HC Deb 17 May 1976 vol 911 cc957-64
Mr. Neave

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement amout the terrorist murders of 13 people, including four members of the RUC, during the last weekend.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)

The past three days have seen a series of particularly brutal incidents in Northern Ireland. Since Saturday morning, five policemen and eight civilians have been killed. In addition, over 50 people, including three policemen and a five-year old girl, were injured, some very seriously.

The first incident occurred in the early morning of 15th May. Three policemen were killed and a fourth was seriously injured by an explosive device in the follow-up to an earlier shooting incident near the police station at Belcoo in County Fermanagh. Later on Saturday there were a number of bombing attacks against public houses in Belfast and Counties Armagh and Tyrone. Which resulted in the deaths of five civilians and 48 injured. The most serious attacks occurred in the Avenue Bar in Belfast, when two people were killed and 22 injured, and Clancy's Bar in the village of Charlemont in County Armagh, where three people were killed and 14 injured.

On Saturday evening, a policeman was killed and two others injured when their patrol car was ambushed near Warren-point in County Down. On Sunday evening an off-duty full-time member of the RUC Reserve was shot dead at his home at Benburb in County Tyrone. This morning two men were shot dead at their business premises in Moy in County Tyrone.

The House will join me in expressing sympathy to the relatives of those who have been murdered in this latest spate of senseless killing, and in paying tribute to the five members of the RUC who have so gallantly laid down their lives in the service of the whole community. Their sacrifices will not be in vain.

Let me assure the House that the cold-blooded murders of policemen and the crimes of sectarian gangsters will not deflect the Government or the security forces from our course in Northern Ireland. We are determined that the rule of law will prevail and that those who commit these brutal acts will be brought to justice. Despite these cowardly attacks the morale and determination of the RUC is high. They deserve the unstinted support of the whole community and of this House.

The Secretary of State had a meeting this morning with the General Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-General Sir David House, and the Chief Constable, Mr. Kenneth Newman. The Secretary of State agreed that the increasing effectiveness of the police represents a continuing process towards a long-term objective and cannot be achieved hastily. The core of the policy is to secure the conviction of terrorists through the use of the criminal law in the courts. The process cannot be based on some arithmetical equation involving an automatic and simultaneous reduction in the number of soldiers as the strength of the RUC increases.

The rôles of the Army and the RUC complement one another. Both are needed. The RUC is not intended to be, and will not be, a para-military force. The details of the changes are still the subject of study by a Government working party, but the essential objective is clear: to make the RUC still more effective in its proper role of law enforcement.

Whatever they may claim, the real reason why the leaders of the Provisional IRA have ordered attacks on members of the RUC is that they have no policy other than violence. They fear the success which the RUC is already having in bringing members of the Provisional IRA to justice. The events of the weekend have demonstrated once again how the Provisional IRA's actions bring down retaliation in the minority community whom they claim, but are powerless, to protect. Retaliation itself is equally abhorrent. We condemn it, as we have always condemned violence from whatever source it comes.

Mr. Neave

In offering our sympathy to the families of the victims of what some people still call a ceasefire, may I ask the Minister of State whether he is aware that after this last shocking weekend, tough and really quick decisions are needed, including a decision to have no more contacts between the Government and terrorist organisations?

We agree with the Minister of State that the RUC should not be deterred by this setback, but will he say why no decision has been announced about providing the RUC with better equipment if it is to replace the Army in certain areas in Northern Ireland?

Will the Minister of State also explain the delay in announcing co-ordination between the Army, the UDR and the police, so that selected men can be specially trained in anti-terrorist measures? Is it not horrifying that the Government's anti-security policy has not, after several years, been able to protect innocent people in the way that he suggests?

Mr. Moyle

Concerning the equipment for the RUC, it is for the RUC to make out its case to the police authority. There is no reason at all why it should not be able to do so. We have provided it with all the equipment for which it has asked. The question of equipment for the RUC is an ongoing matter and subject to continual review.

