HL Deb 13 May 1974 vol 351 cc750-2

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement reads as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a Statement. Last night I was informed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was in conference with senior officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army, that in the last few days the Security Forces in Northern Ireland had come into the possession of a quantity of documents, the general purport of which I must disclose to the House.

"These documents reveal a specific and calculated plan on the part of the I.R.A., by means of ruthless and indiscriminate violence, to ferment inter-sectarian hatred and a degree of chaos, with the object of enabling the I.R.A. to achieve a position in which they could proceed to occupy and control certain predesignated and densely populated areas in the City of Belfast and its suburbs. The plan shows a deliberate intention to manipulate the emotions of large sections of the people by inflicting violence and hardship on them in the hope of creating a situation in which the I.R.A. could present themselves as the protectors of the Catholic population.

"It is also clear from the documents that the I.R.A. did not expect, even if they were initially successful, to be able to continue to hold a number of strong points in parts of Belfast and that their intention would have been to carry out a scorched earth policy of burning the houses of the ordinary people as they were compelled to withdraw.

"Some of the information in the possession of the R.U.C. may be important in the bringing of potential criminal charges and the House will understand that there must be some reservation on the disclosure of documents. I can however tell the House that the documents include orders to battalion commanders, an outline of the general concept with associated maps and a draft proclamation to the civilian population. The Security Authorities, together with my right honourable friend's Department, are considering what documentation it would be right to make available, and in the light of this I will later consider what information should be made available to right honourable and honourable Members by placing it in the Library of the House or by other means.

"This discovery reflects great credit on the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army. An apparent I.R.A. operation of potentially great danger has been brought to light. Nevertheless, the House should not readily assume that those who made these plans will not turn to other acts of ruthless violence to frustrate political advance and restore their flagging fortunes.

"The British Government are not to be deterred from the political course on which they have embarked in the conviction that it is right and fair. I want to make it clear also that it is the duty of the Army and the police—not of unofficial para-military forces—to maintain law and order in Northern Ireland. I repeat that the Security Forces will act against violence from whatever source it might come."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think that all noble Lords would want to join the Minister in congratulating the Security Forces in Northern Ireland on their vigilance and on their initiative in finding and arresting some of those responsible for planning this calculated and illegal operation in Belfast. The exposure of the plans referred to in the Prime Minister's Statement show once again that the tactics of the I.R.A. are based on disruption, are sectarian and involve murder and cruel violence. So far as one can tell from the outside, the success of the Security Forces' operation in the last 48 hours has turned on an increasingly effective intelligence network. This has always been—and we do well to remember it—the most effective single way in which to counter terrorist activities. From my experience I have found that Statements of this kind are best not debated in this House because we do not help either the Government or the Security Forces by pressing Ministers, and I have nothing further to add.


My Lords, I should like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said, and congratulate the Army and the Security Forces generally, including the R.U.C., on these discoveries. We are reinforced in the confidence we have always placed in the Security Forces and I think that it is a magnificent thing that they have achieved. I hope that when the Government have made up their mind as to what can be published it will be given the widest possible publicity both North and South of the Border.


My Lords, I am most grateful for what both noble Lords have said. In reply to Lord Byers's last point, about publicity, that is indeed the Government's intention. In fact, there will be some release of documents by the Security Forces this afternoon in Ireland. I am grateful to both noble Lords.