Ulster Defence Regiment

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th June 1985.

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Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney , Peterborough 12:00 am, 4th June 1985

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many members of the full-time and part-time Ulster Defence Regiment are Roman Catholics; and how these figures compare with those five years ago.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

Between 2 and 3 per cent. of the Ulster Defence Regiment have declared their religion as Roman Catholic. Information on the position five years ago is not available, but it is probable that the proportion has not changed significantly since then.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney , Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend agree that the chances of cross-community acceptance of the UDR would be increased if more of its members were Roman Catholics, and that it is precisely because the IRA recognises that fact that it has been deliberately attacking Catholic members of the UDR in recent weeks?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We encourage volunteers from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, but it is most necessary to build up Catholic numbers. However, tragically, intimidation and brutal murders have undeniably had an effect on Catholic recruitment, and a particular brand of courage is required for Catholics to participate in the UDR.

Photo of Mr Patrick Duffy Mr Patrick Duffy , Sheffield, Attercliffe

Is the Minister aware that, contrary to the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), what is exercising the minds of Catholics in Northern Ireland is not whether they should be members of the UDR but whether they can avoid being killed by members of the UDR— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Does the Minister not recall the recent stories of convictions of members of the UDR for criminal offences and linking them with illegal Protestant paramilitary organisations? How does he think that such a tarnished organisation can possibly enhance the name and the role of the British Army?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman has gone over the top in this matter. There are about 6,500 members of the UDR, and only a very small proportion of them have had allegations brought against them. There is bound to be the occasional black sheep in any group of that size. The whole House and whole country should be deeply appreciative of all those involved in the UDR. They have served with considerable bravery, integrity and dedication.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Do not the court cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) in his hysterical supplementary question demonstrate the determination of the authorities to ensure that any crimes committed by members of the UDR are properly punished? Does not the fact that so many Roman Catholics who were members of the UDR have been murdered show a deliberate policy of the terrorists to intimidate Roman Catholics out of the UDR? Will the Ministry of Defence acquaint the House and the public with the extent of the Roman Catholic sacrifice?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

My hon. Friend is right on all counts, but it would be inappropriate for me to comment on particular cases before they come to the courts. One is very conscious of the intimidation and the seeming picking off by terrorists of Catholic members of the UDR.

Photo of Mr Martin Flannery Mr Martin Flannery , Sheffield, Hillsborough

When will the Government face reality in regard to Northern Ireland and realise that the overwhelming majority of Catholics would no more dream of joining the UDR than of flying in the air? The reality is that they believe in a united Ireland, and that due to British imperialism theré will never be peace in that benighted country until Ireland is united.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

The hon. Gentleman is at least consistent in his minority view.

Photo of Mr Kevin McNamara Mr Kevin McNamara , Kingston upon Hull North

Is the Minister aware that when anyone dies in Northern Ireland, whether it is a member of the UDR, a British soldier, a terrorist — however misled he may be — or an innocent civilian, that is a blow to their families, their friends and to everybody, and that we cannot but sympathise with them? That having been said, is the Minister aware of the utter alienation of the minority population in Northern Ireland from the UDR, partly because of its origins in the B Specials and partly because of its continuing conduct over the years in the treatment of individuals, whether they have been guilty of criminal offences or not?

Is the Minister also aware that the future of the UDR is one of the main issues under discussion between the British Government and the Government of the Republic, and that a sensible policy of trying to move away from having too much reliance on the UDR, together with a reduction in its numbers, would be far more effective in achieving peace in Northern Ireland than most other actions taken by the Government?

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

Once again the hon. Gentleman's views are consistent, and he frequently expresses them on the UDR. The Army and the UDR are required at all times to operate within the law.