HC Deb 05 July 1979 vol 969 cc1532-7
3. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the security situation in the Province particularly along the border.

5. Mr. Goodlad

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

6. Mr. Latham

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

18. Rev. Ian Paisley

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

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

Since I answered a question on this subject on 24 May, the security forces have maintained their pressure on the terrorists. Seven people have been charged with five murders, including four men charged with the killing of a Reserve constable in Londonderry on 20 May, one charged with the shooting of a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment in Belfast on 6 June and others charged in relation to sectarian murders in Portadown on 31 March and Belfast on 9 June. Six people have been convicted for murder and five for attempted murder.

During this period 12 persons have died as a result of terrorism of whom five were civilians and seven were members of the security forces, and there have been a total of 100 bomb attacks. In an exchange of fire with the security forces in South Armagh on 9 June a terrorist was fatally wounded and two others seriously injured.

As I told the House on Monday 2 July, we are giving special attention to security in the border areas. The number of troops allocated to those areas has already been significantly increased. I have agreed with Ministers in the Republic of Ireland that the combined efforts of our two countries' security forces in these areas can and must be improved. We shall follow this up with determination.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for those figures giving successes by our security forces. May I press him a little further about his talks in Dublin? When he came back, I think I am right in saying that at a press conference he suggested that the Criminal Jurisdiction Act might be operated more profitably than it had been operated in the past by Governments of both parties. Can he say what was in his mind? Does he consider that the Garda and the RUC might be allowed to cross the border to interrogate suspects?

Mr. Atkins

Yes. I concentrated, in what I said publicly after the meeting, on the Criminal Jurisdiction Act, because it seemed to me that this was the area in which we were most likely to make progress. The courts in the Irish Republic have consistently refused to extradite people for political offences, although the Government of the Republic expressed their willingness to operate the Criminal Jurisdiction Act. It seemed to me that this was the most likely way in which to make the kind of progress we need.

I raised with the Government of the Republic the sugestion that where crimes are committed in the North and people are apprehended in the South, members of the RUC should be enabled to assist in the interrogation—and, of course, the reverse would be true as well. This seems to me to be a sensible proposition and it is one that the Government of the Republic are currently considering.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered. I should be grateful if questions could be brief.

Mr. Goodlad

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many people have been charged with terrorist offences in the Province in the past 12 months, how many people have been convicted of terrorist offences, and whether he is optimistic about the trend?

Mr. Atkins

In the past 12 months, 711 people have been charged with terrorist offences, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that an even greater number of people have been convicted in that period, although not necessarily the same people. In the past 12 months, 876 people have been convicted of terrorist offences. There is cause for cautious optimism that the establishment of the rule of law is making progress if this number of terrorists is being apprehended, brought to trial and convicted.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that within three weeks all hon. Members will have to make an agonising personal decision on the subject of capital punishment? Will he make it his business to try to give to the House his view and that of the leaders of the security forces on whether the restoration of capital punishment would help the position in the Province?

Mr. Atkins

I think that the House knows my personal views well enough from the number of occasions on which this matter has been discussed in the years that I have been here. I shall take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion and be most willing to give guidance to hon. Members on the possible effects on terrorism of a change in the law.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary to stop the flow of arms to the terrorists? Will he tell us how many arms have been captured in the past year and their countries of origin? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the best solution to the problem with the Irish Republic would be an extradition treaty? Will he press on the Irish Government the fact that they should sign the European convention on terrorism?

Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell the House what happened to the person who was wounded recently in the north of Ireland? Is it not a fact that a person was allowed to walk out of a hospital in the south of Ireland and go free?

Mr. Atkins

There were two people wounded in the incident to which the hon. Gentleman refers. One of them is currently serving a sentence of six months' imprisonment in the Republic and the other is at home.

I cannot, I am afraid, without notice, give the hon. Gentleman the figures for which he asks, but I shall be very glad to let him have them later. The arms obtained by terrorists come exclusively from overseas, and there is evidence that substantial numbers of them arrive in Northern Ireland by land rather than by sea.

Mr. McCusker

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall telling me last week that 19 serious incidents had occurred in my constituency, after which the terrorists concerned returned to the Irish Republic? Did he raise the matter of those statistics with Mr. O'Kennedy? Is he aware that Mr. O'Kennedy and his security forces would know the identity of the men who committed those atrocities? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the two men who were wounded were wounded not by the security forces but by a civilian in my constituency, after which they received medical attention in a hospital in the Republic and were then allowed to go free, following which one of them was arrested and charged with a motoring offence?

Mr. Atkins

All those matters were discussed in my meeting with the Ministers of the Republic. As I have said already, there is no doubt in my mind, nor in the minds of the Ministers of the Republic, that this cross-border traffic makes things much too easy for terrorists. That is why I was delighted to hear from the Government of the Republic that they had established a task force specifically devoted to the terrorist threat in the border areas. This kind of co-operation between the RUC and the Garda, and between the two Governments, seems to be far and away the best method of getting on top of the problem.

I have already mentioned the two wounded men. One of them is imprisoned in the Republic. There is still time for us to seek to encourage the authorities there to use the Criminal Jurisdiction Act, if evidence can be found.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Ulster people, who are being slaughtered daily, are sick of the fruitless talks which go on between Westminster and Dublin? Will he take action to end the pretence whereby the Government of the Irish Republic claim to be taking effective action against the IRA terrorists there, and force that Government to act, as any friendly neighbouring State should, to end the menace of the evil men who operate from the safety of the Irish Republic?

Mr. Atkins

I, too, am sick of this and wish to do anything I can to bring it to an end, as I have repeatedly said. At my meeting with the foreign affairs Minister of the Republic and the Minister of Justice, both expressed their determination to eradicate terrorism, which they recognised as being a threat not just to the people of Northern Ireland but to themselves. They have taken certain steps and are considering others. As I said before, I intend to follow this up with determination. We shall see what happens.

Mr. John

Will the Secretary of State let us know when he expects progress to be made on the matter of the Criminal Jurisdiction Act? When will the Dublin Government be in a position to come to a decision on that issue?

In answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham), the Secretary of State indicated his views on capital punishment. Am I to take it from that that he intends to intervene in the debate to make clear to the House his views as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

I do not know what course the debate on capital punishment will follow. In answering my hon. Friend's supplementary question. I was reminding the House of my own personal views, which have been expressed consistently over 24 years. It will clearly be necessary during that debate for the effect on terrorist activity of a change in the law to be made clear. I would not like to say at this stage that I shall be doing it—it may be somebody else—but clearly the House will need that advice, and I am certain that it will get it.

The Government of the Republic are prepared to operate the Criminal Jurisdiction Act at any time. The Act was passed by us in this House in 1975, and was followed by the Irish Government in, I think, 1976. They have consistently expressed their readiness to use the Act, provided that evidence is forthcoming from the North which will enable them to mount a prosecution.