Wednesday 20 September 2006
The sitting begun and suspended on Tuesday 19 September 2006 was resumed at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).
Report on Law and Order Issues
Debate [suspended on 19 September 2006] resumed on motion:
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. — [Chairpersons, Committee on the Preparation for Government.]
Ms Ritchie: I am pleased to participate in the debate. Members’ contributions yesterday ranged from full-frontal attacks by the DUP and UUP on new policing arrangements to those that fully embraced such structures and wanted to see violence and criminality removed from our communities. The DUP and UUP Members who ranted about the various new policing arrangements showed an arrant disregard for the need for change, for respect for difference, and for the need to address the problems, imbalances and injustices of the past.
Sinn Féin is yet again absent. Its unwillingness to sign up to new policing arrangements and its non-participation in these plenaries is simply giving the DUP a veto over political progress and development. Do Sinn Féin and the DUP want to derail policing and the political arrangements for their own political advantage and to perpetuate the problems of the past, or do Members want to build confidence in the community and ensure that political structures are restored? That choice lies with each Member.
The message from the community is clear. We all must move on and accept the rule of law, a lawful society, an end to criminality and an objective to work the institutions. No one wants a return to bombing, killing, maiming and destruction.
I want to concentrate on district policing partnerships (DPPs). The Committee jointly and collectively recommended that DPPs be reviewed in order to ensure best practice and effectiveness, and to maintain the accountability of policing arrangements. As a member of a local DPP, I agree with that.
Sinn Féin has thus far failed to countenance the new policing arrangements. On ‘Sunday Sequence’ this week, Gerry Adams said that the people of the North of Ireland need proper policing. What did he mean? What did Gerry Kelly mean on Monday when he said that the people need to be protected? Were they both referring to the community restorative justice (CRJ) programmes perpetrated by members of the IRA? Are they and their colleagues willing to embrace the new policing arrangements that are already in place, or are they still waiting for the Government to deliver on the devolution of justice and policing before they make that jump? Are they waiting to wring more concessions from the Government on policing and justice issues?
Perhaps the most fundamental question is whether Sinn Féin is serious about devolution or is simply using the policing tool as another stick or brake to prevent the restoration of the political institutions, in order to secure its own political advantage. Would signing up to new policing arrangements dismantle the summary-justice programmes that have been operating in republican and loyalist areas for years?
Sinn Féin must be asked other questions. Will it encourage people to join the Police Service? Will it encourage and persuade people with information on crimes, vandalism and antisocial behaviour to give those details to the police, so that those responsible can be subject to the due process of the law? Will it fully support the policing structures?
For the benefit of the electorate, Sinn Féin must answer those questions now. By not doing so and by not participating in this debate, that party is abdicating its responsibilities to the electorate.
Undoubtedly, policing has been transformed over the past number of years. A large proportion of the Patten reforms have been implemented: the Policing Board and other architecture of the new policing arrangements have acted as the drivers and catalysts for that change. New policing arrangements would not exist had that architecture not been in place or had the SDLP and others not taken the courageous steps that were necessary to reform policing. In fact, policing is the one area in which significant advances have been made as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.
I am a member of Down District Policing Partnership. DPPs have been one of the many enduring features of the new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland. Indeed, all 26 DPPs have facilitated partnership and dialogue between the Police Service and the community. They have ensured that members of the Police Service have been held to account by councillors and independent members, who represent a wide spectrum of public opinion. Once police district commanders have delivered their reports at public meetings, there is a mechanism by which the public can question them on issues such as antisocial behaviour, crime, vandalism and burglary. Members of DPPs and the public can submit written questions to the district commanders, who are then subject to further questioning. Members of the Down DPP have continued to monitor the local policing plan and its impact across the district. We have also developed outreach programmes so that the views of the citizens of Down on policing issues can be heard.
However, those who are opposed to the new policing arrangements have subjected some members of the district policing partnerships to vile crimes and acts of terrorism. Those people see violence as a means of venting their opposition and a way in which to obstruct the DPPs’ good work. Members of DPPs throughout Northern Ireland have remained resolute in the face of that violence. They have stood strong and firm, and this Assembly should salute them.
Sir Reg Empey: I echo and support the Member’s final comments. However, the purpose of a district policing partnership is to get across local views and opinions to the police. Does the Member agree that if the proposed changes to local government go ahead, the consequent policing arrangements would be anything but local and that the nuances of each locality could therefore be drowned out by virtue of their being part of large and unmanageable areas?
Ms Ritchie: I thank Sir Reg Empey for his point of information. I agree, and I intend to talk about the Review of Public Administration (RPA) and the impact that it will have on district policing partnerships in future. However, suffice it to say, after the RPA has been introduced the RPA, we will operate in a very different political landscape.
Much work has yet to be done on policing arrangements. People consistently raise the same issues with us, their public representatives, in our constituency offices and at public meetings of district policing partnerships. They want greater visibility of the police on the ground and more action to be taken to eradicate crime and antisocial behaviour. They also want to be able to live safely in their homes, and they want their streets to be free from crime. To that end, the district policing partnerships must be able to monitor the police to ensure that they are doing their job. However, the community also has a responsibility to co-operate with the police to ensure that they are best equipped with the necessary information.
Legislation and dialogue have ensured that problems with the new policing arrangements have been aired and resolved. However, because of the restructuring of policing command units as a consequence of the RPA, next year will probably be one of the most important that we will face.
I understand that the number of district command units will be reduced to seven or eight in order to mirror the new council divisions. Last week, the Policing Board gave a presentation to chairpersons and managers of DPPs outlining that. A reduction in command units will not provide the best administrative vehicle for the delivery of policing.
For example, the Down District Council area has been placed in the same group as those areas represented by Castlereagh Borough Council, North Down Borough Council and Ards Borough Council, which is the arrangement under the RPA. That happens to be the area with the greatest population concentration. Down has been placed with council areas in the greater Belfast metropolitan area, despite its being a totally different area politically, socially and geographically. Down is also a rural area, with different problems.
Castlereagh, north Down and Ards are essentially urban areas, with associated problems. What will be the impact of a reduction in command units on the delivery of staffing and financial resources? What will be the impact on community policing? How will response times be improved? Will current delays continue because of a lack of personnel?
Down District Council would be much better placed with Newry and Mourne District Council and Banbridge District Council. I urge that the matter be addressed immediately, as the new arrangements are due to be introduced in April 2007.
Another concern is the time that it has taken to recruit and allocate part-time police officers. After a pilot scheme in 2003, it was February 2006 before a further allocation of such officers was made. The areas selected were Moyle, Ballymoney, Newry and Mourne, Derry and south Belfast. Other district policing areas, such as Down, have been advised that expansion of community beat policing relied on the intake of part-time police officers.
The Policing Board has advised DPPs that police community support officers, who have been successful in tackling low-level neighbourhood crime in parts of Great Britain, are to be introduced. The legislation and vetting arrangements are expected to be in place in February 2007, and the officers are expected to be in post by the following year. I hope that that is the case. However, the delay in bringing that into operation is to be deplored.
The constituents of South Down want to see community police officers on the ground helping to eradicate crime. I hope that the new command unit structures will not interfere with the need for more community beat officers in Down. I have a significant fear about that, because it will no longer be local versus local; it will be distant versus local, which is a different problem.
Mr Paisley Jnr: I appreciate the Member’s point. It is deplorable that the recruitment of additional police officers has been delayed. However, the Member’s party must take some responsibility for blocking the recruitment of an additional 900 part-time reserve officers and for voting for the removal of 600 full-time reserve officers, hence the shortage of staff and the current crisis in police numbers.
Ms Ritchie: I thank the Member for North Antrim for his information, which is useful, although I am already aware of it. The discussion is about new policing arrangements and what must be addressed now: new training; new police; and new action on the ground in communities. I hope that the Member will take that on board and not hark back to the past.
At the most recent public meeting of the Down DPP in Downpatrick, which was held two weeks ago, members of the public told the DPP and the police that they want more community policing on the ground. They want community beat teams out and about to tackle problems such as antisocial behaviour, vandalism and under-age and after-hours drinking. It is extremely unfortunate that a member of the DUP — a colleague of the Member who gave a point of information a few moments ago — deliberately tried to scupper that meeting by putting political questions on the agenda. That so happened to precipitate a phone call from an unidentified organisation using an identified code word, which ensured that the DPP meeting was cancelled.
Two bodies were responsible for that. Clearly, the blame lies with elements in republicanism as well as with elements in the DUP. Does that party want new policing arrangements or not?
Mr Paisley Jnr: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the Member is suggesting that a member of this party was associated with telephoning a DPP meeting and giving a coded message that alerted a bomb scare, that is —
Dr McCrea: It is despicable.
Mr Paisley Jnr: It is a despicable claim that is completely unjustified. It was made maliciously, Madam Speaker, and you must make a ruling on a claim that identifies one member who asked a question and an entire party as being associated with a terrorist action. That is despicable, Madam Speaker, and you should make a ruling on it.
Mr P Robinson: The Member should sit down.
Madam Speaker: Order. What you say is correct, Mr Paisley. I am not sure whether that is what the Member said; however, I will read Hansard and make a ruling on it.
I remind Ms Ritchie that she is nearing the end of the allotted time for her speech.
Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Madam Speaker. You have confirmed what I said; I was very careful in those arrangements. Suffice it to say, the people want to see —
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it right for the Member to put words into your mouth? You said that you were going to see exactly what she said; you did not say that you would confirm what she said.
Madam Speaker: You are quite right, Dr Paisley.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: The hon Member should withdraw that comment. It was a gross exaggeration of her imagination.
Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Madam Speaker —
Madam Speaker: I did not confirm your point, Ms Ritchie, so I want to make clear what I said. I said that I did not think that that was what you meant. I will make a ruling when I have read Hansard to see exactly what you did say.
Ms Ritchie: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I will abide by your ruling. However, suffice it to say, there are problems, and people have to assume responsibility for their actions.
It is quite clear that the community requires policing on the ground and that it wants the police to co-operate with the community. We also want the community to co-operate with the police. Again —
Madam Speaker: I am sorry; I am afraid that your time is up.
Mr Moutray: I welcome many aspects of the report, particularly the all-party condemnation of the disgraceful practice of exiling. I hope that the report will indicate that a small degree of progress has been made towards reaching the point at which all the main parties oppose all forms of paramilitary and criminal behaviour.
The idea that a party could be in government yet continue to refuse to support the police or the courts is nonsensical. Nowhere in the democratic world would that be dreamt of; no society could operate in such a way. Equally absurd is Sinn Féin’s idea that policing and justice powers should somehow be devolved before it decides whether to support the authorities.
One specific matter that affects many people in the Province must be dealt with. Business crime is a problem that must be resolved, because even if we achieve stability and peace here, it will prevent our society from progressing. Research has shown that 57% of businesses in the Province have been the victims of crime in the past year. That is a staggering statistic and is a much higher figure than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Crime is proving to be a major barrier to running a business. Anyone who is contemplating starting or continuing a business must consider that fact. Crime has closed down many businesses, particularly in areas in which racketeering and extortion are rife.
In its investigation into organised crime, the Westminster Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs heard evidence from the Northern Ireland regional director of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Nigel Smyth, that the illegal sale of cigarettes, alcohol and other goods was having a serious impact on legitimate traders. That makes it difficult — if not impossible — for those traders to abide by the law and stay in business. He argued that businesses incurred extra costs in ensuring that their premises were adequately secure, such was the threat of attack by organised criminal gangs. He also said that businesses sometimes incurred extra welfare costs, because employees had been victims of armed robbery or other violent crime.
Certain retailers decide not to locate premises in areas known to be affected by organised crime. The potential for businesses to be targeted for extortion, coupled with the risk of being undermined by illicit sales of alcohol, tobacco or other goods, means that some businesses do not deem it profitable to operate in certain areas in the Province.
Extortion is a particular problem for small and medium-sized businesses. The practice appears to be growing across Northern Ireland, extending into new locations outside the Belfast area where extortion has historically been more prevalent. One of the most disturbing aspects of extortion is the fear that it engenders in communities and the consequent willingness of those who are threatened to pay up and keep quiet.
The true extent of business crime is not reflected in official figures, as many businesses have opted out of the criminal-justice system. It is estimated that only 60% of businesses report crime, and they tend to do so mainly for insurance purposes rather than because they expect the crime to be investigated. The Government must make greater efforts to protect businesses from the consequences of crime.
Business crime should perhaps be recorded as a category distinct from domestic crime. That would give a more realistic indication of the problem. Business crime could become a key performance indicator, which would enable the police to receive the required funding. Consideration should be given to relaxing planning regulations in order to allow businesses to install closed-circuit television (CCTV), metal shutters and any other security measures deemed necessary.
In July, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report on organised crime stated that petrol retailers in Northern Ireland have come under particular pressure to accept cheaper smuggled fuel, and they face threats when they refuse to do so. Many in the construction industry have been subject to extortion from loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations. Construction managers feel that they have no choice but to make protection payments, such is the threat and consequent fear of reprisals that follow a refusal to pay.
