being beaten, shot or exiled by local paramilitary organisations. Furthermore, those young people have been involved in intensive personal work, which has helped to change their offending behaviour choices. They have also participated in restorative processes with their victims, resulting in £4,000 being paid back in restitution last year. In the year up to December 2005, Northern Ireland Alternatives said that its work had reduced the incidence of violent punishments for antisocial behaviour to almost zero in areas where it has a presence and that there had been a dramatic decrease in paramilitary violence in all those areas.
The Northern Ireland Alternatives central office has spent much time liaising with Lord Clyde and the Independent Monitoring Commission. The first IMC report was extremely negative towards community-based restorative justice initiatives. However, Northern Ireland Alternatives addressed that issue by meeting directly with the commissioners and inviting them to meet the young people and victims who had participated in the restorative process through its organisation. That helped the commissioners to change their opinion of the work, and the next two IMC reports were extremely positive, reflecting the shift in attitudes.
In the 12 months leading up to December 2005, Northern Ireland Alternatives were involved in the delivery of 25 training sessions and 120 presentations; it facilitated 43 workshops and participated in approximately 60 radio, television and student interviews. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland Alternatives represents a good example of best practice in this field, and I commend it and wish it every success.
As I said earlier, it should be obvious and self-evident that if restorative justice schemes were to offer a genuine way forward for communities facing both antisocial behaviour and paramilitarism, they must work in conjunction with, and have direct involvement with, the PSNI. That is why robust protocols are fundamental to wider communities having confidence in restorative justice schemes.
Crucially, referrals to any restorative justice scheme must be made from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or the PSNI.
Accredited training for those involved in the schemes must be monitored, and an independent complaints procedure must be in place to protect those who are referred to the schemes and to ensure public confidence in their operation.
All of that is essential if restorative justice schemes are genuinely to help communities to overcome both antisocial behaviour and the legacy of paramilitarism. The schemes cannot exist in a shadowy parallel universe outside the rule of law. Acceptance of, and full co-operation with, policing and judicial structures must be the rule for all restorative justice schemes. Otherwise, the schemes would represent a backward step, condemning communities to more injustice and preventing the wider community from having confidence in the schemes.
The Government’s continued failure to ensure significantly robust protocols has already undermined political and community confidence in restorative justice and has the potential to undermine the positive work done by groups such as Greater Shankill Alternatives. The Government’s duty is to promote public confidence in restorative justice through the publication of robust protocols that demonstrate that restorative justice schemes have a positive role to play, alongside the police and the legal system, in addressing antisocial behaviour effectively. To date, the Government have failed in that duty.
Community restorative justice schemes have an important role to play. New, innovative schemes are needed to deal with the increasing levels of antisocial behaviour in some working-class areas. Community restorative justice schemes that are properly policed and which have all the appropriate protocols and safeguards in place offer a unique opportunity to address those issues for the benefit of all.
Mrs D Kelly: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you and your Co-Chairman, who — much to his regret, I am sure — is absent today, for completing the report’s journey. Once again, Members have been invited to speak to a report that is the result of many hours of hard work by MLAs from all parties and Assembly staff.
The report sets out many areas that require greater discussion on an all-inclusive party basis. However, as the Secretary of State acknowledged at yesterday’s meeting of the Preparation for Government Committee dealing with law and order, there has been much more agreement than he ever thought possible. For example, all parties agreed that the institutions, the structures and the independence of the Policing Board and the DPPs should remain. They agreed further on one Department for policing and justice. During discussions, all parties expressed their desire that, to maximise confidence across the community, appropriate community safeguards be built into the functions of that Department.
Both Sinn Féin and the DUP said much about wanting the devolution of policing and justice to happen as soon as possible, but under certain conditions. In effect, each of those parties has agreed to give the other a mutual veto. The DUP has done that by saying that it will not agree to the devolution of policing and justice unless, and until, Sinn Féin signs up to policing, participates fully in its structures and works with the police at a local level. On the other hand, Sinn Féin says that it will not sign up to policing until it has been given a date. Indeed, not just any date: the date must come from no less than the DUP. The SDLP believes, however, that the devolution of policing and justice could happen on day one in week one of month one of the restoration of the Assembly.
What does the failure to agree mean for the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement? Due to the never-ending and changing preconditions set by the DUP, which has stated publicly that it will not be pushed to commit to an agreement on 24 November, it could be up to 10 years before devolution is again possible, according to the Secretary of State yesterday.
Mr Paisley Jnr: Although I understand the political reasons for Mrs Kelly’s wanting to attack the Democratic Unionist Party, as she is perfectly entitled to do, would the debate not be enhanced by nationalism’s taking on the real impediments to progress: the Provisionals and their mouthpieces in Sinn Féin?
Mrs D Kelly: Mr Deputy Speaker, perhaps the Member could wait until the conclusion of my speech.
A failure to reach agreement will mean that British direct-rule Ministers will continue to make decisions about the future of our health and education services. It will mean the introduction of unfair water charges and increased rates. What will Sinn Féin do then about policing and about law and order, since the devolution of those matters can happen only on restoration of the Assembly and its institutions?
Sinn Féin waxes lyrical in the report about the sanctity of the Patten Report and about how its recommendations must be fully implemented. However, Sinn Féin conveniently ignores the fact that Patten envisaged that all parties would have signed up to policing from the outset. What holds Sinn Féin back? According to its representatives who are quoted in the report, the only barrier to its signing up to policing is a date.
Sinn Féin has overplayed its hand on policing. It is out of step not only with the SDLP but with the wider nationalist community, which is represented by organisations such as the Catholic Church and the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Irish America now also supports the police here. Indeed, there has been a recent seismic change in the attitude of Fr Seán McManus, who described the senior officers whom he met at Garnerville Police College as “fine, decent men”.
What does Sinn Féin’s intransigence mean for nationalists and for the wider community? It has not prevented young Catholic men and women from joining the PSNI, because applications have already exceeded Patten’s expectations. However, I acknowledge that young people from republican areas face much greater difficulties. Sinn Féin’s lack of moral courage and its political self-interest mean that many people who live in nationalist and republican areas are denied a police service that seeks to prevent and detect crime and to ensure greater community safety. People who live in those areas are forced to suffer antisocial behaviour, vandalism and much more serious crime, such as rape, in silence.
Sinn Féin’s continued failure to support the PSNI — despite reports from the Oversight Commissioner that state that the PSNI meets the highest standards of any police service in Europe, with human rights at its very core — and its failure to deliver on policing, have meant that, far from creating an “Ireland of equals”, many people who live in nationalist and republican areas live under the jackboot of an alternative police force.
An incident happened in my constituency less than two weeks ago. A group of young girls and boys was sitting in an open space in one of the housing areas of north Lurgan. A white van approached them. Out of the back of the van emerged not the A-Team but eight to 10 brave and strong men, who jumped out and scattered the young people. A 15-year-old girl was hit in the stomach with a crowbar. That is not what one expects in an Ireland of equals. Recently, a brutal and callous attack on an 18-year-old man in west Belfast resulted in part of his leg being amputated.
Is that what Sinn Féin means by safeguarding the rights of the child and preventing human rights abuses? Mr Deputy Speaker, that type of behaviour is not acceptable in any democratic society. The failure of Sinn Féin and the DUP to show leadership and to agree to restore all the institutions condemns countless people, young and old, to a life of fear and allows that type of behaviour to endure.
Mr Robert McCartney: I want to say at the outset that those Committee members who formulated the report, Mr Weir and Mr Attwood, must be highly commended for the detail and the principles that they have so clearly stated in this debate. It is sad that Mr Weir’s invitation to Mr Attwood and other SDLP Members to join a power-sharing Executive of unionists and nationalists is still unavailed of.
The DUP states with force and conviction that a democratic society cannot have in its governing body those who do not subscribe to the most fundamental principles of democracy, namely the rule of law and those lawfully appointed for its implementation. That is at the core of the debate.
(Madam Speaker in the Chair)
On Sunday, I listened to Minister of State David Hanson, who, with a robotic and Dalek-like delivery, stated that 24 November is the cut-off point, as a consequence of the refusal of democratic parties — I believe that the UUP shares the DUP’s view — to enter into an enforced power-sharing arrangement with a party that refuses to acknowledge, accept or implement the most fundamental principles of any democratic state.
I am disappointed that the SDLP has assumed the role of saying, “A plague o’ both your houses!” — those of the DUP and Sinn Féin — in an ostensible attempt to be fair. However, there is no comparison between their respective positions. Therefore when we deal with the rule of law and support for the police, we should be mindful of the British Government’s orchestration, at all levels, to produce a situation that, as Peter Weir, Dr Paisley and others have emphasised, would not be tolerated in the democratic institutions of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. Neither Government would tolerate Members who would not commit fully to the rule of law and its implementation. That is fundamental.
Some months ago, I spoke to Mr Hanson about restorative justice. He said that regulations and protocols would be put in place to control the concept of restorative justice. He seemed so confident that those would be effective that I told him that he should remember that he was not putting in place regulations to control beet-growing in Norfolk. This is a much more fundamental situation. Loyalist paramilitaries in north Belfast or republican paramilitaries in west Belfast will flout those regulations by setting up counter-law-enforcement agencies.
It is all very well to say that some people want to deal with young people, particularly those who are involved in antisocial behaviour, but the truth of the matter is that Sinn Féin/IRA has retained firearms. The Independent Monitoring Commission now tells us that it is good that the IRA retains its control and command structure, because it will push that organisation along the democratic process. When I read the most recent report of the IMC, paragraph 3.5 about the IRA stood out:
“The leadership is opposed to the use of violence in community control”.
There is scarce evidence that that is the case. The report continues to say that the IRA:
“has taken a stance against criminality and disorder amongst the membership, and has been engaged in successful dialogue to prevent violence during the 2006 parades season. Senior members are taking on roles in Sinn Féin and are encouraging other members to do the same or to engage in community work.”
