the transitional

Monday 27 November 2006

The sitting begun and suspended on Friday 24 November 2006 was resumed at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).

Assembly Business

Madam Speaker: The sitting is resumed. On Friday, as a result of a serious security situation about which my staff notified me, I was required to suspend the sitting under Standing Order 26(e). Before we proceed, I wish to make a statement regarding the events of that day, and I trust that I will be able to do so without interruption.

I will comment on the proceedings of the sitting in a moment, but first I will refer to the security incident that led to that sitting’s suspension.

Members will be aware that, following the incident that occurred at the front entrance to Parliament Buildings on Friday morning, an individual has been charged. The matter is, therefore, sub judice, so Members will understand that I am constrained in what I can say about the incident at this stage.

Having been briefed on that investigation by the Chief Constable and an assistant chief constable, I can say that no one should underestimate the very real danger that everyone in the Building faced on Friday morning. The devices that were defused may have been crude in nature, but they were no less life-threatening for that. Moreover, we should not underestimate the extraordinary courage that was shown by our doorkeepers in confronting that danger.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Madam Speaker: Our unarmed civilian doorkeepers confronted an assailant whom they believed to be armed with a gun and explosives. They disarmed and detained him. By doing so, they undoubtedly prevented serious injury and possible loss of life. They selflessly endangered their own lives in order to protect ours, and we are indebted to them for that. We must not underestimate their bravery, nor understate our appreciation. Two of the doorkeepers involved had to be taken to hospital, but I am very pleased to report that neither suffered serious physical injury.

This morning, I met with all those who were involved to express my own appreciation of, and admiration for, their actions and their bravery. There will be a further opportunity, Members, for the House to recognise that bravery at a later date. Over the weekend, I spoke with party leaders and many Members, and I know that I speak for the whole House — its Members, the secretariat and Members’ staff — and for the many members of the public who were present in the Building for the sitting when I express our sincere gratitude and admiration for the professionalism and courage that the doorkeepers displayed.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Madam Speaker: In the light of Friday’s events, questions have, quite reasonably, been asked about the level of security in and around Parliament Buildings. We must be mindful of Members’ own desire that Parliament Buildings be a public building that is accessible and open to all our citizens and visitors. Nevertheless, the Building must also be a place of safety where democracy can be exercised without fear.

On Friday evening, I met the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable and spoke with the chairman of the Policing Board. They have all assured me of their support for, and pledged co-operation in, a full security review at Parliament Buildings. Senior officials met PSNI representatives on Saturday, and immediate measures have been agreed to ensure the security of the Building in the short term. Later this week, I will call a meeting of the Transitional Assembly Commission and will brief party representatives on how officials intend to conduct the broader security review. That review will include a full and detailed report on last Friday’s incident, consideration of future police presence, additional security measures and evacuation arrange-ments. I intend also to consult with the Business Committee tomorrow on whether parties wish to establish a Committee to take forward that review.

Friday’s attack on Parliament Buildings was an attack on democracy. In protecting the Building and its users, we are also protecting the right of all our citizens to participate fully and freely in the democratic life of our community. This morning’s resumption is primarily to allow for the completion of Friday’s Assembly business, but I hope that it will also serve as a strong and clear statement of the shared view of all represented here that democracy is the only way in which the needs of our community can be met, and of our shared resolve that, by our words and deeds in this place, democracy will be seen to prevail. We can all do so in this Chamber by maintaining good order; by exercising our responsibilities in a proper manner; and by conducting ourselves in a manner that upholds common standards of decency, honesty and mutual respect.

I now wish to turn briefly to the proceedings that the incident caused me to suspend. Friday’s sitting was a requirement of the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. That Act provides for me as Speaker to call meetings of the Transitional Assembly and to determine the business to be conducted. It also allows the Secretary of State to direct the proceedings of the Transitional Assembly at any time. In that sense, the Transitional Assembly has not been given the level of autonomy and independence that would be enjoyed by a fully restored Northern Ireland Assembly. Nor am I, as Speaker, able to exercise the unfettered discretion that a Speaker of a fully restored Northern Ireland Assembly would have.

At a meeting of the Business Committee preceding Friday’s sitting, it was agreed that we should proceed in a particular way. Following that meeting, I received a further direction from the Secretary of State under which the Transitional Assembly was bound to proceed differently. The terms of that direction were fulfilled on Friday.

This morning I chaired a meeting of the Business Committee at which I explained to Members that, unfortunately, there was insufficient time to inform them of the detail of the direction in advance of the commencement of Friday’s sitting. I have arranged for copies of the direction to be placed in the Library. I know that some Members were disappointed by that development, but I trust that they will understand the limitations within which we currently operate.

