Thursday, July 23, 1998 Published at 18:38 GMT 19:38 UK
Row over terrorists joining new assembly
"Sinn Fein-IRA must renounce violence": Andrew Mackay
Conservatives are attempting to ensure that anyone with terrorist links is barred from holding office in the new Northern Ireland Assembly.
Highlighting brutal punishment attacks and beatings which are still taking place in the province, they say it is not enough for paramilitaries to call a ceasefire.
The Opposition tabled amendments to the Bill which puts into effect the Good Friday Agreement, being rushed through Parliament before recess.
It was not the case that all is well and more often than not, the poorest and most vulnerable suffer, he said.
'Weapons must be abandoned'
Mr Mackay said the Bill should be strengthened to prevent "Sinn Fein-IRA" taking up ministerial positions unless they give up all violence including punishment beatings for good.
The Bill was going through its committee stage on the floor of the House of Commons. Like the Agreement, it does not make direct links between decommissioning and the taking up of seats on the assembly's executive.
The Tories argue that Mr Blair gave reassurances in the run-up to the referendum implying that those who had not begun decommissioning would be excluded.
The Opposition amendments seek to directly link decommissioning and the taking up of seats.
Mr Mackay said there were positive advantages to Sinn Fein members taking seats but in a democracy they must renounce violence totally.
'No changes needed'
But David Winnick (Lab, Walsall North) argued that punishment acts were clearly outlawed by the Agreement.
Anyone supporting acts of violence has no right to take office, said Mr Winnick. "There's absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever."
The amendments were unnecessary as the Bill already contained safeguards, he said.
The assembly's First Minister, David Trimble, who put forward a separate amendment, believed it was essential to write sanctions into the legislation.
"But we're not following an agenda of exclusion," he said, "We've never said that because a person has a past, he cannot have a future. We recognise a person can change."
"We owe it to them that we do everything possible to make sure that their fears will be listened to and acted on," she said.
Given that decommissioning was in the Agreement, it should be in the Bill as well, she said.
'Automatic support' warning
Andrew Hunter, vice-chairman of the Tory backbench Ulster committee, warned: "We are so heartily sickened by sectarian violence and so earnestly yearn for it to end that there is perhaps a danger that we will suspend our critical faculties and, like automatics, support any measure or gesture which purports to promote peace."
Mr Hunter (Basingstoke), who opposed the Good Friday Agreement, said many Unionists voted "yes" in the referendum because of their understanding of what the Prime Minister had said.
Responding for the government, Northern Ireland Minister Paul Murphy stressed the Agreement stipulated "those who hold office should use only non-violent means".
The new Northern Ireland administration was "open to all those who share this commitment to democratic and peaceful means", he said.
Mr Murphy said the Agreement provided adequate safeguards for removing those with proven links to violence, and the Tory and Unionist demands would merely "replace or add to the grounds for exclusion".
The amendments were defeated by 272 votes to 144.