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Weapon Decommissioning (Loyalist Paramilitaries)

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

2. What recent assessment he has made of progress on decommissioning of weapons by loyalist paramilitary organisations. (306251)

The Government remain optimistic that, building on the success of decommissioning already this year, further acts will be completed before the deadline of 9 February 2010.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. Will he tell the House what approaches have been made to the Northern Ireland Office by, or on behalf of, the Ulster Defence Association for funding in anticipation of decommissioning? Is he aware of loyalist paramilitaries making similar approaches to the Irish Government for multi-million pound funding?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my focus is on decommissioning, and that my concern is to ensure that decommissioning takes place by 9 February of next year. As for discussions between those engaged in legitimate political activity and the Northern Ireland Office, we will of course be happy to talk to people who are wholly engaged in legitimate political activity and who have eschewed violence of every kind.

Obviously, the entire community wants there to be further progress on loyalist decommissioning. However, will the Secretary of State continue to work in the loyalist working-class estates, where some paramilitary groups have had a stranglehold in the past, to try to ensure that the young people in those communities are not weaned into paramilitarism, but are weaned away from it in favour of the democratic principles that we all espouse?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point about the grip in which some communities were held in the past by the activities of those who do not respect the rule of law and order. Regrettably, communities in some areas are still held in that same grip. We will do everything that we can, including encouraging and working with the Northern Ireland Executive, to help all communities that have been held in the grip of violence. We will continue to work with them so that they too are able to enjoy the fruits of a normal society.

In its discussions with loyalists about decommissioning, can the Northern Ireland Office explain to the House what efforts it has made to glean any information about the whereabouts of Lisa Dorrian, a constituent of mine who was murdered and disappeared almost five years ago by people with loyalist connections?

The hon. Lady has on many occasions raised constituency issues, not least but not only that of Lisa Dorrian. I remember dealing with this when I was a junior Minister, and the hon. Lady never gives up on behalf of the family. It is a tribute to her that she continues to work so hard for her constituents. Of course that remains an ongoing case. Decommissioning is a matter for the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning. We may set the framework and the deadline of 9 February, but when that deadline comes to an end, I can promise the hon. Lady that our interest and concern for the family of Lisa Dorrian will continue.

Given that this is the last Northern Ireland questions before the end of the arms amnesty on 9 February, can the Secretary of State give reasons for his reported belief that the UDA will decommission some weapons over Christmas, when it is also reported that the UDA is seeking assurances on the future of power-sharing before it does so? Does the Secretary of State agree that laying down such conditions is unacceptable, because there is no reason or excuse for illegal arms to exist in any part of the United Kingdom?

May I take this opportunity to wish not only the hon. Gentleman but the entire House a happy Christmas on this important occasion? I hope the amnesty means that all hostilities between us will cease. That may be a slightly premature Christmas present, so I am not expecting anything in that box.

On decommissioning, I am interested only in making two things clear: first, that illegally held weapons have no place in society in Northern Ireland or anywhere else, and secondly, that on 9 February the arrangements for decommissioning will come to an end for good, for ever—the end. The IICD will be engaged with a number of organisations. At the end of that process, I hope to report to the House further progress on decommissioning. I am not interested in discussing conditions with any group.