We will now return to the Order Paper for Friday 24 November. We were interrupted during Mr Ford’s statement. I now call on him to continue his remarks. I have allowed him three minutes to do so.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The DUP supports all that you have said about those who protected us on the occasion that you mentioned. My party would heartily welcome a Committee of this House to deal with the other matters, as you have suggested.

Madam Speaker: Thank you, Dr Paisley. Strictly speaking, that was not a point of order. I shall not take any further points of order. Mr Adams, were you on your feet?

Mr Adams: Yes, Madam Speaker. I want to concur absolutely with what you said about the security staff.

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Friday, you said that you would not take points of order until the proceedings were complete. I am still waiting to make my point of order, though I presume that it will be taken.

Madam Speaker: Absolutely, Mr Nesbitt.

Statements From Leaders Of Other Political Parties
In The Assembly

Debate [suspended on 24 November 2006] resumed:

Mr Ford: Madam Speaker, I know that you have spoken for everyone in the Chamber — indeed, for all those who work in the Building — in your reference to the events of last Friday and the tribute that you paid to the staff. However, I could not continue my speech without adding my tribute, and that of my colleagues, to all the staff, whether doorkeepers or other secretariat staff, who were responsible for evacuating the Building at some risk to themselves. Particular tribute must go to a small group of doorkeepers who, at the front door, put their lives on the line to protect our lives. I trust that when the inquiry into the events of last Friday is conducted, it will deal with rumours that suggest that, by their failure to respond to the directions that they were given, some Members added to the danger to staff.

Hansard records that when my speech was interrupted on Friday, I had just said:

“If the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State had any integrity, they would close this place down”. — [Official Report, Vol 21, No 1, p6].

It was absolutely clear that the leader of the DUP had, at that stage, totally failed to give the assurances and commitments to take office that he was required to give, despite the unbreakable deadline of 24 November that was set by Ministers. Similarly, although the Sinn Féin leader said the right words in the Chamber, it is absolutely clear that that party has so far failed to take any constructive action towards full recognition of the Police Service and co-operation with the rule of law. Regardless of the Ard-Fheis, when will the ardchomhairle on policing, which was supposed to be an essential prerequisite of the St Andrews Agreement, be held?

Subsequently, the DUP leader changed what I had earlier described as:

“the longest ‘maybe’ in history” — [Official Report, Vol 21,
No 1, p5]

to a slightly more specific “maybe”. However, even before he did that, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State were falling over themselves to say that he had given the necessary commitment, when it was perfectly clear to those who were in the Chamber that he had not given any such commitment.

This morning, the Secretary of State added to that by treating us to a plea via the media that Sinn Féin confirms that the Ard-Fheis on policing will be held before 7 March 2007. What kind of election could possibly be held on 7 March 2007 if Sinn Féin was not fully committed to what it signed up to at St Andrews? Two parties are playing games with the Assembly and the people of Northern Ireland. Is it any wonder that people are fed up with them? Despite that, the Governments continue on their merry, sweet way. The Governments have given the DUP and Sinn Féin the election that they want and the opportunity to weaken the other parties. The DUP and Sinn Féin are failing to move in any direction. If they cannot live up to their obligations, they ought to go now.

Madam Speaker: The Question is — sorry, that was just wishful thinking on my part. [Laughter.] I had intended to call Mr Ervine to give him an opportunity to speak. However, he is elsewhere. Therefore, I call Mr Robert McCartney.

Mr Robert McCartney: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I am not the enemy of the DUP. At the last general election, along with thousands of other unionists, I voted for the first time for the DUP. Like them, I gave not just my vote to the DUP, but my trust. It is in sorrow, rather than in anger, that I speak, for I am acutely aware that my feelings of impending betrayal are shared by many other unionists in other parties.

The choreographed puppet show of last Friday, with a distortion of language and meaning of which Humpty Dumpty would have been proud, nevertheless produced a moment of truth for Ian Paisley. Madam Speaker, when, on Peter Hain’s instructions, you deemed Ian Paisley’s response an acceptance, he could there and then have denied that it was. He did not. I understand that his response omitted the express acceptance that was in the text that had been agreed with Tony Blair. Subsequently, he publicly accepted the nomination outside this Chamber, albeit conditionally. Madam Speaker, I submit that such an acceptance is invalid and requires to be repeated as a matter of record in the Chamber if it is to be taken as you deemed it.

