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Northern Ireland

Volume 978: debated on Tuesday 12 February 1980

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11.

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on operations in Northern Ireland.

The Armed Forces continue to demonstrate high levels of courage, skill and resourcefulness in carrying out their task in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In the first month of this year, 68 people have been charged with terrorist offences, including 12 for murder and eight for attempted murder. Sadly, one regular soldier and four UDR soldiers have been killed in 1980 by terrorist activities, which continue to be directed primarily at members of security forces. However, three bombs totalling over 1,000 lbs have been defused by ammunition technical teams and there have been significant finds of weapons and explosives.

Apart from the Regular Army, does my right hon. Friend agree that the Ulster Defence Regiment deserves the thanks of Parliament after a decade of endurance, tedium, danger and cowardly murder, and, in particular, intimidation of its Roman Catholic members? Will the Ulster Defence Regiment receive a bounty no less than that received by those in the Territorial Army in time for the tenth anniversary of its splendid service?

I am delighted to underline in every detail the highly proper remarks and tribute paid by my hon. Friend to the Ulster Defence Regiment. It performs a valuable service. I absolutely refute any suggestion of sectarian bias in the regiment. Bounties for the Ulster Defence Regiment are being studied, and I hope to make an announcement soon.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the need to strengthen the defence capability in frontier areas, particularly in view of the muderous assaults mounted against the security forces in County Fermanagh?

It is not for me to decide on the deployment of forces. That is for the GOC.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in those fairly rare cases where a member of Her Majesty's Forces is badly injured, compensation will be interpreted in the most humane and understanding way possible?

While joining with the Minister in his commendation of the Army, the UDR and anyone else in Northern Ireland on security duties, may I press him to say something about the possibility of long-term units? There was a suggestion that there would be long-term units in Northern Ireland to save rapid turnover.

We are moving towards more resident battalions. Indeed, a fifth was introduced at Aldergrove in September 1978. Planning is in hand for a sixth resident battalion, which will mean a reduction in the overstretch and turbulence for the other soldiers involved.