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Volume 978: debated on Thursday 7 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress has been made by Her Majesty's Government in defeating Irish Republican Army terrorism.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement concerning security in Northern Ireland.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the security situation in the Province.

Since I last answered questions on 20 December, 12 persons have been charged with murder, including one person charged with a murder committed as long ago as 1973. The House will be glad to note that the law continues to reach into the past in such matters. During the same period 11 persons have been charged with attempted murder, and 58 persons have been charged with other terrorist-type offences. The House will also have noted with satisfaction a number of recent successes by the Army in preventing major explosive attacks, and by the security forces of the Irish Republic in seizing terrorist arms and explosives.

I regret to say, however, that the IRA has continued its senseless campaign of violence. Considerable damage was caused to buildings in Armagh, Aughnacloy and Kilrea on 15 January and to the Auction Rooms in Belfast on Monday 4 February. Twenty buses were destroyed or damaged by terrorist devices in the Falls Road bus depot on 1 February. On 17 January a bomb exploded on a train killing not only the IRA terrorist carrying it but two totally innocent passengers. In all, 17 people have died as a result of terrorist action since 20 December, nine civilians, seven members of the security forces and one member of the prison service.

As I stressed to the House on 20 December, this catalogue of outrages demonstrates that the terrorists have nothing to offer the people of Northern Ireland, except destruction and division.

The security forces will continue their intensive operations to counter terrorist activity through the law and bring criminals to justice.

Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

In view of the appalling catalogue of security statistics which the Secretary of State has outlined, does he feel that it is time for the review that he promised he would undertake if the situation continued as it was? In particular, can he tell us what measures he intends to take following his review of security on public transport?

As I told the House in my statement a few Fridays ago, we have reviewed security on public transport and have taken a number of steps. I do not think that it would be in the public interest to detail those steps, but we have intensified the security precautions on public transport in a way which, I hope, will prevent further outrages on trains, such as happened the other day. We are continuing to review the method of operation of the security forces. Week after week we study how best we can counter the activities of the terrorists, who know no law. We must abide by the law and use our forces in the best way that we can.

As a result of my right hon. Friend's discussions with Ministers of the Republic on co-operation on security across the border, can he tell the House how many arrests and arms finds have been made in both Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland?

I cannot give the House the specific figures for which my hon. Friend has asked. What I can say is that co-operation between the security forces of Northern Ireland and those of the Republic is extremely valuable. I am happy to say that it is working well and is producing results. Of course, the individual forces of both Northern Ireland and the Republic will continue to do everything that they can in their own areas, but the co-operation between them is something that we value very much, and it is producing results.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Provisional IRA is both drilling and parading in Republican areas? What action does he intend to take to stop it?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and everyone else, will co-operate with the security forces. The moment that they hear of any illegal parades taking place, the security forces will take immediate action. I hope that everyone will co-operate, because these kinds of parades and activities are distasteful to everyone, and are illegal, which is the main point.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the strength of the Ulster Defence Regiment, particularly in the border areas? In view of a recent statement that the regiment could do with 500 more part-time members, will the right hon. Gentleman consider increasing the bounty provided to the regiment, to bring it into line with the Territorial Army?

We continually seek to increase the strength of the UDR. Indeed, a recruiting campaign is under way which I hope will produce an accretion to its strength. The UDR does not play quite the same front role in the border areas as it does in 11 of the other police districts. However, its activities are extremely valuable and the more recruits, that we can get, the better. The question of the bounty is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I know that he is examining it urgently.

Does the Secretary of State agree that vindictive accusations against the security forces are treated as an incitement to murder Army, UDR and RUC personnel? Does he further agree that those who engage in such vile propaganda are every bit as guilty as those who pull the trigger?

The security forces, be they Regular Army or policemen, are the front line of defence for the ordinary citizen of Northern Ireland. What I have repeatedly said, and say again, is that it is in the interests of every peace-loving citizen of the Province to support the security forces. Attacks on the forces have been mounted consistently over a period of years, and they do nothing but undermine the peace and security of the Province.

In his more reflective moments, does the Secretary of State think that in his efforts to counter the IRA it was altogether wise to spurn the offers of help—for such they were—from Governor Carey, Congressman O'Neill and other Americans?

The greatest help that Governor Carey, Congressman O'Neill and other Americans can give, and have given, is to seek to stem the flow of money from the United States to the IRA. For that we are all extremely grateful. I shall do everything that I can to ensure that people in the United States understand what is happening in Northern Ireland, and any help that can be given will be extremely welcome.

As the Provisional IRA is still claiming the lives of many innocent people, including that of the boy who was burnt to death on the train, surely even the right hon. Gentleman must realise that new and stronger measures must be taken against these psychopathic killers. Will he seriously consider summoning the Northern Ireland Committee to meet at Stormont, if necessary in camera, to debate security and to call before it anyone connected with protecting the lives of people in Northern Ireland, so that at least we can see some progress?

When and where the Northern Ireland Committee meets is not a matter for me, but I note what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to reconsider the Government's disagreement with the civilian searchers? This dedicated band of people are responsible for keeping open the commercial life of Belfast's city centre, but they have no power of arrest. Surely civilian searchers should be accompanied by someone, be he soldier or policeman, who has that power of arrest, so that if they apprehend a malefactor he can be arrested immediately.

I and other Ministers met the civilian searchers and their representatives in Belfast before we altered the arrangements. I am happy to say that the civilian searchers are continuing their duties. I stressed to them, as did members of the security forces, that the arrangements that we have made to provide protection for them in no way reduced their safety. They have power to search, but they do not have powers of arrest. However, the security forces are within reach and can be summoned to arrest people with whom there are difficulties. I am happy to say that the civilian search unit is still operating just as efficiently as ever it was.

The right hon. Gentleman evades the real point. The civilian searchers are certainly working normally, and that is a great tribute to them, but in no way do they feel persuaded by the adequacy of the present arrangements. How on earth are they to detain people while they go out to look for someone to arrest them? That is the crucial problem that has not yet been answered.

Let me put the hon. Gentleman right. Civilian searchers do not go out to look for someone. There are arrangements whereby they can summon assistance within seconds or minutes if there are difficulties. I hope that they are satisfied with these arrangements. I believe that they are, because as I have said, they are working just as efficiently as ever.