HL Deb 04 May 2000 vol 612 cc1121-3
Baroness Seccombe

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In light of the revelations at the Saville inquiry about Mr Martin McGuinness and the decisions of Sinn Fein at its annual conference, how they see the role of Sinn Fein in the future of the peace process.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleiton

My Lords, allegations made to the Saville inquiry are for the inquiry to consider. In signing up to the Belfast agreement, Sinn Fein committed itself to using exclusively peaceful methods in pursuit of its political goals. So long as it remains committed to exclusively peaceful methods, the Government will continue to work with Sinn Fein to achieve the full implementation of the agreement.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Perhaps I may press her on one point. Assuming that Her Majesty's Government believe that Sinn Fein and the IRA are one and the same, do the Government stand by repeated statements by the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that there will be no devolution to include Sinn Fein unless there has been decommissioning?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we all want to see decommissioning. The Government's position is that we will work with the Irish Government and with all parties to achieve the objectives and the implementation in full of all parts of the Good Friday agreement.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the two Prime Ministers are meeting this evening or tomorrow in Belfast? Does she agree that the negotiations are going through a very sensitive stage and that it is important that they are conducted discreetly and privately, and not through megaphone diplomacy?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. The Prime Minister is travelling to Belfast this afternoon to have meetings with the Irish Prime Minister and the political parties there. It is intended that the meetings will continue tomorrow. As my noble friend said, at such a sensitive time I know that no noble Lords would want to discuss matters which could in any way jeopardise these delicate negotiations.

Lord Renton

My Lords, would not Sinn Fein carry much more weight, in the short term and the long term, if it were to renounce the IRA?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I must reaffirm the statement that I made in response to my noble friend Lord Dubs. The agreement and the parties to it remain committed to peaceful means to secure democratic objectives.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, Mr Mandelson was reported this week as having pointed out on the "Today" programme that decommissioning was an issue placed on the agenda by the previous Conservative government. He went on to say that it was in a sense ironic that this "key obstacle", as he described it, had not been introduced by either unionists or republicans. If I may ask the noble Baroness this question in no way through a megaphone, what does she think was the point of that observation? Did it presage a sliding away from the present Government's own insistence on decommissioning, and also from Labour's earlier unqualified endorsement of that requirement when in opposition?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the statement referred to by the noble and learned Lord was one in which a view was being expressed with regard to the historical context of developments. I know that the noble and learned Lord is al one with the Government in seeking to ensure that the negotiations that are taking place today and tomorrow have the very best chance of achieving the objective. The Government have not changed their position on any of the items that are included in the Good Friday agreement.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Baroness has said; however, I should like to have the matter clarified once and for all. Do Her Majesty's Government believe that it is right in any democracy that parties should be admitted into government while they are still inextricably linked to a highly armed terrorist organisation? Would not any proposal to admit Sinn Fein into government without a commitment from the IRA to decommission its illegal arms and explosives represent a total debasing of our democracy?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, when they voted for the Good Friday agreement, the people of Northern Ireland voted for genuinely inclusive government. We remain committed to that. The Government's view remains absolutely clear: we must move forward on all aspects of the agreement. Decommissioning remains an essential part of the peace process. We shall continue to work for its implementation in full.

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