HC Deb 27 February 1997 vol 291 cc418-20
4. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which of the groups that were successful in the election to the Northern Ireland Forum have expressed support for a ceasefire and a peaceful solution to problems in the Province; and which have not. [16363]

Mr. Ancram

Of the 10 political parties elected to the negotiations in the election of 30 May last year, nine have expressed their commitment to the six Mitchell principles of democracy and non-violence, as they are required to do on entry to the talks process. The remaining party, Sinn Fein, remains outside the talks process and will continue to do so until an unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire is in place.

Mr. Shaw

Does my hon. Friend agree that the loyalist community—as well as some nationalists—have shown a real desire to resist the recent violent provocations? Does he also agree that the credibility of Sinn Fein-IRA is as low as it can be and we do not yet see any opportunity for them to condemn violence? Should they not be condemned for taking that position?

Mr. Ancram

I make no bones about condemning the recent activities, which can be described only as murderous, vicious and cowardly. That includes the shooting of Lance Bombardier Restorick for which, I understand, the IRA has finally claimed responsibility. It is clear to everyone in Northern Ireland that, far from moving towards the commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and the adherence to democratic principles required of Sinn Fein if it wants to become part of the talks process, the activities of the IRA are making the credibility gap ever wider.

Mr. Livingstone

Given the Government's clear determination to exclude Sinn Fein until the IRA campaign stops, and given the frequent statements from the republican leadership that it has no intention of restoring the ceasefire, does the Minister have any proposals for increased security measures to defeat the IRA campaign—or are the people of Northern Ireland doomed to live with the situation for ever?

Mr. Ancram

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's concern about security. We have noted carefully—in the light of some of the companionship that he enjoys—his injunctions on the Government to increase security measures. The British Government are not alone: the Irish Government have also made it clear that an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire is necessary for Sinn Fein to participate in the negotiations. The reason for that is simple: the negotiations can proceed only on the basis of confidence. When there is direct or indirect duress or threat of resumed violence from one party if it does not get its way, the negotiations cannot proceed.

If that party signs up to democratic principles and exclusively peaceful methods, that confidence can be created, and it can become part of the negotiations.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best contribution that the United Kingdom Government can make to a peaceful solution in Northern Ireland is consistently to promote, advocate and support the status and integrity of Northern Ireland within the UK and consistently to praise and express appreciation for all the political parties in Northern Ireland—not least the Official Unionist party—for their very positive contribution to a peaceful solution?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, which I am sure will have been heard by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. In the democracy that is the United Kingdom, the Government are totally committed to ensuring that the democratic wishes of the people of Northern Ireland in relation to the status of Northern Ireland are supported and promoted.

Mr. Barnes

Has the Minister noticed that the Northern Ireland Forum is quite an interesting body? It has been boycotted by Sinn Fein from the start, and is now boycotted by the SDLP. It is therefore virtually a Unionist organisation, yet it has passed some quite radical motions: on water privatisation, on the establishment of a disability rights commission, and, against the Government's position, on BSE. Is it not therefore rather strange that the Unionists adopt a rather different position in this House from the unanimous one adopted in the Northern Ireland Forum, which acts rather like a Labour party conference—or should I say, an old Labour party conference?

Mr. Ancram

As the hon. Gentleman will recall, the Northern Ireland Forum was set up with the purpose of promoting dialogue and understanding. I have to say that I am not sure whether some of the things it discusses would necessarily fit easily into that definition, but it has produced some very interesting comments on certain issues, and, as he knows, I have taken account of some of them.