HC Deb 17 June 1998 vol 314 cc349-50
4. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

What steps are being taken to help the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. [44743]

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

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, the Northern Ireland victims commissioner, published his report "We Will Remember Them" on 13 May 1998—his recommendations have been widely welcomed. As Minister with responsibility for victims, I am developing proposals to provide greater recognition for, and assistance to, the victims of 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland. I hope to make further announcements soon on taking forward the recommendations.

Mrs. Humble

Given the recent proposals on the release of prisoners and the impact that that will have on victims and their families, does my hon. Friend have plans in the immediate future to develop help and support for those victims, who have suffered dreadfully because of the violence in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ingram

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Later this evening, we shall continue consideration in Committee of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, which deals with the early release of prisoners provided that certain conditions are met—I shall be moving an amendment on that issue.

We believe that if victims so choose, they should have some knowledge of the possible release of the people who may have perpetrated acts of violence or other crimes against them. Of course, the problem is much more complicated and difficult than that, but we hope that the legislation will take account of all the complexities involved.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is the Minister with responsibility for victims and that he is looking into the interests of victims. Does he believe that it will help victims of violence when they know that the people who murdered their husbands, recently kneecapped their sons, intimidated their families and destroyed their businesses, or whatever it might have been, are still at large—in fact, have been released from prison—and still have the capability to perpetrate those crimes? They still have their weapons and explosives and, as yet, there has been no commitment to decommissioning from any major terrorist organisation.

Mr. Ingram

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is only too well aware that 71 per cent. of the people of Northern Ireland voted, overwhelmingly, for the agreement. If it can be allowed to be fully implemented, hopefully we shall be able to avoid the grief and pain that have sat upon the people of Northern Ireland for the past 30 years. It is better that we begin to look forward, as well as dealing with the issues relating to victims that we have to deal with and for which I now have responsibility.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Does the Minister agree that personal victims of violence must be the first priority? However, will he also join me in condemning the sectarian arson attacks last Monday in Downpatrick, my home town, which obviously had a sectarian intent? Does he share my concern that part of the attack involved an explosive device, which had the attributes of paramilitary involvement? Furthermore, I urge him to ensure that the three businesses involved—both Catholic and Protestant—which were put out of business and the ancient and honourable cricket club, which was completely destroyed, get immediate and urgent aid from the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland agencies in general.

Mr. Ingram

Of course, we all condemn unreservedly any sectarian, paramilitary or terrorist attacks. Within the present climate in Northern Ireland, there is no cause for them to continue and we call on everyone associated with those groups not only to give up their weapons, but to stop carrying out those acts. There are procedures for compensation, and I am sure that the businesses that have suffered will be aware of them and will apply in due course. Their applications will, as usual, be considered sympathetically.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), does the Minister agree that there must be a firm and unbreakable linkage between the release of prisoners and the decommissioning of weapons?

Mr. Ingram

Of course there is, not only in the agreement, but in the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, which we considered on Monday and will be considering later today and tomorrow.

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