Demands for protection money are also common in the licensed trade. Although Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has made some progress in combating oils fraud, the quantity of illicit fuel in circulation remains unacceptably high. Government efforts to regulate properly the private security industry, including door supervisors, are long overdue.
No police service in the world is perfect — it would be foolish for anyone to claim that that might be the case. As elected representatives, we should scrutinise and question the actions of the police. Members of my party have criticised individual police officers, policy decisions and operations. However, like the majority of the community, my party and I have supported the police and policing as a whole.
That attitude stands in sharp contrast with that of another party, which is absent today and which imagines that it has an entitlement to serve in the Government of Northern Ireland. Republicans give no allegiance to any force other than their own fellow travellers; they offer no support to any form of justice other than their own. Sinn Féin representatives continually and actively discourage people from reporting serious crimes to the police. Sinn Féin’s basic refusal to support law and order is a clear impediment to progress.
In its most recent interim report, the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) confirmed that the natural instinct of Sinn Féin/IRA is not yet to live peacefully beside its neighbours or to uphold the rule of law; rather, it requires the bridle of terrorist command structures. That is simply not good enough. Republicans must begin to assist the police with their investigations and encourage their supporters to help in the fight against crime.
As well as ending terror and criminality, there must be an acceptance of, and support for, the rule of law and order. Unless parties sign up to the basic standards of democracy and the rule of law, and abide by them, there can be no place in government for them. The motion calls on the Secretary of State to address those matters that require resolution or further discussion. On this principle — that the rule of law must be upheld and supported by any party that wishes to have a place in government — the Secretary of State’s duty is quite clear.
Mr McGimpsey: There are so many policing experts in our society that it is a wonder that policing presents problems and that crime goes undetected — everybody knows how to do it; everybody knows how it should be done. Policing, however, goes right to the heart of our problems and is the most vexing problem facing the political process. We are all aware of how the costs of a failure to support law and order, the police and the courts are paid in a society such as ours. Those costs, in human terms, have been well documented over the past 25 years.
At a time when we are trying to move forward, I was struck by last week’s debate on economic matters. The costs of terror and of our failure to support the rule of law and to support law and order over a generation or so have resulted in the types of economic problems that were highlighted in that debate. Northern Ireland is facing a projected Treasury subvention of about £16 billion and a tax yield of about £10 billion. That is a massive deficit for Northern Ireland.
Although the Government here in the 1960s were criticised, they had a track record in creating jobs and investment. The difference between that record and the present is evident, as is the difficulty of attracting investment into an unstable society or into a society in which the state cannot guarantee — as far as a state can guarantee — respect for the rule of law and the courts.
Policing is about upholding the rule of law and protecting life and property. However, 25 or 30 years ago, the situation was entirely different. Our police force, the RUC, had to become an anti-terror police force. The RUC became society’s first line of defence against terrorism, both republican and loyalist. The RUC won that war and defeated terror: roughly 10 years ago, the IRA sued for peace and entered the peace process.
Policing is a very emotional subject for unionism; a flavour of which was apparent in yesterday’s debate. However, 10 years ago, the RUC understood the need for change and for a dramatic and fundamental review of the force. In fact, the report drawn up by the RUC’s change management team, headed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, was titled ‘Fundamental Review of Policing’. In those days, the SDLP, and principally Alex Attwood, would shout about no Flanaganisation; an end to Flanaganisation; and that there would not be Flanaganisation. However, that was exactly what the fundamental review of policing gave us, and that is how the Patten Report progressed.
The Patten Report made 175 recommendations, 160 of which came from the fundamental review. In effect, Patten lifted the plan drawn up by Ronnie Flanagan and the change management team and put it into that for the new police force.
Mr Weir: Will the Member give way?
Mr McGimpsey: If I may develop my point a little, I will be happy to give way presently.
Some 160 of Patten’s recommendations came straight from the fundamental review. Unfortunately, Patten decided to add some poison as an incentive to bring nationalism on board. That poison produced the measures that most offended unionism and most offended the force itself: the change in name, badge, flag, and so on and, above all, the refusal to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the force.
Mr Weir: I was seeking clarification, although the Member has just given a little clarity. Is the Member saying that, more or less, he supports 90% of the Patten Report?
Mr McGimpsey: I am setting out the record.
Unionism has had an emotional discussion about policing, although a proper debate has yet to be fully developed. However, the fundamental review made up the overwhelming bulk of the Patten Report. Whether one agrees with Ronnie Flanagan and his change management team’s recommendations, the Patten Report is the fundamental review plus some poison. As I said, it is the poison that was added to the Patten Commission Report that did so much damage in unionism and in the force itself.
Most importantly, there was a failure to acknowledge the sacrifices made by the force, with 302 officers down and thousands injured in the line of duty. That remains a matter of great concern for those of us who rely on the police to protect us.
For the benefit of Mr Weir, when the Patten Report was published, the Police Federation for Northern Ireland publicly stated that it welcomed the report, and that there was much in the report to recommend it. Its former chairman, Jimmy Spratt, is now the Member’s colleague and sits on Castlereagh Borough Council. It was he who welcomed the Patten Report and said that there was much in the report to recommend it. However, I am not here to talk about individuals. Parties have their own views and they will promote those views, but the Patten Report is what we are dealing with.
The comprehensive agreement of 2004 between the two Governments, the DUP and Sinn Féin is the next important piece in the jigsaw. It was the agreement that did not quite catch on.
The timetabling for policing in the comprehensive agreement was that following the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) confirmation that 100% of IRA arms were decommissioned — and guess what happened recently — a shadow Assembly would be established and, within that Assembly, a Committee would be set up to consider the modalities for the devolution of criminal justice and policing. Agreement on that would be reached within two months.
There was a carefully plotted plan and, as far as I can see, it is still in effect.
The British Government would then introduce legislation giving effect to the devolution of criminal justice and policing. They were to promote confidence to allow a vote in the Assembly for such devolution to take place within two years.
Therefore, in 2004, it was anticipated that the devolution of policing and justice would take place within two years of the establishment of the shadow Assembly. That was the agreement between the two Governments, the DUP and Sinn Féin, and both parties made fulsome statements on that. The agreement did not work, but both parties added statements to the agreement saying that they welcomed it and had worked hard for it. It is quite clear that both parties accepted the Patten Report — practically and effectively — through the comprehensive agreement.
The comprehensive agreement was a non-runner due to the failure of republicans to provide proper evidence of 100% decommissioning. A key part of the comprehensive agreement was that the IICD report would confirm that 100% of IRA arms had been decommissioned. The IRA’s failure to provide evidence of that halted the agreement. Everyone knows that the planning of the Northern Bank raid was taking place in the background. If suspension legislation had been abandoned through the comprehensive agreement, we could have found ourselves locked into a Government with Sinn Féin, irrespective of bank raids. The only way to deal with that would have been through a scorched earth policy and the full dissolution of the Assembly, which is now being threatened in the next six weeks.
That puts into context the fact that policing goes right to the heart of the political process. The notion that Sinn Féin can support policing only if it gets a handle on running the police and if republicans are involved is something that society — regardless of political allegiance — finds absolutely repulsive. There is some way to go before unionists can accept Sinn Féin’s bona fides.
Mr P Robinson: The Member outlined what he saw as the context, but he omitted one thing. Will he tell the House the wording of the document agreed between Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party in October 2003 to have policing and justice powers devolved to the Assembly by the midpoint of the Assembly’s life? The Assembly election was called after that, scuppering the outcome of that agreement.
Mr McGimpsey: There was no agreement that there would be devolution of powers. However, if that had been the case, the DUP has followed straight down the same pathway, because it has agreed the establishment of a shadow Assembly to consider the modalities for the devolution of criminal justice and policing within two months of the comprehensive agreement’s publication, and to the British Government’s introduction of legislation, in the early summer of 2005, giving effect to devolution of criminal justice and policing. The DUP also agreed that a vote on the devolution of criminal justice and policing would take place within two years of the introduction of legislation. [Interruption.]
That is clear. Members are making comments from sedentary positions. It is the same old situation; Members should be able to sit and listen to other people’s contributions. The Member’s behaviour might pass as mature debate in the DUP, but that Members cannot listen without whinging does not pass for mature debate in the Assembly.
We are coming up to exactly the same dance that we have had before. From 8 October to 10 October, the DUP, Sinn Féin and the two Governments will be brought together, in some shape or form, in a place in Scotland. I am glad that the DUP is consulting with its grass roots on whether it should go into Government with Sinn Féin.
For the sake of unionism, the Ulster Unionist Party agrees in principle to the devolution of policing and justice. The document that Peter Robinson alluded to reflects that, and it is reflected in the report that is before the House. However, my party is not confident that the time is right for that to happen, and it will not be right in the foreseeable future. The premature devolution of criminal justice and policing would damage confidence in the police force.
The view within unionism is that somehow or other Sinn Féin is running the police or has a say in their running. That is Sinn Féin’s boast. Its members are telling their volunteers and supporters that they can support the police force because they are going to be running the police. That is a damaging charge that can be made — [Interruption.]
Are we having a conversation or a debate here? The devolution of policing would damage public confidence in the force. Unionists are asking about the good intentions of republicans; we remain unconvinced of their existence. The political process is one thing, but political institutions are another step, and the courts and policing are something altogether different. It would be wrong for those who have had so much as a whiff of terrorism about them to be involved in the Government, the police and the courts.
There is absolutely no reason why Sinn Féin and republicans cannot join the Policing Board. [Interruption.]
The sedentary remarks of Mr Donaldson serve only to illustrate the points that I am making; therefore I will not respond to them. Sinn Féin should be able to join the Policing Board and be able to show support for the police, and it does not need devolution of policing and justice to do so.
Madam Speaker: Mr McGimpsey, your time is up.
Dr McCrea: I am delighted to follow Mr McGimpsey’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ — or, rather, blunderland — speech. His contribution follows the contribution of Margaret Ritchie, a Member for South Down, who became carried away this morning. Seemingly, in her kind of democracy, one cannot even ask a question. One dare not ask a question or one is allowing somebody to make a telephone call or one is suggesting that one aided and abetted a telephone call. What a wonderful democracy the SDLP is recommending. However, that is no surprise, given that the party has been tied so long to Sinn Féin’s coat-tails.
The hon Member Mr McGimpsey spoke about a friend of mine, Jimmy Spratt. I am just wondering whether that is the same Jimmy Spratt that wiped Mr McGimpsey off the map at the last election and put him into absolute disgrace with the people of South Belfast. A little humility from Mr McGimpsey would be very helpful because he is part of yesterday’s team. Northern Ireland has moved on. His blushing says it all — it goes right over his head.
Not only does Mr McGimpsey seem to living in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world, but so also does the hon Member Mr McFarland, who is not here at present. On several occasions, members of the Committee on the Preparation for Government were taken aback by Mr McFarland’s comments. When the Committee was in difficulties and really getting to the heart of major problems, he said that it was making encouraging moves forward. In fact, the Committee was taking 10 steps back at a time. In the midst of all that, he still said that the progress was encouraging. I am delighted that Mr McFarland has now entered the Chamber.
Furthermore, he said in yesterday’s debate:
“Rev McCrea invited Martin to call him ‘William’, which was very exciting.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, col 1, p 74].
That was further encouragement to him. In fact, I do not speak to Martin McGuinness. As far as I am concerned, those with whom he has been associated have tried to blow me out of existence, so I will not be inviting him to call me “William”. Mr McFarland knows that his claim is totally untrue. It is a lie, and he knows that the Hansard report will prove that. Of course, truth does not always necessarily come into the debate.
Mr McFarland: Will the Member give way?
Dr McCrea: No. The Member made a fool and a jackass of himself yesterday, and he will not do the same today.
Madam Speaker: Order. Dr McCrea, you should be careful about the statements that you are making. I know that you understand —
Dr McCrea: I am quite happy to stand over my statements. Madam Speaker, this House should have defended an hon Member against the untruths being said about him yesterday. The House should defend Members as they have a basic right to be defended.
Madam Speaker: Dr McCrea, I think that you know that it is not correct to challenge the Speaker, which is what you are doing at the moment. Could you be careful: as a parliamentarian, you know what you can and cannot say here. You were very close to saying something that you should not have said.
Dr McCrea: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.
Those who want to talk about —
Mr D Bradley: Madam Speaker, on a point of order. I noticed during my colleague Ms Ritchie’s earlier contribution, Mr P Robinson usurped your position several times by ordering her to take her seat.
Madam Speaker: No one usurped my position, Mr Bradley.
Mr McFarland: On a point of order, is the tradition not that if a Member is accused of something, he or she has the right of reply? In the past, the Speaker has allowed Members to exercise that right.
Madam Speaker: You can reply at the end of the debate, Mr McFarland.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker, it is in order that when you stand everybody should sit down. You should make a ruling on that. You have mentioned the House of Commons over and over again. In the House of Commons, the whole House cries out to a Member to sit down, and a Member is quite entitled to call for the Speaker to be respected when she is on her feet.
Madam Speaker: Thank you for those remarks, Dr Paisley. You are quite right. That point was reinforced when the Whips were in the Chamber at 2.00 pm on Monday.
