HC Deb 23 July 1987 vol 120 cc469-73
2. Mr. Bowis

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about progress on cooperation on cross-border security with the Republic of Ireland.

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

Both Governments are committed to the development of the closest co-operation to defeat terrorism. Last week's meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference heard a detailed report on the programme of work which is being carried out by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana in the area of security co-operation, and we shall continue to give the highest priority to this.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be no political solutions in the North or South of Ireland until terrorism is defeated? Will he acknowledge the sense of outrage felt in all parts of the United Kingdom at the shooting, from across the border, of a British soldier in Belleek? What representations has my right hon. Friend made to the Irish Government about this incident?

Mr. King

I certainly confirm the feeling of outrage that I know every hon. Member will share about that particular atrocity. My hon. Friend may be aware that, after that attack, I spoke immediately to Mr. Lenihan, the Deputy Prime Minister, and to the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic, about that incident. He gave me the clearest assurance that every possible effort would be made in respect of their jurisdiction. I confirm that we shall be anxious to co-operate as closely as possible to bring to justice those responsible. It is quite clear that that attack was a deliberate provocation to try to stir up hatred and sectarian feeling.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State be assured by me that the people who live close to the frontier have no confidence whatsoever in what he says? The particular shooting to which the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) referred happened in my constituency. The site from which it took place is well known to me. There is no point in the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that security is better when that was the one single point overlooking Belleek police station and the main street from which an incident of this sort could have taken place. The terrorist was able to move in, carry out the murder and escape without any adequate steps being taken to apprehend him. There is absolutely no confidence in this so-called cooperation, when we know that members of the the Garda Siochana are not even allowed to work overtime.

Mr. King

Of all the Members in the House, the hon. Gentleman cannot pretend that he does not know something about the security situation. He knows perfectly well the problems of guarding 300 miles of border for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He knows how difficult it is to prevent an incident where one evil man can on one occasion creep into position and commit an atrocity of that kind. He knows the challenge that that poses. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution, but I put it to the House and to the hon. Gentleman that he make a constructive contribution and should recognise that there is no way in which we are likely to improve cross-border security without the co-operation of the Irish Government.

Mr. Bellingham

Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family of this young soldier who, I gather, had been in the Province for only 24 hours. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that we reconsidered the whole concept of hot pursuit so that both sides have an opportunity to go over the border in pursuit of terrorists? Surely it is not asking too much to look at that again.

Mr. King

The problems of this sort of attack are not necessarily ones that are immediately met by a response of hot pursuit. It is important that there should be increasingly close co-operation between the security forces of both sides. I certainly look for clear evidence and the clearest determination in pursuit of the perpetrator of this crime. That also applies to the other crimes that have taken place because, tragically, there have been a number of other murders in recent weeks in Northern Ireland, the investigation of all of which must be prosecuted to a successful conclusion.

3. Mr. Clifford Forsythe

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

8. Mr. Molyneaux

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

Mr. Tom King

Since I last answered questions in the House on 14 May, 16 people have been killed in incidents arising from the security situation. They included five soldiers, two members of the RUC and nine civilians, of whom six are believed to have been the victims of sectarian murders. Of the remainder, two were former members of the security forces. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for 12 of these brutal murders and the UFF and the UVF claimed responsibility for one each.

In the face of this high level of terrorist activity, the efforts of the security forces are continuing to yield encouraging results. During 1986 a total of 655 people were charged with serious offences, including 12 with murder. So far this year 238 people have been charged with serious offences, including six with murder, and 158 weapons, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and 6,000 lb of explosives have been recovered. I also understand that during June the Garda recovered about 460 lb of explosives as well as a number of weapons.

Mr. Forsythe

As the name of the man who carried out the dastardly attack on the wife of Jim Nicholson, a former Member of this House, is well-known to the security forces, will the Secretary of State tell the House just what assistance has been given by the Government of the Republic of Ireland to bring this man to justice, to extradite him and to bring him to trial in Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

Obviously I cannot comment on hearsay reports, but my understanding is that there are a number of people for whom both the Garda Siochana and the RUC are actively searching at the present time.

Mr. Molyneaux

What are the prospects for real co-operation with the forces of the Irish Republic, given, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said earlier, that the overtime of the Garda Siochana has been almost totally eliminated? Therefore, as the Irish army has to work in conjunction with the Garda there can be no effective co-operation. Is it realistic to expect the IRA to observe office times?

Mr. King

The right hon. Gentleman may care to reflect on that question and its totally negative nature. It contains the suggestion that it is not worth trying. It is no secret that the Irish Government face economic problems. The suggestion that somehow we would do better by having nothing to do with the Irish Government and by standing as far apart from them as we can is unrealistic. Surely the right hon. Gentleman should be encouraging closer cooperation with the Irish Government and co-operation between the security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic and seeing how we can make this co-operation more effective.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Has not every Irish Government, since the troubles began, said that they were doing everything they could against terrorism? Does not that honourable undertaking, coupled with the worsening figures of deaths as a result of terrorism, indicate that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is at best irrelevant to the security situation?

