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Provisional Sinn Fein (Talks)

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 13 February 1975

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7.

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the recent discussions which his Department has had with the Provisional Sinn Fein.

I have reported regularly and openly to the House on 14th January, 5th February and also last Tuesday on the actions of myself and my officials.

With regard to the incident centres which I announced on Tuesday, I have decided that they will be set up at North Belfast, West Belfast, Armagh, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Londonderry and Newry.

I repeat that, if developments occur which seem to threaten the cease-fire, these incident centres will act as a point of contact in either direction with Provisional Sinn Fein, which I de-proscribed last May. This is their sole purpose. They will not take complaints from the public. They will not in any way interfere with the work of elected representatives or of the security forces or of any other organisations.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent, during the discussions which his officials have had with representatives of Sinn Fein, those representatives have accepted that there will be a continuation of the Province of Ulster within one United Kingdom?

The matter has never been discussed. As I reported to the House, we explained Government policy and we discussed practicalities. As I have often said, the future of Northern Ireland is for the people of Northern Ireland. There is to be a Convention later this year.

Is my right hon. Firend aware that the statement which he made to the House on Tuesday is causing a great deal of confusion in Northern Ireland? Does he realise that spokesmen for the Provisional Sinn Fein movement have been taking every opportunity of which they can avail themselves to try to indicate to the people in Northern Ireland that they have been given a responsibility for the policing of the areas in which the centres have been set up? Further, is he aware that my constituents in West Belfast and constituents in other areas of Northern Ireland are bitterly resentful that this should even appear to be so? Will he give, through me, to my constituents an understanding that in any talk about policing or law and order in the areas concerned the elected representatives will be listened to before the Provisional Sinn Fein spokesmen?

I shall always be pleased to meet the Leader of the SDLP to discuss policing. That is a most important matter in Northern Ireland. There is no question of policing being passed on to anyone else. The Army has not withdrawn from the areas in which it is involved and the police have not withdrawn from other areas. I have made the situation clear. I cannot be responsible for statements that are made by anyone else.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Provisional IRA is investigating the incidents in Belfast and passing on information to the security forces? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman as he is the only Secretary of State who has encouraged the police forces of Northern Ireland to take over law and order, but will he assure the House that he will endeavour to involve the police in the areas in which the incident centres have been set up? Does he agree that there is still a long way to go in involving the police?

I have always willingly given support to the police. In general, the security forces are the only bodies responsible for security in Northern Ireland. I must make it clear that anyone who has any information—for example, information concerning today's bombings—is entitled to pass it on to the police. That has nothing to do with the incident centres that I have set up.