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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:05 am on 10th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr John McQuade Mr John McQuade , Belfast North 12:05 am, 10th December 1980

All thinking people agree that effective deterrents are needed to defeat the IRA. Capital punishment, the most effective deterrent, has been refused by this Government, and so the IRA has been given a green light to continue to kill, with the legal safeguard that its members will not be killed. "Murder as many times as you like, but you will not forfeit your life": that is the message from this Government and their predecessors, both Labour and Conservative. So the people of Northern Ireland are left as easy prey to the IRA murderers, this Government thus providing an incentive to murder.

The only other deterrent—that of effective imprisonment—has been partly destroyed, and it now seems likely that it will be wholly destroyed. The preservation of the IRA murderers evidently has top priority with the Government rather than the preservation of the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland. The present offers that have been made to the IRA, and the offer of even more negotiated concessions, constitute further incentives for the IRA to increase its campaign of blood.

Last week, the Secretary of State offered to those convicted IRA criminals on the "dirty" protest the following: exercise in sports gear; six extra letters per month, three in and three out; two visits a month instead of one; an extra hour of physical exercise a week; one evening association a week in prison uniform; access to books and newspapers—which are already available in the cell blocks but not taken—in the rooms where masses are held on Sundays; closed visits as an alternative to body search; and compassionate home leave on the same basis as for prisoners who are not on "dirty" protest. One daily hour of exercise has always been available to the "dirty" protesters.

The Secretary of State has now declared that he is prepared to deal further with what he calls the humanitarian aspects of conditions arising from the protest. He is also prepared to talk with anyone who shares concern about it. The IRA has won the first point of its protest, namely, that such prisoners are different.

If this Government concede the least bit more, the Protestant people will be convinced that what has lurked in their minds for a very long time, and what they have been most loth to believe—namely, that the British Government have decided to betray Ulster and back the IRA's objective of a united Ireland—is a stark reality.

I warn the Secretary of State in the plainest language that Loyalists in these circumstances will be forced to take the most drastic of measures to defend themselves and preserve their heritage. The determination of the Protestants must not be underestimated by the Government or this House. Something must be done now so that anyone sentenced to imprisonment does imprisonment. We must not give way and let them have what they want. Now is the time to carry out the punishment imposed by the courts.