HC Deb 02 December 1998 vol 321 cc870-1
4. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

If she will make a statement on the current security situation. [61201]

8. Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

If she will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [61205]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

The security situation at present remains relatively calm and the main ceasefires continue to hold. Unfortunately, there are still groups that have refused to call ceasefires and which continue to use violence, or the threat of violence, to promote their own narrow agendas. The security forces remain alert to counter that threat.

Mr. Paterson

The Belfast human rights group, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, reports that there were 400 violent terrorist incidents in the first 10 months of 1998. That has accelerated, with 157 in November, and 37 families have had to be rehoused. In contradiction of the Secretary of State, Mr. Vincent McKenna, the development officer of FAIT, says that 12 released prisoners have been directly implicated in incidents. Given the deteriorating situation, does it not defy common sense to continue to release violent men?

Mr. Ingram

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has extensively answered most of those points. Let me deal with the allegations made by FAIT, an organisation with which I have had contact, and whose previous office bearers and their work I respect. To anyone who has information and evidence, I can say only this: do not make allegations in the press; give the evidence to the police. A judicial process is required to take people to justice, not the Government.

Mr. Grieve

Again, on the question of security, I am sure that the Minister is aware that there has been a growing number of incidents involving attacks on RUC patrols, particularly in South Armagh. Is he also aware that there is a widespread view in Northern Ireland that those attacks have been carefully orchestrated by Sinn Fein and the IRA and have been designed specifically to influence the way in which the Patten commission considers the reform of the RUC in the future? How does he view the progress of the ceasefire and the security situation in the light of those attacks?

Mr. Ingram

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a respected banister, but I make the same points as I made to his hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). If he has any evidence for those allegations, he should pass it on to the police and the RUC so that they can investigate it. Clearly, as I said earlier, there are still incidents of unrest throughout Northern Ireland. The RUC has to address that, and all members of society in Northern Ireland—it is to be hoped with the support of Opposition Members—must work together to implement the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down)

Does the Minister agree that people are being shot and mutilated daily in Northern Ireland and that that is taking place in areas under the complete control of paramilitary organisations represented in the Assembly? Does the Minister agree that those widespread and, in many instances, murderous offences are being committed in areas where the police acknowledge that either the Provisional IRA or the Ulster Volunteer Force have complete control?

Mr. Ingram

I must say again that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making allegations. He is a respected lawyer in Northern Ireland and he should not respond to allegations. He should seek evidence and pass it to the RUC. The RUC is assiduous in trying to track down every wrongdoing, but it needs evidence. It needs people to come forward. It needs those who have been victimised, harassed or intimidated to stand up and say what has happened to them and it needs witnesses to back them up. Anybody who has been involved will then be taken through the judicial process.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should commend the efforts of former prisoner organisations which are trying to work with the probation service, the police and other authorities in Northern Ireland to create proper community alternatives in areas where there are high levels of crime and problems for communities? Should we not commend those efforts and make it clear that, across the House, we condemn the activities of drug barons and gangsters who are using the political situation for their own ends?

Mr. Ingram

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, with which I agree whole-heartedly. I met a group yesterday called Proj-ex 2000, which is involved in the reintegration of released prisoners. It made the point that many ex-prisoners return to a normal life. They want to reintegrate into society and it behoves all of us to find the means and provide the resources for them to achieve that. There are many people working to heal Northern Ireland society and we have to work alongside them to remove for good the men of violence.