HC Deb 26 January 1984 vol 52 cc1036-7
1. Mr. Beggs

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now proscribe Sinn Fein.

10. Mr. John David Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will proscibe Provisional Sinn Fein; and if he will make a statement.

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

This is kept under constant review; and the Government are considering what other measures can be taken to improve the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism and of the enforcement of the law against incitement to violence.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Secretary of State concede that recent disclosures on "World in Action" show that Irish Republican terrorists and Sinn Fein support each other, and that both maintain recruitment through their propaganda campaign and through terror? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to take the limited step of banning the spokesmen of organisations which encourage violence from furthering their aims and objectives on radio and television?

Mr. Prior

That last suggestion would be very difficult for me to take up, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings on the matter and in particular on the "World in Action" programme to which he refers. There are problems associated with the production of admissible evidence in such cases. However, the Royal Lister Constabulary is studying carefully the recordings of that programme and if, as a result, the Director of Public Prosecutions finds grounds for prosecution, charges will be brought against those concerned.

Mr. Malone

Does my right hon. Friend agree that TV-AM acted in a thoroughly irresponsible manner in granting an interview to Mr. Gerry Adams in which he was able to peddle his message of hatred and violence? Will my right hon. Friend take steps to urge broadcasting authorities to exercise more responsibly their discretion over such interviews?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. In general, I agree with my hon. Friend. I urge the television and radio authorities to act responsibly. However, I considered that the "World in Action" programme was extremely good in that it showed what the man really is.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that nothing would be solved by proscribing Sinn Fein? The political and economic problems of Northern Ireland would remain. Some terrorists are completely opposed to the type of work: that Sinn Fein is doing — other than the things it is accused of doing—and in any case, if proscribed, they would go under ground and stay in Northern Ireland in some other way.

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman is broadly speaking correct. However, it would help enormously if he stated quite firmly that Provisional Sinn Fein must renounce violence before anyone can talk to it and before it can be treated in a normal democratic way.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Secretary of State aware that one structure covers both Sinn Fein and the IRA, and that at a recent conference, reported in the "World in Action" film, there was a closed session at which people cheered loudly when it was announced that another service man had been gunned down by the IRA? As the Secretary of State has proscribed the IRA, should he not take another step and proscribe something which is really another part of the IRA?

Mr. Prior

We keep that matter under careful review. However, we must assess all the consequences of taking such a step. In that respect, I have that particular conference very much in mind.

Mr. Archer

Does the Secretary of State agree that our profound and passionate disagreement with the views of a political party, however odious we may believe that party to be, is not a reason for preventing it from expressing them? Does the right hon. Gentleman also agree that if someone counsels or procures the commission of a criminal offence he may be prosecuted under the existing law? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, although we all completely condemn terrorism, terrorist activities are not best prevented by stopping people from taking part in constitutional political discussion?

Mr. Prior

We utterly condemn violent people masquerading under the banner of democracy and democratic rights. That is what we must deal with in the case of the Provisional Sinn Fein. If it renounced violence, many people would be prepared to talk to it. However, while it has the gun in one hand and the ballot box in the other, no respectable politician should have anything to do with it.