Dr McCrea: I agree wholeheartedly with Mr McFarland that Members against whom accusations have been made have a right to defend themselves. That is exactly what I am doing. Mr McFarland wrongly accused me yesterday when he tried to be a smart alec and rewrite the history of the meetings of the Committee on the Preparation for Government. He was so positive during those meetings that when things were moving back, he claimed that they were moving forward.
When Mr McFarland was on the Ulster Unionist Party’s negotiating team, he was easy meat for Sinn Féin, the SDLP and others. However, he is dealing with different folk today. He will not be allowed to put inaccuracies on the record. I defend my right as a parliamentarian to be correctly quoted. I remind the House that, instead of our being buddies in the Committee, Martin McGuinness accused me of trying to have him killed. He went on to say that he did not like Willie McCrea, and that he did not think that he would ever like him. What kind of buddies are we if he tells me how much he dislikes me? I could not care tuppence whether Martin McGuinness likes me, loves me or anything else. I was elected to talk about what is right and to take a stand for the unionist population of Northern Ireland, which has been tramped into the ground for years. DUP Members stand tall today. Unlike the Ulster Unionist Party, we are no longer crawling. We stand tall for our people, because we have something to say, and we are standing by what is right. I will defend my rights and those of my constituents.
Naturally Sinn Féin/IRA is not present for the debate. Why would it be? What, except heartache, has it contributed to law and order over the past 30 years? It has scattered the bodies of our innocent — Protestant and Roman Catholic — across the community. It has blown our businesses to bits. Why would it come to the Chamber? Why should Members be surprised at its absence? Sinn Féin would have a brass neck to be here to discuss law and order, especially when it could not even agree to the proposal that political parties should support the police and encourage others so to do. That is an ordinary democratic trait that is expected of any political party.
What was the mindset of the Sinn Féin members who were in the Committee? Let me remind the House of what they said. When I challenged Sinn Féin’s position on criminality, Conor Murphy said that he did not regard racketeering, murder, extortion, money and fuel laundering or bank robberies as crimes. What kind of a mindset is that for a party that claims to be ready for Government? What kind of a mindset does the SDLP have to have allowed those people to get into Government in the past? I remind the hon Member for South Down that SDLP Members of the Executive did not require Sinn Féin to support the police. SDLP Members sat on the Executive but never squeaked about that because they loved their positions more than democracy. Therefore I will take no lectures from anyone.
In the very Committee that dealt with law-and-order issues, Sinn Féin members claimed that murder, racketeering, extortion, money and fuel laundering, bank robberies, exiling, etc are not criminal activities. Why would they say that? How did they justify it? They said that if such activities were carried out with the authority of the Provo leadership, they were not crimes. If they were done for personal gain, they could be regarded as criminal. Therefore those people could blow businesses to bits, manage fuel laundering and a rob a bank of more than £20 million, but as long as the wee group of thugs that sits at the top of the Provo organisation said that those things were done for their organisation, they were not criminal activities. What kind of society would we have if this party allowed such persons to take positions in Government?
Mr McGimpsey referred to the DUP consultation exercise. The difference between David Trimble and us was that he was always afraid to consult his people. He was afraid to talk to his colleagues lest they found out what he was doing behind their backs. The Ulster Unionists did not consult their people; they did not talk to their constituents.
Let me make it abundantly clear; we are not asking whether or not we should go into Government with the IRA. It is unfit for Government. We are keeping our people up to date on where we stand and on the leadership that we are giving to the unionist population. Let no one get carried away. This party does not believe that those who have the mindset that murder is not a crime are a party for Government. They never were a party for Government, and until they renounce and repent for what they stood for, and until they turn their backs completely on all of those things, they will not be in Government.
That does not just apply to 24 November. They are not ready for Government while they hold on to the belief that they can carry out all their activities with the authority of the Provo leadership and at its behest. There is a lot more being done under their authority at this moment that they are not claiming.
We need a reality check here today. Look at the minutes of the PFG Committee meetings from start to finish. Policing is one ingredient of the situation; it is not the only one, with all the other matters solved. Does anybody think that if Sinn Féin joins the Policing Board that that means it supports policing? Does anybody think that it will have a total change of mind because it joins it? I know other people who have joined the Policing Board who are still anti-police; they attack the police constantly.
There is also the issue of total decommissioning. Let me say this to Mr McFarland, who made play on certain grounds.
Mr McGlone: Will the Member give way?
Dr McCrea: I will not. The Member will have plenty of time to talk, and I have only another four minutes.
Mr McFarland said that Ian Paisley Jnr and William McCrea had somehow moved on and had accepted that there had been decommissioning. This party has said that over and over again. The reason there was decommissioning was because of the DUP’s stand. We did not crawl like the Ulster Unionists did in the past. What did they get for their decommissioning? They got two or three guns at the very beginning; a haul of weapons that had been wasted and buried in the ground. Let me just remind — [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. Please let the debate continue.
Dr McCrea: I know that the corner boys do not like these things, but let me remind them.
Madam Speaker: I am sorry to have to interrupt again, but Members are your colleagues, not corner boys.
Dr McCrea: I shall remind Members that there was significant decommissioning, but we have made it abundantly clear that it was not complete decommissioning. We are not going to be sold half a story. We are going to hold out to get total decommissioning, because that is in the interest of the people. Why would people who are supposed to be democrats want to hold on to guns? Why would they want to hold on to a terrorist organisation except they want to go back to what they do best whenever it suits them?
We are not willing to play the Provos’ game. We are not suckers for Sinn Féin or the IRA. Not only must the intimidation and the exiling end, but certain people have to be allowed to come home. What about the Disappeared? What about those whose loved ones have never been able to give them an honourable and decent burial? We are not willing to close our eyes to what is happening. We believe that all those issues have to be dealt with to the satisfaction of the unionist population, who have been led by the nose by the Ulster Unionist Party for far too long. Thank God that the people caught them on. The unionist population has given the DUP the task, and by the grace of God we will do it, in the interest of this wee country that we love and cherish.
Let us not bury the facts about Robert McCartney. I was reading a document that came in the post this morning entitled ‘Survey of Public Attitudes Towards Conduct in Public Life’. It contains a section with the heading “Key Political Events in Northern Ireland”. In that section, it says that in December 2004 an armed gang robbed the Belfast branch of the Northern Bank of £26·5 million, and described it as one of the biggest bank robberies in history. That was when they were supposed to be behaving like good boys. It describes how in January 2005, Robert McCartney, a Catholic, was murdered outside a crowded Belfast bar by a gang including, allegedly, members of the Provisional IRA.
In February 2005, the Justice Minister of the Irish Republic accused three senior Sinn Féin members of sitting on the IRA Army Council. In December 2005, Denis Donaldson publicly admitted what he had done in the past. In April 2006, the body of Denis Donaldson was found; he had been shot dead.
People may attempt to treat those events as though they do not count. As far as the DUP is concerned, if violence is over, it must be over for good. It does not matter from where that violence comes. There is no place for terrorist organisations to sit alongside those committed to democracy. I am in no way equivocating on that issue. There is no place whatsoever for terrorists, whatever their political persuasion.
There are legitimate forces in this country, which serve under the Crown. Those legitimate forces are the Army and the police, and we, as democrats, must give them our total unreserved support to ensure that we have a peaceful and stable society in Northern Ireland. There can be no situation of move forward; move back; move forward; and move back. The DUP will not be party to any agreement that does not create a stable society.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr McGlone: I heard Mr McCrea calling for a reality check on law and order. I strongly wish to place on record that I resent sanctimonious lectures directed at my party from the DUP — the red beret revolutionaries; the mountain-top mutineers; those who have marched on the streets with paramilitaries. No more lectures. Those in glass houses should not throw stones.
Mr A Maginness: Billy Wright.
Mr McGlone: Yes, there is also the Billy Wright issue.
To move to the issue that I was going to address —
Mr Donaldson: The battle of the Bogside.
Dr McCrea: Yes. I would not go down that road, if I were the Member.
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr McGlone: I have the Floor, I presume.
I turn to a material issue that is of more concern in my constituency. I wish to address the confusion that has arisen due to Minister Paul Goggins’s comments yesterday on the location of the new police college. The decision on that location came about after a detailed and objective analysis of a number of locations. The site at Desertcreat in Cookstown emerged as the central preferred location for a state-of-the-art, twenty-first century policing college. That decision was accepted unanimously by the Policing Board as an integral part of a new beginning to policing.
Yesterday, the Minister injected some uncertainty into that new beginning to policing. It must be noted that the longer the Government dither on this matter, the more costly the project will become. I ask the Government directly whether they are prepared to invest the necessary funds for new policing arrangements. I call on the Minister to forthwith give his stamp of approval and to go ahead with the plans for Desertcreat in Cookstown, which are already at an extremely advanced stage.
A complete package must be put in place. The opportunities for enhanced training processes should be grasped immediately. That should have been done a long time ago. Those opportunities extend not only to improved training and enhanced facilities for our existing Police Service, but to national co-operation in the island of Ireland with an Garda Síochána and internationally with other policing services. The message to the Government from the Chamber today should be to stop dithering and do it now. The plans to commence work at Cookstown are at a very advanced stage in the Policing Board, and I know that meetings on that very topic have been scheduled for next week.
I am sure that those views are accepted by Members, including Rev William McCrea, who I am sure, despite our earlier differences, will support me.
Dr McCrea: Hear, hear.
Mr McGlone: The Government should press ahead, accept the views that have been expressed today, and proceed with what has already been accepted, planned and agreed by the Policing Board. Those views should be communicated to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) forthwith.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Will the Member give way?
Mr McGlone: I have finished, but OK.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: I just wished to say that —
Madam Speaker: Order. I was about to call the next Member, because Mr McGlone has finished. No doubt, there will be time at some other stage, Dr Paisley. The Member had sat down.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: I wanted to tell the House that I raised that matter with the Prime Minister when we met. It is an important issue for all of us.
Madam Speaker: Order. I am now standing.
Mr B Bell: I am not a member of the Preparation for Government Committee, but I recognise the excellent work that it has done over the summer, for which I thank the Committee members. I also thank the Committee staff and other Assembly staff who assisted the Committee. It is an excellent report, and I welcome it. The DUP and Sinn Féin have sat on the PFG Committee throughout the summer under the chairmanship of both Sinn Féin and DUP MLAs. That is a clear indication of how the two parties have been prepared to sit down together, and it may be a portent for the future.
Dr McCrea compared my party to ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I wonder when we are going to get an invitation to his tea party. [Laughter.]
Building a lawful society with support for the police and for the rule of law and order is the foundation of all civilised societies. One major problem in Northern Ireland has been the reluctance of the nationalist and republican community, and its politicians, to give active support to the police over the years. It is important that that should be said. There has been a welcome thaw in recent years with the presence of the SDLP on the Policing Board. I welcome that. The onus is now very much on Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin must accept that the republican community is entitled to have an effective police service. It constantly claims that it is being denied equality on this, that and the other. However, in the field of policing, it is Sinn Féin itself that ensures that its people do not receive the same level of policing as the rest of us, because it will not support the police.
As a unionist, I must say that Sinn Féin still has a lot to do to convince the unionist community that it is serious about pursuing a truly peaceful and political path. It could take a step along that road by giving unequivocal support to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and by encouraging its supporters to do likewise. The disgraceful scenes on the New Lodge Road in Belfast on Sunday night must be consigned to the past. There must be no more of that. As I have said before in other circumstances, nationalists and republicans must actively support the police.
As the Member for Mid Ulster Mr McGlone has said, a NIO Minister was on TV last night talking about the delay in building the new police training college. Unbelievably, it is nearly two and a half years since the chairman of the Policing Board announced that it was to be built in Cookstown.
That delay is completely unacceptable. New recruits need the best possible facilities, and I call on the Government to make the funds available so that the job can be progressed. If the Government had not squandered almost £200 million on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, they might have been able to find the £40 million that is needed for the police college, which will benefit everybody in Northern Ireland.
I want to say a word about law-and-order issues in my constituency of Lagan Valley. I thank the local police for all their work. The staff in my constituency office, and the staff of my colleague in Lagan Valley, Jeffrey Donaldson, work closely with the local police. We deal with many local community issues, and the police are also on hand for law-and-order issues. Recently, we worked closely with the local community police on the KJET project, which highlighted the issue of young people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and how that disorder affected their lives. ADHD was a factor in many antisocial-behaviour cases. A seminar held in Stormont on the issue was a huge success, and we continue to pursue the issue.
Over the past year, a spate of burglaries against older people has been a big problem in Lagan Valley and, indeed, throughout Northern Ireland. Older people do not feel safe in their homes, and they are scared to answer the door, especially after dark. I have some personal experience of those burglaries. My 86-year-old mother-in-law was a victim of such a crime. While she was at home, a criminal gang broke into her house. She tried to resist the burglars, but they stole her handbag, which was found the following day at the border, just outside Newry. Needless to say, all the money, her bank cards, her passport, and so forth, were stolen. In addition to the theft of the handbag and its contents — especially the passport — such incidents are very traumatic for older people.
It took my mother-in-law a couple of months to recover completely from the burglary, and she is still unhappy about answering the door at night. She deserves to be praised for tackling those people.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Mr B Bell: I could quote many other incidents. The police in Lagan Valley have a good record in tracking down these criminals. The police have a good record with both communities in Northern Ireland, and I want both communities to support them.
