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Statement by Peter Hain to the House of Commons, (13 October 2005)

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Text: Peter Hain ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by Peter Hain, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to the House of Commons, (13 October 2005)


"With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about developments in Northern Ireland during the summer recess period.

But first, I know the House will want to join me in marking, with sadness, the passing of two very significant figures from the Northern Ireland political stage: Mo Mowlam and Gerry Fitt.

They were politicians of great courage, passion and, above all, humanity and we all, in different ways, feel their loss.

Mr Speaker, on 28 July, we saw the statement by the IRA that its leadership had ordered an end to their armed campaign.

As I said in my letter to Members at the time, that was important, indeed historic.

But, of course, it was crucial that the words were carried through in actions, actions that had to be independently verified. Two weeks ago, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported that the IRA had placed its arms completely and verifiably beyond use.

Mr Speaker, not so many years ago, unionists and republicans were agreed on one thing at least: the IRA would never give up their guns, they would never give up their explosives: "Not a bullet. Not an ounce." But the 'impossible' has happened: the war machine that brought death and destruction to thousands of people in Northern Ireland, Great Britain and beyond - indeed to this House - has gone. It is something that all Members of this House have wanted to see happen for so many years, and many feared they never would.

But, as immensely significant as IRA decommissioning undoubtedly is, there is more to be done in demonstrating that the IRA have put paramilitary activity behind them for good.

The next formal report from the Independent Monitoring Commission, focusing on paramilitary activity, is expected in the next week or so. That will give an indication of whether progress has been made in meeting the equally important requirement for a verifiable end to all paramilitary and criminal activity. But as it will only have covered several weeks since 28 July, the two Governments have asked the IMC to produce an additional report in January to reinforce the crucial verification process.

The Government believes that the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland are best served by local decision making through a devolved Assembly. That requires the rebuilding of trust and confidence and we recognise that that will take time.

But if these IMC reports confirm an end to IRA activity, then the time will have come to move the process forward.

The summer also saw a murderous loyalist feud, the vicious attacks on the police and army by loyalist paramilitaries and sickening sectarian attacks, including obscene threats to desecrate graves in Carnmoney cemetery - all of which disfigured Northern Ireland in the eyes of the world.

Of course this outrageous behaviour appalled the overwhelming majority of people in the unionist community and I very much welcomed the opportunity to stand with the Honourable Member for North Antrim in his constituency, which had seen sectarian attacks on schools, and join him in condemning this barbarous behaviour.

It has taken a long time for the republican movement to acknowledge that violence does not pay. It is high time that the loyalist paramilitaries learned it too.

My decision last month to specify the UVF/Red Hand Commando sent out a clear signal to those who would persist with that philosophy that they are wrong and that they must stop immediately.

There remains outstanding the question whether a financial penalty should be imposed on the PUP following the recommendation made to me earlier in the year by the IMC. I intend to watch developments carefully over the next few months, in particular the role that the PUP play in attempting to secure peace and stability in the loyalist community, before reaching a decision on this in the context of the January report from the Commission to which I have referred.

With my deputy, the Hon Member for Delyn (David Hanson), I have been visiting Loyalist communities, meeting community representatives, clergy, teachers and local residents. Where any community has legitimate concerns, we will address them. But it is equally important that there is political leadership to enable these communities to join in the huge progress that Northern Ireland has made in recent years.

The summer also demonstrated beyond doubt that there is one organisation that we can all rely on to uphold the right of everyone to live in peace.

Officers of the Police Service of Northern Ireland displayed exemplary courage and professionalism in protecting life and preserving order, despite being attacked with live rounds, blast bombs, petrol bombs and other missiles. We should be under no illusion, following the Whiterock Parade, that loyalist paramilitaries were clearly intent on murdering police officers. Police videos also showed some Orangemen taking off their collarettes and hurling rocks at the police front lines - behaviour that I know the vast majority in the Orange Order deplore.

Even with those vicious attacks on them - and let us not forget that nearly 100 of them sustained serious injuries in a single weekend - the police remained committed to their task. But they can only be effective if they receive the support of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland. Time and again they have demonstrated their determination to protect all the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is time that everyone in Northern Ireland acknowledged this - from Sinn Fein to the Orange Order to loyalist communities - and got behind the police to support them in doing their job.

Mr Speaker, the transformation of policing in Northern Ireland in line with the Patten reforms is one of the great success stories of the Good Friday Agreement. It has led to the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland being admired around the world, as a model for change. We remain fully committed to that model for the future.

A key element in that success is the role played by the Policing Board. I can tell the House today that I have decided to reconstitute the Board from 1 April 2006, with political appointees selected in proportion to the 2003 election results using the d’Hondt formula.

So what do the months ahead hold for Northern Ireland? The Government will continue to do all it can to facilitate progress towards restoration. But we hope that all Northern Ireland’s politicians will seize the opportunity that this summer’s developments present.

The Government will also take forward work to implement those aspects of the Belfast Agreement where work is incomplete or ongoing. We will, for example, continue to support those bodies and institutions that work for the benefit of Northern Ireland on a North/South and East/West basis.

Some areas of the Joint Declaration of 2003 were dependent on acts of completion by the IRA. And difficult though some of these will be for some people to accept, there should be no surprises since the Government has long made clear that certain developments would follow on such acts of completion.

First: normalisation. In the 2003 Joint Declaration, the Government set out proposals to normalise the security profile across Northern Ireland when there was an enabling environment. Following the IRA statement, I published an updated programme, on the advice of the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding.

I want to assure the House that my first and over-riding priority - and that of the Chief Constable and the GOC - remains the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland. We will not do anything that will compromise that. But the security arrangements we have in place must be in proportion to the level of threat. The normalisation programme published in August, a copy of which I have had placed in the Library, will see the creation of an environment that will allow the return of conventional policing across Northern Ireland, something which all sections of the community should welcome.

The other commitment set out in the Joint Declaration was that we would reinvigorate discussions with the political parties on the shared goal of devolving criminal justice and policing. The Government will want to explore the scope for doing that over the months ahead. In the meantime we will bring forward enabling legislation for later implementation, when there is agreement among the parties in Northern Ireland.

We will also take forward plans to appoint a Victims’ Commissioner. I very much hope to make an announcement about this shortly because the many victims of Northern Ireland’s troubles deserve much better recognition and support. We will never forget them.

The House will know that we have undertaken to legislate to deal with the position of individuals connected with paramilitary crimes committed before the Belfast Agreement, dealing with those suspects categorised as "on the runs". As the House will recall, these proposals were published alongside the Joint Declaration in May 2003. This is not an amnesty. Nevertheless, the implementation of those proposals will be painful for many people. I fully understand this. But the Government believes that it is a necessary part of the process of closing the door on violence forever.

Mr Speaker, notwithstanding the recent turbulence, huge progress has been made this summer.

We need to build on that progress.

The people of Northern Ireland have shown remarkable patience and resilience over the years.

We owe it to them not to be deflected from doing all we can to see a peaceful, stable and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all traditions are cherished and respected.

They deserve no less."


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