HC Deb 09 February 1989 vol 146 cc1111-5
1. Mr. Ross

To ask the Secretry of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

2. Mr. Livingstone

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

9. Mr. Molyneaux

To ask 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. Tom King)

Since I last answered questions in the House on 12 January, there have been six deaths in Northern Ireland arising from the security situation. They include a policeman and a soldier murdered by the IRA, two civilians murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force, a terrorist blown up by his own bomb and a further civilian killed this morning in Belfast. The Provisional IRA also murdered a former member of the RUC reserve in Donegal close to the border on 15 January.

The security threat remains high but the courageous and determined efforts of the security forces continue to yield results. During 1988, 439 persons were charged with serious offences including 23 with murder and 46 with attempted murder. So far this year the security forces in Northern Ireland have recovered some 41 weapons, more than 4,500 rounds of ammunition and 22lbs of explosives.

During 1988 the Garda Siochana recovered over 350 firearms, more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition and more than 1,100lbs of explosives, including 650lbs of Semtex. Already this year they have made a number of significant finds, including weapons and ammunition recovered from the Offaly, Kilkenny, Monaghan arid Donegal areas.

Mr. Ross

Was the question of who would be the new chief constable of the RUC discussed at yesterday's meeting between the right hon. Gentleman and the Government of the Irish Republic? Will the Secretary of State confirm that James Joseph Conolly the terrorist who, as the Secretary of State pointed out, died by his own hand, was planting a bomb under the car of a member of the security forces, that he was a workmate of that same member of the security forces and that he had shared his lunchbox?

Mr. King

My answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is certainly not. In regard to his second question I confirm that there is clear evidence that the terrorist who was killed was seeking to plant a bomb under the car of a member of the security forces. I was not aware of the hon. Gentleman's further suggestions.

Mr. Livingstone

Will the Secretary of State investigate why vital information made available to the security forces about cross-border bombings was not made available to the Garda? That information was supplied by a former UDA activist and assassin, Albert Baker, a former British soldier. Was the information not passed on to the Garda because Sir William van Straubenzee, then a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office, visited him in Crumlin road gaol and discovered that while he had been assassinating members of the Catholic community he had been supplied with weapons by members of the security forces?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman specialises in retelling his version of events of 15 years ago. I have no knowledge of those events. If the hon. Gentleman has accusations or evidence, they should be put before the appropriate authorities. The House will draw its own conclusions from somebody whose only vehicle is to stand up in the House and make such allegations under the protection of the House.

Mr. Molyneaux

Following the introduction of a great deal of legislation affecting the policing of Northern Ireland, given that much retraining and study courses are necessary to enable the smooth implementation of that legislation, and given that that training is months behind schedule, is it possible to persuade the Treasury to make available the necessary additional funds to implement the decisions that have been taken by Parliament?

Mr. King

We pay close attention to the RUC's budget. It has been given a significant increase in funds over the past three years, but this aspect of budgetary expenditure should be dealt with through the appropriate channels and by the Police Authority. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not go further down that route.

Rev. William McCrea

Given the recent brutal murder of a constable in Sion Mills, the attempted murder of a member of the security forces, the serious wounding of another member of the security services in the same incident while Republicans cheered and the attempted murder of a reserve constable at Drumquin, in which the terrorist was blown up by his own hand, what additional resources will the Secretary of State provide to bring to justice those who are responsible for a catalogue of unsolved murders in Castlederg and surrounding areas? As a matter of urgency, will he increase the members of the soft target protection group in the area?

Mr. King

I understand the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings about recent events, especially the attack at Sion Mills. The appalling behaviour of the crowd that emerged from the pub was beyond belief. I well understand the feelings of the hon. Gentleman and his constituents, which I share. I gave the figures showing the number of people who have been charged with serious offences, and the House will note the significant increase in the number of people who have been charged following recent terrorist offences. I recognise the particular problems that are experienced in the hon. Gentleman's constituency because of some extremely vicious and evil people. I shall certainly take note of the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is difficult to place much credence on the accusations made by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who as leader of the GLC invited convicted IRA terrorists to county hall?

Mr. King

The House draws its own conclusions. If the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has serious evidence he should present it. If an hon. Member rises once a month during Northern Ireland Question Time to make an allegation, which is usually impossible to check, the House must reach its own verdict about the quality of his comments.

Mr. Ashdown

Does the Secretary of State agree that security will not improve and the IRA will not be defeated until the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland find the wit and imagination to get together? I understand the right hon. Gentleman's reticence to comment too much, but does he agree that the recent talks that may have taken place are a hopeful sign for the future? Those who seek peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland would be better advised to consider what can be built on rather than to seek scapegoats.

