Murphy's Law: Sanctions announced…

THE Secretary of State, as expected, has announced financial sanctions against Sinn Fein. Slugger carries a full (draft, but probably the final) copy of his speech below.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Northern Ireland.

I came to the House on 11 January to make a statement relating to the Northern Bank robbery on 20 December. To recall the background: a highly organised and brutal gang kidnapped the families of two staff from the Bank’s headquarters in Belfast, threatening them with death unless the individuals co-operated in the execution of the largest robbery ever seen in these Islands.

Since then a major police investigation has been under way. As the House is aware the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland made his conclusion clear that the Provisional IRA were responsible for the robbery. The Prime Minister and I have indicated that we accept the Chief Constable’s judgement which is also shared by the Irish Government and their security advisers. The Chief Constable’s statement, seen in the context of other subsequent events, serves to reinforce the extent of the challenge that we all face in working towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this month, on 10 February, I laid before the House a copy of a report presented to the British and Irish Governments by the Independent Monitoring Commission. That report, which the Commission had elected to produce in addition to its normal twice-yearly reports to the two Governments, concluded that the Northern Bank robbery was planned and undertaken by the Provisional IRA and that this organisation was also responsible for three other major robberies during the course of 2004.

I am very grateful to the members of the Commission for their quick response to the very grave situation created by the robbery and its attribution.

The IMC concluded, on the basis of its own careful scrutiny, that Sinn Fein must bear its share of the responsibility for these incidents. They indicated that, had the Northern Ireland Assembly been sitting, they would have recommended that the full range of measures referred to in the relevant legislation be applied to Sinn Fein, including the exclusion of its members from holding Ministerial office. In the context of suspension, they recommended that I should consider exercising the powers I have to apply financial penalties to Sinn Fein.

Mr Speaker, the House will recall that following the IMC’s first report in April last year, I issued a direction removing, for a period of twelve months, the block financial assistance paid to Assembly parties in respect of both Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party.

Having reflected on the IMC’s latest report, I have concluded that it would be appropriate for me to issue a further direction removing Sinn Fein’s entitlement to this block financial assistance for a further twelve month period, the maximum period permitted under the legislation.

I am, therefore, minded to make a further direction to come into effect on 29th April – the day after the existing direction expires. Before reaching a final decision, however, I will take into account any representations made to me by Sinn Fein by next Tuesday.

Mr Speaker, I will make a decision on whether to extend the financial penalties imposed on the PUP last April when I receive the next IMC report covering all paramilitary groups, which is expected in April.

The Commission’s report also refers to other public money which Sinn Fein receive, although recommendations on this are outside their remit. In this context, I am conscious that Hon Members on both sides of the House have raised concerns in the past about the payment of financial allowances to the four Sinn Fein members who decline to take up their seats here.

Mr Speaker, I hope that the House will welcome the opportunity to debate, in the near future, a Government motion proposing that these allowances be suspended on a timescale in parallel with the arrangements at Stormont, in recognition of recent events. The debate on that motion is for another day, but I should emphasise to the House, lest anyone accuse us of denying the extent of Sinn Féin’s electoral support, that the measures we are proposing are designed to express the disapproval of all those who are committed to purely democratic politics at the actions of the Provisional IRA. All in this House recognise the degree of support for Sinn Féin, but we also believe that the actions of the republican movement are letting down everyone in Northern Ireland, including Sinn Féin voters.

There are those who will argue that these financial sanctions are insufficient as a signal of the Government’s and Parliament’s condemnation of recent events. They may well argue that I should take steps to exclude Sinn Fein from the political process, or from the Assembly, now. I want to deal with those arguments directly, because they are sincerely made and with a strength of feeling that I well understand.

The Government’s ultimate goal remains the achievement of an inclusive power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland. I need not remind the House that the robbery has set back the timescale for achieving that. But the reality remains that long-term stability in Northern Ireland will not come about if we focus on exclusion. That objective requires inclusion: dialogue with Sinn Fein must continue in order to see how that long-term goal can be achieved. But I am clear that this must be inclusion on the basis of a complete and demonstrable commitment to non-violence and exclusively peaceful and democratic means, that fundamental principle of the Good Friday Agreement, enshrined in the Pledge of Office.

Had the robbery occurred while the Assembly was in operation, however, the decision about exclusion would have been very different. It is inconceivable, in my view, that members of Sinn Fein could again hold Ministerial office while the issue of paramilitary activity and criminality on the part of the Provisional IRA remained unresolved.

The suggestion is made in some quarters that I should restore the Assembly and then, if the Assembly itself failed to take action to exclude Sinn Fein, that I should take action myself using the powers available to me to exclude them. Mr Speaker, this would be very difficult in the absence of a clear plan which would see the parties in the Assembly come together on a cross-community basis to form a government for Northern Ireland. But as I said to the House on 11 January, I have not ruled anything in or out as we continue to assess possible ways forward for achieving greater local political accountability.

As my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister has said, if we can’t achieve a comprehensive settlement in the short term will we need to consider other ways forward.

