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Incident Centres

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the working of the incident centres; and if he will make a statement.

I would refer the hon. Member to the statement I made to the House yesterday.—[Vol. 888, c. 527–534.]

To what extent have the incident centres been used? Is it the intention to increase the number of such centres? Will the Secretary of State comment on the provisional Sinn Fein centres, and has he been able to allay the fears of the Dublin Government on this matter?

With regard to the last point, any views of the Dublin Govern- ment are of interest, but it is not my job to allay their fears on this matter. With regard to the number of matters which have passed through the incident centres, they total about 300 in recent weeks. Those which are significant are a very small number, but the small number of matters with which we have dealt have been important, and that is the main reason for my being able to say that the centres have been of practical value.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the existence of the incident centres is widely understood—or misunderstood—as implying that Her Majesty's Government have made conditions for the cease-fire? What steps can he take to dispel this misapprehension?

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, given the events of the last five years in Northern Ireland, with the large number of shootings and killings, it is difficult to prevent misunderstandings. Her Majesty's Government have made the situation absolutely clear. The centres exist for practical reasons and we do not wish the cease-fire to break down because of misunderstandings about something that may happen in Northern Ireland. That is the only purpose of the centres, and they have proved their value.

Is the Secretary of State aware that if Her Majesty's Government give official recognition to gunmen of the IRA, or any other gunmen, by the provision of incident centres or any other means, it will do serious damage to the rule of law throughout the whole of the United Kingdom?

In a period of five years a figure of £104 million has been paid out in compensation, another £70 million is in the pipeline, 1,100 people have died and 12,000 people have been injured. In unwinding that situation—and it is an extremely difficult one—I am not suggesting that we have found the answer. The situation means that I have to take risks, and this is one of them.