I support the motion.
Mr Ford: I join other Members in expressing thanks to the staff who serviced the Committee on the Preparation for Government. I also thank the staff throughout the secretariat — the doorkeepers and, most notably, the catering staff merit a strong mention — and the two Deputy Speakers who chaired the Committee.
Undoubtedly, those who worked over the summer achieved more than the Secretary of State could have expected when he asked the Committee to consider issues relating to law and order, and criminal justice. Unfortunately, the Committee has not achieved enough. For example, the Committee agreed that there should be a single justice Department, rather than splitting the functions over more than one Department, as suggested by the Government. However, much work needs to be done on that issue before the Committee reaches full agreement.
Naomi Long has already outlined the Alliance Party’s concerns about the community having confidence in an Executive that have powers over justice. Collectivity is required. If progress of that kind cannot be made, maintaining the silo mentality of the previous Assembly will not garner confidence from those who, on the one hand, might fear a unionist Minister, or those who, on the other hand, might fear a nationalist Minister having untrammelled powers.
Therefore there is much still to do. I do not intend to go over everything that Members said yesterday, or even everything that Mrs Long said. However, as she had only 15 minutes, there is a little left to say.
One of the key issues that the Government have failed to address properly, even yet, is how to define a “ceasefire” in terms of the relationship that the political parties and their associates have to policing and justice. There are two parallel standards: the traditional definition that has been around for at least a decade since the IRA announced its ceasefire; and the rather more comprehensive approach that was formally set out in the joint declaration of 2003 and subsequently adopted by the IMC.
The Alliance Party does not accept that a ceasefire is whatever a paramilitary group defines it to be. That could mean that it would take no further actions against the state or against economic targets but would maintain some kind of quasi-policing role in what it regards as its section of the community, allowing serious crimes to be perpetrated against ordinary citizens by members of the paramilitaries. It is essential that we move the Government’s focus from a definition that, in its early days, was a simplistic way of trying to encourage the political process to be one that recognised that there must be a complete end to all violence. People should not be allowed to continue operating violence against troublemakers or those who fall out with the paramilitary godfathers in particular areas.
Simplistic demands for the IRA to declare that the war is over have compounded the problem. We should not be asking whether the war is over; rather, we should be demanding full reassurance that the IRA’s campaign is over in every respect and, equally, that loyalist campaigns are over in every respect. The sad reality is that crises in the peace process have arisen largely as a result of events such as the Castlereagh break-in, “Stormontgate” and the Northern Bank robbery, rather than as a result of much more serious crimes directed against individuals. There will be real problems if that is not acknowledged. The authorities have slowly come to recognise that all paramilitary activity, of whatever kind, undermines democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Those key values must continue to underpin any sustainable progress that we are to make.
Paragraph 13 in the joint declaration of 2003 established a clearer definition of paramilitary activity than we have ever had before. It includes military attacks, sectarian incidents, training, targeting, intelligence gathering, acquisition and development of arms, so-called punishment attacks, involvement in riots and threats against exiles. It is a pity that Government Ministers are still using terms such as “punishment attacks”. In the time of the previous Conservative Government, Baroness Denton promised that they would not describe paramilitary assaults as punishment attacks. Only one group of people in this state has the right to inflict punishment — the lawfully constituted courts. Government Ministers should not suggest otherwise.
Building on that definition in the joint declaration, the IMC has continued to establish its standards with regard to paramilitary activity. Clearly, Governments that previously would have swept such incidents under the carpet are no longer able to do that; the IMC has shone the light on the dark deeds of paramilitaries. That has helped to develop the standard.
We should also recognise that there has been movement by the IRA, culminating in its July 2005 statement. The ambiguous language that it used initially to justify its actions — to say what did or did not fail the test of constituting an end to violence — has become much less ambiguous. To a degree, we can now understand that the IRA is talking a language similar, if not identical, to that of other people. That wider concept of what constitutes involvement in paramilitary activity will be a crucial issue when we come to consider paramilitary activity and organised crime in the autumn.
We have only to look back to summer 2005, however, to find incidents that involved the UVF. The Government did not treat the murder of an entirely innocent citizen, Craig McCausland, as a breach of the UVF ceasefire, because he was a Protestant murdered by loyalists. However, the Whiterock riots were deemed a breach of the ceasefire even though, fortunately, no member of the Police Service was killed — despite live rounds being fired at them. It seems that the institutions of the state cannot recognise that a ceasefire cannot be a proper ceasefire if the lives of citizens are threatened during it. The Government must develop their benchmarks based on those used by the IMC to determine how all paramilitary groups must be treated, because there is clearly a major element of work that they have not yet covered completely.
I want to refer to police recruitment and, specifically, to the fifty-fifty quotas. It seems that that issue will be increasingly batted around the Chamber. Indeed, it is one of the brickbats being thrown between the DUP and the Ulster Unionists at the moment, and it shows the bitterness that the issue generates on one side of the House alone — and that is without the presence of certain people on the other side of the House. The Alliance Party has opposed the fifty-fifty quotas from the beginning for three reasons.
They are unnecessary, because there are better ways in which to address the current under-representation of Catholics in the Police Service, including wider methods of affirmative action. The Government in their statistics could give us information on which to assess whether the removal of the threat of violence, the wider political support from the nationalist community in general and the change of attitude in the Catholic Church on encouraging police recruitment might have had just as big an effect as the fifty-fifty quotas.
The quotas are discriminatory and contrary to European legislation, and we wonder why we should be seeking derogations of European legislation when there are other ways of encouraging Catholics to join the police.
They are fundamentally divisive, because people have a perception that only one section of our society can get into the Police Service and because those police officers who are appointed through the fifty-fifty quotas are looked on askance by certain people in the community. We need to move away from all those problems.
There are also problems with the entirely necessary recruitment of people from ethnic minorities into the Police Service. Fifty-fifty recruitment is based on the concept of Catholics versus all others. There are opportunities to recruit people from wider ethnic backgrounds, particularly given the law-and-order problems that afflict people from different ethnic backgrounds in many parts of Northern Ireland. There is a need for much wider recruitment into the Police Service, and fifty-fifty quotas damage that possibility.
There is another unresolved issue: it is possible to produce a simplistic figure of the number of perceived Catholics in the Police Service. However, there is no evidence about whether those are fully representative of the entire community. There would be a difference between the son of an Alliance MLA who is perceived as a Catholic and the son of a Sinn Féin MLA joining the Police Service.
The problem comes from crude, simplistic assumptions that this society is divided into two mutually exclusive homogeneous groups, with no interplay between them. It is almost certain that the Government will extend the quota system for another three years, until 2010, but if we are ever to move this society on to a more normal plane, we must ensure that we get away from such divisive actions. We want to ensure that citizens are represented as citizens and that applications come to the Police Service from every part of Northern Ireland and from every social class, political belief and ethnic background. If we do not do that, we will fail in the task of building a modern police service, and quotas do nothing to address the vast majority of those issues.
Finally, there has been much talk in the House and in the Committee about signing up to policing and about the so-called obligations on Sinn Féin to sign up to policing.
At different times, certain parties have taken part in and, due to political protests, walked out of DPPs. They have therefore failed to play their parts in the structures in which they are entitled to participate. It seems to be somewhat illogical for certain parties to demand that another party signs up to policing when their own members have failed to do so when given that opportunity. If those parties wish to talk about obligations, they should recognise that they apply to all parties.
Although the Alliance Party does not have a representative on the Policing Board, it cannot be suggested that it does not fully support policing. It does so through local co-operation, recognising the Police Service as the only legitimate force, and supporting the institutional structures in which my party can play a part. On the other hand, although the Progressive Unionist Party has a member on the Policing Board, it would be difficult to make the case that all its associates fully support policing structures.
Yesterday, my colleague Naomi Long outlined the five principles on which the Alliance Party will judge other parties’ attitudes to policing. They include: constructive engagement; backing and acknowledging the role of the Police Service as the only legitimate policing agency in Northern Ireland, and calling on their supporters to do so; a revised ministerial Pledge of Office that would recognise that responsibility; and co-operation between a party and the lawful authorities to address criminality emanating from close associates of that party.
The outbursts in the Chamber this morning, and the virulence of the exchanges between the Ulster Unionists and the DUP in particular, should not cloud the fact that those requirements must apply to every party that aspires to be in government. It is simply not acceptable that, even one of the more reasoned contributions, which was made by Mr Bell, focused only on nationalists and republicans having a duty to support the police. It is absolutely clear that all parties have responsibilities, but all parties have yet to fulfil those responsibilities.
Mr Dawson: Inevitably, much of the debate has centred on the need for all parties to support the rule of law. Perhaps I should put that another way: the need for one party, which refuses consistently to support the rule of law, to do so. I refer, of course, to the representatives of IRA/Sinn Féin who should be seated on the Benches opposite.
As Mr Ford rightly outlined, support for the rule of law is a basic building block of democracy. In a democracy, it is acceptable for parties to criticise and question the implementation of policing policy. In a democracy, it is acceptable for parties to bring to account those responsible for leading policing, to question the delivery of services, to press for higher resources to be made available, and to campaign for the reduction of crime to be at a higher level. Those expectations are acceptable.
However, it is not acceptable for any political party, or any interest group that is seeking legitimacy, to systematically and continuously reject the right of the Police Service to exist and to carry out its legitimate role in society. Fundamentally, policing and the rule of law stand between society and those who seek to rule by the law of the jungle.
Over the past 35 years in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin/IRA has sought to operate by the law of the jungle, murdering at will and terrorising communities. It is for those reasons, therefore, that Sinn Féin remains opposed to the rule of law and to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The operation of law and the activities of the police have stood between it and its inflicting genocide on an entire community.
Sinn Féin did not wage a war in Northern Ireland. There was never any legitimacy for its so-called campaign. That movement waged terror — a dirty, sordid, cowardly, murdering rampage of terror directed at men, women and children across our Province.
Yesterday, with some colleagues, I had occasion to attend a funeral. In the graveyard, as I was following the family to the graveside, I came to be standing alongside the headstone of a young Protestant man. He had no connections with the security forces, but he had been murdered by the IRA in 1990. The only reason for his murder was that he was a Protestant. He was building a home for his family in an isolated rural community.
In any other part of the world, Sinn Féin’s leadership would stand accused of crimes against humanity, yet, in Northern Ireland, Peter Hain wants to put them into Government. The current campaign against the Police Service of Northern Ireland — the legal and legitimate authority — is a continuation of terror by different means. Republicans have left off with the bombs and the bullets as a means of destabilising society, but they continue to use basic elements of destabilisation in their anarchist campaign.
In its current form, Sinn Féin/IRA is incapable of normal politics and of accepting the norms of a modern democratic society. It demands access to the levers of Government simply to undermine the very constitutional realities in which those levers operate. The rejection of policing and the rule of law are simply indicators of the underlying nature of that revolutionary movement. I see no evidence today — 20 September 2006 — that Sinn Féin has any desire to live at peace with its neighbours; rather, it is intent on continued destruction of the rule of law. I doubt that by 24 November that situation will have changed one whit.
That attitude is unacceptable. There is no room in a Government for those who will not support fully, unequivocally and absolutely those responsible for upholding the rule of law. Sinn Féin was not fit for Government in 1998 and on the other two occasions on which the Ulster Unionist Party put that party into Government.
As Mr Ford has said, all parties in a Government must support the police. They must encourage their supporters to join the police and to tell the police about individuals who break the law. The police must be able to arrest those individuals without fear of physical attack. There must be no equivocation as to what activities are legal and legitimate in society, as my colleague Dr McCrea has ably pointed out this morning.
On the current application and operation of policing in Northern Ireland, it is my view that Sinn Féin’s influence on policing has gone too far already. As a result, Northern Ireland today does not have the police service that it deserves or one that is fit for purpose. The PSNI has been robbed of accumulated knowledge of terrorists and their activities by the destruction of the specialist branches of the old RUC, as a result of the implementation of the Patten recommendations.
The PSNI is the only emergency service not to operate efficiently. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) recent report indicates that businesses have stopped reporting incidents to the police because they do not believe that there will be any response from the PSNI. That cannot be acceptable in our society.
If the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service responded in the same way as the PSNI, there would be many more burnt-out buildings across the Province, and much more loss of life. Consistently, police officers on the ground relate stories to us of the non-availability of resources, even to tackle major incidents. They have not the personnel available to go to the elderly families who are attacked and whose homes are burgled. The leadership of the PSNI continues to ignore and deny that there is a problem with resources. Instead, it points to comparisons with police service numbers in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I am not interested in comparisons with other under-resourced forces in other parts of the United Kingdom. We are in the midst of the political conference season in Great Britain. I am sure that we will hear repeated calls for extra resources to be made available to police services across the UK. We may even hear promises at the Labour Party conference that further police resources will be made available. Why should Northern Ireland have to settle for comparisons with under-resourced forces elsewhere, while its Police Service needs to be resourced to deal with issues at home?
Northern Ireland still has to deal with a higher level of local terrorist threat and with higher levels of organised crime — which is led by the paramilitary organisations — than other parts of the United Kingdom.
