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Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 20 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he now plans to introduce new measures to combat terrorism in Northern Ireland.

As I stated in the House on 11 December, there have already been a number of important developments, including new measures to enhance cross-border security, a large increase in the establishment of the RUC, and a programme of re-equipment for the police. There have also been other measures of a more specifically operational nature, on which the House will not expect me to go into detail.

Is the Secretary of State aware that since he took office there has been a considerable increase in the number of people murdered as compared with the corresponding period last year, culminating in seven murders last weekend? Will he agree that the measures that he has taken hitherto have not been successful? Will he take more effective measures to defeat the IRA?

The House debated that issue a week ago. At that time I explained the actions of the Government. The hon. Gentleman put forward his point of view, as did many other hon. Members. The continuance of the emergency powers and the way that the Government should operate them, were approved on a Division at the end of the debate.

Does my right hon. Friend have anything to tell the House about cross-border security arrangements following the change of Prime Minister in the Republic?

There is a later question on the Order Paper relating to that, and I ask my hon. Friend to await my answer.

Is the Secretary of State aware that reports in the press this morning indicated that the army of the Republic of Ireland has acquired anti-aircraft guided missiles to combat aerial attacks by the IRA? If that is a real threat in the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it has been discussed at the cross-border security meetings? If it has been discussed, will he assure the House that the army in Northern Ireland has similar weapons available, and, more important, has authority to use them if necessary?

Over many years I have learnt not to believe everything that I read in the newspapers.

As the IRA is now carrying out attacks in areas hitherto not attacked, is the Secretary of State satisfied that his arrangements are really counteracting IRA terrorism?

The Government's arrangements for controlling the activities of the IRA can never be said to be operating wholly satisfactorily as long as the IRA is able to launch attacks on innocent individuals, members of the security forces and business premises. I am continually seeking ways of improving our actions in dealing with the IRA.

May I ask the Secretary of State questions on three matters of anxiety arising from recent incidents. First, if the Army is to use deserted farm houses as observation points, should it not have some means of guarding against intruders gaining access and mining the farmhouses, as occurred last weekend? Secondly, as new units seem to be singled out for attack fairly early in their tour, is he satisfied with the training for the new units? Thirdly, as motorised patrols are singled out for attack, will he consider pressing for more helicopters to be made available for operations in Northern Ireland, both independently and in conjunction with the motorised patrols?

The detailed implementation of security policy is left to the commanders of the security forces. The circumstances vary in each case. Nevertheless, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's remarks are brought to the attention of the GOC and the Chief Constable.

New army units arriving in the Province are given intensive and elaborate training and preparation for the circumstances that they might face on arrival. I do not know how much more we can do, although I am ready to discuss that with the GOC. There is no conclusive evidence that new units are being attacked rather than other units, but I shall consider that.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the use of helicopters. The helicopter is a valuable weapon in our armoury against the terrorist. It is not an exclusive weapon and we must maintain the rest of our activities against the terrorists. I am studying the deployment and use of helicopters because they are useful weapons against the enemy.