Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2008
22 January 2008

In a debate on the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning Act 1997 (Amnesty Period) Order 2008 in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on 22 January 2008 Lord Trimble said,

'I thank the Minister for his comments about my presence here. I reassure him about this; I carry with me the apologies of my noble friend Lord Glentoran, who is otherwise engaged. I am merely spelling for him on this occasion. One should not read too much into that.

As the Minister has said, this is a routine order which is necessary for the functioning of the IICD in the event of there being decommissioning, and it is necessary that this is made available to the IICD. I know that, in some quarters, people get excited when they see this order because of the word “amnesty”, but the provision that can be described as such within this structure is very limited, is for a specific purpose and is clearly necessary to facilitate decommissioning. It is a usual, routine event which enables us to comment on progress or otherwise regarding decommissioning generally and with regard to paramilitaries. The Minister has done so by recording how mainstream republicans have completed their process, but unfortunately he has had very little to report regarding loyalist paramilitaries. I noticed that the farthest he could get was to say that the present interaction between the IICD and the UPRG—and whatever paramilitary representatives that are contained in that—is seen as, “willingness to address the issue of arms”. That is a very limited and cautious statement, which does not disclose any serious engagement. That is how I interpret that phrase. While they might be meeting and having a little discussion, there is not yet serious engagement on the issue.

It is necessary to spell that out and to say very clearly to the loyalist paramilitary organisations, to the UDA and the UVF—which have come out with some encouraging statements about their general orientation but which have not carried it through with the appropriate action—that it is very difficult to be patient with this situation. Considerable efforts have been made by a wide range of people over the past few years to try to encourage and facilitate the loyalist paramilitary organisations’ transformation, but the progress is very disappointing indeed. Those organisations cannot expect society and the Government to continue to tolerate that slow progress. That must be said.

I observe parenthetically that, by not decommissioning, the loyalist paramilitaries are delaying the point at which the IICD publishes its inventory of decommissioning, which enables a certain cloak of privacy to be cast over the republican decommissioning events. It is ironic that the loyalist paramilitaries, by their dilatoriness, are saving the republicans from the embarrassment of having the extent to which they decommissioned clearly seen.

The present situation goes further than just slowness in terms of engagement with the IICD. We saw just a few weeks ago action by a paramilitary organisation on the Shankill which indicates that rather than making progress we are going backwards. That incident was where two persons who were alleged to have been involved in crime were publicly paraded and humiliated on the street. We were told by the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that the organisation that was responsible was the UDA. That might or might not be accurate; it probably is. But that action was a most retrograde event. I noted that, unfortunately, the Police Service of Northern Ireland arrived on the scene but later departed, saying that no further action would be taken because the persons concerned did not make a complaint. That does not seem to be an appropriate approach to policing. The events clearly demonstrated that something untoward and probably of a criminal nature had occurred. I would have thought that it would have been incumbent on the police to investigate further. I notice also the silence of the human rights lobby. Clearly, the human rights of those individuals were trespassed upon, but we hear nothing said about that.

It is like the bad old days, when paramilitaries were acting with impunity. We do not want to see those bad old days come back, and we do not like the sight of a paramilitary organisation flexing its muscles to intimidate the general population of an area. That may not be seen to be directly relevant to decommissioning, but it is relevant to the state of mind in that paramilitary organisation or grouping. If that is their state of mind, it does not encourage us regarding the decommissioning process.

It is incumbent not so much on the IICD, the remit of which is very limited, but on the Government, in the direct or indirect contacts that they may have with such groups, to ensure that our impatience and displeasure are made known to them. It is also incumbent on the Independent Monitoring Commission, which has done so much good work over the past number of years, to clearly highlight this situation, as it can in the report that is coming in April. We look forward to that IMC report in the hope that it will vindicate its reputation, point the finger and perhaps indicate what the Government can do to increase the sanction on the paramilitary organisations which have not yet taken advantage of the opportunities available to them to move into normal, peaceful operation and to leave behind the paramilitarism and criminality that has been such a disgrace to them and those who would identify with them.'

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22 January 2008

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