HC Deb 01 April 1976 vol 908 cc1578-80
Mr. Neave (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any statement to make on the deaths of four British soldiers in County Armagh in the last 36 hours.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)

Yesterday, three soldiers of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Scots were killed when a land mine exploded under their Land Rover. They were on a patrol near Belleek between Newry and Newtownhamilton to counter sectarian crimes in the area. A fourth soldier was injured. The occupants of a second Army vehicle were uninjured. In addition, on Tuesday a soldier of the 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was killed when a booby-trap device exploded in an Orange Hall near Craigavon.

I know that the House will wish to join with me when I express my deepest sympathy to the relations of those soldiers. I am also sure that the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland from both communities will be appalled by this atrocity. These soldiers were carrying out their duty to protect citizens of the United Kingdom and to preserve both communities in Northern Ireland. We mourn with their families.

The Provisional IRA has admitted responsibility for yesterday's cowardly atrocity. As my right hon. Friend made clear to the House last week, the Government will not be deterred from exercising their responsibilities in Northern Ireland and will keep the Army there as long as necessary. We shall not succumb to such pressure.

Mr. Neave

I join with the Minister in his expression of sorrow at the deaths of these young soldiers. Should we not also pay tribute to the fine record of the 1st Battalion the Royal Scots in the past few weeks under Lt.-Col. Davies, especially as we hoped that there would be some improvement in the situation in South Armagh during that period? Is it correct to say that no fewer than 42 Regular soldiers have been killed in South Armagh since February 1971? What steps are the Government now taking to prevent the mining of roads in this area and to strengthen military intelligence to prevent terrorism?

Mr. Orme

I join the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the Royal Scots for the work they have carried out in the area. It is true that that number of soldiers have been killed in the period to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I must point out that the security forces have achieved considerable successes. It is the Army's job to apprehend and bring to trial people who carry out acts of violence. The Army will not stop at any measure and the Government will not deter it in its endeavours to that end.

A number of cases involving the mining of roads have occurred recently, and the security forces are aware of the situation. Indeed, helicopter patrols are used in trying to detect this type of mining. It must be said that yesterday's incident, which led to the death of three soldiers, could easily have involved three or four civilians travelling along that road, irrespective of their religion or the community from which they came.

Mr. McCusker

Will the Minister of State accept that my colleagues and I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the relatives of the deceased men? Will he also note that we wish to record our admiration and gratitude to all the members of the security forces in Northern Ireland, particularly to the Royal Scots, for the difficult and dangerous job they have undertaken in South Armagh in the past three months? Is the Minister aware that this incident underlines the fallacy of believing that the war in my constituency can be won overnight? Therefore, will he insist that the Government should press ahead with the measures announced by the Prime Minister in January, including, if necessary, reinforcement of the SAS?

Mr. Orme

I note the hon. Gentleman's expressions of sympathy. The endeavours of the Army will continue. Members of the Army are present in the area in sufficient force at the present time and are taking every step to apprehend the people who are responsible.

Mr. Dalyell

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), and I wish to express our condolences to relatives who are our constituents?

Mr. Orme

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said, and I appreciate his feelings and those of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy. I am sure that the House will take note of that.

Several Hon. Members rose


Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that we must now leave that topic. We must now take the Business Statement.