HC Deb 14 July 1994 vol 246 cc1156-7
3. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his assessment of cross-border security co-operation.

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

There is already an excellent level of co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana. Both Governments, however, are constantly striving to find ways of improving the effectiveness of security measures.

Mr. Spring

In view of the current level of violence and the appalling acts of terrorism perpetrated in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that co-operation is taking place at the highest level, as is necessary to deal with the tragic situation on both sides of the border?

Sir John Wheeler

My hon. Friend is correct. Violence occurs on both sides of the border and neither country can afford to be complacent. However, I can tell the House that co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda Siochana is of the very highest level. The Gardai's record speaks for itself: last year, they recovered nearly 400 firearms, more than 25,000 rounds of ammunition and nearly 3,800 lbs of explosives, and inquiries and arrests have continued this year.

Mr. Maginnis

With respect, the Minister is singing the same tune that we heard in 1975, 1980, 1985 and 1990, and that we shall probably also hear in 1995. It is boring, it has too many flats and it certainly does not reflect the fact that, as the Minister must admit, lorry load after lorry load of explosives are being trundled across the frontier from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland and that, very possibly, the Heysham bomb came from that direction, too. In the same vein, will he—

Madam Speaker

Order. I must have a question rather than a long statement from the hon. Gentleman as a number of hon. Members are hoping to ask questions.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Minister face the reality that security is ineffective at the level where it counts, irrespective of what happens at the highest level between the Chief Constable and the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana?

Sir John Wheeler

I visited the Commissioner of the Garda Siochana only last week and was able to see the level and extent of the training and arrangements for the management of the Garda Siochana. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that police force is as determined as the Royal Ulster Constabulary or any other police force in the United Kingdom to confront terrorism wherever it can, and the record of success is improving all the time.

Mr. William O'Brien

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, will the Minister give assurances that resources will be provided to ensure that there is cross-border co-operation, and will he prevail upon the Government of the Irish Republic to do the same? If we are to develop tourism and business trade between the north and the south, which is the way to peace initiatives, we need to be sure that such traffic will be able to travel between the north and the south without interference and that there will be security at the border.

Sir John Wheeler

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that both police forces and both Governments are well aware of the importance of commerce and of facilitating the movement of traffic between the two countries. That has to be achieved within the bounds and constraints of defeating and controlling terrorism, and every effort is made to work towards those objectives.

Lady Olga Maitland

I totally accept the Minister's assurance that there is good co-operation between the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Garda, but does he agree that it would be helpful if certain members of the Irish Government could cast aside some of their political sensitivities so that we could enhance security?

Sir John Wheeler

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet Ministers from the Republic of Ireland. Through the intergovernmental conference procedure, we have the opportunity to review in detail the security arrangements between the two countries and the successes of our police forces, and to examine how they could be further advanced. We shall continue to do that.