HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc1719-21
12. Mr. Craig

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

Mr. Mason

Since I answered a similar Question on 15th June, the general level of violence has remained relatively low. Terrorist attacks continue, however, particularly against members of the security forces. The murder yesterday of Private Fisher brings to 19 the number of security force personnel killed this year. In the same period last year there were 30 such deaths.

The police and Army remain alert to the terrorists' capability and are maintaining their drive to bring to justice those responsible for violence. So far this year 497 people have been charged with serious terrorist offences, including 43 with murder and 55 with attempted murder.

Finally, I must tell the House how deeply I regret the tragic combination of circumstances which led to the death of John Boyle in Dunloy on 11th July. The police are conducting a full investigation, and it would not be right for me to prejudge that.

Mr. Craig

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most people in Northern Ireland appreciate the progress made by the security forces? Is he also aware that people feel that a hard core of terrorism is not being adequately tackled? Many people, such as Martin Meehan, have been called in for questioning, but the questioning never seems to lead anywhere. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a growing campaign to denigrate the work of the security forces? I hope he will bear in mind the enormous difficulties and dangers under which the security forces operate, and that when allegations are made he will bear in mind that security forces have shown remarkable restraint in operating in the most difficult circumstances.

Mr. Mason

I very much appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says. As somebody who has had some responsibility in the Province and who lives there, the right hon. Gentleman's words are to be respected. It is right that we must continually use the process of the law in Northern Ireland so that when we make an arrest the charge sticks and the matter is processed through a court of law. Secondly, it is true that there is a constant campaign of denigration against the security forces in Northern Ireland. We must we aware of it—and that includes awareness by this House in particular.

Mr. Bradford

Will the Secretary of State consider proscribing the Provisional Sinn Fein—that group of people who masquerade behind a political label hut who have no policies on housing, education or any other genuine political matter? Will he proscribe that organisation at the earliest possible moment if the numbers of deaths are to be reduced?

Mr. Mason

I have not in mind proscribing PSF, the political wing of the Provisional IRA. I always bear in mind that if the Provisional IRA wants to prove whether it has any political backing or any following in the community in Northern Ireland, its members will have the opportunity to do so by letting PSF stand in the elections, local or Westminster. The way to prove that is through the ballot box. Let us see what strength that movement possesses.

Mr. Fitt

Is not my right hon. Friend already aware of all the circumstances relating to the tragic death of John Boyle? Does he agree that this incident has created a deep sense of outrage throughout the whole community in Northern Ireland? In any subsequent inquiry, will the RUC have any power in interpreting the written instructions on a yellow card, or will they continue to be interpreted with such tragic effects as we have already experienced?

Mr. Mason

The principles have been laid down by this House and not by the RUC. I was personally saddened at the death of this young man. However, a full RUC investigation is taking place. This is the normal course when there is an incident of this kind. There will be a public inquest.