HC Deb 20 July 1989 vol 157 cc502-4
1. Mr. Duffy

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

5. Mr. Bellingham

To ask 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. Tom King)

Since I last answered questions on 22 June there have been four deaths in Northern Ireland arising from the security situation. In addition, the Provisional IRA has claimed that it murdered the business man abducted in county Louth on 16 July.

The security threat remains at a high level, but the resolute efforts of the security forces continue to yield results. So far this year, 161 people have been charged with serious offences, including 18 with murder and 31 with attempted murder. More than 200 weapons, almost 27,000 rounds of ammunition and approximately 600 lbs of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Garda Siochana has recovered 60 weapons, approximately 15,000 rounds of ammunition and a substantial quantity of explosives.

The House will be aware of recent arrests which flowed directly from the close international co-operation with the Irish, French and United States authorities, and for which we are most grateful.

Mr. Duffy

The Secretary of State should be congratulated on his humanity and political courage in announcing the release of 19 paramilitaries on licence over the next nine months. Can he offer any hope to the families of those not included? Does he think that a similar move by the Republic in respect of Portlaoise might be helpful, and will he consider mentioning that to the new Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Collins, when he next meets him?

Mr. King

I think that that was a two-part question. In response to the first part, I hope that hope is offered to other families by the actions that we have proposed in respect of these prisoners. Those familiar with prison matters will know of the significant impact of the Christmas leave arrangements, and we are examining the matter carefully to see whether that approach can offer further possibilities. I should like to think that there has been a significant impact from that and from our announcements about releasing some people on licence. I take a very sympathetic view towards some of the young people who got caught up in such activities early in their lives and who are serving substantial sentences. I have a very unsympathetic view of those who re-offend and become re-involved. They cannot expect the same sort of sympathy.

I shall not answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, in which he invited me to advise the Irish Government on their prisons policy, although I note that there have been some comments in Irish newspapers. Obviously, every case is different. I know how difficult the cases are and I know that the Irish Government are aware of our approach in these matters.

Mr. Bellingham

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent arrests in America, France and Dublin may represent a fresh resolve in those countries to combat terrorism? Does he also agree that the recent murder of Mr. McAnulty—presumably because he refused to pay protection money—was particularly vile and evil? Is it not heartening that that incident was condemned by so many people in South Armagh, including Thomas O'Fiaich?

Mr. King

That illustrates clearly our common interest in defeating the evil of terrorism. That gentleman was abducted in the Republic and almost certainly murdered in the Republic, and his body was then dumped north of the border, to cause maximum difficulties for the RUC and the Garda in the investigation of and prosecution of those responsible for the crime. I certainly join my hon. Friend in condemning that appalling crime. I welcome too, the very rapid condemnation that came from all concerned. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), Cardinal O'Fiaich and a whole range of other people were outspoken in their disgust at that murder.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the value of international co-operation. I have had to stand at the Dispatch Box for long enough being jeered at by people who said that no one would co-operate with us, especially the Irish Government. I had hoped that some of those people, who were so ready to criticise, would be prepared to stand up today and admit the value of that co-operation and the real contribution of the Irish Garda, not only in arrests, but in the speed of the transfer of information to the French authorities. We are also grateful for the speed of their reaction.

Mr. Molyneaux

In view of the 50 per cent. increase in serious terrorist offences in the frontier zone covered by 3 brigade in the year since that brigade was formed, will the Secretary of State consider increasing the numerical strength of all arms of the security forces in that zone?

Mr. King

I do not recognise the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to quote. However, I would have hoped that, in response to what I have said, he would feel able to pay tribute to the valuable co-operation, which has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the saving of lives of his constituents and many others. One cannot over estimate the value of that co-operation, which is important if we are to defeat the evil of terrorism that is a threat to people north and south of the border.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will not the Secretary of State admit that it is the duty of every democratic Government to co-operate in the fight against terrorism? No democratic Government should think that they are going out of their way or should get laurels for so doing.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the serious concern of ordinary individuals in the neighbourhood about the removal of the Army post at Lacky Bridge which was promised to widows who visited the Prime Minister some 11 years ago? Did the Royal Ulster Constabulary agree to the removal of that Army post? If so, is it the beginning of the removal of other posts in that border area?

Mr. King

As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, I have made it clear that there are no proposals for any further removals of vehicle border checkpoints of that kind. Those are operational matters; the decision was taken by the security forces and has been implemented. We are certainly keen to ensure the best possible protection for everyone in the Province against the danger of terrorism.

On the value of international co-operation—I am not talking just about the Irish Government, but about the United States Government, too—it is no good saying, "Keep a checkpoint", and ensuring that we stay as we are. It is also important to find the terrorists and to discover their lines of supply. It is important to stop any technical developments that may be a direct threat to all the security forces in Northern Ireland, and to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, in the battle that we fight. I would have hoped to hear him, too, pay some tribute to the value of international co-operation.

Mr. Mallon

Is the Secretary of State aware that senior officers of the Ulster Defence Regiment are using a public relations and information video which is explicitly critical of my party? Does he agree that no section of Government information services should be used in such an overtly party political way? Will he assure the House that that video will be removed from use?

Mr. King

I have no knowledge of the video to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but in general I do not dissent from the proposition that he has put forward. I shall certainly have the matter looked into.