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Paramilitary Organisations

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

I am looking forward to receiving the next Independent Monitoring Commission report at the end of April. More work still needs to be undertaken by loyalist organisations, and dissident republicans continue to pose a limited but real threat.

The Secretary of State must be concerned about the apparent increase in paramilitary beatings, especially in some of the most deprived districts across the Province. What action is he taking to ensure that the police get a grip of those areas, and that the paramilitaries do not pose as defenders of local communities?

The police have got a good grip on dissident activity, and they do an extremely brave job. The right hon. Gentleman will know that at the end of last year two police officers were targeted by dissident republicans. I am pleased to report that they have made a good recovery. They do an extremely important and brave job, but the overall crime figures—and we should view that activity in the context of crime—reveal just how successful the PSNI is.

Will the Secretary of State inform the House whether, over the past two years, he has had negotiations or discussions with the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association, dissident republicans and other such groups, for the purposes of obtaining ceasefires and decommissioning? If not, what has led to the change of Government policy and strategy?

Again, the figures demonstrate the huge elements of progress that have been made. Whether we are talking about dissident republican activity or dissident loyalist activity, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, regrettably there are still elements out there who wish to behave in a criminal way. There is, of course, as the last IMC report indicated, more that needs to be done through action, and not just words, by dissident loyalist groups, but I look forward to receiving the next IMC report, which I am confident will show that further progress has been made.

Will the Secretary of State make a statement on the serious rioting in Londonderry at the weekend? When illegal parades on the Protestant side of the community take place, an attempt by the police to stop those involved from gathering is usually successful, but it seems that in the incident in question people could gather. In fact, for the first time in a very long time, 40 petrol bombs were recovered by the police, and there was a savage attack on the police in Londonderry. Would the Secretary of State not think it better, at this time, to concentrate on helping the police, rather than to enter into an engagement on whether power should be devolved to Stormont? Any organisation that has an army council associated with violence should not have anything to do with the police.

I think that this is the first chance that I have had since the right hon. Gentleman announced that he will stand down as First Minister in May to put on record in the House what a huge debt the House owes him for the work that he has done, both in leading his party and as First Minister.

On the events that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in Londonderry, I think that no sensibly minded person would do anything, in any shape or form, other than condemn the behaviour on the streets over the weekend. Petrol bombs and attacks on the police are a thing of the past and should be utterly condemned. I remind all hon. Members that this weekend Sinn Fein were as strong as any in condemning the activity that took place. He is right to talk about the importance of devolution of policing and criminal justice, and to point out the attention that the Government continue to pay to the issue. I just say to him that, while I condemn without reservation the behaviour of those criminals on the streets in Londonderry this weekend, I make no apology for continuing to encourage momentum on devolution, because that is the best way for us to secure long-term peace on the streets of every part of Northern Ireland.