Over the three days 22nd, 23rd and 24th November, seven civilians were shot dead in Belfast. The details are as follows:
At 1.15 p.m. on the Friday, a car drove into the forecourt of the People's Garage, Springfield Road, and the occupants opened fire on the employees, wounding two persons, one of whom has since died. At 4.45 on the same afternoon, shots were fired from a Ford car into the "Hole in the Wall" Club, Ballycarry Street: one man was shot dead and another injured. At 21 minutes past midnight the following night, the body of a man was found lying in a field off the Hightown Road, Glengormley, with wounds to the head and back. A taxi cab was found abandoned near the scene of the murder. At 11.48 on the Saturday night a customer found the bodies of a man and a young woman in a store at the rear of the Edenderry Filling Station in the Crumlin Road. Both had been shot through the back of the head. The man was the manager of the filling station. On the same day, the owner of the Arkle Taxi Company in Clifton Street arrived at his premises and found his wife shot dead. A customer was lying dead in the waiting room.
The present wave of killings began with the murders of Judge Conaghan and Mr. McBirney on 16th September, for which the Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility. There followed a spate of retaliatory action, first by one sectarian faction and then by another, and since then 38 people have been murdered. The prevention and detection of these appalling crimes are the responsibility of the police, and the RUC is pursuing all the cases vigorously. To date nine persons have been charged with murder and others with lesser offences.
The police are also operating patrols with the specific task of deterring potential murders and of detecting persons responsible for murders. Since 16th September more than 40 people have been held by the police in connection with firearms offences.
These senseless murders are abhorrent. Some are sectarian. Others are to pay off old scores. I am sure that the House and the vast majority of people in this country and in Northern Ireland condemn them. They perpetuate hatred and violence in Northern Ireland. There must be a concerted effort by everyone to prevent these atrocities and to assist the police in every way possible to detect those who are responsible.
I join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning these dastardly deeds. Does he agree with me that one of the answers to them is adequate policing? Is he satisfied with the recruits coming forward under his new scheme for the Royal Ulster Constabulary Police Reserve? Why is it that about 1,200 of them have not yet been processed? Is there any possibility of speeding up their recruitment into the ranks of the reserve? Is the right hon. Gentleman considering raising the age limit for the reserve from 57 to 60? Has he any plans on the promised enlargement of the police authority?
The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that this is a policing matter. That was one reason why I announced in August changes in policing in Northern Ireland that were nothing to do with the return of the B-Specials, nothing to do with the previous policing arrangements. I am glad to say that the response, both for the reserve and for the regular police, has meant that in the short time since then the police have increased by 71 and the reserve by 780. But I reserve the right not to recruit into the reserve people who my advisers advise me would be better off not in the reserve, in the peculiar situation of Northern Ireland.
It is far more a policing matter than an army matter. It is detective work, and the police have done remarkably well. But that is little consolation to those who are affected by these sectarian killings, with people, on hearing that a Catholic was killed in the morning, setting out in the evening to kill a Protestant for revenge. The answer can come only from the community itself.
The whole House will have listened with revulsion to the catalogue of fearful crimes that the right hon. Gentleman has just read out. We on this side of the House also condemn those crimes. I welcome the increase in police recruitment that the Secretary of State has announced. Has he any other way in mind of helping the police in what he rightly says is essentially a policing matter?
There is no financial reason to prevent increased recruitment. Anything that can be done with finance through the police authority is done. I repeat that on this, as on so many other things in Northern Ireland, the answer will come from the community, who will give the evidence. There must be people in Northern Ireland who know what is going on and who can inform the police through the confidential telephone. It is only when the people decide that the time has come to end the killings that they will be ended. It is a community matter, and we shall help in any possible way to deal with it.
I take the right hon. Gentleman's point. The Army has an enormous task in Northern Ireland. Ballistic tests, finding out what is going on, taking evidence and sifting it are police matters. Whatever criticism I have had of the RUC in the past, it is doing a remarkable job. The men in the RUC face death every day. The improvement in the RUC in the past year or 18 months is remarkable.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that the whole community in Northern Ireland, on whatever side of the political or religious divide, are standing back in horror and revulsion at the wave of callous, brutal murders that have taken place not only in Northern Ireland but in Britain? Does my right hon. Friend believe that the RUC, and particularly the detective force, has adequate numbers to try to take whatever action it can? Does he agree with me that those who are building up the RUC reserve may not have the experience to try to track down the brutal, callous murderers now operating in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says. He says it consistently in Northern Ireland. What matters in the sort of work involved is the regular police force, although I have found from reports given to me by the Chief Constable in recent weeks that reserve policemen, merely by walking around the streets, pick up information which is then passed on to the CID and processed. It is important for more people in the community to pass on information.
I know of the record of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. It is time all the elected representatives in Northern Ireland thought about the problem of security and the wider aspects. I should like to tap the knowledge of those representatives. I hope that the party leaders in Northern Ireland will respond to the invitation that I put in preliminary form.