What is new about that? For the past 30 years, senior members of Sinn Féin have been graduates of the IRA school of democracy. Is the suggestion implicit in that paragraph that the IRA needs to retain its control and command structure to ensure that its members conform to the leadership’s policy? How is that to be done? How will that be enforced? Are the Government and the IMC saying that they will condone whatever methods — including the covert use of violence — the command and control structure of the IRA deems sufficient to ensure that the political progress of Sinn Féin continues along the adopted path?
Ten or 15 years ago, members of the hierarchy said that they were confident that the IRA command structure would exercise sufficient control to ensure that the IRA ceasefire was not broken. They were appalled at any suggestion that the command structure would ensure its magnificent control by the use or threat of violence. However, in its most recent report, the IMC is apparently saying that we should not probe too deeply into that control and that we should accept the assurance that the control and command structure is required — by whatever means the IRA command considers necessary — to ensure the continuation of the political progress of the party that is inextricably bound to the IRA.
After reading that section, I was interested to see the reiteration of the IMC’s guiding principles in annex II of the report:
“The law can be legitimately enforced only by duly appointed and accountable law enforcement officers or institutions. Any other forcible imposition of standards is unlawful and undemocratic.”
However, the implicit thrust of allowing the control and command structures of the IRA to remain appears to be the antithesis of that lofty aspiration.
The IMC’s guiding principles continue:
“Political parties in a democratic and peaceful society, and all those working in them, must not in any way benefit from, or be associated with, illegal activity of any kind, whether involving violence or the threat of it, or crime of any kind, or the proceeds of crime. It is incumbent on all those engaged in democratic politics to ensure that their activities are untainted in any of these ways.
It is not acceptable for any political party, and in particular for the leadership, to express commitment to democratic politics and the rule of law if they do not live up to those statements and do all in their power to ensure that those they are in a position to influence do the same.”
However, the Secretary of State, in his Glenties speech, and on other occasions, said that it is enough if some nominal commitment to support for the police is granted at community level. The real position is that the British Government, whether to ensure some sort of historical legacy for the present incumbent of the office of Prime Minister or to get rid of Northern Ireland as a problem, are willing to do a deal with Sinn Féin that they would not contemplate doing in their own backyard.
Therefore it is incumbent on the SDLP to say that it agrees not just with some of what the DUP advocates: the SDLP must go right to the heart of the democratic process in so far as it relates to the rule of law and its implementation and say that, all things considered, the DUP got it right and that it supports that party.
If the SDLP does not do that, it risks bringing into the core of the democratic process a canker that will eventually destroy that process — despite the outward manifestations of reasonableness by people such as Mr Martin McGuinness or Mr Gerry Adams and despite their voyages to the Basque region and Palestine to give others lessons in democracy. It must be made perfectly clear to both Governments that the democrats of Northern Ireland will not tolerate any form of enforced Government that does not conform to the most basic principles of democracy as they are recognised throughout the civilised world.
When I look at events in Baghdad and Afghanistan — suicide bombers and car bombers — and look at the fountain and origin of most of those tactics and strategies, I come back to Sinn Féin/IRA, in all its manifestations. It has given lessons in terror to the world and shown how a minority of a minority can utilise terror to bring forth benefits for that minority and distort democracy in a place where democracy and the principles of democracy apply. Terror can raise Mr McGuinness to a point at which he can sit and nod with the benign gravitas of some sort of statesman; terror can elevate these people to the status of world figures.
The British Government have been responsible for that over the past 30 years. Unless the democrats of Northern Ireland, and the parties that represent them, show strength and courage, the final fruits of that terror, those tactics and that strategy will be delivered to those who have perpetrated violence, bloodshed, terror, murder and mayhem in Northern Ireland.
I endorse the Committee’s report.
Madam Speaker: Members will know that the Business Committee has arranged to meet at lunch time today. I propose therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm.
The sitting was suspended at 12.23 pm.
On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —
Lord Morrow: I congratulate my party colleague Mrs Foster on the birth of a son yesterday. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing her and the baby every success. I am glad to say that mother and baby are doing well. I expect to see Mrs Foster back in the House in the near future.
As a member of the Committee on the Preparation for Government, I thank all those who laboured so hard over the summer to bring about the report. It is a large report, and it took much time, effort and conscientious work, not only by MLAs, but by staff, to produce it. It is right that Members show their appreciation of their efforts.
Today’s debate provides Members with an opportunity to discuss one of the most important issues for any society, and, in respect of law and order, Northern Ireland is no different to any other society. It has had to endure 35 years of unmitigated, relentless sectarian terror. It is now, or is on the verge of becoming, a mafia-run or lawless state. Those are not my thoughts. They are the thoughts of a prominent senior police officer, who warned that that is the direction in which Northern Ireland could drift.
Recent remarks made by NIO Ministers lead me to expect them to offer Northern Ireland less than the best. The DUP will not accept less than the best. It will not accept second best for law and order. Ministers should be getting that message loud and clear. I would be amazed to find that they have not got it already, but sometimes they are hard of hearing, and we have to keep repeating ourselves. However, I can tell them in clear and unambiguous terms that there will be no fudge on law and order.
Since the signing of the pernicious Belfast Agreement, with all its ramifications and fudges, and the subsequent emasculation of the police, Northern Ireland has been left at the mercy of the thugs, hoods and corner boys.
The Patten proposals, which were the son of the agreement, left Northern Ireland in a state of disarray. Not only did they create a police force that seems unable to cope, but they introduced legislation to enforce fifty-fifty recruitment. Could those Members who do not sit on the unionist Benches, and who are not part of the unionist community, put their feet in our shoes and understand how we feel about legislation that discriminates against members of our community joining the police? Alas, that legislation came out of the Belfast Agreement.
Mr A Maginness: The Patten Report advocated fifty-fifty recruitment to create a balanced police service, in which both sides of the community — Catholic and Protestant — would be reflected fairly. That was clearly not the case in the RUC. Can Lord Morrow suggest an alternative method to that proposed in the Patten Report, which would enable that very necessary balancing act?
Lord Morrow: I heard what Mr Maginness said, but I refer him back to the merit principle, for which there is no substitute.
After all, how did the imbalance in the RUC come about? It came about when nationalists or Catholics wishing to join the RUC were intimidated by the thugs that I have already mentioned. Unfortunately, those thugs are still on the loose today. I say to Mr Maginness that as far as I am concerned, Catholics are welcome in the police force, and they should take up their places. If legislation were put in place that discriminated against Mr Maginness’s community, in whatever sphere of life, he would speak against it, and rightly so.
Sinn Féin has decided not to be here today to debate the issues. It is strange that having been involved in the preparation of the report, when it comes to debating matters in the Assembly, that party is far away. There must be a reason for that, and it is that Sinn Féin does not want the spotlight turned on it, because it would be exposed as anything but democratic. Sinn Féin demands to be a part of Government. Indeed, it claims that the policing portfolio in any future Administration should be its own. That would the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. I cannot think of anything worse.
Sinn Féin’s ambivalence is costing its own community dear. Its refusal to assist the police in establishing law and order in areas such as west Belfast, south Armagh and many other places across Northern Ireland is nothing short of a downright disgrace. Sinn Féin leaves its own community exposed to thugs who administer their own course of justice. We had an example of that in west Belfast at the weekend. Sinn Féin’s idea of policing is to let the young hoods take over. One hood turns on the other, and they batter the life out of each other. Sinn Féin says that this is the way forward. We are saying that it most definitely is not the way forward.
Sinn Féin’s record over the past 35 years is clear for everyone to see. It was the Prime Minister himself who said that Sinn Féin and the IRA were “inextricably linked”. Of course they are, and of course they are more paramilitary than political. Smuggling, racketeering and all the other shenanigans that go on along the Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone borders bring these criminals countless millions of pounds. They have built up an empire, and the addiction to that lifestyle is something that they are finding it difficult — well-nigh impossible — to divorce themselves from.
The vacant seats in the Chamber are a clear indication of Sinn Féin’s attitude to the most important of issues — law and order. Reality tells us that if we do not have an effective, efficient and professional police force, the fabric of society will fall apart. We can see that happening all around us today.
Criminality and paramilitarism are alive and doing very well. They are bringing in high returns for those engaged in them. Yet, Sinn Féin and its masters turn a blind eye to what is going on. People across the Province are gripped with fear; they are afraid to speak out because they know that if they do, the thugs, hoods and corner boys will either drive their windows in round them or drive them out of their homes altogether. Then the hoods and thugs will step in with their own type of justice
Sinn Féin is conspicuously silent on those issues. I have referred to the incident in west Belfast at the weekend, and that young man who was taken out by thugs. I am not commenting on what that man was doing; I am saying that no one except the forces of law and order is responsible for dealing with that type of nonsense.
The business community is paying dearly for the lack of law and order and for the Government’s failure to grapple with that. None of us should be proud of the fact that Northern Ireland is now at the top of the UK’s crime league. The ‘Lifting the Barriers to Growth 2006’ survey clearly shows that 57% of businesses have been victims of crime in the past year alone. As crime is now one of the main barriers to running a successful business, the Federation of Small Businesses continually highlights it. Crime has closed down many businesses, particularly those that are in areas in which racketeering and extortion are prevalent.
Many businesses face problems due to the hassle that louts and vandals hanging around causes. That affects trade because potential customers and clients are intimidated. Crime, and the fear of crime, is a concern for most businesses in Northern Ireland, and there is a genuine perception in the business community that no one really cares.
Crime stretches already slim budgets and causes disruption and anxiety in the workplace. Research reveals that the true extent of business crime is not reflected in official figures because many businesses have effectively opted out of the criminal justice system. What does that mean? It means that businesses tend to report crime mainly for insurance purposes. They have no confidence that the thug who committed the crime against them will be brought to book. That shows the lack of confidence in the present policy. Of those businesses that have experienced crime, only 60% reported the crimes. The main reason by far that crimes are not reported is that business owners believe that it will achieve nothing.
The elderly, the most valued and the vulnerable are also victims in our lawless state. It is an indictment against society that those people cannot live in their homes without the constant dread of being on the receiving end of thugs who feel confident that they will not be apprehended and will not have to face justice for their cowardly crimes.