The FSB report also states:
“Compared with the UK as whole businesses in Northern Ireland are more likely to experience threatening behaviour/intimidation and less likely to experience vehicle theft.”
As the Member for Upper Bann Mr Moutray has already said, Police Service resources must be used to deal with incidents of specific types of crime in Northern Ireland.
A tangled web of legislation lies alongside the lack of resources, and that limits police ability to deal with vandals and criminals. For example, over several evenings, some youths vandalised the property around a local primary school with which I am familiar. A resident telephoned the local police station to tell officers what was happening. However, due to a lack of resources, they could not make available anybody to go to the primary school to stop the vandalism. The resident who contacted the police then telephoned the principal of the school, who then contacted the police, only to be told that nobody was available to stop the vandalism. The principal offered to stay at the school the following evening and photograph those who were responsible for the vandalism, which cost thousands of pounds. She was advised that taking photographs of the vandals would be an infringement of their rights. That is a scandalous situation, and it reflects the lack of enforcement of the rule of law in Northern Ireland.
As well as the lack of resources, the loss of accumulated knowledge and the legislation that hinders police ability to take effective action, there are some in the Police Service of Northern Ireland who are believed to have sympathies with Sinn Féin/IRA. Those sympathies are such that their colleagues have to be careful about discussing in police stations the details of operations. They also have to be careful when discussing the names of individuals who are under investigation. I know the names of the police stations that are involved, as does the leadership of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Those truths may be unpalatable. However, the fact remains that the appeasement process has led to a neutering of effective police action in Northern Ireland. All the while, however, the antidemocratic forces, which are represented by Sinn Féin/IRA, demand further concessions and changes to policing, as well as access to the levers of Government.
I welcome the report. It exposes the inadequacies of Sinn Féin/IRA and demonstrates — for all who are willing to see — how far that organisation has to go before it can be regarded as part of the normal political process in the Province.
Mr Hillis: I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Committee on the Preparation for Government’s report on law-and-order issues. I hope that those matters are dear to all our hearts.
I am not a member of the PFG Committee and therefore do not have intimate knowledge of the minutiae of the report. However, the law-and-order issues that the report deals with touch every citizen of Northern Ireland.
I watched carefully on the closed-circuit TV the interesting contribution of the representative from Mid Ulster Dr McCrea. I do not necessarily disagree with the sentiments that he expressed. However, given that we are here to discuss a report from the Committee on the Preparation for Government, I find it hard to believe that the Member will ever accept Sinn Féin into Government.
Therefore, I wonder whether the DUP is engaging in real consultation or a public relations exercise. I am not sure whether the DUP is waiting for Sinn Féin to “repent”, which seems to be the current buzzword.
As I entered the Chamber, I heard the DUP say that the UUP put Sinn Féin into Government. That is true, but it is worth remembering that we also put Sinn Féin out of Government. Sinn Féin is a party that aspires to share, or shape, power here in Northern Ireland, and perhaps, as has been widely trailed, hold a Ministry for policing and justice. However, if we ever reach the stage of choosing Ministries, which I think highly unlikely, it would be up to the party with the biggest mandate to decide who gets what.
It is ridiculous, if not farcical, that Sinn Féin has participated in numerous meetings of the PFG Committee on law and order over the summer, as is reflected in the report, but refuses to participate in this debate. However, that is nothing new for Sinn Féin. In my East Londonderry constituency, a former member of the SDLP jumped ship to join Sinn Féin: presumably it was a career move and he could see a more guaranteed political future in doing so. Prior to that, he had manoeuvred himself into the chairmanship of a local community forum that met with the police. Needless to say, I am more than happy for everyone to participate in those forums. However, following his Damascene conversion from the SDLP to Sinn Féin, those of us on that forum never again saw hide nor hair of the new Sinn Féin member at any policing meeting. What is most bizarre is that that Sinn Féin man was, in fact, a former member of the RUC. How can anyone be taken seriously when in one moment he clamours to be involved in overseeing the police, and in the next he does not want to be seen in the same room as the PSNI?
If Sinn Féin is as serious about wanting to change the police as it seems to be, it should, as an absolute minimum, express confidence in the police, join the Policing Board, and encourage young nationalists and republicans to join the PSNI, instead of being constantly critical. When burglars are out and about and break into someone’s house, they do not ask the householders whether they are nationalists or unionists. When the police are called, they do not ask that question either. We all suffer at the hands of the same criminals, and everyone should support those who try to clear up criminal activity in this country.
Paragraph 70 on page 21 of the report says that:
“The Committee considered a proposal that this Committee believes that association with, or support for, those involved in criminal activity is incompatible with the holding of Ministerial office.”
Sadly, there was no consensus, and the proposal fell. The Ulster Unionist Party firmly believes that those who are lawmakers during the day cannot be lawbreakers at night.
The Committee discussed a wide range of matters relating to the rule of law. I wish to highlight the increase in racially motivated crimes in many parts of Northern Ireland. Sadly, I note from the statistics provided by the PSNI that that increase has been considerable. In Newtownabbey the number of incidents rose from 15 to 52 over the 12 months to the end of March 2006; in the borough of Coleraine, which is in my constituency, the number of reported crimes went up from 22 to 37 — an increase of 68·2%.
Although those figures are relatively small, I am sure that Members will agree that they are unacceptable. They are just two snapshots of Northern Ireland. Sadly, there are other figures that are also fairly negative. Immigrants from other parts of the EU and further afield make an important contribution to the workforce and, consequently, to the overall well-being of the general population.
The report addresses the need to enhance public confidence in the police’s ability to tackle crime. I want to highlight the success that the police have had in improving confidence among victims of domestic violence. The number of reported incidents of domestic violence in part of my constituency, Coleraine, has risen by 30·1% from 824 to 1,072. However, the PSNI has made a difference. Victims who were previously afraid to report such crimes now come forward. I urge the victims of domestic violence to come forward and point the finger at the perpetrators: let us give them the punishment that they deserve.
I have listened carefully to the debate. We can do all the political posturing that we want in the House, but we must remember that the real world is outside this Building. When night falls — and even during the daytime — crimes of all descriptions are carried out. Unless the Assembly makes a positive difference to the lives of the citizens of Northern Ireland, we will not be doing the job that we were elected to do.
Madam Speaker: The Assembly will hear from Mrs Mary Bradley for the first time, as she makes her maiden speech. Members are aware that by convention a maiden speech should be heard without interruption.
Mrs M Bradley: Madam Speaker, I welcome the report, as far as it goes. However, I criticise the DUP for dragging its heels on a date for the devolution of justice, which would allow the Assembly to make its own laws on justice matters. DUP foot-dragging on that issue will cost us dearly. It means that the Assembly cannot pass laws to fight crime and ensure safety, such as stronger laws for the seizure of criminal assets. The Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) is bogged down in needless procedure, and is the poor cousin of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) in the South. The Assembly could change that. It could establish a strong, all-Ireland criminal assets bureau.
Prisons are systematically used as dumping grounds for mentally ill people, who take up spaces that should instead be used for serious offenders. The Assembly could change that. The Assembly could also ensure that sex offenders are not eligible for automatic remission or have their sentences routinely slashed when they plead guilty. Those are measures that we should be taking but which we are not. That is the cost of suspension; it is a loss to us all.
I am also critical of Sinn Féin. Just as the DUP has dragged its heels —
Madam Speaker: I pointed out that a maiden speech should not be interrupted. However, I must advise that it is against convention for a Member to criticise a party in his or her maiden speech when Members of the party criticised cannot make an intervention.
Mrs M Bradley: There is a heavy cost to the community for such matters. Nationalists are crying out for better policing, yet Sinn Féin is standing in their way. It will not encourage witnesses of crime to go to the police so that justice can be done. Sinn Féin does not want a policeman about the place, but how else can crime be solved: by vigilantes?
There is deep hypocrisy here. Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly have told republicans to contact the police in the event of a car crash, as it is a legal requirement. That is correct, and failure to do so means that people cannot claim on their car insurance. Yet, no one was encouraged to go to the police with information about the rape of a 15-year-old girl in Belfast. Sinn Féin is encouraging republicans to contact the police if they have insurance claims but not, for example, if they have information about sex offenders. That begs the question: why does Sinn Féin put the no-claims bonuses of republicans ahead of a child-rape-victim’s right to justice? Should the victims of such awful crimes be asked to bear the cost of Sinn Féin’s refusal to endorse the Patten structures?
Sinn Féin is not the only party to operate double standards. When it suits them, other parties do likewise. Following the Whiterock disturbances, in which 100 shots were fired, the DUP and the UUP left the Belfast District Policing Partnership, yet both parties were content to remain on the Parades Forum along with those who carried out the shootings.
We cannot pretend that policing is perfect: it is not. This is the fourth year of Patten’s 10-year programme of change. Even then, policing will be unable to rest on its laurels. We will always have to push policing forward to ensure that it changes as our community changes and as crime changes. We will always have to work harder to ensure that older people are safe in their homes; young people feel safe on the streets at night; there is a respectful and responsive Police Service, and that it responds to calls when it is contacted.
We can achieve more if everyone works together. Communities can beat crime when people work together. The reduction in car crime in west Belfast is an example of that. In Derry, there has been a great increase in car crime, and that is worrying. We must build on that progress by getting politicians, Ministers and members of boards and partnerships to work with the police and the community. That is at the heart of Patten’s vision. It has been seven years since the publication of the Patten Report, so it is high time that all parties got on board.
Some Members: Hear, hear.
Madam Speaker: Alex Easton will now make his maiden speech, and it is the convention that such a speech is made without interruption.
Mr Easton: It is no surprise that the Sinn Féin/IRA Benches are empty for this important debate on law and order. I am unsure whether Sinn Féin/IRA is boycotting the debate because it is running away from the issues, or whether it is simply scared of my speech. Members can decide. The only people they are letting down are themselves and the people of Northern Ireland.
Addressing law and order and policing is fundamental to the secure and democratic future of Northern Ireland. There must be an unequivocal commitment to peaceful and democratic means by all parties. The twin towers of that society must be law and order and policing. Listen up, Sinn Féin, when I say that you have been weighed in the balances of policing and law and order and found wanting, and that there will be no place for you in any Government of Northern Ireland while you are found wanting. On the one hand, the IRA claims to have stopped its activities but, the other day, there was rioting in north Belfast, and a young man was shot in the leg. Yet, we are told that all is well.
It is the same with decommissioning. Although I accept that some decommissioning has occurred, why were two IRA dumps found in the Irish Republic recently? We were told that all weapons have been handed in and destroyed.
I want to know what has been decommissioned. It is only fair and right that the people of Northern Ireland know the truth about decommissioning.
The United Kingdom did not gain lightly its reputation of having the mother of all Parliaments. Its deserved reputation was gained through the commitment and practice of the fundamental precepts of law and order. Progress has been made in the Committee, with the agreed recommendation in its report that one Department should be responsible for policing and justice. Let me make it crystal clear: that can only happen when there is public confidence in the establishment of such a Department. Public confidence is fundamental for a policing and justice Department to function. It is not optional or something for the future; it is mandatory, and the public must have confidence in it. That confidence does not exist at present.
It is not for democrats to generate that confidence; it is for the criminal terrorist organisations to prove that their organisations have disbanded, their criminality is at an end and their membership is stood down and gone for ever. Involvement in organised crime, bank robberies and extortion must be demonstrably left behind. I appreciate that that means a sea change and a seismic shift for some people, and in that respect there can be no constructive ambiguity. I challenge Sinn Féin/IRA that its position is untenable. It is impossible to be half-committed to law and order and policing, just as it is impossible to be half-pregnant.
I challenge the republican movement to move on; society has done so already. I challenge it to give up on its go-slow policing policy on law and order. No one should doubt the DUP’s commitment to law and order. Its commitment to policing and law and order is non-negotiable; it is not subject to constructive ambiguity or side letters that the Ulster Unionists have tried and failed in the past.
Let us learn the lessons of the Ulster Unionist Party’s failures. Remember the saying: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Members should not forget the Patten Report and the destruction of the RUC. It was the Ulster Unionist Party who agreed to the biggest disaster for policing in Northern Ireland’s history by signing up to the Belfast Agreement.
The lessons of Trimble’s troubles started when he embraced retarded republicanism and allowed into Government its representatives, whose commitment to law and order and policing was just not acceptable. Did Ulster Unionism bring Sinn Féin/IRA on? Did it lead, as democracy requires, to an appropriate commitment to policing and law and order? The answer to both those questions is no, and we are all the poorer for it.
There is no alternative to policing. I salute the police in my constituency of North Down who, in recent weeks, have dealt with an horrific murder, domestic burglaries, domestic violence and child abuse, as well as antisocial behaviour, which is rapidly getting out of control. Police numbers in North Down have dropped because of Patten Report recommendations. As a result, Holywood police station’s hours of service have been reduced to part-time. Its gates are locked, and members of the public are not allowed to enter the station at night. A security guard is employed to guard the gates at night because there is not enough manpower. That is a disaster for the area, which has a population of 10,000 people. When that reduction of service was being implemented, Mr McFarland had very little to say on the matter, and he has had little to say since.
