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Aghalane Bridge

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 24 November 1977

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3.11 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they approve the veto imposed by the RUC on the rebuilding of the bridge over the Woodford River at Aghalane, where it carried an approved route across the Fermanagh—Cavan Border until its destruction by terrorists.

My Lords a decision to rebuild the Aghalane Bridge is contingent upon the local security situation. It is for Security Force commanders to advise on this and their latest assessment, which is supported by the Government, is that the crossing should remain closed for security reasons.

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, I should like to ask him whether it does not reveal two rather extraordinary facts. Is it not remarkable that the destruction of a bridge by terrorist forces should be considered an act which is indispensable for security purposes? Secondly, does my noble friend know that there are over 100 unauthorised crossings of the Border between North and South and that I could take him over 10, 12 or 14 of those crossings very close to Aghalane where he would not see any sign of Security Forces going either way, by day or by night? Why, therefore, is it necessary to maintain closed a road which is approved and which has Customs and security facilities for supervising traffic?

My Lords, I am conscious of the inconvenience caused to those living on either side by the fact that roads across the Border are closed, and certainly the Government would wish to see any route, which was previously an approved route with Customs facilities, reopened as soon as the Security Forces in the area, on whose advice we must depend in regard to these matters, decide that this would not present additional security risks. At the present time, as I have said, the advice of the Security Forces is that it would not be wise to reopen this particular road.

My Lords, are the Government aware that interference by his noble friend, a citizen of a foreign country living in a foreign land, in security matters and the factors affecting the life and death of people who are Her Majesty's subjects is deeply resented by the people of County Fermanagh, and the people of Northern Ireland as a whole?

My Lords, as I have said, in these matters the Government rely on the advice given by the Security Forces. That remains the position.

My Lords, in view of the intervention made by the noble Viscount, I wonder whether I could ask two further questions. Is my noble friend aware that this bridge is half in the Republic and half in Northern Ireland, and therefore this affects the Republic as much as it affects the North? Secondly, I have been approached by members of the Fermanagh District Council and they fully approve of my raising this question; therefore, may I say that what the noble Viscount says about the matter being resented in Fermanagh is completely untrue.

My Lords, my information is that it is the case that the bridge is half on one side of the Border and half on the other. As to the views of the Fermanagh District Council, I understand that recently the district council did advocate reopening the bridge and did so unanimously. But they did so with an important qualification; namely, that they had first been satisfied by the Security Forces that any security risk was not increased, and I have already told your Lordships what the advice of the Security Forces has been in the event.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is not true that there have been six attempted murders in the vicinity of this bridge, and very shortly after the bridge was restored two people were in fact murdered? Does not this uphold the case that the Security Forces are right in seeing that this bridge is not restored at present?

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the Government certainly accept the advice they have been given by the Security Forces.

My Lords, may I put one last question? Is it not a fact that there is an unapproved route 10 or 12 miles to the West by Ballyconnell, that this is absolutely uncontrolled day or night by Security Forces, and that terrorists and munitions can come up and down along that road without any control whatever? Why is it necessary to keep this particular road closed?

My Lords, with regard to the question of the particular route which the noble Lord has now raised, I understand that the Customs forces on either side of the Border are in touch on the possibility of reopening this route for the transfer of gravel. I understand that the Border is marked on the road. Of course, I could not disclose what particular dispositions the Security Forces make, but I can assure the noble Lord that they are well aware of the existence of unapproved as well as approved routes.