the transitional

Monday 4 December 2006

Private Members’ Business
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Private Members’ Business

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Madam Speaker: Item 2 on the Order Paper is the motion relating to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. Before the debate begins, I wish to remind Members that I will, as usual, expect them to address their remarks to the motion and the amendment as they appear on the Order Paper and the Marshalled List.

It was agreed by the Business Committee that the House may sit until 6.00 pm. I want to draw the attention of Members to the provisions of Standing Order 11, which relate to “irrelevance or tedious repetition” in speeches. I trust that I will not have to call the attention of the Assembly to anything of this nature.

I also remind the House of my ruling regarding comments of a personal nature and the importance of the dignity of the Chamber, which I made during the Assembly created by the Northern Ireland Act 2006. For your information, on 26 September 2006 I said that:

“it would seem that the proper role of Members of this Chamber would be to comment on, and challenge, the policies of the Government and its Ministers — whether by name or office — in the interests of the electorate. As Speaker, I can think of many occasions since 15 May 2006 on which this has been the case, and I consider that it is perfectly in order for Members to do so.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, p134, col 2].

Later, I continued:

“However, what I would not consider to be in order, in relation to remarks about members of other legislatures, is where comments stray into the arena of personal insults, vitriol or invective.

I would have no hesitation in asking a Member to temper his or her comments where, in my view, a line has been crossed.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, p134, col 2].

I hope that Members will have the dignity of the House in mind in the remarks that they make today.


Order. When the debate has concluded, I shall put the question on the amendment. If the amendment is made, I shall put the question on the motion as amended. If the amendment is not made, I shall put the question on the substantive motion. If that is clear, I shall proceed.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that there is another amendment, tabled by members of my party, which has been rejected. Will you give us the reasons why it was rejected? It is a sad commentary on our discussions, because such an amendment would have been received in the Mother of Parliaments without any opposition from the Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I received your amendment and considered it with my officials. Standing Order 15(c) gives the Speaker the power to select amendments. I did not select that amendment.

Mr P Robinson: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you saying that the amendment was in order but was not chosen?

Madam Speaker: I do not need to give a reason. Members should examine pages 63 and 64 of the ‘Northern Ireland Assembly Companion: Rulings, Convention and Practice’, where it states that:

“it is not appropriate for the Chair to give reasons for accepting or rejecting any amendment.”

I do not intend to breach precedent here, or in other places, by doing so. My door is always open if Dr Paisley wishes to discuss this issue for future sittings.

Mr Paisley Jnr: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you advise the House whether the Secretary of State advised you not to take that amendment?

Madam Speaker: I have absolutely no comment to make on that. I remind Dr Paisley and other Members that this is the Transitional Assembly.

Mr Robert McCartney: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You say that this is the Transitional Assembly. Under the terms of the Transitional Assembly, all matters here are under the control of the Secretary of State — the motions to be chosen, the Standing Orders and the instructions to you, Madam Speaker. Is this a democratic Assembly, or is it a puppet show where the Secretary of State is pulling all the strings?

Madam Speaker: I am not going to comment on the bulk of what the Member has said, other than to ask him to read once again the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006. This is the Transitional Assembly. The Secretary of State does not conduct the business here. The Business Committee agrees what is to be discussed. That is the difference between the Transitional Assembly and the Hain Assembly. Again, my door is open if the Member wants to discuss the issue.

Sir Reg Empey: I beg to move

That this Assembly deplores the interference of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the proceedings of the Assembly on Friday 24 November 2006.

The exchanges that Members have just heard demonstrate why this issue should be ventilated. I will refer specifically to the meeting of the Business Committee on 24 November 2006 regarding the conduct of the debate on that day, and I will consider the Secretary of State’s involvement in the so-called designation — or declaration — process on that date.

The first phase of the Hain Assembly — Hain mark I — began on 15 May 2006. At that time, although the Secretary of State had the power to intervene, he repeatedly said that he would allow the Assembly opportunities to decide its own business; that never happened. The Secretary of State has subsequently said that as far as the Transitional Assembly is concerned — and as you, Madam Speaker, repeated a moment ago — he would allow much more freedom for Members to decide their own business. However, on the first day, and subsequent to the first meeting of the Business Committee, the Secretary of State personally intervened and overrode a decision of the Business Committee on a relatively trivial matter.

During the six months of the Hain Assembly, beginning on 15 May, it was clear that the Secretary of State had the power to intervene. Many Members spoke to him on a number of occasions, asking him to allow the Assembly — through you, Madam Speaker, and the Business Committee — to determine business. Time after time, motions were proposed by political parties.

One subject was proposed for debate at virtually every meeting of the Business Committee from 15 May onwards: a motion to debate the review of public administration (RPA). The review is vital to the future of the Province. It concerns many of our constituents, yet for six consecutive months the Secretary of State vetoed debate and refused to allow any motion on the subject. The review is a key point, and an issue of concern and relevance to the future governance of the Province. Organisations that spend vast swathes of the Budget are up for discussion, yet the Secretary of State would not allow Members to debate the RPA. Why would he not allow debate? Perhaps it was because Members might have views that differed from his views. That might be embarrassing for him. Mr Gallagher has now tabled a motion for tomorrow’s debate, and Members may then have an opportunity to discuss the subject. It will be interesting to see whether the Secretary of State will intervene or interfere.

I turn now to the Business Committee meeting on the morning of 24 November. The Committee met at 9.15 am to discuss arrangements for the business that was to be dealt with by the Assembly later that morning. The issue of speeches arose. The Committee decided that the two nominating officers and the leaders of the other political parties would each address the Assembly for five minutes. Sinn Féin proposed that its nominee should be allowed to speak, but the Committee decided against that. The position that the two nominating officers and the remaining party leaders would speak was maintained.

The meeting broke up at approximately 9.50 am. Immediately afterwards, one assumes that Sinn Féin Members went to the Secretary of State and complained that their man would not be allowed to speak. The Secretary of State — one of Her Majesty’s principal Secretaries of State — then issued a ministerial direction to you, Madam Speaker, to the effect that Mr McGuinness should be allowed to speak. Mr McGuinness spoke a few words of pidgin Irish, followed by an address lasting 37 seconds. It took a Cabinet Minister to intervene to allow that to occur. Yet, Madam Speaker, the Secretary of State had said to us that the Transitional Assembly would be different from the previous Assembly. This situation is scarcely evidence of that. At the first hurdle, the Secretary of State has failed, having intervened — presumably after a representation from Sinn Féin — and issued a ministerial direction to you, Madam Speaker. Yet we are to believe that the Transitional Assembly has a freedom that the Assembly of the previous six months did not have.

10.45 am

On that basis, it is evident that the Secretary of State is still intervening, and the control freaks in the Northern Ireland Office are still saying that they will decide what business is conducted here. If that is the case, Members need to know, and the sooner we know, the better. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State has started to run the Transitional Assembly in exactly the same fashion as he conducted the previous Assembly over the six months from May.

Mr Robert McCartney: Does the Member appreciate that the Speaker’s reply to my point of order referred to a very different approach, in that she maintained that the Business Committee, not the Secretary of State, made the necessary decisions? As I understand it, the hon Member is making the case that the Speaker’s reply is just not correct.

Sir Reg Empey: That is precisely the case, because I am simply recounting the events of the morning of 24 November, which were that, between 9.50 am and approximately 10.20 am, the Secretary of State received a representation and issued a direction. Madam Speaker, that seems to be inconsistent with the view that he expressed, and the view that you put forward a moment ago, which was that the approach of the Transitional Assembly would be qualitatively different to that of the previous Assembly in that the Business Committee of the Transitional Assembly would have the freedom to decide what business is conducted.

I wish that that were the case, but, at the very first test, it was not the case. In fact, Madam Speaker, on the trivial matter of Members speaking for a few seconds, when their interventions could have had no impact on any decisions that the Assembly would take, the Secretary of State decided to issue a direction. If I am wrong, Sinn Féin Members have the opportunity to get up now to say that that party did not make any representations to the Secretary of State, but I think that that is exactly what it did.

I turn briefly to Sinn Féin’s proposed amendment, which would remove the date from the motion, leaving it to read:

“That this Assembly deplores the interference of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the proceedings of the Assembly.”

It was Sinn Féin Members who went to the Secretary of State precisely to get him to intervene in the affairs of the Assembly. How can they on the one hand say that they deplore the involvement of the Secretary of State in the proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly, yet on the other be the first party to go to him, cap in hand, to ask him to intervene in its proceedings in order that Mr McGuinness can speak for a few seconds?

At the outset of this debate, we must make it clear where we stand with the Secretary of State’s involve-ment. Sinn Féin’s amendment has no credibility for the obvious reason that that party was the first to seek the Secretary of State’s involvement. The first action that it took was to go to the Secretary of State to bail it out in order that Martin McGuinness could speak after he was nominated. To argue that Sinn Féin’s amendment has any credibility is nonsense, and I want to make it clear that the Ulster Unionist Party rejects the amendment and will vote against it.

With regard to some of the other matters, my colleagues —

By the way, Madam Speaker, as the clocks are not functioning, I do not know how much time remains for my contribution. [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I have two points to make: last week, the Business Committee decided that there would be no limitation on time for any Member who wishes to speak and that Members would have as long as possible in which to make their contributions. However, I hope that Members realise that we are listening to them, which is why I made the comment about there being no tedious repetition. Of course, Sir Reg would not be guilty of that. Secondly, the difference between the Transitional Assembly and the previous Assembly is shown in today’s debate, which was agreed last week, and tomorrow’s debate. Every Member, including myself, knows that the Secretary of State governs the Assembly.

That is clear. Everyone knows that that is what the St Andrews Agreement meant — that this is now, in a way, the Hain Assembly mark II. I want people to be clear about that. The Business Committee can decide the order of business, and it has done so for today and tomorrow.

Lord Morrow: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have just clarified that the Business Committee decided that speaking time today would be unlimited. That was not clear. The matter was so unclear that your staff had to ring Members in order to ascertain their views. I gave my view; I understood that speeches would be limited to 15 minutes and 10 minutes. The Business Committee never made the matter clear.

Madam Speaker: The Business Committee will deal with that issue. My understanding was that we were to have an open debate.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you tell the House when you propose that the debate will end?

Madam Speaker: I have already told the House that the debate will end at 6.00 pm.

Sir Reg Empey: Madam Speaker, you are making some of my points for me. You said that the Business Committee would determine which debates would take place. However, my contention is that that has already proved not to be the case. The Secretary of State has already intervened — at the first meeting of the Business Committee — on a trivial matter. Ostensibly, there is an alleged freedom to decide, but your response to the Member for North Down Mr Robert McCartney confirms that the Secretary of State can do anything at the drop of a hat. I was going to make an appeal to him to get the clocks right, but you have now decided that there will be no limit on contributions to the debate.

My colleague Mr McFarland will address in detail some other matters pertaining to 24 November, but it would be remiss of us not to put that day into context. The Secretary of State’s involvement in that, and in other matters, was far-reaching and well known in advance. The date of 24 November was built up as a huge issue. For months, the Secretary of State had been saying that he was setting a deadline, and that if certain events did not take place on that day, this place would fold. For nine months, he berated us on the money that we received as Members and for the cost of this place, yet spending £0·5 million on the St Andrews talks did not seem to bother him or his colleagues. Nevertheless, he said that unless we were doing our jobs by 24 November, he would close this place, and we would be finished.

That went on for months, and the general public were concerned that we were unable to carry out our functions fully. That is not the fault of most people in the Chamber who want to carry out their full functions but have been prevented from doing so since 2002. We will go into that issue on another day. The Secretary of State berated us for the cost of this place and then told us that he would close it down on 24 November if certain events did not take place. He wanted the First Minister designate and the Deputy First Minister designate to be clearly identified on 24 November. That was inserted into the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, which states:

“The proceedings to be conducted by the Transitional Assembly shall include the making of nominations from among its members of persons to hold office as First Minister and deputy First Minister”.

As we got closer to 24 November, a different language entered the debate. We were not to have designation or shadow Ministers; declarations of intent came into the picture. That would be the line drawn in the sand. Subsequently, declarations of intent became qualified declarations of an intention to do something at some future point — perhaps — and so it went on and on.

Even at a casual glance, it would seem that schedule 1 to the 2006 Act has already been breached. Later, Members will examine the anatomy of that day more closely. However, I must recall the comments of the noble Member Lord Morrow, who addressed the Chamber on 26 September 2006. He said:

“Members have been told that 24 November is destiny day.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, p168, col 1].

Let us remember the words “destiny day”, Madam Speaker.

“That day will come and go, the rain will fall as often as ever, and the sun will shine as infrequently as ever, but anyone who is holding their breath for 24 November can forget about it. I state clearly: those people can forget about 24 November because nothing will happen.” — [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, p168, col 1].


It is not pantomime time yet.

Some Members: Oh yes it is.

Madam Speaker: Order. It is not pantomime time yet.

Sir Reg Empey: I fear, Madam Speaker — and Mystic Meg will rest easy in her bed — that Lord Morrow’s psychic powers of anticipation are perhaps not as accurate as he would normally expect. On a number of occasions, I looked at his comments that the sun would shine and the rain would fall, and I wondered what was his political message to Members in September. I came to the conclusion that he was not sending us a political message but giving us the weather forecast. [Laughter.]

On a more serious note, Members need to climb an enormous mountain if we are to gain any credibility with the public. If Members are not able to decide on the simple matter of what we debate and how we debate it, what credibility do we have? According to the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 and to another deadline that the Secretary of State has set, within a few months the Chamber is supposed to be responsible for a £12 billion Budget, for legislation and administration. However, we are not sufficiently responsible to conduct our own business. Madam Speaker, that is my fundamental point.

Members must indicate clearly that they should be permitted to decide and conduct their business without let or hindrance from the Secretary of State, provided they are operating within the law — and I think that there is already a question mark over that, after the events of 24 November. That is the thrust of what Members should be doing. Without any disrespect — this is not a personal issue — but if the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is to give any credibility to this Assembly, he must make it clear that if people go running to him asking for his help to do this or that, saying that the nasty people in the Assembly would not let them speak, that sort of argument is no good to anyone. Members must take responsibility for themselves. I urge Members to support the motion.

Mr Adams: I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after the second “Assembly”.

Tairgim an leasú, a Cheann Comhairle.

I listened with great interest to what our Friend had to say. He predicated his whole case on what he described as a “trivial matter”.

11.00 am

I was thinking to myself that some people looking in on today’s debate are victims of the crisis in the health services, are worried about water rates being imposed or are witnesses to the decline of our rural communities. As we face Christmas, some people are badly affected by poverty. I moved the amendment because I wondered what all those people would think of the little tête-à-tête between the UUP and the DUP. Members may have noted the report into collusion from the Oireachtas, which is the Dublin Parliament. I wonder what people who are part of that dreadful part of our history will think of the motion.

The motion is not about the British Secretary of State but about the battle within unionism. The paranoia that Sinn Féin causes both main unionist parties to suffer, and some of the very small parties echo that paranoia, advantages no one. It has not been to the advantage of any of the Members who have spoken today. Nationalists, republicans and democrats will naturally take some pleasure from any motion that is critical of a British Secretary of State, especially if it comes from unionists. However, Sinn Féin’s view is that the motion does not go far enough. It is not good enough to say that Members want a British Secretary of State not to interfere on only one day. Sinn Féin does not want him to interfere at all.

Whatever we think of British Secretaries of State on a personal level, they are a breed of politician whose task is to promote and defend Britain’s self-interest in Ireland. I am sure that all Members agree that they do that above all other interests — above the interests of the DUP, the UUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party or anyone else. They do so above and beyond the interests of the people of the North, or, indeed, of this island.

Peter Hain has deservedly attracted a reputation for having bad judgement. He has made a series of bad judgements: the appointment of the Interim Com-missioner for Victims; appointments to the Parades Commission; his opposition to an Irish language Act; and his creation of the Hain Assembly and now the Transitional Assembly. All have been about pandering to unionism. Despite that, do unionist Members here feel any greater affection for Peter Hain or British Secretaries of State? No.

Níl grá ar bith ann — there is no love at all in it. It is all about expediency, which is nothing new. Whether it was British Lord Lieutenants in Dublin Castle or British Secretaries of State in Stormont Castle, all Britain’s colonial viceroys have used the usual techniques of divide and conquer — bribery, threat and corruption — to promote their own interests. When those interests coincide with the interests of unionism, a Cheann Comhairle, unionists and the British are partners. However, when those interests do not coincide, the truth is that the British Government’s interests, not Irish unionists’ interests, take priority.

It is often said — and unionists are better judges of this than I am — that unionists have no real loyalty to the British Government. Be that as it may, one thing is certain: the British Government have no real loyalty to the unionists. If all Members were sufficiently moved to give voice, we could all agree on that. Members on the Benches on this side of the House labour on in the hope that colleagues on the Benches opposite will one day liberate themselves and realise that none of us needs British interference in our affairs.

The UUP, DUP and others currently consider their self-interest to be served through the connection with Britain, irrespective of their distrust and disdain for British Governments. I commend to our unionist colleagues another motion, which was passed at the first formal meeting of the Society of the United Irishmen in Belfast more than 200 years ago. I understand that Willie McCrea was not there on that day. [Laughter.]

That resolution — éistigí liom — is very pertinent to today’s motion, as it has a really interesting historical echo —

Madam Speaker: It would need to be, Mr Adams.

Mr Adams: It is, absolutely:

“That the weight of the English influence in the government of this country is so great as to require a cordial union among the people of Ireland to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.”

