HC Deb 16 June 1994 vol 244 cc742-4
5. Mr. Molyneaux

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

8. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his assessment of the current security situation in the Province.

9. Mr. Soley

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

11. Mr. John D. Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the level of terrorist activity since 15 December 1993.

Sir John Wheeler

Thirty-four people have been murdered this year as a result of terrorism in Northern Ireland, including five members of the security forces. In the period between 15 December and the end of last year, one soldier was murdered. Many attacks have been foiled by the courage and expertise of the security forces. There will be no relaxation in the determination of the authorities to bring those responsible for terrorist crime to justice.

Mr. Molyneaux

Now that national and international opinion is at long last aligned with democracy and not with Irish terrorism, will the Minister reflect on the views of his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who, when Home Secretary, said: There is no point in negotiating with the IRA. They just have to be extirpated"?

Sir John Wheeler

There is no negotiation with the Provisional IRA. The joint declaration sets out a mechanism for those who wish to follow the path of peace. I hope that they will follow it.

Mr. Spring

The western part of Suffolk may be a long way from Northern Ireland, but may I relay to my right hon. Friend the expressions of shock and sympathy addressed to me by many of my constituents following the tragic helicopter crash? Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, despite that tragic setback, the fight against terrorism, from whatever quarter, will continue unabated?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who seeks to take an informed interest in the security problems of Northern Ireland. The tragedy of losing 29 experienced and valuable people who have contributed so much to saving life is a great disaster and the House will think particularly of their families at this time. I assure the House that, notwithstanding the extent of that disaster, every effort to continue the fight against terrorism will continue. Even now, the replacements are going into office to take up and continue the work of those whose lives have been so tragically lost.

Mr. Taylor

In Belfast last week, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church was held. That is the largest Protestant Church in Northern Ireland. Views were expressed by many laymen and clergy about the security situation on the ground. As the Minister will have taken them into account, how does he now respond to them?

Sir John Wheeler

I am naturally concerned about all comment in Northern Ireland, but the House should know of the real and considerable successes that the security forces are having. So far this year, until 15 June, 220 people have been charged with serious terrorist offences, as against 172 in the same period last year, including 49 with murder or attempted murder, as against 38 in the same period last year. What matters is that people who commit those awful and evil crimes are caught, arrested and charged before the courts.

Mr. Soley

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) referred to Irish terrorism in his question. Is not this an appropriate time to remind ourselves that, for the past two years, Unionist terrorism has been claiming more lives than republican terrorism, and not for the first time in Northern Ireland's sad history? Is not it therefore all the more important that we now say to both the Unionist and the republican community in the north, which is where the violence originates, that there is no excuse for terrorism? There never has been any excuse, but there is no excuse in view of the bold and, if I may say so, visionary decision of the two Governments to go for the Downing Street declaration. It has given both sides democratic safeguards and democratic opportunities, if they follow that agenda, and the British and Irish people expect no less from both communities.

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and agree whole-heartedly with his view. Terrorism from whatever source is unacceptable. There is no excuse of any kind. So far this year, 136 so-called loyalists and 83 republicans have been charged for terrorist-related offences.

Sir James Kilfedder

Is the Minister aware that there is growing alarm at the increase in criminality and hooliganism in the North Down area? The people of North Down are entitled to the same security as any other part of Northern Ireland. With regard to hooliganism, there are gangs of youths who travel around and harass, and in some cases terrorise, vulnerable old-age pensioners. Surely it is time to increase the number of police in the North Down area, the number of police vehicles and the number of police stations?

Sir John Wheeler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure him that I take a special interest in the progress of the fight against ordinary crime in Northern Ireland and especially in his constituency, which I had the pleasure of visiting a short while ago, when I was able to speak to the police about their level of clear-up of ordinary crime, which is especially high—often, 40 to 50 per cent.

Rev. William McCrea

Does the Minister understand that the people of Northern Ireland are deeply worried about the deteriorating security situation in the Province, bearing in mind the figures he gave to the House? Also, in a recent debate in the House, widespread anxiety was expressed by many hon. Members across the House that IRA Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness seemed to be above the law. In the light of the deteriorating security situation, is not it about time that Martin McGuinness was arrested forthwith and that the due process of law took place—or is he above the law because of negotiations with the Government?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

No one is above the law passed by the House of Commons. All those people who should be properly investigated for alleged crimes will be so investigated. There is no question of anyone being exempted from the criminal justice process as the hon. Gentleman implies.