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Detainees (Release)

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 13 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many detainees have been released from Long Kesh in 1975.

Fifty-three persons have been released from detention since the beginning of 1975, 50 of whom were detained in Maze Prison at the time of their release. Of the 53, I released 38 by executive action and the remainder were released by the Commissioners and the Detention Appeal Tribunal.

Last year, while my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was responsible for all the detailed work, I set up an independent resettlement association. I believe that the work it has done has been a precursor to what I hope we can do under the Gardiner Report, which made certain recommendations.

Does the Secretary of State remember the figures he gave last year about the proportion of released detainees who returned within six weeks to their former criminal activities? I believe that something like one-third of those released went back to terrorism. Has the right hon. Gentleman any assurances to give to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland that that proportion will not be a feature of releases this year?

The vast majority of those released last year were released by the Commissioners and not by me. Even so, this is a judgment I have to make. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will read carefully the statement I have made about releases. There must be a genuine, sustained cessation of violence.

Will my right hon. Friend indicate what his policy will be if the cease-fire continues in the foreseeable future? Does he intend to release detainees, and, if so, at what levels?

I have made it abundantly clear in three statements to the House that if there is a genuine, sustained cessation of violence I can move quickly. If I know that during a cease-fire arms are being moved, that explosives are coming into the Province and that there are knee-cappings, kangaroo courts, and all the other apparatus, that will inhibit what I hope to do. I have to make a balance. It is not easy, but I hope to do it correctly.

Reverting to the rehabilitation of released detainees, can the Secretary of State give the number of detainees who have been helped by the scheme? Will he tell us how much money is available for their rehabilitation and whether any of these men have been successfully employed?

The total grant made to the independent body was £15,000. I do not have the precise number—I can give it to the hon. Gentleman—but many people have been helped to obtain jobs. I regard it in many respects as a pilot scheme on which to work. I hope that we can do more. I should say that in some instances those coming out of the Maze do not wish to be helped.

My right hon. Friend keeps referring to a "genuine, sustained cessation of violence". He seems to believe that he has switched off the violence from the Provisional IRA in relation to the truce. The violence at the moment is emanating from the Loyalist community. If that violence continues, will it mean that no Republican detainees will be released?

Obviously, in the judgment I make I shall take into account where the violence comes from. I do not have the full details. They were coming through as I came to the House. I understand that today a number of Catholics—I put it that way—in Northern Ireland have received Valentine cards and that on the backs of the envelopes were the letters "SWALK", which we all knew of as children. Those letters contained bombs, which have caused injuries to people in Northern Ireland. A bomb has been placed in a Catholic area. Do these people want peace, or do they just want the situation to be perpetuated for ever?