HC Deb 09 February 2000 vol 344 cc234-5
2. Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

What discussions he has had with the Office of First and Deputy First Minister relating to victims of terrorist and paramilitary violence. [107674]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

I had a constructive and positive meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers on Monday 31 January to discuss how victims' issues can be best addressed. It was agreed that a co-ordinated approach is essential to ensure that victims are treated with the respect that they deserve.

Helen Jones

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that, in the past 30 years, there have been too many victims and too many damaged people, both in Northern Ireland and on this side of the Irish sea? Will he assure those victims and their families that, through this very difficult time, both he and those with whom he is in discussions will redouble their efforts to ensure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland—which is what most of those victims and their families want?

Mr. Ingram

I do not think that I could add very much to the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, who has articulated both past events and the problems associated with victims and survivors of the violence. The best way forward is to achieve a lasting peace, so that we have no more such victims or survivors.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey)

While I condemn all acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Minister to acknowledge that much of the money that was collected by the Noraid organisation, in North America, was to help the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland, but that, more often than not, that aid found its way into the IRA's hands to buy arms, thereby creating victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland? Would there be merit in considering an extra payment to the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland pro rata for the arms surrendered, thereby giving an incentive to both sides to do so?

Mr. Ingram

We are always prepared to listen to new and innovative ideas, and that suggestion has not been put to me before. It would be hard to quantify that proposal, but, as the Minister with responsibility for this issue, I would be prepared to look at such ideas to see whether there is a practical way forward. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

Does the Minister agree that the best way to ensure real peace in Northern Ireland and to ensure that there are no more victims is to take the arms out of circulation and to have them decommissioned? In the absence of decommissioning, surely it would be wrong to hurl further insult upon the hurt of the victims of terrorist violence by continuing with the early release of terrorist prisoners, when those terrorist organisations are failing to deliver on their obligations under the agreement.

Mr. Ingram

We have always made it clear that one of the most difficult aspects of the agreement was the early release of prisoners. We always hoped that more progress would be made on a parallel basis on all other aspects of the agreement. It is a vexed and difficult question and, as the Minister who has to deal regularly with victims and survivors of terrible acts, I well understand the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I suggest to him that he could serve the interests of those victims and survivors better by working alongside his right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) to bring about a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, and by helping in the efforts that the right hon. Gentleman is making in support of the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

Has the Minister thought beyond decommissioning, as residual punishment beatings, exilings and intimidations will still take place? People will have difficulty in reporting these incidents to the RUC and the state because of fears of intimidation. Would not the setting up of an independent anti-intimidation unit with international support alert us to the problems of continuing gangsterism? Would that be helpful in terms of developing democracy in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ingram

When we talk about moving towards a normalised society, we do not mean that it will be a criminal-free society, as that is not the nature of any society now. We must ensure that the RUC and the other agencies of the Government with responsibility for tackling violent crime have all the means at their disposal, so that the victims of violence and those who may wish to give evidence against those carrying out such acts have the full protection and support of all the agencies of the state.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

How can the Government's ethical policy towards Austria in relation to the inclusion of Mr. Haider's party in Government be equated with the policy pressurising democrats of all descriptions to serve in an Executive with representatives of a terrorist organisation that remains armed and has murdered 2,500 British citizens?

Mr. Ingram

The hon. and learned Gentleman is not easily pressured. Usually, he takes great umbrage when he is pressured, so I would never seek to pressure him into doing anything. The establishment of the Executive was agreed by the parties that supported the Good Friday agreement, which itself was supported by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland. I should have thought that he, as a democrat, would be prepared to bow to the wish of the majority.

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