Reg Empey spoke of the need to have the freedom to decide what we want to do. That resolution spoke of “the preservation of our liberties”. Most of those who were involved in that great enterprise were Presbyterians: people such as Samuel Neilson from Ballroney; Mary Ann McCracken and her brother Henry Joy McCracken, who was hanged in High Street in Belfast; Rev Sinclair Kelburn; Rev William Steele Dickson; Jemmy Hope, who was a Templepatrick man; Henry Monro from Lisburn; and John Robb from Ballynahinch. Last Friday, a Cheann Comhairle — [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr Adams: Last Friday, the DUP met at Templepatrick, and I heard Ian Óg, on the way in, appealing to his party to remember that republicans are the real enemy. Templepatrick has a proud Presbyterian republican history. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr Adams: The Presbyterians, led by Henry Joy McCracken, left from there and from Mallusk to take Antrim and begin —

Madam Speaker: Order. That is all very interesting, Mr Adams, but please keep to the motion.

Mr Adams: I am speaking to the amendment.

They began a process to create a new society that was based on the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty.

Dr McCrea: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Was the Secretary of State involved 200 years ago as well? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I am on my feet, and I am speaking. Thank you. Mr Adams is speaking to the amendment. I do not know how old the Secretary of State is.

Mr Weir: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you have any power to reconsider the time limit on speeches? The Member opposite has reached only 1798; how long will it take him to get to 24 November 2006? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I take the Member’s point on board; it is very relevant. I have already asked Mr Adams to keep to the amendment, and I do have the authority, as Members know, to curtail Members’ speeches or to speed them up. Mr Adams, please continue.

Mr Adams: My points are entirely pertinent. We have a motion that calls merely for an end to interference on one given day and an amendment that seeks an end to all interference. Given that the DUP met in Templepatrick, and given that its members are Presbyterians, I thought that it was important to cite that historical example of which the DUP may not be aware. I think that the House would be pleased if everyone here were conscious of those facts.

The British Secretary of State is treated with great scorn by Members on the Benches opposite. Why is that? Why do they not send him packing? Why do they not take upon themselves the power to be part of the political institutions? Rather than propose motions that are based on trivial matters — and I use their own words — Members should get down to the real business of conflict resolution, start to build some confidence and trust, not just in these institutions, but in each other, and deal with the social and economic issues that people face.

The motion has nothing to do with Peter Hain or the British Government. It is about antagonism and competition between the UUP and the DUP. Our amendment is wide because, as I have said, Sinn Féin is against any British Government interference in Irish affairs. Like the republican Presbyterians who gathered at Templepatrick, Sinn Féin supports a cordial union among all the people of Ireland that will maintain that balance, which is essential for the preservation of our liberties and the extension of our commerce.

Sin é; go raibh maith agat.

Madam Speaker: Before I call Dr Paisley, I want to make one comment. Lord Morrow made reference to the Business Committee meeting. It was said at that meeting that Members wanted to speak at length to today’s and tomorrow’s motions, and that is why there are no time restrictions on the debates. However, Members should use their judgement.

Lord Morrow: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you accept that there was confusion? Had there not been confusion, your staff would not have been ringing Members to ascertain —

Madam Speaker: I have accepted the Member’s point, and, as I have said, we will discuss it at the Business Committee meeting tomorrow.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Members have listened to an interesting extract from republican propaganda history. However, I inform the Member who has spoken that he does not discern between Presbyterians and Unitarians. The Presbyterian Synod — the Synod of Ulster — was totally opposed to the rebellion. Those who were named as Presbyterians were Arians or Unitarians.

Mr Adams: On a point of order. Does the Member accept that all the people whose names I read out were Presbyterians?

Madam Speaker: That is not a point of order.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: I do not want to give the Member a lecture on Hodge’s theology, but I recommend that he reads it in his spare time: even better, he should read the Bible and get it at first hand.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: It is absolute nonsense and a perversion of history to be told that the Presbyterians of Northern Ireland were all lined up in an act to undermine proper democratic government and break the British link. I am glad that the Member mentioned Templepatrick, which was first evangelised by a grandson of John Knox — and my theology is very close to that of John Knox. There was such a split in the Presbyterian Church in Templepatrick at that time that no one would give the Trinitarian Presbyterians any ground, and they had to build their church outside Templepatrick. The Unitarian church is inside Templepatrick, behind its walls, and the Presbyterian church is outside, about two miles away. There was a distinct difference, and the Member needs to remember that difference.

However, we are not fighting to be British: we are British. The Member eulogises those who are republican, and if he wants to do that, that is his business. However, I have as much right to stand by my faith, my patriotism and my nationality. I am a British subject in an Assembly that is part of the United Kingdom, and I am entitled to refute the propaganda that Members have been forced to listen to today. The DUP’s amendment, which was refused, did not cover only one matter.

11.15 am

It covered matters such as water charging, the review of public administration, the review of rating, post-primary education, rural planning, and an economic package for Northern Ireland. It did not cover one particular matter and forget about the rest; my party believes that all those matters are important to the people of Northern Ireland and that they should all be discussed. I say to the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin that he had better listen to the majority of the unionist population, which is getting restless, because, seemingly, he does not intend to keep to the —

Mr Adams: On a point of order.

Madam Speaker: Before you make your point of order, Mr Adams, I remind Dr Paisley — although I am sure that he does not need to be reminded — that he must address his remarks through the Chair.

Mr Adams: A Cheann Comhairle, Dr Paisley made the point that he is a British subject and that he has his views, which he is entitled to put to the House. I assent to that fully. He mentioned the leader of IRA/Sinn Féin. There is no party in the Assembly called IRA/Sinn Féin. The party that he refers to is called Sinn Féin.

Madam Speaker: Thank you, Mr Adams. I am sure that everyone knows that.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Evidently, members of the British Government and the Tory Party do not know it, for that is how they refer to that party. One of those members, who was Prime Minister at the time, referred to that party as “IRA/Sinn Féin”. Some people have accused me of softness, because sometimes I use all sorts of terms against the IRA. I deliberately use that term today to show that my enemies, who claim that I have gone soft, are not telling the truth. The leader of that party will surely call it whatever he wants. However, in the House, I will retain the right to say what I believe is absolutely proper.

Mr Adams: On a point of order.

Madam Speaker: I remind Members that we have all signed the Roll of Membership. No Member’s name is on the roll with the term “IRA/Sinn Féin” next to it.

Mr Adams: I ask you to make a ruling on the matter, which I would like to speak about for a moment, if I may.

Madam Speaker: It would be inappropriate to do so at this stage. However, you may speak to me after the debate.

Mr O’Dowd: On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle. Will you make a ruling on the position that has been taken by Members from the Benches opposite?

Madam Speaker: I will make the ruling at my discretion. I have already made a comment that every Member should listen to.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Perhaps it is a good omen that the party opposite is ashamed at being called IRA men. I hope that that will continue and that there will be an epidemic in that party of repudiating that which it has eulogised for many a long day.

I was surprised at the Member’s comment that Members should unite for their own preservation. It is some preservation when one thinks about the murders that have been committed in our Province. It is some preservation when one thinks about the young and the old who have been murdered. It is some preservation when one thinks of those from every religious body — Roman Catholic, Protestant and others — who have been murdered by IRA/Sinn Féin. Those matters concern us all, and we must underline them in this debate.

I would like the Secretary of State, as a result of this debate, to move away from his past and be regenerate to the fact that he lives in a part of Ireland — the Province of Ulster, as we call it — that is part of the United Kingdom. I hope that he will remember his past pronouncements and past criticisms of Northern Ireland and that those will cease and that he will be converted to getting the best for the people of Northern Ireland. Certainly, the way in which he has acted in past days, as far as this Assembly is concerned — and the first Assembly as well — shows exactly the manner of man that he is. However, he too could know regeneration. I hope that he will know it and realise that the people of this Province — unionist, Roman Catholic and nationalist — all have a right to express their particular convictions within the law. They should see to it that they do so within the law.

I want to make a plea to the leader of the party opposite: we are all waiting to hear him say that he will support the police and that he will abide by the conditions that are laid down in the St Andrews Agree-ment. The sooner that we hear that, the better for us all.

Mr A Maginness: Having listened to the exchange between Dr Paisley and Mr Adams and to their various views of history, my conclusion is that they should perhaps combine those views and produce another short history of Ireland that might be acceptable to the people here. We have heard many history lessons this morning. However, I did not come to this Assembly to listen to a history lesson, and I certainly did not come to hear the rather condescending view of history that has been expressed by Gerry Adams. That view would do credit to a GCSE Irish history class.

This Assembly’s time would be better spent, not in exchanging views on Irish history and seeking solutions to the present in the past, but in looking at the present and trying to address some of the problems of the present. We should examine seriously the problems that exist in our political system and try to resolve them.

Mr Adams’s view is that the Secretary of State panders to unionists. The Secretary of State has pandered to more than unionism. He has indeed pandered to the DUP, and, at times, to other elements within unionism; however, he is not above pandering to Sinn Féin, and, in particular, to Mr Adams. He pandered to Sinn Féin in relation to on-the-runs, and it was pressure that the SDLP brought that got that despicable piece of legislation on that matter reversed. Nonetheless, that was an example of the Secretary of State pandering to Sinn Féin, as he has done on many occasions. In fact, Sinn Féin has spent more time at 10 Downing Street than any other party in this House. Sinn Féin’s strategy has been to ingratiate itself with the British Government to get them to do things on its behalf. That is the reality of the situation.

Mr Robert McCartney: The Member will remember, in connection with the very point that he makes about pandering to Sinn Féin, a British Prime Minister’s remark when the SDLP complained at Weston Park that its views were not being listened to, yet those of the panderers beside him were. The response to the SDLP was: “You have no guns.” Perhaps that is the cause of the pandering to Sinn Féin.

Mr A Maginness: The whole issue of political violence, as exercised by the republican movement, certainly had an important effect on the British Government’s policy.

Mr O’Dowd: Will the Member take a point of information?

Madam Speaker: There is no such thing as a point of information.

Mr O’Dowd: In that case, will the Member give way?

Mr A Maginness: Unlike Mr Adams, I will.

Mr O’Dowd: Thank you. The Member seems to forget that the British Government listen to us because of our massive mandate.

Mr A Maginness: I remind the Member that, in the 1970s, the 1980s and the early 1990s, the SDLP had an overwhelming mandate from the nationalist community. Mr Adams and his colleagues ignored that mandate. Sinn Féin ignored it, and the republican movement continued to carry out acts of violence — political violence — to achieve political ends. It had no mandate from the nationalist community, either North or South, to do that. However, Mr Adams would today criticise people in his constituency who use political violence, because, he says, they are microgroups that have no political mandate. Remember, however, that the IRA was a microgroup that never had an electoral mandate to impose misery, violence, death and destruction on the Irish people.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr A Maginness: Let me remind Sinn Féin of that historical fact.

Friday 24 November was not this Assembly’s best day. In fact, it was a grave disappointment, and it caused universal dismay and disgust on the part of the people. It was said earlier that Lord Morrow had previously described 24 November as a day on which “nothing will happen.” [Official Report, Bound Volume 20, p168, col 1].

I ask Lord Morrow this question: if nothing happened on that day, as he had predicted, why did he and 11 of his colleagues, now infamously dubbed the “dirty dozen”, issue a statement? [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr A Maginness: Why, if nothing happened —

Mr Campbell: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understood that the term was the 12 apostles.

Mr A Maginness: I suppose that that is theologically more sound. [Laughter.]

Mr McMenamin: Look out for Judas. [Laughter.]

Mr A Maginness: Which one?

11.30 am

Madam Speaker, if nothing happened on that day, why did those 12 Members go to the trouble of issuing that epistle, to use the biblical language of Mr Campbell? The reason was that the tensions in the DUP are so grave, and so intense, that it is divided and frightened. The party is frightened of a future in which the people in this society can work together in partnership in order to solve the problems that I mentioned at the beginning of my address.

They are frightened that the old certainties of sectarian politics will be demolished and will melt or be eroded by people working together in partnership. That point should be made by all in the House who are committed to a non-sectarian, democratic future. We have to work together to form the Administration.

I took heart from what Dr Paisley said to Gerry Adams this morning. He said that if Gerry Adams gets his act together on law and order and shows commitment to the rule of law, the police and the legal process, Dr Paisley will join him in a power-sharing Administration. That is the challenge for Sinn Féin in the Assembly.

There is an equal challenge for Lord Morrow and the rest of the doubters in Dr Paisley’s party: to recognise that they can no longer live in a sectarian block and hope that society can make progress. We have to work together, and we have to create a partnership. That is the challenge for Dr Paisley, although some members of his party may not be up to it. The disappointment felt by people on 24 November was occasioned by the fact that there was no clear statement from Dr Paisley and his colleagues giving the certainty that was necessary to people outside the Chamber.

The people of Northern Ireland want certainty in politics. They want the certainty that they are going forward and that they will not have to live in a sectarian morass any longer — they want to be lifted out of it. They want the certainty of a future in which people can live together in sustained peace. That is what people wanted on 24 November, and that is what they did not get. It was not the intervention of a third party that caused the fiasco on 24 November; it was the failure of the DUP to assert that it was going forward in the joint office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister. That is what caused the disappointment and dismay in people’s minds.

That disappointment further devalued politics in the House and in our society. Our reputation is very low, and it has been diminished individually and collectively. This is not about people losing faith in the DUP, the SDLP, Sinn Féin or the Ulster Unionists: it is about people losing faith in politics itself. Politicians must give leadership. They cannot hide — like Sinn Féin and the DUP — behind Secretaries of State. They have to be brave and show people that they are ready to face the challenges of office.

We can blame the Secretary of State, and I share the criticisms that have been made of him this morning. However, in this situation, the Secretary of State is more sinned against than sinning. We politicians are guilty collectively of the greater sin of not taking the opportunity to come together, create a power-sharing Executive and restore the other institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

Public confidence is diminishing, and it will diminish further unless we get our act together. We have an opportunity to do that, and we should do it now.

Mr Ford: The motion and the reaction to it in the Chamber show how easy it is to take cheap shots at the Secretary of State. It is great fun, and we all enjoy it. However, I do not see the Galleries filled with his officials staring down at us. A man who does not seem to take much notice of what the courts say is unlikely to take much notice of an Assembly that is bound to him.

We are not here just because of the failures of the Secretary of State, although it would be pleasant to enumerate them all, and we could spend hours doing so. We are here because of the failures of the parties that have responsibility in the Chamber — failures that span many years — and in particular the failure of the two largest parties to live up to their obligations under the St Andrews Agreement. They negotiated those obligations with the two Governments over a period of weeks, not just the three days in St Andrews, but have completely failed to do what they were supposed to do within the prescribed timescales, and all this has arisen from that. Of course, the first four years of the Assembly were not exactly a success for the two parties that led that Administration.

Sir Reg Empey talked about the meeting of the Business Committee that set up the arrangements for the plenary sitting on 24 November, about what was supposed to happen, who was or was not supposed to speak and who did or did not run to the Secretary of State to demand an opportunity. I must confess that I lost the thread slightly; I am not clear whether Sir Reg’s principal objection is that Martin McGuinness’s Irish is not very good or that he took only 37 seconds to say what he said. That was about the level of Sir Reg’s complaint.

So what? The real issue of the interference in the Assembly’s processes that day is not about whether Martin McGuinness did or did not speak. It is about the Secretary of State’s demand that words be said in that Chamber that imply that people had lived up to their commitments when they patently had not — and everyone in the Chamber knew that they had not. My complaint is that the Secretary of State forced the Speaker of this Assembly, who should be bound to this Assembly, to make an utterly false statement. We should care about that type of issue if we want to move forward.

Mr Hussey: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am referring to the Standing Orders under which we are currently operating. In support of Mr Ford, and pursuant to Standing Order 2(a), I ask for your determination on the implementation of Standing Order 20.

Madam Speaker: I shall come back to you. Thank you for that point.

Mr Ford: I am sure that we all look forward to hearing your ruling on that point of order once you have consulted the necessary paperwork.

The real issue is not whether Martin McGuinness did or did not speak, or in which language. The issue is the continual interference of the Secretary of State in misinterpreting the comments made by parties and by party spokesmen, both within and without the Chamber, in order to maintain the pretence that there has been progress when there has been none.

Adding to the mistrust, disappointment and annoyance that the people of Northern Ireland feel when they see this charade in the Chamber, attempts are made to show that things are being done. However, it seems that the interests of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister demand that that pretence be maintained, and the interests of the DUP and Sinn Féin demand that that pretence be made, even though nothing at all is happening.

In winding up his speech, Sir Reg Empey said that the fundamental point was that our credibility depends on our ability to arrange business in the Chamber. It is not. The fundamental point is that the credibility of Members of this Assembly depends on their ability to face up to the difficult agenda that is ahead of them, take the difficult decisions, get on with forming an Administration and do the work that needs to be done. There is no sign whatsoever that the parties that aspire to sit in the Executive are living up to that.

The St Andrews Agreement was a deal between the British and Irish Governments, the DUP and Sinn Féin; the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP have said that they support the agreement. Those four parties have taken seats on the Programme for Government Com-mittee and are clearly and publicly stating their intention to get on with the formation of a Government. However, the kind of debates held in the Chamber, the kind of exchanges that occur in the press, the failure of anything constructive to come from the discussions over the summer in the Preparation for Government Com-mittee and its subgroup on economic challenges show just how much those parties still have to do. Why do they not get on with it? Instead of having pointless debates in the Chamber, why do those parties not show that the work will be done and that they will move forward?

The experience of the previous Executive, which operated for three years, showed that there was real difficulty in tackling the issues that matter to the people of Northern Ireland. Where was the collective action to improve health and social services or education? Why was nothing done to clean up the environment, deal with the mess that is public transport or improve the finances of Northern Ireland? That would have obviated the meaningless statement from the Chancellor and the Secretary of State a month ago. Most fundamentally, why did the Executive do nothing to take forward the ‘Shared Future’ agenda, and why are they still doing nothing to show a commitment to it?

Madam Speaker: Mr Ford, the motion relates to the events of 24 November.