This is the case also with regard to coordination between the RUC, the Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment. In that there are different situations and that the nature of violence has changed, this is a matter for continual review by the security forces. The operational deployment of the forces and their co-ordination is a matter for the forces concerned, and we have always provided them with the necessary facilities in order to achieve whatever co-ordination they desire. The level of co-ordination they have at the moment is that which the security forces have desired for themselves.

Mr. McNamara

Is my hon. Friend aware that everybody in the House shares in his expression of sympathy to the relatives of people who were killed and maimed in the recent tragedies? Will he confirm, however, that in many ways these attacks are a tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend and his predecessors in establishing the RUC as an independent force, separate from political interference and seeking only to ensure that we have the rule of law impartially throughout the community, and that, therefore, in order to try to defeat this object, the terrorists are turning their attention to the RUC?

Will my hon. Friend also comment on the degree of co-operation there has been with the Southern Irish Government with regard to the problem of Belcoo?

Mr. Moyle

I agree with my hon. Friend's suggestion that the real reason for the Provisional IRA turning its attention to the RUC is to some extent that the RUC has been so successful in bringing people to justice through the courts. The rate of success has been improving with each month that passes. Over 450 people have been charged with terrorist offences in the Province this year, and 47 have been charged with murder. In a sense my hon. Friend is right to say that this is a tribute to the increasing officiency of the RUC. Indeed, the efficiency of the RUC has been increasing over a number of years.

I was asked about co-operation with the South. Co-operation this last weekend with the security forces in the South has been particularly good. It has been very close in regard to searches for explosives. In addition, the security forces in the South are willing to cooperate to the maximum in ensuring that the people who perpetrated the Belcoo attack are brought to justice.

Mr. McCusker

Will the Minister not agree that if the present conflict is not to degenerate into further acts of retaliation, the frustration of the law-abiding community must be channelled into positive law-abiding anti-terrorist activity? Will the Minister reconsider some of the points made by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave)? Will the Minister agree that it does not matter whether he, this House or anybody else believes that the RUC should be a civilianised police force but that if it is to be a murder target of the IRA it must be armed to protect itself?

Mr. Moyle

On the last point, the RUC are certainly armed and equipped to protect themselves from all sorts of attacks. As for considering ideas, from whatever quarter they come, we have asked all the political parties in Northern Ireland to make their contributions in terms of ideas to the working party which is considering the future development of law and order policy and of policing policy. These will all be taken into consideration in working out the further steps in Government policy.

Mr. Alan Lee Williams

Will my hon. Friend confirm the impression gained by a number of Labour Members who visited Northern Ireland over the weekend that the security forces fully support the idea of the primacy of the police but that they are deeply concerned in their terrible role out there with co-operation with the Southern Irish authorities? Can my hon. Friend impress upon those in authority at the other end of Ireland that their co-operation in this respect is much needed if there is to be a successful conclusion of the gun running and the running of other explosives across the border?

Mr. Moyle

My hon. Friend takes a great interest in these matters and no doubt will have noted the speech by the Taoiseach over the weekend and the comments of Mr. Garret FitzGerald. These have backed up the co-operation which we have had this weekend across the border. Over recent months, co-operation between the security forces in the North and the South has improved immeasurably, and I am sure that it will go on improving. I confess that I do not detect the concern which my hon. Friend sensed among the security forces, except to the extent that better things can always be improved.

Rev. Ian Paisley

As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has gone on record as saying that those guilty of the murder of the policemen at Bencoo came from the South of Ireland, and in view of the strong statements, which have been welcomed in Northern Ireland, by the Prime Minister of the Republic and his Foreign Secretary at the weekend, would not this be an appropriate time to pursue those statements and to renew talks with the Dublin Government about an extradition treaty?

Mr. Moyle

As opposed to extradition, we have joint Acts of Parliament of the Dail and of this Government allowing for trials of criminals in the Republic and in the United Kingdom for acts com- mitted in the opposite territories. I think that that is where we shall take our stand.

There is no need to reopen talks with members of the Government in the South. These are continual and ongoing.

