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Volume 455: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2007

1. What recent acts of decommissioning of illegally held weapons and explosives have taken place in Northern Ireland. (113210)

Before I answer question 1, Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you, and all Members, will want to join me in expressing sadness at the untimely death on Monday of David Ervine, the leader of the Progressive Unionist party. David’s story and character were unique and he will be greatly missed by the people and the politicians of Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will attend his funeral on Friday, and I am sure that the whole House will want to send its condolences to his family.

The Independent International Commission on Decommissioning has reported that it has witnessed full and final decommissioning by the IRA. It is vital that representatives of loyalist paramilitary groups engage with the IICD and make the full transition from conflict to peace.

Obviously, I join the Minister in the sentiments that he expressed about the death of David Ervine, and I am sure that all Opposition Members would do so.

Will there be an ongoing assessment process to ensure that Sinn Fein-IRA do not rearm? How can we trust Sinn Fein-IRA when at a recent commemoration ceremony to mark the death of two Sinn Fein-IRA terrorists who had been raiding a police station, a collection of weapons was on display—albeit that Sinn Fein-IRA claimed that the weapons were from an historic collection? Can we trust that they have genuinely decommissioned, or do they yet again have an occasion for deception, which is typical of Sinn Fein-IRA?

The hon. Gentleman asks whether there is an ongoing monitoring process, and there is. The IICD continues its work and the Independent Monitoring Commission reports regularly. In successive reports, the IMC has reported that the Provisional IRA no longer possesses either the capacity or the will to wage violent conflict in Northern Ireland. That is an essential step in creating a sustainable long-term peaceful future in Northern Ireland.

What the hon. Gentleman says would be right if he were to point to dissident republican groups, which still pose a threat to peace in Northern Ireland. One of the strongest reasons why we need to have devolution in Northern Ireland is so that we can get all the political parties and communities in Northern Ireland united against dissident republicans who would undermine the peace process.

May I, from the Labour Benches, add support for the words of my hon. Friend the Minister in memory of David Ervine? When I was security Minister I was privileged to work with David, and I was always struck by the courage that he displayed, very often in facing dangerous challenges from his own side. I am confident that we would not have made the progress that we have made in decommissioning, and in other areas to do with security in Northern Ireland, without the voice of David Ervine having been raised.

It is always well to have a previous security Minister watching carefully over my left shoulder on occasions such as this. I join my right hon. Friend in the sentiments that she has expressed. Indeed, it would be a fitting tribute to the memory of David Ervine if loyalist paramilitary groups were to decommission and play their full part in the future of Northern Ireland.

May I, on behalf my party, add to the tributes paid to the late David Ervine? Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this time.

Can the Minister confirm that a major security operation was carried out on 11 or 12 December 2006 at the home of a leading Sinn Fein member, Declan Murphy—the brother of Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein Member of this House—in Camlough, Newry, and that important documents relating to security force members and leading politicians were removed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

I cannot comment on particular police operations. [Interruption.] No arrests arose out of those investigations.

No charges were made. I do not know what the motivation of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) is in raising that matter this morning, but he should be—[Interruption.] What he should be doing—[Interruption.]

In my view, what the hon. Member for Upper Bann and his party—and, indeed, all Members— should be doing is uniting in a call for loyalist paramilitary groups to decommission and fully to join the peace process in Northern Ireland, as well as forming part of the united community against dissident republicans, who would still pose a threat to the peace and future prosperity of Northern Ireland.

May I associate myself and the Conservative party with the Minister’s remarks on the sad passing away of David Ervine? We agree that it would be a most fitting legacy if the paramilitary groups on the so-called loyalist side were completely disarmed and an end were put to all paramilitary activity. But would it not also be good if there could be an end to all criminality on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland? As a recent report from the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs highlighted, that remains a big problem in the Province, so should not that take place now?

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about David Ervine—and he is right to raise organised criminal activity, which underpins the remaining paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland and occupies my mind very much. We have the Organised Crime Task Force in Northern Ireland, which is doing a good job of bearing down on the problem. I am sure that the whole House will unite in the quest to ensure that organised criminal activity in Northern Ireland is eradicated.