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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Although there have been differences, there has been unity in the House and in Committee on the desire that as soon as possible emergency powers should be dispensed with. In all quarters of the Standing Committee and in the House there have been diligent searches to find ways in which the powers can be lessened or softened without prejudice to that supreme interest—the safety of the subject.

I support the Third Reading and congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Bill.

10.1 pm

I shall not disappoint the Government and Opposition Whips who wish to commence the debate on the next business as close to 10 o'clock as possible.

I agree with the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) about the unanimity in the Chamber today. Although I could not be a member of the Standing Committee, it is clear from the debate that an attitude of partnership prevailed there and that the Government conceded some of the suggestions. I am grateful to them for that.

Today's debate has demonstrated that when hon. Members come to this Chamber it is possible for them to argue their case and to ensure that the legitimate views of the Unionist majority can be put forward in a place where they will be listened to. If there is to be any hope in Northern Ireland, it is vital that debate should take place in the Chamber and not on the streets of Belfast. Therefore, it was conforting to hear the remarks of several Unionist Members but especially those of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who always speaks with enormous sincerity and considerable force about the problems facing the Province.

If there is to be dialogue in the Chamber and partnership amongst parties in trying to ensure that there is victory over the IRA and other terrorist groups, there must be cross-border co-operation. That is why I believe the Government's strategy of endeavouring to achieve agreement across the border through cross-border co-operation on security is right. The tragedy of the last 18 months, to which the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley referred, is a tragedy not just of the last 18 months but of the last 18 years almost during which 2,500 people have died, of whom 200 were from the security forces, and 24,000 have been injured. That is why there is such a desperate need for co-operation on both sides of the border to achieve the objectives enunciated during today's debate.

I am glad to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Bill. We wish it were not necessary to have emergency powers legislation. We wish it were possible to have fewer Orders in Council and more opportunities like this to debate the issues across the Floor of the House, but we recognise the special circumstances in Northern Ireland. For that reason, we will not oppose the Government tonight.

10.3 pm

The people of Northern Ireland have been told by the Government that this Bill will

"make possible the effective pursuit of terrorism".
On Second Reading, the Secretary of State told the House that it was the Government's
"determination to pursue the campaign to eliminate the scourge of terrorism from the … Province". — [Official Report, 16 December 1986; Vol. 107, c. 1084.]
How often have the Government said that from the Dispatch Box during the past 18 years? More times than I care to remember. Ironically, it is most emphatically declared immediately after some fresh horrendous terrorist atrocity in Northern Ireland. When such declarations are made by Government spokesmen, they are usually made in ringing tones to emphasise the Government's determination and resolution.

However, the truth is that it is the members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army who have to face the relentless campaign of violence and death at the hands of the evil men who, for too long, have paraded and damned the face of Ulster. That truth is known throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. Of course, it does not stop there. Every decent law-abiding citizen lives under the shadow of death from the bomb and the bullet of the Provisional IRA gunmen. In that, I include any other terrorist, no matter what his political aspirations or religious affiliations.

I do not believe that this Bill will protect individuals in Northern Ireland from the terrorists. Having listened to the speeches today, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is a nice exercise in British statesmanship, showing how moderate the Englishare. I doubt whether the French, the Germans, the Japanese or any other people who are subjected to terrorism would have given way to some of the expressions that I have heard in the House today.

However, at least this debate gives me the opportunity to pay another tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. to those gallant men who live in Northern Ireland and whose wives and children are in Northern Ireland and are all too easily a target for the IRA. I pay tribute to them and to the regular members of the Army and the UDR.

It is ironic that the Irish Republic, which the Government tell us is more committed than ever before to fighting IRA terrorists in conjunction with the United Kingdom, delivers the most thunderous protests to London whenever a British soldier wanders a few yards across the border on to Republican soil. The Irish Republic is jealous of its territory. I wish that the United Kingdom was jealous about the territory of Northern Ireland and made sure that the Irish Republic abandoned its claim to be part of the United Kingdom.

However, what sickens me more, and what sickens many people — it is in this light that the present legislation will be viewed—is the abject apologies which follow from the Northern Ireland Office and the Foreign Office the moment that Dublin protests. Our counterparts in Europe would have a pretty robust answer to anyone who criticised a soldier for, for example, putting a listening device a few yards in to the Republic to protect himself and his colleagues, his brother soldiers, from the IRA.