Mr Ford: If we are looking at what went wrong on 24 November, we need to examine the historical context. After all, the Sinn Féin leader managed to go back as far as 1798. I was hoping not to go back that far, although, as a Presbyterian from the presbytery of Templepatrick, I find it a fairly interesting subject.

I was disappointed that, in his pantheon of Presbyterian heroes, Mr Adams failed to mention William Orr, who is a distant relation of my wife. Perhaps he will manage to mention him the next time that we get around to that debate. William Orr is buried only 200 yards or so from where the DUP met last week. He would have been a relevant example to that party.

Gerry Adams’s comments about the history of 1798 are fundamentally irrelevant to where this Assembly stands today, just as the DUP leader’s theological discourse is fundamentally irrelevant, because where we stand today concerns the obligations of those Members’ parties. Ian Paisley was quite right when he faced across the Chamber and said that he wanted to hear Sinn Féin’s commitment to the rule of law, but when did we hear the commitment from the DUP?

The failure of the DUP to engage with other parties and to stand up to its obligations under the St Andrews Agreement simply lets Sinn Féin off the hook completely on the issues of justice and the rule of law. It is easy for the DUP to make points about those issues, but that party’s utter failure to engage in what it should have been doing feeds the position whereby the Secretary of State continues to interfere in the Chamber, and nobody else does anything to move issues forward.

Alban Maginness was correct when he spoke about the problems in Sinn Féin and the DUP. However, he rather ignored the time between 1999 and 2002, when the British Government spent most of their time, and virtually all their effort, pandering to the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. In seeking to make the then Executive work rather better than it did, the British Government failed again. I disagree with Alban Maginness when he says that something happened on 24 November in the Chamber, because nothing happened. Nobody could suggest with any grain of truth that the necessary obligation was forthcoming from the DUP.

My complaint is not that the Secretary of State interfered at that point but that he interfered at that point to pretend that black was white and that there was progress, when patently there was none.

11.45 am

It seems that Sir Reg Empey’s motion arises out of the confusion of 24 November, but there is also much confusion in his party. Its members are confused over whether to attack the DUP for having done a deal or for not having done a deal. When DUP members themselves cannot decide whether they did or did not do a deal, it is difficult and confusing for Ulster Unionists to know how to attack them.

It really is time for Ulster Unionists to try to act in a constructive and meaningful way as they pretended to act in the first few years of the first Northern Ireland Assembly. They should stop adding to the confusion and difficulty. If politics is to be seen to work in this place, there are obligations on Members from all parties. It is time for people to stop picking fights and pointing fingers. It is time for all parties to live up to their obligations.

Lord Morrow: As one of the Members who has been most used and abused here this morning, I find it interesting that no one has been able to refute what I have said. I listened intently to my colleague Sir Reg Empey when he addressed the House. He felt compelled to name me. It is interesting that he agrees that I got it right on two counts: I got the weather right, and I got the fact that nothing was going to happen on 24 November right. I like an honest man. I like a man who acknowledges the fact that a person gets something right, a man who is prepared to stand up and say that a person has got something right. I want to place on record my thanks to Sir Reg for being so honest. I suspect that he had other motives, but we will not go into them.

This morning we listened to Sinn Féin/IRA boldly declaiming an elegy on history that has been warped, to say the least. However, is not all of its thinking warped? Its members have tried to put out the hand to unionism, and I simply wonder if it is the same hand that they have been holding out for the past 35 years. Is this their idea of a way forward? Is this their idea of covering up?

The leader of my party and I had a very sobering experience last week. We met an elderly woman who is over 80 years of age, a mother who pines for a son who was abducted and was never seen again. The people sitting opposite me could help that lady if they wanted to, but they point-blank refuse to do so.

The challenge to Sinn Féin/IRA today is this: if you are changing, let those changes be seen and be noticeable, because anything less will not do. If you think for one single, solitary second that you are going to get away with some bland statement about supporting the police in order to be fast-tracked into the Government — and I hope that Sir Reg is listening intently because I am going to make another prophesy — the answer here and now is: forget it. If there is any part of that that you do not understand, I will give way to you on this occasion, and it is not often that I give way to Sinn Féin/IRA.

Madam Speaker: Lord Morrow, I ask you to keep to the motion.

Lord Morrow: Yes, I will.

Mr McElduff: Can I ask that the contributor from the DUP speak through the Chair? I would appreciate that.

Madam Speaker: Order. Lord Morrow knows that he must speak through the Chair. I have asked him to keep to the motion, and he has agreed to do so.

Lord Morrow: You had brought that matter to my attention before the Member stood up, Madam Speaker. You know that I tend to do that all the time, anyway.

Why does Sinn Féin not support the police today? Why not last week, why not next week? I will tell Members why — Sinn Féin has been promised something more. Let the message go to the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and anyone else who wants to listen: the more one concedes to those people, the more resolute unionism will become. Pushover unionism is gone. Its Members are sitting quietly in a corner of the Chamber today, with nothing to say any more; they are in the history books, and that is where they will stay. People caught them on.

Mr Nesbitt: Having been accused of being silenced, I must ask a question of Lord Morrow. At the weekend, Mr Hay said that Sinn Féin had to deliver on policing before the DUP would commit in any way to power sharing. However, the DUP executive committee statement on 9 November said that it was not required to commit. A non-requirement does not mean that the party will never commit. I contend that the DUP did indeed commit. Perhaps Lord Morrow will tell me which side of the DUP he is on; is he on the side of Mr Hay’s statement or on that of the executive committee statement of 9 November? They are not the same.

Lord Morrow: Madam Speaker, I can only suggest that when the hon Member has something to say, he should stand up and say it. [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Thank you, Mr Nesbitt. Lord Morrow, please continue.

Lord Morrow: I listened intently to what Mr Maginness had to say — Mr Maginness of the SDLP, that is.

Mr A Maginness: The real one.

Lord Morrow: The Member said that, not I.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: He has Protestant blood in his veins. Do not be too hard on him.

Lord Morrow: He is the real one, then.

He was quite vociferous in naming others and me as the “dirty dozen”. Sitting right behind him were two of his colleagues who have suffered considerably at the hands of thugs and republicans for being courageous enough to take a stand on the side of law and order. Perhaps my commendation will not enhance the situation for them.

However, Mr Maginness would have been better to turn his arrows on those who have tried to drive the likes of Mr Ramsey and Mr McMenamin from their homes, burned their vehicles, smashed their windows and otherwise intimidated them. It is they whom Mr Maginness should deal with today. He should ask them why they are so reluctant to support law and order when his party has had the courage to take a positive stand. He should have defended his colleagues on those issues.

Mr A Maginness: It is obvious that Lord Morrow did not listen to my speech. I made it very plain that it was Sinn Féin’s duty, obligation and challenge to accept policing and the rule of law.

Lord Morrow: I have heard what the Member has said. However, let the message go out loud and clear from the House: if we are to return to a normal society, there must be unequivocal support for policing, justice, and law and order. If that is painful for some, too bad: if they want to be democrats, they must act like democrats. They cannot simply talk like democrats; they must act like democrats.

Mr O’Dowd: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You ruled the DUP amendment out of order, but it appears that the Member is speaking to his amendment. Sinn Féin is more than happy to set time aside in which to debate it at length, but it appears —

Madam Speaker: Mr O’Dowd, once again I remind you that I am the Speaker, and I make the rules here. I also ask you, Lord Morrow, once again to keep to the motion, or to the amendment if you wish to support that.

Lord Morrow: I thought that I was doing that, because I was responding to what has been said. If it is in order for others to say something, it must be in order for me to respond to them. However, I am almost finished.

There has been a missed opportunity in the House today concerning the motion. Every MLA whom I hear on the radio, read in the press or see on the television says that we need an Assembly to tackle the bread-and-butter issues. How true that is. DUP Members made an honest attempt to do that. We wanted to talk about an economic package, the review of public administration — and I welcome the fact that it will be discussed and debated tomorrow — support for the police, and water rates and charges. The Assembly should be discussing those issues today, but alas, the opportunity has not been afforded to us, and it is being missed.

Madam Speaker: Thank you, Lord Morrow. That issue will be discussed at tomorrow’s Business Committee meeting.

Ms Gildernew: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

I support what the Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, said this morning about the motion, our amendment and the interference of Peter Hain in our business. In order to examine that, we must look at the historical implications of the British Government’s involvement in our country. As they did in every country that they colonised, they caused trouble and strife, created disharmony, pillaged the natural resources and murdered those who stood up to the might of the British Empire.

When the Irish potato harvest failed in the nineteenth century, the rest of the crops and livestock were shipped out to England by the ton.

Mr McMenamin: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I cannot hear the Member from where I am sitting.

Madam Speaker: You are correct, Mr McMenamin; it is difficult to hear even from here. Perhaps, Ms Gildernew, Members would be able to hear what you are saying if you slowed down.

Lord Morrow: Talk a wee bit slower.

Madam Speaker: That is what I just said, Lord Morrow.

Ms Gildernew: When the potato harvest failed in the nineteenth century — [Interruption.]

You can hear me now, Maurice, can you?

The rest of the crops were shipped out of our country by the ton. Absentee landlords squeezed every penny out of their tenants, and millions of people starved or were forced to emigrate.

Madam Speaker: I know that we have had many history lessons this morning. Please move on to the amendment, if that is what you are speaking to. I am not sure of the relevance of your comments. If you can make them relevant, I will listen.

Ms Gildernew: I am making them relevant, Madam Speaker. I have listened to some of the other contributions today, and my comments are no less relevant than some others that I have heard.

Madam Speaker: That is your opinion; it is not mine.

Ms Gildernew: The effect of the pogrom on the Irish people is still felt in parts of our country, and when the Irish people have demanded their independence over the generations — whether in 1798, which Gerry Adams has already mentioned, or in the 1916 rising, when the men and women called for a new Ireland where all the children of the nation would be treated equally — they have been met by the might of the British Empire. The brutality of the resistance to the rising was disgraceful, even by British standards. James Connolly was murdered by a firing squad while propped up on a chair.

The democratic will of the Irish people was also ignored when the election results in 1921, which showed overwhelming support for a 32-county republic, were overruled. The Irish people have been treated with absolute contempt throughout the generations, and that has not changed in 800 years.

This British Secretary of State is only one —

Mr K Robinson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does the Member accept that, in the historical period to which she refers, the population of unionists in what is now the Republic of Ireland dropped dramatically? Does she class them as Irish people and part of the Irish nation?

Madam Speaker: Mr Robinson, that is not a point of order; you are merely referring to the speech.

Ms Gildernew: That is not a point of order. I am also worried about the hundreds of young people — unionist and nationalist — who leave here to be educated in other parts of the world and do not return.

What we are doing here is important, and we should encourage all those people to stay to build that new Ireland.

12.00 noon

For generations, the Irish people have been treated with contempt. This British Secretary of State is only one of a list who have acted with impunity. Peter Hain’s actions demonstrate that he is no different to those who have treated the will of the Irish people with disdain. Sinn Féin wants Ireland’s relationship with its nearest neighbour to be one in which people are treated fairly and with equality. The British Empire no longer rules the waves, and we will not be treated as second-class citizens.

I listened to Maurice Morrow’s comments, and if he were to listen to the victims of state violence, he would better understand where Sinn Féin is coming from. Over generations, many families have been bereaved by the British state.

The people of this island should have the right to govern without interference. We in this Chamber — unionist, republican and nationalist — would be better able to conduct our affairs without interference from Peter Hain, John Reid or any of the interchangeable British Secretaries of State who came before them.

The DUP has allowed a small number of funda-mentalists to dictate terms and conditions to us all. The sooner that Members get on with the jobs that they were elected to do, the better. Members have already referred to water charges, education cuts and rates rises; we must be here making decisions for ourselves. As long as Peter Hain holds his position we will not be able to do that, and I ask all Members to work together to ensure that we rule our own future, making decisions that are accountable to the people who elect us.

Mr McFarland: Friday 24 November was a much-heralded D-day. After what we understand was a fractious morning, the unusually hushed Benches of the DUP sat unsure about exactly what their leader would say. Mr McGuinness sat opposite, barely able to contain his eager anticipation at his nomination to be Deputy Prime Minister of this “six-county failed political entity”.

Dr Paisley stood to speak, and we all sat with bated breath awaiting his indication to nominate. The speech finished and, it is fair to say, there was a confused look around the Chamber that said it all. Dr Paisley had missed out the punchline. Mr Adams made his contribution, and Madam Speaker read a speech suggesting that Dr Paisley and Mr Adams had indicated an intention to nominate. The DUP mumbled, but there was no rebuttal.

As the day evolved, the 12 apostles issued a statement making it clear that Dr Paisley had not indicated an intention to nominate. As my colleagues said earlier: “Oh no he hadn’t.” At that stage the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State became apoplectic. We understand that the Secretary of State intervened to instruct Dr Paisley to clarify his position, and Dr Paisley duly followed with a statement that said:

“Everyone already knows that in those circumstances … I would accept the First Minister’s nomination”.

We have heard “Oh yes I did” and “Oh no he didn’t”. It is clear that Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister designate and that the shadow Executive are meeting weekly. The DUP should stop pretending otherwise.

There are serious questions to be posed. The night before Friday 24 November, did the NIO, the DUP and Sinn Féin agree what would be said the next day? Did the Secretary of State give Madam Speaker the text of what she should say? Did the Secretary of State tell Dr Paisley to issue a statement clarifying his position? I leave those questions to be answered by those who are involved.

My party leader has pointed out that there was interference with how long Mr McGuinness would be given to speak, and it looks as though the Secretary of State also intervened with the Speaker’s statement and with Dr Paisley’s clarification.

Members need answers to those questions. The Secretary of State should now leave Members to conduct the business in the Assembly. I support the motion.

Mr Attwood: As my colleague Alban Maginness has said, the SDLP does not support the motion, as it misses the much bigger points that have already been referred to. The Secretary of State’s intervention — or not — in the affairs of the Assembly merely reflects a deeper culture and approach that he has adopted towards much of public life in the North.

The present Secretary of State, as a tool of govern-ment, has interfered with due process, with upholding proper standards and with the standing authority of public bodies. That has been his policy and practice on too many occasions. Evidence that is already in the public domain is a damning indictment of that approach.

There is evidence that the Secretary of State tried to influence nominations to the Parades Commission under the false notion that he could appease elements in the Orange Order. As regards the court case concerning the appointment of the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors — and there is no issue about the individual — there is evidence that the Secretary of State used a concession to the DUP in a misplaced effort to soften its heart. With respect to water charges, he is pursuing the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s policy under the false notion that he might one day become the Chancellor’s deputy when the Chancellor becomes Prime Minister.

The problem is that the Secretary of State — across a wide range of issues, and on too many occasions, in order to obtain quick fixes and for reasons of political expediency — employed a policy of interference to bring about his desired outcome. As Members know, from experience in the Chamber and from all those cases, the Secretary of State has been seen to be flawed and foolish in pursuing that policy.

Gerry Adams said that much of that was “pandering to unionism”. However, Sinn Féin has learned well from bad practice. Not only have the British Government pandered to unionism on occasions, they have — as a matter of policy on too many issues — pandered to republicanism.

My colleague Alban Maginness cited an example that I will explore more deeply. With respect to on-the-runs and state killings, the British Government and Sinn Féin, in a mutual effort to obscure the past involvement of state agencies and the IRA, colluded in signing off on a cover-up policy. Not only did they sign off on that, but when the legislation was proposed, Sinn Féin welcomed it. Later that same week, Martin McGuinness justified it.

There is no more telling indictment of British interference in Irish affairs — especially given what Michelle Gildernew has just said about the history of British involvement in Ireland — than when, at the very moment that the British Government decided to cover up their involvement in various activities, criminal and otherwise, Sinn Féin assisted them in that cover-up and interference because of the on-the-runs issue.

How can Sinn Féin criticise British interference in Irish affairs when it is hand in glove with them in covering up the truth about years of human rights abuse in this part of Ireland? It does not add up: it is con-tradictory, confused and is an insult to the Irish nationalist people, never mind to other people on this island.

However, I am worried that the policy of interference in Irish affairs, which people in the Chamber have quite rightly berated, continues to be an element of British policy in this part of Ireland. As we speak, people in the Chamber continue to run to the British Government to get them to interfere in what is the right approach to our political problems.

Alban Maginness made a valid point, which is worthy of emphasis. The more that people interfere with due process, seek quick fixes, do deals behind closed doors and impose wrong standards when proper and right standards are necessary, the more that the integrity of politics will be damaged. Furthermore, the more that those things happen, the more that young people, in particular, will run from political life and the more that low standards in high places will become part of our political culture in a way that will ultimately damage the nature of our society.

The real issue is not British interference in the Chamber or in any other aspect of Irish life: it is why the British still have an opportunity, through the Secretary of State, to interfere in our business. The reason for that is that the parties in the Chamber have failed — and in my view, one or two parties more than others — to create stable political institutions.

The Secretary of State can get away with whatever he wants because of the failure to create and stabilise political institutions. The reason why the British Government can do what they want on water rates, public health, the Budget, the bill of rights, and all the other aspects of public policy in this part of Ireland is because of the failure to have Ministers in this place doing business for the people of this place.

My fear is that that will continue because there are still doubts about whether the DUP is real about inclusive government, although it is edging that way, and because there are doubts about Sinn Féin’s signing up to a lawful society, even though it is edging that way.

Given all that doubt and the nature of British interference in aspects of public policy in this part of Ireland, the SDLP’s ultimate concern is that the election that we face will not be a passport out of all that, but will rather build those difficulties into the politics of this part of Ireland for the next number of years, perhaps decades. There is only one choice in those circumstances: it must be recognised that those parties and organisations that have been part of the worst of our past cannot be guaranteed to bring about the best of our future.

