HL Deb 16 October 2001 vol 627 cc478-81

3.13 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the war against terrorism, whether they consider the Provisional IRA to be part of the international terrorist network.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)

The Provisional IRA remains proscribed in this country as an illegal terrorist organisation even though it has been on ceasefire since 1997. The links that it is known to have had at various points over the past 30 years with overseas terrorist groups have always been a matter of concern. However, that does not alter the fact that the present peace process offers the best chance for generations finally to rid Northern Ireland of the scourge of politically motivated violence.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Does he agree with the recent remarks of Mr Gerry Adams, who said that the IRA contains not terrorists but freedom fighters?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, at the risk of upsetting the noble Viscount, I have to say that, frankly, I have nothing to add to my Answer.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I hope that the Minister agrees that the concept of a freedom fighter who is fighting in a free society is a contradiction in terms. Will he tell the House what pressures he is exerting on the Government of the United States, with whom we are very closely and properly allied in the war against terrorism, to persuade them that they really should take some action to restrict the flow of funds that have come steadily from that country through NORAID to the IRA or Sinn Fein in Ireland?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I say with the best will in the world that we are doing everything that we can to bring the peace process to a successful conclusion. Frankly, unwise words and comments will disturb that and I am not going to fall into the trap. We are determined to bring this to a successful conclusion. We have the best chance for a generation to get peace in Northern Ireland, and that is what we are working towards.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I cannot see how by any stretch of the imagination public debate in this House could offend the efforts of the peace process. Is it not right for the Government to have declared war on terrorism? Are we now seeing the Government deciding that there is good terrorism and bad terrorism?

Lord Rooker

No, my Lords. Every noble Lord will understand that a peace process is under way in Northern Ireland. Asking me to comment on a particular phrase that has been gleaned from whatever part of the media and which was made by a particular person and expecting a substantive answer means, frankly, that one is not taking the peace process seriously. We are serious about getting a successful conclusion to this peace process; that remains the position. There is no stifling of open debate in this regard. Unlike other parts of the world, we have a peace process under way; that is the difference.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are grateful to a Conservative Prime Minister for initiating the peace process?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, this is not a one-party peace process. Of course it started under John Major. All credit is due to him and to all former Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, some of whom sit on different sides of this House, and to former Prime Ministers on both sides of the political divide in the United Kingdom. They tried their level best at that time to get peace in Northern Ireland. We are continuing that process.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I ask the Minister not to comment on that but to answer the question. What is being done to stop America providing funds to the terrorists? Will he please answer that question on behalf of the Government?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I return to the Question, which asks, In the light of the war against terrorism, whether they"— that is, the Government— consider the Provisional IRA to be part of the international terrorist network". I gave a substantive and considered Answer to that Question. The other matters are being dealt with through the normal machinery of government and with our allies and friends. We and our international friends are doing what we can to bring the peace process in Northern Ireland to a successful conclusion. I am very sorry if the noble Lord does not like my Answer but it is the best that I can give this afternoon.

Lord Shutt of Greetland

My Lords, what is the present position regarding the declaration that the loyalist paramilitaries have broken the ceasefire? What is the purpose of this declaration in terms of upholding the peace process?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, John Reid, said last week, the organisations have been specified in the legislation. It so happens that no members of those organisations are currently being held. If there had been, their release would have been stopped. The provisions do not mean, as many mistakenly thought, that those who had been released and who were members of those organisations would automatically go back to prison. That will happen only if such people break the terms of their release agreement. That is the consequence of specifying those organisations. They are now out of the ceasefire process.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I stress to the Minister that we are asking only for a statement of fact. Two Ministers in the Northern Ireland Assembly are members of Sinn Fein/IRA, and one of them has at last just become a public member of the provisional council of the IRA. The Sinn Fein conference entertained ETA, a Basque terrorist organisation, at its previous conference. It has raised money and sought arms in Libya and Bosnia, and it has sent people to help to train terrorists in Colombia. We would look foolish in the eyes of the world, the eyes of Europe and, most of all, the eyes of the United States if we did not recognise, whatever the importance of the peace process, that this movement is a part of an international terrorist group. Surely those are facts.

The Government, I hope, are prepared to deal in facts. The peace process will not be helped by ignoring those facts and not remembering that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. The people in this movement wish to prevent that. They still have guns under the table and, indeed, above the table. They are still terrorising their own communities and exiling people. I am aware that I have spoken for too long. Can the Minister say whether the Provisional IRA should be regarded as an international terrorist organisation?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, in the middle of her reply, the noble Baroness used the words, "whatever the importance of the peace process", thus qualifying it. I made clear in my Answer that it has overriding importance in trying to bring peace to Northern Ireland. I also made clear that at various points over the past 30 years links with these groups have been a matter of concern. However, that does not alter the fact that the importance of the present peace process is overriding. I do not qualify that. It is the best opportunity we have.