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Volume 116: debated on Thursday 14 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to improve cross-border security; and if he will make a statement.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the most recent position on cross-border security.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on cross-border security co-operation.

We are constantly seeking ways of enhancing security co-operation between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland and we aim to implement as quickly as possible the programme of measures under article 9(a) of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Security co-operation was one of the subjects discussed with representatives of the new Irish Government at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference on 22 April, and at the next meeting we shall be reviewing progress and discussing proposals for further developing co-operation. Recent events have further underlined the need to ensure that such co-operation is as close and effective as possible.

As many of Leicester's sons are serving in Northern Ireland, may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on their determination to improve security in Northern Ireland? Whether it is true that additional forces and troops have been sent there, I know not. Will my hon. Friend reassure all hon. Members that the co-operation and determination that have been shown by the Secretary of State are being reciprocated and reinforced by those on the other side of the border?

The foundations have been clearly laid for much improved security co-operation through consultation between the police forces and between Ministers. Indeed, there have already been manifestations of that improvement. On both sides of the border we look forward to enhancing that co-operation in the future.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we shall get better security only through the activities of the Governments on either side of the border and through the full co-operation of the people living on each side, and that those who incite their followers not to co-operate are undermining their security?

That must be so. I hope that people throughout the island of Ireland will be increasingly aware of the futility of the actions in which the IRA is engaged. As the Tanaiste said in a debate in the Dail on Tuesday evening, the armed struggle is increasingly unacceptable to a majority of the Irish people. I hope that that will become increasingly clear and will manifest itself in support for the security forces north and south of the border.

Is my hon. Friend absolutely sure that the link between north and south is secure, by virtue of co-operation between the Garda in the south and the RUC in respect of cross-border car journeys? I am not asking my hon. Friend to refer to the tragedy recently when a distinguished member of the Northern Ireland judiciary was killed, but very often travellers from the south entering the Province are escorted by the Garda as far as the border and, as soon as they get over the border, there is no sign of the RUC. Will he look at this again and make sure that not only is there a suitable link-up, but that there is a safe and secure link-up between the two forces?

As I said in the debate on security last week, these are operational matters for the RUC. It has to be careful that it does not establish some pattern of movement across the border, particularly on well-traversed routes, which may lay it and members of the RUC open to attack by terrorists. I am absolutely sure that this is being tackled by the Chief Constable and by the RUC command in a flexible and intelligent way, and in a way that reflects close co-operation between the Garda and the RUC.

Does the Minister agree that when distinguished persons are travelling by road between Dublin and Belfast they should not be abandoned in no man's land, whether they are travelling by road or by rail? I refer particularly to rail journeys, because the same thing happens with them at present.

I know that the hon. Gentleman has another question on the Order Paper. In case that question is not reached, may I say how much we have admired his contributions to discussions on the subject. He will be sadly missed, personally if not politically, in the next Parliament. We wish him well with whatever he turns his hand to when he leaves the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Of course we recognise the importance of the matter that the hon. Gentleman has raised. Co-operation between the railways, both in the Republic and in the north, and the security forces, is very close, as is co-operation on the security of road links between the two parts of the island.

Will the Minister confirm that his military advice is that there is no military solution to the security problem in Northern Ireland and that gloating over the deaths of eight alleged terrorists and the killing of an innocent man is as likely to inflame the situation as to improve it? What plans has he other than pure security measures to improve life in Northern Ireland to reduce the likelihood that young men will go off and join military organisations?

The hon. Lady has not heard any gloating from me, from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or from our colleagues. I regret every life that is lost in Northern Ireland, not least because of the futility of it when there are constitutional and political routes open for people to pursue, whatever cause they espouse within the island of Ireland. It is absolutely futile, and nobody gloats when young people lose their lives. I understand that, if we are to have a solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, the relationship within Ireland and between Britain and Ireland, politics, economics and security all have their role to play. In Northern Ireland the Government are committed to tackling each of those problems as constructively as possible. However, as long as the IRA carries on its vicious and sustained campaign, security will have to play an important part.

I wonder whether the Minister of State can help us, because, in some of the briefings from his Department, and possibly from the Ministry of Defence, we were given to understand that those eight men had been under supervision, that the farmhouse where they collected their high explosives had been watched for some time, that there was only one access road into the village where they tried to carry out their most evil crime and that they were surrounded by the security forces. In those circumstances, why was it not possible to pick up the men beforehand? Why, if they were surrounded in the circumstances in which we have read in the newspapers—if those reports are accurate—was not a megaphone, a searchlight or something of that nature used to give them an opportunity to surrender?

I shall say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, he should not believe all that he reads in the newspapers, nor should he identify, as he thinks, the source of what appears in the newspaper. Secondly, this whole incident will be the subject of a detailed investigation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and, as in any incident in Northern Ireland in which people lose their lives, the papers will be forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I advise the hon. Gentleman to await the outcome of those inquiries.

Turning to the main subject of the question, are the two Governments any closer to marking out a zone on both sides of the common frontier in which the security forces of the two countries can operate freely and in partnership? Where there may be deficiencies in material, technique or training on the other side of the border, are Her Majesty's Government ready to give whatever assistance may be asked of them?

The answer to the second part of my hon. Friend's question is yes. Discussions are held largely between the professionals, the policemen on both sides of the border, to seek to find ways in which they can co-operate and exchange the experience and skills of the two police forces. As necessary, they will be supported by officials and, indeed, by Ministers in due course. My hon. Friend's point about some sort of corridor along the border raises more fundamental questions about sovereignty that have not yet been raised in discussions between the two Governments.