HC Deb 12 May 1977 vol 931 cc1526-8
1. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has held with the Loyalist United Unionist Action Council; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. J. D. Concannon)

I hope that the House will understand when I say at the outset that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has deemed it important that he should stay in Northern Ireland today. I hope that the House also understands that no discourtesy is intended.

In answer to the Question, none, Sir. On 2nd May, before the stoppage began, my right hon. Friend met the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), and the Leader of the United Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. Baird, in their capacity as leaders of political parties in Northern Ireland. He asked them to use their influence to prevent the stoppage called by the UUAC and told them that such action could only help the IRA and weaken Northern Ireland's economy. I am sorry that they disregarded this advice; but I am glad that most people in Northern Ireland have courageously rejected the misguided strike call.

Mr. Flannery

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the people of both the majority and minority communities in Northern Ireland should be congratulated by the House on the sane and sensible attitude they have taken to the atmosphere of thuggery and intimidation which somehow seems to surround the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) almost everywhere he goes? Does he also agree that a measure of unity in the face of adversity of this nature seems to have pervaded the community generally and that this small measure of unity could grow and become something bigger? Does he further agree that steps of a carefully pre pared nature should be taken to try to capitalise on this position and bring the various communities together to utilise it as best we can?

Mr. Concannon

I think that the people of Northern Ireland have shown their determination to keep life going in the Province. Although they may and do feel strongly about the security situation, they see that the stoppage could only be harmful for Northern Ireland. 'This is a victory for the courage and good sense of the people of Northern Ireland and for responsible leaders of opinion there.

Mr. Neave

Will the Minister of State convey our good wishes to the Secretary of State in this crisis? Does he agree that it has demonstrated not only the courage and resolution of working people but the splendid calibre of the RUC and the way in which it has become an effective and impartial police force?

There has been a great amount of intimidation. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many cases of intimidation have been reported to the police and what charges have been or are being made? We can only hope that the offenders will be dealt with severely.

Mr. Concannon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, which I shall convey to my right hon. Friend later this afternoon.

Well over 1,000 cases of intimidation have been reported to the RUC. I should point out that, of all the people coming out of this situation with a lot of credit, the RUC is certainly coming out with great credit. I repeat that well over 1,000 cases of intimidation have been reported. The methods of intimidation are so insidious—some have been made over the telephone—that it is difficult to get evidence or people to back up the evidence. Over 100 cases have been taken up of which just under 30 involve intimidation charges.

Mr. Fitt

Is my hon. Friend aware that within the last 24 hours one of the leaders of the Loyalist United Unionist Action Council—namely, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—has made allegations that the SAS was responsible for the murder of the bus driver in the city of Belfast? Is he aware that the hon. Member also alleged that the CIA had had discussions with the RUC in an attempt to defame the Loyalist population? Does my hon. Friend think that there is any truth in those allegations? Alternatively, does he agree with me and with many thousands of people in Northern Ireland that the hon. Member for Antrim, North is in urgent need of psychiatric treatment and that he is more to be pitied than blamed?

Does my hon. Friend agree that over the past few days the RUC—and I am speaking as Leader of the SDLP—has been engaged in actions which have engendered a lot of trust in the Roman Catholic community? Will he congratulate the law-abiding people of Toomebridge who assisted the RUC in the removal of illegal road blocks?

Mr. Concannon

It is not worth wasting the time of the House by replying to any of the absurd accusations made about the murder of the bus driver and other matters. I have attended two meetings with the bus drivers and their representatives. I would sooner take their word than that of anyone else. I was proud to be associated with the bus drivers and the action they have taken. The Toomebridge incident was regrettable. If the obstructions had not been on the road illegally, nothing would have happened.

Mr. Fitt

Hear, hear