HC Deb 02 May 1996 vol 276 cc1286-7
5. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is his latest assessment of the capability of the Provisional IRA to mount a terrorist campaign. [26379]

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

It is a fact that the Provisional IRA remains a formidably organised terrorist structure with the personnel and the weaponry available to mount a terrorist campaign, as evidenced by recent bomb attacks in London and other activities in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that last week's attempt to blow up Hammersmith bridge is a further chilling reminder of the terrorist capabilities of the Provisional IRA? Does that kind of incident not show that we need to demand not only the decommissioning of weapons but the standing down and dismantling of the terrorist structure? Nothing less will convince the people of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom of the IRA's real intentions with regard to peace.

Sir John Wheeler

My hon. Friend is quite right: the standing down of the terrorist structure is essential. The Mitchell commission report said: There must be a commitment and adherence to the fundamental principles of democracy and non-violence. All participants in any future all-party negotiations should confirm their commitment to those principles and honour them". There can be no place for those who possess stockpiles of Semtex and weapons or who engage in racketeering or in punishment attacks. My hon. Friend is right to say that the confidence of all people depends on adherence to those principles.

Miss Hoey

Does the Minister agree that it would be inconceivable if the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent country, were to face the same terrorist threat as the United Kingdom, with bombs being found now and again—some of which explode and some which do not? The Irish Government would be much more up-front in dealing with those who were perpetuating terrorism. Does the Minister believe that we could learn some lessons from how the Republic of Ireland faced up to terrorism when it was occurring in that country?

Sir John Wheeler

The Republic's security forces, and the Garda Siochana in particular, co-operate very well with the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There is an excellent relationship between the two police forces who work closely together. The hon. Lady is right: it is a serious matter. Since 9 February, there have been six terrorist bombings in London alone, apart from the daily evil of punishment attacks in Northern Ireland. It is essential that the Governments continue to explore the best possible ways of extending and improving co-operation between the security forces and the police services in particular.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will the Minister confirm that the IRA is still training, making weapons and attacking people by letter and by intimidation? Will he confirm that the police have recently visited many people in our constituencies to ask them to leave their homes and go to places of safety? Will he join me today in condemning the scurrilous attack made yesterday at the forum of the British-Irish interparliamentary body on the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire)? He was attacked because he denounced the IRA, and he was told by Paddy Harte that his attitude had caused many generations of Irish people to kill each other and to be anti-British. When the hon. Gentleman claimed that Northern Ireland was his country also, he was rebuked by the same Paddy Harte.

Sir John Wheeler

The hon. Gentleman is quite right when he describes the activities of the Provisional IRA. Unhappily, the targeting, training and other criminal activities continue. It is a regrettable fact that this year, to 21 April, there have been no fewer than 98 so-called punishment attacks on people in Northern Ireland. That is exactly double the number over the same period in 1995, and 61 of the beatings have been attributed to Republican groups. It is essential that that evil ends if there is to be confidence in an ensuing peace process.

I note the hon. Gentleman's comments about the forum in Dublin and I am sorry to hear them.

Ms Mowlam

Labour agrees with the point just made by the Minister about punishment beatings. Unless they end, the trust and confidence needed will not be engendered. Does the Minister share our view that the issue of decommissioning of paramilitary weapons must be addressed at the beginning of the negotiations on 10 June and that the Mitchell report provides the best way to deal with that issue? In addition, does the Minister agree that the proposals advanced by the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, are entirely in keeping with the report and provide the most sensible way to proceed if we are to avoid returning to the logjam on that issue when the negotiations start on 10 June?

Sir John Wheeler

The Government's position is based on the principles of the Mitchell report. It lays down a clear route if those engaged in terrorist activities wish to renounce violence and enter the democratic process. As I have said, the six principles in the Mitchell report set out very clearly what they must do, but they have to honour those principles. That will be essential if there is to be progress. I agree with the hon. Lady that the first item on the agenda must be decommissioning.

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