The Secretary of State said some remarkable things in his speech to the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, County Donegal. It is clear that he is preparing Northern Ireland for another fudge. However, I have news for the him: fudge might have been the order of the day when the Belfast Agreement was put together, but there will be no fudge on law and order. Sinn Féin/IRA will have to come up to the mark or they will never be in Government. I do not care whether 24 November comes 10 times between now and my next birthday. Even if it takes 10 years, I emphasise that we will not sign up to anything that has even a semblance of fudge about it. I hope that the Secretary of State is listening. If he feels that he will take a whole cabal to St Andrews or to St Anywhere-Else and set them down, feed them, wine them and dine them, groom them and send them out, I tell him now that he will fail. We are not going over there to sign up to nonsense. This will be the real thing or nothing at all.
Alex Attwood made a comment, and Dolores Kelly repeated it as though it were a mantra. They cast doubt as to whether the DUP is ready for Government and whether we will share power with their party. I do not know whether those Members have seen our document ‘Devolution Now: The DUP’s Concept for Devolution’ but if they do not have it, I will get one for them because we have them in abundance. We are throwing down the challenge to the SDLP now. They are standing in the way of progress.
If the SDLP detached itself from the Provos and Sinn Féin, and led its community, it could be in Government tomorrow.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member give way?
Lord Morrow: I am nearly finished. The SDLP could be in Government with the DUP tomorrow, but it has decided that it wants to hang close to its colleagues.
Mr D Bradley: We would go into Government with the DUP tomorrow under the agreement.
Lord Morrow: The Member will get his chance to speak in a moment. The DUP is not standing in the way of devolution. We are up for it, and we are ready to go.
Mr McNarry: Many eloquent and emotional points have been made today. Much of what has needed to be said has been said, although subsequent contributors, including my colleague Danny Kennedy, will address further significant points with the same eloquence and emotion that we have already heard.
I listened to Lord Morrow’s well-made criticism and condemnation of Sinn Féin’s ambivalence to participating in debates. The House should address that by asking the Secretary of State to intervene on abstentionism being used as another veto weapon against the integrity of hon Members. It is incredible. Lord Morrow has sat with me on numerous days opposite Sinn Féin Members and participated with them in Committees, yet when it comes to their taking advantage of issues that not just they, but others, have raised — which is what we are allowed to do in the House — tactically, they duck out.
Madam Speaker, as I have asked you previously, when will the question of Sinn Féin’s participation in the Assembly be addressed? When will the integrity of the House be raised by some decision or declaration on this issue?
I would like to say something on behalf of ordinary people and in respect of good citizenship. Ordinary people who are looking for help come with problems to our offices each day or week. Unfortunately, and sadly, they will not have had the opportunity to hear the eloquent speeches that have been made on law and order in the House today. They will not pick up on those, and they will not know that we care. They will not know that we have opinions. Therefore it is up to the House to make a difference in restoring respect for those who uphold the law in a manner that reinstates visible confidence in the public’s expectations of order. The jury may still be out on whether paramilitarism will go away completely and disappear for ever, to be no more. However, even if Utopia came, do we seriously believe that all those who have killed, maimed, bombed, robbed and dished out punishment beatings will leave those skills behind them with a promise for the future? We would be quite foolish to believe that. They may move away from a political terrorism that is linked to a bloodstained cause, but some will move into highly organised mercenary gangs for hire and self-plunder, which is what the pundits and commentators say is afoot.
There are two natural progressions. One is to give up paramilitarism, and the other is to go into criminality. The pundits talk about that as though it has not happened, but in fact some people have already moved. Such outfits were prepared in advance of any proposed end to paramilitarism, and they present a prospect every bit as frightening for society as the terrorists do, and have done. The ordinary people — the far greater number of law-abiding people — who yearn for normality want to see law and order working in tandem with positive action.
Some call for zero tolerance. When one does that — as I did in my constituency to fight yobbishness, antisocial behaviour, a knife culture and a couldn’t-care-less disrespect culture — bright sparks ask what you mean. What people mean is that society’s tolerance for yobbish behaviour, for old people being attacked and robbed, for daytime carjacking, and for wanton disrespect for the police, is exhausted. That reflects on society and on our politics.
The report makes many fine points. One that jumped out at me is under the heading “Building a lawful society”. I suspect that it would be appropriate to add the word “again”. We are talking about renewing confidence by building a lawful society again. That appears to be the prospect facing the House. When the need to build a lawful society is identified, what people are really saying is that the law has fallen, for all of the reasons that I have mentioned. The onus is on the House to build that up again.
The House owes our people a demonstration that whatever it takes to renew confidence in the law will be done here. Representations have to emanate from here. I do not think that our direct-rulers believe that there is any great problem out there. Why would they? They are not elected by anybody here; they do not have constituency offices here; they do not meet the public.
When we talk about confidence, surely we are saying that the elderly should not be living in fear, and certainly not in rural areas such as the one that I represent. It may have lovely tree-lined avenues, and it may be an area of natural beauty, but there are still folks condemned to their own houses, frightened to come out, because of what has happened to them or to their neighbours.
Are we really accepting that crime is OK and that it is allowed to pay for someone’s drugs and drink habit? Are we really saying that mothers cannot go shopping with their children without being harassed and molested? Are we really saying that gangs can roam about? They do roam about. In lovely, beautiful Comber there is a gang of 50 louts that no one will stand up to. We do not have the police in Comber to stand up to them.
Lord Morrow and I talked together in Committee, and wondered why so many children do not achieve in education and why there is a great numeracy and literacy problem. Our shared opinion is that something is going wrong in the home. The problem is generational, and it did not happen yesterday but during those 30 years that Members often talk about. This is a big issue that must be addressed.
Madam Speaker, I probably have not got my head around the exactness of this, but shoplifting to you, me and everybody else is an offence. However, the shopkeeper has been told: “Give it to them. Do not take a risk. If they are coming to rob you of cigarettes or whatever, just hand it over. Give it to them.” What on earth is happening when “give it to them” is a recommendation?
That is easy to say from here, because I am not a shopkeeper, and I would ask no one to put his or her life at risk. However, what a lovely thing to say to a thief: “If you want to rob a shop, go into that one over there and no one will stop you.” What is the point of informing the police? Has a crime been committed if a shopkeeper hands over goods without even being asked?
People want to know, and they deserve to be told, that they will be protected, and that detection and punishment are in place. Society’s view — and I suppose it is an old adage that renowned lawyers and people on soapboxes would use — is to let the punishment fit the crime.
Mr Robert McCartney: Gilbert and Sullivan.
Mr McNarry: Well put, sir. Ordinary people work with and accept that, and the disappointment can be seen on their faces when the punishment dished out for a crime does not meet with their approval. However, those who have had the punishment served on them wear the broadest of smiles, because they are free to carry out the crime again and again.
We must see the duty of appropriate punishment performed immediately. If the House can do anything, surely it can bring some real pressure to bear on those who govern us to listen and take note of what is said today. They are in Government now — how about their reporting back to us and telling us what will be done about it, rather than continually hanging threats of 24 November around our necks?
Page 20 of the report lists the key issues that were discussed — excellent issues that needed to be discussed. Five proposals of significant importance to society and to ordinary people are detailed on page 21. Unfortunately, none of those proposals was agreed, and we know where the block came from.
I draw Members’ attention to page 20 and three points that will resonate with the public. First:
“The importance of public support for and co-operation with the police, to making the police more effective in tackling crime.”
“The steps needed to establish trust in the police within all sides of the community.”
“The role of political parties in providing leadership to the public in extending and enhancing support for the police in terms of recruitment, assisting investigations, etc.”
All of us can put our names to those points and support them.
The House should sign up to those expressions of support, and we must communicate that to the public. Madam Speaker, can you find a way to ensure at this important time that the feelings expressed in the House during our consideration of the report, today and tomorrow, are heard by the public? It is a worthy report, and I support it.
Mr Hay: As many Members have said, this is a very important debate on policing and law and order. Some have referred to Sinn Féin’s absence from the House. It would be very difficult for a party to participate in a debate on policing and law and order when it does not support, and has not signed up to, policing and law and order in Northern Ireland. Those issues should be at the heart of every community. No part of Northern Ireland should be beyond the reach of law and order; no community should be isolated or cut off from policing.
The British Government have been prepared for a number of years to open a side door for Sinn Féin/IRA to come into policing, particularly in the past few months. In his speech in Donegal, the Secretary of State almost encouraged Sinn Féin to agree at least to the principles of policing, as if that might be enough to get its support.
For a long time the British Government and their officials worked with others to examine how they might create a second tier of policing in Northern Ireland in the form of restorative justice schemes. I will deal with the issue of restorative justice later. It took the Policing Board, of which there are many members in the House, quite a while to persuade the British Government not to go down that road. In fact, the Secretary of State and his Ministers talked to everybody else about such schemes while totally ignoring the views of the board. It was only after we made it absolutely clear that if they were not going to consult us before issuing the draft guidelines and protocols, we would certainly have something to say publicly about the issue. It was only after a number of meetings with Ministers and with the Secretary of State that we managed to persuade the Government to come on board with some of the suggestions that we made regarding restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland.
I would be the first to say that there are schemes in unionist areas that are working in line with the protocol and with everything that the Government have asked them to do. There are other schemes that are not working at involving the police or the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, those are the schemes that are being funded. The ones that adhere to the Government’s protocols regarding the police and the checks and balances are not being funded.
My party and I have continually raised that issue on the Policing Board. The Government need to address some issues and grey areas if we are to support restorative justice schemes in Northern Ireland totally and absolutely. That view is shared by my party and by Policing Board members generally. I say to the Government that schemes that do come up to the mark — and I believe that there are schemes that can do so with the correct protocols in place — should be funded. It is important to say that in the House.
Members must be reminded that we are dealing with a Government with no morals or principles in relation to policing, law and order, and allowing terrorists into Government. Yesterday, I asked the Secretary of State where else in this United Kingdom, in all its Assemblies and Parliaments in England, Scotland and Wales, would a political party that did not support policing or support and sign up to law and order be incorporated into Government. Nowhere else would have it, and we in Northern Ireland are not going to have it here. That is the message that the Secretary of State needs to get.
