HC Deb 19 October 1972 vol 843 cc437-40
20. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Minister of State for Defence what progress has been made in controlling the Irish border and preventing its violation for hostile purposes.

Lord Balniel

The security forces continue to control the border as effectively as is practicable. The requirement for further measures is kept constantly under review.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I was on the Fermanagh border at the time of the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Bullock and was made aware of the intense resentment at the absence of a localised security force? May I also ask him why cars such as those used by the murderers are free to cross the border along main roads without the authorisations which were required in previous troubles?

Lord Balniel

I was aware that my hon. Friend visited the area. He expresses concern about a murder which is shared throughout the House. I think he will appreciate that a total of more than 240,000 cars were searched in September, compared with an average of about 100,000 per month until April. This is a substantial increase in the number of searches which take place at the border, but my hon. Friend will understand that 50,000 vehic[...]es cross the border every day and the searches are a major task.

Mr. Fitt

[...] the right hon. Gentleman aware that only last week extreme Unionist forces, the UDA, crossed the border in the other direction and planted explosives in the Republic? Will he pay some attention to preventing that sort of crime from taking place?

Lord Balniel

The task of the security forces is to confront terrorism or lawlessness, from whatever quarter it might come, with the utmost determination. That has been their task in the past and it will continue to be their task as long as they are required to undertake it.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Will my right hon. Friend give his assessment of the extent of the movement of men and materials across the border. Is he fully satisfied that the Republican Government in Southern Ireland are giving the maximum support in dealing with the question.

Lord Balniel

Certainly there is a passage of explosives illegally across the border, and the security forces do their best to diminish it as far as possible. The Government of the Republic have taken steps to improve the security situation on their side of the border, but we should welcome yet greater co-operation from them.

Mr. McNamara

Reverting to the question of security on the border and the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), can the Minister of State say whether in the discussions which took place between representatives of Her Majesty's Forces and of the UDA any reference was made to claims by the UDA that it had gone across the border, and whether part of the equation for bringing peace is that they also undertook not to put British troops at risk in border areas by excursions into the Republic, in the same way as our troops have been put at risk by excursions into the North from the Republic?

Lord Balniel

It would not be right for me to select certain parts of a discussion which took place, but the main points of the representations made were to emphasise that Protestant violence represented a serious change in the security situation, serious in that it means a new dimension of disorder and also because it diverts the security forces from their task of ending IRA terrorism.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Is it not becoming daily more obvious that it is the existence of the border which is preventing our winning this war? What advice do the military authorities give to my right hon. Friend about sealing it? There is a much longer border running across the length of Europe which is so impenetrable that it is known as the Iron Curtain.

Lord Balniel

As I have explained on numerous occasions in the House, the Government consider it impracticable to seal the border, which is over 300 miles long. Sealing it would involve such a major dislocation in the life of the community that it is not regarded as practicable. It would also mean the diversion of security forces in large numbers from those places where it is considered their prime duty lies.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Is there any liaison between the British security forces and the increased Irish Army forces which have recently moved up on to the border?

Lord Balniel

When an act of terrorism is suspected of having been perpetrated from across the border, there are communications from the security forces in Northern Ireland to the police on the side of the Government of the Republic.