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Volume 78: debated on Thursday 9 May 1985

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


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


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

Since I last answered questions in the House on 4 April, two civilians have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province.

The security forces' efforts to defeat terrorism continue, and since the beginning of this year a total of 171 people have been charged with serious offences, including 20 with murder. 89 weapons, 3,327 rounds of ammunition and 2,222 lb of explosives have been recovered. The bulk of the explosives—about 1·5 tonnes—was found near Dungannon on 25 April. By denying the terrorists the use of that murderous material, the security forces undoubtedly prevented them from inflicting a great deal of destruction and suffering on the community, and I echo the earlier commendation of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the negative effect on security in Northern Ireland of such events as the visit of the Irish Premier to Londonderry, especially in view of the apparent acquiescence of the Northern Ireland office in that context?

I am not sure that I follow the connection made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister made clear the position about Dr. FitzGerald's visit to Londonderry. He is entitled to come and go there, if he wishes. We were informed of his arrangements, but the decision, timing and arrangements were his. We neither were asked for nor gave advice.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House is full of admiration for the efforts of the security forces? Is he entirely satisfied with the co-operation that he gets from the security forces in the Republic, especially at senior officer level, when a fugitive is fleeing from the law? Do we get full cooperation in that eventuality?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first remark. Yes, we get co-operation. As the Irish Foreign Minister said in London earlier this week, such cooperation is in the interests of both Governments. I should like to see it improved. The right summary of the position is that co-operation is good, but could be improved.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anxiety of the Prison Officers Association and of others in Northern Ireland and elsewhere about the potential closure of Magilligan prison? Is he further aware that it is one of the few prisons in Northern Ireland which are fully following the Government's policy of integration in prisons? Will he assure the House that that prison will not be closed?

I am aware of that anxiety, which has been expressed direct to my Department. Certainly, it is part of our continuing policy to work for integration in prisons. The impact on the prison system as a whole in Northern Ireland of the prospective opening of the new prison at Maghaberry is still being considered.

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that if Sinn Fein were to make a significant advance in the local government elections next week it would be a setback for security? As the Government discovered only on 24 April that the advice given to the House on 30 November 1984 about the foundation stone of identification policy — the medical card — was completely wrong, what further steps does he intend to take to ensure that such a matter does not happen again and to correct the present problems?

I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in linking the question. As soon as the chief electoral officer drew our attention to the problem, we carefully considered what we could do. We came to the conclusion that it was not sensible to amend the legislation, for reasons of timing and substance, which the hon. Gentleman knows. Instead, we have given the maximum publicity to the possibility of exchanging the old medical card for the new, and have streamlined and accelerated the administrative arrangements for doing that. According to my information, that is proceeding quickly and well.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the call by the Labour spokesman for Northern Ireland, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), for the disbandment of the Ulster Defence Regiment is wholly irresponsible, causes only delight to the members of the IRA and all enemies of peace in Ulster, and in no way assists security in the Province? In acknowledging the debt that Ulster owes to the UDR, will the Government clearly affirm their support for the UDR as a crucial part of their efforts to fight terrorism? Would it not have been better for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that the loony Left of the Labour party should be scrapped instead?

The hon. Gentleman may be right, but I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman skated round that awkward recommendation in a recent Fabian Society pamphlet, and did not commit himself to disbanding the UDR. He knows perfectly well, as does anyone who studies such matters seriously, that the UDR plays an indispensable part in the security of the Province.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a mounting feeling in the South of Ireland that its major problems of law and order require it to spend less on policing the border and more on policing its own country? If there is no major improvement in relations between the North and the South of the island, is there not a real danger of a withdrawal of support for security in the North, which will have major implications for all the people of Ireland?

Mr. Barry has made it clear that the efforts of the security forces of the Republic along and behind the border are made, not from a desire to do the British Government a favour, but from a calculation—I would say an accurate calculation—of their interests, given that the provisional IRA is clearly and explicitly determined to end the system of government, not only of Stormont and Belfast, but of Dublin.

What recent evidence, if any, does my right hon. Friend have that terrorism in the Province is still encouraged and supported, not only with finance, but through training in terrorism supplied by such good friends of democracy as Colonel Gaddafi, Mr. Castro and Mr. Gorbachev, in ascending order of merit?

