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Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th April 1971.

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Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down 12:00 am, 6th April 1971

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, whose generous sense of responsibility in these matters I understand and pay tribute to. I did not say who had murdered anybody. I profoundly hope that the murderers of the three Scottish soldiers will be found and brought to book. Then we shall know. I made no assertion as to who had murdered them. I said that the murder had created a profound sense of shock which had destroyed confidence throughout the community and that right across the whole spectrum of life in Ulster there was such a sense of outrage at the continuance of violence and disorder in our city that no administration could have survived it without some evidence of a strong political will to overcome it.

It was this which led myself and my hon. Friends to try to reflect that feeling in Ulster in the House and by any means open to us. Much has happened since we asked for that debate. We understand all the reasons why the debate did not take place just at that moment, and perhaps it is just as well in the event that it did not.

Things have moved on now. There has been a change of Government in Ulster. We have a new Prime Minister, We had the resignation of Major Chichester-Clark. I will not go into the circumstances surrounding that resignation, save to say that one thing that Major Chichester-Clark did by his resignation was to underline and bring to pub-lice knowledge, here and elsewhere, the real gravity of the situation facing the community in Northern Ireland. In that sense he did a very great service.

We now have a new Prime Minister in Northern Ireland. From everything that he has said, from the energy and efficiency with which he has set about his new task, and above all from the note of optimism emanating from him, I believe that he deserves the support of us all.

What caused the crisis of confidence was the law and order situation. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for dealing so much with it, and I am grateful also to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition for recognising, since it was one of the parts of the Downing Street declaration that people had an inalienable right—to use his words, I think—to the Queen's peace, that this is what was being demanded in Northern Ireland. Every effort having been made to carry out everying else in the Downing Street declaration people said, "What about the other side of the bargain? Are we getting that or are we not?".

One of the remarkable developments is that there has been a change in the military deployment, and there have been changes in the actual military directives. I believe that these changes have been in the right direction, and the proof of that is in some of the things which have happened on the ground. We are profoundly grateful that this has taken place.

At no time have I—certainly, speaking for myself—asked for a change in the overall policies. Apart from anything else, I do not believe that it would make practical sense. But what has always been asked for has been the effective use of the troops on the ground to bring the general state of disorder to an end as rapidly as possible.

The new directives have had some valuable results in terms of law and order on the ground. The House may not know, for example, that, over this last weekend, 2nd-4th April, there were a considerable number of searches, and successful searches, for arms. Nineteen occupied houses have been searched, there have been 39 searches of unoccupied houses, 19 different areas carefully searched, and 10,000 vehicles searched. In those searches, the following arms were seized: 12 pistols, 6 rifles, 8 shotguns, 3 air guns, 1,689 rounds of ammunition. There were 26 arrests made, and 8 or 9 persons appeared on arms charges this weekend.

What is much more significant, and what, I believe, can be traced to this activity, is the results of the arms amnesty which the new Prime Minister announced. Formerly, when there has been an arms amnesty, the tiny trickle of arms coming in has been disappointing. Up to noon yesterday, however, from the date of the announcement of the amnesty, the following arms have been surrendered: 96 revolvers, 16 pistols, 141 rifles, 43 shotguns, 46 air guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunntion, 26 grenades, 216 detonators, 2 bayonets, 2 signal pistols, 5 magazines, 86 ammunition clips and 12 flares. That is in addition to quite a number of arms actually handed in for safe keeping, for example, 14 revolvers, 25 rifles, 480 rounds of ammunition and 30 shotguns.

I suggest that in that remarkable voluntary surrender of arms there is justifica- tion for the changes in directives which have been made. It is an indication of a sign of an upturn in public confidence. I hope that it will prove to be so, for so long as people are really afraid that there will be a breakdown of authority and so long as people are really nervous about the inability of the security forces and the police to control the situation, so long will people hold tightly on to arms. The fact that these arms are being surrendered seems to me to be a hopeful ingredient in the present situation.

Now, a word about the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Unless one accepts the proposition that the Army is to remain for ever in the appalling rôle in which it finds itself in support of the civil authority, the time will come when it will have to find some way of getting off the streets. Here—it is no empty ritual —I again pay tribute to the work which the Army does. We owe our troops so much, and we are very proud of the way in which they carry out a difficult and dangerous task. But, as I say—I respond here to the right hon. Gentleman's invitation to look to the future—the time must come when the Army has to find a way of getting off the streets, and this can be done only by rebuilding confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary. One must return to policing in the end.

For a wide variety of reasons, morale in the Royal Ulster Constabulary was badly damaged by all the troubles which took place. We have to rebuild not only the morale of the R.U.C. but its numbers and quality as well. One of the problems in building up numbers is that it is not easy to maintain the high quality as one does it. At present, recruiting is going well for the R.U.C. We had about 560 new recruits last year, and everyone must be grateful for the sense of public service which has impelled people to join that force.

One thing which many hon. Members who have influence in Northern Ireland might do is to try to break down any sense among the minority in Ulster that the Royal Ulster Constabulary is in any way one-sided. This feeling still continues, and one of the best ways in which people can help to relieve the Army and return to a situation of normality is to try to rebuild confidence in the Royal Ulster Constabulary itself.