HC Deb 21 July 1983 vol 46 cc547-9
2. Mr. Farr

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on security in Northern Ireland, particularly with reference to cross-border co-operation.

1. Mr. Stanbrook

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the degree of co-operation provided by the Government of the Republic of Ireland in the pursuit and apprehension of those accused of criminal offences in Northern Ireland.

8. Mr. Stephen Ross

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

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James Prior)

Since I last answered questions on 12 May, eight members of the security forces and four civilians have died as a result of the security situation in the Province.

On 16 May a constable was murdered outside his home in Belfast and on 26 May a constable was shot dead while on duty outside Cookstown police station. A part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment was killed by an explosive device near Dungannon on 4 June and on 10 June a soldier on foot patrol was killed in a similar manner in Belfast. On 13 July four members of the UDR were killed when a bomb exploded under their vehicle in county Tyrone.

The civilians were a milkman shot dead in Belfast on 26 May, a workman shot dead in county Tyrone on 27 June and two men whose bodies were discovered in a car in south Armagh on 13 July.

It is a tribute to the security forces that many of the attempts by terrorist groups to increase tension in the prelude to the general election failed and that a number of arrests were made. The RUC continues to have considerable success in bringing to justice those whom it suspects of terrorist type offences. So far this year 288 people have been charged with such offences, including 32 with murder, and 30 with attempted murder. Nineteen of the murder charges and 18 of those for attempted murder were made during the period since 12 May. 125 weapons, 31,780 rounds of ammunition and 1,707 lbs of explosives have been recovered so far this year.

The RUC and the Garda continue to co-operate closely both in deterring acts of terrorism and in bringing criminals to justice. We shall continue to make it clear to the Irish Government that we believe workable extradition arrangements to be the best way of dealing with fugitive offenders, although we value the recent successes achieved under the extra-territorial legislation.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that the whole House will wish to express its admiration for the sacrifices made by the security forces and the RUC. On Tuesday the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Republic of Ireland will be in London. During his visit, will my right hon. Friend mention the importation of weapons from the Republic into Northern Ireland and see whether control can be tightened by closer cross-border co-operation? For example, today there was a rocket attack in Londonderry, which was probably caused by an imported rocket.

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. There is another question on the Order Paper about the visit of the Republic of Ireland Minister for Foreign Affairs. I shall take every opportunity to impress upon him the need for maximum co-operation across the border, particularly with regard to weapons.

Mr. Stephen Ross

May I, too, express my admiration for those who lost their lives and echo the words of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr)? As four UDR men were so tragically blown up in a convoy last week, and as there have been similar instances involving Army convoys, is the Secretary of State satisfied that every effort is being made to pinpoint such traps before the event, perhaps by using increased air surveillance?

Mr. Prior

I am satisfied that every effort is made to do so, by a variety of methods. The trouble is that there are an enormous number of culverts and it is extremely difficult to keep a watch on all of them. However, on several occasions recently the RUC and the security forces have successfully stopped those devices and retrieved a great deal of explosives which would otherwise have caused serious casualties.

Mr. Kilfedder

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that there can be no real security for the Ulster people, who have suffered terribly for more than 14 years from IRA terrorism, unless and until the terrorist murderers are put behind bars and kept there for the rest of their natural lives? Will he re-examine the question of the remission of prison sentences for terrorists? Surely the half remission should be brought to an end.

Mr. Prior

No terrorist who has been convicted of murder, except a man suffering from cancer, w ho was about to die, has been released since the present campaign began. I have examined the 50 per cent. remission and the system of parole that operates in Great Britain as a possible replacement for 50 per cent. remission. I believe that we are right to continue with the 50 per cent. remission. There have been examples of men returning to terrorism, but there have been many cases of men who have reformed and behaved perfectly responsibly afterwards.

Mr. William Ross

How many people who are being sought by the RUC in connection with terrorist crimes are believed to be in the Republic of Ireland? In how many of those cases has the RUC asked the Garda to arrest and return them?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures that he requires, because we cannot possibly know. The RUC asks for terrorists to be extradited. If the hon. Gentleman requires further information about that, I shall see what can be made available to him.

Mr. Concannon

In view of the terrible list of events which the Secretary of State was obliged to read out once again, I should like to express the Opposition's gratitude to the security forces for the way in which they carry out their duties in Northern Ireland. As circumstances have changed in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein has gone political, is the Secretary of State receiving expressions of condemnation by the new political party of acts of violence?

Mr. Prior

Far from it; quite the reverse, in fact. That should not be lost on anyone who seeks the path of peace and anyone who supports Provisional Sinn Fein and wants to make a visit here. I hope that that message will not go unheeded.