HC Deb 04 May 1972 vol 836 cc575-7
15. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland why illegal organisations are permitted to hold public parades in uniform in Northern Ireland.

Mr. David Howell

Charges are brought in appropriate cases.

Mr. Wall

While agreeing with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that marches should now be allowed to continue, may I ask my hon. Friend to confirm that this does not apply to organisations that are illegal on both sides of the Border, such as the IRA? Will he ensure that such organisations are not allowed to parade through the streets of Londonderry or Belfast in uniform?

Mr. Howell

The conditions have to be judged at the time by those on the ground. The first task is to establish peaceful conditions for an advance in Northern Ireland, and my right hon. Friend must be the best judge of how that can be done. I doubt whether it would be in the public interest—my hon. Friend might like to think about this—always to break up parades and make arrests in the present climate of tension in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Paget

Surely it was known that the funeral of Mr. McCann would be a public parade by the IRA and that if the IRA people were not arrested then, their power and our impotence would be displayed.

Mr. Howell

The hon. and learned Member is talking about a funeral. My right hon. Friend is not prepared to apply these kind of measures in the case of funerals.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Has my hon. Friend seen the Press photograph in which armed and uniformed IRA men in Londonderry are holding up for examination a GPO postal van entering into the Creggan? Has he any ideas about how to deal with this matter?

Mr. Howell

I saw that somewhat emotive photograph. [An HON. MEMBER:" It was not emotive."] It was certainly designed to be emotive. My right hon. Friend believes that these outbreaks of lawlessness must be met by firm measures. That is what we are doing. At the same time, an over-violent, panicky reaction is precisely what the terrorists want.

Mr. McNamara

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his right hon. Friend's reaction to the funeral of Mr. McCann and his reactions over the question of the banning of parades have met with a great deal of approval as being an earnest of his and his right hon. Friend's good intentions to lower the heated atmosphere in Northern Ireland, and that people can only wish him and his right hon. Friend well in what they are trying to do in this sphere? In particular, will the hon. Gentleman say whether his right hon. Friend will introduce a Statutory Instrument to remove one other bone of contention, the Flags and Emblems (Northern Ireland) Act?

Mr. Howell

I accept and am grateful for several of the points the hon. Gentleman has made. On the last point, I am afraid that I cannot help him at this stage.

Captain Orr

While appreciating that my hon. Friend is perfectly right to deal with the question of processions in a commonsense way, nevertheless law abiding people in Ulster still make a perhaps old-fashioned distinction between organisations which are lawful and those which are not.

Mr. Howell

I appreciate the concern of my hon. and gallant Friend and his deep experience of these matters in Northern Ireland, but the fact remains that if my right hon. Friend were to be pressed in the direction that some would suggest by these questions, we should be in a position where we were provoked to the kind of violence and reaction which is precisely what the terrorists are aiming at.