HC Deb 26 May 2004 vol 421 cc1556-7
5. Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

If he will make a statement on the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland. [174925]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Paul Murphy)

We hope to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. That requires a complete end to paramilitary activity and a commitment on all sides to the future stability of the institutions, and we are working towards that goal. Formal activity in the review of the operation of the agreement is now on hold for the European election period, but it will resume after 10 June, and we hope then to engage in a period of more intensive political dialogue.

Mr. Mackay

Michael McDowell, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, wrote in theSunday Independent last week that the relationship between Sinn Fein and the IRA … is a relationship of complete subservience, ideologically and factually. There cannot be any question of the restoration of the Good Friday Agreement institutions on the basis that one party exercising executive power will take political direction from a group of people who are actively directing paramilitarism. Does the Secretary of State agree?

Mr. Murphy

We have always said that the IRA and Sinn Fein are inextricably linked and are part of the same republican movement. That is most certainly the case. We also believe that we will not resolve these difficulties until the question of paramilitary activity, in this case by the IRA, is dealt with, too. Until that is dealt with, I cannot see the restoration of the institutions.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) (SDLP)

Is not it a bitter irony that those who conceived, wrote, negotiated and set up the Good Friday agreement are no longer central to the negotiations and therefore cannot ensure that the institutions are set up? In those circumstances, the two Governments have to be the custodians of the Good Friday agreement. Can the Secretary of State tell me what plans the two Governments have to ensure that Sinn Fein does not milk the Good Friday agreement for its own party political and paramilitary reasons, and that the Democratic Unionist party does not strangle the Good Friday agreement after sucking every ounce of power and influence from it?

Mr. Murphy

I hope that all parties in Northern Ireland will address the issue of restoring the institutions after the European elections, and I believe that all parties are serious in wanting to see the restoration of devolution, but I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP)

It is now six months since the election to the non-existent Northern Ireland Assembly. Does the Secretary of State agree that it has been six months of failure—failure by republicans to end paramilitarism, and failure by the DUP to develop a coherent policy or to achieve progress? Is not it now time for the Government to bring matters to a head, get the parties to put up, or else shut down on the pretence that devolution is now possible?

Mr. Murphy

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it has been a disappointing six months—of course it has. We have not restored the institutions and we want that to happen but, as I said in my previous answer, I believe that every party in Northern Ireland wants to see that restoration. I repeat, too, that after the European elections we will resume intensive negotiations with the aim of setting up those institutions.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con)

I think that the Secretary of State and I agree that the current arrangements for considering Northern Ireland legislation through Orders in Council are profoundly unsatisfactory. Does he accept that the logic of the Government's position and the logic of the Dublin Government's position is that we should now proceed on the basis that constitutional politicians from both Unionist and nationalist traditions should be able to form an Administration in Belfast and that they should not all be punished by the continuing refusal of Sinn Fein-IRA to withdraw from paramilitarism?

Mr. Murphy

But we have two aims—one is obviously to ensure that we restore the institutions and get devolved government back in Northern Ireland, and the second is to see an end to paramilitary activity. We shall expend all our attention in both those directions.