HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1803-4
15. Mr. Craig

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action he proposes to take should the conference of terrorists described as an anti-imperialist festival meet in Belfast or any part of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Rees

The Official Sinn Fein Festival which is at present taking place in Dublin is expected in Belfast next week to continue in a programme of political discussions, lectures and films. Provided that the activities of the participants remain within the law no action will be taken against them. Any who transgress the law will be dealt with accordingly.

Mr. Craig

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his answer will cause considerable disappointment to those who have experienced bombs not only in Belfast but in Birmingham and London? While this conference may be regarded as nothing more than a supporters' club, nevertheless, in the present climate, it seems wrong that such a conference should be acceptable in war-torn Belfast.

Mr. Rees

A number of people have been turned back at the ports here, and I understand that a number have been turned back in Dublin. In view of what I have said in the House, I was interested to read in the paper something that was said in Dublin. It seems that the Official Sinn Fein leader in Dublin yesterday talked about the Provisional IRA's mindless bombing campaign and obsession with militarism". If there are people who want to talk together, however much we may disapprove of their views, if they do so in a non-violent way, that should be allowed, but if it leads to any problems, I have the power to deal with it. My advice to the House would be not to believe the descriptions in the Press and not to give free publicity to this meeting. That is what is happening. I am satisfied with the powers I have.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Secretary of State recall that when the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) was, unfortunately, Minister of Home Affairs in the old Stormont Parliament, he had an absolute obsession with banning legal political organisations? It was due to the imposition of those bans over so many years that we had discontent in Northern Ireland and eventually the tragedy with which we have had to live for five years.

Mr. Rees

I am not unaware of the history of recent years or—the longer I am there—of further back. As to what I have said about this conference—that people should be allowed to talk and air views with which others may not agree—if there is any sign that there may be sectarian military opposition which will cause problems to the forces there, I have powers to deal with that.

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