HC Deb 15 July 1971 vol 821 cc701-2
14. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on the military surveillance on the border between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Mr. Johnson Smith

Both the land border and the coastline of Northern Ireland are patrolled by the security forces to prevent the smuggling of arms and ammunition and any other illegal traffic which would jeopardise the security of the Province, but studies of methods of improving control of the border are in hand.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does my hon. Friend recall the case of the seriously wounded I.R.A. gunman who was carried across the border only to die in the South? Does not this case and the many other cases which are brought to notice reveal that there is not a very extensive search of persons and vehicles, and is there any improvement in this regard?

Mr. Johnson Smith

As I have said, we are studying ways of improving the methods of surveillance of the border, but my hon. Friend will, I am sure, bear in mind that this is a very difficult task. There are over 300 miles of border and a great many roads, and we cannot seal off the border without a tremendous amount of effort at enormous cost.

Captain Orr

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is becoming an intolerable scandal that the Irish Republic, reputedly a friendly Power, is allowing its territory to be used constantly for training and refuge by people who are shooting our soldiers in the back? Will my hon. Friend say what arrangements there are between the security forces on either side to see that this is brought to an end?

Mr. Johnson Smith

I know that my hon. and gallant Friend takes a close interest in these matters, which I respect, but I am sure he will understand that it would not be in the interests of security to disclose specific measures under consideration or already in force. Of course, we naturally welcome co-operation with the Republic.

Mr. Walden

I thank the Minister for what he said but, in view of the nature of the questions being asked and the Minister's replies, what we should like to know is when this situation is going to end. The Army is doing a marvellous job, but its resources are strained by being there and it makes it difficult in Rhine Army. It begins to look as if the Army are there as a permanent garrison and that there will never be any political settlement. Can the Minister give us any guidance whether the Army is getting on top of the situation and whether any political arrangement will be made that can bring the Army out?

Mr. Johnson Smith

This is a very wide question which goes beyond my brief, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I have not a crystal ball, and I would mistrust looking at one anyway, but I am confident that the Army is capable of discharging its duties with a professionalism which is second to none. I do not find people's confidence being at all diminished in the ability of the Army to discharge those duties ; on the contrary, I think there is enhanced confidence.