Northern Ireland – Addressing Justified Grievances Of Victims

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): While agreeing with the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) that there should be no question of an amnesty, surely there is some merit in the proposal from the Northern Ireland Attorney-General that rather than incurring enormous expenditure pursuing crimes committed during the troubles decades ago—where the evidence is difficult, if not impossible, to establish—the justified grievances of victims, including widows of police officers and prison officers, should be addressed in other ways so that Northern Ireland can move on from its hideous past.

The Prime Minister: I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman’s views on this issue. He served in Northern Ireland and knows how important these issues are. I would make two points. First of all, I do think it is important to allow Richard Haass to do his work about parades, about flags and about dealing with the past. Clearly, the dealing with the past part is the most difficult of the three and the most difficult to unlock. The second point I would make is that we are all democrats who believe in the rule of law and believe in the independence of the police and prosecuting authorities, who should, if they are able to, be able to bring cases, and it is rather dangerous to think that you can put some sort of block on that. But of course we are all interested in ways in which people can reconcile and come to terms with the bloody past so that they can build a viable future and a shared future for Northern Ireland.

National Crime Agency

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I strongly support the Secretary of State’s efforts to persuade all those involved, including in her discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland, to ensure that the remit of the National Crime Agency is extended. Whatever the circumstances surrounding the hesitancy about that from Belfast so far, everybody will want to see every possible effort made to tackle these issues—particularly after two executions attributed to dissident republicans last week and 12 security threats recently—and she ought to make sure that happens.

Mrs Villiers: I agree and will continue to do everything possible to make the case for the extension of the NCA’s activities in Northern Ireland. It is also worth bearing it in mind that there were some ways in which the legislation on the NCA would have strengthened accountability in Northern Ireland, because it would have extended the remit of the police ombudsman to proceeds of crime matters, which are not currently covered by the policing and justice settlement. In many ways, the legislation, which does not currently have agreement in Northern Ireland, would have enabled us to strengthen accountability on police activities in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland – Public Order

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s statement? Anybody who has done her job will know its difficulties. However, may I press her to be more directly engaged, despite the meetings she has had, with the different groups that are very sensitive on this issue: from the Orange Order to republican groups, dissident groups and loyalist groups? There is a feeling in Northern Ireland, fairly or unfairly, that she is not rolling up her sleeves enough and getting people around the table. Is the Parades Commission perhaps being too aloof and legalistic in the way it is proceeding? It, too, needs to get into the negotiation business and not simply make determinations.

Mrs Villiers: I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have been engaged in a whole range of discussions with the Orange Order, residents’ associations and a long list of people involved in these matters. I got the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, the PSNI and the Parades Commission around the table to talk about these issues. As far I am aware, that has never happened before. All of that took place in the months running up to 12 July —there was not a last-minute series of meetings immediately before the parades that has sometimes happened in the past. I am always keen to roll up my sleeves to get involved and do whatever I can. The reality is that this remains an extremely difficult problem to resolve, but I will be doing my very best, working with Northern Ireland politicians.

Parading

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State consulted Lord Ashdown, whose commission included both a senior republican and a senior member of the Orange Order, and was able to come to a consensus? Will she also talk to Roger Poole, whose chairmanship of the Parades Commission was very successful? There might be lessons there.

Mrs Villiers: I am happy to talk to both of those individuals. That would be very useful.

Violence – Northern Ireland

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I say to the Secretary of State that condemning the deplorable violence is the easy bit, and will she do two further things? First, given her national security responsibilities will she engage directly with the loyalist groups and be willing to talk even to those who may be on the fringes of the violence—as we did to positive effect in 2006-07—who feel excluded from the political process? Secondly, will she come up with a package of resources to tackle the deplorable level of youth unemployment? Some of the young republicans—and in recent times the young loyalists—involved in this violent activity have no stake in the society. That does not justify their violence but it does explain why it is happening.

Mrs Villiers: I certainly think that part of the way forward is an inclusive dialogue that must be led by Northern Ireland’s political parties. Indeed, as part of our work I and the Minister of State engage in regular conversations and listen to the concerns of people across the community. Addressing youth unemployment is one of the UK Government’s highest priorities. Employment figures across the UK have been improving over recent weeks but there is still a very significant problem, particularly in Northern Ireland. The issue continues to be one of our highest priorities and we will continue to work with the Northern Ireland Executive on ways to grapple with it. One reason David Cameron chose to bring the G8 to Northern Ireland was to demonstrate his commitment and attract inward investment.