I have only a few more minutes and wish to make only one more comment. I should like permission to make that comment and, if I am out of order, I know that you, Mr. Speaker will call me to order. Every time during the past decade that Unionists have urged Her Majesty's Government to take steps to restore a degree of democratic control to the elected representatives of the Ulster people, the answer has always been the same: no devolution of power can be made without the support of both sections of the Ulster Community. We accepted that over a period. It was the solemn pledge given by the Government. However, that solemn pledge was shamelessly abandoned when, behind the backs of the Ulster people, and without consultation with the representatives of the Unionist majority, the Government entered into the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

I am convinced that there can be no political progress in Northern Ireland until the accord is replaced by an agreement worked out by the elected representatives of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. That is where the Government have created a bar to progress, because the creation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement stops that. Until we make progress—I hope it comes sooner rather than later — we shall listen to pious words from successive Secretaries of State about the Government's determination to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland. Sadly, the death toll will continue to climb.

10.10 pm

Just as on Report I said that I had mixed feelings about the detention provision, so I have mixed feelings about the Bill as a whole. I come, as on Second Reading, without any abatement of the feeling of alienation that I suffered in this House on 15 November 1985. The people who have died in Northern Ireland to maintain their British citizenship have been betrayed and there has been no sign from hon. Members that that is understood.

The Bill is just so many words, and it will do absolutely nothing to solve the problems that we face in Northern Ireland. It was interesting to hear the Secretary of State tell the House that he was retaining in the Bill the element that deals with internment or detention because an emergency may arise or a Doomsday may come when no Government "could stand idly by". Those were his exact words. The Government have stood idly by for the past 17 years and allowed terrorism to march unhindered through the Province. I know that it is hurtful to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State to hear these facts yet again, and I shall not dwell on them, but 154 of the 181 murders in my constituency have not been resolved. In the words of the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, following incidents of violence, the people of Northern Ireland take hope or fall into the pit of despair.

On 30 March, sadly, a Regular soldier, Iain O'Connor, was killed in Belfast, and the Northern Ireland Office provided the BBC with a statement, as it always does. In that information it stated that this was the first death of a Regular soldier for eight months, so there had been a reduction in violence in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether the Ministers even remember that on 9 July 1986 the last two regular soldiers to be killed were members of the Royal Anglians, Karl Davies and Robert Bertram. We all regret the deaths of members of the Regular Army.

The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) paid tribute to the RUC. I should like to pay tribute to the Regular Army which serves in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Defence Regiment. If, for Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, the measure of violence is the number of Regular Army men who die, and whom obviously we must hear about, I have no faith in them and I despise their efforts to solve our problems.

What they did not tell us was that 42 other people died in Northern Ireland in those eight months. Those facts were hidden from the great British public. I wish that the Minister would stop muttering to himself and listen to what I have to tell him. He has become the Robinson Crusoe of the Conservative party. He is the longest serving Minister in the Northern Ireland Office and he has caused more offence to the people of Northern Ireland than any other Minister. It is intolerable that we must listen to a Minister whose rich and fruity tones—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Gentleman want to say something?

I muttered that I thought the hon. Gentleman was not enhancing his case by indulging in such personal remarks.

I am sorry if the facts of the tragedy of Northern Ireland offend hon. Members.

The Minister, as a wine drinker, may appreciate this. I was saying that his rich and fruity tones are galling to the people of Northern Ireland when they listen to him on the television trying to justify the unjustifiable—the failure of the Government to deal with the tragedy of our Province.

We have now reached a stage when Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office are disliked— I shall use only the word "disliked"—to an extent which is second only to the extent that we dislike, detest and revile the terrorists who kill our people. They have mocked us through the television screen. They have been the apologists for the Government of the Irish Republic—a country which, whether we like it or not, has given solace and shelter to the terrorists who kill my constituents.

Last Friday my 32nd constituent died at the hands of terrorists since my election to the House on 9 January 1983. How many hon. Members, if they had to come to the House and speak of 32 people who had died at the hands of terrorists in their constituencies, could accept the charm and honeyed words — words of apparent understanding — which have come from the Dispatch Box this evening? For the Northern Ireland Office to tell the great British public that terrorism is on the decrease in Ulster is a shame.

I shall not go back to the pre-Agreement days. Let me go back to 1986. Between 1 January and 8 April, 10 people died in Northern Ireland as a result of terrorism. In 1987 in the same period 22 people died, an increase of 120 per cent. Yet the Government tell us that terrorism is being contained.

