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Volume 980: debated on Thursday 6 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he considers that there has been any improvement since 3 May of last year.


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

Since I last addressed the House on 7 February, 38 people have been charged with terrorist-type offences, including nine with murder and three with attempted murder. Of these, four persons have been charged in connection with the attempt to bomb a Belfast bank on 15 February, and three persons have been charged with the murder of a man in Belfast last Friday. During that period the security forces also seized 2,508 rounds of ammunition and 14 weapons. Two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were killed in Rosslea on 11 February. Three civilians have been shot dead since 7 February, one of them following a cold-blooded kidnapping; and a young boy has died after being struck by a missile during the stoning of an Army vehicle by a crowd of youths. During last weekend 44 buses were destroyed or damaged in terrorist attacks on bus depots in Belfast and Newry, and on Monday, 8 explosive devices exploded outside business premises in the main street of Maghera, causing extensive damage to two premises. In addition, I regret to tell the House that about two hours ago the body of a man was found in County Armagh, near the border. Full details are not yet available. I am waiting for a detailed report.

As for the second part of the question put by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) the number of deaths sustained as a result of terrorist activity in the period from last May to February this year has increased. On the other hand, there has been a substantial reduction in the level of injuries, and in the number of explosions. But statistics give a very partial picture. The IRA is more isolated than ever from the sympathy, let alone the support, of ordinary people. I do not pretend that the end of terrorism is in sight, but I believe that we are making progress.

Does the Secretary of State not agree that those details are totally unacceptable? Does he further agree that, if anything, they point solely to the fact that his whole security policy must be reviewed? Does he remember that when he spoke to the House on 7 February, he gave an undertaking that he was reviewing security policy in relation to public transport? In his statement he said that considerable damage has been done in that sphere. Will he review the security arrangements for public transport once again?

The Government's security policy was the subject of debate just before Christmas. It was supported by the House. It is, of course, under continual review. We are constantly seeking ways of making it more effective. A review takes place not once a month, but all the time.

As regards public transport, at that time we were discussing three deaths that had occurred on a train. Although I very much regret, as we all do, that buses have been damaged and destroyed in a bus depot, it is some comfort that no one was killed.

I have read with interest the recent speeches of the GOC and the Chief Constable. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the level of cooperation between the Army and the RUC?

Yes, Sir. The Chief Constable and the GOC work closely together. As my hon. Friend has said, each of them made a speech about a fortnight ago. I think that the GOC used the phrase:

"the Chief Constable's and my mind work as one".
That can be only beneficial.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the body lying at the border today is that of Mr. Harry Livingstone? He was a decent, hardworking young man. He was a pillar of the local community and a former member of the UDR. No doubt he was murdered by the IRA. His murderer is probably now celebrating in a pub in the Republic. Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that Mr. Livingstone was a personal friend of mine? It is typical of the situation in which he lived, that when I last talked to him he was attending the funeral of one of his colleagues who had been murdered in similar circumstances. How can political progress, or any other progress, be made in Northern Ireland if those people have to live in such circumstances, and have to meet their deaths whenever the IRA so chooses?

I am very sad that the man who has been killed was a friend of the hon. Gentleman. I think that he has more information than me at his disposal. He knows more about the identity and history of the man. He knows more also about his killers. I do not have that information at the moment. Naturally, we shall follow up the incident with the greatest care. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information.

Any death by terrorist activity is one too many. We continually strive to reduce the number of deaths. I know that the hon. Gentleman realises that it is impossible to provide round-the-clock protection for everyone in Northern Ireland. I know that the efforts that we are making will bring about a gradual decrease in terrorist activity. I hope that one day those activities will be reduced to such a level that they will no longer be a menace to anyone.