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

Perhaps it would. But I think that the Government have done everything in their power, and the leaders of our police force, our chief constable and everyone else, have done everything in their power. Great efforts have been made in the recruitment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to make sure that recruitment is on no sectarian basis of any kind. Indeed, one of the difficulties in trying to give a figure for the balance of Roman Catholics and Protestants in the R.U.C. at present is that we have done away with the requirement that a new policeman should state his religion. So it is difficult to say.

We now have a police authority set up. No longer are the police, as in the London Metropolis, directly under the Home Office. There is a police authority. It may be that the police authority, in the nature of the present operation, has not quite the same operational direction as was, perhaps, envisaged by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). Perhaps it is impossible for it to have that kind of operational direction, but at least it should be a guarantee of the impartiality of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

At least, everybody should try to build up confidence in the R.U.C. Let there be no mistake about it, it is a highly efficient force. In spite of the appalling difficulties of the past couple of years, the crime detection rate is practically the same as it is in this country. I think that the crime detection rate of the R.U.C. at present is 40-odd per cent. and that my right hon. Friend will be able to confirm that in Great Britain it is about 42 per cent., so it is practically on a par despite the difficulties of the situation.

Recruiting is going on, and it may not be long before the target is reached. It may have to be increased from 5,000 to 6,000 in due course. But it is a slow business. Someone must give thought to the transitional period. I hope that my right hon. Friend and others are thinking about how to deal with the transition between the Army and the civilian unarmed police on the ground.

The Leader of the Opposition said that what young people were really interested in was houses and, I think, the democratic process. He also touched on the relationship between the Northern Ireland authorities and the Dublin Government. I join him in welcoming what Mr. Lynch said. One of the significant things in his speech on the appointment of Mr. Faulkner was: Mr. Faulkner's administration faces a difficult task in normalising the Northern society. Anything my Government can do to help in this will be done willingly and without precondition. That is a remarkable statement. We might put our minds to the ways in which Mr. Lynch could help; there are a number. It is still considered an outrage and a public scandal that the purveyors of violence can find a refuge south of the border in Eire, that they can find places where they can drill and train. I will accept it if anyone tells me that Mr. Lynch's Government are doing their best to bring that to an end. But it is not unfair to ask that a greater determination might be shown. It is a public scandal when someone from a part of Belfast is found to have been injured in the course of training in an I.R.A. camp somewhere near Dublin. Public opinion finds this outrageous.

There are other ways in which great help could be given. It should be possible to bring about greater co-operation between our security forces and the security forces immediately south of the border, between the R.U.C. and the Garda. I am willing to accept that Mr. Lynch is looking at these things.

I welcome co-operation in economic matters, as the Leader of the Opposition does. There is considerable opportunity for economic co-operation. This could open up quite a wide field, but it should be remembered that it has limitations, that, as I think the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, relationships with foreign countries are a matter for Her Majesty's Government here, and that while explorations go on either at official or Ministerial level across the border, ultimately the decisions are made between the Government here and Dublin, between sovereign Governments.

There is one way in which great help could be given from the South to our present economic situation, and that is through a reconsideration of the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement. It may not be appreciated that there are still considerable tariffs, which operate very much to the detriment of Northern Ireland industry. We hope that they would disappear under the E.E.C. It is not generally known that there is still a 16 per cent, tariff on furniture, a 40 per cent. tariff on bread, a 33℣ per cent. tariff on carpets, a 30 per cent. tariff on clothing and a 22½ per cent. tariff on footwear, all important Northern Ireland industries.

I come to the general economic situation for a moment. I do not want to take too long, because I know that some of my hon. Friends would like to develop this matter further. But there is now evidence of considerable good will on the part of Her Majesty's Government, which we recognise, including the scale of investment grants and the fact that inducements to industry are now such as to place us in a favourable position.

I should like to make just one point about the new study at official level into what might be done. I hope that it will not be another examination of the economic problems. During the past two decades we have had a series of examinations. The essential ingredients of the Northern Ireland economic position are well known, and we do not want another examination. What we want now is a small committee to decide precisely how best the resources can be used, and used quickly. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that no doctrinaire views about economics should prevent any sensible use of the moneys available. Although my political philosophy is fundamentally against public or State industries, in this context of a desperate situation, where it is perhaps necessary to find immediate employment either in State industry or public works employment, I would not necessarily rule that out, and I hope that the new Commission will not.

Perhaps I might end by trying to answer as briefly as I can the question I imagine everyone, in the atmosphere of this debate, would want to answer—how best can we in this House and in Britain generally help the people of Northern Ireland to return to a normal situation? The first thing is to reiterate, as my right hon. Friend and the Leader of the Opposition have, that the union is permanent so long as the Parliament of Northern Ireland wishes it to be, and to keep on reiterating it. Any possible doubt upon that, any glimmer of doubt upon it, is one thing which could lead to a deterioration of the situation.

Second, what is needed now is not only the economic help that we have been offered and not only the military effectiveness on the ground which we are beginning to see and which we applaud and are grateful for. What is really needed now is a massive injection of public confidence.

Our new Prime Minister in Northern Ireland has said that he has to re-create confidence. The present lull in our affairs should not lead us to be too euphoric, because there is no doubt that we are liable to see great troubles in the future and that this is liable to be a long job. But so long as there is determination, and evident determination to bring the situation to an end, so long as there is plainly the political will to do so, then I believe that it is right to strike a note of optimism and confidence.

What can the people of Britain do for us in Ulster, either through this House or through any other medium, since we have done our best in every way to see that British standards obtain in that part of Britain—why should we not, since we are British people ourselves? They can tell us that at least we can get the assurance of British standards in the maintenance of law and that at least we can get investment and confidence. I would say to people, "Come and see us." On the whole, it is a good country to have a holiday in.