HC Deb 16 November 1972 vol 846 cc589-91
9. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, if he is satisfied with the measures taken by the police and the Army to provide continuous protection for isolated families living in Border areas in County Fermanagh, particularly where a member of the family is serving in one of the forces of the Crown; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. David Howell

The security forces are taking all practicable steps to help protect families who live close to the Border with the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend cannot really believe that I can be satisfied with that answer, particularly in view of Republican terrorist action in the past few weeks along the Border in Fermanagh when, for instance, there was a five-hour siege of the Latimer family farm, the murder of two Protestants in Derrylin, the murder of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment and the attempted murder of his brother, who also serves in the UDR, when both were off-duty and were travelling to their farm. Many other people along the Border, not just in Fermanagh, are living under the threat of death. Are not these British subjects entitled to the same protection as other subjects in the rest of the United Kingdom, instead of being exposed to activities by terrorists who operate from the other side of the Border and live in a Wild West situation reminiscent of the worst period of American history?

Mr. Howell

I agree that these are appalling incidents, and constant efforts are being made by the security forces—by means of patrols, and so on—to prevent or minimise the sort of atmosphere being created. My noble Friend the Minister of State was down on the Border a week or two ago and made a very close study, and has reported in detail on his conclusions. At the same time, further discussions have been continuing about the way in which Border security can be strengthened so that we can come to decisions on these matters, but we recognise that this is an extremely difficult situation.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is the Minister aware that we met residents from Fermanagh, as I am sure other Members did, and we know that life is impossible for people on the Border? We understand the Army's difficulties because of the spread-out nature of the terrain. Is there not a radio communication system similar to that used by car-hire firms which could be set up in the area to enable people whose lives are quite terrifying, from the descriptions we hear, to get into touch with the security forces at short notice?

Mr. Howell

The security forces are, of course, in radio contact with each other, but it may be possible to develop a wider network of radio communication. We recognise the difficulties. I have been down there and seen some of the unpleasantness of it. The prime consideration is that to close and patrol the Border with massive manpower would take troops away from areas where they are being highly effective against the IRA. That may be exactly what the IRA want.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Has my hon. Friend any new proposals to meet the worsening situation in the Border areas, and will he look carefully at the suggestion of a radio network?

Mr. Howell

New proposals are being studied, including the idea of vehicle documentation, and decisions will be made.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Minister of State aware that this is a problem not just within the so-called Loyalist community but also in the so-called Nationalist community? There is fear on both sides in the Border and country areas. Therefore, the idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) for some sort of radio communication for civilians—as used with walkie-talkie systems by policemen in this country—would be just the sort of thing for isolated hamlets of both Loyalist and Nationalist communities to protect them from intimidation.

Mr. Howell

That is an idea—and a number of other proposals are being and will be studied.