In the meantime our focus will remain strongly on dealing with the underlying issue of ongoing criminal activity in all its forms. The police investigation into the Northern Bank robbery is the largest undertaken by the PSNI, who are continuing to follow up every lead. This is inevitably an intensive and time consuming process. In parallel with this, I am taking the opportunity to ensure that our arrangements for tackling organised crime remain fit for purpose and have asked my Honourable Friend, the Member for Dudley South, to review the Organised Crime Task Force to see whether, and how, it might be strengthened.

We continue to have excellent co-operation at both a political and operational level with colleagues from the South of Ireland. I met yesterday with Michael McDowell for a regular bilateral along with the police chiefs from both jurisdictions. At that meeting, I was pleased to see this co-operation further strengthened by the signing, by the Chief Constable and Garda Commissioner, of protocols which facilitate the movement of officers between both forces in terms of personnel exchanges and secondments with policing powers. This development can only serve to strengthen the existing co-operation between the two police services in tackling terrorism and other crime.

But whatever our success in tackling criminality and paramilitary activity, the fact of the matter is that the commitment to peaceful and democratic means is not one this Government needs to make. As we said in the Joint Declaration of April 2003, “ongoing paramilitary activity, sectarian violence and criminality masquerading as a political cause are all corrosive of the trust and confidence that are necessary to sustain a durable political process.”

In the present context it is, as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have both indicated, for Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA to do that. They need to step forward and tell us how they will demonstrate their full commitment to all the principles of the Good Friday Agreement and how they intend to demonstrate to all the other parties in the political process and to the people of Northern Ireland, that the kind of behaviour identified in the IMC report is in the past. Financial penalties of the kind I have described today may signify our strong disapproval of what has happened, but of themselves they do not rebuild the trust which is necessary if confidence is to be restored. That is a matter for the Republican movement in general, and Sinn Féin in particular.

  • Christopher Stalford

    IRA/SINN FEIN ACCOUNTS

    OPENING BALANCE: £26.5million

    DEBITS: – £600,000 from Westminster
    – approx. £3 million seized by Gardai/PSNI

    Closing balance: £22.9 million

    They’ll be crying into the Guinness in Crossmaglen tonight!

    Pathetic.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    So I reckon that’s about six post offices, a raid on Makro and Gallaher’s lorry load of fags to make it back up again.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Very good!

  • George

    Well Christopher and Gonzo,
    as no evidence is forthcoming all that can be done to SF is to cut state money given to the party.

    When they have collected all the evidence and a case can be made, I’m sure the PSNI and An Garda Siochana will wade in with a load of arrests.

    If they don’t have a case, they won’t make any arrests.

    If you trust the PSNI and Garda intelligence, you should at least show a little trust that they might actually get a conviction.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    ‘The IMC concluded, on the basis of its own careful scrutiny’

    Gotta love the British sense of humour.

  • Christopher Stalford

    Oh dry up, George! They were in it up to their eyeballs. They have been exposed as remaining wedded to violence and crime. They should be excluded from the political process until the IRA is totally stood down and violence given up for good.

  • J Kelly

    Will these sanctions stand against the three new SF MPs after the elections or are they only for the existing four.

  • Henry94

    The best reaction to this latest Draconian measure is to bury it under an avalanche of Sinn Fein votes in May.

  • J Kelly

    Well said Henry vote early……

  • Oilbhéar Chromaill

    Isn’t the DUP lucky that the IMC wasn’t about when [name removed]went to Billy Wright and his cutthroat friends in the LVF to appeal to them not to go on ceasefire, ie to carry on the blood letting, back in 1997? If one were to count up their expenses and salaries etc, they’d be down a pretty penny.
    Never mind, their UDA colleagues, up to their necks in extortion, prostitution, drug dealing etc would come to their aid no doubt. Wouldn’t want [name removed]to be seen in a suit he had worn before would we? Where are all those armani maroon berets gone I wonder?

  • George

    Christopher,
    as much as this may upset you, you are not the person to decide this. It is up to the police and the police alone to make their conclusions and to put them to a court of law.

    You are undermining the whole judicial process by trying and convicting people ahead of any court appearance.

    That to me is as heinous a crime as any bank robbery.

    Let the forces of law and order do their job. You will have plenty of time to let flow then but in the meantime, it might do you some good to “dry up”.

  • Mike

    What’s this, Oilbhéar, a republican accusing a politician without a court appearance taking place and without producing evidence? Surely not!

  • Keith M

    J Kelly “Will these sanctions stand against the three new SF MPs after the elections or are they only for the existing four.”. Did I miss Adams, McGuinnes & Doherty standing down?

    This may only be chickenfeed for the Chuckie Armani section, (maybe they can talk to their old mate Ben Dunne about getting discount) but a least it’s a step in the right direction.

    The significant line here is “It is inconceivable, in my view, that members of Sinn Fein could again hold Ministerial office while the issue of paramilitary activity and criminality on the part of the Provisional IRA remained unresolved.”. So the ministerial offices are the carrot, but where’s the stick?

  • PaddyCanuck

    The Gards are curiously silent on the origin of the 3 million squid, found in Cork and other places. I could add two and two and come to the conclusion that if they even found a five pound note from the bank raid they would have announced that bank raid money found amongst the money confiscated as part of the 2.3 million haul.

