HC Deb 16 July 1986 vol 101 cc1005-8 3.33 pm
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what complaints he has received from the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland about the conduct of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland and what response he has made to those complaints.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

I have received messages from Mr. Barry expressing his concern about the events of recent days in Northern Ireland and his assessment of the impact on the nationalist community and in particular his criticism of certain operational decisions of the RUC. I have today issued a statement making clear that operational decisions on routeing of parades are entirely a matter for the Chief Constable. I have also expressed my support for the way in which tie RUC sought to deal even-handedly with both communities and to protect law-abiding people from violence from whatever quarter it comes.

Mr. Gow

As my right hon. Friend has rightly made clear, responsibility for operational matters of the RUC is for the Chief Constable and not for him. Will he make it doubly clear that there is no responsibility whatever enjoyed by the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic for operational matters which fall within the responsibility of the Chief Constable? Will he remind the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic of the provisions of article 9(b) of the Anglo-Irish agreement, that the conference has no operational responsibilities? Finally, is my right hon. Friend aware that the complaints which have been made by the Irish Foreign Minister are only a precursor of further serious disagreement between London and Dublin as a result of the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement?

Mr. King

The answer is yes, Sir, to both of my hon. Friend's questions. There are great tensions in Northern Ireland during the marching season. I have just returned again from the Province, and my view has again been confirmed that there is a widely held opinion among both sides of the community that the violence, which was extremely regrettable, was very much less than might have been and was predicted by many. I think that much of that was to do with the sensible and wise policing decisions which were taken. I have included in my statement my sympathy to the members of the RUC who were injured during the weekend's events in seeking to protect both communities from violence from either extreme.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Is it not clear that, contrary to statements made by Her Majesty's Government, the Government of the Irish Republic are under the impression that the Anglo-Irish agreement has given them a voice in the internal administration of a part of the United Kingdom? What steps do the Government intend to take to correct that impression?

Mr. King

No, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the Province, knows perfectly well that the Irish Government have always been concerned about issues affecting the Nationalist community in Northern Ireland and have made representations over the years about different matters that have given rise to concern. I think that we should recognise that that has been the practice in the past as well.

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

Has my right hon. Friend considered the article written by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, that appeared in the Daily Telegraph two days ago in which he argued the case against integration and stated that that would be contrary to the Anglo-Irish agreement? Could there be a clearer admission that we have, in effect, surrendered an element of sovereignty to the Republic? Can he be surprised that the Irish Foreign Minister has taken the action that he has?

Mr. King

I am not quite sure how that arises from the private notice question. I note, however, the comment of my right hon. Friend. He will know that it is the Government's policy to seek to pursue an agreed basis for devolved government in Northern Ireland.

Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, when provocative Orange marchers are properly routed and when Nationalist and Catholic homes are protected properly against murderous thugs, there will be no need for Mr. Peter Barry to make the representations that he made or in the manner in which he made them? Does the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), not to mention the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), really wish to see this role passed back to Sinn Fein of the IRA? I cannot believe that the right hon. Gentleman wishes that to happen.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, with his knowledge of Northern Ireland, of the difficulties that are posed, especially during the marching season and at the time of the 12th. I hope that he will accept from my confidence that every possible thing was done and will be done to protect law-abiding communities on both sides of the community from violence and intimidation of the sort that we have seen. We shall be determined to ensure that every effort is made to bring those responsible to justice.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Would not nearly every hon. Member agree with my right hon. Friend that the RUC deserves the highest praise for its work under the special strain that has been placed upon it since the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement? Was it not claimed for that agreement that this sort of interfering megaphone diplomacy would be obviated by the existence of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference? Is this not further evidence of the futility of the agreement? Would it not be a good idea to let it wither?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will recall the strain under which the RUC was put last year at the time of the marching season, as well as this year. It is known that every year this is a time of great difficulty. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's tribute to the RUC. Hon. Members who may not have been present in the Province but who saw the television pictures will have seen the way in which the RUC has stood against thugs and hooligans from both communities in the interests of protecting law-abiding citizens. The RUC has earned our admiration and respect for its efforts.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will the Secretary of State explain to those of us who voted against the Anglo-Irish agreement and thought that it was counterproductive why Mr. Peter Barry did not consult him first? Was there any sign that these great public statements were to be made, and was there any consultation with the Government?

