HC Deb 22 November 1979 vol 974 cc548-52
10. Mr. Molyneaux

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

11. Rev. Ian Paisley

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

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

Since I last answered questions in the House on 25 October, 10 people have died as a result of terrorist action in Northern Ireland, three of them in incidents of a sectarian nature. The Provisional IRA has continued to concentrate its attack on the security forces and prison officers. Bomb attacks on commercial premises have been at a low level, though on 10 November there was a series of attacks on such property with cassette incendiary devices. The security forces have continued their success in bringing terrorists before the courts. Since 25 October, 55 charges have been brought for terrorist offences, seven of them for murder and four for attempted murder.

Furthermore, during the month of October 86 people were convicted of terrorist crimes, four of them for murder. There has been a quantity of arms recovered during the last few weeks and on 31 October security forces in the Republic of Ireland seized a large quantity of weapons intended for terrorist use, at Dublin docks. Further measures are in hand to provide greater protection for prison officers and for members of the locally recruited security forces, particularly when they are off duty.

Mr. Molyneaux

Can the Secretary of State explain why there should have been a delay of 15 days in investigating the Panorama-IRA operation at Carrick-more? Why was the personal intervention of the Prime Minister necessary to arouse the interest of Scotland Yard in the matter?

Mr. Atkins

There was not a delay of 15 days. Although there is a later question on the Order Paper about this, I shall deal with it now. The security and police forces in the Province started investigating at once.

Rev. Ian Paisley

As evidence has come to hand that the security of RUC intelligence activities has been breached, and that the IRA had a "plant" in the RUC reserve who supplied vital information that could have led to the murder of members of the RUC, has the right hon. Gentleman set up an inquiry into this matter? Is he satisfied that the other branches of the security forces have not been infiltrated?

Mr. Atkins

As a result of inquiries that we are making, papers are before the Director of Public Prosecutions at the moment in respect of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. McNamara

With regard to foreign interference in Northern Ireland, will the right hon. Gentleman inform the House of the steps that have been taken by the United States Government to proceed against NORAID? What assistance are Her Majesty's Government giving to the United States Government in that regard?

Mr. Atkins

I cannot answer for the precise steps that the United States Government have taken. I know that they are well aware of the need to reduce the amount of money coming from the United States for terrorist purposes. I know that they have taken certain steps. We shall be ready to give them any assistance that we can to prevent this happening.

Mr. Bradford

Can the Secretary of State tell us why he has refused to disclose the nature of the financial arrangements that have evolved following the talks on security between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

These are not financial arrangements. They are matters of security which, as I have told the House on more than one occasion, it would not be prudent to disclose.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 94 of those who were recently found guilty of terrorist offences have been given non-custodial sentences? Does he intend to take any action to impose minimum or mandatory sentences in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

Sentences imposed by the courts are matters for the courts. I do not think that it would be proper for me to seek to intervene, and I do not believe that the House would regard it as correct that Ministers should seek to interfere with the courts.

Mr. John

Can the Secretary of State give an assessment for the year so far of the number of attacks against persons and property? Are they increasing or decreasing? Is there not some recent evidence that there has been a switching of targets back to commercial properties on rather more than the one weekend that the Secretary of State mentioned?

Mr. Atkins

I published the security statistics for this year compared with previous years in the Official Report. I do not think that the conclusions drawn by the hon. Gentleman can be drawn. There is no doubt that personal attacks are concentrated on members of the security forces. I think that there is also an indication that the level of bombing is not as high as it was. However, that should not give us cause for complacency, because it may well be that the terrorists will seek to escalate their activity, particularly if there seems to be progress towards a political settlement, which is the one thing that they do not want.

12. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has for tightening security along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

We are maintaining and constantly adapting the efforts of the security forces in Northern Ireland engaged in overt and covert duties to meet changes in the security situation. In addition, the measures agreed with the Government of the Irish Republic on 5 October ensure greater effectiveness in our joint effort against a common enemy.

Mr. Proctor

Will my right hon. Friend sanction an increase in the number and frequency of SAS and similar patrols along the border?

Mr. Atkins

We are constantly looking at the most effective deployment of our forces, including the use of the SAS.

Mr. Fitt

Is the Secretary of State satisfied with the work that is now being carried out by his security adviser in Northern Ireland, Sir Maurice Oldfield, who is allegedly there to co-ordinate the work of the Army and the police? Does not the right hon. Gentleman have the slightest suspicion that something may go wrong with that appointment, in view of the reported association between Sir Maurice Oldfield and Mr. Anthony Blunt?

Mr. Atkins

No, I do not. Sir Maurice Oldfield's arrival in the Province as security co-ordinator has been of great help, and the work that he is doing to increase the effectiveness of the security forces is appreciated by all of us. I have no fears such as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Kilfedder

Has the Eire Prime Minister agreed to overflying on the Eire side of the border by British aircraft and helicopters? This is not something that can be kept secret, and the Secretary of State can answer if he so wishes.

Mr. Atkins

Ministers of the Republic and I, and the Prime Minister of the Republic and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, agreed that we would keep the details of the arrangements to ourselves. Therefore, I regret that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Flannery

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that, no matter how much security along the border is tightened, ultimately that is no solution whatever? We are facing a political problem, and the solution must be a political one. Surely the beginning of a solution is for all the parties concerned to come together at the conference that the right hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. Atkins

I entirely agree with the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, but I must point out that no agreement between the political parties in Northern Ireland will be of the slightest interest to the terrorists. They are not interested in the improvement of democratic Government. All that they are interested in doing is trying to destroy it.

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