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Cease-Fire And Incident Centres

Volume 894: debated on Thursday 26 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the operation of the Provisional IRA cease-lire and of Her Majesty's Government's incident centres.

It is 136 days since the Provisional IRA declared its cease-fire. The cease-fire has led to a very marked reduction in Provisional IRA activity. As such it has made a valuable contribution. The Government incident centres have helped to achieve this by preventing misunderstandings. The continuance of the cease-fire is to be desired.

As everyone knows, during this period violence within and between both communities has continued. Steps are being taken to stamp it out. But a real contribution would be made if those who are responsible for violence would adopt the cease-fire principle and contribute to keeping the peace between the communities.

Meanwhile it would be helpful if more people were prepared to speak out against violence, whatever its source. As I said in the House on 16th June, the hon. Gentleman has so spoken.—[Vol. 893, c. 959–60.]

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Provisional IRA has been guilty of serious violations of the cease-fire in the killing of members of the security forces? Can he tell us whether the telephone numbers of incident centres are available only to the leaders of the Provisional Sinn Fein? Is he aware of the feeling in Northern Ireland among all sections of the community that these incident centres are not really helpful but are giving Provisional IRA members a standing in the community to which they are not entitled as they cannot be elected to office?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point, that election is the way to discover the degree to which anyone represents a community. But I am sure that these incident centres have played a part in preventing misunderstandings. There are occasions when people jump to conclusions and decide which group has carried out a bombing or a murder. The centres are extremely valuable.

There has not been a genuine cease-fire, of course. I hope that it will develop. The hon. Gentleman knows that in Northern Ireland at the moment there is violence of a different nature—it is internecine, interfactional and sectarian—and that, although every sort of violence matters to me, it is most important to stop the growth of the other sort of violence which is balanced more on the Loyalist side than on the Provisional side.

Despite the fact that the cease-fire may not be absolute and is regarded in many ways as being far from it, is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been a change in climate, and will he accept from me that it will be very important that the opportunities during this period should be grasped with both hands? Many of us are concerned especially about the time scale in connection with the commission. Will my right hon. Friend see to it that the greatest amount of progress is made in these directions to take full advantage of the improved climate which exists?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tenor of his remarks. Of course the cease-fire is not absolute, but it is a beginning which I hope will grow and flower. I must make the point again that not all the violence in Northern Ireland comes from the Provisional IRA. The security forces have to take both sides into account.

As for the Convention, which is what I think my hon. Friend was referring to, I ask him to adopt the attitude that I have adopted. Representatives in Northern Ireland are talking together. They know the views of this House. Let us not chivvy, hurry or harangue them. It is important that they should have the chance to talk together. There are no quick results in this. I believe that much is happening there which at the end of the day may be of advantage.

Does the Secretary of State agree that since the Provisional IRA cease-fire came into operation the IRA and many other organisations in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast, have openly engaged in a vicious and brutal campaign of sectarian murder, and that in these circumstances many people are saying that internment and detention in Northern Ireland leads to the holding of hostages from the minority Republic side as a result of the actions which are now being committed by Loyalist extremist organisations? Will he give an indication whether, in view of the cease-fire and the way in which it has held, he will take steps to end detention as soon as possible?

There is a later Question which deals with that last point. The numbers I have released since the turn of the year will show the Government's intention. What I have discovered in Northern Ireland, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman with his much greater experience will know, is that it is not right to believe the claims of many people who telephone and claim that a certain organisation has carried out a crime or a murder. It seems to me that there are organisations which take names for an evening. There are people who ring up and make claims in the name of organisations which are in existence.

What matters is that the individual who carries out the crime shall be dealt with through the police. The Chief Constable in Northern Ireland announced today the setting up of a special squad of detectives to work with the 250-strong special patrol group, which in my view is a clear indication that the police are concentrating on what is necessary in Northern Ireland—policing. Not intern- ment, not detention but good policing, to the individual who commits the crime. is the way in which this Government want to proceed in Northern Ireland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that his incident centres can operate only as long as the Provisional IRA maintains its centres and that in Newry, when the Provisional IRA closed down its incident centre, the Government incident centre ceased to operate? Does not that situation give a credibility in the community to the Provisional IRA to which it is not entitled?

There are a number of incident centres. The one in Newry closed down. I do not believe that that gives a credibility to the organisation. There may be many reasons for that, given the nature of that part of the Province.

I understand the way people who are politically motivated feel about this. I believe that it is vital to have these incident centres. Everything that happened at the turn of the year reinforces that in my mind. I want the cease-fire, which is the Provisional IRA cease-fire, to continue. I am sure that is the right approach. I want to play any small part I can in this respect in keeping it going.