Mr Robert McCartney: Thank you, Madam Speaker. One suspects that the debate has fallen into two parts: first, the interference of the Secretary of State in the business of Friday 24 November; and secondly, a general indictment of British interference, whether through viceroys in Ireland or Secretaries of State in Northern Ireland.

Madam Speaker, last week you stated that the activities of an arthritic lunatic armed with a toy pistol and some sort of firecracker was an assault on democracy. It is open to question as to whether he should be sectioned under mental health legislation or sent to jail.

However, the real assault on democracy occurred in the House on the morning of Friday 24 November when you, Madam Speaker, were given instructions from the Secretary of State. I excuse you from discharging your duties, given the limitations that have been placed on you. The Secretary of State has reduced you to the status of a speaking tool — to an object, which is how Cicero described a slave. In other words, he was describing someone in human form who simply had to follow the instructions of a superior person. I have made it quite clear, Madam Speaker, that I absolve you from all liability in that case.

12.15 pm

I read with interest the Secretary of State’s direction, which you were good enough to place in the Assembly Library. It is clear that not only did the Secretary of State give you specific instructions that afforded you no discretion whatever, but he obviously treated you as some sort of partially sighted person, given that it was typed out in a font that was so large that it could have been seen almost at the far end of the Chamber.

When I read through those instructions, it became apparent that they could have been followed only if they were based on some prior agreement. As one political commentator has said, if Dr Paisley had made a peroration that combined the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary, in the circumstances, you might have deemed that an acceptance. [Laughter.]

However, there is a serious aspect to this matter. The question arises as to whether some form of words was agreed in advance by the Secretary of State and by those parties that were required to respond to the nomination. Certainly, when a similar proposition was put to Dr Paisley last May, his response did not require a five-minute sotto voce response. He simply said: “Certainly not, Madam Speaker.” He said that on 22 May, when it was suggested that he had been nominated as First Minister. Therefore when we look at this specific issue, we must conclude — if one subjects it to forensic examination — that there was a form of words that the Secretary of State was confident would be sufficient in his opinion for you to read out what you did when you said that you accepted that positive responses to the nominations had been made.

Madam Speaker, you may be able to tell us whether at any stage the Secretary of State offered you a form of words that would have enabled you to read out what he had prepared for you in that very large print, deeming what had been said a positive acceptance. Perhaps you would care to leave in the Assembly Library, as you kindly did with the previous document, a copy of the document that was made available to you and that, if repeated by the parties, you could have deemed a positive response. That, however, is another matter.

I want to deal briefly with some of the absurd historical references about interference that have been made here. The suggestion that all those Presbyterians whom Mr Adams named supported a united Ireland was quite erroneous. As every reputable historical work points out, all those Presbyterians were perhaps in favour of a united Ireland that followed the principles of the American War of Independence and, of course, the French Revolution. They were men seeking liberty, but all reputable historians point out that what happened in that area of Ireland now known as the Republic was described as a “piked crusade against Protestants”. Those are two very different things.

Let us not have any more of those twisted or distorted historical allusions. As a matter of fact, since we are talking about Templepatrick, we must ask: who put down those Ulstermen who fought for liberty at Templepatrick? It was Catholic yeomanry from Monaghan. The Member should get his facts right before he starts giving history lessons in this Chamber.

Moving on to some of Mr Ford’s remarks, the Alliance Party, in the form of Mr Ford, although I give others a certain — [Laughter.]

Mr McCarthy: Thank you very much.

Mr Kennedy: Go easy.

Mr Robert McCartney: I have heard all of Mr Ford’s clichés, including the phrase “in terms of working together”. One could write a letter that is made up entirely of Alliance Party clichés and send it to the ‘Belfast Telegraph’. It might even be published. The Alliance Party is forever “breaking logjams”, “empowering the people”, “moving forward”, “jumping through windows of opportunity” and “taking risks for peace”. Lest the SDLP become too excited about this criticism, I should say that to some extent it also has played a part. [Laughter.]

Madam Speaker, people constantly talk about the necessity of working together, moving forward, and jumping through the aforementioned windows, without actually looking at the specifics of what that means. As Lord Morrow very eloquently said, when we are talking about working together, we must determine who we are going to work with, and we must ask what is the disposition and record of those whom the Alliance Party and the SDLP would exhort to work together.

Mr Adams talks about working together, offering the hand of friendship or even, in the words of the proclamation of 1916, “cherishing all her children equally”. The problem is that Sinn Féin and its inextricable partners, the IRA, have for over 30 years murdered, maimed, robbed and destroyed in a campaign that was directed against the unionist community. The people who were burnt alive in the La Mon Hotel were not representatives of the British Government. They were dog handlers — they were members of a kennel club. That charge could be repeated endlessly. Those simple fundamentalist country folk worshipping in Darkley were machine-gunned indiscriminately by members — if not of the IRA — of the republican tradition. Was that organisation reaching out to the Protestant unionist people to be involved?

When some Members talk about history, the famine and the alleged wickedness that was perpetrated against the Irish people, we should remind ourselves of the Protestants who were driven out of Cork and other places from 1920 to 1922. We should remind ourselves of a state that, in its anxiety to put itself beyond its stronger neighbour, excluded Protestant unionists in the Republic from all sorts of office. It abolished rights that those people had enjoyed for centuries, and it created a Roman Catholic constitution for a Catholic people. That is part of the history on both sides. Do not presume, in this Chamber or anywhere else, to say that in the weeks or months running up to 26 March 2007, Sinn Féin can restore in the unionist people a confidence that would enable them to trust that party in any way.

The unionist people will not give their trust either to Sinn Féin or to any other party within their own ranks that would attempt to persuade them that the conditions exist for that trust. I do not rule out a time in the future when Sinn Féin, unlike the leopard, will be shown to have changed its spots.

Madam Speaker: Mr McCartney, please keep to the motion.

Mr Robert McCartney: The Assembly can do without interference from many aspects of Government. Until then, Members must realise that the Transitional Assembly is a joke. We are here at the behest of the Secretary of State, and we are under his control in so far as he designates Standing Orders and can refuse to follow the Business Committee’s directions on what business will be conducted here. Having regard to the extent of that interference, we must ask ourselves why we are here. All parties must address that question. Why are the parties taking part in a democratic charade?

There has been talk about post-26 March 2007, when there will be an absence of that kind of interference and the beginning of a golden age when an Assembly is up and running. What will Members do then? If we continue to suggest that water charges will disappear, that a rating system that is based on capital value will be a thing of the past and that the problems in the educational system will suddenly dissolve, we are fooling the people of Northern Ireland in both communities. If a future Assembly abolishes water charges, without the interference of the Secretary of State, the £300 million that those charges would produce will have to be found by that Assembly at the cost of withdrawing that money from health, education, roads or something else. If the Assembly decides to cap rates and introduce a banding system, the money to pay for it will have to be found somewhere else.

The truth is that a devolved Assembly is always subject to interference either from a Secretary of State or the Treasury, who will always determine what must be done. Remember that it was an Assembly, without inter-ference from the Secretary of State, that decided that it was necessary to revise the rating system to something similar, if not identical, to that which is now being proposed. It was an Assembly, without the interference of the Secretary of State, that decided to charge for water and other services, on the basis of a new rating system.

There is no point in the Assembly deluding itself and the electorate that a form of devolved Government under d’Hondt will be an answer not only to a maiden’s prayer, but to a prayer from the entire electorate. Under d’Hondt there will be no Opposition, because 100 of the 108 Members in the Chamber will belong to parties that form the Government. There will be no collective responsibility because those parties that nominate Members to that Executive will have total control of them. The system that has been foisted on parties is a recipe for instability and disaster, and all parties appear to condone and endorse it.

Peter Hain — or the Secretary of State, to give him his full title — was asked during the last debate on the issue in the House of Commons who was against the St Andrews Agreement.He replied, “Only Robert McCartney”. If Robert McCartney has to be like the small boy who pointed out that the emperor was entirely naked, that, Madam Speaker, is a function that I am happy to perform.

12.30 pm

Mr McElduff: The Speaker asked Members to avoid making tedious or repetitious speeches. After Mr McCartney’s contribution, can you make a ruling on what constitutes tedium and repetition?

Madam Speaker: There has been historical relevance in each speech, to which I have given leeway. Members have also repeated issues, which is normal. As I said before, Mr McElduff, I leave it to Members’ judgement to make their speeches relevant and to curtail their length, both of which most Members have done this morning. I am sure that Dr McCrea, the last Member to speak this morning, will do that as well.

Dr McCrea: I deeply appreciate many of the contributions, especially those from Sinn Féin and the SDLP. They have certainly added to the confusion, rather than the enlightenment, of the House.

For example, I am confused about why the Sinn Féin/IRA Benches are filled this morning. During the Hain Assembly mark I, Sinn Féin would not come to any of the debates. I do not know what has happened since then that has caused Sinn Féin Members to change their minds, make some abysmal excuse and crawl back into the Assembly. Mr Hain probably told them that they would not get any Christmas presents. Sinn Féin has moved an amendment regarding the Secretary of State’s interference. He interfered well in telling Sinn Féin to get back into the Chamber or else it would be out on its ear. Therefore Sinn Féin had to crawl back.

Sinn Féin’s amendment deplores the interference of the Secretary of State. No party visits the Secretary of State or Downing Street more than Sinn Féin. It has been suggested that Sinn Féin has to keep in touch with its handlers, and that is why it is in Downing Street so often. That would make sense, particularly with regard to some Members and their connections.

Sinn Féin has the audacity to move an amendment condemning the Secretary of State’s interference. How would he interfere in much of Sinn Féin’s philosophy? Did Sinn Féin not go along with the Secretary of State in objecting to the capping of rates? Sinn Féin would not agree to the capping of rates; it concurred with the Secretary of State. Is this not also the party that supports the Secretary of State in the reorganisation of local government and in the setting up of seven councils? Sinn Féin Members have the audacity to talk about the Secretary of State’s interference — he and they are buddies. They are Siamese twins. Sinn Féin are the new Irish Brits, because they are lapping from the Secretary of State’s bowl. When he tells them to move, they are very happy to do so.

Sinn Féin seems to have a new interest in water rates, hospitals and schools. At least, it had an interest in the past in blowing up water pipes and schools, and in attacking people who were visiting their loved ones in hospital. A young man was murdered outside Magherafelt after visiting the hospital where his wife had just given birth.

However, it now has a new conscience, and I find it rather interesting. Members of the Business Committee will remember that, during the first Hain Assembly, they tried to get all those subjects onto the agenda. Which party blocked them? It was the party that now tells Members that it is concerned about water rates. It could have been talking about water rates for the past couple of years.

Sinn Féin is now concerned about hospitals. Of course it must be careful about hospitals, or interfering with hospitals, because it was its Minister who closed hospitals. The hospitals in Omagh, Magherafelt and Dungannon were all under threat from the proposal made by Sinn Féin. It then had the audacity to attend rallies and go on platforms and say that it was against the closure of Tyrone County Hospital, when it was its Minister who recommended the closure. It said that it was against the closure of the Mid-Ulster Hospital and taking away its maternity services. It now has the audacity and cheek to talk about interference when its Minister recommended it.

That shows Sinn Féin’s hypocrisy. It is not con-cerned about water rates, hospitals and schools. The Assembly could have been debating those issues for months before the decisions were taken on water rates, the sewerage system and schools. Who stopped the debates? It was not the SDLP, the Ulster Unionists, the Alliance Party or any other parties represented — and it was not the Democratic Unionist Party; it was the one party that now says that those matters must be discussed, because they are so near to the heart of the community. That is political hypocrisy of the highest order.

To add to my confusion, the Member for West Belfast Gerry Adams stood up in the Chamber and said that he wanted to talk about a “cordial union”. Would he tell that to Mrs McVeigh and to the many relatives of the disappeared? Would he tell that to the relatives of the innocent people who have been murdered?

It takes cheek or audacity for a Member to stand up and say that he is concerned about the young people who leave Northern Ireland. That is the party that is associated with the people who have driven those young people out of Northern Ireland and will still not let them come back. Let us not have pious words when — [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. Please keep to the motion.

Dr McCrea: Madam Speaker, I am keeping to the motion very carefully. I am referring to points that have been raised. Talking about the disappeared and those driven out of Northern Ireland might be a joke to certain Sinn Féin Members — and I see laughing and sneering on some of their faces — but I can assure you —

Mr O’Dowd: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. No one on these Benches is sneering, and I can assure the Member that no one thinks that it is a joke.

Dr McCrea: Madam Speaker, I accept your ruling as to whether that was a point of order. However, the Member who rose to his feet was sneering and laughing at the time.

Madam Speaker: Order. That was not a point of order. However, I gave Mr O’Dowd some leeway.

Dr McCrea, you may continue.

Dr McCrea: Thank you, Madam Speaker. Those issues have added to the confusion.

Mr O’Dowd: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A serious accusation has been made against me, and I am sure that I should have the right to reply.

Madam Speaker: Yes. I will give you that right after the debate.

Dr McCrea: I understand that those who have no knowledge of democracy would not know about the rulings of the House. A Member has no right of reply in the midst of another Member’s speech. I know that that will come —

Madam Speaker: Dr McCrea, I have already given that information.

Dr McCrea: Madam Speaker, I am pointing out that there are those who know little about democracy and, therefore, have to be trained, just as others have to be trained.

This is a major debate. A motion was tabled and an amendment proposed on the interference of the Secretary of State. Other matters confuse me as well. On the one hand, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party told us that Dr Paisley did not nominate. Then the hon Member for North Down Mr McFarland said that, clearly, Dr Paisley did nominate. I know that there is confusion in that party and mighty divisions among its members. There are many parties in that party. Two Members stood up today and challenged each other. If they want to challenge each other, they can do so outside the Chamber. They should not do so in a public forum such as this; it makes them look stupid.

Mr Nesbitt: Will the Member give way?

Dr McCrea: I am not talking about Mr Nesbitt, so he can just sit down. The hon Member is another story. However, I certainly do not want to bring him into this. I was referring to two of his colleagues. When the hon Member is not being talked about, he would do much better to sit there and listen.

I am confused by Mr Empey’s concern for the DUP at the weekend. He pleaded for there not to be divisions in the DUP. He is the first Ulster Unionist Party leader who has ever said that he wants the Democratic Unionist Party to be so warmly united. What we are really hearing from the Ulster Unionists is that the St Andrews Agreement is terrible, but they want to know where they can sign up. They are dying to —

Mr Kennedy: The Member’s party is already dying.

Dr McCrea: The hon Member for Newry and Armagh should not talk too much; he is quite often confused in his mind about which side of the political fence he is on. One day he is on one side; the next day, he is on the other side. However, I will not be led down that road — I want to stick to speaking to the motion.

Let me make something clear: as regards the interference of the Secretary of State, it is true that on 24 November, the Business Committee was told certain things by you, Madam Speaker. What happened in the Chamber was different to what the Business Committee had been told. I believe that you received a further communication from the Secretary of State, and that, therefore, you abided by that instruction. That proves the interference of the Secretary of State.

It is also true that, in the Business Committee, it was proposed that the party leaders would speak during the debate. Each party leader was given a portion of time to address the Chamber. Sinn Féin/IRA requested that the person whom it would nominate to become Deputy First Minister should have the opportunity to speak. The Business Committee turned down that request; however, when I came into the Chamber, I found that the Business Committee’s decision had been overturned. By whom had it been overturned? Once again, it was through the interference of the Secretary of State.

Dr Paisley made his statement in the Chamber. For the benefit of the Ulster Unionists — I know that enlightenment is good for them — who said that the DUP was waiting with bated breath to hear what Dr Paisley was going to say, Dr Paisley had already read his statement to all the DUP Members, and they un-animously supported it. I know that certain Members do not always welcome facts. However, facts are always stubborn things that stand on their own ground.

Let me make something clear: Dr Paisley did not indicate an intention to nominate and did not accept the office of First Minister.

Mr Nesbitt: Oh yes.

Dr McCrea: Was that a yawn?

There we find the Secretary of State’s interference once again. He decided to interpret the words of Dr Paisley’s statement in the way that he wanted by turning the dictionary and the English language on its head. I believe that the hon Member for North Down said that it would not have mattered whether it was the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, or both together; there was going to be an intention or an acceptance. The Secretary of State must also be in a confused state. He does not understand the meaning of words.

12.45 pm

There has been deliberate interference by the Secretary of State. That is totally unacceptable. There are matters that must be attended to, and the DUP will see to them — no matter whether the Secretary of State interferes a thousand times.

My hon Friend Lord Morrow clearly mentioned the need to support the PSNI, the rule of law and the courts. Whether or not Sinn Féin/IRA wants to give that support, or whether it has to do so kicking and screaming, the spotlight is on that organisation. It will have to give that support whether it likes it or not. It is not a matter of words or pious platitudes; the proof will be in its actions.

As the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition in another place stated, one proof — one of many — would be for that organisation to hand over those who murdered Robert McCartney. It knows exactly who was responsible for that murder.

That organisation can tell its voters or its restless members that policing and justice powers will be devolved to this House, and they can hold their breath waiting for it — but not only will they be blue in the face, they will have gone completely. That matter is not on the agenda. It will not matter whether the Secretary of State says that it is, because he has no power in the matter. The lock has been given to this House and to this party.

I can assure the House that Sinn Féin/IRA need not think that it will walk with the murderers and gangsters of this country and be in control of the police in Northern Ireland at any date in the foreseeable future. Political lifetimes have been spoken about, but I believe that those time frames are too short to describe it.

Mr Dawson: Does the hon Member agree that there is an absolute contradiction in Sinn Féin’s position on policing? On the one hand, it says that it supports civic policing, while, on the other, it is scrabbling to get political control of policing.

Dr McCrea: I thank my hon Friend for his intervention; he is absolutely correct. Of course, confusion is nothing new for Sinn Féin.

Madam Speaker: I remind Dr McCrea and Mr Dawson to please confine their remarks to the motion. As interesting and relevant as they may think that their comments are, that matter will be debated at another time.

