HC Deb 18 March 1993 vol 221 cc394-6
6. 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 Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Mates)

Since I answered a similar question on 18 February, six people have been killed as a result of the security situation in Northern Ireland, including three civilians, two Royal Ulster Constabulary Officers and one soldier.

The Government, through the work of the police and armed forces, and with the support of the public, will defeat terrorism from whichever side of the community it comes. There is no lack of will or determination on the Government's part or on the part of the security forces. An example of the level of police success is that so far this year 63 people have been charged with serious terrorist crimes, including 14 with murder or attempted murder.

Mr. Molyneaux

In expressing deep sympathy with the families of those who have been murdered, including the young soldier who was shot yesterday by an American bullet from an. American rifle, probably fired from the territory of the Irish Republic, may I ask Her Majesty's Government to seek the wholehearted co-operation of the American and Irish Governments in totally suppressing those who carry out such murderous activities?

Mr. Mates

I understand and share the sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman has expressed. We do have the wholehearted co-operation of the Government of the Irish Republic in our attempts to defeat the terrorists. That has been one of the concrete results of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Co-operation is much better than it has ever been, as has been shown by the joint successes of the Garda and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We shall continue to try to get the message across in the United States of the importance of neither directly nor indirectly supporting the root cause of the terrorism, but inevitably some arms and money will slip through the net.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Nobody knows better than my hon. Friend the dedication of the British Army to eradicating terrorism in Northern Ireland, but, in view of the considerable overstretch that the British Army is facing, what proposals is his Department putting forward to reduce the burden on the British Army in the years ahead?

Mr. Mates

The overstretch of the British Army is a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Defence. We shall ask for and hope to get a sufficient level of Army personnel to support the police as and when the police need that support. If we can reduce terrorism and obtain some political development, we can achieve what we all hope to achieve: more primacy of the police, more areas in which the police can operate without the support of the Army, and thus a reduction in the Army presence in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Mallon

The Minister will be aware that the six deaths to which he referred took place in my constituency and I express my anger and resentment about them, not least the killing of the young soldier yesterday when everyone else was celebrating the memory of St. Patrick. However, that anger and resentment should not be allowed to cloud the fact that certain statements made recently by senior members of Sinn Fein may show a change of policy and tactics. If that is the case, would it not be wise to encourage those people away from violence? Our real strength is not in our determination but in our ability to capitalise on the potential for peace rather than dismissing it out of hand. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State keep an open mind and use every opportunity to explore that potential for peace?

Mr. Mates

I agree that anger should direct us in nothing that we do. If members of Sinn Fein or the IRA see the pointlessness of what they do, and if they show by their actions that they are prepared to repudiate violence, they will see a response from the British Government. But the initiative lies with them and with the many in the community who know about their activities and could persuade them of the futility of the killing. We all want to see the violence end and it is up to us to try to achieve it.

Lady Olga Maitland

In view of the appalling number of killings which have taken place, does my hon. Friend agree that it was vital that we renewed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and despicable that the Opposition obstructed it?

Mr. Mates

The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act is a most important tool which the Government need and which the House was asked to support. I am happy that the House did so.