HC Deb 24 November 1999 vol 339 cc602-4
3. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire)

If he will make a statement on current levels of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland. [98766]

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

There is a very real and dangerous threat from dissident loyalist and republican terrorist groups. However, the security situation has been transformed over the past year, with a significant reduction in terrorist-related crimes. That is due in large measure to the efforts of the Garda Siochana and the Royal Ulster Constabulary, with the support of the Army. I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying fulsome tribute to the RUC, which was awarded the George Cross yesterday. It is a truly deserved honour.

Mr. Paterson

That statement contrasts with information that I was given this morning by the Northern Ireland human rights bureau, which told me that, since the Good Friday agreement, terrorist organisations have been responsible for 11 murders, 141 shootings, 914 people being driven into exile and the rehousing of 1,634 families. Given that, and the Minister's comment on the RUC, does he agree that it is totally inappropriate to bring about radical changes in the policing of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ingram

I will not trade statistics with the hon. Gentleman. I trust the statistics on terrorist-related crimes that I am able to make available to him and the rest of the House. I suggest that he seeks his advice from myself as Minister, although I will write to him anyway to update him on the statistics.

The question of the future of policing was implicit in the Good Friday agreement; it was what the parties signed up to. We are, of course, consulting on the way forward.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that no hon. Member—nor anyone whom we represent—is unaffected by terrorism? It has been three and a half years since Manchester suffered the last bombing outrage in Britain. Does he agree that the present climate of peace has not only seen the rebuilding of Manchester city centre, which is to be reopened to the public tonight, but has created the conditions in which investment may be made not just in Britain and Northern Ireland, but throughout Ireland—something good for everyone?

Mr. Ingram

My hon. Friend makes his points clearly and directly. Terrorist violence has affected not only Northern Ireland but too many communities in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is good to see that the city fathers and citizens of Manchester have been able to pick themselves up and move forward. I agree with his sentiments that the best way of consolidating economic development in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom is a peaceful future for all our citizens.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Does the Minister agree that the award of the George Cross to the RUC is almost unique, as only one comparable award has been made, and that it is well deserved? Those are the people who, over the past few months, have dealt effectively and efficiently with loyalist terrorism, and we congratulate them—as I am sure that the Minister will. I also congratulate the Garda Siochana on its successes against dissident republican terrorists.

Did the right hon. Gentleman note yesterday's statement by the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, who said that he would pursue within his jurisdiction any terrorists who operate there or seek to operate across the frontier into Northern Ireland—and that, where possible, he would seize their assets and property? Is it not time that our Government considered similar means of ensuring that terrorists are hindered in every possible manner?

Mr. Ingram

The hon. Gentleman is a staunch defender of the RUC, and his knowledge is based on personal experience over the many years that he has been associated with it. Coming from Northern Ireland, he knows only too well the importance of the RUC in maintaining as peaceful an environment as we have been able to achieve over the past 30 years. It has made a magnificent contribution, which is why the George Cross was awarded.

As for the way forward, of course we note what the Taoiseach said and also the good and close co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the RUC, which is being built on all the time. That is one of the most effective ways in which to deal with terrorism wherever it exists within these islands. As regards the seizure of assets, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman awaits the publication of the new Bill that will deal with UK-wide issues of terrorism.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

In awarding the George medal to the RUC—[Hon. Members: "George Cross."] Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in awarding the George Cross, we should remember also the civilian employees when, and the families of the officers who have died or been injured? Does he also agree that the RUC has an important role to play in future, with a changing police service and a changing and more peaceful community?

Mr. Ingram

The very significant award announced yesterday was, of course, for the whole of the RUC family—for the many who have suffered, as well as those who continue to serve and will no doubt do so in the years ahead. Yes, there is a need for a new policing approach in Northern Ireland. That was considered in the Good Friday agreement, and we are thinking about the idea and the possibility of taking it forward. The role of the present officers has been recognised and many of them will continue to give good service to all the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull)

Does the Minister agree that the full implementation of the Belfast agreement requires an end to violence in all its forms, including paramilitary beatings, shootings and murders? The condemnation of punishment beatings by Sinn Fein in its statement last week was welcome, but will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate that it is now essential that words of condemnation be matched by a complete cessation of those barbaric acts by both sides?

Mr. Ingram

There can be only one answer to that, and it is yes.

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