HC Deb 22 November 1990 vol 181 cc409-11
4. Mr. Parry

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on vetting of community groups.

10. Mr. Corbett

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on vetting of community groups by his Department.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope)

The policy remains as set out on 27 June 1985 by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State.

Mr. Parry

Will the Minister set up a proper system of appeals so that groups that have their funding withdrawn can defend themselves against specific accusations rather than be subject to anonymous and unspecific denunciations? Is the Minister aware that many bodies in the Province are dissatisfied with the present position?

Mr. Cope

Further representations can be made, and often are, on individual cases. We keep them under review.

Mr. Corbett

If the Minister was right in his decision to remove funding from Glor na Gael, why did the Royal Ulster Constabulary permit it to carry out a street collection in Belfast at almost the same time? Will he think again about some form of appeal system so that when the Government decide either to withdraw or to refuse funding from such organisations at least they know the accusations against them and have a chance to comment on them?

Mr. Cope

The case concerning the committee of the west Belfast organisation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman is now before the courts and it would be improper for me to comment.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will continue to look carefully at all community grants and that he will ensure that no money is given to any that have links with terrorist organisations?

Mr. Cope

That is what we seek to do and what the policy sets out.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is not there a need for much stricter control of grants to community bodies of all hues, given that there is reason to believe that much of the money is siphoned off by paramilitary organisations?

Mr. Cope

The control is as strict as we can make it, but if the right hon. Gentleman has specific suggestions or information about particular grants, of course, we are always willing to listen.

Mr. Hume

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the new-found interest in the Province of Northern Ireland represented by the attendance here today?

Does the Minister agree that, if we face up to reality, it is the Government's policy to promote the preservation and development of cultural diversity in Northern Ireland? Does he agree that the Glor na Gael organisation does outstanding work to protect and promote the Irish language? Does he also agree that Conway mill in west Belfast provides community-based jobs? Does he further agree that it is impossible for any community-based organisation in Northern Ireland not to have some members who are supporters of paramilitary organisations, but that that does not mean that the funding goes to them? Does he agree that one cannot go to church in Northern Ireland without the presence of some people who support paramilitary organisations, but that that does not make the churches subversive organisations?

Mr. Cope

On the first part of the question, I welcome the interest in Northern Ireland affairs; we always do.

The main part of the hon. Gentleman's question emphasises the difficulties that we face when making such 43 decisions—which we recognise. Each decision is reached independently and, although it is extremely difficult, we do our best to take it judged on the best information we have.

Mr. Stott

In view of the widespread concern about the arbitary use of power associated with the removal of funding from community £groups, the use of section 42 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976 and the widespread belief that decisions are sometimes based on mistaken information—a concern which has emerged today in the Northern Ireland press—will the Minister take action to ensure that the security advice on which he acts is accurate?

Mr. Cope

We do our best to ensure that all the advice we receive on that and on other matters is accurate. It is not easy to make such difficult decisions. I have seen the accusations that appeared this morning in some newspapers in Northern Ireland, but those newspapers are wrong to suggest that this is some sort of blanket affair. The decisions are reached on individual cases and the Secretary of State in particular takes great care to ensure not only that the information is accurate but that public money does not benefit paramilitary groups.