Lord Morrow is right: there can be no question about supporting the police and law and order. It is a moral issue for the people of Northern Ireland, and there can be no compromise on it. If the British Government believe that by taking us away to Scotland or anywhere else, they can square the circle on those issues, they are mistaken. It will not happen until we are absolutely sure that Sinn Féin, the IRA and the republican movement are absolutely signed up to policing and law and order in Northern Ireland.
The report mentioned the future role of the British Army in Northern Ireland during what the British Government call normalisation and afterwards. The presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland is vital, because we do not believe that terrorism has gone away. We do not believe that the republican movement is totally and absolutely signed up to policing in Northern Ireland, or even to the rule of law.
The future role of the Army in supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland is crucial. The Government are currently considering a number of areas and responsibilities for the Army after normalisation. Our party believes that the Army must remain in Northern Ireland to support policing and to be called upon at any time to deal with public disturbances and many other law-and-order issues in Northern Ireland. The British Army is still very much needed to back up the police when necessary.
National security was discussed in the Chamber this morning and, from some Members’ contributions, one might think that this was the only part of the United Kingdom with an operational intelligence service. We certainly do not agree with Patten’s views on policing, but he made a remark with which we can agree: he made it absolutely clear that, only for the expertise of our intelligence services and of Special Branch, many more people would have been murdered and maimed in Northern Ireland.
There are concerns about accountability in respect of national security and about how intelligence will be shared in Northern Ireland. However, the protocols in place will, I hope, address the misgivings of some Members in relation to intelligence-gathering in Northern Ireland.
Mrs D Kelly: Will the Member acknowledge that yesterday, at the Preparation for Government Committee meeting, the Secretary of State admitted that the forthcoming Police Ombudsman’s report on the murder of Raymond McCord Jnr will result in serious embarrassment for the British state when it is revealed how agents were handled and that some agents were allowed to commit offences, including murder?
Mr Hay: The SDLP continually raises that issue in the House and on the Policing Board. I do not support everything that RUC Special Branch did over the past 30 years in Northern Ireland. Some Policing Board members learned the lesson over the Omagh bombing that the intelligence services could have done things differently. Intelligence should be shared, and I acknowledge the fact that, in the past, intelligence was not shared as it should have been.
However, for the past 30 years, there has been a vile terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland that has murdered and maimed many thousands of people. The police, RUC Special Branch and the intelligence services were under great pressure to deal with that thuggery. When members of the SDLP talk about the intelligence services, they seem to forget that Northern Ireland has not been a normal society for the past 30 years. They have had a memory lapse. Now that various police departments, including RUC Special Branch, have been reorganised, and intelligence is being shared, we will have better intelligence services in Northern Ireland.
Mr A Maginness: I agree with the Member that many problems in the past arose from intelligence not being shared. Does the Member agree that that problem could be replicated by handing over intelligence issues to MI5? There is a great danger that intelligence will, once again, not be shared and that MI5 will not be responsible to local people.
Mr Hay: The Chief Constable and Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, who is responsible for the PSNI crime operations department, have made very good presentations to the Policing Board. When board members questioned them, they made it absolutely clear that they will not sign up to anything whereby all intelligence is not shared with the Police Service. A protocol already exists. However, the Chief Constable has indicated that some issues still need to be addressed. I say to the SDLP and to the rest of the House that the bottom line is that an effective Police Service needs an effective intelligence service that works for everyone. We must try to achieve that in the House for the future of policing in Northern Ireland.
The police college has been a bone of contention for Policing Board members for some time. The British Government agreed to fund the entire college but, once again, they failed to come up to the mark. Alex Attwood spoke about that issue this morning, but I totally disagree that we take our begging bowl to any Government — and especially the Southern Government — to make up the shortfall that is needed to get the police college up and running. An effective and efficient Police Service needs a good training service.
The college at Garnerville is third-rate. In fact, it is even worse than that. I do not know how we get away with what we do in that training college, but we should not go anywhere with a begging bowl to ask for the funding shortfall. The British Government should come up to the mark, as they said they would, and if they do not, it has been agreed that the Policing Board will investigate funding the shortfall. The matter is with the Secretary of State and the Treasury, and the Secretary of State must take the final decision. We should not approach any other Government for the funding to get the college up and running.
Mr P Ramsey: Today’s motion is about the future of law and order in Northern Ireland. As public representatives, it means making our streets safer for all our constituents and ensuring that we have a well-resourced, effective police force to service the needs and concerns of local people.
I welcome the Committee’s discussions on the roles and functions of the DPPs and the community safety partnerships. It is essential that we review those to ensure best practice and accountability in all the district commands across the North. The DPPs should have a stronger role in outlining priorities for the local policing plan, and, to avoid duplication of effort and to maintain the integrity and authority of the policing structures, the Policing Board should direct those priorities. In particular, such an approach would ease the tensions that exist between the DPPs and the community safety partnerships.
It should be the police’s job to respond to local needs. The DPPs are in an excellent position to outline the views and needs of their communities and to ensure that the police recognise and address them. For example, in my constituency of Foyle, the DPP recognised the need to prioritise and address the rates of domestic violence, homophobia and hate crime. Those protocols have reduced the number of homophobic attacks and city-centre assaults in Derry. In response to concerns, the district commander developed partnerships with a range of agencies, introduced real protocols, which have reduced instances of hate crime, and developed new and innovative ways to report incidents to the police.
That is an example of how the DPPs can feed into local policing priorities and make the police accountable for addressing local problems and concerns. Those protocols and successes should be used as models of best practice and shared among DPPs throughout the North.
In Derry, the number of themed public meetings has increased greatly, with many members of the community attending and pupils from local schools taking part in question-and-answer sessions. A recent meeting, which was based on road safety, was well attended, with good contributions from victims’ families and young people.
If the Policing Board decides to review the DPPs and their structures, thought must be given to developing what does work. How can the DPPs develop and share best practice? How could the excellent work that they do be built upon? How could their work be improved? How could their accountability be increased? How could they be made more accessible to local communities? Only by doing that will policing become accessible to all the people in our communities. There is excellent potential to maximise the role of the DPPs and to make policing in the North of Ireland fully accountable.
Mr Hay: Does the Member agree that the Review of Public Administration (RPA) might result in there not being 26 DPPs?
Mr P Ramsey: I agree with the Member for Foyle. The SDLP does have concerns, and Margaret Ritchie will deal with them. The RPA will cause a loss of ownership, and we are also concerned about the future of the councils.
As I said, there is excellent potential to maximise the role of the DPPs and to make policing in the North of Ireland fully accountable. Working practices must be examined to ensure that police officers are used to maximum effect and, in particular, can respond quickly and effectively to calls for assistance.
One of the mechanisms to achieve that is for Government to take forward the review recommended by the Committee of the respective roles of district policing partnerships and community safety partnerships. There is clearly confidence, trust and satisfaction, especially with the office of the Police Ombudsman. People now believe that their complaints are being investigated impartially. We should be ensuring, even in the absence of devolved government, that there are no changes to bodies such as the Police Ombudsman’s office. Their roles should be strengthened to continue after May 2007, as they have built and developed capacity and skills over recent years.
As the Committee’s report outlines, we need further debate and discussion around issues of community restorative justice. I support restorative justice. What I am opposed to, however, is state-funded paramilitary vigilantism. Restorative justice has an important role to play in the criminal justice system, but we must get it right, so that concept and practice are not jeopardised in future.
The NIO has argued that the new protocol meets the SDLP’s concerns. That is not the case. Real change requires groups to work directly with the police. My party has many unresolved concerns with the proposals.
Under the Government’s protocol, community restorative justice groups can be funded, even though the party establishing many of them, Sinn Féin, refuses to support policing and the rule of law, and is absent from the debate on those very issues. Groups will be funded even though the culture of paramilitary control persists in our communities, leaving people too scared to speak out. Groups will receive funding without proper inspection arrangements for non-criminal work and without a proper legislative framework for their activities.
Overall, the defective protocol is damaging the rule of law. It weakens efforts to build a lawful society, and leaves working-class communities such as the one I represent in danger of very rough justice. The British Government would never introduce such guidelines in Britain; nor would they be tolerated in the South. Why should people in the North have to live with them?
In conclusion, we, as elected Members, and political parties must be the guardians of young people, giving them encouragement and motivation, and preventing them from returning to the divisions of the past. We must support the police from across the political divide, and we must support those who see a career in the Police Service as their future.
We must support the police so that we can all have a future free from violence and create a safer environment so that everyone will feel secure and content to go about their daily activities with confidence, peace in their own homes, and freedom from sectarianism, hatred and fear. The police must work in partnership with local organisations, communities and individuals to bring about effective, efficient service and a sense of confidence and ownership in their work. The challenge for the future of policing in Northern Ireland is for all political parties to be a part of policing, by being members of the Policing Board, by encouraging young people from their communities to join up, by supporting policing inclusively and by assisting and convincing others to assist policing.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Jim Wells] in the Chair)
The bottom line is that Sinn Féin must sign up to policing and a lawful society. That would help considerably in building confidence — not because we or others say so, but because it is the right thing to do. There is no doubt that if Sinn Féin signed up to policing, we would have a much greater chance of devolution and the devolution of policing and justice.
Chris Patten said in November 2003 that:
“I think the Patten report is being implemented in full and I think that they [Sinn Féin] should get off the fence and support the police service in Northern Ireland and take their responsibilities”.
It is now time for Sinn Féin to share the workload and responsibility of becoming part of a new beginning for policing.
Mr Kennedy: I am extremely pleased to speak in this important debate. I want to express my thanks as a member of the Preparation for Government Committee to the new occupant of the Speaker’s Chair, Mr Wells, and to Deputy Speaker Molloy, for the impartial way in which they administered business. I also thank all the staff, including the catering staff. Those of us who are trying to rebuild our lives in the aftermath of the Preparation for Government Committee will acknowledge the important assistance given to us by Assembly officials.
