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Provisional Sinn Fein (Talks)

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further talks have taken place, since the announcement of the cease-fire in Northern Ireland, between his officials and Provisional Sinn Fein; and what was the agenda for this meeting or meetings.

Contacts have continued between my officials and Provisional Sin Fein to discuss the maintenance of the cease-fire.

Is the Secretary of State aware that those people with whom his officials have contact—the Provisional Sinn Fein—have recently distributed a document stating that searches and policing problems have been resolved in a way that favours them and the Republican areas? Does he agree that it is important to establish, once and for all, that the only police force that is acceptable to this House and to the people of Northern Ireland is the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

I gladly make that statement. There is only one police force in Northern Ireland—the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That is true not only in Republican areas but in so. called Loyalist areas, because I must implement it all over Northern Ireland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when we were recently in Belfast it was forcibly drawn to our attention by representatives of the Provisional Sinn Fein that they find it difficult to do any sort of policing whilst they are under the guns of the Green Howards, who are going about Andersonstown in numbers and are doing their job efficiently and well?

My hon. Friend is right. The Army, albeit in a different ô and at relative strengths in different areas—depending on the number of sectarian murders taking place the night before where there is internecine warfare between various bands of the IRA—is present and doing its job. The Government wish to reduce the rôle of the Army, but where it is required, particularly in certain areas, there it will be.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many of my constituents in Belfast, North, especially in the New Lodge Road and Ardoyne areas, are eternally grateful to him for reintroducing the police to those areas? Does he agree that the RUC came under vicious attack by some IRA elements, especially in the Ardoyne area, on 21st February? Will he assure the House that, while doing a terrific job by introducing the police to those areas, he will give the RUC the protection that it needs and deserves?

I should like to bring one point to the notice of the hon. Gentleman, who knows the North Belfast interface with West Belfast better than anybody in this House. There have been real problems over the years. However, I think that he will agree that some of the little local incidents that have occurred recently have not been of the depth and degree that they were two, three or four years ago. There is a problem here. The hon. Gentleman, above all, will appreciate that I ought to move with circumspection regarding policing.

I am sorry to nag about the question of the different rôle of the Army. Will the Secretary of State assure us—I am asking a genuine question—that the soldiers on the streets know that they are performing a different rôle?

The soldiers on the ground know that they are performing a different rôle. When talking to some of them last week I received a great deal of wisdom because of their knowledge of the people in the area. I praise the soldiers on the ground in Northern Ireland. As I said before, while not wishing to perform an old-type colonial rôle, they understand the areas. All of us could learn a great deal from them.