HC Deb 24 May 1984 vol 60 cc1232-5
2. Mr. Maginnis

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

7. Mr. Peter Robinson

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

14. Mr. Farr

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

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

Since I last answered questions on 26 April there have been nine deaths in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province. Three of those killed were civilians, one of whom was a member of the Territorial Army, two were part-time members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, two were members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and two were soldiers. These last four were killed in two separate incidents on 18 May.

The security forces have continued their efforts to prevent terrorist activity and to bring those responsible for terrorist crimes to justice. Since the beginning of 1984, 214 people have been charged with serious offences, including 17 with murder and 22 with attempted murder. In the same period 97 weapons, 14,236 rounds of ammunition and 5,353 lb of explosives have been recovered. The very large quantity of explosives includes approximately 2 tonnes of home-made explosives discovered by the security forces in a terrorist hide in County Tyrone yesterday evening.

Mr. Maginnis

Does the Secretary of State agree that although he may continue to give us meaningless statistics, it is worth remembering that over 9,000 weapons have been captured in the last 12 years? Will he bear in mind that weapons continue to be available to terrorists who want to murder people along the frontier? Will the Secretary of State now change his mind—we know that he is capable of doing that frequently—and deploy more security forces along the frontier across which the weapons of war are brought into Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that the statistics are meaningless. They speak volumes for the immense efforts made by the security forces, whether they are members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the British Army or the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Government's security policy is clear and firm. The security forces will continue to deal vigorously with all those who break the law in any way. If sometimes I change my mind, I am in good company with the Ulster Unionists.

Mr. Robinson

In the light of the security statistics, is the Secretary of State aware of public opinion in Northern Ireland that a new initiative on security is necessary? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware of the deep apprehension in the Province at the prospect of a five-month period during which the Secretary of State says that he has nothing more to offer? Does he believe that in that time he can make some contribution by starting a new initiative on security?

Mr. Prior

There is widespread anxiety in the Province, as there has been for some time, on the question of security. I respond to that in any and every way that I can. I must tell hon. Members on both sides of the House that the problems in Northern Ireland will not be overcome by the security forces alone.

Mr. Farr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House sends its sympathy to the members of the security forces and police in Northern Ireland, who have done such a wonderful job? Is he absolutely sure that there is not more that the Government could do about many of the crimes that have occurred fairly near the border? Quite often, bombs are planted or exploded and those who do the deeds disappear across the border. Will my right hon. Friend look again at the Government's policy to determine whether a fresh approach should be made to Dublin with a view to tightening up cross-border security?

Mr. Prior

We are constantly looking for ways to do more, and we are constantly seeking to improve our cooperation with the Republic of Ireland, its police force and army. I lose no opportunity to discuss these matters with my opposite numbers in the Republic.

It is a difficult border—like no other border—in both its terrain and the fact that, for generations, people have been used to crossing it.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Does the Secretary of State consider that the officials in the Northern Ireland Office, whose disastrous advice he has followed with characteristic self-satisfaction and obtuseness for the past two and a half years, contemplate with any degree of satisfaction the bloody consequences of their achievements?

Hon. Members


Mr. Prior

I find it almost impossible to reply to the right hon. Gentleman's words. They are so utterly disgraceful that, in a distinguished parliamentary career, he does himself no credit.

Mr. Hayes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of my hon. Friends admire the fortitude with which he has carried out his duties in Northern Ireland? We wish him well in the next few months in trying to secure peace for the two communities and in attempting to bring them together.

Mr. Prior

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend and others of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I dare say that over the years I have made many injudicious remarks, but I have always thought that frankness and candour were respected by the people of Northern Ireland. As such, I shall continue to be frank and candid.

Mr. Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious concern in my constituency about the continuing murder of civilians and members of the security forces? Is he further aware that two members of the Territorial Army and two members of the RUC were recently murdered in my constituency and that three members of the RUC mercifully escaped a murderous attack on them outside Armagh last week? What assurance can he give to me and my constituents today that the same will not occur this weekend?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I can give no such assurances. I hope he recognises, as his hon. Friends showed they recognised in their supplementary questions to the first question today, that the position in Northern Ireland, although a very long way from being normal, is a lot better than it was. We shall continue to do all that we can.

Hon. Members have rightly drawn attention to the fact that we have not been able to achieve total security. However, they should give credit to our forces, especially during the past few days, when they have suffered severe casualties, for the fact that they have had enormous successes. We must not forget that.

Mr. Holt

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we all congratulate the security forces on reducing the amount of explosives available to the terrorists? Can he give the figures for last year and this year? Has he had any indication whether the Libyans have carried out their threat to supply further arms to the terrorists in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Prior

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot offhand give the figures for this year and last year, but we have had great successes in recent days, especially with explosives, which, perhaps more than anything, are causing us great concern.

I have no further evidence about the Libyan position, other than what I have already said.

Mr. McCusker

Can the Secretary of State tell us of another country in the world where the Government allow their citizens so little protection while they wait for their turn to be murdered? I cite Sergeant Hillen of the UDR. Everyone in Northern Ireland, including the Government, knew that he would be murdered, but nothing was done to prevent it.

Mr. Prior

That is totally unfair and unworthy of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Skinner

Did not this lame duck Secretary of State effectively resign from his position when he made his statement at the weekend? Would not any Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, regarding security or any other matter, have been rather more circumspect before engaging in a row with the Prime Minister—which can only detract from the job that the right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be doing?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that I have the confidence of the Government, the Cabinet and the Prime Minister. I suspect that that is more than the hon. Gentleman can say about his leader.

Mr. Archer

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government have had ample time to consider the report of Sir George Baker? Does he accept that even those of us who would like to see more extensive improvements than those recommended by Sir George regard this as a serious and careful report deserving of an early debate? Will he discuss that possibility with the Leader of the House?

Mr. Prior

I regard Sir George Baker's report as an important document which the House will wish to debate. I hope that in due course time will be made available for such a debate, and I shall convey the right hon. and learned Gentleman's request to my right hon. Friend.