These men and women deserve the support of all right-thinking people in the Chamber. It is time for Sinn Féin/IRA to come up to the mark. The reputation of the DUP as the party of law and order will not be lost; the legacy of those who made the supreme sacrifice in defence and law and order is a honourable one.
Our challenge is to build that future on the foundations of law and order and policing. I appreciate that many who bear the physical and emotional scars of policing, in the face of the most severe terrorism that the world has seen, will be listening to today’s debate. They have handed us the baton to build a society rooted in law and order and effective policing. It is to that challenge that the DUP has set its face, and we will work ceaselessly for a society where terrorism and criminality have no place. We will build on progress from this report; the challenge is for others to join us.
Sinn Féin/IRA must appreciate that the DUP will hold it accountable in respect of law and order and policing. The day of half-measures from Sinn Féin/IRA on this matter died with the Ulster Unionist electoral mandate. A fair deal demands commitment to law and order and policing, and it is for that fair deal that the DUP will continue to strive and why my party supports the report.
Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When my colleague Mary Bradley was speaking, you chose to correct her in relation to comments that she made about another political party, yet when Mr Easton on three occasions — and Hansard will confirm this — reprimanded another political party, in one case naming a Member of this House, you did not take the opportunity to correct him in the way in which you chose to correct Mrs Bradley. Both Members were making their maiden speeches. Is it in order for the Speaker of this Assembly to conduct herself in an inconsistent manner?
Some Members: Withdraw.
Madam Speaker: I will check the Hansard report, and I will comment on speeches this afternoon. Mrs Bradley was making her maiden speech, as was Mr Easton, and I told her that the convention is that it is not good to begin such a speech with criticisms, given that other Members cannot intervene. As far as I know, Mr Easton made one remark on which I was going to give way, but no other parties gave way, including the party that was named. I will be making a statement on the matter very soon. I regret that Mr Easton named another Member, even if that Member was present in the Chamber at the time. That is not the practice, and it is not courteous.
Mr P Robinson: Madam Speaker, is it in order for a Member to challenge your rulings and authority, and to question your role in this Chamber? Surely there is only one mechanism through which it is permissible to do that — a motion of no confidence.
Madam Speaker: I absolutely agree with you, Mr Robinson. As I said to Mr Attwood, I will comment on this matter this afternoon. However, as you said, it is not in order for Members to challenge my ruling. I will read the Hansard report of this sitting.
Some Members: Withdraw.
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Hansard will confirm that at no time did I challenge the Speaker’s ruling.
Some Members: He did.
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr Attwood: I did not challenge the ruling of the Speaker.
Some Members: Withdraw.
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr P Robinson: You questioned her ruling.
Mr Attwood: I did not question the ruling. I made a point of order —
Madam Speaker: Mr Attwood, please resume your seat. I will take that as a withdrawal if you did not mention —
Mr Attwood: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not challenge the ruling of the Speaker; I argued for consistency in the ruling.
Madam Speaker: I thank the Member for his comments. I do not honestly believe that my remarks were inconsistent. I hope that that will be made clear at the start of this afternoon’s sitting. It is my ruling, and if the Member is challenging it, he should please do so as convention dictates.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. In considering that matter, will you also consider accusations that Members make about parties’ behaviour in certain areas? An attack was made that could not be answered because it was made during a maiden speech.
Madam Speaker: I thank Dr Paisley for his remarks. I tried to address that issue in my earlier comments. I will examine the matter again and give Members further information on it. Members will be aware 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 pm.
The debate stood suspended.
The sitting was suspended at 12.29 pm.
On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —
Madam Speaker: Earlier today, Mr McFarland sought a right of reply, as he had been referred to by another Member. I agreed to return to the issue. Yesterday, Mr Maginness asked for my view on comments, made by Mr Elliott, referring to Mr Molloy and other members of Sinn Féin. In view of further comments made shortly before lunch, I wish to make some remarks before the debate is resumed.
On the request for a right to reply, there is a clear convention in place following previous rulings from the Speaker. That may be found on page 32 of the ‘Northern Ireland Assembly Companion’. The Member’s reference to Mr McFarland did not allude to any breach of the law. Although the comments were not courteous, they were not unparliamentary. I will not, therefore, provide an opportunity for Mr McFarland to reply in this instance. Mr Elliott’s comments were also not decorous, but, again, they were not unparliamentary.
However, I remind Members that business should be conducted in a spirit of co-operation and respect. It is clear that, on occasion, Members choose to sail close to the wind when referring to fellow Members. Such an approach makes the conduct of debate more difficult. I do not wish to stifle debate, but I hope that Members will bear that in mind. I should be grateful if Members would assist me in upholding the dignity of the Chamber by offering courtesy in their personal references to other Members.
Other Members raised issues regarding maiden speeches, particularly about the content of certain maiden speeches and my interventions during one of them. I have asked the Clerks to prepare guidance for Members, on all sides of the House, in respect of that matter. Members will be advised through their representatives on the Business Committee as to my views on those matters. Indeed, the Business Committee is often a more appropriate channel through which to raise such matters, rather than the Floor of the House. I will not take further points of order on those issues.
Report on Law and Order Issues
Debate resumed on motion:
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. — [Chairpersons, Committee on the Preparation for Government.]
Mr M Robinson: I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate today. On the second day of dealing with such a report, the biggest challenge is perhaps finding something new to say. As someone once put it, everything that could possibly be said on the subject has already been said, but yet everyone has not yet had the opportunity to say it.
I nonetheless welcome the opportunity of putting my views on this subject on the public record. This is my first speech in this version of the Assembly, and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you, Madam Speaker, to the Chair.
Before turning to the detail of the debate, I would like to join with the tributes that have been paid to the Committee staff and others who have played such an important role over the past few months. I think that we have learnt over the last few months that, even if the politicians may not be ready to have devolution back by 24 November, the Assembly staff certainly will.
As I indicated, it is not easy to find much new to say in a debate of this length, but there are a few issues that, I believe, do warrant some attention. In particular, I want to focus on the challenges that are facing the republican movement over the next few months in the area of policing. I do not believe that the present weakness of the republican position, or, indeed, the comparative strength of unionists, is yet fully appreciated — perhaps on either side. It is a mistake to believe that the real pressure in the weeks ahead will be on the DUP. It will, instead, be on republicans.
It must be pretty clear by this stage that unless and until Sinn Féin can support the rule of law in Northern Ireland there will not be an inclusive Executive. The sooner that is faced up to, the sooner the problem can be addressed. While Sinn Féin Members are not in the Chamber today, I do hope that they will reflect on what has been said in the debate over the last two days.
The Preparation for Government Committee was tasked with the responsibility:
“to scope the work which, in the view of the parties, needs to be done in preparation for Government”.
It is apparent from the report that, while there are many areas of disagreement, only one really presents an obstacle to the return of devolution. If we were debating the issue of the devolution of policing and justice, there would be many, many more. The issue in this area that is an impediment to devolution is the lack of support for the rule of law.
In virtually every other society around the world, support for the rule of law would be taken for granted. Indeed, no one would even question the commitment of those who aspire to hold office to support the rule of law — but Northern Ireland is different. First, let us be clear about what we mean by the rule of law and what we do not. The rule of law is about the acceptance and legitimacy of the law of the land and decisions of the courts over any arbitrary or competing power. Support for the institutions of the police and the courts are implicit in support for the rule of law.
It is not about saying that every law is a good law but that every law should be adhered to. It is not about saying every decision of the police is the right one but that the police force, as a whole, must be supported, and people must be encouraged to report crime. It means an end to the absurd notion of the legitimacy of the IRA, and that the IRA is incapable of committing a crime. It does not mean that those who have offended in the past can have no part of the future, so long as they have changed.
The fact that someone has broken the law in the past does not mean that they cannot support the rule of law. Continuing to be involved in organised crime, on the other hand, would render one beyond the democratic pale. While other issues that are blocking devolution have seen progress made, there is still a huge distance for republicans to travel in this area.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Wells] in the Chair)
For some republicans, this issue is even more sensitive than that of decommissioning. Decommissioning was about getting rid of guns that had served their usefulness and were now an impediment to the expansion of Sinn Féin. Support for the rule of law is an acceptance of the legitimacy of, if not support for, the state — this from an organisation that did not accept that murders, punishment beatings, robberies or extortion before July 2005 were even crimes. I have real concerns that it will not be able to do so in the weeks before 24 November.
The historical precedents are not good. It took seven years from the Belfast Agreement and 11 years from the first IRA ceasefire to bring about substantial decommissioning, and Sinn Féin has now found itself with a real problem. For the first time in the political process, it is at the mercy of — rather than dictating — events. With the IRA decommissioning last year and the IRA statement, what cards has it left to play? If it does not like our terms for a return to government, what options does it have? Going back to war? Even if it could, it would be politically destroyed with no hope of future success. Concentrating on elections in the South until next May is purely a short-term option until Sinn Féin discovers that it is still a fringe political party with limited influence in the Republic of Ireland.
Ultimately, Sinn Féin and the republican movement have no option but to support the rule of law. As a political movement, it has nowhere else to go — a fact that must be recognised by the leadership. However, that process could take a long time. On the issue of progress towards support for the rule of law, in recent times the record of Sinn Féin has been mixed. I believe that it would be a mistake to dismiss entirely some of the comments that have been made by senior republicans, which demonstrate an inching in the right direction. For example, Gerry Adams has said that four men who failed to appear for sentencing at a Belfast court should have turned up, and he appealed to them to do so. That is progress. So too is the denunciation by Martin McGuinness of the vodka heist in the Republic. However, these are too little, too late.
What is now required is not inch-by-inch movement, or even small steps, but big jumps. On a few occasions, there has been some evidence of movement, however slight, but there is also the knee-jerk reaction and the reversion to the old mantra of “political policing”. The credibility of any positive signs was destroyed by comments such as Gerry Adams’s about Slab Murphy, when he said:
“Tom Murphy is not a criminal. He is a good republican.”
We have also seen, in recent days, the same kind of nonsense, both in comments from Martin McGuinness to the Secretary of State and, on the ground, from Sinn Féin councillors. We should not underestimate the task facing Sinn Féin to persuade its own core voters to support the institutions of the state — and it is the core support, not the wider nationalist or even republican constituency, that needs to be persuaded. I have little doubt that, even among Sinn Féin voters, there is an acceptance of the police force.
Where the problem comes is trying to persuade the people who the republican leadership has indoctrinated for the last 30 years that the time has come to change. The republican leadership has created a monster that it is now having to deal with. As one republican put it, the difference between the Stickies and the Provos is about 25 years.
It is one thing to persuade its members to bring their criminal activity to an end; it is quite another being prepared to turn them over to the police if they do not, but this is the kind of action that is required if people are to be persuaded that things really have changed. I fear that, for too long, Sinn Féin has assumed that this issue would go away or that difficult decisions could be avoided. If we were to turn a blind eye now to this, when would we ever be able to deal with it?
The challenge of persuading those who have lived on the margins of criminality for a generation to move away from it will not be easy, but it must be done. Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to congratulate all those who have played their part in the process of producing this report. If this report has achieved nothing else, it has highlighted an issue that must be resolved before devolution can be restored. For that reason, I believe that we can say that the work of the Committee over the summer has not been in vain. Whether or not Sinn Féin and the republican movement have the will or the desire to address that will become clear very soon. That decision will dictate, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether this debate represents, as Churchill might have put it, the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of the Assembly. I welcome the report.
Mr A Maginness: I take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in the preparation of the report that is before the Assembly. I also take this opportunity to congratulate my sister in law, Arlene Foster, on the birth of her son. Perhaps I should have said: “my sister in the law”. [Laughter.]
There is some puzzlement on Dr Paisley’s face. [Laughter.]
I hope that her son will enjoy a peaceful childhood and an even more harmonious adulthood in which this society is truly reconciled through the mechanism of this Assembly and the other institutions of the agreement. That is the objective of the agreement, and it should be the objective of all Members.
Over the past two days, I have listened very carefully to colleagues on the DUP Benches. They may have misunderstood the name of the Committee, which is the Preparation for Government Committee, not the Preparation for Dissolution Committee. Given the comments made by members of the DUP, I sense an almost lemming-like approach to 24 November; that they are looking towards dissolution rather than restoration of the institutions. I hope that I am wrong.
I left the Chamber yesterday feeling rather pessimistic due to some of those comments, and I hoped that, today, I might be proved wrong and that I might be elated by the contributions of the DUP. However, I then listened very carefully to the contribution of William McCrea, which was full of emotional political froth, negativity, and absolutes. It seemed to be designed almost to wreck the process of restoration rather than to assist it. I do not believe that that is a constructive attitude for anyone in this Chamber to adopt.
The SDLP wants to work with the DUP, with the Ulster Unionists and with Sinn Féin, which is absent today. I do not understand why Sinn Féin is absent. If that party can work in the PFG Committee, and if it believes that that work is leading to some progress — and I think that it agrees with that proposition — why do its Members not come into the Chamber and make a further contribution towards that progress? I simply do not understand Sinn Féin’s position, which is inconsistent and contradictory.
