HL Deb 01 March 2004 vol 658 cc41-2WS
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made the following Ministerial Statement.

On Friday 20 February the Police Service of Northern Ireland made a number of arrests in connection with an alleged assault and abduction. The case is sub judice.

Four people now face serious charges, including grievous bodily harm, possession of articles likely to be of use to terrorists and unlawful imprisonment. The PSNI are following a number of very definite evidential lines, including video material and the items, clothing and other forensic material recovered at the scene. The Chief Constable of the PSNI has made clear to me that he is satisfied that there was Provisional IRA involvement in the incident.

These events are a matter of serious concern. As far as the overall situation is concerned, my assessment of the various paramilitary organisations' ceasefires, in the light of information I have received, remains unchanged. But all the indications are that there has been a serious breach of the requirement set out by the British and Irish Governments in paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration for an end to all forms of paramilitary activity.

Such behaviour is wholly unacceptable. As the Government have repeatedly made clear, parties cannot be half-in, half-out of the democratic process. All paramilitary activity must stop.

These developments have inevitably had a serious impact on this week's discussions with the Northern Ireland political parties within the review of the operation of the Belfast agreement. At those meetings, we listened carefully to the views of the parties and, in particular, to their concerns about the implications of these events for the establishment of the trust and confidence required to achieve a successful outcome to the review and to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Both Governments are now asking the Independent Monitoring Commission, which was established in January, to examine Friday's incident in the context of the preparation of its first report on paramilitary activity. We have also asked the commission to bring that report forward from July to May. The report is expected to take account of all paramilitary incidents and activities within its remit since the commission's establishment. The commission is obliged by law not to do anything in carrying out its functions that might have a prejudicial effect on any legal proceedings.

Both the British and Irish Governments are very clear that the achievement of a sustainable basis for political progress in Northern Ireland requires a full and permanent cessation of all paramilitary activity. As part of the wider agenda of the review, it is vital that we intensify engagement with the parties on this core issue, and we envisage that next week there will be a significant focus on it.