  • Malachy

    It still really amazes me that in one of the leading democracies of the free world – the word of a police officer can be taken as proof of criminal guilt, and as a result elected officials can be penalized.

    Would this even happen in Russia these days ?

  • James

    OK, so HMG is withholding 600K from Sinn Fein.

    Is there any means whereby Sinn Fein can contest this action and compel HMG to show cause why the 600K must be withheld, i.e., come up with publicly presented evidence? In other words, can Adams do what the Daily Ireland people are doing and sue?

    Malachy:

    If this were Russia Adams and McGuinness would have been dead years ago.

  • Keith M

    Malachy it still amazes me that SF/IRA continue to have an armed wing that and people are prepared to vote for a party who are nothing more than are group of criminal thugs. I also ask “would this even happen in Russia these days” ?

  • Keith M

    James “can Adams do what the Daily Ireland people are doing and sue?”. James I’ve lost track of the number of times that Adams has been accused of being on the IRA “Army council”. He has had ample opportunity to sue, strangely(?) he never has.

  • pakman

    Malachy

    I assume that you are referring to the Irish Republic where upon the uncorroborated evidence of a suitably senior Garda officer an accused can be convicted in the Special Criminal Court of membership of a proscribed organisation and be sentenced to a maximum of five years imprisonment?

    I look forward to the Provo god-fathers of Gerry, Martin and Pat facing this sort of Irish justice.

  • Malachy

    people are prepared to vote for a party who are nothing more than are group of criminal thugs

    Why do you think people vote for them then ?

    How come Sinn Fein are such a threat to the “mainstream” southern parties ? I would welcome any opinions.

  • Malachy

    If this were Russia Adams and McGuinness would have been dead years ago.

    I seem to recall that Adams at least has escaped attempts on his life in Ireland. Not sure about McGuinness.

  • Malachy

    I look forward to the Provo god-fathers of Gerry, Martin and Pat facing this sort of Irish justice.

    I guess there is something I do not understand about Irish culture then.

    Individuals must feel that their rights have some protection that I do not know about ? In the American scenario this kind of “justice” would make people of all political persuasions scream because it clears the way for violations of any individual’s rights. Do people in Ireland not fear this?

    Ireland does not have a Bill of Rights to my knowledge. What is the equivalent over there ?

  • James

    So, wee barristers, does Adams, et. al., have a route to compel HMG to publicly present evidence of criminal conspiracy or complicity?

    Malachy:

    “I seem to recall that Adams at least has escaped attempts on his life in Ireland. “

    Why do so many on the island recall but so few think? The Adams hit attempt was a typical prod job on a hard target: They knew location, had assets in play at the right place, at the right time, initiated the action on cue and still screwed it up. Even Stone screwed the pooch.

    The Loyalists are bozos. The Russians aren’t.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “does Adams, et. al., have a route to compel HMG to publicly present evidence of criminal conspiracy or complicity?”

    Yes he does. One of his colleagues has already tried it. It’s called a libel writ.

  • pakman

    Malachy

    you do realise that you are dealing with two different countries on this island don’t you?

    In the Irish Republic there is no Bill of Rights or domestic incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights. It is into this republic that Irish nationalists wish to take Northern Ireland.

    In the UK the Human Rights Act incorporated the ECHR into our domestic law and its protections can be pleaded in any court in any UK jurisdiction. It is this Kingdom in which unionists wish Northern Ireland to remain.

  • mucher

    Malachy,

    You asked why people vote for Sinn Fein? In the South people vote because of fear. Fear of the little thugs who roam at will in our sink estates.Fear of being burgled,or mugged,or beaten up and nothing being done about it. Calling the guards is a waste of time, nowhere to put them, they’re too young, only children you’re told even though they are sixteen or seventeen. Other political parties can do nothing. Maybe call for more gardi on the beat, write a letter for better lighting, more facilities for young kids. Sinn Fein does’nt need to DO anything. Simply pay a visit and have a quiet work with Mammy or Daddy. Problem solved! Thats why people vote Sinn Fein.

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Oilbhéar Chromaill

    As a journalist, you will understand that while you raise extremely salient points about the LVF’s relationship with the DUP, there are certain parts of your post that I don’t believe were ever proved.

    If you can provide evidence of your claim within, say, 24 hours (more than fair, I think), fine. As it is, I’m going to edit.

    My apologies.

  • Jimmy Sands

    To be fair to Oliver, I think the first allegation is pretty well documented. In fact IIRC the APNI did take the matter to the IMC of its day, but they ducked it.

  • James

    “It’s called a libel writ.”

    Thank you.

    Thus it is now my understanding that the Sinn Fein Westminster delegation has the right to demand that the government prove in a non-Diplock court that the Provos did it and that somehow Sinn Fein was complicit in the decision to do the job. If the government cannot or will not prove it, Sinn Fein gets their 600K, court costs and damages. If the government comes clean and delivers credible proof, Sinn Fein is out 600K, court costs and faces further attention from the DPP based upon material publicly presented in court.

    Is this all correct?

    Are court costs likely to be greater than 600K?