HC Deb 25 July 1974 vol 877 cc1802-3
14. Mr. West

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many murders committed in Northern Ireland since March 1972 can be classified as sectarian; on what evidence such classification is made; how many convictions were obtained or detention orders made in respect of such murders; and how many of the convicted or detained are known to be Protestants.

Mr. Orme

It is not possible to attribute motives with certainty in each case, and records are not classified in this way. The detailed information sought is, therefore, not available, but the RUC has reason to believe that since 1972 about 250 murders have been sectarian in motive, of which approximately 170 victims were Catholic and 80 victims Protestant.

Mr. West

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall the statement made on 3rd June by the Secretary of State and recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT? I shall quote the relevant paragraph—[Interruption.] Apparently that is not in order. May I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman if he recalls the Secretary of State's stating that of the 250 murders committed the overwhelming proportion were committed by Protestants? Can the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend substantiate that serious slander made on the Protestant community of Northern Ireland and, if he cannot, will he withdraw the statement?

Mr. Orme

I would have thought that the figures which I have given, which have been provided by the RUC, substantiate the very point which my right hon. Friend made in the earlier debate. This is an extremely serious matter, and sectarian murders form one of the worst aspects of violence in Northern Ireland. We want to see them ended.

There is no doubt that a predominant number of the murders committed were against Roman Catholics. That is not to say that murders against Roman Catholics have been committed by Protestants—and that was not said in the debate. Nevertheless, it looks very much as if it is a fact, and the information of the security forces confirms that.

Sir John Rodgers

I may have misheard the Minister of State, but I did not hear him answer one particular point, namely, how many convictions have been obtained or detention orders made in respect of such murders, and how many people among these murderers have been detected and detained?

Mr. Orme

That is a difficult question to answer. When people go before the courts accused of murder it is exceedingly difficult to establish whether the murder was a sectarian murder. Our figures show that 19 persons have so far been convicted and that a further 20 are awaiting trial. This is over a recent period. But, for reasons that I have already stated, it is impossible to categorise all these figures. I hope that the hon. Gentleman understands the difficulty in this matter.