HL Deb 25 March 2004 vol 659 cc799-802

11.19 a.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will place advertisements in the press in the United States refuting the claims against the Police Service of Northern Ireland by Sinn Fein.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

No, my Lords. Ministers from the British and Irish Governments, the US Administration and Members of the SDLP have all refuted Sinn Fein's claims.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Since Sinn Fein spent on this advertisement a sum that represented nearly half of what it spent on the last Assembly elections, it was clearly intended to be a significant statement. In past decades, the British Government have contested case after case in state after state in America to protect American investment in Northern Ireland jobs against the McBride principles.

I appreciate what has been said, including by Dr Reiss the President's envoy, but it is not the same thing as the British Government exposing in the United States the calumnies against the Police Service of Northern Ireland that the Sinn Fein advertisement represents. Why will the Government not put their head publicly above the parapet?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I appreciate the concerns being raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. He will be aware that there were a number of people in the United States last week, including my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable of the PSNI, the chairman of the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman. There was a very clear statement from the President of the United States who told a White House gathering: I want to thank Chief Constable Hugh Orde; he is implementing the policing reforms of the Good Friday Agreement; even the greatest sceptic of the Good Friday Agreement would admit that the policing reforms are working". We made inquiries about making a statement refuting the Sinn Fein claims. That was not accepted by the New York Times, which said that that is not the way that it works. We felt very clearly that the public denouncement through the Secretary of Slate for Northern Ireland and others was enough at this point in time.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether there is any continuing financial support from North America for terrorism in Ireland?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I would need more information from the noble Lord about what he had in mind when he asked me that question.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, why is it that Her Majesty's Government are always so far behind the ball when they are dealing with terrorism that requires actions rather than rhetoric, particularly in Northern Ireland? When will they listen and hear what the noble Baroness's colleague, Harriet Harman, said on "Question Time" about appeasement? She was extremely strong. She said that appeasement must stop; there must be no appeasement. In Northern Ireland we have lived with this Government's appeasement of terrorism. When will that stop?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I completely refute that allegation. The noble Lord knows that we have worked tirelessly. We have said very clearly that paramilitary activity must stop. Even as recently as this Tuesday, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was in Belfast with the Taoiseach, that was made absolutely clear.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, will the Lord President of the Council confirm that the British Embassy in Washington does its best through its information services to refute such allegations? Does she take comfort, as I do, that not merely Dr Reiss condemned the advertisement as untrue, but that the Friends of Ireland group led by Senator Edward Kennedy also refuted it? Does she agree that Sinn Fein is rapidly facing a crucial point of departure either to renounce all IRA violence and participate fully in the Policing Board or to jeopardise the devolution settlement in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in respect of the roles played by our embassy in Washington, the Consulate General in New York and those in other parts of the United States where we make every effort to refute allegations. The noble Lord is right that others, including Senator Kennedy, have made their views on this well known. We have all said that it is important that Sinn Fein participates in the process. We need two different things. We need an end to paramilitary activity and we need a fully inclusive democratic process in Northern Ireland. That is what will deliver peace.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, why could we not spend a little money on taking out an advertisement, as Sinn Fein did, since no one will publish our comments? An advertisement need point out only that there are still very few Catholics in the new Police Service simply because when Gerry Adams was asked how he would treat new Catholic entrants he said that they would be treated as they were before; and the first graduate was shot.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that there are different ways strategically in which we make decisions about how best to refute claims and allegations. We looked at a number of different options open to us. We felt strongly that the very public views being expressed by my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister, the President of the United States and others were one way of dealing with this.

The change of the situation in Northern Ireland is complex. The noble Baroness will be aware that in terms of recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, we have seen an increase in recruitment from the Catholic community from 8 per cent to 14 per cent. Over time, that is changing slowly. These are messages that we need to get out in a variety of forms.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, given that the IRA per se and not IRA/Sinn Fein and its successors is now seen by the Government to be a legal, reasonable and responsible organisation, who is getting extortion money from the vice rings and tax surcharges in Belfast?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I do not know the answer to that question. The noble Lord will be aware that concerns have been expressed about the links between organised crime and various paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. I have no answer to the specific question raised by the noble Lord, but if I am able to glean any further information from the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others, of course I shall write to him.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the ever-increasing number of Roman Catholic members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is welcomed by the large majority of people in Northern Ireland? It is the most direct answer to the Sinn Fein nonsense in the New York Times.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Of course, what the people of Northern Ireland want to see is a police service that reflects the community that it serves.

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