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Lidington: Sinn Féin must show commitment is permanent and irreversible

Speech to DUP business and politics event, Belfast

"Like the Government, and everyone in this room, I want to see the current, unaccountable system of direct rule brought to an end.

My Party wants a properly functioning, democratic Assembly at Stormont. Locally elected politicians should take the decisions that affect everyone here in Northern Ireland.

I am acutely aware of the inadequacies of how we deal with Northern Ireland business at Westminster.

Only yesterday, Peter Hain used a Parliamentary Committee packed with Government placemen to ram through an Order to prohibit any academic selection in Northern Ireland.

If this measure had affected English schools, it would have been subject to the full legislative procedure of a Bill. Yesterday, it was all over in just 2 ½ hours, with Parliament not even allowed to consider amendments.

The Government did this despite the fact that on 25th May this year, the Secretary of State and all his Ministers voted against a comparable measure for English schools - and despite the opposition of more than 60 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland to what they are doing.

Mr Hain might trumpet the fact his legislation leaves open the possibility that if the Assembly is restored by 24th November, then it will be able to decide whether or not to proceed with the ban. Otherwise it will automatically become law.

We say that this measure would be as undemocratic on 25th November as on 24th November. I hope it doesn't come to that. I would like to see the 24th November deadline met, devolution restored and the Assembly deal with education reform.

But that deadline is not going to be met by ignoring what needs to be done between now and then - or by simply placing all the pressure on unionists.

Republicans have moved. I welcome last year's statement and the act of decommissioning.

But we are not there yet.

The IMC has not given the IRA an entirely clean bill of health.

Some senior republicans remain involved in crime.

Paramilitary groups are using Restorative Justice Schemes to impose their control on local communities.

And, crucially, Sinn Féin in still refuses to support the police or recognise the courts.

When Mr Adams describes a certain South Armagh farmer as 'not a criminal but a good republican', or in the Republic of Ireland, Martin Ferris refuses to co-operate with the police over the murder of Garda McCabe due to his 'higher loyalty' to the IRA. It hardly inspires confidence.

The Conservative Party believes that the Government should be putting the maximum pressure on republicans to take the steps that will enable unionists to share power with them.

Those steps are clear.

Criminal activity has to end for good.

And Sinn Féin must show support for the police and the criminal justice system.

Not simply by joining the Policing Board, but by encouraging co-operation with the police at all levels.

Let us hear republican leaders urge their supporters to give evidence of crime to the police.

If those things happen then I believe, difficult as it will be for some, unionists would be doing the right thing by agreeing to share power with Sinn Féin.

Not only that - as someone who wishes to see Northern Ireland remain within the United Kingdom - I would encourage unionists to do it.

But if devolution this time is going to be built to last, then it must be based on the firmest of democratic foundations.

Sinn Féin must have demonstrably committed itself to 'exclusively peaceful and democratic means' - and show that their commitment is both permanent and irreversible."

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