Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th May 1987.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the latest security situation in the Province.
Since I answered questions in the House on 9 April, 22 people have died as a result of the security situation. They included Sir Maurice and Lady Gibson, four policemen, and one member of the UDR. The figures also include eight terrorists, shot in an attack on Lough,gall RUC station, and one person in Belfast believed to have been killed while carrying explosives. Since the beginning of the year a total of 154 people have been charged with serious offences; 88 weapons, 3,660 rounds of ammunition and 6,048 lb of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland.
I also understand that since 9 April the Garda Siochana has recovered some 1,360 lb of explosives and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as certain weapons and miscellaneous equipment.
Following that sombre statement, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he saw on television last night the deplorable sight of masked gunmen at funerals on both sides of the border? Will he confirm that whoever stands at the Dispatch box as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in a month's time will be wholly committed to an unrelenting fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is my firm conviction that the sights that caused him such offence caused equal offence to the overwhelming majority of people in the island of Ireland. The events of the past few days have brought out very clearly the condemnation throughout Ireland, both north and south of the border, of the men of violence—whether it be from the Nationalist community, in the forthright statements of the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), from the Church or from the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic. It is symbolic that most of their activities now take the shape of funerals, whether they be of their victims or of their own perpetrators of violence.
Does the Secretary of state agree that when lives, no matter whose lives they are, are lost in Northern Ireland it is particularly distasteful that there are always those who will gloat over the loss of life and see death as some sort of victory? Does he agree also that it is particularly distasteful when politicians do so, because that only feeds the bitternesses and the hatreds that ensure that death will occur in the future? Does the Secretary of State further agree that the most powerful statement in the past 12 months was made at the weekend by Mrs. McCartan, the mother of an innocent 17-year-old who was the victim of a sectarian murder, when she shouted. "Stop," and appealed to all sides to stop the killing?
I well understand the feeling with which the hon. Gentleman comments, particularly as he has been the victim in the past week of mindless and most unpleasant violence, directed against him and his family. The whole House respects the courage with which he discharges his responsibilities against very evil men indeed.
The tragedies of the terrorist outrages, which confirm the terrorists' ability to kill—there is no question of their ability to commit such outrages—and the whole pointlessness of it, which has been brought out clearly by others, not least by Bishop Cahal Daly and Mr. Lenihan, demonstrate that, whatever the cause they espouse, the use of violence advances that cause not one iota but is counter-productive.
May I first congratulate the security forces on their recent successes? They have had a very difficult time, particularly in recent months. Therefore, one or two of their recent actions are highly commendable. My right hon. Friend referred also to the achievements by the Garda. I wonder whether he can say anything further about the development of cross-border co-operation between the security forces? He will recollect that, shortly after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, I stressed that the agreement would commend itself to Unionists if cross-border security improved. That point remains as valid today as it was then. There can be no doubt that, without the defeat of terrorism, without the ending of conflict and bloodshed, and without lifting from the people of the Province fear and the sense of insecurity, the problems of Northern Ireland cannot be solved.
Before answering that question, may I add my personal regret that I fear that this may be the last time that my right hon. Friend will make a contribution in this House. I know what a loss so many hon. Members feel that in future we shall not have the pleasure and the value of his contributions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear. hear."]
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's comments about the efforts of the security forces. In view of fairly wild speculation, I think that I should make it quite clear that the events of last Friday night were the consequence of a number of steps that we have been taking to seek to improve the security of police stations against a number of attacks, particularly attacks against police stations of a rather "softer" nature, and that what was prevented was quite clearly a deliberate attempt to murder two policemen. It was a very determined attack indeed. We were extremely fortunate not to suffer serious casulties among the security forces. I recognise that they managed to resist very effectively, but there is no question but that the responsibility for the casualties lies exclusively with the IRA, which launched such a futile but dangerous attack.
As for co-operation with the Garda Siochana, others may have seen last night the events to which my right hon. Friend referred—the incidents surrounding the funeral of one of the terrorists and the hatred that the IRA also shows to the Garda Siochana. It was for that reason that my right hon. Friend will have noted that I included those statistics in my original answer. They show something of the contribution that the Garda Siochana is seeking to make to defeating what is an evil, whether it is north or south of the border.
We on this side of the House associate ourselves with the remarks of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham). We who aspire to stand at the Government Dispatch Box after the election will follow the policy of Her Majesty's Government in giving full support to the security forces in Northern Ireland. We recognise that we face a long, long haul to combat the hatred, animosity and bitterness which are converted into a sad litany of death and destruction, and we support the Government in their recent measures. We, too, regret the fact that 22 people have died and others have been injured, but we welcome the fact that those responsible have been charged and will stand trial. It is right at this stage in our proceedings to associate the Opposition with the Government in their security policy on Northern Ireland.
Perhaps I might just answer the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), Sir.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and for the resolute position that he and his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) have taken in support of the fight against terrorism. This is an appropriate moment at which to make that absolutely clear.
I add that the statistics for the year, which underline the futility of terrorism, include a number of INLA members accused of shooting each other, as well as the terrorists who lost their lives in recent events. That shows what a tragedy of death and destruction terrorism brings with it. The House will also be aware that, tragically, in the attack launched by the IRA at Loughgall, an innocent passer by and his brother were caught up in the tumult. One of them died and the other was very seriously injured. The whole House will share my concern and distress at the death and injuries suffered and at the tragedy suffered by the men's family, which was entirely the result of this appalling IRA attack.
I apologise to the Secretary of State. We shall return to this matter again on question No. 7.