Dr McCrea: The amendment is about interference by the Secretary of State not only in the past but in the future. That is the amendment that you accepted, Madam Speaker.

No matter how much the Secretary of State thinks that he can badger people into submitting to what he believes, the DUP will make its own decisions. The Secretary of State has tried to interfere in the DUP’s affairs. He tried to tell me, my hon Friend for East Belfast and my hon Friend for North Belfast that we should not say that policing and justice would not be devolved to this House. He will not tell the DUP what to believe or what its policies are. The DUP makes its policy, and it will stand before the people. I can assure the House that Sinn Féin will not be getting policing and justice powers; it can tell its people or its restless troops whatever it likes, but it will certainly not be able to do so on the basis of fact. Those powers are not coming. Sinn Féin can look for a date, but the DUP is not tied to any date that the Secretary of State sets — 26 March, 26 May or June.

A Member: That is weather forecasting.

Dr McCrea: That is another weather forecast.

The structures of the IRA will have to be dismantled and its ill-gotten gains handed over. There must be a proper mechanism through which to throw out terrorist supporters, if there is support for terrorism. There must be an end to criminality. The DUP will make that judge-ment on behalf of its people, but there must be a credible testing period, and the matter will have to be tested to the satisfaction of the people whom the DUP represents.

Mr McNarry: Will the hon Member give way?

Dr McCrea: The hon Member will have the opportunity to speak. I am led to believe that it is coming close to lunch hour.

I must make it abundantly clear that I resent the Secretary of State’s interference. He will not tell us what we have said or what we are to say. There may be puppets of the Secretary of State sitting on the Benches opposite; there may be those who are the Secretary of State’s toys. He will handle them whenever it suits him, and they must keep in touch with their handler. One thing, however, is certain: nobody will be pulling the Democratic Unionist Party’s strings, because it has never been the Secretary of State’s toy. DUP Members will be answerable to the people, and they will honestly, firmly and resolutely stand by that which they promised the electorate.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Hussey: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before we break for lunch, I seek clarification on my earlier question. Dr McCrea has quite clearly indicated the Rev Dr Ian Paisley’s position. I refer you specifically to Standing Order 20(c), and I expect a judgement on that when we resume.

Madam Speaker: That is fine. I have already said that I shall provide that. I shall try to keep to my word, as I usually do.

Given the time, and given that a sufficient number of Members’ names remain on the speaking list, I propose, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm, so that Members can have lunch.

The sitting was suspended at 12.51 pm.

On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —

2.00 pm

Madam Speaker: During the debate this morning, Mr Hussey raised a point of order referring to Standing Order 2(a), which provides that the Speaker’s ruling shall be final on all questions of procedure and order. If I picked him up correctly, Mr Hussey then urged me to make a ruling on how Standing Order 20 was applied during the sitting on 24 November.

My answer is clear. Standing Order 20 did not cover the item of business directed by the Secretary of State for the Order Paper of that date.

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does that mean that the direction given by the Secretary of State had no Standing Order applied to it?

Madam Speaker: The direction was in accordance with the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 for the business of the day.

Mr Nesbitt: Can you please clarify whether the direction was without the application of Standing Orders?

Madam Speaker: The Act supersedes Standing Orders, and the business of 24 November was within the remit of the Act. Standing Order 20 was not relevant for that sitting.

Mr Nesbitt: Was any Standing Order relevant?

Madam Speaker: The Standing Orders are always relevant to the order of business in the Chamber, but Standing Order 20 was not relevant to the order of business on 24 November.

I call Mr Murphy.

Mr Hussey: Madam Speaker, I refer to your own opening remarks on 24 November:

“Proceedings of the Assembly shall be conducted in accordance with Standing Orders and any directions made by the Secretary of State.”[Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p1, col 1].

I stress that you said “and” not “or”. Your remarks did not serve to override the Standing Orders. Any direction from the Secretary of State would be additional; it would not override the Standing Orders we were given to operate with.

Madam Speaker: We were not dealing with the issue of nomination on 24 November, therefore the Standing Order was not relevant.

Mr Murphy: Go rabh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Today could be a good day for the Assembly if the outcome of the debate is that we resolve to prevent any future interference by the Secretary of State in our affairs. However, that is unlikely, because all parties here have engaged with the Secretary of State at times on various issues.

The rationale of the UUP motion is not that its members are concerned about the Secretary of State’s interference in the Assembly; they were not concerned about it in the past. Nor does the motion seek to prevent any future interference by the Secretary of State in the Assembly. Rather, it takes issue with his interference on a specific day over a specific issue. That is the weakness in the motion. Either we wish to conduct our business, in charge of our own affairs and without the interference of the Secretary of State, or we are content for the Secretary of State to interfere as and when he deems it necessary. If there was a genuine attempt to prevent or to restrict in some way the British Secretary of State from interference in the Assembly, the motion would not be time related and specific; rather it would be open-ended. That is the strength of the amendment.

Ulster Unionist Party members were very clearly exercised by any toing and froing between the Secretary of State and the other political parties on 24 November. It is ironic that the motion should come from them, because that party is one of the greatest users of the Secretary of State’s interference in our arrangements. Members will perhaps cast their minds back to a time when the Assembly was not in shadow, virtual, or transitional format — let alone Hain one or Hain two — but was fully functioning.

As part of the Executive’s programme it was decided, as required under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, to deal with the very vexed issue of flags and emblems. The Executive decided to set up a subcommittee to deal with that matter and gave it the task of drafting an agreed proposition, in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, for dealing with flags and emblems on public buildings. I think that Michael McGimpsey was on that subcommittee, as were Bríd Rodgers from the SDLP and our own Deputy First Minister designate, Martin McGuinness.

While the subcommittee was carrying out its business, the Ulster Unionist Party opened up negotiations with the then Secretary of State, Peter Mandelson, who guaranteed to legislate for that party’s proposals if the subcommittee could not reach agreement. Therefore, while a fully functioning Executive here were trying genuinely to carry out their business, the Ulster Unionist Party had persuaded the Secretary of State to overrule that business. It ill behoves that party to come here today and complain about the Secretary of State’s inter-ference in a Transitional, Hain one or Hain two Assembly.

Of course, it was at the Ulster Unionist Party’s prompting that the Secretary of State introduced the suspension legislation that has us in the state we are in today — and Members quite often bemoan the idea of a Transitional or virtual Assembly. Suspension legislation was introduced at the request of the Ulster Unionist Party to enable it to walk in and out of the previous Assembly as the whim took it. It was introduced by Peter Mandelson and effected on a number of occasions by Secretary of State Reid, again at the request of the Ulster Unionist Party — interfering with the workings of a democratic institution, which had full powers allowed to it under the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Kennedy: That is not our fault.

Mr Murphy: Well, if Members on the Benches opposite still believe in stories about spy rings, they will soon be writing their letters to Santa Claus. I hope that they have all been very good boys. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order.

Mr Murphy: Of course, there is another matter that the Secretary of State dealt with. Again it was Peter Mandelson, and again it was at the request of the parties. It was not necessarily a matter within the competence of the Assembly at that time, but one certainly hopes that it will be within the competence of this Assembly in the near future. I am referring to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. What was proposed in the Good Friday Agreement as a new beginning to policing was completely undermined by the representations made by some parties to the Secretary of State. They were not alone in doing that. All parties here have gone to the Secretary of State on various issues, and all parties have sought his intervention.

The weakness of the Ulster Unionist Party’s motion and, I suppose, the hypocrisy of the motion is that its only complaint with the Secretary of State’s intervention is when the intervention is not to its liking. That party is not ruling out future requests for the Secretary of State to intervene in the workings of the Assembly.

I suggest, and our amendment suggests, that either we get to the stage at which we have no intervention from a British Secretary of State or the British Government in our democratic institutions, or we keep the situation in which parties can go traipsing off to the Secretary of State with their demands. The Ulster Unionist Party led the way in this at a time when we had a fully functioning Executive here.

The answer to all of this is for us to assume respons-ibility for our own affairs. While under the — what are termed — “transitional arrangements” for the Assembly, parties can decide what business they will do, it is also the case that the Secretary of State can interfere quite readily in that business. He has taken that power as part of the St Andrews legislation. People have expressed frustration with the various interferences from the British Secretary of State and have acknowledged that the British Government intervene in our business with their own agenda and not with that of any particular interest group here in Ireland. If we want to prevent that, we must assume those powers ourselves.

We must take responsibility for our own affairs. Ultimately, we must take power from the hands of British Government Ministers and British Government officials in Ireland. Let us act in the interests of those who have elected us. No one in this part of Ireland has elected the Secretary of State or any of his Ministers. No one here has given endorsement to any of his officials, yet they have power to interfere in any of the matters that we attempt to deal with.

Ultimately, it is our responsibility to take back that power into the hands of accountable and democratically elected representatives here, to exercise it on behalf of the people who elected us, to be responsive to their needs and not to respond to the demands or current strategies of the Northern Ireland Office.

This morning, I listened with interest to the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party’s plea to my party in relation to policing matters. I was heartened by his plea, because it shows that there is a pressing concern within the DUP for the matter of policing to be dealt with. [Interruption.]

Policing is also a pressing concern for my party, and I assure the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party — irrespective of the cackling of other Members on the Front Bench opposite — that our party is very much ready to deal with the issue of policing. We are very much up for dealing with that issue and we want to resolve the issue of policing.

My plea in return to the leader of the DUP, and his party, is for him to work with us in dealing with policing. There are issues outstanding. We have been working with all the various people involved to try to progress those issues. There is work that his party and my party must do in order to progress some of those outstanding issues. My plea to the DUP is this: let us take these necessary steps together and let us liberate the future for all the rest of our people. There is work to be done on policing; let us get down to it.

Interestingly, in his contribution before lunch, Rev McCrea said very clearly that the issue of the transfer of powers relating to policing and justice is not on the agenda. It is, however, on the agenda for a meeting that his fellow Members are attending at the moment. One of the issues for the subgroup on policing and justice matters is the timing of the transfer of those powers and the model that will be adopted.

Rather than trying to dig ourselves into deeper holes, wise counsel should prevail. Let us give each other a bit of space to work on these issues; let us make sure that we contribute to each other’s ability to deal with those issues, rather than trying to push each other into corners. Members of the DUP should not push themselves into corners over this issue. We will give others space to genuinely deal with outstanding matters; we wish for others to work with us as we try to deal with those issues ourselves. The plea from Dr Paisley is well heard, but he, and his party, needs to work with us to resolve these outstanding issues. Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Madam Speaker: I call Mr Tom Elliott.

Mr McNarry: He has been called away on urgent business.

Madam Speaker: I call Mr Nelson McCausland, who is in the House.

Mr McCausland: This morning, Gerry Adams spoke at some length on the subject of the United Irishmen. I do not want the proceedings to become a history lesson, but it is important to set the record straight on one aspect of that era, not least because Irish republicans today are keen to see themselves as the successors of the United Irishmen.

Gerry Adams mentioned Samuel Neilson, but he omitted to say that, within a few years of the 1798 rebellion, Neilson acknowledged that everything that the United Irishmen had fought for in 1798 had been secured for them through the Act of Union. In other words, Neilson had become a unionist. [Laughter.]

That is a lovely prospect; it is an appealing prospect. [Laughter.]

Mr Kennedy: Steady on.

Mr McCausland: It is an appealing prospect: republicans seeing the error of their ways, undergoing a political transformation and becoming unionists.

Mr Kennedy: Go easy. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland: It is perhaps a wee bit much to hope for.

Even William Drennan, the real founder of the United Irishmen, eventually became reconciled to the Union, and a Belfast newspaper quoted him as commending the term “British”. Within a few years, most of the radicals in the ranks of the United Irishmen had become supporters of the Union. William Drennan was the poet of the United Irishmen. In Clifton Street graveyard in my constituency of North Belfast, lies the grave of his son, John Swanwick Drennan, who was the poet of the Ulster unionist movement in the late nineteenth century.

Those men were not Irish nationalists; rather, they were internationalists. What they opposed was this: a corrupt, rotten Parliament in Dublin. Looking at the Dublin Parliament of more recent times, I must say that, 200 years on, little has changed.

2.15 pm

Several Members spoke this morning of the Secretary of State’s pandering to Sinn Féin. That is an important issue, because it is a long-established practice. Such pandering to Sinn Féin by Secretaries of State has not only poisoned the political process by rewarding the wrong doer, but it has created numerous inequalities in Northern Ireland, and it has increased and reinforced other existing inequalities.

That is why the DUP amendment, which was rejected, referred to the need for delivery of equality measures for the unionist community. It is also why the DUP is, for example, calling for an Irish language audit. We have a right to know how many concessions on the Irish language have been given to Sinn Féin over the past 20 years and, particularly, how much money has been lavished on Irish language concessions under the old direct rule and under the devolved Administration through the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Dr McCrea: From Michael McGimpsey?

Mr McCausland: Yes. McGimpsey is the name of the man who was in charge of that Department; that is right. I would also like to know how much money is being spent on Irish-language concessions under the current direct rule. There is no need to be too detailed about it; a figure to the nearest £10 million will probably suffice. Such is the scale of the money that has been lavished on the Irish language that we have a right to know how much has been spent by the various Depart-ments and by non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs).

I had read into the minutes of the Committee on the Preparation for Government the text of an internal Government memo — a briefing paper for a previous Secretary of State — from the period before the Belfast Agreement. The instruction contained in that memo was to make concessions regarding the Irish language to please Sinn Féin. That is what the briefing paper was about. That is only one example of politically inspired discrimination and interference by a Secretary of State, but it serves to make the point.

I could equally refer to the interference of the present Secretary of State over the summer when Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly went hand in hand to the door demanding more money for republican festivals in Belfast, for the West Belfast Festival, for Ardoyne and for the New Lodge. Money had already been allocated to them, fairly and impartially, by the Northern Ireland Events Company. They had received their share, but they were not satisfied. Sinn Féin cannot cope with equality; it prefers preferential treatment. It prefers to see others discriminated against and discrimination in favour of republicanism; its members do not like equality and fairness. The Secretary of State overruled the democratic decision of the Northern Ireland Events Company and the fair and equitable allocation of money to republican groups by giving them more money at the behest of Messrs Adams and Kelly.

Those are two examples of interference by the Secretary of State, and examples of the long-standing tradition of the Secretary of State pandering to the republican movement. A resolution of such inequalities is an essential step to be taken before we can move forward on devolution, and it will take some time for that to happen. That is why the DUP has made it a central issue.

Unfortunately, the pandering of the Secretary of State to Sinn Féin has increased the scale of the problem, and his failure to tackle it — something which cannot be done in a matter of weeks and months — remains a major obstacle to devolution.

Considerable reference was made this morning to the importance of policing. The problem is that Sinn Féin sees policing as something that it might consider signing up to — probably with about 100 caveats and qualifications and with its fingers crossed behind its back — if it gets something in return. One of my colleagues made that point this morning.

The plain truth is that there should be no reward or recompense for signing up to policing and supporting law and order. Sinn Féin should do it because it is the right and decent thing to do; it is the democratic thing to do. I hope that we will see some movement on that in the near future. It remains a hope, but perhaps a hope that will not be realised.

Nevertheless, those are the sorts of issues that need to be dealt with — policing; support for law and order; equality. Unfortunately, so far the task has been made more difficult by the interference of the Secretary of State in rewarding the wrongdoers, and in not rewarding people for simply doing the right thing.

Madam Speaker: This is the first occasion that the Assembly will hear from Ms Caitríona Ruane. She will be making her maiden speech. As Members will know, it is the convention that a maiden speech be heard without interruption.

Ms Ruane: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

When Gandhi was asked what he thought of British democracy, he said that he thought it would be a good idea. I have no doubt that many people in Ireland share Gandhi’s view. I suspect that if Members were to go around the world to Britain’s former and current colonies, in Asia, Africa, Latin America or the Middle East, they would find a similar view.

What has British colonialism, or interference, meant for human rights and equality across the world? It has meant devastation, famine, war, destruction and genocide, the attempted destruction of native languages, disease and imprisonment. The list is endless. There is a pattern where the colonisers give privilege and power to groups, and marginalise others who dare to stand up against human rights abuses. Day and daily, we are faced with horrific pictures from across the world of rights abuses, torture, tragedy and poverty.

Anseo in Éirinn, is Éire aontaithe an aisling atá againn, áit ina mbeidh cosaint ann do chearta gach duine.

Ireland is divided by an artificial border that creates and perpetuates poverty, and by the failure of the Irish and British Governments to promote and to protect the rights of everyone on an equal basis. The gap between the have and the have-nots is growing. The wealth that should enrich the nation, and create equal opportunities, is being squandered. Entire sections of society live in poverty; they are marginalised and live on the edge. Daily, there is systematic, endemic violence against women and children. Apart from isolated cases, it goes unchallenged.

The British Government, certain sections of civic society and the political establishment have perpetuated the myth that the Six Counties is at the cutting edge of fair employment legislation, and that the British Govern-ment have been innovative in the field of equality. The reality is different. Every piece of equality and human rights legislation has been fought for. Anyone who sought to reform or to change the system faced not only indifference, intransigence and foot dragging, but also institutionalised obstruction. The fair employment debate has been characterised by disagreement over the nature and extent of discrimination. Some refused to acknowledge that structural discrimination ever existed, while others are prepared to grudgingly concede that isolated incidents of discrimination may have occurred in the past.

Mr Weir: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I appreciate that in this debate you have taken a reasonably liberal interpretation on the nature of speeches — some have wandered tangentially away from the motion. Is it in order, however, for a speech to make no reference whatsoever to the motion? Surely there must be some degree of relevancy?

Madam Speaker: All speeches, Mr Weir, should be relevant. This morning, every Member has in some way been guilty of not always speaking to the motion. This is a maiden speech; therefore I allow more leeway. However, I am sure that Ms Ruane will remind us that she is speaking to the amendment.

