HC Deb 25 May 1995 vol 260 cc928-9
5. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in taking the peace process forward in his talks with representatives of Sinn Fein. [24624]

Mr. Ancram

I met representatives of Sinn Fein at meetings in exploratory dialogue on 10 May and yesterday. At the first meeting, we explored the decommissioning of illegally held weapons and we agreed to discuss it at a future meeting on the basis of a detailed paper tabled by the Government at that time.

Yesterday, we explored in depth the relevance of decommissioning to the peace process and our differences of approach to this. My right hon. and learned Friend held an informal meeting with Mr. Adams of Sinn Fein in Washington last night when the relevance of peace to economic prospects in Northern Ireland was underlined.

Mr. Prentice

Now that the Minister has met representatives of Sinn Fein, does he believe that Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership have the authority and the influence to insist that all IRA brigades decommission their arms and explosives? If not, does he believe that the Government are pressing Sinn Fein to do something on which it cannot necessarily deliver?

Mr. Ancram

Sinn Fein has agreed that it was its influence that created the situation that led to the cessation of violence on 31 August last year. I understand, in talking to Sinn Fein, that it has admitted that it has an influence over the question of decommissioning as well. What I am doing—it is absolutely clear—is making it abundantly clear to Sinn Fein that, if it wishes to move from exploratory dialogue to substantive dialogue, not just words but actions in terms of decommissioning will be required. I know that Sinn Fein has taken careful note of what I have said and I am sure that we shall return to the matter again at future meetings.

Mr. Molyneaux

Given that the IRA has halted only one aspect of terrorism, that it has actually increased other criminal activities, including murder, recently and that it has continued the very worrying feature of targeting police families and public figures, do Ministers not now realise that they have the backing of the entire community for demanding that the IRA ends its terrorism and that it sets about deactivating its hideous terrorist apparatus for good?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for what he says because it is important that we realise what our objectives are. Our objectives are to take violence, intimidation and terrorism out of the situation in Northern Ireland. What we are doing is making it clear to those who say to us that they wish to become part of the political process that it is no part of a democratic party to condone the use of violence for political purposes. It is no part of a democratic party to condone the use of violence for intimidatory purposes and it is no part of a democratic party to have associations with fully armed and potentially terrorist organisations. We have made it clear that, if this process is to move forward with the participation of Sinn Fein and, indeed, of the loyalist paramilitary representatives, we have to see those problems resolved.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my hon. Friend accept that there will be widespread support throughout the House both for what the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said and for what he said in reply? Will he confirm that, for years, the House has expected elected councillors from constitutional parties to sit in the same chamber as Sinn Fein and that the key point that needs to be made to Sinn Fein is that, whereas talking with Ministers is not frightfully complicated, the most important issue is creating the conditions in which other parties are willing to sit down with Sinn Fein to discuss the future of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom?

Mr. Ancram

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the basis for exploratory dialogue was threefold from the start. One part of it was the consequences of the cessation of violence, which included aspects such as the decommissioning of arms. Another was the bringing of Sinn Fein back into the full democratic process within Northern Ireland, in terms not just of electing councillors but of the work that those councillors do. The third was finding the basis for Sinn Fein to become involved in the political discussions and the constitutional discussions on the future of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend is right to say that if Sinn Fein wishes to achieve that status, it must do so on the basis that all other parties do, which is that they are armed with their electoral mandates and with nothing else.