The Member for Strangford Mr McNarry predicted that I would make an eloquent speech. I am not sure where he got that from. However, that reminded me of something: Lord Byron said of his mother-in-law that she had lost the art of conversation but not, alas, the power of speech. I hope that I do not fall into that category in what is traditionally known as the “graveyard slot”. I could refer to many important issues, and I will attempt to cover as much ground as possible.
Although all of us in the Chamber today welcome the publication of the report, and the opportunity to examine it, let me, along with others, place on record my anger and frustration at the abstentionist policy adopted by Sinn Féin. That policy is now widespread in the Preparation for Government Committee. It is clear that there is an attempt to wreck the Assembly and to damage seriously any prospect — no matter how remote — of agreement between now and the end of November. Sinn Féin carries responsibility for that and should be indicted by all Members.
The PFG Committee with responsibility for institutional issues, and the PFG Committee with responsibility for rights, safeguards, equality issues and victims are in the advanced stages of preparing and agreeing reports, but Sinn Féin has effectively blocked their publication, which means that the process for a debate in the Chamber could be seriously compromised. The matters have been gone through in detail at Committee level. I call on the Secretary of State to intervene directly to ensure that the reports produced by the Committee be published and a debate organised in the Chamber, so that Members can properly exercise their democratic right to express their views on the reports. I hope that the Secretary of State will give the matter his urgent attention.
The report that we are debating covers many issues. The national security issue was mentioned earlier, and the SDLP, in particular, appears to have concerns with that. All parties are interested in any new arrangement. However, the Secretary of State could not have been clearer about the issue of national security when he spoke to us yesterday — although he might not have been clear about everything. Decisions that have already been taken at senior Government level mean that the arrangements and guidelines for intelligence services will be set and administered by Downing Street. That must be accepted. The SDLP displays some paranoia in respect of those issues. I, like William Hay the Member for Foyle, am content with the assurances of the Chief Constable and his senior officers — unanimously supported by the Policing Board — that the new protocols to be arranged and engaged in will deal adequately with the issue and give the Chief Constable, and his officers, sufficient insight into the role of the national security services in dealing with issues affecting Northern Ireland.
Mr D Bradley: I thank the Member for giving way. Considering what has happened on the British mainland as a result of the activities of the national security agencies, we need to be very careful about this issue. The national security agencies were in cahoots with the Government over the dodgy dossier that lead to the death of Dr David Kelly.
Therefore, the SDLP has good reason for refusing to treat national security lightly and would prefer local accountability.
Mr Kennedy: I thank the Member for his intervention. However, may I say to him that —
Mr McFarland: Will my colleague give way?
Mr Kennedy: Yes, I will.
Mr McFarland: Does Mr Bradley recall that the issue of national security has moved in this direction partly because the SDLP spent so much time whingeing about Special Branch? Members of the first Policing Board were hefted weekly by the appalling complaints from his party about Special Branch. The Government listened to the SDLP and, at its behest, moved intelligence operations out of Northern Ireland, giving that responsibility to MI5. Therefore, it ill becomes the SDLP to complain now, when the Government have done what the SDLP asked them to do by moving intelligence from Special Branch to MI5 — which makes a lot of sense.
Mr Kennedy: I am grateful to my hon Friend for accurately predicting what my response was going to be.
The UUP and other parties consider matters of national security to be important. However, the SDLP must be careful not to give succour to Sinn Féin opposition to the lawful action of the security services. Also, much of the SDLP’s paranoia is based more on MFI than MI5.
I want to talk briefly about a range of issues contained in the report. The bottom line for all parties present in the Chamber today is the importance of the rule of law, support for the rule of law and support for the PSNI and all policing institutions. I particularly welcome the SDLP’s expression of its views on that.
The report considered the role of the Police Ombudsman in some detail. It examined how that role might be improved to make it more acceptable to the entire community, and particularly to the unionist community, in which there is a significant chill factor. It would be a mistake not to recognise that.
I do not doubt the integrity of the Police Ombudsman, Nuala O’Loan. I do not criticise her personally. However, her position is slightly compromised by family relationships that link her to the SDLP. In the perception of the wider unionist community, that still creates a significant chill factor. I put that to the House in, I hope, a responsible fashion.
There is a widespread perception that the Police Ombudsman is not only anti-police but particularly anti-RUC. The office of the Police Ombudsman will have to address that significant problem at some stage.
Through my constituency work, I have used the office of the Police Ombudsman.
Mrs D Kelly: Does the Member acknowledge that recent surveys found that the majority of serving police officers welcomed the Police Ombudsman and her office, and encouraged members of the public who remain dissatisfied to go there? Is the Ulster Unionist Party saying that police officers who committed crimes in the past should not be brought before the courts? Why have the backwoodsmen of the Police Federation so much to fear from the Police Ombudsman?
Mr Kennedy: That is a misrepresentation of the views of the Police Federation.
Current structures deal effectively with complaints about policing. However, some people seem to have an unending desire to continually dig at the work of the RUC and, in particular, Special Branch, which is not helpful. In the context of other matters, it is particularly unwelcome.
Mr Paisley Jnr: Does the Member agree that it is a gross misrepresentation, especially from a party that purports to be a labour party, to describe members of a trade union as backwoodsmen? That union fights for better pay, standards and opportunities for its members. I am sure that he agrees with me on that.
Mr Kennedy: I agree with the hon Member. I also agree with points that were raised earlier with regard to fifty-fifty recruitment of PSNI officers. That is an insult to democratic standards. The SDLP’s support of that measure is a stain on a party that was apparently founded to bring about civil rights in Northern Ireland. A party must either be for discrimination or against it; it cannot be ambivalent. It appears that the SDLP supports discrimination.
I was pleased that there was widespread agreement in the report that the Policing Board should retain its current powers and that its political membership should be based on that of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That will be helpful and will affirm the status of that body. However, certain issues must be carefully considered, such as the relationships — following the devolution of policing and justice — among an Assembly scrutiny Committee, an established Ministry, the Chief Constable and the Policing Board. There is much work still to do in order to establish how those relationships will function.
I was pleased that the Committee endorsed the proposal from the Ulster Unionist Party to condemn the practice of exiling and called for it to be ceased forthwith. However, it is not sufficient simply to make that call without giving it practical expression. I hope that that message will be heard loud and clear in all communities.
The issue of the police college was touched on by William Hay, and rightly so. I do not agree with the comments made by Alex Attwood, the West Belfast MLA and Policing Board member, who said that he expects the Irish Government to put money towards the new college. As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, one expects that Her Majesty’s Government will fulfil those requirements. Modern facilities must be provided. Although the training package offered at Garnerville is excellent, the facilities and conditions that student officers have there are frankly unacceptable. I urge the Government to fund the new training college immediately.
Mr Paisley Jnr: I want to be associated with the comments that were made by the Deputy Speaker at the commencement of the debate, when he thanked the Clerk, the Committee staff and Hansard for their copious work in the preparation of the report, for which we are all truly grateful. I also want to be associated with the congratulations for our absent colleague, Arlene Foster, and to wish William Benjamin Thomas Foster well. I look forward to 18 years from now, when he will be able to vote for his mother to be the Member of Parliament for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
I welcome the report, which I believe contains several issues that deserve consideration.
It is important to have a single Department for policing and justice. Partitioning those Departments would be bad for management, resources and joined-up government. That is a solid proposal.
I welcome the report’s recommendation that the Policing Board retain its current powers. The ability to hold the police to account must remain with the board, and MLAs should remain its key members. Mr Kennedy, who spoke previously, mentioned the issue of exiling. I, too, believe that it is important that the practice of exiling has been highlighted and that an agreed recommendation appears in the report.
I shall call a spade a spade. The key impediment to progress has been identified in the report: the resistance by the party that is absent today to support the rule of law. That is the substance of the report. If people want to acknowledge the elephant in the room and want to know why the Government are not up and running, it is because one party aspires to Government but wants to use criminality, terrorism and everything else in the armoury of evil to pursue its ill-gotten gains.
I wish to comment briefly on the issue of MI5 accountability. Some Members touched on it, but we should continue to push the point. I can understand why people want the intelligence services to be accountable, but there will never be full visibility of everything that happens in the intelligence world. It is a murky world; it is designed to be so but, I hope, that it is a world that helps to save lives.
The DUP’s proposal is that, when responsibility for intelligence services in Northern Ireland is transferred to Westminster, Northern Ireland MPs be invited to sit on the Intelligence and Security Committee, with their colleagues from England, Wales and Scotland. Parties with representatives in that House — and who attend that House — should be able to put themselves forward for that role. It is important that that issue is addressed.
The DUP has encountered criticism of the report, most notably from Captain McFarland. It is important that we address the hypocrisy —
Mr McFarland: Major McFarland. [Laughter.]
Mr Paisley Jnr: I beg your pardon. Sorry, the Member was not wearing his epaulettes.
The issues that Major McFarland identified highlight his double standards. When the Committee on the Preparation for Government was set up, all parties were asked to draw up working documents on the key issues that they wanted addressed. My party, and the Alliance Party, brought forward many issues in respect of the rule of law, paramilitarism, criminality and decommissioning. Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group (UUPAG), as it was then, did not bring forward any such issues. The agenda shows the glaring gaps —
Mr McFarland: Will the Member give way?
Mr Paisley Jnr: No, let me make the point on the glaring gaps that appeared.
That reluctance to put those issues on the agenda has forced those parties to adopt a very different position from that which got many of them elected. Most of the Members opposite, with one or two notable exceptions, are pro-Belfast Agreement, and they all campaigned on such a manifesto. However, when those Members spoke today about how awful it is to let people out of jail free, the skin of the noble Member for Upper Bann — who is no longer in the Chamber — crawled at those Members’ contempt for an agreement and a manifesto on which they got elected to this House.
That tells its own story. The double standards that Major McFarland claimed were the DUP’s were, in fact, those of his own party.
Mr McFarland: Page 3 of the Official Report for the Committee on the Preparation for Government sitting of 28 June is there for everyone to read. It shows that Mr Paisley Jnr’s previous comments are absolute nonsense. The Ulster Unionist Party’s views of that time are clearly expressed, and for Mr Paisley Jnr to say that the Ulster Unionists did not highlight any outstanding issues is daft.