I had better confine myself to the first. There is evidence from publications in the Libyan press that the Libyan Government believe that it is part of the responsibilities of the Libyan people to keep the provisional IRA in a good state. We must take that seriously.

Will the Minister admit that, although he thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) had skated round the issue, that was not the impression created in Northern Ireland? Would it not be advisable for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw his statement, because it would be an insult to the entire British Army if, because some people had acted wrongly, an entire regiment was so slurred? Does he recognise that it is not the Protestant involvement in the UDR which causes concern, but the fact that it is a regiment of the British Army?

I am not interested in helping the right hon. and learned Gentleman out of the problems created for him by his party. My opinion chimes with that of the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the final analysis, the answer to the security problem is to bring together the two halves of the community, and that that can be greatly achieved through sport? Does he agree that the excellent marathon run last week was a demonstration of the way in which people who wish to work together can do so?

The Belfast marathon was clearly a great success. It attracted people not only from all over Ireland and the United Kingdom, but from many parts of Europe. The more people, whether sportsmen or others, who visit Northern Ireland to see what is happening there—the difficulties and the opportunities—the more satisfied the people of Northern Ireland will be, because they suffer greatly from the impression given in the media.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that Dr. FitzGerald's recent visit to Derry posed no problems for security in the area? Why does he not say that the Prime Minister of the Republic is welcome to visit any part of the United Kingdom at any time?

I said that Dr. FitzGerald was free to visit Londonderry or any part of the United Kingdom at any time —

—but I also said that the timing and the programme were, naturally, matters for him.

Will my right hon. Friend talk urgently with the local radio authorities in Northern Ireland, because radio stations are causing great difficulties for the security forces by interviewing IRA terrorists, who threaten Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

This matter has been discussed often, and I have no statement to make on it today.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that people should visit Northern Ireland, did he notice that Geraldine Ferraro, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate, went there last week and joined the growing number of people who express their opposition to the mass show trials, without juries, using informers who are subject to inducements by the Government to give evidence to get convictions? Is he satisfied that that form of justice should be maintained anywhere in the United Kingdom?

I noticed that Mrs. Ferraro joined a number of people, including the right hon. Gentleman, who choose to spend a few hours in Northern Ireland and go away making definitive pronouncements about the conduct of the judiciary and judicial affairs. I do not understand the view that because evidence comes from an accomplice it should be disregarded, regardless of its merit. In the system that operates in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and federal cases in the United States, it is for the court and for the court alone to judge whether such evidence is justifiable. That is the right approach.

Does the Secretary of State agree that not only Mrs. Ferraro but many other people come to Northern Ireland on these bucket-shop trips and go away experts—including some hon. Members sitting not too far away from me? Will the Secretary of State wholeheartedly add his support to the UDR, which has suffered much over the past 15 years in Northern Ireland? Is it not time that he brought security back to the people in Northern Ireland and solved the problem after all this time?

I gladly repeat my tribute to the UDR, which is an indispensable part of security in Northern Ireland. It is an excellent thing that right hon. and hon. Members and friends from other countries should visit Northern Ireland. I simply plead that they do not come just for a few hours and then release a draft statement pontificating about matters which they have not had a chance to study. They should come with a balanced programme, see a wide range of people, and stay a day or two. I am sure that then they would be far wiser.

Is the Secretary of State at least persuaded that the most effective method of improving security is to win the hearts of the people of both traditions for a system of law enforcement which they can see is manifestly fair? Is it not clear that if that can be achieved the roots of paramilitarism will wither? Whatever the reason why the UDR is perceived as sectarian, is it not the case that doubts about whether it can now perform an effective role are entertained not only by the Fabian Society but by senior RUC officers and officials of the Security Committee?

It is true, as the Chief Constable made clear in his recent annual report on the security forces, that they need the support of as wide a section of the population as they can achieve. While the Army, including the UDR and the RUC, are, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, active and energetic in trying to bring that about, there is a responsibility on the elected representatives of the minority community and on their friends in the House to play their part in this process. I have made my position on the UDR clear and I have nothing to add.