§ 7. Mr. William Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Prior
Since I last answered questions on 10 February I regret to report that four members of the security forces and two civilians have been murdered in Northern Ireland.
On 20 February a member of the RUC reserve was shot dead as he left Warrenpoint RUC station, and on the following day an RUC sergeant on a mobile patrol was killed in a bomb explosion in Armagh. On 25 February a part-time corporal in the UDR was shot dead as he was about to get out of his car at his place of work in County Tyrone. And on 2 March a constable was brutally gunned down in front of children leaving a primary school in north Belfast.
On 19 February a postman was shot dead near Enniskillen when he was lured into delivering a letter. The police believe that his killers thought he was a part-time member of the security forces.
The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for this murder and for the murder of the four members of the security forces.
Finally, the House will no doubt be aware that a joiner was shot dead in Armagh yesterday afternoon as he left Housing Executive offices. The RUC is investigating this latest killing.
942 I am sure the House will join me in paying tribute again to the steadfastness and dedication of the security forces, whose important work continues in the face of these murderous assaults, especially on them.
So far this year 111 persons have been charged with terrorist type offences, including seven with murder and five with attempted murder; 41 weapons and 20,515 rounds of ammunition together with 177 lbs of explosives, have been recovered.
§ Mr. Ross
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the list of murders that he has just read out, and also the list of further attacks on the security forces, scattered as they were right across Northern Ireland, demonstrate an almost casual ability by the IRA to commit murders of selected targets, when and where it wishes? What further specific measures does he intend to take to combat this experience?
§ Mr. Prior
Certainly the IRA has concentrated on selected targets. The Chief Constable and the GOC are well aware of this and are doing all that they can to prevent it. I do not believe, as I have had to tell the House before, that there is any simple measure that can prevent terrorist murders taking place. What we require, of course, is a long-term solution to the problems of instability in Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
Has Dr. FitzGerald restored to the Irish security forces on the border those forces that were cut by Mr. Haughey during the latter part of his premiership?
§ Mr. Prior
So far as I am aware there was only a very small reduction of Garda on the border for a period in recent months. Certainly, we are entirely satisfied with co-operation on the border. So far as I know, there have been no major changes in the number of Garda or Irish Republic troops on the border in the past year or two.
§ Mr. McCusker
Does the Secretary of State accept that in the past few weeks the IRA seems to have adopted a pattern of killing somebody in each of the Six Counties and in Belfast and Londonderry in a deliberate attempt to thumb its nose at the security forces and the Northern Ireland assembly? Is one to conclude from the Minister's response that we simply have to sit and watch the same thing happen again in the next few weeks?
§ Mr. Prior
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not conclude from my response that I am not well aware of the dangers and the continuing murders. As he knows all too well, the IRA is constantly seeking to get a response through the assembly and the people of Northern Ireland that would undermine all that we are seeking to do to bring stability. I urge everyone in Northern Ireland to help me in that battle.
§ Mr. Fitt
Has the Secretary of State taken account of what seems to be a change of tactics by the IRA, which is now concentrating its killing activities on Northern Irish people—members of the UDR out of uniform and members of the RUC and its reserves? Could it be that in killing Northern Ireland Protestants rather than British soldiers the IRA is trying to provoke a backlash from the Protestant community?
§ Mr. Arnold
Will my right hon. Friend ensure that in future when the Army gives briefings to foreign journalists the information imparted is four-square with that conveyed by his press officer at Stormont?
§ Mr. Concannon
The Opposition pay tribute to the security forces who have lost their lives and the families who have lost their loved ones in the past months in this further instance of the tragedy in Northern Ireland. I do not suggest for a moment that he should give up the powers of strip searching in Amargh women's prison, but is it necessary to continue planned searches of that kind, as I am afraid that it is providing a cause for which the IRA, Sinn Fein and others are looking? Will he also give us information about the firing of plastic baton rounds since September and since the last Northern Ireland Question Time? In anticipation of the results, may I suggest that the lack of street disorders has led to a substantial decrease in the use of plastic bullets?
§ Mr. Prior
Since September only 19 plastic baton rounds have been fired. Four have been fired this year, so none has been fired since I last gave information to the House. If riots do not take place and children therefore do not take part in them, there will be no danger either to children or to the public generally.
On the allegations made about strip searching of prisoners in Armagh women's prison, the prison authorities have a duty to ensure the safe and. secure custody of prisoners in their care. I deeply regret the inaccurate accounts of what has happened. I am keeping the matter under regular review and I hope that that will ease some of the tension.