HC Deb 12 February 1981 vol 998 cc968-71
1. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the security of the Province, with particular reference to the border area.

4. Mr. Molyneaux

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

15. Mr. Dunlop

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he remains satisfied with the state of security in Northern Ireland, in the light of the recent murder of Sir Norman Stronge and his son.

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.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Humphrey Atkins)

I have to report that since I last answered questions nine people have died as a result of terrorist violence. They include Sir Norman Stronge, his son James, who was a member of the RUC Reserve, and six other members of the security forces. Attacks on commercial and business premises also occurred, and, although much damage was done, a number of attacks were foiled by the bravery and skill of the ammunition technical officers.

Since the lull at the time of the prison hunger strike, terrorist organisations have clearly renewed their activities. However, they have continued to suffer reverses.

Nearly 2,000 lbs of explosive material was seized near Ardglass in January, and other stocks of munitions have also been seized. A 600 lb culvert bomb was successfully disarmed near Bessbrook, together with an associated booby trap device.

Fifty-six people have been charged with serious crime, including five with murder and 13 with attempted murder. These include three men charged following the attack on Mr. and Mrs. McAliskey near Coalisland.

I have said before that neither I nor the security forces can be satisfied so long as anybody is killed or injured by terrorist violence. But it is the fact that the level of violence so far this year is lower than this time last year. This confirms me in my conviction that the course on which the security forces are set is the right one. The Chief Constable and the GOC are satisfied that they have sufficient resources on the ground. I know that they will not be distracted from their tasks by danger or provocation, and I call on all people of good will in Northern Ireland to give them full support.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I propose to call first the four hon. Members whose questions are being answered.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is there evidence since the Dublin summit and the murders that my right hon. Friend has mentioned that more is really being done by the Republic to secure its side of the frontier from terrorist activities and to speed the surrender to justice of the terrorists there harboured?

Mr. Atkins

There is a question later on the Order Paper on this issue. Both the Chief Constable and the GOC advise me that the co-operation that they are receiving in cross-border security activities from the Republic is increasing all the time.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that any measures designed to eliminate killer gangs in the greater Belfast area will not result in any weakening of the defence of the frontier? Will he assure the House that everything possible will be done to increase security in both spheres?

Mr. Atkins

We are conscious of the need to maintain a high level of security force presence in border areas. Both the Chief Constable and the GOC have that in mind. Without going into details, which I know the hon. Gentleman would not wish me to do, that is being done.

Mr. Dunlop

As the RUC was successful in ramming one of the escape vehicles after the murders of Sir Norman Stronge and his son, will the Secretary of State say how many rounds of ammunition were fired by the RUC and how many were fired by the terrorists? Will he inform us if the second police car was engaged in the attack as well? This is an important aspect of that monstrous and savage crime. Will the Secretary of State please make a statement about it?

Mr. Atkins

Without notice, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the details for which he asks, but I shall furnish him with them later, in whatever form he finds most appropriate.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the first police car was rammed by the terrorists when they were attempting to escape, and an exchange of fire followed. It was unfortunate that the terrorists managed to make their escape. It is to be hoped that on future occasions they will not be so fortunate as they were on that occasion.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Secretary of State confirm or deny that the army patrol, which was to observe Tynan Abbey on the night of that atrocious murder of Sir Norman Stronge and his son James, was being wined and dined at a well-known Republican house in that area? Will he also deny or confirm that the helicopter which came to the assistance of the RUC ran out of fuel and had to return to base? Will he tell us what action has been taken against the officer who was responsible for the patrol not being in position on the night of that terrible incident?

Mr. Atkins

I never give details in the House of the security force operations, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, I cannot understand why it is in the interests of anyone to make such charges.

Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Fitt

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has said that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is a liar.

Rev. Ian Paisley

So he is.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Did the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) make that statement?

Rev Ian Paisley

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I made that statement because it is true.

Mr. Peter Robinson

So it is.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) knows that he must withdraw that remark at once.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I have no intention of withdrawing the truth. Evidently, the Secretary of State prefers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I name Rev. Ian Paisley for gross discourtesy to the Chair. I call upon a Minister to move the appropriate motion.

Mr. Peter Robinson

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is telling the truth.

Mr. Stan Thorne

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

There can be no points of order at this stage.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Jopling)

I beg to move,

That Rev. Ian Paisley be suspended fron the service of the House. Question put:

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr. Le Marchant and Mr. Berry were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, and Mr. Peter Robinson was appointed Teller for the Noes, but no Member being willing to act as a second Teller for the Noes, Mr. Speakerdeclared that the Ayes had it.

Question agreed to.

The hon. Member withdrew.

Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Under Standing Order No. 8, I believe that you have the power to extend Question Time. This incident was unlooked for by the House. Because of the argument, hon. Members could be deprived of the opportunity to ask questions. Therefore, I suggest to you Mr. Speaker, that you add the time that has been taken from questions to the end of Question Time in order to help the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. That power relates to private notice questions rather than to Question Time. All the precedents are that when such an incident happens, it comes out of Question Time. We shall now continue with questions.

Mr. McCusker

Does the Secretary of State agree that the identity of most of the men involved in the killing of some of my constituents, including Sir Norman and James Stronge, is known, not only to the security forces on both sides of the border, but to Ministers on both sides of the border? Is it not deplorable that all my constituents can do is wait until someone else is killed?

Mr. Atkins

I do not know the names of any of the criminals. If I did, I would inform the security forces. I have no doubt that there are strong suspicions, and I hope very much that evidence will be produced so that the guilty people can be convicted.

Mr. Kilfedder

In view of the success of the operation by the SAS against the Iranian Embassy terrorists in London last year, and the findings of the court that the members of the SAS were not guilty of murder in the circumstances of the siege when they shot the gunmen, will the right hon. Gentleman deploy enough units of the SAS in Northern Ireland to deal effectively and immediately with the terrorists, particularly along the border of West Belfast and Crossmaglen?

Mr. Atkins

As I have said, the Chief Constable and the GOC are satisfied that they have sufficient resources on the ground. I emphasise that all members of the Security Forces are subject to the law, like everyone else.

Mr. Concannon

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us believe that cross-border co-operation is getting better all the time? However, will he nevertheless keep that matter at the top of the agenda in any discussions with Dublin, because it is important that we have as much co-operation as possible with the South over security?

Mr. Atkins

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I agree that co-operation is improving all the time. It is a matter that we keep constantly before us in our discussions with the authorities south of the border.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Secretary of State accept that there are two malign forces in Northern Ireland—one led by the IRA and the other by paramilitary leaders, who are in some cases elected by the Unionist Loyalists—and that they feed off each other? Is he aware that members of the IRA murder policemen, UDR men and innocent civilians and that that leads to a reaction from the men who lead illegal armies up hills in County Antrim and who refuse to recognise the authority of this House? Why does the Secretary of State find it so difficult to ban the activities of the Ulster Defence Association, when that association is clearly identified with some of the most atrocious murders committed in Northern Ireland and in particular the attempted murder of Bernadette Devlin? Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that the sheer weight of numbers in the UDA will not prevent him from bringing into action all the forces of law and order to defeat the UDA, the IRA and any other paramilitary organisation that there may be in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins

Without agreeing with every detail of what the hon. Gentleman says, I state at once that the size of an organisation has nothing to do with whether it is proscribed. The test of proscription is whether an organisation is actively encouraging, supporting or engaged in terrorist activities. Any organisation that is is liable to be proscribed. The most important thing is to prevent people from committing crimes, and, if they do commit them, whoever they are and wherever they come from, to bring them swiftly to justice. That is what the main thrust of our efforts is directed towards.