HC Deb 18 March 1976 vol 907 cc1523-7
6. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on security in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

The police and the Army continue to deal firmly and effectively with security incidents in Northern Ireland and to bring criminals from both sides of the community before the courts. So far this year, 33 persons have been charged with murder, 11 with attempted murder and 64 for firearms offences. In the same period, 85 persons have been killed as a result of terrorism. There have been more explosions than in the same period last year, but over 4.7 tons of explosives have been found by the security forces. Co-operation with the Irish security forces is good, and I particularly welcome the recovery by them also of substantial amounts of explosives, including the reported find of 4 tons of explosives in County Offaly on 13th March.

Mr. Jessel

As 85 per cent. of the weapons found in the possession of the IRA are of United States origin, what have the Government done in the last four weeks since I raised the matter with the Foreign Secretary to help the leaders of the Irish-American community become fully aware that American funds raised for so-called social welfare in Northern Ireland are being largely used to buy weapons which are used by Irishmen to kill other Irishmen?

Mr. Rees

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister appeared on television in the United States on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has also played his part. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, while in the United States recently, made this very point in a number of major cities there. The Prime Minister of the Republic, the Taoiseach, if I have read the newspaper reports this morning correctly, also dealt with this point in his joint address to Congress in Washington. A great deal is being done.

In terms of what I was saying earlier about Irish attitudes, I tell the hon. Gentleman that he should sample the views of Irishmen or people of Irish extraction in many parts of the world. It is not enough to talk as we all do. What matters is physically to stop the stuff coming into the Province. A great deal is being done in that respect.

Mr. Neave

With regard to the Government's recent talks with the Taoiseach, will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking to the House that no further talks will take place with political wings of para-military organisations? Does he realise that such talks only undermine civilian morale and raise false hopes for the future? Finally, what is the present position concerning the ceasefire?

Mr. Rees

It was not our ceasefire: it was an expression by the Provisional IRA. Following it, there has been a change in the nature of violence, according to the available figures. I repeat that my officials will talk, not negotiate, with legal organisations. But I think that to make clear at times the views of this House and the people in this country will do no harm. If anybody believed a year ago that negotiations and agreements were taking place, I hope that by now it is realised that that was not the case. It has been practically shown not to be the case.

Mr. Goodhart

Is the Secretary of State aware that some of those who have carried the highest responsibility for security in Northern Ireland now believe that each battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment should have a Regular company on full-time duty?

Mr. Rees

This is a matter that is constantly being looked at. I have no doubt that there are differing views about it. I advise the hon. Gentleman to look at the view expressed by the previous Administration on this matter. It is not as simple as it looks. I shall certainly look at it, and in particular in relation to the border, because it is on the border that an important job of checking has to be done.

Dr. David James

Now that internment has—in my view rightly—been ended, will the Secretary of State instruct the Director of Public Prosecutions to make more use of Acts such as those against incitement, treason, and so on, to ensure that undesirables are put behind bars for determinate periods?

Mr. Rees

I have no power to instruct the DPP in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in what he shall do. The police and the DPP know what their duties are, and it is absolutely correct that I should play no part in it.

Mr. Fitt

In relation to the overall security situation in Northern Ireland, will my right hon. Friend make it very clear that there are two sets of extremists or men of violence in Northern Ireland at the moment, and that the murders to which he has referred involved Catholics in the majority of instances, who certainly were not murdered by the IRA or any Republican organisation? Will he also make it clear that murderers and bombers are not restricted to any particular section of the community in Northern Ireland? Finally, will he accept that the explosion last night in County Tyrone was certainly not the work of the IRA?

Mr. Rees

The hon. Member always makes this point, and he is right to remind us that there are two groups of criminals in Northern Ireland operating under a political label. He is absolutely right that in the area he has mentioned, and over towards Armagh, members of his community have suffered. He is always the first to point it out and to sympathise when it happens on the other side.

I agree that we have two groups to deal with and that there is only one way to deal with them—to have them charged and properly sentenced by the courts. In this way there is no feed-back from the various communities—people telephoning my office about their families—such as there was when I used to lock people up. It is now done through the courts, and this is the proper way.

Mr. Kilfedder

After the particularly gruesome murders in South Armagh, including the murder of 10 workmen at Bessbrook, the Prime Minister personally said that it had been decided to send the SAS to Northern Ireland. Is the SAS still there, and has it or any other body arrested the people responsible for those murders?

Mr. Rees

I do not think that I ought to tell the hon. Gentleman about the activities of the SAS. I am very content with what it is doing in that area. I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree on reflection that to talk about it would be rather a silly thing to do.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that the Unionists of Northern Ireland welcome the forthright condemnation by the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic before Congress in the United States of America of the supplying of money to Northern Ireland for arms? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what points his officials deal with when they meet Provisional Sinn Fein?

Mr. Rees

Everything that I say in the House of Commons, as reported in Hansard—nothing more and nothing less.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is pleased at what the Taoiseach said. I should have been happier had the hon. Gentleman come out against the words last week of a Mr. Ernest Baird, who criticised the honesty, integrity and ability of the British Army. I found them distasteful.

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