HC Deb 11 May 1978 vol 949 cc1386-8
6. Mr. Biggs-Davison

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

Mr. Mason

Since 13th April, when I last addressed the House, five persons, including three members of the security forces, have died as a result of terrorist violence. In the same period, 84 people have been charged with serious terrorist crimes, including eight with murder and seven with attempted murder. Recoveries of arms and munitions continue on a large scale, including finds of Armalite rifles and a haul of cassette incendiary devices.

The security forces continue to operate efficiently and with success in the prevention and detection of crime. The men of violence must surely be aware of the futility of their actions and the certainty of their capture.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey our congratulations to the Royal Ulster Constabulary on its success in bringing so many gangsters to book? But is not full success being impeded, as earlier exchanges have indicated, by the asylum still available in the Republic? Would the right hon. Gentleman now care to answer the supplementary question from his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara)? Since Mr. Lynch has complained that the United Kingdom has not invoked the criminal jurisdiction legislation to which the Secretary of State's hon. Friend referred, can we be told when the first case is likely to be attempted thereunder?

Mr. Mason

Of course, the border is an ingredient in the terrorist activity in the Province, and it is also an ingredient in criminal activity North and South.

Under the provisions of the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1976, first there have to be acts of a terrorist nature which have taken place since June 1976, so that it is a relatively short time. Secondly there is a problem, which I hope we shall be able to overcome. It is that the information that the Royal Ulster Constabulary may pass to the Garda is not sufficient in detail for it to be regarded as evidence before a court of law. This makes it a little more difficult to get the number of arrests and detentions by the Government of the Republic—and vice versa by ourselves—that we would like. So far there has been the case of Captain Nairac, who died in the South. Three men are being held and charged in the North. One of the persons involved in that matter was from the South and he has since been charged in the South.

Mr. Wm. Ross

When the right hon. Gentleman saw the members of the Republic's Government recently, did he draw their attention to the amount of terrorism which is planned in and launched from the Republic and point out that he believes that this is far greater than the 2 per cent. which the Republic would admit?

Mr. Mason

We did not talk about percentages. I hope that getting down to that sort of percentage detail will not be necessary any more. We talked about expanding co-operation between the North and the South, tackling terrorist activity on both sides of the border, and of the Government of the Republic and Her Majesty's Government co-operating and developing that sort of anti-terrorist activity. As an indication of this, we have now agreed that the Chief Constable from the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Commissioner shall meet very shortly to develop some of the views that we exchanged on security matters in the whole of Ireland.

Mr. Watkinson

All hon. Members will welcome the developments which have taken place between North and South. Can my right hon. Friend say that there will be closer links between the Armed Forces of both North and South in improving anti-terrorist methods in the border area? Will he also say whether he regards home-made machine guns as a growing threat in the North at the present time?

Mr. Mason

My answer on the latter point is "No". Although small submachine guns are being found in Northern Ireland during the course of RUC raids, we do not regard the home-made manufacture of them as a serious threat. Army co-operation between the North and the South is more difficult because of the history of the Irish Army and ourselves. We are getting good co-operation with the RUC. That is the area where we should develop it. The Irish Army is helping as much as it can on the border, but communications between the British Army and the Irish Army remain difficult.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Foreign Secretary of the Republic stated on Sunday that the right hon. Gentleman did not ask him for assurances on the question of security and that no assurances were given? In view of the communiqué which has been issued, this matter is bewildering to the people of Northern Ireland. As to the arms find, can the Minister tell us the origin of manufacture of these arms?

Mr. Mason

As the hon. Gentleman will know, some of the arms have come from the Middle East. There is no significant link between terrorist activity in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, but it is easy to buy illegal arms in that area. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Republic made me completely aware that it now has a 100 per cent. commitment behind its security forces in tackling terrorism in the South and helping us along the border.