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Disturbances (Belfast)

Volume 530: debated on Wednesday 6 July 2011

5. What assessment he has made of the role of dissident republicans in recent disturbances in the Short Strand area of Belfast; and if he will make a statement. (63171)

The Government utterly condemn all those involved in the localised violence in part of east Belfast a fortnight ago. It would be unwise for me to comment on the role played by specific groups while the police investigation is ongoing, but I know that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is determined to bring those responsible to justice.

Will the Minister accept that the unanimous condemnation by all the parties in Stormont shows that dissidents of all traditions might have the power to damage the peace process but not to derail it?

I am happy to concur wholeheartedly with the hon. Lady’s comment. Northern Ireland has moved on by a huge distance, and everyone can now express their legitimate political aims and pursue them by democratic means. There is absolutely no place for political violence in Northern Ireland today.

On behalf of the whole House, may I congratulate the Minister of State on his upgrading of my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) to his new role of Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I am not entirely sure whether that was a prediction, but it is certainly one that we would support. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), the Secretary of State will be aware that even below the most placid surface, dark cold undercurrents flow, and that we have to address the issue of the sectarian legacy. What is he doing to support groups such as Co-operation Ireland and other peace-builders?

I am grateful to the shadow Minister, who is on perky form this morning. I have regular meetings with the chairman of Co-operation Ireland; I am actually seeing him again today. However, dealing with community groups is very much in local hands. I have had recent discussions with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, and I am seeing both of them again tomorrow. This is very much a local issue to be sorted out on the ground according to local circumstances. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. We need to be able to hear the Secretary of State.

Given the ease with which guns were produced at the Short Strand interface, does the Secretary of State understand the annoyance and anger at the fact that the inventory of the weapons destroyed by the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning was not made known? Does he agree that the people of Northern Ireland have a right to know the full extent of the destruction of weaponry that has taken place? The Conservatives and Labour have agreed on that, and the inventory has also been lodged in Washington.

I am fully aware of the concerns behind the hon. Gentleman’s question, but we have to take the advice of those very experienced independent professionals, who have pulled off an extraordinary task. I pay tribute to General de Chastelain and his colleagues for what they did, and if it is their professional opinion today that it would not be helpful to publish that inventory, we have to take that advice seriously, as do the Irish Government. That is why the inventory has been placed with the American Secretary of State, where it will rest. No one will see it until the British and Irish Governments together decide that the time is appropriate.