HC Deb 18 February 1993 vol 219 cc465-6
4. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

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

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Mates)

Since my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State answered a similar question on 21 January there have been eight deaths as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland, including five civilians, one member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and two soldiers.

The Government are determined to secure the defeat of terrorism, from whichever side of the community it comes. The police, supported by the Army, are continuing their efforts to prevent and deter terrorist attacks and to bring those responsible for terrorist crimes before the courts.

Mr. Townsend

My hon. Friend will be aware of the concern in the House about the rising level of violence by those who, while calling themselves loyalists, seem to specialise in killing and maiming Her Majesty's subjects in Northern Ireland. What success are the security forces having in curtailing the activities of such vicious criminals and, more importantly, in successfully bringing them before the courts?

Mr. Mates

My hon. Friend is right. It is a worry that so-called loyalist terrorists are on the increase, that violence is on the increase and, worst of all, that random sectarian killing seems to be a feature of what comes from that side of the community. We are determined to root out the terrorists from whichever side of the divide they come. There is no difference in the determination of the Government and of the RUC to bring terrorists to justice, from whatever side of the community in Northern Ireland they come.

Mr. Molyneaux

Has the Minister seen the report in the Belfast Telegraph about the IRA ordering 40 young men to leave Dundalk or, as the IRA delicately put it, "face the consequences"? That comes on the eve of the Sinn Fein/IRA annual conference in Dundalk—which, of course, is those organisations' forward base. Do the Minister and the Secretary of State expect parties in the House to condemn that exclusion order as fiercely as they oppose the prevention of terrorism Acts?

Mr. Mates

Indeed, we have nothing but contempt for what the IRA stands for, for what it says and for all its works. The way in which it seeks to impose its own law in certain parts of Northern Ireland will he resisted as, I am perfectly certain, the Irish Government will wish to resist any attempt the IRA may make to take the place of the forces of law and order in the Republic of Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Minister now in a position to make a full statement about the bomb discovered three weeks ago in the canteen of the Crumlin Road prison? Would he care to confirm or deny to the House that just before the bomb was found the canteen had been used by republican prisoners, that the security check had been made and had failed to discover the bomb, and that the bomb was actually discovered by an orderly shifting chairs in the canteen? Can he tell the House whether the security camera placed in the canteen after the previous bombing in 1991, in which a loyalist prisoner was killed, was in operation? Will he tell the House whether anyone has been charged with the planting of this bomb or of the previous bomb, which killed a loyalist prisoner?

Mr. Mates

There is no question that the incident was very serious, in that any amount of explosive, however small, that finds it way into any prison is a serious matter. However, it is important to point out to the hon. Gentleman that the device was not a bomb and was not capable of explosion. It was a very small piece of explosive with some form of electrical contact. To say that is not to undermine the seriousness of the situation, but the device was not a bomb.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister will be aware that the people of Northern Ireland must have confidence not only in the role of the security forces but in the Ministers responsible for dealing with them. Bearing that in mind, will he take the opportunity not only to agree with the Prime Minister that all who were killed on bloody Sunday were innocent, but to apologise for and correct the inaccuracies in the statement that he made on Radio Telefis Eireann? First, rubber batons were used in Derry on the same day, so the Army had methods of protecting themselves other than bullets. Secondly, the Minister said: There would have been no murder of anyone if it hadn't been for the bloody riot organised by those very murderers.

In view of the Prime Minister's statement, will the Minister tell us which of the 14 dead had organised the "bloody riot" in Derry, of which there was later no evidence? Will he now give a full apology, not a fudged one, to say sorry for the extreme distress that he has caused—or are we to add this to his other clangers, such as the statements on Father Ryan and Coalisland? Should he not consider his position?

Mr. Mates

First, the extracts from which the hon. Gentleman has read came from an interview that I gave 14 months ago, on a different day and in a different context, when I was Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence and not a Minister. That part of my statement was taken out of context, but I said straight away—the next day—that those remarks were high on the list of things that I wished I had not said. I believe that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has also said one or two things in the past that he has had cause to regret. I then made a statement in which I fully supported the letter that the Prime Minister wrote to the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), and I stand by what that letter said.

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