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Paramilitary Activity

Volume 403: debated on Wednesday 9 April 2003

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How many (a) punishment beatings and (b) forced exclusions there have been in Northern Ireland in the year to 31 March 2003; and if he will make a statement. [107073]

Between 1 April 2002 and 31 March this year—[Interruption.]

Order. The House is still far too noisy. Allow the Minister to be heard.

There have been 300 paramilitary-style attacks: 137 assaults and 163 shootings. There are no figures available that indicate the number of persons who may have been forced to leave Northern Ireland through paramilitary intimidation. We call on those with influence over paramilitary groups to call a complete end to those barbaric attacks and acts of intimidation.

Does the Minister agree that true peace in Northern Ireland will be established not just by the absence of bombs and bullets on the streets of Northern Ireland but by the complete ending of exclusions and punishment beatings by the paramilitaries, which so scar the communities affected?

Yes, I do. I utterly deplore and condemn those vicious attacks, in many cases upon teenagers who, as a result, are often maimed for life. There is no place for such activity in a modern democratic society.

Does the Minister agree that our thanks should be given to those in England, Scotland and Wales who have helped bona fide exiles? At the same time, is it beyond the capacity of the Government to perceive the difference between those who have an influence but do not use it and those who have encouraged people to come back to Northern Ireland and then ordered their murder? Surely we can no longer trust such people, even in negotiations.

I agree with a lot of what the hon. Gentleman says. There is clearly no place for such paramilitary activity, the brutality and cruelty of it, and it should cease completely. We look to those with influence to ensure that that happens.

Will my hon. Friend challenge the myth that is perpetuated by paramilitary groups that exiles have invariably been involved in antisocial activity such as drug-running, whereas, in fact, many have been those paramilitaries' opponents, a number have been informers who have saved people's lives and others have just run into trouble on a personal basis with paramilitary groups?

I absolutely agree and endorse what my hon. Friend has said and pay tribute to him for the many occasions on which he has campaigned for the return of exiles and for an end to such activity.