HC Deb 08 September 2004 vol 424 c708
6. Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the future of the home battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment. [187648]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discusses all relevant issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in relation to the profile of the Army in Northern Ireland. The situation in respect of the Royal Irish home battalions has not changed since the statement that the Defence Secretary made on 10 June 2003.

Mr. Campbell

Does the Under-Secretary accept that, when attacks such as the one that happened in the past three hours in a police station in Londonderry occur, it is essential that the Royal Irish Regiment is not only retained but used and deployed to protect police stations and Army installations in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Pearson

I have received a report on the attack on the Strand Road police station. Obviously, the matter is being investigated and I utterly condemn the senseless violence involved. It will not stop us engaging in the talks; we need to move forward.

I pay tribute to the Royal Irish Regiment, which has a distinguished history at home and abroad. As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, it continues to play a vital role. I stress that no decision has been made about the members of the armed forces who would be included in a permanent end-state garrison in Northern Ireland. We are currently recruiting new members to the home service battalions. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I ask the House to come to order—it is very noisy.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP)

The Under-Secretary rightly paid a warm tribute to the RIR and its predecessor, the Ulster Defence Regiment. In the continuing discussions about the RIR's future, what genuine, active consideration has been given to creating a fund for UDR widows and their families, akin to the police fund for RUC widows and their families?

Mr. Pearson

The hon. Lady makes an important point. However, that is a matter for the Ministry of Defence, which is aware of the issue. I shall make arrangements for the Ministry to contact the hon. Lady.