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Volume 984: debated on Thursday 8 May 1980

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


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


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

Since I last answered questions on 3 April, 41 people have been charged with serious crimes, including four with murder. One of those charged with murder is alleged to have been involved in the attack on the Ballymena to Belfast train on 17 January in which three people died.

The police are still questioning a number of people arrested on Friday last following an incident in which, I very much regret to have to tell the House, an Army officer was shot dead. In a follow-up operation, four men were arrested and a number of firearms, including an M60 machine gun and a considerable quantity of explosive material, were seized. Hon. Members will be aware that an M60 machine gun has been used in Belfast on a number of occasions in attacks on security forces. The seizure of this weapon is, therefore, particularly significant.

Altogether 38 weapons, 3,788 rounds of ammunition and considerable quantities of bomb-making material have been seized or discovered. The find on 29 April by a UDR patrol near Pomeroy of 900 lbs. of explosive packed into milk churns is a case in point. Those involved in the dangerous work of detecting and disarming this and other bombs are to be congratulated on their bravery and skill.

I regret to say that one member of the RUC, two members of the RUC Reserve, one ex-member of the UDR and one civilian have died at the terrorists' hands as well as the soldier I have already mentioned. Our sympathies go to the families of those killed.

During the course of last month, bomb attacks have damaged four hotels and a number of commercial properties in various towns around the Province, but a considerable number of attacks have been thwarted through vigilance and quick action by both the public at large and the security forces.

During my discussions with Irish Ministers on 15 April, we reviewed the existing arrangements for security cooperation. I am satisfied with the way in which they are operating. Hon. Members will have noticed, for example, the continuing successes of the Irish security forces in discovering arms and explosives caches.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very detailed and full reply, and I join him in paying full tribute to our security forces in Northern Ireland. Would not he accept that there is continuing carnage, destruction and loss of life in Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom?

If the Government of this country, in the persons of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, are not prepared to tolerate terrorism on the mainland of the United Kingdom, will they take whatever action is necessary to rout out and destroy the known terrorist cells in Northern Ireland, even if this means using further units of the highly successful SAS, which showed us that terrorism can be defeated?

My hon. Friend will know that the Government remain fully determined to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland. He will know also that we are pursuing the policy of doing this within the law. I refer him to the earlier part of my answer, when I told the House that during the last month 41 people have been brought before the courts and charged with serious crimes, including four with murder. This is the way in which we are seeking to suppress terrorism. I am glad to say that the security forces are becoming more and more professional and skilled as the weeks and months go by. I hope, with confidence, that that level of arrests and charges will continue, if not improve.

Will the Secretary of State make a statement about the murder of a member of the SAS? [Interruption.] He was murdered in my constituency, close to where the hon. Member for Belfast West (Mr. Fitt) lives. The members of the IRA, who were surrounded, gave themselves up. What weapons were seized and what charges have resulted from the incident? [Interruption.] I want to know because they came out with a white flag, as usual on the New Lodge Road, close to where the hon. Member lives.

The operation, to which I briefly referred in my original answer, was a very successful one. It is much to be regretted that, when a plain clothes Army patrol investigated a suspicious incident, it was fired upon and one officer was killed. But, thereafter, the security forces acted with extreme efficiency, and I am very happy to tell the House that the incident lasted for only a short time before the terrorists involved, as the hon. Gentleman said, hung out a white flag and surrendered. They are all in custody and are being questioned, because the police are anxious to determine precisely what charges they should prefer. This was an important capture of both weapons and people, and the security forces are to be congratulated on the way they handled it.

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the statement made by the Provisional IRA yesterday, to the effect that it intends to prevent the repair and future use of the Belfast-Dublin rail link?

The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for disrupting the rail link between Belfast and Dublin, and has now threatened—not for the first time—those working and travelling on it. This line is an important public service, of benefit to people of the north and of the south. The action and threats of the Provisional IRA demonstrate once again, if further demonstration were needed, that it cares nothing for ordinary people, north or south of the border, and is merely interested in destruction. Our determination to overcome this threat is quite unshaken.

Bearing in mind the confrontation in my constituency yesterday between certain hon. Members of this House and members of the security forces, can the Secretary of State tell us whether the RUC will arrest anyone on request, or is this a special facility extended only to members of the Democratic Unionist Party?

The Royal Ulster Constabulary decides when to make arrests. But I expect—and I believe that the House expects—that hon. Members should do everything they can to support the forces of law and order, rather than engaging in activities which actively hinder them.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many innocent people have been murdered in Northern Ireland in the past 12 months since the Secretary of State took office? Does that appalling, unabated slaughter not shame him, either into resignation or taking decisive action to defeat the terrorists, on the basis of what the Prime Minister has already declared, that the Government will not permit terrorism to exist in this country—or are the Ulster people second-class citizens?

Without notice I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise figure of people killed in the last 12 months, but I can tell him that it is too many.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government, supported by the whole House, are determined to overcome terrorism. We are embarked upon a particular course and I am convinced that it will be successful.

Will the Secretary of State consult his colleague the Secretary of State for Defence before consenting to certain UDR camp closures in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that many of us in this House believe that the advantages which may result from that action will be seriously outweighed by the disadvantages arising from such closures?

As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, this is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but I know of the anxiety, some of which he has expressed to me, as have other hon. Members. I assure him that I am bringing it to the attention of my right hon. Friend. It is the desire of the whole Government that the UDR, which is such a fine body of men and women, should be used to the maximum advantage. That is the whole purpose of any rearrangement we may seek to make. But I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he will realise that terrorism in Northern Ireland will never be defeated until there is proper extradition between the Irish Republic and the North of Ireland? Does he realise that, when, these murderers can hide and have safe refuge in the Republic, his forces cannot successfully deal with their attacks across the border? Will the right hon. Gentleman note that the people of Northern Ireland expect him not to enter into friendly relations with the Head of a hostile State which gives sanctuary to these murderers?

I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Gentleman. I believe that we can overcome terrorism, even though the Republic of Ireland does not practise the same law of extradition as we have in this country

As for not entering into friendly relations with another State, I must tell the hon. Gentleman and the House, that the co-operation between the security forces north and south of the border is, I am credibly informed by people who have longer experience of the Province than I, better than it has ever been. This must be an advantage.

Will the Secretary of State accept from the Opposition that it is the policy of the Government, as it has been of successive Governments, that it is for the police forces, supported by the Army, to bear the main brunt of overcoming the terrorist threat, and that those police forces do not need to be diverted from their main purpose by the irresponsible actions of people in authority?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if people want to persuade the Government of the Republic that a proper system of extradition should obtain, they are hardly likely to do so by acting in a thoroughly irresponsible and discourteous manner to the Irish Prime Minister?

Yes, Sir. I remain convinced that the combined efforts of security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic can overcome this problem. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms his party's acceptance of the policy which the Government are pursuing; a policy started by the previous Labour Government. I am sure that, in the long run, this is the right way. Each of us has his own way of persuading other people to do things. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has his way and I have mine. I believe that mine is the better way.