10.45 am

Only the DUP pragmatists pretend that the St Andrews document is anything but a sugared version of the Belfast Agreement, which makes DUP participation totally dependent on an enforced coalition with Sinn Féin. The DUP’s acceptance of such terms makes the party a born-again pro-agreement party, with policies essentially indistinguishable from those of the Ulster Unionist Party — policies that brought electoral disaster upon the UUP.

The core of Trimble’s policies was power sharing with Sinn Féin, a party inextricably linked with the men of blood who had murdered, maimed, robbed and destroyed for three decades. The attempts by the DUP pragmatists to disguise the extent of that U-turn from the party’s grass roots have failed. The U-turn is a clear breach of the party’s present manifesto of only last year, which declared — in express terms — that an inclusive coalition with Sinn Féin under d’Hondt was out of the question.

Tony Blair and Peter Hain want devolution at any price before Blair retires and Hain moves on. They are indifferent to the unstable, unworkable and undemocratic mess that they will leave behind. Devolution for Sinn Féin is a mere cog in its all-Ireland strategy. Acceptance by the DUP of Sinn Féin as coalition partners will legitimise its claim to a place in the Government of the Republic.

Apart from an ego trip and ministerial office, St Andrews-style devolution offers little to unionists. The timetable affords no credible opportunity for testing whether Sinn Féin genuinely supports the police and the rule of law. At best, Sinn Féin will offer the minimum words necessary, with fingers crossed in reservation. The DUP will be inviting upon itself the plague of internal dissent that Jeffrey Donaldson, in a previous life, once inflicted upon the UUP.  [Laughter.]

It is an illusion that the DUP is in control of the process and can pull out at any time. The further it moves, inch by inch, towards the Government’s objective, the further it recedes the possibility of withdrawal. It is equally foolish to assume that Sinn Féin will never deliver on the Pledge of Office. A suitable form of words may be crafted for them, just as it has been for the DUP.

Was it for enforced coalition with Sinn Féin that the men and women of the security forces and the unionist community suffered and died? Will we honour their memories by agreeing to share power with those who approved the murders of Patsy Gillespie and Mr Hegarty, and who organised Bloody Friday, Teebane, La Mon, the Droppin’ Well, the Shankill fish shop bombing and countless other atrocities? That is the real question for those in the DUP who want to move on by selling their unionist principles for a mess of ministerial pottage. The DUP leadership may be prepared to yield to threats to dissolve the Assembly, but there are those who will never submit to such threats or be bought with salaries, office, honours or patronage.

There is an historical precedent: Marshal Pétain became the First Minister of Vichy France at the cost of his reputation and the people’s trust. There is still time for Ian Paisley to avoid a similar fate.

Madam Speaker: Mr McCartney, your time is up. Thank you.

Before I call Mr Nesbitt to make his point of order, I remind Members that a point of order is not an opport-unity for debate. It would assist the House if Members would refer to the relevant Standing Order when they raise a point of order. I shall not accept spurious points of order.

Mr Nesbitt: Thank you, Madam Speaker. As a result of Friday’s meeting, I wish to make two points of order.

You referred this morning to Friday’s meeting, which you said was required under the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. You also added that you, as Speaker, were not “unfettered”. I wish to address that point.

On Friday you made it clear that, in the Standing Orders, this Assembly’s purpose was to bring about devolved government:

“in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement.”

You quoted from the law. However, to be in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement means to act under the direction of the St Andrews Agreement.

The St Andrews Agreement made it clear that this Assembly would meet on 24 November 2006.

Madam Speaker: Mr Nesbitt, that sounds suspiciously like a debate. Will you refer the House to the relevant Standing Order?

Mr Nesbitt: Yes. I am asking about the direction that you gave to meet on 24 November 2006 to nominate a First Minister. You then moved straight on to a direction that the Secretary of State gave that overturned that direction.

I ask that you give a ruling on the rationale that the Secretary of State used to give that new direction. If, or when, he gives an answer he states that his decision was made for the greater good of Northern Ireland, I ask what credibility he has left.

Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order, Mr Nesbitt. I will answer that question. I am on my feet; can you take your seat. Thank you.

Mr Nesbitt, thank you for your, in some ways, spurious points of order.

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask — [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. As I am on my feet, I will now answer your question.

I explained my position in my opening statement this morning and on Friday, and I do not want to add to that. I remind Mr Nesbitt and other Members that it is for the Secretary of State, not the Speaker, to draw any further conclusions from what has already been said. That may not be acceptable to Members, and they may have been disappointed, but that is how we are working at this point.

Adjourned at 10.53 am.

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