HC Deb 02 May 1991 vol 190 cc419-22
5. Mr. John D. Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many persons were (a) killed and (b) injured as a result of terrorist incidents in the month of April 1991.

6. Mr. Duffy

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

7. Mr. Molyneaux

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

Mr. Brooke

Since I answered a similar question on 14 March, 12 people have been killed as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland, 10 of whom were civilians and two members of the RUC. Of those 12, seven were killed during the month of April, five of them civilians. In that month, 38 people were injured in incidents directly related to terrorism.

But for the constant vigilance of the police and Army, those figures might have been even higher. I know the House will join me in praising the brave men and women of the police and Army, who daily put their lives at risk to protect the whole community.

Mr. Taylor

The figures that the Secretary of State has just given are alarming because they confirm the apprehension of people in Northern Ireland that there has been a considerable increase in terrorist killings in the Province. Does the Secretary of State accept that the IRA has increased its campaign of killing because of the progress towards internal talks in Northern Ireland? Does he also accept that it is likely that it will further increase its violence during the period of those talks? If he accepts those fears, what will he do to improve security during the 10 weeks of talks?

Mr. Brooke

I know that the right hon. Gentleman will share my view that one death is one death too many. I agree that the statistics that I read out are dire, but the House will wish to condemn any death as a result of violence. As for his suggestion that there has been a rise in violence, I fear that that rise has occurred on both sides of the community. Some people might think that it has some relationship to the talks in which we are engaged. Warnings have been issued about the possibility of a heightening of violence because of the talks. However, I give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that my security advisers are apprised of that and have every intention of ensuring that the security level is appropriate during the talks process.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Secretary of State aware that one overall objective in common that may transcend any differences that may arise from the talks that began this week is how to put an end to the violence and how to achieve conditions in which the two communities can live peacefully? However, any headway in that direction may trigger an explosion of violence, as the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) warns. I should like, therefore, to press the Secretary of State a little further. What steps is he considering to allay the fears that there may be a collision between the security forces and the paramilitary as the talks progress?

Mr. Brooke

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern but I repeat that my security advisers, the Chief Constable of the RUC, with the General Officer Commanding acting in support of him, are fully apprised of the nature of the threat in which they will be engaged in assessing. There are ways in which one can raise the security level for short periods of time in an appropriate manner. If it is necessary to do so because of any threat of violence to the talks, that will be done. However, I hope that the resolution of those engaged in constitutional democracy in the Province to ensure that those talks progress and bring the hope of which the hon. Gentleman spoke will itself be a deterrent to the men of violence.

Mr. Molyneaux

Given the oft-repeated assurances of security co-operation between the two Governments, does the Secretary of State know of any good reason why the Irish army fails to protect the forces of the British Army from attacks launched from across the frontier, whatever the terrorists' nationality?

Mr. Brooke

It is probably inappropriate for me to speak on behalf of the commissioner of the Garda because the matter is obviously outside my jurisdiction. However, it is perfectly clear from my conversations with the Chief Constable and the commissioner in the context of the conference, that there is common cause between both of them and both their forces against that threat. If, as the right hon. Gentleman implies, an attack is made on a permanent vehicle checkpoint, that is a matter of concern to the commissioner of the Garda, even if that attack comes from north of the border.

Mr. Bowis

Does my right hon. Friend agree that terrorism feeds on myths and money? Can he report progress on the cutting-off of resources from abroad, and those from within that come from extortion and racketerring?

Mr. Brooke

I know that my hon. Friend would not wish me to go into precise details, but, as a generalisation, the principal financial resources of the terrorists in Northern Ireland, on both sides of the community, tend to be generated in Northern Ireland—as a result of financial crime or racketeering—or in the Republic of Ireland or, I fear, in Great Britain. The amount of resources from outside the islands is relatively modest in terms of the total enterprise, which further encourages Her Majesty's Government to bear down on the terrorists' present sources of finance. If we can place our fingers on their financial windpipe, we shall have increased the likelihood of ending terrorism.

Mr. Mallon

Is the Secretary of State aware that the widow and family of Mr. Fergal Caraher, who was killed in an incident at Cullyhanna at the end of last year, have been unable to obtain the autopsy report? Has not the family suffered enough already? Will the Secretary of State use his considerable influence to ensure that the autopsy report is made available to it immediately?

Mr. Brooke

I want to express my appreciation to the hon. Gentleman for the assistance that he has given to people in his constituency to encourage them to come forward and give evidence in that case. If there are ways in which we can further that ability, I would support them.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker

What proposals has the Secretary of State for the security of taxi drivers in the Province?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct to draw attention to the repulsive series of sectarian attacks on taxi drivers—an example of terrorism at its worst. An urgent review of regulations is being conducted to ensure that any possible risk posed to drivers by Government regulations is minimised, consistent with public safety. Let us be clear that terrorists, not regulations, are responsible for the murder of taxi drivers.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has received from the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary a request to increase the establishment of the force? When might the Chief Constable receive a response?

Mr. Brooke

I can confirm that I have received from the Police Authority for Northern Ireland a request for a substantial addition to the full-time complement of the RUC and its reserves. That request is receiving urgent and sympathetic consideration and I am determined that there should be no undue delay in bringing the matter to a conclusion. I fear that I cannot today give a firm answer about when a decision will be reached. There are currently 12,778 members of the RUC, including the RUC reserve, serving in Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

Does the Secretary of State accept that we welcome his statement that security levels will be kept appropriate to the threat, especially during the talks? That must be important to all concerned. Does he agree that the partial ceasefire called by the paramilitaries would be much better received if it were to become permanent and complete; that the problems of Northern Ireland will be solved only by peaceful political means; and that only those who accept that view can make a positive contribution to the future of the island of Ireland?

Mr. Brooke

Of course, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the whole House would want the ceasefire to become permanent and to represent a renunciation of violence.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed an exceptional run on these important questions, but we must now get on.