HC Deb 14 January 2004 vol 416 cc799-802
1. David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

What discussions he has had with the Government of the Irish Republic on police investigations into whether the Provisional IRA is raising money through criminal activities to fund Sinn Fein's election campaigns. [146806]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

I am aware that concerns have been expressed in the Republic of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the two Governments regularly discuss combating the criminal activities of paramilitary organisations. Indeed, PIRA involvement in organized crime is well documented. There have been recent criminal operations, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland advises me that it suspects that those involved have direct links to the Provisional IRA.

David Burnside

This is a very serious matter, which I have already brought to the attention of your office, Mr. Speaker, and the Minister's answer is, frankly, unsatisfactory. IRA tax scams help to fund Sinn Fein. Garda detectives raid homes over a massive construction industry fraud operated by republicans. The Minister is aware that the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, and the chief negotiator. Martin McGuinness, sit on the army council. The army council is funding a British political party operating in the United Kingdom. The answer is most unsatisfactory. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that political parties masquerading as democratic parties are brought to account and that they are not allowed to be funded by illegal activities, whether terrorist or criminal? The Minister knows all the activities. The Minister should do something and take on Sinn Fein, which is not a democratic party.

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman is within his rights to urge that we do more, and we are not complacent. However, it is a matter for the Chief Constable to pursue the criminal activities of all paramilitary organisations. Any financial association between PIRA and Sinn Fein is a matter for the Chief Constable in the first instance. There is no doubt that a complete range of individuals with paramilitary links is involved in organised crime—both loyalist and republican—and the Government will respond with vigour to any criminal activity perpetrated by armed groups. No form of criminal activity will be deemed acceptable or condoned in any way. The hon. Gentleman is right: it is still the Government's view that the links between Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA are very strong. They are two sides of the same coin, inextricably linked.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab)

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of illegal fundraising through racketeering, especially in the ethnic minority groups in Northern Ireland, for loyalist terrorist organisations?

Jane Kennedy

We obviously look into the activities of paramilitary organisations very closely. That is precisely the role of the Organised Crime Task Force, to ensure that the response of the law enforcement agencies to such criminality is as robust as it possibly can be and as effective as we can possibly make it.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)

The hon. Member for South Antrim (David Burnside) is right. The Minister's response is inadequate, because those allegations come not from myself or the hon. Gentleman, but from the Irish Justice Minister. They come also from the leader of Fine Gael and from the leader of Fianna Fáil in the Irish Government. They are all saying that Sinn Fein-IRA are unfit to be in the Government in the Irish Republic. Other Members have had experience of Sinn Fein in the Government in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister understand clearly that the vast majority of Unionists in Northern Ireland will not warrant a political party being in the Government in Northern Ireland while it is continuing to engage in that kind of criminal and paramilitary activity?

Jane Kennedy

I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed in the Republic of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland Government and the British Government work very closely to combat the activities of paramilitary organizations—in particular, the criminal activities in which they are engaged. We will continue to take that work forward. I note the comments that he has made about the stance of the political party of which he is now a member.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the link between criminal activity and fundraising for political parties is wrong in principle for any party and that all parties should work together towards an end to paramilitary and criminal activity, whether republican or loyalist?

Jane Kennedy

Yes I would. I am more than happy to endorse those comments. We are aware that this whole area of work needs to be kept constantly under review. Such activity is quite beyond the remit of the Belfast agreement. There is no place in a democratic society for criminal activity of that order. All paramilitary organisations are engaged in it, and it is the Government's intention to enable the law enforcement agencies, both in the north of Ireland and engaging with those in the Republic of Ireland, to ensure that such criminal activity is brought to an end in so far as we are able to achieve that.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con)

Does the Minister recall the Prime Minister's very clear article in the Belfast News Letter and The Irish News at the time of the Belfast agreement on 22 May 1998? He said: Representatives of parties intimately linked to paramilitary groups"— and these are key words— can only be in a future Northern Ireland Government if it is clear that there will be no more violence and the threat of violence has gone. That doesn't just mean decommissioning, but all bombing, killings, beatings, and an end to targeting, recruiting and all the structures of terrorism. When can the people of Northern Ireland, whose lives are blighted by these things, expect the Prime Minister's words to be turned into real action?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman is right and we stand by the comments that he quotes. The Provisional IRA is a proscribed, illegal paramilitary organisation, and our position on that is quite unequivocal. There must be an end to all paramilitary activity from whatever source—republican or loyalist.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab)

Is it the Minister's policy that the standards of funding for political parties in Northern Ireland should have the same clarity and transparency as those for parties in the rest of the United Kingdom? If so, what can she do to improve the clarity and transparency of funding for all parties in Northern Ireland?

Jane Kennedy

The Government are currently reviewing the order under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), will make a parliamentary announcement shortly on the conclusions of the review.

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