Ms Ruane: What I am saying is relevant. I will continue.

The next step in this argument is that the past is the past; that things are different, so let us move on.

Unionism and other elements of the establishment, including Peter Hain, try to blunt the tools that are key to ensuring a fair and just society. They attempt to undermine the equality and human rights legislation that is essential in order to combat discrimination and inequality.

In so doing, they damage tools that can assist all of us in challenging discrimination and inequality wherever it exists. Many unionists argue, without a hint of irony, that the injustice and the inequality that sparked off the civil rights movement were not real problems in the first place but a figment of Catholic nationalist imagination that was mired in victimhood, encouraged by republican conspiracy and designed to undermine the state by fuelling nationalist anger. That argument supports the view that public finances should not be wasted on equality. That agenda and philosophy contribute to a recurring theme in the public debate within unionism in the North of Ireland.

One of the key obstacles to developing a society based on equality is the absence of debate about the causes and nature of sectarianism. Sectarianism, like racism and sexism, has at its heart issues of power relationships. Over the coming weeks and months, the human rights and equality agenda will become even more important. It needs to be at the heart of social and political change in Ireland, North and South. That is why Sinn Féin has placed human rights and equality at the heart of the negotiations. That is why it argues for an effective anti-poverty strategy, a round-table forum on a bill of rights, effective anti-discrimination legislation and powers and resources for the human rights commissions. Equality threatens no one and benefits everyone, whether you live in the Shankill or the Falls, Downpatrick or Newry, Fermanagh or Derry, Mayo or Cork.

Ní bhagraíonn an comhionannas ar aon duine — muise, tá sé chun leasa gach duine, bíodh siad ar Bhóthar na Seanchille, ar Bhóthar na bhFál, i nDún Phádraig, i Rinn Mhic Giolla Rua, i bhFear Manach, i nDoire, i Maigh Eo nó i gCorcaigh.

We have had a painful and disruptive past. We need to learn to live with each other without compromising our fundamental beliefs. The Good Friday Agreement provides me, as an Irish republican, with a context within which I can pursue my political aspirations. For me it is logical that there will be a united Ireland. The logic of unity is compelling. Unionists have a valuable role to play in all of that, and we are enthusiastic advocates of rights — everyone’s rights. I do not say that to provoke or insult. We have to learn to respect each others’ rights, to respect beliefs without necessarily agreeing with them. We have unique opportunities in Ireland at the moment: to build a very different island to the one that we have currently; for the neighbouring island to be a neighbour, rather than a coloniser; and to bring peace to “the Planter and the Gael”, to use Peter Robinson’s terminology.

When we look back, years from now, we will remark upon how much has been achieved. Are things improving? Of course they are. Can they improve more quickly? They can. Can the DUP and Sinn Féin be the parties that work together in the Executive to bring about human rights and equality for everyone? They can. If there is political will, it can be done. The marginalised people who vote for the DUP and for Sinn Féin will be glad to see it.

The DUP’s excuses for not talking to Sinn Féin do not stand up to scrutiny. We need a mature debate on the issue of political violence and victims, not the reaction of a playground bully. Every actor in the conflict inflicted violence: the state, with its police, Army and agents; the loyalist paramilitaries who worked hand in glove with the state; and recent reports on collusion show only the tip of the iceberg. RUC men put on berets in the middle of the night, carried out shootings and, putting on a RUC uniform the next day, pretended to investigate the shootings they had carried out the night before. Look at the revelations coming out daily about Loughinisland, to mention but one case. People from all communities —

Mr Kennedy: On a point of order, Madam Speaker, I am loathe to rise to my feet on the occasion of a maiden speech. However, it is the convention of a maiden speech that it steer clear of issues that are deemed controversial. Clearly the Member has failed to do that and is indulging in a blatant act of Sinn Féin party political broadcasting and propaganda. Her speech does not fulfil proper expectations of a maiden speech.

Madam Speaker: You have pre-empted me, Mr Kennedy. I was about to remind the Member that it is not the convention to make such contentious remarks in a maiden speech.

2.30 pm

Ms Ruane: I am speaking about something very important — getting the peace process up and running and getting the DUP speaking with Sinn Féin. I am speaking about British interference in Ireland, and the motion is about interference.

The DUP says that it will not talk to republicans because they use violence, yet that party was happy to run up and down mountains wearing berets and waving gun licences or invading parts of the South. The DUP acted as cheerleaders for the RUC, even when it operated outside the rule of law. The DUP’s position of not talking to republicans is unacceptable.

Does any Member think that it is better to have direct rule, double-jobbing, here-today-gone-tomorrow Ministers from another island running the state, who do not understand us, much less care about us or how we think? Do my and Jim Wells’s constituents in South Down want water charges? Of course not. We need local, accountable Ministers running this part of Ireland.

Where do we go from here? I hope that we can go forward together. Sinn Féin wants to engage with others to progress the situation, get the institutions up and running and move forward on all the human rights and equality elements of the agreement.

Let us be able to look back in 20 years’ time and say that the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007 was the time when we took a qualitative step forward and made real change for the Planter and the Gael. Let us create a situation in which everyone can feel confident about the future for our children, because they deserve it. To paraphrase that brave trade unionist from County Cork, Mother Jones: let us all commemorate our dead, but fight like hell for our living. Go raibh maith agat.

Mr Paisley Jnr: Whoever said that Northern Ireland’s politicians were stuck in their past obviously got it right, when one considers what has been discussed in today’s debate. One Member began in 1798; another in 1921; one Member mentioned Gandhi; and another spoke of links to the United Irishmen. I am tempted to start in 1641 and mention the Battle of the Boyne to bring the debate up to date slightly.

The debate was supposed to be about what happened in this House, not in 1798 but last Friday. We have moved completely away from that, and I am sure that, for the rest of my remarks, Madam Speaker will cut me the same slack as she has done for everyone else.

Something has emerged from the debate from which the Secretary of State can take succour — namely, that he is universally detested by Members from across the House. The picture that has emerged is that he is not the most adored character, because of his interference in certain ways in Northern Ireland. No matter on what side of the House Members sit, they do not like the Secretary of State’s interference.

It has been easy for some Members to blame the Secretary of State. Indeed, the intention of the motion is to put the Secretary of State into the firing line, and rightly so — he should take the blame where he is responsible. However, it is important to remember that the guilty parties sit on the Benches opposite. We should keep our focus on those guilty parties for one obvious reason: direct rule operates at present because the Assembly collapsed in the autumn of 2002 due to the activities of Members sitting opposite. That is why there is a Secretary of State and why he is exercising the power in the way that he wishes.

When Sir Reg Empey introduced today’s debate, I imagine that he got a great sigh of relief and a great deal of satisfaction from Sinn Féin because he tried to take the spotlight away from Sinn Féin’s responsibility for the mess that Northern Ireland finds itself in. We must maintain the focus on the fact that Sinn Féin has responsibilities to live up to, that it is deliberately failing in those responsibilities and that the sooner that it lives up to those responsibilities, the better for everyone.

We can all accept that we do not want a Secretary of State to unduly interfere in any matter. It is obvious that he interfered because Sinn Féin has allowed him to. Sinn Féin wrecked the previous Assembly, and it intends to continue wrecking democracy in Northern Ireland, because that party is not signed up to the democratic process in the way that it should be.

Sinn Féin is not signed up to the rule of law. It is not signed up to support for the Police Service. It is not signed up to support for the rule of our courts. That is why there is a Secretary of State in office today.

When the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, made his speech this morning, I was reminded of the saying that the victors always write history. It was pretty clear to me that he had read the loser’s version of history, because his contribution about what republicanism and nationalism have been trying to achieve was, factually, completely askew.

Let us be absolutely clear: this is, as some people have described it, a partitionist Assembly. This is going to continue to be a partitionist country. That is because republicanism has failed, and failed miserably. It has failed on several counts. It cannot get into Government without delivery. It has tried to run away from delivering on all of the crucial matters, and in particular on the rule of law, on support for the police and on support for the courts. Its failure to deliver on those issues now counts against it as the reason why it cannot get into Government.

Some Members said today that they wanted to hear something from Sinn Féin about policing. It is pretty clear from the speech that we have just heard that Sinn Féin really is stuck in a time warp and has very warped ideas about the police. A callous slur was issued against the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its members, who lay in ditches, took bullets and bombs, and were unjustly targeted while protecting every member of this society, whether Catholic, Protestant or other. Those people were smeared in the most vicious and awful way by the previous contributor. All I can conclude from her comments and her attitude to this debate is that she is really not getting ready at all to support the police and the rule of law.

Imagine coming here and saying that people on all sides should take responsibility and that the violence in Northern Ireland was caused by the Royal Ulster Con-stabulary, the Crown services, or loyalist paramilitaries, when it is patently obvious that, for over 35 years, we had rampant republicanism bombing and murdering people from its own community and from every com-munity to achieve its ends. Most people would be horrified at the comments made by the previous contributor.

Some people think that if Sinn Féin were to just utter a few words or a pledge to support policing, that would be enough to get them over the bar of support for the police. However, we should lay out clearly what support for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, for the rule of law and for the Royal Courts of Justice actually means. It will not be lip service, or simply uttering some words in the pretence that that is the acceptance of policing. It has to be real, qualitative support for the police on the ground.

In other words, we want to see the people who, in a ghastly way, murdered Robert McCartney in the Short Strand brought to justice. We want to see republicans in that area coming forward and giving witness evidence, not to some third party, but to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We want to see them coming forward and making sure that that evidence can be used in open court, and that those witnesses feel free, and not under duress, to give that evidence.

We want to see real, active support for the police in a practical way, so that the police know that they have the support of the community when they go in to make arrests or carry out investigations; so that they are not attacked, brutalised or made to feel that they are not wanted, but are actually sought in those areas.

We want to see the demise of paramilitary-driven crime. We do not want to see it just boiling down for a few months; we want to see the end of it. It has to be over. Paramilitary-driven crime by republicans has to cease permanently. The reason Sinn Féin has failed to face up to that issue is because it is doing so well out of paramilitary crime. The most recent statistics on paramilitarism and extortion in Northern Ireland demonstrate that republicans are doing extremely well as a result of crime in Northern Ireland and, indeed, across the border.

We want to see that the exploitation of that ill-gotten gain is over with as well. Support for law and order — for British law — means that there has to be respect for the people who administer that law on the ground on a daily basis for the entire community.

Given the comments of the last Member who spoke, respect from Sinn Féin is totally absent.

The DUP wants to see support for the courts and for law and order. Members have been told that a pledge and some witnesses might go some way towards assisting people to support the services. However, it will take time to measure that and see how it actually occurs. I hope that Members see that sooner rather than later. At St Andrews, the DUP made it clear that the clock would start ticking at that time on Sinn Féin’s support for the police. However, since St Andrews it has shown no support for the police. Members should recall that awful crime in south Armagh when a Protestant woman and a Catholic man were burnt to death in their home. Why did Members not hear leaders from that community calling for the police to be brought in to carry out that investigation? Sinn Féin was silent on that point. When there was a disturbance in Ballymurphy, when a gun was found and a gang of men beat up another man, why did Members not hear republican leaders in that community calling for the police to come in and, in turn, supporting the investigation? Sinn Féin has a considerable distance to travel in all of this.

Sinn Féin knows that its ideology is in serious trouble as a result of its having to support the rule of law, the police and the Royal Courts of Justice if it wants to get into the Government. There is not going to be a united Ireland. That pipe dream is over, and it should have dawned on Sinn Féin by now. It can sign up to whatever aspiration it wants to, but there is not going to be a republican united Ireland. The Union, according to recent polls, is not only stronger, but unionist confidence is stronger in the Union than it has been for several decades.

If Sinn Féin wants to get into a Government in Northern Ireland, it must sign up to the same principles as every other political party and accept the rule of law, the courts here and the police. If it wants into the Government it must support the rule of British law. What republican can say that he wants to support the rule of British law? Republicanism will only be honoured as an academic proposition at that time. It cannot be honoured as a real aspiration if it is signed up to British law. Perhaps the penny is starting to drop with republicans that with this project and strategy that they keep talking about — if pursued to its logical end, and they accept democracy, the rule of law, the courts and the police — they are the accepting the rule of the Crown in Ireland. That is what it means to Sinn Féin. The sooner Sinn Féin swallows its pride and accepts that, the easier it will be for us all. Sinn Féin lost the debate; it lost the big vote and the argument; and republicanism is therefore finished. The sooner that republicans face up to that, the better.

Alban Maginness made some telling comments in his earlier contribution. He said that today’s time would be better spent dealing with the issues of the present as opposed to hashing over the issues of the past. Most people today are astounded that we are not discussing water rates, the review of public admin-istration (RPA) — we will discuss that tomorrow — or Sir George Bain’s recently published report on the future of our education services. Those are the issues that affect us on a daily basis, and there is a demand from the public for their politicians to actively engage in those matters that prevent job losses, to see our country flourish, to have the economic package delivered and to have their problems addressed. It is a scandal that Members are dealing with an issue that has become a farce today. The Secretary of State was wrong to interfere in the way that he did, and my party supports the calls on that. That is an issue that we need to get to grips with, and the sooner the better.

I understand that Sinn Féin is upset and concerned that people still call it IRA/Sinn Féin or Sinn Féin/IRA. If Sinn Féin is going to move and put the IRA behind it, making it a thing of the past, then of course the DUP understands that it is embarrassing for it to be linked with that organisation.

2.45 pm

How many of those present in the Chamber today also sit on another secret organisation — the army council of the IRA? Those who do not like the Secretary of State’s interference in the Chamber should think about how everyone on this side of the House feels when the secret hand of the IRA army council extends into the Chamber and directs the activities, actions and statements of certain Members. Sinn Féin can cry all it wants about the Secretary of State being about. People must wake up to the fact that he is here because Sinn Féin has failed all the people of Northern Ireland by ensuring that democracy cannot run its course, and by standing in the way of democracy for decades.

Mr Nesbitt: I support the motion. I will be as precise as I can in talking to the motion that Members deplore the action of the Secretary of State on 24 November. One has to go back to a day or two before that to discover the genesis of the problem that arose on 24 November. In the House of Commons on 21 November, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party asked where the date of 24 November for nominations had come from. I recall that the leader of the SDLP replied that it came:

“from paragraph 10 of the St Andrews Agreement.”

The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party responded that he would not bow his neck to any “wee bit of white paper” drawn up by the United Kingdom and Irish Governments. The Secretary of State then supported the leader of the SDLP when he confirmed that the rationale behind nominations on 24 November came from paragraph 10 of the St Andrews Agreement, which stated that:

“the Assembly will meet to nominate the First and Deputy First Minister on 24 November.”

The Secretary of State added that paragraph 10 referred not only to nominations on 24 November 2006 but to devolution on 26 March 2007. Therefore, he clearly set out the rationale behind the debate on Friday 24 November. He omitted to mention something to which you, Madam Speaker, referred when the Assembly met on Friday morning. You reminded Members, and that is why I raised the point of order, that the Assembly was to act:

“in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement.”[Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p1, col 1].

That means that the Transitional Assembly must comply with the directions of that agreement.

Therefore, regardless of whether the leader of the DUP considers that agreement to be a “wee bit of white paper”, the law contained in the Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 clearly states in section 1 that it was to act in accordance with the St Andrews Agreement. Had the Assembly acted according to the Act, without interference, there would have been nominations, because the Act also states that the Assembly must “meet on 24 November”. Anyone who was making a judgment on that Act would be clear about what was meant to happen. However, the Secretary of State did interfere, as he had the legal right to do so. Under schedule 1, the Secretary of State could direct the Assembly in any way he “thinks fit”. Indeed, it states that the Assembly must act:

“in accordance with directions determined by the Secretary of State.”

The deplorable aspect of what has happened is that the Secretary of State, in giving his direction, was not acting in accord with the St Andrews Agreement, but in discord with it. He turned it around, and that is what caused the farcical situation to which Members have referred, and the public are aware of that too. It is abundantly clear what caused the problem.

What is the outcome of this farcical position? The party to my left is unusually shy at the moment. It does not like the words “indicate”, “nominate” or “designate”, and it is reticent about using certain words. I am not concerned so much about the words that were used — it is substance rather than the form of words that is important. Mr McCrea is absent now but he was present earlier, when he was trying to chide the Ulster Unionist Party by saying that our leader said one thing and our chief negotiator, Alan McFarland, said another. That was not the case. Each was complementing what the other was saying.

The Secretary of State said that 24 November was the day for decision. That morning we did not have the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party indicating to nominate, designate, or do anything — and I hear agreement from one of the 12 apostles, or whatever description anyone wishes to give those who issued that statement. That afternoon, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party issued a statement, and he made it very clear that, in the event of certain conditions being fulfilled, he would accept the position of First Minister. There was a “commitment” — I will use that word — from the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party that afternoon, and that is what Mr McFarland was referring to.

The Secretary of State allowed that shambles to unfold. It is clear that we now have a person who will become First Minister for Northern Ireland in due course, subject to the conditions of the Pledge of Office being adhered to. That afternoon, he added that it was also subject to the wishes of the electorate. The Northern Ireland Act 2006 makes it clear that it is the largest party that will nominate the First Minister, not the largest party within the largest designation. At this moment the DUP is the largest party — it may or may not remain so.

Let us be in no doubt about why the Secretary of State intervened. The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party has been clearly identified as being set apart from his peers — he has a different standing. In any definition of the word “designation” he has been designated. To use the word as a verb, he has been designated. Indeed, the fact that he will not take up the position until March 2007 at the earliest means the word could also be used as an adjective.

The law says that the title “First Minister designate” does not come into being until immediately before designation to the actual office on 26 March 2007. Whether or not one is given a title, in substance we have a designated First Minister, a First Minister-in-waiting. The position of the Ulster Unionist Party is not one of contradiction, and it is a pity that Mr McCrea is not here. My party leader and Mr McFarland complemented one another in what they said.