Sinn Féin is not the only party, however, that is being inconsistent and contradictory in this process. I have heard much about the rule of law from the DUP during this debate. I do not understand how the DUP squares that with its position of last September, when DUP members walked out of the Belfast District Policing Partnership in protest at police actions during the Whiterock riots. How is that compatible with the strict application of the rule of law? How does that uphold the authority of the PSNI in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland?
There was an incident on the New Lodge Road at the weekend when a Sinn Féin councillor criticised the police for apprehending a joyrider, thereby — she said — causing a riot. What is the difference between her trenchant criticism of the PSNI and the DUP’s criticism of the PSNI? Indeed, the DUP walked away from an institution that is designed to monitor the police, to keep an eye on them and to ensure that they do their jobs properly. That is a contradictory and inconsistent position.
If the DUP is going to preach to Sinn Féin about this issue, it must look into its own soul. The DUP must regard not the mote in Sinn Féin’s eye, but the plank sticking out of its own eye. If the DUP is going to commit itself to criticising Sinn Féin, it must get its own act together on law and order. It seems to me that the approach that the DUP is taking is one of “our law and Orange Order”. That is partial support for the rule of law, which should be neutral and wholehearted. The DUP’s position is negative, and it is doing great damage to the entire political discourse on law and order.
I have heard DUP Members saying that if Sinn Féin signs up to policing, by joining the Policing Board, that would not be sufficient. What is sufficient? The DUP keeps creating more and more preconditions.
Mr S Wilson: I do not know whether the Member was present at the PFG Committee meeting when his party colleague proposed what he believed to be essential when signing up to policing. That is found at page 21 of the report, in paragraph 67: “The Committee considered a proposal that this Committee calls on all parties to recommend that people join the police, assist the police with enquiries including into organised crime, encourage people to participate in the policing structures and co-operate with other agencies addressing crime and organised crime.”
That was an SDLP proposal. That is what we mean by signing up to policing, and I thought that it was also what the SDLP meant.
Mr A Maginness: I am glad that Mr Wilson adheres to that proposal. However, I would like to see the DUP sticking to it. I agree with that proposal — so does my colleague, and my party. However, we are not saying that that is a precondition for the restoration of the Executive. That was not a condition in the old Executive; it should not be a condition for the new Executive either.
Mr Paisley Jnr: The Member says that it is not a precondition. In Saturday’s ‘Irish Times’, his party leader was asked whether he was making Sinn Féin’s endorsement of the police a precondition. He replied that, although “precondition” might not be his word, it was a political reality. The SDLP is stating that Sinn Féin’s acceptance of the legitimacy of the rule of law is a precondition; the DUP shares that view.
Mr A Maginness: My party leader said, quite straightforwardly, that a party cannot continue to ignore policing arrangements if the integrity, stability and sustainability of the Executive as a political institution are to be preserved. The SDLP is not saying that that is a precondition; it is saying that Sinn Féin must, at some point, sign up to policing. If Sinn Féin does not do that, further instability will be created. The current levels of criminal and antisocial behaviour on our streets constitute a crisis that we cannot address fully until all parties support policing. That is the goal.
Sinn Féin has said, in Committee meetings and to the Secretary of State, that it will accept policing if two conditions are met: first, policing and justice powers must be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly; secondly, the Assembly and the Executive must be up and running. It is my understanding that Sinn Féin is not looking for anything else. If it is looking for something further, it should tell us, either inside or outside the Chamber.
At the Preparation for Government Committee meeting on Monday, Mr McFarland asked the Secretary of State about the Government’s obligations in relation to policing. The Secretary of State replied that the Government had fulfilled their obligations and that the only outstanding issue was the implementation of the transfer of policing and justice powers. That implementation can only happen with cross-community support in the Assembly. All parties must agree that. That support must be won through all the parties entering into the argument.
The challenge for Sinn Féin, and for all of us, is to create a new dispensation in which we can grow together in harmony and peace, in a spirit of reconciliation. It is the view of the SDLP that that is the political goal that we should all set for ourselves. Let us forget about negative politics and abandon the emotional residue of the past in order to move on to new politics that we can build together in a coalition.
There has been much talk in the Chamber about voluntary coalitions. The previous Executive was a voluntary coalition.
Mr Paisley Jnr: It did not work.
Mr A Maginness: Why does the Member laugh?
Lord Morrow: Will the Member give way?
Mr A Maginness: Let me just finish my point. Nobody was forced to join the Executive. Joining that Executive was a voluntary act. Therefore, it was a voluntary coalition.
Lord Morrow: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he accept that a big shortfall was the fact that the previous Executive did not have the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, which is now the major party in Northern Ireland? Does he also accept that the previous Executive simply did not work? Why did that Executive break down on three different occasions?
Mr A Maginness: The previous Executive did not work because of external — not internal — politics. The DUP did not have to join the Executive, but it did so voluntarily. The DUP may not have attended meetings of the Executive Committee, but it took part in decisions and played its part in the Assembly.
Mr S Wilson: Will the Member give way?
Mr A Maginness: No, I am running out of time.
With regard to voluntary coalition of the type that has been suggested, the SDLP is a party of inclusion, not exclusion. Even if we were to accept the DUP’s premise and join that coalition, how sustainable would it be? How stable would it be? One cannot exclude a substantial and significant section of political opinion and hope to have stable political institutions that encompass everybody. That is the reality of the situation. We are right in principle, and we are right in practice. The analysis is quite correct.
I come now to the vexed question of fifty-fifty recruitment to the PSNI. When the RUC was set up in 1922, one third of the positions was set aside for Catholics. That was a sensible idea, but, because of many political factors, it did not come into being. Nonetheless, that should be borne in mind. In relation to membership of the RUC — Lord Morrow made this point — Catholic representation, at its peak, was 11%. That was at a time of peace, so it is not simply a matter of intimidation. A mechanism is required to create a fair balance in the PSNI, and fifty-fifty membership is the way in which to do that. It is a derogation from the normal standard, but it is a temporary one.
Mr Kennedy raised the matter of RUC Special Branch. The SDLP was right to criticise Special Branch and to put great emphasis on that issue. Special Branch abused its power and caused serious problems for policing in Northern Ireland. If Members do not believe me, they should ask Jonty Brown.
Mr G Robinson: I want to commend all those who worked so diligently on the PFG Committee over the summer months and to welcome the report.
I shall restrict my remarks today to the problems of organised crime in Northern Ireland. That is influenced significantly by the involvement of paramilitary organisations, loyalist and republican. Their disciplined structures have allowed them to evolve into lucrative criminal enterprises and to utilise their terrorist expertise when required.
All paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have been heavily involved in organised crime as a means of raising finance for their organisations and also for personal gain. PIRA is closely involved in cigarette smuggling and has hijacked a number of lorries in the past couple of years. The UDA, the LVF, the Red Hand Commando (RHC) and republicans have been deeply involved in the drugs trade. One loyalist brigade was paying another brigade £250 a week for permission to trade in its area. A loyalist gang from County Londonderry has been responsible for a number of robberies over the past few years, netting many tens of thousands of pounds. Last year, one building contractor was believed to be paying the UDA £2,500 a week in protection money.
The Independent Monitoring Commission has recognised the fact that organised crime is a major continuing legacy of terrorism, with some 60% of all organised crime gangs in Northern Ireland, and some two thirds of the most serious gangs involved in international activity, having paramilitary links. The IMC has pointed out that those paramilitary associations brought to organised crime a ruthlessness, expertise and infrastructure unique to Northern Ireland.
An indication of the proceeds of those crimes can be seen in the amounts of money involved when law enforcement agencies conduct successful cases — and those cases represent only a small proportion of all illegal activity. In 2001-02, HM Customs and Excise seized 88·5 million cigarettes in Northern Ireland.
Fuel laundering plants that have been detected in Northern Ireland can produce up to 20,000 litres per week. The loss of duty to the Exchequer, from which the criminal profits, could be up to £90,000. Counterfeit goods to the value of nearly £7 million were seized in 2002. Tackling organised crime here is particularly difficult, given the sophistication of the criminals, including paramilitaries. There is evidence of the existence of highly developed methods of marketing, distribution and sale. The criminals are flexible and resilient. Some operations involve vast sums and the services of skilled lawyers and accountants.
The involvement of paramilitaries in organised crime is deep-rooted. It makes the threat of such crime more complex and its impact more serious. It affects all levels of illegality, because organised crime depends on other criminal activity, such as the selling of drugs, illicit fuel and tobacco and the use of intimidation and violence to maintain the local control on which those activities depend. The funds that are secured from crime feed paramilitary groups.
In the year before last, the activities of 16 high-level, prolific gangs were frustrated, disrupted or dismantled, and 126 individuals were arrested. The majority of the gangs that have been identified in Northern Ireland’s annual threat assessment report remain active. Violent crimes such as cash-in-transit robberies are on the increase, as are the so-called tiger kidnappings, which have a huge psychological impact on their victims and their families.
If we are to have a truly peaceful society, organised crime must be eradicated. The police and the authorities of law and order deserve the support of all elected representatives in their endeavours to stop that crime.
Mr S Wilson: The part of the report from the Committee on the Preparation for Government that deals with law and order issues is the most important that we will debate. Last week we debated the report on the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland. That was an easy subject to discuss, because everyone wants a share of economic prosperity. Of course, we were all asking the British Government to hand over money to do the job.
The issues in this report require some movement from parties in Northern Ireland. This is where local people have to divvy up. We have made it clear that, as far as we are concerned, these matters will be the bedrock on which we will have either strong and stable devolution or no devolution. It is as simple as that. For years we have tried to fudge the issue, mostly for the benefit of republicans. What is their attitude towards the rule of law, the police, policing structures and a proper democratic society? Every time, whether it has been local parties, the Irish Government, or the Westminster Government the issue has been fudged simply to allow Sinn Féin off the hook. Some people will praise the Ulster Unionist Party for that, but some will condemn it. Many times the UUP took a step forward or jumped over the edge of the cliff hoping that others would follow, and every time it was let down.
The electorate has put the DUP in the position of either acquiescing and letting devolution happen, or of withdrawing support and not letting it happen. I am sure that party colleagues have put repeatedly on the record that we want devolution to happen.
It must happen in a way that will ensure that it can be sustained next year, the year after that and the year after that. For that to happen, there must be unanimous support for the police.
During the summer, the PFG Committee dealing with law and order met on Wednesdays, and I would challenge any Member to say that my party’s representatives did not try to play a constructive role in achieving levels of agreement. Indeed, at times, the DUP members helped to pull the Sinn Féin members out of some of the holes that they were digging for themselves. On occasion, because it was a bit difficult for members from Sinn Féin to consent to unionist proposals, and we thought that they might come better from the SDLP, we told the SDLP members that if they were to take forward certain proposals, we would support them to see whether we could get agreement on some of the policing issues. Even that did not work.
The signs do not look good. Let us consider just two of the unsuccessful proposals. They were not put forward in an aggressive way by the DUP: the SDLP made them. The first, which is in paragraph 67 of the report, states:
“That this Committee calls on all parties to recommend that people join the police, assist the police with enquiries including into organised crime, encourage people to participate in policing structures and co-operate with other agencies addressing crime and organised crime”.
Members cannot expect to become Government Ministers unless they support that principle. The only party that refused to support it was Sinn Féin. The Committee went further and said that Ministers should have to adhere to certain standards, one of which should be dissociation from criminal behaviour. The second unsuccessful proposal that I wish to highlight is in paragraph 70. It states:
“That this Committee believes that association with, or support for, those involved in criminal activity is incompatible with the holding of Ministerial office”.
Which party opposed that proposal? Sinn Féin, of course.
I listened closely to the Member for North Belfast Mr Maginness, who talked about the report’s being part of preparation for Government, but parties cannot say that they have prepared themselves for Government if they renege on those two important proposals which were put forward by the SDLP and rejected by Sinn Féin. Unless those who wish to participate in the process make a commitment to abide by those two principles, Government in Northern Ireland will never be sustainable.
That is why the signs are not good. It is not because, as the Member for Foyle Mrs Bradley suggested in her maiden speech, the DUP wished to drag its feet. It is not because, as the Member for West Belfast Alex Attwood suggested yesterday, the DUP is not up for power sharing, and it is not because, as has been suggested, the DUP is not prepared to take the plunge.
I noticed that, after my intervention, the Member for North Belfast Mr Maginness said that if we did not achieve a commitment to policing, it would be a recipe for more and more instability. How can we hope for long-lasting devolved institutions if we choose a route that even those who criticise the DUP believe will create instability? It would be pointless to set up institutions that would be as unstable as those in the past. How could they work when those Members who want to be Government Ministers are not prepared to give their full support to the people who would have to uphold the laws that they would pass? How could they work if those Members are not prepared to dissociate themselves from those who are involved in criminal activity?
Mr D Bradley: I take it that the Member is dissociating himself from his party’s past actions in challenging the rule of law. I am referring to the red beret brigade and to marching up and down hills in County Antrim, waving gun licences. I am also referring to the presence of one of the Member’s colleagues on a platform with a member of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF). Do I take it that that section of his party’s past has been forgotten?
