HC Deb 24 July 1975 vol 896 cc763-5
14. Mr. Carson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on recent armed IRA road blocks, located at Belfast and Newry; and what instructions have been given to the RUC to protect people living and travelling in these areas.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

There were newspaper and radio reports of a Provisional IRA claim that it had operated "vehicle checks" in the Derrybeg Estate in Newry on 15th July. The security forces in the area came across no evidence of this. I have no knowledge of recent armed IRA road blocks in Belfast, but on 12th July the Falls Road was blocked for 15 minutes by local taximen. Any instructions given to the RUC on operational matters are the responsibility of the Chief Constable.

Mr. Carson

Is the Secretary of State aware that on two occasions RUC men have been stopped at a road block on the New Lodge Road by the IRA? The RUC arrested one of the men, who was released by North Queen Street police station shortly afterwards. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a directive signed by Chief Inspector Brown was delivered to the police in that area telling them not to go into the New Lodge area except in consultation with the Army? Does the Secretary of State consider this as giving the people in this area protection from the IRA?

Mr. Rees

I think that the hon. Gentleman has referred to this matter previously. I have consulted the Chief Constable on it. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would give this directive to me. It is a matter for the Chief Constable.

What is involved in this matter is that there are times—not related to individual cases—when the numbers of police on the ground must be related to overall security matters, and there will be occasions when the Army is the best instrument to deal with the crime in that area.

Mr. McCusker

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that just before midnight last night, on the Camlough Road, outside the Derrybeg Estate, to which he has referred, a constituent of mine was stopped by the IRA, accelerated past them, was shot at and was lucky to escape with his life? What assurance can I give my constituents that action is being taken in these areas to protect their lives?

Mr. Rees

I am not aware of that particular incident. The details must be passed on to the police, as I am sure they have been. The hon. Gentleman knows the nature of the Derrybeg Estate. What matters is to get at the person with the gun. It is not a matter of picking up anyone one can find and detaining him, because that would not be dealing with the crime that is taking place.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that a boost would be given to the morale of the police if he would implement the recommendation of the Gardiner Report which called upon the Government to end the status of "special category prisoner"? Is it not ridiculous that certain people who were charged with terrorist offences only recently organised a protest because they were being forced, as they said, to mix with common criminals? Surely this is a ridiculous situation.

Mr. Rees

I do not like the category of "special category prisoner". I understand why the previous administration came to this position because I know how difficult it is to get out of it. I understand that on the night before the 12th the Republican special category prisoners in Magilligan threw their furniture over the fence in order to provide a bigger fire for the Protestants. There seems to be a liaison between special category prisoners.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that questions of a sectarian nature which are designed to prove how very right one side is and how very wrong is the other side are most unhelpful, and that we would be better directed to questions which tried to build a bridge between the two communities in Northern Ireland, unlike the previous two Questions?

Mr. Rees

I agree that bridge building is better than bridge destruction.