Another little aspect of the Secretary of State’s deplorable intervention in the workings of the Assembly is that he has allowed people to use weasel words over what happened last Friday. The Democratic Unionist Party rightly refers to its executive motion of 9 November, which it says it will adhere to. The motion stated very clearly that the party was not required to commit to any aspect of power sharing.

Those words were chosen carefully. It was not required to commit to any aspect of power sharing in advance of devolution or in advance of the policing issue being dealt with. However, “not required” does not mean that it will not happen, because the DUP did commit. It was not required to, but it did. A few days ago, I noted in ‘An Phoblacht’ that the president of Sinn Féin congratulated Mr Paisley on his commitment — there is that word again — to become First Minister, and he welcomed that commitment.

What I find most deplorable is that politics through-out the United Kingdom and further afield is held in low repute. Men and women, and perhaps even Members of the Assembly, feel that politics in Northern Ireland is in lower repute. For many months, the Secretary of State stated that the law would be upheld, that it was devolution or dissolution, and that we must make up our minds. He also said that he could not vary from the law and that nominations would have to happen. They did not.

The Secretary of State should not make the situation even more embarrassing and even more farcical by repeating those statements. He should not do it because he is wrong. The Secretary of State showed by what he did on 24 November that no date in law is sacrosanct, because he has the power, under schedule 1, to give any direction to the Assembly — even a direction to overturn a date. We also know that case law and judicial review would support his position.

I deplore the Secretary of State’s actions on Friday 24 November 2006, and he should cease forthwith from saying that the law will be upheld and that there must be devolution or dissolution, because he is wrong. He proved that last week; he proved the farce. Therefore, please, Secretary of State, do not continue with the farce.

Dr Farren: I suppose that it could have been predicted that, at a time when our thoughts and plans should have been focused on our future, today’s debate — the first full debate in our transitional format — would find us once again back in the blame game. That is what the motion, and its amendment, has invited us to engage in, with unionists attempting to out-unionist unionists, and Sinn Féin feeling that it has to assert its so-called republican credentials.

Remarks from Members only underline why inter-ventions by successive Secretaries of State in the proceedings of this, and former, Assemblies have been inevitable — even to the point of suspension. How-ever, the main responsibility for our suspension lies not with Secretaries of State but with ourselves, and we are fools to ignore that reality.

I have always regretted that any Secretary of State over the past eight years has had to make such interventions. Indeed, some time ago, the SDLP put forward coherent proposals that would have obviated the need for suspension to have persisted for so long. Nonetheless, Madam Speaker, we are where we are.

If we are to move forward, and if this Assembly is to be the locus for the hopes and aspirations of those whom we claim to represent, we must end the blame game.

3.00 pm

We must take responsibility for our own affairs, and by our taking that responsibility, render impossible further interventions, let alone suspensions, by Secretaries of State. Madam Speaker, if we persist in not doing so — if we do not act responsibly and begin to address urgently the critical and practical matters that face our society — the Assembly is in greater danger than ever of becoming an irrelevance. Indeed, the events of 24 November in the Chamber were saved from becoming a major tragicomedy only by the real tragicomedy that transpired outside its doors.

What message does that give our society about the critical matters of economic development, reform of public services, education, and so on? A major report was published today on the future structure of education. We have had no opportunity to express our views on that report, when people would expect us to do so, because of the motion and amendment that are before us for debate. What message does that send about concerns over health, infrastructure and all the other practical matters that people sent us to the Assembly to deal with, if all that we engage in is a blame game, in which the object is to quote and misquote one another, as though the Assembly were a university debating room rather than a place where matters of serious concern to the electorate should be debated? What message is sent out if we try collectively to blame the Secretary of State for the mess that we are in, and, for good measure, every other Secretary of State, Governor General, Lord Lieutenant and King’s Deputy back to Henry II?

We have been treated to historical treatise. One, from the leader of Sinn Féin, was about 1798, the proclamation of 1916, and all that was promised therein. The establishment of the Society of United Irishmen was based on the vision of uniting Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter under the common name of Irishman. The 1916 proclamation promised to treat:

“all the children of the nation equally”.

It is a bit rich, however, to hear that vision repeated without any apology from the leader of a party that has supported the murder and maiming of the very people whom the United Irishmen set out to unite. I can hardly imagine that those men who gathered on Cave Hill would have condoned in any way the IRA’s campaign of violence, which was perpetrated in the name of the very vision that the United Irishmen had fashioned in Belfast 200 years previously.

Indeed, it is of little value to quote noble and high-minded vision statements such as those of 1798, 1916, and other eras, if those statements are to be belied by such campaigns. Madam Speaker, I wonder how the many represent-atives of the groups in the business, trades union and community sectors, which all devoted many hours and considerable effort to preparing detailed memoranda on how we might plan our economic future, and which attended meetings of the Committee on the Preparation for Government, will react when they hear of today’s proceedings. Many among them must be questioning the time and effort that they gave us during all those months.

I also wonder what the reaction of many of the electorate will be. I have recently been canvassing for a local by-election. On the doorsteps, people are saying that is not that they do not want devolution to return — most of them do, however much they may be sceptical about the prospects of its return. More than anything, however, they want to know whether parties will provide themselves with the opportunity to work openly and honestly with one another, for the greater good of all and will do so on the basis of equality, respect and adherence to the rule of law.

It is stating the obvious to say that we have to work together to overcome our divisions. Most people accept that reality. They recognise that we cannot forget the past, nor can we overlook the hurt caused by all sides in that past. They recognise that we must begin working together to start the healing process as best we possibly can and to commit ourselves to working for the social and economic betterment of all our people.

The people on the doorsteps are ahead of the politicians, but the future that they want will be built only on an honest acceptance of the commitments set out in the Good Friday Agreement, and, more recently, in the St Andrews Agreement. Those commitments must be honestly accepted as essential conditions for the return of devolution; full acceptance of the responsibilities under the new policing arrangements; and a full and open acceptance of responsibility to work the partnership arrangements that are set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

Simply indulging in a blame game, whether blaming the Secretary of State or one another, will not help us to advance towards that prospect or to realise those commitments. I trust that after today’s debate we will begin to address more seriously the practical issues that people here want us to address effectively, with vision and creativity, on their behalf.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)

Mr Weir: I rise at this late hour of the debate with mixed emotions. It is right that we should have the opportunity to debate the interference of the Secretary of State, but, as a previous Member mentioned, there is a range of more pressing issues to be addressed. It was therefore disappointing that my party’s amendment did not get chosen, because it would have provided an opportunity to debate issues such as water charges, the rating system, academic selection and the review of public administration. I am glad to say, however, that we will have a debate on the review of public administration.

I note, with a slight degree of disappointment, that Dr Farren is due to retire at the end of this session. I have also heard rumours that the hon Member for South Down Mr Nesbitt will not be standing for election in the Assembly again. I do not know whether those rumours are true. If they are, I urge him to reconsider, because this House obviously wants to hear more of the exciting analysis that he often gives us. The House would be a lot poorer if he were not here to give that analysis. I do not know whether there is any truth in that rumour, but I hope that Mr Nesbitt will at least seek election to this Chamber, even if he is not necessarily returned to it.

Dr Farren: Is the Member pleased to see me go?

Mr Weir: I have seen the sterling work that the Member has done. The difference that I make is that the Member has publicly announced that he will not be standing in the next Assembly election, whereas, at this stage, the suggestion that the hon Member for South Down will not stand again appears to be only a rumour, and perhaps a completely false one. Perhaps it is news to him — I have obviously been talking to some of his colleagues in South Down.

I also had mixed emotions when I saw Sir Reg Empey’s motion on the Order Paper complaining about the Secretary of State’s interference in the workings of the Assembly. My first thought was that he was having a laugh. It may be very noble of the hon Member to criticise the Secretary of State for his interference, but he has developed selective amnesia about his role, and his party’s role, in the work of the previous Assembly and about the interference of previous Secretaries of State.

Am I alone in remembering Séamus Mallon announcing his resignation as Deputy First Minister in this Chamber in 1999? Indeed, it was so clear a resignation that I understand that he had to make his own way home that day — his ministerial car had been withdrawn. Use of his fax machine was withdrawn as well, and he no longer had access to his office. A few months later, however, there was interference from the then Secretary of State, and a resignation that had been as plain as the nose on anyone’s face suddenly became an “unresignation”. I did not hear a great deal of complaint about that from the party that tabled today’s motion.

We then had a situation —

Mr Kennedy: Was the Member still in that party then?

Mr Weir: I made my position on the matter very clear at the time.

Mr Paisley Jnr: Unlike Mr Kennedy.

Mr Weir: Yes.

In 2001, the Assembly’s integrity, which appears now to be sacrosanct to the Ulster Unionist Party, was interfered with again when we went through the pantomime farce of Members from the Alliance Party and the Women’s Coalition becoming Unionists for the day simply to overcome the obstacle of a majority of the unionist community not being prepared to elect a First Minister. On that occasion, the Ulster Unionist Party seemed to care little about the integrity of the Assembly. Indeed, the party’s then leader was perfectly happy to benefit from the Assembly’s lack of integrity.

There was supposed to be an Assembly election in the summer of 2003, but the then Secretary of State interfered to try to put off that election, in what was called the “save Dave” campaign. Unfortunately for the Ulster Unionist Party, that was simply putting off the inevitable. The Secretary of State and the Govern-ment have now passed the stage at which it was pointless to try to rescue the Ulster Unionist Party. A “rescue Reggie” plan is no longer on the agenda.

Although it is perfectly valid to criticise the Secretary of State for his interference on 24 November, it rankles when that criticism comes from UUP members who have been perfectly happy to accept interference in the political process by previous Secretaries of State. If Members wish to take the high moral ground, they should at least try to ensure that they are not serial offenders before doing so.

It must be said, however —

Mr Kennedy: That is rich coming from you. [Laughter.]

Mr Weir: I would like more crimes to be taken into consideration.

Whatever criticism I may have —

Dr Birnie: Does the Member concede that the interference that undoubtedly occurred on 24 November benefited his party? He appears to be arguing that past interference benefited my party, so, logically, is he saying that the same is true in his case?

Mr Weir: I am making the point — not for the first time — that the Member’s party has shown a degree of hypocrisy. I have not argued that interference has been to the benefit of my party. The Member has difficulty with either listening or logical thought. Given his support for the Belfast Agreement down the years, perhaps logical thought is not one of the Member’s fortes.

Whatever criticism I make of the UUP’s level of hypocrisy, its hands are pristine compared with those of Sinn Féin. On behalf of the rest of the Democratic Unionist Party, I echo the Member for North Antrim Mr Paisley Jnr by utterly repudiating the disgraceful attack on the integrity of the RUC that took place in the Chamber earlier. Those men and women who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary provided us with peace for many years. Many of us were able to sleep safely in our beds because of them, and for the RUC’s name to be dragged through the dirt by the Member who spoke earlier is utterly reprehensible.

In looking at the current situation, I am slightly bemused that a Sinn Féin Member has suddenly started quoting Gandhi as a great reference. Yes, his remarks about British democracy are well known, but the central tenet of Gandhi’s life was non-violence. If Sinn Féin had truly followed Gandhi’s teachings over the past 35 years, many people who are unfortunately lying in their graves would be alive today. I will not listen to Sinn Féin’s hypocrisy on that issue.

I will not listen to that party’s whiter-than-white complaining about the Secretary of State because, time and time again, it has gone running to the Secretary of State to alter the process to benefit itself.

3.15 pm

Complaints were made earlier about the fact that we are four years into suspension, something that I am sure many of us regret. However, only one party has been to blame for that suspension: the party opposite. Its failure to support policing and the rule of law, its connection with terrorist structures and its continued paramilitarism and criminality have been the blocks that have prevented us from moving from debating the Secretary of State’s interference to tackling issues of real meat and substance. The party opposite brought down the Assembly in 2002, and it is that party that prevents its restoration today.

The change that must take place in the party opposite is not simply a matter of words; it is about key tests on the rule of law, democracy and policing. For example, will the party opposite urge people to give information to the police about the recent dreadful incident in south Armagh? That is one of the key tests. Will that party encourage young nationalists and republicans to join the police? Will its members give evidence and inform the police when incidents happen in their areas?

There is a range of tests; it is not simply a question of supporting structures or making a statement. What that party does in practice is the relevant test for this party. Until that is resolved, the Secretary of State will have the opportunity to intervene, and that is something that we should all deplore. However, the solution lies in the hands of the party opposite. If that party wants to move this process forward, it knows precisely what it must do.

It is right that we should send a clear signal today, albeit one that is limited by the terms of the motion, which does not go far enough in considering the wider issues. We are happy to say that the Secretary of State should not intervene; we should have some degree of control over our own destiny. The Assembly should set its own agenda, but we should, at least, do so on the basis of a consistent position and not lapse into the hypocrisy of either the proposer of the motion or the party opposite.

Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I speak as much to have a right of reply, a Cheann Comhairle, as to endorse our party’s amendment to the motion.

The Member for Mid Ulster who sits on the opposite Benches said earlier that I was smirking at his comments about victims and the disappeared. I wish to place on record that nothing could be further from the truth. I have relatives who are victims. My constituency includes the towns of Lurgan, Portadown and Banbridge, which know only too well what violence can do to a community. Indeed, that Member, who is not present in the Chamber, associated with the mass murderer Billy Wright, who caused many deaths in my constituency.

In relation to the allegations of smirking, I wish to put it on record that nothing could be further from the truth. The most parliamentary language that I can use to describe the Member’s comments is that they were inappropriate and far from the truth.

Mr Hussey: Considering the historical issues that have been mentioned today and the fact that my father was a Welshman, perhaps I should complain about the Roman invasion of Britain. We are the ancient Britons; we were driven westwards. Similarly, the fact that my mother’s family is from Ballybay perhaps means that the invasion of the neighbouring area of Clontibret should also be on my lips. However, I digress, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I apologise for doing so.

Dr Farren and Peter Weir mentioned many of the issues that we could, and should, debate. Those Members who sat in the previous Assembly will be aware of the issue that I had in relation to Sinn Féin representation in the Chamber and that party’s claim that its Members were democrats because of their electoral mandate. I could not accept it then, and I do not accept it now.

I accept that the party has an electoral mandate, but I maintain that the democratic mandate has to be attained by Sinn Féin. Its Members can, by their actions, attain that democratic mandate, and I hope that eventually they do so. That would allow them to move forward and deal with the democratic issues that the other parties in this Chamber are trying to deal with.

I support the motion. The Secretary of State, through his actions to date in the political process, has displayed a total lack of credibility. The process is a shambles, and it is little wonder that the general public has lost faith in politics. Here we have a Transitional Assembly that will last until the end of January. It is not really an Assembly at all, but something created by the Secretary of State essentially as a sop, perhaps to hobble Members and prevent us from making proper decisions. I have some sympathy with Mr McCartney’s view that the entire situation is a puppet show, although those might not be the words that I would have used. However, it is certainly a shambles and a fiasco.

I wonder about the Secretary of State’s motivation for his actions. Iraq has become something of a quagmire, the sharks are circling over cash for honours, and the Prime Minister is trying desperately to have one positive chapter in the account of his soon-to-be-over premiership. In anticipation of life after the current Prime Minister, several candidates, including our own Secretary of State, have thrown their hats into the ring for the job of second in command of the Labour Party. In this more crowded race, it will be tough going. Others are already out of the blocks, grabbing headlines with comments on many issues, including, for example, the wearing of veils. Therefore there is great expectation that Northern Ireland will cross the line for the sake of the Prime Minister’s legacy and the Secretary of State’s ambitions.

I will choose my words carefully in what I say next: I firmly believe that we have witnessed the prostitution of our political process at the behest of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State has overstepped the mark in his efforts to move the process on. I too want devolved Government for our people, and I want to be allowed to get on with the job that I was elected to do three years ago. However, the manner in which the Secretary of State behaved on Friday 24 November was an insult to the Speaker of this House. It was also an insult to the Members of this Assembly, and, more importantly, it was an insult to the electorate of Northern Ireland. There is nothing wrong with wanting to trade Hillsborough for Dorneywood, but the Secretary of State’s recent intervention displayed equal measures of arrogance and desperation, damaging his own credibility and that of the political process with one pre-prepared response.

There is no doubt that this gung-ho attitude would not be tolerated in Wales. His calculated guess that, as a means to an end, this riding roughshod over the political process here would go unnoticed in Westminster might have paid off had it not been for the continuing disastrous saga in this Province. I suppose that we owe the Secretary of State a debt of gratitude for re-igniting interest in Northern Ireland within the corridors of power, where, after years of an exasperatingly slow process, debate had moved on to the war on terror, climate change and John Prescott.

It is little wonder that there has been a huge drop in the number of people on our electoral register. As apathy increases and the more moderate voters stay at home, the fate of us all is being decided by an increasingly polarised group. The will and momentum to finally get devolved institutions up and running is fast evaporating and could soon be out of our grasp.

(Madam Speaker in the Chair)

If there is not a proper Assembly, should we not at least have a Speaker and a Business Committee who can make decisions without the intervention of the Secretary of State? One would think so, but the Speaker was appointed by the Secretary of State to do his bidding. It was embarrassing to sit in the Chamber on Friday 24 November when a prepared response supplied by the Northern Ireland Office was read out. It was so out of sync with what was said that proceedings became farcical.

Those examples point up the lack of credibility of the Secretary of State and his political master, the Prime Minister. They are so desperate to save the downward spiral of their political careers that they will stop at nothing to keep the process train on track: they will even reduce the integrity of the institutions that they helped to create.

Deadline after deadline — each apparently immoveable — has passed and been fudged. Each fudge is worse than the one before. That does nothing but add more and more concessions in the vacuum before issues can be resolved.

