HC Deb 17 February 1994 vol 237 cc1049-51
1. Mr. Robathan

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in discussions with the Government of the Republic of Ireland on cross-border security co-operation; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler)

The British and Irish Governments reiterated at the intergovernmental conference on 28 January that they place the highest priority on developing further the effective co-operation which already exists between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and encouraged by what he has said. He will know that, last night, another British soldier was severely injured in Belfast. Will he confirm to the House that the bulk of explosives and weapons that are used by the IRA and many of the terrorists come through the Irish Republic'? What progress has been made with the Irish Republic to ensure that some of those weapons and explosives are prevented from coming through and being used by the IRA?

Sir John Wheeler

I share My hon. Friend's concern about the injuries sustained by a young soldier late last night. It was a wicked, evil attack on a young man carrying out his duty in the name of democracy and freedom. I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that co-operation between the Garda and the RUC is excellent. There have been a number of important finds of weapons and explosives by the Irish authorities. For example, this week alone near Mullingar in County Westmeath, the Garda and the Irish army recovered a heavy machine gun, two spare barrels, a rifle, a pistol and assorted ammunition, including 1,700 rounds of heavy-calibre ammunition. That and other recent finds demonstrate clearly the Irish Government's commitment to fighting terrorism. I assure the House that co-operative work between the RUC and the Garda has never been better.

Mr. Maginnis

I can understand the Minister's diplomacy and his desire to be courteous to the Garda Siochana—no one disagrees with that—but what steps does his Department take to monitor the activity and the degree of co-operation between the two police services? For example, we all know that South Armagh is at present a hotbed of IRA activity. Can he give me any idea of how many people have been charged during the past 12 months in the Monaghan-North Louth area? From his monitoring, can he give me any idea of the extent to which there is cross-frontier co-operation on intelligence?

Sir John Wheeler

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the co-operation between the RUC and its immediate counterparts in the border police stations of the Republic is extremely good. I can also tell him that the work that is done by my Department and through the intergovernmental conference ensures that co-operation is pursued to the utmost degree. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman precise statistics about the areas that he mentioned, but I shall see that he has them as soon as possible.

Mr. Brazier

Does my right hon. Friend agree that considerable concessions were made to Dublin in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and that in the historic declaration just before Christmas we received considerable assurances from the Dublin Government that they would support the necessary security measures, which would continue to be necessary if the IRA rejected the declaration, as now appears more and more likely? Does he further agree that Britain has every right to expect not only declarations of support from the Irish Government and commitments from the Garda, but that resources will be committed to enable effective support for our security forces along the border and further into Eire?

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. May I make it clear to the House that I do not want statements from either Back Benchers or Ministers. It is now Question Time and I expect to have brief exchanges during these important Northern Ireland questions.

Sir John Wheeler

The co-operation exists. It is improving and finds by the Irish police authorities continue. There were finds in county Louth on 16 January and county Monaghan on 21 and 24 January, when mortars, weapons and equipment were recovered. That will continue.

Mr. Mallon

In the recent security discussions with members of the Irish Government, was reference made to the fact that, in recent months, murderous attacks have been made by loyalist paramilitary groups on 18 members of our party, all of whom were elected representatives? Does he agree that it is the duty of all of us to give every help and protection to those people who have been working tirelessly for peace through the political process? Does he further agree that some of the insidious and disgraceful remarks made by hon. Members, such as those made by the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) yesterday about Irish people working on the channel tunnel, are, in effect, an incitement to such murderous attacks? Will he, with me, condemn that?

Sir John Wheeler

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the first part of his question. The threats and attacks against those who have been elected through the democratic system in Northern Ireland are taken seriously. I am currently studying with great concern a number of cases involving SDLP councillors. The remarks of other right hon. or hon. Members are a matter for them, not for me.