Mr. King

Obviously, I was aware of the general concern that the Irish Government have had and continue to have about the position of the Nationalist community and the dangers to which it may be exposed. However, I did not have prior notice of the particular statement which is the origin of the private notice question.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

For those of us who support the Anglo-Irish agreement, is it not singularly painful that Mr. Barry should have made a public statement in which he said: I want Nationalists to know that I am determined to see to it that their interests are safeguarded and their physical security is protected. That is an Irish Minister speaking about British territory. How dare he do such a thing? Could the even-handedness of the RUC possibly be shown more clearly than in the fact that hundreds of its men and women have been shot by the IRA and scores of them burnt out of their homes by so-called Loyalists? The RUC is in the middle. It is doing its duty and it deserves tribute.

Mr. King

I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that I have paid that tribute unstintingly because I recognise that the RUC must discharge an extremely difficult role. Both communities owe the RUC a great debt of gratitude that the past weekend passed relatively peaceably, although there was still more violence than we would like to see, and certainly more peaceably than many had expected. I understand the concerns of the Irish Government which they have always expressed about the position of the Nationalist community, and the interest that they take. They are also concerned when there may be Republican attacks on Unionist and Protestant homes. Our job is to try to deal even-handedly and to respect both traditions. In the weeks ahead, I hope that we can look to all the people of the Province on both sides of the community also to show that same respect for the traditions of the other side.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is not the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) making a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr. King

That would be for the House to judge. I certainly do not in any way regard the concerns expressed on both sides of the community as making a mountain out of a molehill. We are determined to see proper appreciation given to the RUC and the security forces in the vital work which they do for the preservation of law and order.

Mr. Michael Meadowcroft (Leeds, West)

Is not the reality that, although the content of Mr. Barry's representations may have some substance, his intervention is both misconceived and counter-productive? Given the Anglo-Irish agreement and the make-up of the RUC, do not Sir John Hermon and the RUC deserve commendation for being able to police the Anglo-Irish agreement? Given that the agreement is now in existence, should not the House support the RUC in its efforts to police that agreement?

Mr. King

It is not a question of policing the Anglo-Irish agreement. I hope that the whole House will support the preservation of law and order and the repudiation of violence from whatever quarter it comes. That is the policy to which the RUC is wholly committed under the leadership of the Chief Constable, and for which it has the Government's full support and mine.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Anglo-Irish agreement was to provide a consultative framework, whereby the Republic of Ireland could make representations to Her Majesty's Government on behalf of the Nationalist community in the North so as to prevent ad hoc statements emanating from Dublin which in the past were unhelpful to Anglo-Irish relations? Does not the Secretary of State agree that, at least in the area of public relations, the Anglo-Irish agreement is in its infancy?

There is, of course, an anger behind such statements as those made by the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Ireland that is shared by all right hon. and hon. Members — anger that innocent people in Rasharkin, County Antrim, can have their homes sacked by so-called Unionists, suitably and cowardly masked; anger that there is nightly rioting in the Manor street area of north Belfast; anger at the many incidents of stone-throwing, petrol bombing, overturning of vehicles, injury to limb and loss of life that have become such a tragic feature of the so-called marching season.

Will the Secretary of State convey to the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary our congratulations on the news that nine people have been charged following attacks on Catholic homes in Ballymoney, and seven charged after the Rasharkin attacks, and that a cache of petrol bombs has been discovered?

Will the Secretary of State finally note that those who are the perpetrators, the instigators and the evil hands and minds behind such violence cannot and will not see the Anglo-Irish agreement torn up? This House will not succumb to such inordinate and extreme pressures.

Patience and private representations by all those in positions of influence will have their impact in assuaging the present position when feelings are running so high on the streets of Northern Ireland.

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the RUC. He said that feelings are running high on the streets of Northern Ireland, and it is indeed true of some streets. However, one of the messages of last weekend is that the overwhelming majority of people in the Province wish violence to be avoided and civilised behaviour to continue between the communities.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the perpetrators of violence, from whichever quarter they come, will be sought. I know that the RUC is determined to bring them to justice.