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Volume 132: debated on Thursday 28 April 1988

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


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

Since I last answered questions in the House on 24 March, two part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and a regular soldier have been murdered by the Provisional IRA.

The security threat remains high, but the courageous and determined efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield results.

Since the beginning of the year a total of 103 people have been charged with serious offences, including five with murder and six with attempted murder. A total of 272 weapons, just over 65,000 rounds of ammunition, and approximately 2,700 lb of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. I understand also that the Garda Siochana has recovered some 174 weapons, almost 126,000 rounds of ammunition, and 600 lb of commercial explosives.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Northern Ireland are deeply concerned at the two recent murders? On behalf of the people for whom I speak, I express my sympathy to the family in Mid-Ulster and to the family in England who have been so tragically bereaved.

Has the Secretary of State information that the murder of Mr. Gibson, a member of the UDR, was an inside job? Can he confirm that another member of the UDR was to do the job that Mr. Gibson was killed doing? Is he aware that that member of the UDR was told by the security forces not to report for duty? Is he aware that another man, not in sympathy with the UDR, was to take his place, and that that man did not turn up? Therefore, Mr. Gibson was put into the position of having to do the job, and he was then murdered. Is he aware that the car that was used by the murderers was supposed to be in the possession of people who were away for the day, but had left their keys in it? Does that not indicate a well-organised and orchestrated inside job in Cookstown to kill members of the UDR?

I certainly entirely share the feelings that were expressed by the hon. Member about the killings and about the earlier killing, at a farm sale, of another part-time member of the UDR. Although there certainly were some rather surprising features about the killing of Mr. Gibson, in that he had only just gone on that round that day, I certainly do not have any of the information that the hon. Member has conveyed to the House on this occasion.

In the House on Tuesday, The Prime Minister said that the Government would continue to press for effective security co-operation across the border. Why should it now be necessary to press for delivery of the one and only promise that was made by the Dublin Government when the Agreement was signed two and a half years ago?

In her answer The Prime Minister made clear the importance that we attach to continual work to improve cross-border security co-operation. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard the answer that I gave. He will have heard also of the substantial arms seizures and recoveries of ammunition and explosives that have been achieved by the Garda Siochana. Obviously, we and everybody in Northern Ireland must take great comfort from the fact that those weapons of death have now been recovered from terrorist clutches. It is a continual process, and in the answer that I gave earlier I emphasised the importance that we attach to the continual improvement in every possible way of cross-border security co-operation.

As it was said that the security situation would be much improved by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, will my right hon. Friend comment on the recent important and clearly well-considered speech by Mr Haughey to Fianna Fail supporters in New York? Does he agree that that clearly repudiated the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and will he please dissociate himself from the Foreign Secretary's offensive and patronising attempt to depict Mr. Haughey as some minor figure who did not understand what he was saying?

I am afraid that I did not notice whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber, but I answered that question a little earlier and made absolutely clear the position of the Government on these matters.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that idle purpose of an inquest is to establish the cause of death, not to conduct a public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the cause of death? Secondly, regarding the amazing series of events that began with the appalling statement in the House by the Attorney-General that certain people are above the rule of law, I am glad to see that he now at least comes in during Northern Ireland questions to hear people talk about the consequences of what he said on that day. In the light of that statement, the decision of the Department of Defence that when a soldier is given a life sentence for murder that sentence is two and a half years, and the Gibraltar affair, which is now surrounded by more controversy and which led to the Greek tragedy of the funerals in Belfast, will the Secretary of State confirm that, given the tensions and anger that those events created, the Irish Prime Minister showed commendable restraint'? Will he advise his colleague The Prime Minister to read Mr. Haughey's speeches in the United States and to take not the advice of the rent-a-headline hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) but to take instead his advice and that of his right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, who were appointed to conduct relations with the Irish Government, among other things?

The hon. Member has rehearsed what we all know of the catalogue of events in recent months. I take great exception to a number of the descriptions that he has given; for example, the suggestion that anybody is above the rule of law. That is simply not true, since people have already been prosecuted for murder for the events that he described, and my right hon. and learned Friend came to the House to report very fully to this sovereign Parliament the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. In no sense are these people, or any people in Northern Ireland, above the law. The hon. Member surely realises that there is no benefit, if we are trying to establish better co-operation and to work together to defeat the terrorists, in rehearsing old grievances. Rather, we should try to work together in a positive and constructive way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the security situation in Northern Ireland would be more satisfactory if convicted terrorists served the full term of their sentences rather than enjoying a substantial remission?

I certainly look to a situation in which those convicted of serious terrorist crimes face proper retribution in terms of the sentences that they are given. I have no comment to make today on remission system.

We on the Opposition Benches rejoice in the finding of arms and the conviction of prisoners under the rule of law for terrorists in Northern Ireland. Following The Prime Minister's statement to the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) on Tuesday, can the Secretary of State say whether the Government of the Irish Republic have been more, or less, stinting in their efforts to defeat the men of violence in the past few months; whether there has been any effective break in co-operation across the border; and why, in view of the Taoiseach's statement in Dublin on his arrival from New York—before The Prime Minister's made her observations—which was published widely in the press, to the effect that the Irish Government would work the mechanism of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the full, The Prime Minister felt it necessary to say that she would seek reassurances from the Irish Government and that they were backing away from their responsibilities under the Anglo-Irish Agreement? Does the Secretary of State really think that that helps? Is not the spirit of what the Foreign Secretary said at Derby a much better way of trying to conduct affairs between both our countries?

I have already said to hon. Members, and I shall make it clear again, that the reply of my right hon. Friend The Prime Minister and the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary made absolutely clear our commitment to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It is not a case of something in which some matters are more important than others. Both countries have their responsibilities, obligations and commitments. We seek to make the agreement work to the full, and we make no secret of the fact that we attach particular importance, for very good reason, to the closest possible co-operation in the fight against terrorism. Unless it is defeated, there is no sensible and safe future for people on the island of Ireland, whether north or south of the border.