HC Deb 12 May 1983 vol 42 cc903-6
3. Mr. Proctor

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

13. Mr. Molyneaux

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. James Prior)

Since I last answered questions on 14 April, there have been three deaths in the Province as a result of the security situation. On 24 April a man was found battered to death in Belfast, while on 6 May the body of a man was found bound and shot in the head near Warrenpoint, Co. Down. The Irish National Liberation Army claimed that he was an informer. As the House will no doubt be aware, on 10 May gunmen burst into a house in Londonderry where a soldier on leave was staying. The soldier's wife was shot dead and the soldier and his sister-in-law were injured. The Provisional IRA has admitted responsibility.

Meanwhile, the painstaking work of the security forces in bringing terrorists to justice continues to meet with steady success. So far this year 195 have been charged with terrorist-type offences, including 13 with murder and 12 with attempted murder; 81 weapons, 30,098 rounds of ammunition, together with 267 lbs of explosives have been recovered.

Mr. Proctor

I thank my right hon. Friend for that statement. Does he agree that it is right at this time to remember all those who have died in the last four years, during this Parliament; all the members of the security forces who have been on duty in those four years; and Airey Neave, who was assassinated during the run-up to the last general election campaign? Does he further agree that there is a point of danger now for all candidates standing in the election?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. We pay the warmest tribute to the courage of the security forces and to the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland, who have suffered so much during these years. I long for a time when this sort of question need not be tabled every month, because in some ways it draws attention to the problems of Northern Ireland, which, although they are great, are sometimes from the security point of view made to look completely out of perspective to the normality of much of life in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Molyneaux

On this final Northern Ireland question day of the present Parliament, may I join in the tributes that have been paid to the security forces for their courage and achievements? We are already seeing the increase in violence which is a prelude to every election. Will the Secretary of State do everything in his power to ensure that every precaution is taken to protect the population in general, particularly against the activities of terrorist organisations, whose front men may be standing as candidates, so attempting to have it both ways?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir, 'we will do all we can. I am in close touch with the Chief Constable and the GOC and will be seeing them again shortly after the weekend. We shall be paying particular regard to candidates standing in the election and I urge everyone to take every possible precaution.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I join in the tribute that has been paid to those who have given their lives in the defence of Northern Ireland, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) did not by intention omit the name of the Rev. Robert Bradford, a serving Member of this Parliament, who gave his life in the cause of Northern Ireland. It is to my great regret that a coat of arms to him is not to be found on the walls of this House, but I hope that will be remedied. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will look at the proposed rundown of full-time UDR men in Carrickfergus and in the town of Larne, and at the proposed rundown of police in the Portglenone area, especially at this time of trouble?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Proctor) had no intention of forgetting the Rev. Robert Bradford. I remember that incident well. The House mourns the loss of any Member of the House. As to the hon. Gentleman's other two points, yes, we shall study them. I have written to one of his hon. Friends about the Carrickfergus UDR. I shall bear his other point in mind.

Mr. Fitt

Does the Secretary of State accept that it is futile to try to involve either the IRA or Sinn Fein in legitimate democratic politics? Any attempt to do so is bound to lead to disaster. Will he comment on what many people in Northern Ireland regard as the true response that should be made by the nationalist people in Northern Ireland — as expressed by Bishop Daly in Derry last night in the wake of the awful murder—that if anyone votes for Sinn Fein candidates in the forthcoming election he is endorsing the campaign of murder with which we have all lived for so long?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I endorse fully those remarks. I go further and say that the Government have absolutely no intention of dealing with people who at the time that they are professing to work for constituents are working for violence. We deal with constituency cases because we believe that, where they are brought to us, they must be dealt with. I want to make it absolutely plain that I will have no truck with any of the people purporting to stand in democratic elections for democratic government until and unless they renounce violence.

Mr. McCusker

While I appreciate those final comments and understand the Secretary of State's longing that the day will come when such answers will not have to be given, will he bear in mind that since 1 October, the beginning of the Assembly election campaign in county Armagh, the IRA has killed 16 of my constituents? Their dependants will now have to witness the political voicing s of those murderers' spokesmen tramping around Armagh on this campaign. Would it be logical, in view of the Government's decision late last year to ban Sinn Fein, as terrorists, coming to the mainland, to extend the ban and prevent its representatives from standing in the election?

Mr. Prior

I do not believe that we can ban Sinn Fein from the election. Sinn Fein is not a proscribed organisation, and therefore I believe that it would be wrong to ban it. I hope that everyo006Ee in Northern Ireland will mark that those men who profess to be politicians and who express democratic views on the one hand, talk about violence with the Armalite rifle in the other. I hope that no one will be under any illusions and that people will follow the sound advice that has been given to them.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I always treat the question on security in Northern Ireland a little differently. I shall let it run a little more, but we shall have to move more quickly on the other questions.

Mr. Cormack

If we are underlining the importance of democracy and paying tributes to courage, would not this be an appropriate opportunity to pay a tribute to the courage of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt)?

Mr. Prior

I should certainly wish to do so if I did not think that I would ruin his election chances.

Mr. Fitt

The right hon. Gentleman and the Orange Order between them are trying to ruin me.

Mr. Winnick

Was not the killing of Mrs. Purvis, the soldier's wife, a foul and cowardly murder even by the IRA's notorious standards? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the views expressed so eloquently by the Catholic Bishop of Derry are the views of everyone who one day hopes to see a united Ireland?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he, as Secretary of State, stands for democracy in elections, unlike some people who will be putting themselves up for election on 9 June, and that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to thank him for his work in Northern Ireland over the past two years?

Mr. Prior

That remark, coming from my hon. Friend, who does not always agree with me, is even more appreciated.

Mr. W. Benyon

Does my right hon. Friend not think it appalling that the remarks of Bishop Daly about this foul murder were not reported in the BBC news last night?

Mr. Prior

I believe that that should be drawn to the attention of the BBC and I shall see that it is.

Mr. Concannon

As this is the last Northern Irleand Question Time, the Opposition would like to express their thanks to the security forces of all shades in Northern Ireland and to the people of Northern Ireland who have suffered so grievously over the years. There are always anniversaries in Northern Ireland and I understand that there have been certain demonstrations on anniversaries over the past month, during which there has been a considerable amount of bomb throwing. I understand also that, after their good record of not using baton rounds, unfortunately the security forces have had to use a few baton rounds to disperse those demonstrators. I do not question that, but I wonder what would happen if the baton rounds were not there to be used. Has the Secretary of State any idea of how to rewrite the yellow card or disperse the bomb throwers who are trying to kill the security forces?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for the tribute paid to the security forces by the right hon. Gentleman in the first part of his supplementary. As to the problems of the past few days, particularly in Londonderry, there has been some severe rioting, chiefly by young hooligans. In one evening, 200 petrol bombs were thrown and a number of plastic baton rounds were used. Despite the provocation, only 64 PBRs have been used so far this year compared with 2,000 fired during the same time in 1981. There has been an enormous improvement. If we could not use plastic baton rounds to keep the riots away from the security forces, there is no doubt that the only alternative would be to use lead bullets. I should like to make that absolutely plain. We use baton rounds only in a dire emergency, but the alternative would be far worse.