HC Deb 14 January 1998 vol 304 cc337-9
5. Mr. Robathan

What assessment she has made of current IRA activity. [20855]

Mr. Ingram

All indications are that the Provisional IRA ceasefire remains stable. Consequently, terrorist activity levels overall continue at a significantly reduced level.

Mr. Robathan

The Minister will be aware of the sixth Mitchell principle, which states that punishment beatings must stop. I do not know whether he has ever seen the effects of a knee-capping—a glib term for a cruel and vicious act designed to maim—but is he aware that there have been three such shootings in the past week, in Short Strand, Lenadoon and Clonard? Is he aware that they were allegedly, or most probably, committed by an organisation called direct action against drugs—a gangster organisation used by the IRA as a front to cover its drug-running activities? Does he therefore have any confidence that the political representatives of the IRA will genuinely adhere to the sixth Mitchell principle?

Mr. Ingram

The Government are very much committed to the Mitchell principles, and we realise the impact of events in Northern Ireland on victims and their families. All those factors must be considered. However, I should tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not appropriate for the Government—or for him—to spread speculation or allegations made by others. The Mitchell principles state that matters and facts should be demonstrably proven. Once that has been done, under rule 29 of the Mitchell principles, those matters can be considered by the talks participants. We have at all times to consider the facts of the situation and to deal with those facts, not with speculation.

Mr. Robert McCartney

Is the Minister aware that Families Against Intimidation and Terror is to petition Senator Mitchell, the chairman of the talks process, on the vastly increasing number of shootings and beatings, which that concerned organisation attributes to both loyalist and republican paramilitaries, who are represented in the current talks by the loyalist parties and by Sinn Fein? Everyone in Northern Ireland—particularly those who are informed—is aware that a coach and four is daily being driven through the Mitchell principles.

Mr. Ingram

I recently had a worthwhile and useful discussion with the FAIT group. I know only too well the concerns that were raised. Of course that group was not unique in raising those concerns. However, I would refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). It is easy to make allegations, but, in respect of the Mitchell principles, matters have to be demonstrably proven before action can be taken. As an hon. and learned Member, he should be only too well aware of the need to prove a case before justice or any other progress can be achieved.

Mr. Forsythe

Given that responsibility for the Bannbridge bomb has not yet been claimed by the Continuity Army Council, can the Minister tell the House whether or not the allegations that the IRA planted that bomb are true?

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman is right that no particular group has claimed responsibility for that, although the Continuity Army Council often takes some time to claim responsibility for its actions. Indeed, that was the case in respect of the Markethill bomb. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the most recent incident that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The RUC investigation, with the support of the Army, will continue examining the forensics and the way in which the bomb was constructed and deployed.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Does not the Minister leave himself open to the charge of hiding evidence against paramilitary organisations? Is he not aware that, forensically, guns used in shootings and killings have been linked to organisations whose representatives are sitting around the negotiating table with him and his right hon. Friends? Is he not further aware that there was an admission in respect of the Bannbridge bomb? I have police documentary evidence of an admission by the Provisional IRA, that a warning was phoned in to a County Louth radio station and to the Samaritans in Newry? Is it not very clear, therefore, that the terrorist organisations are calling the tune and the Government are dancing to it?

Mr. Ingram

Those are very strong words indeed, but let me remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not my responsibility to assess evidence. The RUC is charged with that. I have no responsibility for hiding evidence. Certainly I receive reports on such matters, but at the end of the day it is for the RUC to proceed with its investigations and to take them to a conclusion. The hon. Gentleman has said that he has evidence contrary to what has been said publicly. If he has, I suggest that he takes it to the RUC and asks it to carry out the job that it has been charged to do.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not particularly important at this critical juncture in the negotiations over the political future of Northern Ireland that the IRA and its spokesmen should not be allowed to intimidate participants in the negotiations into an outcome that is against the democratic will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland? In that context, will the Minister make absolutely certain that the decommissioning of terrorists' weapons receives the priority that it rightly deserves?

Mr. Ingram

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, there is no evidence in the way that he asserts or indeed at all in respect of participants in the talks. As for decommissioning, this morning I attended a meeting of the liaison sub-committee to deal with that issue. Once the commission has established its full framework on handling decommissioning, and the two Governments—our own and that of the Republic of Ireland—have in place schemes—and we hope to have done so by about the middle of February if various technicalities can be resolved—we shall proceed in the way that the hon. Gentleman has suggested and the matter will be given high priority.

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