Mr. Mellish

We all understand, of course, that there is no simple solution to this problem. If there were, this House would have found it. The only way in which this carnage and murder will end is when certain people with responsibility in that great Province of ours, both the Catholic hierarchy and people such as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), start talking peace not only in this House but to their own people back in Ireland, pleading with everything that they have, rather than continuing the festering hatred on the basis of religion. Until that is done, there cannot be a solution. The story of this weekend is a repetition of everything that we have heard in this House again and again. When will those responsible, who can bring about peace, take some real action?

Mr. Moyle

I am sure that my right hon. Friend's remarks will have been noted by those to whom they were addressed.

Mr. Powell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that those who commit these out-rages have not the slightest interest in peaceful co-operation between the different sections of the community in Northern Ireland and that they would endeavour to destroy co-operation by any means in their power?

Mr. Moyle

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Was not there a slight inherent contradiction in the Minister's original statement? In referring to the supremacy of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as the law enforcement body but not as a para-military organisation, he was at pains to emphasise the difficulty of co-ordination of the various types of security operations. Is it not the moment for the Government to consider much more carefully than they have yet done a suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that it is high time that we had a unified command in the Province under which the whole of our anti-terrorist and security could be conducted?

Mr. Moyle

There was no inherent contradiction in anything that I said. In fact I did not draw attention to any difficulties in co-ordinating operations in the Province, which are very well co-ordinated on a sound basis by continual contact between the leadership of the Army and the RUC at all levels. Therefore, I do not think that there is any force in the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Sandelson

Will my hon. Friend say what policy he has in terms of those areas of trouble such as Belfast and Derry where a good deal of the terrorism is concentrated and where a great amount of housing is derelict or near-derelict, and whether it might not greatly assist the police in their detection, powers of arrest and in bringing these people to trial if much of that housing were demolished and more open space provided to assist the police in going about their work?

Mr. Moyle

My hon. Friend who is responsible for housing in the Province is sitting next to me. I draw attention to the fact that there is a housing Order coming forward with a new policy for the use of housing in Northern Ireland. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) will study that when it comes before the House.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware how shocked everyone must be by this appalling catalogue of carnage and vengeance killings which still predominate? Can he give an absolute assurance that there will be no further run-down of the security forces? Can he say whether the Spearhead battalion was withdrawn with the support of the security chiefs? Can he say, finally, what thought has been given to creating special emergency areas in and around the border?

Mr. Moyle

I quite appreciate the sense of horror about what the hon. Gentleman quite rightly described as the carnage over the weekend. Those of us associated with the Province on a day-to-day basis are possibly more affected by incidents of this kind even than those who view them from this House. The level of security forces in the Province will always coincide with the security demands of the operations situation. I can give that assurance.

The Spearhead battalion was withdrawn at the desire of the Army. The hon. Gentleman must remember that the Spearhead battalion is a short-term reinforcement operation. It is in the nature of that fact that at some stage it gets withdrawn for its spearhead rôle.

Sir Nigel Fisher

Can the Minister pinpoint any reason for this increase in the number of murders this weekend? We have had a lot of well-intentioned words from him today. What special action does he intend to take to prevent this sort of thing from going on and worsening, as it is now?

Mr. Moyle

The question of preventing the situation from worsening is one which will engage the security chiefs. The way of limiting casualties in the RUC, the Army and the UDR is a matter for the security chiefs of those forces, and it is for them to deploy their forces as they think best.

Mr. Hastings

Will the hon. Gentleman address his mind again to the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan)? Surely the lesson of both Cyprus and Malaya was that a unified command provided the answer? Since these incidents appear to be getting worse, and no one can claim that the security forces for all their efforts are able to stop them, will the hon. Gentleman study this suggestion and give a wider answer than he did before?

Mr. Moyle

I am prepared to study any suggestion that is put forward. However, I might point out that the security chiefs have been in a position to ask for this sort of machinery if they thought it would make a contribution. They have not felt it necessary to do so.