Since 20 April, the Provisional IRA has murdered three people in Northern Ireland and the UVF has claimed responsibility for one other murder. The victims were a taxi driver, a hospital officer in the prison service, a regular solider and a building worker.
The determined and courageous work of the security forces has resulted in 103 people so far this year being charged with serious offences, including 13 with murder and 22 with attempted murder. During 1988 a total of 552 weapons, 105,052 rounds of ammunition and 10,424 lbs of explosives were recovered in Northern Ireland.
Having had a cache of weapons and ammunition found in my constituency, may I express my admiration for the skill and courage of all those involved in locating and capturing such murderous items? Whenever possible, will my hon. Friend draw the facts, statistics and pictures to the attention of people in America and other parts of the world so that they can see how their money is being used to kill and maim men, women and children in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom?
I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. The House, as well as many people in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the United Kingdom, will be grateful to the security forces who have been so successful in finding substantial hoards of weapons and explosives, but there is much more still to find and any information that anyone can provide to assist the security forces will go a long way to help in the campaign against terrorism. Conversely, anyone who thinks that funds might be used by paramilitaries to acquire explosives, ammunition or weapons should realise the terrible harvest of murder and destruction that they reap.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the revulsion felt by decent people in Britain and Northern Ireland at the statements made by apologists for the IRA such as Mr. Gerry Adams who talk about "mistakes" being made when innocent people or members of the security forces are killed? Does he agree that the best way for the people of Northern Ireland to show their revulsion for such acts and for the apologists in Sinn Fein is to ensure that decent, moderate candidates are elected to represent them in the European Parliament?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that the great majority of people in Northern Ireland are sickened by the apologies put forward by the IRA and its sympathisers. The murder and wounding of civilians is part and parcel of the IRA campaign. In those circumstances, it is no use members of the IRA offering apologies because they do not give a damn whether civilians are killed—they are worried only about the bad publicity for their politics.
During my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's distinguished tenure of office, among other things there has been a great improvement in the number of finds of weaponry and explosives in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. In my experience, which is much shorter than that of my right hon. Friend, the efforts of the security forces in the Province have been absolutely outstanding. But for their remarkable efforts and dedication, a great deal more misery would have been caused by the terrorists.
We are all delighted when arms caches belonging to paramilitaries on whichever side are found, but is the Minister of State aware that the last annual report of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary referred worryingly to increasing amounts of ammunition, particularly rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs, falling into the hands of Loyalist paramilitaries? In that context, can the Minister give a categorical assurance that the December 1987 arms shipment to Northern Ireland, whatever its source, was not organised, subsidised or facilitated by South African sources?
I cannot comment in detail on arms shipments that have been delivered for paramilitaries, but the RUC is right to recognises that it is dangerous for such shipments to fall into the hands of people on either side who might use them.
Is my hon. Friend satisfied that compensation to those whose houses and businesses have been blasted by IRA violence is being paid as promptly as we should expect in view of the fact that those people are trying to keep their businesses together even though the premises have been destroyed?
I accept my hon. Friend's point. We do what we can to ensure that these claims are dealt with properly and without undue delay. Unfortunately, one of the significant and common causes for delay is the difficulty of assembling all the information necessary to assess the claims properly. I appreciate the importance of the matter that my hon. Friend has raised.