HL Deb 15 March 2004 vol 659 cc10-2

2.59 p.m.

Lord Glentoran asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the light of the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland's comments on 9 March about paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, what assessment they have made about the current state of the Ulster Defence Association and Provisional Irish Republican Army ceasefires.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, the Government's assessment of the state of the various paramilitary organisations' ceasefires remains unchanged. A judgment is made in the round, not on the basis of individual incidents. The Secretary of State, in making a judgment on the status of a paramilitary ceasefire, takes account of all relevant considerations and, in particular, those set out in Section 3(9) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998. However, we have to bring about a complete end to all paramilitary activity.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that response, which, as I expected, is measured but is not going anywhere. Recently, the Chief Constable said that republican terrorism is at the same level as that of the UDA. In the light of that, do Her Majesty's Government still believe that the IRA ceasefire, in the words of the 1998 Act, is complete and unequivocal? If not, why do Her Majesty's Government refuse to deal with the IRA on the same terms as the UDA—that is, specify it'?

Furthermore, do Her Majesty's Government agree that the IRA has been the prototype for global terrorists and is the organisation from which those terrorists have drawn encouragement over 30 years?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, regarding the question about specification, the noble Lord will know that when the UDA was specified by the Government, it had been involved in a number of murders and bombing incidents. We shall continue to judge it by actions and not words. I repeat exactly what I said in my original Answer to the noble Lord's initial Question. We need to move beyond a narrow definition of ceasefire. We have made it absolutely clear that we want to see an end to all paramilitary activity. That was repeated last Thursday by the Taoiseach and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I agree with the noble Lord that in talking about issues of terrorism we and other governments need to look at terrorism across the world and work together to bring an end to it. The noble Lord clearly knows that that is something on which we have been working over many years. We shall continue to do so.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, do we not need something rather more than words from Prime Ministers? Surely, the continued terrorist activities of all groups, totally contrary to the Belfast agreement, should be the first priority for the police, the security services and the criminal justice system.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that it is about more than just words. That is why we have seen so much progress in relation to issues in Northern Ireland. That would not have happened without considerable work and action not only by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, but by previous Prime Ministers in this country and by the Taoiseach. Of course, the police, the security services and others have to see this as a priority. That is why we continue to say that the ending of all paramilitary activity remains our goal.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, to my personal knowledge, governments have been saying that since the Labour Government of the 1960s. Does the Minister agree that the current situation of lawlessness is not fundamentally different from then? Surely, it is no good to go on for ever saying, "Well, everyone is being nice to us at the present time, but we will not put up with it". We have put up with it for over 30 years.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. The situation has changed dramatically. It is different. I shall happily send the relevant figures to the noble Lord. While we should not condone the violence and murder that continues, the situation is quite different. The people of Northern Ireland are actively seeking peace in a way that has not been the case over the past 30 years.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her birthday on Saturday, which I understand she is celebrating today. I am sure that she has the good wishes of the House.

Last year, there were 191 loyalist and 125 republican outrages, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, is about as bad as it gets and is not unique. Following the terrible outrage in Madrid, does that not act as an additional spur to persuade the police to work more actively against these outrages? Given the worldwide condemnation of what happened in Madrid, will the Government take the political initiative to tell these proto-Fascist organisations that it is time to stop?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and all other noble Lords who have expressed good wishes, sent me cards and, indeed, presents. It is very gratifying to be in place where reaching 50 years old one is still considered to be very young.

The Government have taken the political initiative on this matter. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has dealt with this issue from the time that he became Prime Minister. Indeed, he was talking with other world leaders about these issues before they became such an issue in many other countries. That needs to be acknowledged. The Prime Minister has faced a great deal of criticism for doing precisely that.