Mr S Wilson: For a Member of a party that tiresomely tells us that we must leave the past behind and look forward to the future, Mr Bradley has a great memory to drag up all of that. I am making it as clear as I possibly can that to participate in Government, Sinn Féin must support the police and dissociate itself from those involved in criminal activity. The Member should not try to cover up his embarrassment that his party is prepared to go into Government even when those conditions are not met, because he is afraid either that devolution will not happen and he may lose his job, or that he will offend Sinn Féin.
Our position is simple. You cannot have devolution, not because we say so, but because it will not work unless those conditions are met.
Mr Attwood: I submit to the Member that his position is somewhat inconsistent. Maybe he was on holiday or did not read the papers that weekend, but in the last 10 days the deputy leader of his party explicitly said that it was not a requirement for Sinn Féin to be on the Policing Board in order to have restoration of the Executive. Rather than berate Members on this side of the Chamber, I suggest to the Member that he has an urgent conversation with his deputy leader to clear up his quite evident confusion about his own party’s position on Sinn Féin going into Government.
Mr S Wilson: I know the Member gets confused quite often, and I hope to have time to talk later about his confusion on the Policing Board. The current reason for the Member’s confusion is that the deputy leader of my party has gone further and said that the sole requirement proposed by some people that being on the Policing Board makes a party eligible to be in Government is not sufficient. Supporting the Policing Board or being on a district policing partnership is not sufficient. There must also be a commitment to going out to encourage others to join the police and support the police. That is the DUP requirement, unlike watered-down requirements proposed by others.
We will be doing Northern Ireland a disservice if we let Sinn Féin off the hook once again. It has been let off the hook time and again. If it wants to be in Government, now is the time to pay up. Credit has been extended to the party for far too long; it has been given tick for far too long. It will not get that any longer. It will have to pay up. It is important for the whole of society that Sinn Féin be pushed down that path. If Sinn Féin needs more time, it will get more time. If it has so poisoned the atmosphere in its own community that it cannot turn people around quickly enough, we will give it time to do that. However, we are not going to take that party on its word that when we have handed it what it wants on a plate, it will eventually have an Ard-Fheis and present the matter there.
Committee discussions over the summer indicated that it is not the DUP, but Sinn Féin, that has a long way to go. Much as my party dislikes the idea of having Sinn Féin in Government, and much as it will rankle with many people across Northern Ireland, if certain conditions are met, we will accept that the Executive will be inclusive, but we will not move from the conditions we believe to be necessary.
The Member for South Belfast Mr Attwood made a point about the timing of all of this. There was much discussion during the Committee about timing. The conditions are important, not the timing, and the SDLP has accepted that.
The SDLP supported the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Order 2006, which stated that the timing would be right when there was sufficient confidence for the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to introduce a motion on the devolution of policing. The Assembly would then ratify that motion and the legislation would go through Westminster. That has been accepted, and no timescale has been set. It is disingenuous for the Member for South Belfast Mr McGimpsey to suggest that a two-year period has been accepted by the DUP. Of course, the Member renounced some of the policing arrangements that he had agreed to in the past, and I notice his dissociation with the Patten recommendations. However, I am not sure which of the Patten recommendations he supports and which of them he does not support. The one thing I do know — [Interruption.]
Mr McGimpsey: Will the Member give way?
Mr S Wilson: I think that the Member for South Belfast and the Member for North Belfast both want to speak. I was having a go at the Member for South Belfast, and the Member for North Belfast wants to answer for him. That would be very unfair. The Member for South Belfast should have a chance to speak.
Mr A Maginness: Does the Member, together with the rest of his party, now disown the comprehensive agreement completely and absolutely? Was that what the DUP agreed to do when it signed up to it?
Mr S Wilson: I am very happy to defend what was said in that part of the comprehensive agreement, which makes it quite clear that there could be devolution of policing only when there was confidence. Rather than allow the British Government, the Irish Government, or any other outside party to decide when there was sufficient confidence, the DUP asked for a triple lock, which, fortunately, went through Parliament with the support of the SDLP. The DUP appreciates the fact that Mr Maginness’s three colleagues in Westminster supported it on that and allowed the triple lock.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?
Mr S Wilson: The requirement for confidence has been accepted, and the DUP will have the final decision.
Mr Donaldson: This has been a lively debate and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the report in plenary session. As my comments will be the last of the day, I reiterate the thanks that have been conveyed already to the Committee staff and to all those who participated in its proceedings.
The DUP welcomes the publication of the report. The Committee has made some progress, and there is cross-party support on the modality for the devolution of policing and justice powers in that they will be devolved to a single Department. There is a measure of agreement on issues relating to ministerial arrangements, although further discussion is required. There is also significant agreement on matters dealing with the powers to be devolved, and the areas that will come under a new Department’s remit. However, further discussion is also required on those issues. There is scope for further discussion on the timing of the devolution of policing and justice, because there is no agreement on when that should happen.
The timing of devolution is very important. Indeed, reference has been made to the comprehensive agreement, and I will read an extract from the preamble. It states that:
“Despite intensive efforts over a number of months and very considerable progress, not all elements were agreed.”
I do not think that any of the parties signed up to every single aspect of the comprehensive agreement. However, the Democratic Unionist Party does not resile from the main thrust of the agreement and the major changes required to the political institutions. The DUP believes that those changes will be delivered in the fullness of time through the legislative process at Westminster. The DUP does not resile from the timetable contained in the comprehensive agreement on policing and justice.
I listened to the comments made by the Member for South Belfast Mr McGimpsey, who has inferred that somehow the Democratic Unionist Party had signed up to a two-year time frame for devolution. That is simply not the case. If Mr McGimpsey looks at the timetable that forms annexe A of the comprehensive agreement, he will see the following:
“British Government introduces legislation giving effect to devolution of criminal justice and policing. Legislation to come into effect once sufficient confidence has been established, as expressed in a cross-community vote in the Assembly, proposed by the First and Deputy First Minister.”
There is no mention of a specific time frame. The devolution of policing and justice is conditional on confidence rather than on a time frame. Those commitments are secured in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2006, and the triple lock to which my colleague the Member for East Antrim Sammy Wilson referred is now enshrined in that legislation.
In effect, that means that the DUP and unionism do not have to sign up to the devolution of policing and justice, and see that legislation given effect, unless we are satisfied that sufficient confidence exists in the community, which must be verified by a cross-community vote on a proposal put to the Assembly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Parliament would then give effect to the legislation by way of an Order being passed in both Houses.
A number of safeguards ensure that the Assembly has control over the timing of the devolution of policing and justice powers. The DUP did not fall into the same trap as others did in the past. I have a copy of the agreement that Mr McGimpsey’s former party leader, David Trimble, entered into with Sinn Féin and the Government in October 2003 that specifies that devolution should take place at the mid-point of the Assembly. Had that timetable been followed, the devolution of policing and justice would have happened by now. The DUP will not make the mistake of being tied to a timetable. It is important that the conditions are right: Sinn Féin must have endorsed the police and the rule of law, and there must be sufficient time to judge whether its commitment is genuine and unequivocal. Then, and only then, will the DUP consider whether the conditions are right for the devolution of policing and justice powers.
In that sense, the DUP has served the community well by ensuring adequate safeguards. Policing and justice are big issues: rest assured that, nine times out of 10, the lead news story on the radio in the morning will relate to either a policing issue or to a justice issue. No other subject that will come under the remit of the Assembly is potentially as controversial. That is why it is essential to get this absolutely right — the Member for East Antrim was absolutely correct — and that is what the DUP is determined to do. The DUP does not want to leap into agreeing to the devolution of policing and justice only to discover that it got it wrong, that the timing was wrong or that there was not sufficient confidence.
The Member for North Belfast Mr Maginness told the DUP that a requirement for Sinn Féin to sign up to policing and justice should not be a precondition to the devolution of powers. However, in the DUP’s experience, unless Sinn Féin has signed up to something before a move is made, there will be a long wait for it to sign up afterwards. Let us learn from past mistakes, when people leapt into Government only to discover that they had leapt over the precipice and there was nothing below. That is why it is essential to pin down Sinn Féin on this issue.
(Madam Speaker in the Chair)
After all, when it comes to prerequisites, preconditions, and so forth, the SDLP is a past master: for years, it would not sit on the Police Authority for Northern Ireland because the conditions were not right. I doubt whether the SDLP would have signed up to the Belfast Agreement had it not been for the inclusion of the elements that led to the Patten Report. Those were the SDLP’s preconditions and prerequisites. Yet the SDLP tells the DUP that it cannot have any prerequisites or preconditions.
It tells us that we should put blind faith in Sinn Féin, that one day it will come good and sign up to policing. I am sorry, but experience tells us that it is better to have such matters firmly tied down and unequivocal commitments made, rather than go into a situation where those may not be achieved for some time. I agree with the Member for East Antrim: it is unsustainable to have Ministers in Government who do not accept the rule of law and who are not prepared to support the police. That would not happen in Dublin, London or Washington. Why should it happen in Belfast? That is why it is important to get that right.
The Member for South Belfast Mr McGimpsey berated the Democratic Unionist Party about there being, potentially, a Sinn Féin Minister in charge of policing. What is the difference between policing the streets and being in charge of the education of our children? Does the principle of the rule of law not apply in that situation? Of course it does; yet the Ulster Unionist Party was in a Government in which Martin McGuinness, the Member for Mid Ulster, was Minister of Education. The rule of law did not matter much to that party then.
The Ulster Unionist Party has berated the DUP about the comprehensive agreement. However, it has the potential to create greater accountability in the political institutions. Everyone must welcome that. It repairs some of the damage that was done and the mistakes that were made in the Belfast Agreement: it is not mere tinkering. As the Member for Foyle and leader of the SDLP said in a recent statement, contrary to what the Secretary of State — whom I will not name, so as to keep on the right side of you, Madam Speaker — has claimed in the House of Commons, the so-called comprehensive agreement does not provide for “mere tweakings” of the Good Friday Agreement. In other words, as the leader of the SDLP accepts, the comprehensive agreement brings about major, substantial changes that will be of benefit to Members. Indeed, the hon Member for South Belfast might have seen the new maternity hospital located in his constituency had there been the level of accountability in the last Assembly that there will be in the next one. The Assembly said that the maternity hospital should be located in south Belfast. However, the Minister decided that it should go to west Belfast. That is why there must be accountability.
Mr McGimpsey: The matter of the location of the maternity hospital was subject to a vote in the Assembly. My recollection is that the Minister won that vote. I agree with the Member’s remarks. However, the Minister was able to get support for that.
Mr Donaldson: I was not a Member of the Assembly at that time, but my recollection is that the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety voted in favour of the Jubilee Hospital. The Minister, however, issued a directive over the heads of the Assembly and went against the wishes of the scrutiny Committee.
I congratulate the Member for Foyle Mrs Bradley on her maiden speech. She cited a long list of laws that the Assembly could change. I agree with her and look forward to the day when some of those judicial laws could be changed with regard to dealing with offences. She blames the DUP for the inability of the Assembly to do that. My party supports the police and wants there to be devolution of policing and justice. Sinn Féin does not support the police and blocks the creation of circumstances in which there could be devolution of policing and justice powers. I want to clarify that my party does not stand in the way of devolution. The DUP is a devolutionist party. It wants the Assembly to be fully functioning. It is worth bearing in mind that the unionist Government of 1972 resigned because their policing and justice powers had been removed. The DUP wants those powers to return to Stormont, but only in the right circumstances.
Mr Attwood: If the Member supports the police, perhaps he will respond to Alban Maginness’s comments about elements in the DUP and in the Orange Order — of which Mr Donaldson is a member — who failed to support the police and to dissociate themselves from criminal behaviour last September. I ask so that there will be no ambiguity on the matter. Will the DUP dissociate itself from anyone in its organisation who acted in such a manner?
The Member said that he expected the comprehensive agreement to be legislated for. Given that this is an important matter, and in advance of the negotiations on 11, 12 and 13 October, will he confirm to the Assembly that the DUP has a commitment from the British Government to legislate for the comprehensive agreement, independent of whatever transpires in St Andrews?
Mr Donaldson: I thank the Member for West Belfast for his intervention. I condemned the acts of violence that took place last summer. The DUP met with police commanders and, where we felt that the police had acted inappropriately, we said so, and where we felt that there had been violence against the police, we condemned that unequivocally and will do so again.
The Member for West Belfast supports the police in principle, but he is always quick to criticise when he feels that they have stepped out of line. Does he not accord the same privilege to other Members who, when they feel that the police have got it wrong, tell them that they have got it wrong? Every Member should have that right.
With regard to the comprehensive agreement, the Secretary of State has said publicly that he will introduce legislation in the autumn to give effect to changes that are required to make the institutions more accountable. The DUP welcomes that. I hope that we can make further progress, but the obstacle to that progress is the party that is absent and its failure to fully engage on this issue. Sinn Féin stated that when it got legislation on policing and justice, it would call an Ard-Fheis and make a decision to support the police. That legislation is in place, so what is holding it back? Why is it delaying? Why will it not step over the line, embrace democracy and the rule of law and join the rest of us in building a better future that is based on respect for that rule of law?
Question put and agreed to.
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.
Adjourned at 3.02 pm.