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Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment he has made of the effect of the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.


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


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

Since 23 November a major security operation has been mounted by the Irish security forces, supported in Northern Ireland by the RUC and the Army, which has resulted in a number of important arrests and some finds of explosives and munitions.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 12 November, two civilians have died in sectarian attacks. The security forces have continued their determined and courageous work. So far this year 431 people have been charged with serious offences, including 27 with murder, while 247 weapons, approximately 18,000 rounds of ammunition and nearly 13,000 lb of explosives have been recovered.

In addition, the Garda Siochana has recovered, up to the end of October, 123 weapons, 10,000 rounds of ammunition and some 4,000 lb of explosives. That does not include a product of the recent search operation, which I understand will be announced this afternoon. It included 50 weapons and four bunkers which are believed to have been for storage of possible shipments.

Recent events north and south of the border have emphasised most clearly the vital need for both Governments to co-operate closely in the defeat of terrorism throughout the island of Ireland.

While thanking the Secretary of State for his answer, may I point out that the linking of the two other questions with mine is not quite correct? I am grateful for his information about the security position, and I deplore the terrible events that have occurred. However, my question is quite separate from the orthodox questions on security, which could well have been asked before the Anglo-Irish Agreement question. What I have asked in the question is what effect the right hon. Gentleman thinks that agreement has had on security. I am anxious that his answer should convey to me that, as I hope, the present accelerated rate of killing is temporary and will settle down.

With respect, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer.

At the start of my answer I drew attention to what I believe is the most significant security operation ever conducted within the Republic of Ireland. It was conducted in the closest co-operation and preparation with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army north of the border. It is the most tangible and obvious demonstration of the close security co-operation that is absolutely vital if we are to defeat terrorism, which is now so clearly perceived as the evil that it is for both communities, north and south of the border.

Despite the promising words from Dublin after the Enniskillen atrocity, is my right hon. Friend aware of the scepticism about the full political will of the Irish Republic to defeat terrorism, when it still withholds the direct contact of its armed forces with those of the United Kingdom? What is being done about that?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not wish in any way to encourage scepticism on the subject. Rather, he will wish to do all that he can to work for the closest possible co-operation. His knowledge, which is profound, of the circumstances of the island of Ireland will make him well aware of the vital importance—given the difficulties posed by the border and the two jurisdictions—of close co-operation. I assure him of our commitment to achieving the closest and most effective co-operation in working with the Government of the Republic.

Given the failure to discover the Libyan ground-to-air missiles that are known to be concealed in the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State make representations to ensure that British aircraft using Dublin airport are afforded the same protection as that given at Shannon airport to Russian aircraft on their way to Cuba?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect me to discuss the particular detail of this matter across the Floor of the House. We are anxious to respond effectively to any problems that may face us.

What could be worse for the image of Northern Ireland than the appalling sight of sectarian killings, which make it look like Sicily or Don Corleone's New York? How can anybody with an ounce of decency continue with such horror, particularly after Enniskillen?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. There are evil tendencies among some extremes of the population in Northern Ireland that are all too easily inflamed. A heavy responsibility lies on everybody, whatever position they are in—particularly those in any position of responsibility or representational position—in Northern Ireland to do everything that they can to ensure that no such passions are aroused and, rather more, that they are condemned.

Does the Secretary of State recall the seemingly inevitable confusion that attended the recent application for the extradition of Paul Anthony Kane, which received the customary misdirected criticism? Will the Secretary of State say why errors on warrants continue to bedevil the system?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the circumstances of the matter and that I am unable to comment on something that is sub judice.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is the duty of all hon. Members and parties in the House to give the security forces — the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army — unequivocal support in their fight against terrorism? Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that the five members of the SDLP including the chairwoman, who is a justice of the peace, clearly and definitely voted against such support when a resolution was put to Magherafelt district council?

I am unfamiliar with the terms of the motion, but, without entering into the detail of the case, I agree with the hon. Gentleman's opening comments. It is the responsibility of everyone who is determined to defeat the evil of violence and terrorism to give total support to the RUC and the security forces in the tough challenge that they face.

I listened to the Secretary of State's comments about the security position in the Irish Republic, for which he seemed to be claiming some degree of responsibility. Will he say what he has done since he last answered questions in the House to improve progress in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland, for which he is totally responsible?

I certainly was not seeking in any way to claim responsibility for the search operation in the Irish Republic. I should make it clear that we sought to give them every support. The security forces put themselves at some risk and suffered casualties in their support of that search. With regard to the work that is continuing and the activities that are progressing, I am unable to discuss in detail a number of the steps that I have been taking, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are totally committed to that work.

In which other countries of Europe does Her Majesty's Government have less satisfactory arrangements for extradition than with the Republic of Ireland?

With no other country in Europe do we have the system of the backing of warrants, which is an important point to recognise in this regard. If the point that my hon. Friend is making concerns the vital nature of an effective, speedy and fair extradition process, I can assure him that we are committed to that. There is a later question on the Order Paper on this subject, but I can assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to work to that end.

Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), will the Secretary of State please confirm that my party is the only one from Northern Ireland represented in this House that has no association of any description, and never has had, with any paramilitary or violent organisation?—[Interruption.]

Furthermore, will he confirm that the hon. Member in question and his leader—[Interruption.]

Furthermore, will he confirm that the hon. Member in question and his leader have on many occasions been seen in the streets with masked men, taking salutes from masked men, and using paramilitary organisations when it suited them? May I restate for the benefit of the House that my party fully and unequivocally supports the security forces in seeking out anybody who commits a crime in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to the hon. Member. I have noted, and the House will have noted, the categorical statement of the hon. Member. But what his intervention has clearly brought home to the House is that, of all things at this time—and I say it to hon. Members in all quarters of the House—what Northern Ireland needs is people who try to reduce differences, who try to build cooperation, and not those who seek the whole time to exploit division.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we on the Opposition Benches welcome the great improvement in cross-border security evidenced in the past few days and salute the work of both the forces of the Republic and our own in Northern Ireland, and the degree of cooperation which they have shown over those exercises? But will he also recall—going back to the earlier statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) — that one of the provisions of the agreement was the securing of greater confidence in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland? Is he yet in a position to announce any further steps in that direction and, in particular, as it hits mostly the poor of both communities, is he yet in a position to say whether the Government are prepared to repeal the Payments for Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971?

I cannot comment on the latter point, which the hon. Gentleman bowled in rather unexpectedly, but I will certainly look into it.

The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the vast improvement in cross-border security co-operation, and that is what we are striving for. I have never concealed from the House the very considerable task that lies ahead of us. The very exercise that he referred to, the scale of the search and the problems of what actually emerged from the search, leave some very difficult questions to be answered and still pose a considerable challenge to the security forces, both north and south of the border. It is certainly a good start, but I do not underestimate the scale of the job that has now to be done.

One of the benefits of the Anglo-Irish Agreement—I use the term advisedly—was that in times of emergency police forces on both sides of the border could cross it in hot pursuit of a criminal. Has any agreement to that effect been signed, and have any incidents taken place recently?

Not on that specific matter, but there are certain understandings of the ways in which co-operation can take place and certain arrangements that can be made, so that the security forces can give extremely close support in that sort of incident.