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Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to raise with the Government of the Irish Republic the question of extradition of persons from the United Kingdom now residing in the Irish Republic for whom the Royal Ulster Constabulary has issued warrants of arrest.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made with obtaining the extradition of alleged terrorists from the Republic of Ireland; and what resort has been had to the criminal jurisdiction legislation.

I have frequently made clear—most recently in my discussions on 5 October with Ministers of the Irish Republic—the Government's concern that those who commit terrorist crimes in Northern Ireland and flee to the Republic should be brought to justice. Extradition procedures have, in practice proved ineffective because the Irish High Court has found cause not to grant extradition for offences which are claimed to be political or to be associated with political offences.

Evidence gathered by the RUC concerning persons who are alleged to have committed terrorist offences in Northern Ireland, but who are now known to be in the Irish Republic, has recently been made available to the Garda. We hope this will enable the Garda to bring prosecutions under the extra-territorial criminal jurisdiction legislation, which allows terrorist suspects to be brought to trial in one jurisdiction for specified offences committed in the other after 1 June 1976.

It is solely for the responsible authorities in the Republic to determine whether charges should be brought, as would be the case in this country in similar circumstances. However, I remind hon. Members that I agreed with Irish Ministers on 5 October on the importance of making further use of the extra-territorial legislation.

Does the Secretary of State really expect this legislation to be effective? If he does, no one in Northern Ireland would agree with him. Is he aware that there is no provision in international law which prohibits extradition of such persons from the Irish Republic? The fault lies entirely with the Irish Republic. What effective steps does he now intend to take after his recent failure to bring these people to justice?

It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the decisions taken by the courts of another country, but I must say that I think the legislation will prove effective. The Irish Ministers whom I met on 5 October, including the Minister of Justice, agreed that the fuller use of the extra-territorial legislation was a step forward of which we should make better use.

Since the Irish Foreign Minister himself asserted when in Opposition, in line with the erudite article in The Daily Telegraph, that there is no constitutional objection to extradition, does my right hon. Friend not agree that consistency in this matter would be as welcome as the progress made in cross-border co-operation? Does he expect the Dublin Government to sign the European Convention?

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I should be in even greater difficulty if I were to involve myself in legal arguments. On the second part, I understand that the Dublin Government have indicated that they wish to sign the European protocol and I hope that they will.

The Minister will be aware that the Criminal Jurisdiction Act is the last remnant of the Sunningdale agreement and that it has been an Act of Parliament in Britain and Ireland since 1975. Why is it that it is only recently that the RUC in Northern Ireland has made evidence available to the Garda? Why did it not do so in 1976, 1977, last year and earlier this year? How many people in the Republic does the RUC wish to apprehend?

I referred to recent cases in which evidence has been gathered and sent to the Republic. They are not isolated. It has been done before. I mentioned those cases because, following our meeting and the collection of the evidence, we are asking the Irish authorities to proceed with prosecutions. I hope that we shall succeed. Without notice, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the number of people thought to be in the Irish Republic who are wanted by the RUC.

Will the Secretary of State accept that extradition is consequential on firm evidence being provided to the Eire courts and that the Act to which he has referred does not allow policemen to go in person to the courts to provide that evidence? Will he demand that the RUC should be admitted to the Eire courts and that the criminals who are indicted there should be extradited to Northern Ireland? If he does not agree to press for those measures, we shall have no alternative but to ask the Prime Minister to assume responsibility for security.

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is right in stating that witnesses, whether police officers or anyone else, are not allowed to attend courts in the Republic. I believe that to be an incorrect statement. If the hon. Gentleman can give me evidence that I am wrong, I shall take up the matter.

Has my right hon. Friend had any discussions with the Eire Government about the possibility of security forces in Ulster entering the territory of southern Ireland when it is clear to those security forces that a terrorist has been on Northern Ireland territory and has subsequently escaped to southern Ireland territory?

My hon. Friend may have seen that the discussions that I had with Ministers of the Republic on 5 October resulted in a communiqué issued by both Governments in which we confirmed that we have made a number of arrangements which we believe will considerably increase the effectiveness of our joint effort against terrorism. However, we agreed at the same time that we would not make those arrangements public. The House will readily understand why we are not making public precisely what we are doing. Anybody, including the Provisional IRA, can buy Hansard. I shall, therefore, not go into details in the House.

May I press the right hon. Gentleman to tell the House how many cases under the Act have been passed to the Government of the Irish Republic, and to report to the House when the results of that action—and whether the requests resulted in prosecution—come to hand? Since the major obstacle to extradition is the ability of those against whom extradition is sought to raise a political defence, does not the answer lie in the ratification by the Irish Republic Government of the European convention on terrorism?

The hon. Gentleman is right on the latter point. If the Irish Government were to ratify that convention, as we have done, the difficulties would disappear. I canot tell the hon. Gentleman how many applications for extradition have been made recently unless he accepts the period since 1971 as being recent enough. In that time, 75 warrants have been sent to the Republic for people who are suspected of committing terrorist offences and only one person has been returned to Northern Ireland. In the same period, 152 warrants have been sent to the Republic for the extradition of persons suspected of non-terrorist offences and 52 people have been returned to the Province.