That blatantly opportunistic and farcical approach to politics turns the public off and taints the entire political class in Northern Ireland. It should stop immediately. If the public are to have any faith in politics, the bare minimum that they should expect from the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister is a modicum of integrity and consistency. Sadly, that currently seems too much to ask for.

I do not wish to diminish the seriousness of the event that occurred in the Great Hall on 24 November, but it is hard to know who caused the bigger disruption that day. Was it Michael Stone with his improvised devices, or the Secretary of State with an improvised Assembly? The farcical scenes — in the Chamber, not in the foyer — on 24 November were, I suppose, appropriate as we move into the panto season. I ask the Secretary of State where his political career is. Is it behind him?

Ms Ritchie: Today we have been subjected to a debate consisting of a diet of historical references going back centuries and, of course, many theological references. Sinn Féin and the DUP have been trying to justify their own positions. There have been contributions dealing with historical, competitive grievances, but none of them moves us forward politically or benefits the community in the North of Ireland. Those speeches do not provide for economic growth, put bread on the table, or speed up waiting lists for the elderly ladies in our constituencies who require hip operations.

However, lest any of us be in any doubt, Members have been set a challenge to achieve political accommodation. We should set about doing that rather than indulging in our grievances and our past. Members must move forward if we are to bring about change and a better way of life for the people whom we represent.

To achieve a political accommodation, there must be full subscription to power sharing by the DUP, and Sinn Féin must totally and absolutely sign up to all policing structures, encourage young people to join the PSNI and encourage people to give information to the police on issues of criminality, so that those responsible can be apprehended.

The urgent restoration of the political institutions is required so that we have political and economic stability, growth, investment in our infrastructure, and to engender hope in our community. My colleague Seán Farren, the Member for North Antrim, said that when canvassing in the past few days, he found that people are looking for that hope and crying with desperation. We have the opportunity to give them that hope.

There is no doubt that the Secretary of State and the British Government have deliberately engineered this process to show themselves in a good light. They have set up the deadlines, threatened parties if such deadlines are not met, and defaulted on and violated their own deadlines when the answers provided were not adequate, or when two parties did not live up to their commitments.

3.30 pm

The process has been characterised by the boy who cried wolf too often, namely the Secretary of State, and by the procrastination and obduracy of two parties that have failed to provide us with political hope, progress and stability and with that political accommodation which they could make. The communities are crying out for hope, stability, justice, equality and, above all, for a better future for their children and generations to come.

Earlier, Members referred to victims. There is no doubt that the needs of victims must be addressed, but it must be done in the hope of a promising future and in the knowledge that victims’ aspirations can be fully recognised. The public sees political parties anxious to negotiate for themselves, parties that are selfish and refusing to think of the requirements of the wider community. It sees parties more interested in their standing in the opinion polls or in how they can outwit each other. What happened to the principles, enunciated in the Good Friday Agreement, of partnership, of working together and of trying to resolve the problems for the betterment of the people the parties represent?

What is the position of Members on water charges, rates, the Review of Public Administration (RPA), tourism, infrastructure and the need to address waiting lists? I have statistics on what is required for reinvest-ment in the tourism infrastructure. Over the next five years, tourism will require £150 million to be spent on capital infrastructure; £25 million on marketing, servicing and events; and a further £25 million on the acquisition of skills and competitiveness. That can be achieved only if Members are serious about providing that political hope, if they can demonstrate that they can go that extra mile, instead of indulging in the past.

Members must not forget that they live on a small island and that perhaps the world has grown tired of us. If we want to be taken seriously, the final bold steps must be taken. Sinn Féin must sign up to policing and the DUP to power sharing. Members must provide certainty for the people; they must provide hope. That is what is now required.

Madam Speaker: Would the Member please keep to the motion?

Ms Ritchie: I will, Madam Speaker, though I have heard many speeches today that outline all the various principles to which I have referred.

Madam Speaker: I have reminded all those Members of the necessity of speaking to the motion.

Ms Ritchie: I am about to finish. Of the motions before us, neither the principal motion nor the amendment affords people hope or stability. Members must move forward. The real question for the Assembly is whether we are ready to create that new political dispensation, to move from the past to the future, and whether the two parties that are causing the present difficulties are ready to trigger the mechanisms to provide the new future that the people require.

Mr McElduff: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don leasú atá curtha síos ag uachtarán Shinn Féin, Gearóid Adams.

I speak in support of the amendment proposed by my party leader, Gerry Adams, which deplores the interference of the British Secretary of State in the proceedings of the Assembly. It is interesting that the word “intervention” is used by the DUP while the word “interference” is used by the UUP. It is as though the DUP is keener to hold the hand of the British Secretary of State than the UUP. The DUP perceives gentle “interventions” from Peter Hain; whereas, in Reg Empey’s analysis, his actions amount to “interference”.

The British Government have interfered not just in the Assembly itself, but throughout the structures and processes established by the Good Friday Agreement. My colleague Caitríona Ruane dealt adequately with the constant undermining of equality commitments and how the appointment of the Interim Commissioner for Victims and Survivors was mishandled.

The history of British interference and its negative impact on our country is already well detailed and chronicled in history books and has been here today. The outcome of the 1918 elections did not suit the British Government, so they partitioned the country. More recently, when Bobby Sands MP was elected in 1981, the rules on who could or could not contest elections had to be changed — moving the goalposts. More recently, this Assembly and the political institutions have been suspended consistently against the will of the Irish people.

When it comes to Ireland, British Secretaries of State really have not got a clue. They do not under-stand Ireland. Which one of them was recorded in the House of Commons Hansard as saying there would be a meeting in a “tea shop” in Dublin, when it should have been a meeting with the “Taoiseach” in Dublin?

Dr Birnie: I thank the hon Member for giving way. He mentioned the 1918 election. Is he aware that in terms of the number of votes cast, his party, Sinn Féin, did not get more than 50% of the votes in that election. It certainly got a majority of the seats on the island; that was to do with the voting system, but the party had less than 50% of the vote.

Mr McElduff: I thank the Member for the information. It is rich coming from a party in electoral decline, but we will not go into that.

There is a great phrase used in Civil Service circles, which is “duty Minister for the weekend”. Did you ever hear anything like it? British direct rule Ministers take it in sequence to be the duty Minister for the weekend. The first time that I heard that phrase was under the stewardship of Malcolm Moss. Everybody knows that when Patrick Mayhew was first dispatched to the North of Ireland, the NIO civil servants showed him a map. He was very perceptive and intelligent, because he looked at the map and said: “I presume these areas marked green are where the nationalist tradition tends to live?” The civil servants replied: “That’s right, Minister.” “And these areas marked orange, I presume, are where the unionist tradition tends to live?” Again, the civil servants told him that he was correct. “What’s this blue bit in the middle?” said Mayhew. “That’s Lough Neagh”, replied the civil servants. That was Patrick Mayhew’s introduction to the North of Ireland.

Of course, Peter Hain is not elected to any institution in Ireland, and it is regrettable to see that the DUP in particular wants to hold on to Peter Hain’s hand in the time ahead, instead of exhibiting confidence and taking the reins of power itself. There is no doubt that people are counting the cost of British direct rule and have cited the issues: lack of inward investment; poor quality of water and roads infrastructure; education and health cuts; the prospect of water charges and rates increases; and planning policy statement (PPS) 14, spelling the death knell of many rural communities where there is a real housing crisis.

The DUP is not willing to seize the reins of power. I call on all locally elected representatives to seize control of our destiny, to let go of Peter Hain and walk for ourselves, to map out our own future and to remove the umbilical cord. It is obvious to me that the DUP is far happier with unaccountable civil servants running the show rather than seizing the reins of power itself.

The bona fides of the DUP with regard to power sharing generally has to be questioned. Its track record in local government west of the Bann, and not least in Castlereagh and Ballymena, make it clear that the DUP has no interest in sharing power with anybody. Contrast that with the d’Hondt mechanism and principles, which are applied universally west of the Bann, where nationalists tend to have the more significant electoral clout.

There is value in North/South co-operation, all-Ireland harmonisation and all-Ireland integration in the time ahead. In respect of health planning, for example, let us avoid back-to-back planning along the border, duplication and waste of spending. Let us maximise scarce resources.

Those are matters for the Programme for Government Committee.

Madam Speaker: Draw your remarks to a close; you are not keeping to the subject of the motion.

Mr McElduff: Are my remarks time-limited? I will move to a conclusion now, Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, and I thank you for your guidance.

Ian Óg appears fixated about a united Ireland — he doth protest too much when he talks non-stop about a united Ireland. Sinn Féin will continue to campaign peacefully, politically and democratically for a united Ireland and is determined and confident that it will be achieved.

On 24 November, Martin McGuinness clearly stated that he was happy to carry out his “responsibilities and duties conscientiously” [Official Report, Bound Volume 21, p3, col 2].

The DUP was considerably less clear, but I hope that in the weeks ahead the DUP will engage wholeheartedly in the Programme for Government Committee and in the subgroups, which are doing very important work.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.

Mr Kennedy: It has been an interesting, historic and sometimes hysterical day.I say “historic” for several reasons. This morning, there was drama when Dr Paisley made a direct appeal to the leader of Sinn Féin, Gerry Adams, to join the Policing Board — that was negotiation, I suppose, by insult. Nevertheless, many in the media will see that as progress. Be careful what you ask for, because sometimes you might get it.

The most historic aspect of this afternoon’s part of the debate was the silent and seamless handover of the Speaker’s Chair by Madam Speaker to the Deputy Speaker Mr Molloy. To the best of my knowledge — and I stand to be corrected — that was the first time that a Sinn Féin Member has presided over a debate in the Chamber. That was an interesting moment, and Mr Molloy took the Chair without any objection from the DUP or anyone else in the Chamber. Today, out of small beginnings, limited progress has been made.

The UUP wanted to have today’s debate in order to highlight the deficient manner in which the Assembly is forced to do business. A range of political matters has been mentioned today: 1798 was probably the earliest date mentioned, although another Member attempted to go back as far as Henry II. Irrespective of those, however, it is important to recognise that the Assembly lacks the credibility that comes with being in charge of its own affairs. It appears to be very much subject to the whim of the Secretary of State, Peter Hain. Members will do well to remember that Peter Hain dined out on speeches that threatened ill against Assembly Members and their staff. He said that they would all be thrown out of work and become unemployed. He worried my wife and alarmed my children.

Such was the venom from the Secretary of State that people began to wonder if I would have to get a proper job. Yet, on 24 November, for reasons of political expediency, the Secretary of State produced a fudge.

Sinn Féin’s leader, Gerry Adams, lectured the Assembly on Templepatrick. It is an interesting place and in recent days has become important. It will be no less so tonight when, as I confess to the House, I am due to address the Ulster Unionist Party there.

A Member: In a telephone box?

3.45 pm

Mr Kennedy: No, the telephone kiosk was busy — I will not have jokes like that. My suspicion is that none of the people who will attend the meeting tonight will be interested in the historical interpretation placed on events there by Gerry Adams. Mr Adams reminded me of what the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said around 1840 about someone of whom he was presumably very suspicious:

“The louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons.”

Therefore, we will count our spoons when we listen to Mr Adams.

We then had Dr Paisley’s contribution and the plea to Sinn Féin to do something on policing. It remains to be seen if that is the continuation of what might be described as a courtship dance. However, only time will tell.

Alban Maginness gave us a different form of history, although, to be fair, he did place on record timely reminders to Sinn Féin of its immediate past history. One point that he raised with due regard was that people have lost faith in politics and in the political process.

We then had the inevitable lecture from David Ford, the leader of the Alliance Party. He is no longer in his place. The Ulster Unionist Party did not formally support the St Andrews Agreement. It is not our document. The political fingerprints on it have nothing whatever to do with the Ulster Unionist Party. However, other parties, such as the DUP and Sinn Féin, appear to be very interested in its outcome and in its practical outworking.

Lord Morrow engaged, to an extent, directly with Sinn Féin across the Chamber. As a weather predictor, he is the champion of the Assembly, and we will be looking out for more weather predictions. We will see if Mr Morrow can be as accurate in the future as he apparently has been in the past.

Michelle Gildernew retreated through 800 years of misery. She mentioned the potato famine, 1916, and said that everybody was to blame — particularly Peter Hain — and that we are all very ungrateful. That is basically a precis of her contribution.

However, Alan McFarland asked important questions. [Laughter.]

It is all written down. I know what all the Members said because I wrote it down. Alan McFarland asked significant questions about the behaviour of individuals, political parties and Government, none of which have been addressed in the debate. One hopes, for the long-suffering taxpayer at least — if not for other Members of the House — that honest answers will be provided.

Alex Attwood heavily criticised the Secretary of State, but then indicated that he would not follow through on those criticisms by voting for the motion. I do not know if Members understood that logic. Frankly, I did not — so I will leave it there. [Laughter.]

Mr Robert McCartney drew attention to the fact that the Speaker had had to read from a large-print document that was either “Janet and John” or “Dick and Dora”, but, nevertheless, it happened. He again posed questions about the choreography, and sequence, of events. I must reiterate that those are questions that deserve answers.

We then heard an impassioned speech, as usual, from Dr McCrea — I am not sure whether he is in his place — but we certainly did not get much clarity from him. Instead, many allegations were made against various people. It appears that Dr McCrea is pessimistic about early progress being made. [Laughter.] I was able to decipher that in the middle of his contribution. We then quickly suspended and tried to digest his words over lunch.

We returned to the Chamber to hear a contribution from Conor Murphy. We received a more up-to-date history lesson but, again, it was not a happy affair: it was all about wrongs that had been done on Conor and his community. It was rather tired and very predictable. However, he was quite responsive to the earlier pleas of Dr Paisley. It reminded me of the last few words of an old hymn:

“We know one gate is open, one ear will hear our prayer.”

It will be interesting to see whose prayer will be heard. To an extent, the courtship dance continued. However, it appears to be more of a minuet than a waltz.

Mr Nelson McCausland then complained bitterly. Members will know what a sad life I have led, and what a particularly sad morning I have spent listening to you lot and writing it all down. [Laughter.]Copies of my speech will be available for Hansard later. Mr McCausland berated the Irish language in particular and called for what he described as “an Irish language audit”. He wanted to know how much money would be required, et cetera. It would have been all very well for him to do so, had it not been for the fact that his party, during the negotiations at St Andrews, made provisions for an Irish language Act, which will undoubtedly provide for measures of the Irish language which, quite frankly — [Interruption.]

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

Mr Kennedy: No, I am sorry. The Member had his chance. If a Member’s name is not written down on my list, he or she does not qualify. The Member’s name was not on my list.

The St Andrews Agreement clearly outlines plans for an Irish language Act that will have a considerable impact — not least a cost impact on the provision for the Irish language.

We then heard from Caitríona Ruane, who, in her maiden speech, was very unmaidenly and was quite aggressive. She started her speech by quoting Gandhi; I was not sure whether it was Goosey Goosey or Mahatma. However, it was stirring stuff. She talked about the artificial border, discrimination, famine, poverty, inequality and injustice — this from a person who lives in Carlingford, but drags herself up to Northern Ireland to indulge in all those things. [Laughter.] She wants to come to Northern Ireland so that she can be discriminated against, enjoy poverty and endure injustice and inequality. Welcome to Northern Ireland. [Laughter.]

Ms Ruane also said that, deep in her heart, burned a desire for a united Ireland. It reminded me of the dead parrot sketch from Monty Python: the parrot is dead; it is lifeless; it is completely dead; it is not pining for the fjords. Those who support a united Ireland have no prospect of success. The principle of consent enshrined in the 1998 Belfast Agreement — about which Ms Ruane’s party is apparently enthusiastic — confirms that. She had better smell the coffee.

Ian Óg, as he has now been popularly described, brought us back to Templepatrick with the Temple-patrick declaration. It was the longest suicide note in history — or perhaps not; we shall see. The Templepatrick declaration clearly arose as a result of the DUP meeting last Friday. How significant Templepatrick is in all of this; its historical position will be absolutely crucial. Many years from now, historians will say, “Ah, was that Templepatrick? Is that where that happened?”

Dr Farren: Was the Member there?


Mr Kennedy: I was not there, but many of those who were have signed up to the Templepatrick declaration, and we shall see the practical outworking of that.

I pay tribute to Dermot Nesbitt’s very thoughtful and careful analysis, which was not always terribly well received, particularly by an ungrateful Peter Weir — [Interruption.]

Oh yes, he is always sticking with his own lot.

Dr Farren reminded us that this Assembly should, and must, take responsibility. I hope, therefore, that he will join the UUP in the Lobbies to ensure that we stand up for this Assembly’s independence.

It is rather a pity that Mr Weir chose to indulge again in his lone crusade to express vitriol about the Ulster Unionist Party. I suppose that it is done in the vain hope that it will endear him to his new party, but we shall see.

Mr O’Dowd rebutted something that I did not quite understand and have long since forgotten. Derek Hussey made a very good contribution and accurately described the current Assembly as a shambles, which I believe reflects public opinion.

We heard Margaret Ritchie’s contribution, and I hope to see her voting in the Lobbies with the UUP as well.

Mr McElduff made another negative contribution. He referred to back-to-back cross-border health considerations. It is a pity that his party colleague Ms de Brún did not take that into account in the case of Tyrone County Hospital — which is in his constituency of West Tyrone — when she was the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Kennedy: No prompting from the back.

Madam Speaker, in spite of what everyone else has said, I shall be brief. When everything in the pot is boiled down, it is clear that the Secretary of State has undermined the basis of this Assembly, and in so doing he has seriously compromised your independence and authority, and that of your office. At the same time, he has not enhanced his own political reputation, either in Belfast or in London.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly deplores the interference of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in the proceedings of the Assembly on Friday 24 November 2006.

Adjourned at 4.00 pm.

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