Mr Paisley Jnr: All I have in my hands is the agenda paper — a Committee for the Preparation for Government working document. It shows a huge gap on the issue of criminality and the rule of law, and that gap belongs to the Ulster Unionist Party. My party did not draw up the working document; it was drawn up by the Clerks, whom we have thanked already for their hard work.
Another criticism must be responded to, and when I do so, I will move off the controversy. It was alleged that there was some sort of love-in between the DUP and Sinn Féin, with exchanges of coquettish glances, admiring blow-kisses and wolf whistling across the Committee Room. However, at yesterday’s PFG Committee meeting, Conor Murphy was essentially pulling stumps because he said that there has been no progress and no engagement between Sinn Féin and the DUP. That tells its own story. The advancements that Mr McFarland dreamt of are his own nightmare. Major McFarland should stop eating cheese before he goes to bed at night so that he stops having those nightmares.
Mr Kennedy: Does the Member accept that there was an element of flirting between himself and his party with all of us who were engaged in the PFG Committee? I do not wish to be disingenuous, but at one stage it looked as if the DUP was prepared to go a-courting.
Mr Paisley Jnr: I have two points to make. First, when the Member is in a hole, he should stop digging. Secondly, he should not flatter himself.
The Secretary of State came to yesterday’s meeting of the PFG Committee — at long last — and gave evidence. He said that some Members were looking for perfection. I want to make it loud and clear to the Secretary of State that, although we may want to pursue it, the DUP is not looking for perfection. The DUP is demanding normality, justice and equality. The Secretary of State has an attitude problem, and somehow deems it wrong for the DUP to seek those things, and he thinks that its members ask for too much.
How can that be so, when a party says that it wants to be engaged in criminality on the one hand and engaged in Government on the other? It is not asking too much to ask for that to be severed for all time.
Dolores Kelly, a Member for Upper Bann, and Pat Ramsey, a Member for Foyle, have commented eloquently on the torture inflicted on members of their society and community, and that clearly illustrates that there cannot be a double standard from Sinn Féin/IRA. It is either Government or crime. If a party is on the side of crime, it is opposed to law and order, and it cannot be in the Government of Northern Ireland.
In his comments yesterday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that there has been an absolute sea change in the attitude of Sinn Féin. He is living in a different world. There has been no such sea change. I wish that there had been, because this society would be a lot better than it presently is.
There has been no sea change from Sinn Féin; it is still out there torturing members of its own community and holding society to ransom. Eleven police officers were hospitalised in the past 48 hours — is that a sea change? A young man in west Belfast was so brutalised that he has lost part of his leg — is that a sea change? There has been no sea change in the republican movement’s attitude to its own members and community or to law and order in Northern Ireland.
Mrs I Robinson: Is the Member aware that the only sea change that is happening in the community is that this Government are trying to change the face of terrorism? In Omagh and Castlereagh, we have been asked to remove photographs and collages of the victims of the Omagh bombing from the ambulance and fire stations, as well as the photographs at Knockbracken of the La Mon bombing. It is as if Sinn Féin/IRA never did any harm to the communities in Northern Ireland. The sea change is happening in those areas, not within terrorism.
Mr Paisley Jnr: I appreciate the Member’s well-made point. There will be an attempt to airbrush from history the real victims of Northern Ireland. However, they will never be airbrushed from the hearts and minds of the relatives who have suffered so much, seen so much and felt so much pain, and who continue to grieve for their loved ones. There are enough men and women in Ulster today who will continue to grieve for them and who will not allow their memory to be expunged from the record.
I will turn briefly to the structure of the Provisional IRA. Very different messages have emerged from the various organisations that have tried to identify the structure of that organisation. Page 13 of the eleventh IMC report states:
“structure is an important element in maintaining the organisation on its chosen path.”
I do not think so — that is “mom and apple pie”. That statement is in stark contrast to the statement that Her Majesty’s Government issued in the report of the Organised Crime Task Force just four months ago. In terms of the structure of the Provisional IRA, it indicated clearly that:
“Organised crime is used by paramilitaries as a means of raising finance both for their organisation and for personal gain. They also use their paramilitary associations to exert control over communities.”
It also says that paramilitaries — the Provisional IRA:
“bring to organised crime networks of associations familiar with operating clandestinely, experience and a readiness to resort to violence and threats. The disciplined structures which were already in place in the paramilitary organisations have allowed them to evolve from effective terrorist organisations into lucrative criminal enterprises”.
Those are not the words of the Democratic Unionist Party, or of dissidents or naysayers in the press — of whom there are a few. They are the words of the Organised Crime Task Force, the chairman of which is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, yet the Secretary of State tries to tell us that those IRA networks are to everyone’s advantage. They are not to our advantage; they are part and parcel of the poison that affects Northern Ireland.
(Madam Speaker in the Chair)
Look at the Provisional IRA’s record over the past few weeks. There was the situation in New Lodge, and there was a punishment beating. In June, a Provisional IRA man, Richard O’Donnell, was convicted of extorting £300,000. Who spoke out against that conviction? None other than a Sinn Féin Assembly Member, who said that it was terrible that that man was convicted of extortion. A Sinn Féin councillor also told us how awful that conviction was. Sinn Féin is betrayed by its own words and actions.
In Dunloy, in my constituency, we witnessed Sinn Féin’s actions on the ground. Its members held a protest by sitting down on the road, stopping men and women from going to church. The police and the courts failed to prosecute them. Fuel smuggling costs this country £2 billion. Former members of the Provisional IRA have been murdered by the Provisional IRA — including Mr Donaldson, who once worked in this Building. Ongoing daily crime has been aided and abetted by the Provisional IRA. Sinn Féin has a significant distance to travel —
Madam Speaker: Order. The Member will resume his seat.
Mr Paisley Jnr: I was interrupted on a number of occasions. I thought that I had at least another few seconds.
Madam Speaker: The ruling is that if a Member has over 10 minutes’ speaking time, he does not get any allowance for being interrupted.
Mr Shannon: A gang of drunken youths attack at random two men eating a takeaway; an elderly man asleep in his front room in broad daylight awakens to find a knife at this throat and his property stolen; young foreign women are attacked and brutalised; pornography is rampant; sex offenders are on street corners — that is not the streets of Thailand, the slums of Brazil or the ghettoes of Johannesburg, but a sad portrait of any number of towns in our Province. With this picture comes the message that the reform of law and order is imperative, as the report recognises.
Although I support the motion, I am disappointed that, because agreement could not be reached, many of the big issues have not been settled or even touched upon. I am disillusioned — as I expected to be — with the parties that would not subscribe to law and order and which will not recognise the law and policing governing bodies. I am disillusioned with those Members who will not fulfil their duty to encourage their constituents to cease resisting the police and to build up networks to support officers in their roles as peacekeepers and crime-fighters in the Province.
Some of those Members advocate the community restorative justice model. That system should operate in tandem with the police and be applied in minor cases. I do not approve of the proposals from Community Restorative Justice Ireland (CRJI). When we met representatives of that body, they told us that the system should be applied on an “M-to-M” basis — and I am not talking about M&M sweets; it stands for “from milk bottles to murder”. Community restorative justice can never be allowed to take over the role of the police. It must be applied only in minor cases, as it is in Protestant areas, with the total support of the police.
I agree with the report’s commendations of the DPPs and the community safety partnerships. As chairman of Ards District Policing Partnership, it is incumbent on me to highlight where it has worked effectively in the community. The idea behind the DPPs is for elected representatives and independent members to be the voice of the people by communicating their needs and fears to the police and, subsequently, implementing initiatives to relieve those fears and to foster a stronger, more unified and safer community.
It is up to the police and the DPPs to co-ordinate on community issues, which include antisocial behaviour, the protection of the elderly, crime rates and paramilitary activity. They must address public concern in a proactive way that builds good faith and confidence in the local police force, which will, in turn, benefit the police through the return of information that good relations inspire.
The more the community feels that the police are working for it, the more it will strive to aid the police in all possible ways. In my area, the DPP has implemented several effective schemes, such as the distribution of personal alarms, the Lock Out Crime initiative and the local policing strategy. All those programmes encourage belief in crime prevention. Although they are not always perfect, they show an ability and willingness to co-operate with each constituent who contacts the police. They show that the police value community involvement.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned community restorative justice. Some Protestant areas are notoriously underfunded and neglected. It is important for Government to understand that and to encourage people to restore the community’s faith in the PSNI.
The report refers to a concern that has been expressed by my constituents: fifty-fifty recruitment to the PSNI. That practice is definitely a law and order issue. Renewed consideration of departmental structures is needed, and recruitment practices must be reformed. I do not wish to labour this point, but when a Protestant man who applies for a job in the PSNI is unsuccessful because he does not fall into the right religious category, how can that not be classed as an infringement of his human rights? I am referring to a very disillusioned and disgusted constituent of mine. Although he passed all the selection criteria and subsequent tests, he could not become a police officer, because the quota from his community background had been filled. Six times he applied, and six times he was turned down. No longer is it the case that the right person for the job is selected; the person with the right religion is selected. That is wrong.
We must ask the Government to ensure that police numbers are maintained so that any devolution of policing will not create a deficit of officers that is greater than that which the service already suffers.
A reform of the provision of part-time officers is necessary. The Chief Constable ran a successful pilot scheme in four policing districts for part-time officers. We need more of those schemes, and we need more bobbies on the beat. Ards police allotted a great deal of overtime to its staff, and that led to a substantial percentage overspend — the biggest in the region — of the predicted budget. That amount of overtime was granted because 109 full-time reserve officers were operating pre-Patten, but post-Patten there were 86, with a further 17 of those to lose their jobs between June and September.
Has there been a huge drop in crime? The answer is no. In fact, the opposite has happened. The Chief Constable’s annual report showed an increase in crime of over 4%. That is a Province-wide increase of more than 5,000 additional crimes. Surely it would make more sense to have more, rather than fewer, police officers on the street. An increase in part-time officer numbers would allow the full-time officers to concentrate on other matters, it would increase public confidence in the police, and it would give those who have a valuable contribution to make the opportunity to do so. For example, someone could perform the dual role of mother or carer and part-time officer.