Mr. King

I pick up one point straight away about my hon. Friend. When he looks at the statistics, will he be very careful, and when he talks quickly about the worsening figures of deaths, will he remember that within the global statistics are included, for example, those who were killed in the internal feud in INLA and terrorists who met their death at the incident at Loughall, and that it is important to look at what makes up the total statistics. I bow to my hon. Friend in his knowledge of Irish history and in what successive Irish Governments may have said. I can answer only from my own experiences and dealings with present Irish Ministers. I am satisfied that, whatever the history of the past, the whole experience of the previous and the present Government of the Republic of Ireland is an absolute recognition of what a total disaster to the whole of the island of Ireland is the present terrorist campaign, which is the godfather of unemployment in the Republic at present. I do not doubt the sincerity and real determination of the Government of the Republic of Ireland now to see what, together, we can do rout it out once and for all.

Mr. Kilfedder

What has the Anglo-Irish Agreement achieved during the past 18 months in defeating the Provisional IRA south and north of the border? Does the right hon. Gentleman not find it strange that Dublin politicians, who shed tears whenever a British soldier, policeman or civilian is murdered by the IRA, sometimes from across the border, none the less protest vehemently whenever a soldier strays accidentally a few yards across what the right hon. Gentleman said is a complicated border? Will he protest as vehemently to the Eire Foreign Minister whenever one of our soldiers or citizens is murdered from across the border?

Mr. King

There is a question later on the Order Paper on the matter of cross-border incursions. What is certainly true, and I would have thought that the hon. Member would have recognised it when he heard the figures, is that there is now a much better understanding between the Governments about the problems of incursion. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to discover how many of them there have been and how little publicity has been given to them. I hope that he will be encouraged in that respect.

Mr. William Ross

In reply to the second question today the Secretary of State seemed to complain about the activities of one evil man killing a soldier in Belfast while in the next few breaths he talked about 16 people who have died since he last answered questions in the House. When will the Government realise that they, and they alone, were elected by the people of this nation to protect its citizens, and get on with the job and stop depending on other folk? They should do their own job.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman knows a hit too much about the circumstances in Northern Ireland to pass the blame in that respect. Everybody has a contribution to make. One of the figures that I mentioned was the level of sectarian murders. Many of these sectarian murders will lie on the consciences of a lot of people who make strong speeches and inflame passions. They may not pull the trigger, but they have a share of responsibility for some of the murders that take place. May I just say that, yes, my goodness, standing here as I do as Secretary of State, I do not duck the clear responsibility that I have to do my best to try to improve security in the Province, but I look to a few other people to play their part as well.

Mr. Hayes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a helpful step forward might be to require councillors to take an oath of loyalty, coupled with a renunciation of violence?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend is trying to lead me on to country into which I am not quite ready to step. However, I note the point that he made.

Mr. McNamara

I note the Secretary of State's careful reply to his hon. Friend's question. I, too, will not trespass there at present. The Opposition firmly support him and the policies of Her Majesty's Government in pursuing terrorists wherever they come from and from whatever side of the community in Northern Ireland. However, there can be no satisfactory solution to any of the problems of poverty, unemployment or discrimination while the place is plagued in that way. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what progress is being made in seeking out the random killers in the Ardoyne who are only inflaming the situation and making passions high?

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, following the assassination of Lord Justice Gibson, he is satisfied with the state of cross-border co-operation between the RUC and the Garda Siochana at border areas and crossing points? Will he do what he can to ensure that people who are likely to be targets are not careless and are fully aware of the responsibility that they have for their own safety, that of their loved ones and, particularly, that of the security forces?

Mr. King

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Question Time with his new responsibilities, and I look forward to debating matters with and responding to questions put by, him and the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall).

Without debating the merits of the last point, may I say that all those in Northern Ireland in any position of responsibility know that they have a duty to take sensible precautions to avoid offering easy targets to terrorists. As to the hon. Gentleman's point about the terrorists that he believes exist in certain places, the most determined effort is being made. I was conscious on Monday night, when I was out with the UDR on patrol, of the increased effort being made in a number of areas to try to enhance the protection given. The steps that I announced in May to try to increase the size of the RUC reserve and the call-out on a full-time basis of the part-time UDR, are undoubtedly helping to meet a determined terrorist threat.

Mr. McGrady

Will the Secretary of State reiterate his assurance that he is receiving the full co-operation of the Government of the Republic of Ireland and the Garda Siochana with the RUC to apprehend and pursue terrorists within either jurisdiction? Will he confirm that the per capita expenditure by the Irish Republic on the pursuit and prevention of terrorism exceeds that of the United Kingdom? Most important, will he reaffirm that the basic answer to terrorism is a political solution to the problems of Northern Ireland, in that terrorism is the sympton, not the malady itself, which is political instability?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has shown that I did not fully answer the question put by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). Talk of co-operation as if people will say, "Yes, we will co-operate where perhaps we were not cooperating before" and suddenly it all clicks into place is simply not the score. It will take much detailed work, some of which has been done, and some of which is in process. It will take training, compatibility of equipment and a whole range of different factors to make security cooperation more effective. It takes trust and confidence, and all those things are developing slowly, but in the right direction. It also takes time to establish them. Yes, we are determined, through that, to deny to the terrorists resources, whether they be weapons, explosives, money through the paramilitary rackets, or recruits, more of whom can be created by disaffection and grievance. We are seeking to pursue a totality of approach.