Cross-border co-operation has existed as far back as I can remember, right back to the first time that I put on a uniform in 1958. It existed because decent members of the Garda Siochana liaised with decent members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on a buddy-buddy basis. It was not good enough, because it was always hindered by the Government in Dublin, but it worked. It was never satisfactory, but it was done with good will. We have now formalised that agreement. No longer can the Garda Siochana liaise on the buddy-buddy basis with their counterparts in the RUC; rather they must feed upwards through the bureaucratic system what information they have, feed it across and back down again.

Ministers must listen and stop shaking their heads. I talk to the policemen who have to do the work on the border. I am talking not about the constables or the sergeants, or even the inspectors; I am talking about senior police officers. They tell me that co-operation has never been less effective than it is today.

Of course he is still laughing and shaking his head. Despite all the years that he has spent with us, he is incapable of understanding how we feel. He tends to believe the propaganda of those who tell him that it is a sectarian problem; the "Prots" do not like the Catholics and the Catholics do not like the "Prots". That is the greatest load of rubbish. If the Minister knew what went on in my constituency, where I represent my entire community, he would stop shaking his head and listen.

The hon. Member for North Down alluded to the fact that the Secretary of State made the most abject apology to the Government of the Irish Republic. That Government have been set in joint authority over the people of Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman made the most abject apology about a listening device placed a few yards inside the Irish Republic. Not only did he make the most abject apology, but he assured his counterpart that the officer or officers responsible would be disciplined for committing the offence. In reality, that offence was an attempt to try to save the lives of their own men.

On another occasion that co-operative Government detained a Regular Army soldier who happened to cross a farmyard out of Northern Ireland into Southern Ireland. that farmyard belonged to "Slab" Murphy. Hon. Members may have seen an article about him and the way in which he has exploited the situation over the years for personal gain. He is a smuggler. He has close connections with and could operate only with the permission and acquiesence of the Provisional IRA. It was from his yard that the soldier was abducted and taken off to the local Garda station. I agree he was released, but I did not hear one word of objection from the Northern Ireland Office about the way in which our soldiers are treated when they happen to move across that imaginary line and transgress, by a few yards, the territory of the Irish Republic.

In the past I have come to the House and told how terrorists walk the streets of my town. They are known terrorists. I named one of them in this House. He was later arrested in Scotland where he had gone to perpetrate an outrage against the Great British public. He is now in prison in Great Britain. Those terrorists who still walk the streets of my town are not the first or second, but the third generation of terrorists since the 1970s. Terrorists tend to be men in their twenties. Those terrorists of the 1970s retired two generations back. Most of them retired unscathed to encourage the next generations to follow in their footsteps. Their advice was, "Be fleet of foot. We will condition you on how to deal with the RUC when they interrogate you about a crime. The law is inadequate so do not worry. There will be no or only minimum convictions against you." That is what we face when we discuss the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. We are discussing something against which this Bill is ineffective.

I see two generations of known gunmen walking the streets of my town. They are free men, freer than their victims or potential victims—those people who uphold and try to enforce the law. That is the reality. It is something with which the Northern Ireland Office, the Bill and, sadly, the Government are impotent to deal.

I know that Conservative Members believe that they will be returned to Government at the next election, be it May, June or October. They will consider inflation and tell us that it is steady or, indeed, going down. They will consider the way in which the Government have dealt with militant trades unionism and the problems in our schools. They will claim "Success, success, success."

Those hon. Members should consider the streets of their towns. I have had invitations to speak in the constituencies of hon. Members. and I go round and meet members of the Great British public. At such meetings I say, "So you feel your Government have succeeded. But would you feel content walking down the streets of Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, Preston, Liverpool, Glasgow or London at half-past 10 at night with your handbag on your arm?" The little old dear sitting in the front row looks horrified, because she would not. I tell those meetings that if their Government have not got the courage to deal with law and order at that level, how can they deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland?

What emergency will force or motivate the Secretary of State to take action against terrorism? What is that emergency? How many people have to die before the Secretary of State realises that British citizens in Ulster deserve more than the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessors have brought to them over 17 years?

Does the Secretary of State honestly believe, and can he stand up and tell me that the time that we have given in this House today to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill will make one iota of difference to the people of Belleek, Garrison, Aughnacloy, Newtown Butler or Rosslea? If the Secretary of State can say that, I want to hear it and my people want to hear it. Despite the welcome that I received from the Liberal spokesman on Northern Ireland, there is no point in my coming here in the belief that I can do good for the people I represent unless the House is willing to listen to me and to take this piece of paper and study it. Is the Secretary of State willing to take it?

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman return to the Benches and not remain in the Gangway, please?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.