It makes sense to have an additional, and vital, police presence at weekends and in the evenings as well as for general community policing. The part-time officers can then give the full-time police effective support. The well-publicised attacks in Ards last Christmas Eve highlighted the critical need for the immediate implementation of such a programme.
Although I welcome the progress that has been made on departmental structures, the Historical Enquiries Team (HET) compiled a computer database — the first of its kind in the UK — that is so detailed and intricate, it is on a par with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) system in America. Its UK-wide links enable police forces to share information on criminals and hold them liable for their actions. It showcases modern policing in Northern Ireland, and its information will halt a great deal of criminal activity.
It was satisfying to witness the all-party condemnation of the practice of exiling from Northern Ireland. Even the self-exiled party, which is not here today, condemned that practice. We all find that hypocritical, but it is refreshing to note that those who have been involved in exiling in the past now accept that it is wrong. However, we wait to be convinced that those people have recognised the error of their ways.
My colleague William Hay mentioned the role of the Army in supporting the police in public order situations. There can be no doubt that the British Army needs to be available in a reserve role to support the police in the event of an upsurge in street violence. It must have a clear, mandated presence in the Province to be able to respond to urgent police needs. There is no logical argument against that point; therefore, it definitely requires further consideration and implementation.
In light of the few areas that other Members and I have highlighted, I support the motion. However, I also support the insistence that rationalisation should lay the foundation for any and all reform. Any future Government must, without exception, support the rule of law in Northern Ireland. How can we expect peace and stability in the Province if those who are endeavouring to implement that peace do not have the support of the Government that they serve? A stable society cannot exist without a strong and unified police force that keeps the peace, defeats crime, upholds justice and seeks the truth behind the scenes and on the streets. Let us ensure that that is the police service with which this Assembly will be working.
Mr Elliott: I commend the work of the Committee in producing the report. When reading it, it is interesting to note the names of those who took part in the Committee’s proceedings. It is particularly interesting that Sinn Féin members, such as Gerry Kelly, are now working on the law and order of the Province. I understand that he was imprisoned for a long time for his membership of the IRA and that he also escaped from the Maze Prison.
Francie Molloy is also a long-time republican. I almost question whether those Members, if they were opposed to law and order in the past, are still opposed to it. Most people will ask if it is a positive step that Sinn Féin is getting involved in law and order. The answer is yes, with the proviso that it is genuine in doing so.
Like many Members, I question how Sinn Féin can participate in Committees but not in the Chamber, where the debate is taking place. It makes me question Sinn Féin’s ability, its reason for doing that and how genuine that party is. If Sinn Féin is truly genuine, why are its Members not here?
Are republicans preparing to hold the Northern Ireland political process to ransom?
Mr A Maginness: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Elliott mentioned the Deputy Speaker, another Member, and Sinn Féin Members in general and questioned their genuineness in relation to law and order. Is it in order for the Member to impugn the Deputy Speaker in relation to a Committee to which he was appointed as a Chairman and in which he acted as a Deputy Speaker of this Assembly? It is unfair to impugn the Deputy Speaker in that context.
Madam Speaker: I have listened carefully to Mr Elliott’s remarks, and I think that he was asking a question rather than impugning anybody. I would like him to continue.
Mr Elliott: You are absolutely right, Madam Speaker. I did not impugn anybody; I was merely asking questions. If Sinn Féin’s participation is progress, I welcome it, as will the majority of Members in the Chamber.
Are republicans preparing to hold the political process to ransom over policing as it was held to ransom over decommissioning for a long time? Are policing and law and order arrangements the next issue that will be used to hold this entire process to ransom? I sincerely hope not. Must we continue to wait until more and more concessions are extracted from our Government, or can we expect Sinn Féin to sell the idea of being fully involved with, and supportive of, policing and law and order in Northern Ireland?
Will that party encourage grass-roots republicans to co-operate with the services of law and order throughout the Province and to stop all criminal activity in which its supporters may be involved? Will those criminals listen to Sinn Féin public representatives? Will they be content to accept the directive to give up what, for many, is a very lucrative and financially rewarding business to which they have become accustomed?
I note that the report mentions little about the future role of the Army in respect of law and order in this Province, which was touched on by the previous Member and a couple of others. It is very important that those issues be agreed. I ask that, in further negotiations, agreement be reached on them. In particular, there is no mention of the consequences for law and order in the Province as a result of the disbandment of the home service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment.
For the first time in the history of Northern Ireland, there will be no locally recruited back-up service for the police. During their lifetime, the home service battalions of the Royal Irish and their predecessor, the Ulster Defence Regiment, have stood squarely behind the law-abiding community of this Province. I deeply regret that this regiment, which has bravely and successfully served the community during three decades of conflict — and suffered dreadfully, with over 200 of its members murdered in brutal and cowardly fashion, and another 60 murdered after leaving the regiment — will not have the opportunity to serve the community in what we all hope will be a peaceful future.
Although many will accept the financial package offered to members of the regiment on retirement, I have serious concerns about the future ability of the civil police service to deal with all the law-and-order issues that may arise in the years ahead. Given the troubled history of this Province, I am sure that most of us share those concerns. Although I have respect for the ability of the PSNI to deal with its work and its role, I have grave concerns that it might not be able to deal with the problems that could arise due to civil unrest without the services of a locally recruited back-up.
Equally worrying is the removal of most of the Army bases in Northern Ireland. For example, the traditional garrison town of Omagh is to have its military presence totally removed, as is the entire west of the Province, with the possible exception of Ballykelly. There will be no bases in Armagh, Fermanagh or Tyrone. That is an unthinkable problem, with potentially serious consequences for the civil powers of this Province. It appears to be a substantial military withdrawal.
Mr Shannon has already mentioned DPPs and community safety partnerships. That is dealt with quite a bit in the report. Those are both community organisations and they often duplicate each other’s work. It is important that the roles of those organisations in support of the Policing Board be looked at and joined up. Both often produce lengthy and detailed reports; many of the details are duplicated. I would like to see those two organisations looked at in detail to see how they can become more proactive and, indeed, more useful to society.
Madam Speaker, I have been very brief. My colleague Mr Kennedy said that he had got the graveyard slot. I do not know what this slot is called; it is quite a bit after his. I support the motion.
Mr D Bradley: Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ar fud phróiseas na síochána, táimid cráite ag páirtithe a deir go bhfuil siad ar son an Chomhaontaithe ach atá ag cur moille ar dhul chun tosaigh an phróisis.
Is é an toradh a bhí ar an mhoill seo dochar a dhéanamh don Chomhaontú a deir na páirtithe seo go bhfuil siad ar a shon.
Mar shampla, chuir an UUP moill ar Fheidhmeannas a chur ar bun; agus chuir siad moill ar oibriú ceart na Comhairle Aireachta Thuaidh/Theas.
Throughout the peace process, we have been bedevilled by parties that say they are pro-agreement but that hold things back. All of that has served only to damage the very agreement that those parties claim to support. For example, the UUP held up the establishment of the Executive and the proper running of the North/South Ministerial Council. An even more apt example in the context of this debate is the position adopted by the Provisional movement on decommissioning. It argued that decommissioning was not necessary; that it was not desirable; and that it was dangerous even to suggest it, even though the agreement clearly required it to happen by May 2000.
Yet, last year, in a welcome but long overdue move, it decommissioned, and its members should ask themselves what they gained by waiting. The answer is that they gained very little.
They pulled the rug from under pro-agreement unionism; they helped to grow the DUP’s electoral support; and they helped to bring about four years of suspension, which might never have happened had they moved on decommissioning in time. That suspension has continued for more than a year after decommissioning because of the intransigence of the party that benefited most from the failure to decommission: the DUP.
There is a lesson there for Sinn Féin and for all of us. The peace process works best when we move forward; as soon as people hold progress back, things begin to unravel. That is why I urge Sinn Féin, having made one mistake on decommissioning, not to make another on policing. Sinn Féin admits that it is only a matter of time before it has to sign up to policing. Everyone knows that, so why not do it now? Sinn Féin will respond that it needs a commitment from the DUP to the devolution of justice. The SDLP also wants such a commitment, but it was never in the Patten Report that parties should stay away from the Policing Board until that commitment was given.
Where would we be today had the SDLP adopted Sinn Féin’s stance? The Policing Board would not have been established; we would still have had the old, toothless Police Authority. The PSNI would not exist; we would have the old RUC instead. There would be no new leadership, as put in place by the Policing Board — Ronnie Flanagan, or his anointed successor, would be there now. Fifty-fifty recruitment and all the rest would have been put on hold, and the Patten Report would have been shelved.
Let us be honest about the gains to be had from the devolution of justice. It is important, because the Assembly will be able to pass its own laws on criminal issues. If we do not like antisocial behaviour orders (ASBOs), we can change them. If we want an all-Ireland criminal assets bureau we can bring that about. Those are the gains.
However, it is not about wresting power from the securocrats, as Sinn Féin claims. After all, under British plans, MI5 will be expanded. What is the British trump card in justifying that move? It is Sinn Féin’s refusal to endorse policing. Sinn Féin’s demand for the devolution of justice seems to be little more than a stalling device. After Weston Park, its demand was not for the devolution of justice but for new legislation to remedy the defects of Peter Mandelson’s Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000.
Just before publication of the new legislation — the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003, which implemented commitments obtained by the SDLP at Weston Park — Sinn Féin tried to take the credit for it. Mitchel McLaughlin said on BBC Northern Ireland’s ‘Good Morning Ulster’ on 28 August 2002 that Sinn Féin had:
“secured a commitment from Tony Blair that he will introduce amending legislation that will bring policing arrangements up to the minimum threshold of Patten. That will be a significant development and it will be a challenge that Sinn Féin will rise to if and when it happens.”
The challenge did come, but Sinn Féin did not rise to it. Suddenly, the new legislation was not enough. There was a further demand: the devolution of justice. All we had from Sinn Féin was a new way to avoid signing up to policing.