Mr. King

The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that I should not wish to comment on talks in which the Government were not involved. The way forward in Northern Ireland is through democratic discussion, persuasion and argument, not violence. A democratic party that denounces violence does not fulfil its responsibility if it fails to discharge the other half of the logic of that argument and says no to violence and yes to dialogue.

Mr. Leigh

My right hon. Friend referred to some of the Garda's successes in 1988, such as recovering over 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Bearing in mind the commitment of the Garda, is my right hon. Friend convinced that the Social Democratic and Labour party has shown equal commitment to security?

Mr. King

I look to the SDLP to show full commitment. We have had expressions in the House of full support for the security forces, which I welcomed. It is not possible to qualify the support that needs to be given to people who are prepared to stand and defend either community when under threat and to risk their lives in that activity; people must decide whether they are for or against. We expect the security forces to operate fairly, impartially and within the law. Against that, they are entitled to the unqualified backing of all democratic supporters.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that although there is melancholy in the House about the list of the latest killings, the situation in Northern Ireland is at best stalemate and at worst an intensification of the killing? We do not seem to be getting anywhere. Does that not pose the problem that the answer is wider and that the Government should be thinking of some political solution—difficult as that is and much as Unionist Members deplore anything that does not tackle the immediate situation? Can we not do something, possibly more expansive than Duisburg and a bit nearer home, to get together?

Mr. King

Anybody who lives and works in Northern Ireland and has some understanding of the events there would not describe the present situation as stalemate. There are encouraging developments in employment, vast improvements in Belfast and developments in housing. There is no doubt that the condition of people right across Northern Ireland has improved in many significant ways and that there are many people working for reconciliation and for better understanding between the communities. The education proposals made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for greater integration in education are further indications, not of stalemate, but of people genuinely wanting to work for a better future.

Mr. Ian Bruce

My right hon. Friend gave a long list of the successes of the Garda in the Republic of Ireland. Can he perhaps comment more on whether he feels that there has been a new spirit in the Garda of getting out and attacking terrorists in their bases in Southern Ireland? It seems to an observer in Britain that it is achieving real results.

Mr. King

After a number of difficulties and interruptions to the process, an honest judgment would be that there is now a better relationship between the RUC and the Garda than there has been for many years. I am also encouraged by the work that is being undertaken by the Garda and the methods that it is adopting. I have given some figures to the House and anybody who is remotely familiar with Northern Ireland and the Irish situation will know that they show that some significant work is taking place.

Mr. Mallon

Will the Secretary of State put on record for the House once again that the Social Democratic and Labour party, which he has previously mentioned, gives full and unequivocal support to the police in impartially enforcing the law? Does he further agree that our party is open, willing, able and ready to take part in any discussions that will lead to a resolution of the problem? Will he further be honest enough to agree that one of the real problems that must be dealt with in the north of Ireland is the whole position of security and justice and that is what we should focus attention on rather than some of the platitudes that we have to listen to from time to time?

Mr. King

I have been working for justice, fairness and equality of treatment. Legislation is before the House at the moment to improve equality of opportunity in employment and I attach great importance to that. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said about his party's willingness to talk. In the various suggestions about how talks should take place, the key issue is how people within Northern Ireland are going to exist together and the relationship between them. That must be resolved before we worry about anything else. I hope that people will address those relationships directly and concentrate on that aspect.

Mr. McNamara

Is the Secretary of State aware that we all welcome the fact that spring came suddenly to the Anglo-Irish Agreement yesterday, that everything seems to he going well and that part of that atmosphere is due to his efforts and to those of the Irish Foreign Minister? Will he also confirm that in terms of talks taking place between the constitutional parties and the importance that that has for security in Northern Ireland, it would be far better if the press exercised some self-censorship—although it must make its own judgments—and let people get on with things instead of seeking to exploit them and perhaps set them back?

Finally, since the Secretary of State believes that the law should be fairly and impartially carried out in Northern Ireland, when shall we know the results of the disciplinary inquiry into the conduct of 20 policemen following the Stalker-Sampson report?

Mr. King

I do not wish to comment on what the press should or should not talk about and the times when it should or should not reveal evidence of discussions that are taking place. However, I recognise that one of the problems in Northern Ireland is that it is difficult to go anywhere without a television camera pointing at one and to find the opportunity for the quiet reflection that some of us might appreciate. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that that is a fair comment.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's earlier comments on the progress of the Anglo-Irish conference and I am grateful for them. On his latter point, I can say that disciplinary hearings are likely to take place shortly.