The truth is that there is no good reason for waiting for a commitment from the DUP to the devolution of justice. It is no more than a stalling tactic; worse, it is one that hands the DUP a veto on Sinn Féin’s policing position at a time when nationalist communities are crying out for better policing. At times, Sinn Féin appears to accept that. In an ‘Irish Times’ interview in May 2006, Gerry Adams said:
“Policing may be a necessary element in the resolution of the outstanding matters to do with the Assembly. But policing needs to be dealt with anyway … If the DUP cast about for reasons why they will not be involved in powersharing, that’s their choice. But I think we have clearly said the policing issue needs to be resolved.”
If Sinn Féin will sign up to policing without the devolution of justice, why can it not do so now? Why wait, and jeopardise the chances of getting restoration? Why jeopardise the chance to get the agreement up and running? Perhaps the reason is that Sinn Féin does not really want restoration or the agreement. That is what many will conclude, if Sinn Féin does not make the move required. If Sinn Féin does not sign up to the new policing structures and continues to block police investigations, it will have to share the blame for not getting a deal by 24 November. After all, how can they create confidence that they are against criminality if they do not support policing and a lawful society?
If Sinn Féin really wants restoration, it should realise that its refusal to sign up to policing makes it easy for the DUP to reject any deal. Does it not see that it is playing right into the DUP’s hands? Sinn Féin should sign up to policing, not because the DUP says that it should, but because doing its all for Patten and the agreement means that it should.
Endless foot-dragging by the DUP in accepting the agreement’s political institutions or by Sinn Féin in accepting the agreement’s policing institutions damages the process and undermines hope for a breakthrough. Both the DUP and Sinn Féin know full well what they have to do to make progress. In the next few weeks they will be put to the test, and we will see whether they are serious about delivering.
Finally, several Members have today invited the SDLP to join them in a voluntary coalition. The SDLP is most willing to do that — under the Good Friday Agreement. It is not willing to join any shabby coalition such as that agreed between the DUP, Sinn Féin and the two Governments — the so-called comprehensive agreement.
Madam Speaker, go raibh míle maith agat.
Mr Storey: I am glad to speak in this debate and to put on record the DUP’s position and not some assertion by the SDLP in a foreign language that we cannot understand. I will state my party’s position in the Queen’s English: there will be no deal under the terms of the Belfast Agreement. It is clear that the Belfast Agreement is dead and it is not coming back. Members on the opposite side of the House should take that as read.
The motion does not stand in isolation. It did not appear out of thin air, nor did the political stork deliver it to the Chamber. The motion exists within a set of circumstances that helped to make it necessary and to shape its contents. Most Members of this Assembly hope that Northern Ireland is in the process of moving out of the nightmare visited upon it by terrorist organisations over many years. One of the crucial tests of this, and one of the key indicators of how realistic that wish will prove to be, is the issue of the rule of law.
No society can hope to prosper or grow closer if there is one law for the rich and another law for the poor; one law for white and another law for black; one law for one religion and another law for another religion. As a Presbyterian, I know that the history of the United Kingdom and the island surely tells us that that is the case.
We cannot hope to move on to a better and brighter future if there is one law for Protestants and a different law for Roman Catholics. We can never hope to achieve a lasting and real peace in Northern Ireland if there is one law for everyone else and another law for Sinn Féin/IRA. That is a truth that this Government, and particularly the Secretary of State, have been unable to grasp. It is a lesson that this Government and the Secretary of State have so far been unable to learn.
Just one example will prove my point to Members’ satisfaction. In an interview with Adam Boulton of Sky News on 2 April 2006, the Secretary of State said:
“in the end the politicians have to decide are they going to discharge their responsibilities, assume the jobs for which they’re being paid or do they want the curtain being brought down on this whole attempt, including stopping their salaries and allowances and that’s going to be a choice for them.”
“people need to take up their responsibilities, assume their duties and carry out the functions for which they are elected, which frankly they’ve not been doing.”
If I must make a choice between losing my position in the House and allowing into Government those who refuse to accept the rule of law, my personal circumstances are, quite frankly, of little consequence.
Attention must be paid to the fact that, despite the refusal of Sinn Féin MPs to take up their responsibilities and represent their electorate in the British Parliament, the very same Secretary of State does not utter so much as a squeak. Indeed, he is deafeningly silent. In short, he believes in one law for everyone else and a different law for those who represent the Provos. That is no example to set, it is no position from which to lecture others, and it is no basis for the future.
The behaviour and the example of the Secretary of State merely encourages Sinn Féin/IRA to continue in the belief that it is different, in that it can stick up its two fingers at democracy and the laws that govern everyone else. The spineless attitude of the Secretary of State must end.
The circumstances surrounding the report drip with the belief of Sinn Féin/IRA that it can flout the normal standards and practices of the rule of law that govern everyone else. We need hardly be surprised. In July 2005, the IRA gave its stand-down order, claiming that its campaign of sectarian murder was “entirely legitimate”. Sinn Féin gave this statement full and uncritical support — as did, I must say, members of the SDLP. Planting bombs, wreaking havoc, attempting to murder the entire British Cabinet and all the illegalities of the Provisional movement were not entirely legitimate. The issue is that Sinn Féin endorsed the republican statement in July.
Today we assemble in the Chamber. Sinn Féin holds with the wholesale sectarian slaughter of its neighbours, solely on the grounds of their religion. For an up-to-date assessment of the attitude of republicans to law and order, we only have to recall the words of the Member for Foyle who, commenting on the murder of Jean McConville — something that the IRA denies and says is a result of British securocrats and the secret services — said:
“It was not a criminal act.”
That is the attitude of Sinn Féin and republicans to law and order. All those years ago, Sinn Féin believed that the campaign was entirely legitimate, just as it does today.
The report exposes a republican mentality that is confused about its identity. It is republicans who are the problem, not the PSNI. Sinn Féin alone rejects the structures of law and order, yet it singularly demands the transfer of the very powers that it refuses to accept. It is little wonder that there is a deafening silence in its own communities when it cannot bring itself to condemn the actions of IRA punishment gangs and finds justification for the maiming of joyriders. Why does Sinn Féin stand aside when drug dealers are murdered in cold blood on our streets? Let us cut to the quick. Sinn Féin is not fit to hold the reins of responsibility, or hold any powers relating to law and order, when it cannot bring itself to accept the rule of law. Sinn Féin has failed miserably, and the tombstones and the sorrow that it heaped on this Province for more than 30 years are the testament to its bona fides.
Dr McCrea: Does the Member agree that if Sinn Féin members join the Policing Board, that does not automatically give them credentials in support of law and order?
Mr Storey: I agree entirely. Joining the Policing Board makes Sinn Féin members no more committed to the rule of law than coming into this Building makes them unionists. When the Sinn Féin cavalcade passed Carson’s statue, no one believed that, all of a sudden, its members had become unionists. I commend the comments made by the Member for West Belfast earlier in the debate, when he painted a picture depicting the choreography that will undoubtedly take place over the next few months in a subtle, masked attempt to ensure that Sinn Féin yet again deceives the people of Northern Ireland. That will not wash with the DUP. In the past, the Ulster Unionist Party was bought and suckered by Sinn Féin, but the DUP will not be suckered.
What about the events that took place over the weekend, to which reference has already been made? What happened when police officers tried to carry out their duties? What attitude did republicans take? They said: “Let us attack the police and wreak havoc on them as we have done in the past.”
Mrs D Kelly: Is there not an inherent hypocrisy with the DUP: last year, during the Whiterock clashes, it failed to complain about police tactics, when live rounds of ammunition were fired, not bricks from a skip?
Mr Storey: When I was a child growing up in the early days of the troubles, SDLP representatives did not encourage their community to support, or join, the RUC. The party is late in joining the debate on policing. The party has now destroyed the morale and capabilities of the RUC. SDLP Members come out with diatribes, while offering some semblance of support for the police. This Assembly has no credibility if it continues to speak to Sinn Féin in the hope that it will metamorphose into a truly democratic party.
The time has come to leave Sinn Féin behind. Sinn Féin does not want to see progress here unless it is progress inside the narrow lines of the republican agenda. However, time has now run out for that party, which wants its own way on law and order. It sticks out like a sore thumb, because it is so opposed to the structures of law and order that the democratic parties that are committed to the rule of law advocate.
The details of debate and discussion contained in the PFG Committee’s report on law and order issues highlight one thing clearly: Sinn Féin and republicans want the transfer of the maximum number of law and order powers to a power-sharing Executive. That is totally removed from reality, because republicans have singularly failed to stimulate any real flow of trust in unionists. They are held in contempt, and that contempt is well deserved. They failed to speak out against punishment beatings; they have failed and failed again.
What is republicans’ attitude to policing in my constituency? The public perception is that they do not engage and that they attack the police. We all know, however, that there are members of the republican community who go through the back door to talk to the PSNI. It is time that we had honesty, although honesty and Sinn Féin do not sit well together.
The answer is simple: Sinn Féin is caught in the shadows when it comes to law and order. Made up of paramilitaries, terrorists, ex-cons and those who never got around to doing anything violent for the armed struggle, Sinn Féin has delivered an anti-police tirade for years. How could it support the very police force that it has opposed? Sinn Féin’s one avowed intent is to bring down this state. We have had disruption, civil unrest, muddying of the waters and confusion on the issues on law and order.
That deep-rooted cultural attachment to paramilitarism, law breaking and crime must end. I also congratulate the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone Mrs Foster, and I want to ensure, for my children and for her children, that we do not put into Government those who are interested only in ensuring that they pursue their political agenda by minimalism, by destruction and by casting every possible aspersion on the security forces.
I pay tribute to those members of the security forces who lost their lives. There are widows and orphans; there are those who will look at today’s debate and really wonder why we are paying any attention at all to the organisation that was responsible for creating their circumstances. I concur with what Lord Morrow said earlier: this party will not be putting that party in control of law and order in a Government.
Madam Speaker: A number of Members have indicated that they wish to speak to the motion tomorrow. I propose, by leave of the House, that proceedings be suspended and resume at 10.30 am tomorrow.
The debate stood suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 4.08 pm.