Security (Ulster)

– in the House of Commons at 10:10 am on 20th December 1990.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 10:10 am, 20th December 1990

I am glad that this opportunity has been given to me to discuss a matter of the gravest urgency, the present security situation in Northern Ireland with special reference to the IRA's campaign of intimidation in County Fermanagh and County Tyrone. The Government have many pressing matters on their agenda but the first of those should be the defence and protection of the citizens of the United Kingdom. There is grave urgency concerning this matter in the United Kingdom's Province of Northern Ireland. I cannot stress the urgency enough.

I shall put the backcloth fairly before the House and the Minister. I am not suggesting that the Minister is in a state of ignorance, because he comes from Northern Ireland.. I know that he has been "Englified" to a great extent, but I hope that what he gained by birth, upbringing and education in Northern Ireland still has a controlling and governing residue in his life and heart. I feel that for the record we must put the dark backcloth into perspective.

In the past 21 years, some 2,800 people have been killed in Northern Ireland and 30,000 have been maimed. If those figures were put into a United Kingdom context, 100,000 people would have been killed and 1 million maimed. Perhaps those figures go deeper to the hearts of hon. Members. That being so, we have a most grave problem.

The Minister will remember a passage in scripture in which a certain king of Israel asked, "Who killed all these?" It would be appropriate for me to tell the House of the problem, but I shall not use my own words because people may say that I put a gloss upon it. I shall use the words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party in Northern Ireland. When addressing his conference on 26 November 1988, he said: Let the record speak. Up till last Saturday 2,705 people have died in the twenty-year period of the current troubles. 31 per cent. of these were members of the security forces. 14 per cent. were members of paramilitary organisations. 55 per cent. were ordinary civilian men and women from both sections of the community, 69 per cent. of whom were from the Catholic community and 31 per cent. from the Protestant community. And who killed all those people? The statistics are devastating. 44 per cent. were killed by the Provisional IRA and 18 per cent. by their fellow travelling 'republican' paramilitaries. That shows that the majority of killings were carried out by republican terrorist organisations. The hon. Member for Foyle went on: 27 per cent. were killed by Loyalists. 10 per cent. were killed by the British Army. 2 per cent."— and that is an interesting figure. From the Opposition Benches, not including my Unionist colleagues, there is a cry that there is a shoot-to-kill policy in Northern Ireland. Yet only 2 per cent. were killed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. There is a tremendous agitation from Dublin and republicans in the House that the Ulster Defence Regiment should be stood down. Yet an even more amazing figure shows that only 0.28 per cent. were killed by the UDR.

The hon. Member for Foyle said: In short, people describing themselves as Irish republicans have killed 6 times as many human beings as the British Army, 30 times as many as the RUC and 250 times as many as the UDR. And wait! One of their main claims is that they are the defenders of the Catholic community. Of the 1,194 members of the Catholic community who died, 46 per cent. were killed by Loyalist paramilitaries, 37 per cent. by people describing themselves as republicans and 17 per cent. by the security forces. And in the last 10 years since 1 January 1978 of the 305 members of the Catholic community who have lost their lives, 112 (37 per cent.) have been killed by people describing themselves as republicans, 105 (34 per cent.) by Loyalists and 88 (29 per cent.) by the security forces.In the last 20 years republicans have killed more than twice as many Catholics as the security forces and in the last 10 years have killed more than the Loyalists. Those facts need to be emphasised so that the matter may be put into perspective.

I could go on to defend the security forces, but I want to say that, in my public career, my party and myself have stood solidly in defence of the security forces—the Royal Ulster Constabulary, its reserves, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the members of the other regiments of the British Army. Although I believe that it is my duty as a public representative to seek a change in security policy and to bring to the House's attention any weaknesses in the policy, in no way have I ever tried to attack members of the security forces on the ground who are doing a very difficult job. Our thoughts are with the troops in the Gulf, but the thoughts of the Ulster people are also with their security forces at this time.

This Christmas, men will leave their families and children and put themselves on the line. When the little curly-headed lassie puts her arms around her daddy to say goodbye, she does not know whether he will return. Those men should get the plaudits of this House. We should honour them as they deserve. I pay tribute to their courage, resolve and unflinching integrity. One or two matters may have annoyed people and, naturally, we have brought them to the House's attention, but the integrity of those men is almost 100 per cent. Today the House should put on record the fact that we honour those men. They deserve our prayers and support.

The death of Constable Lewis Robinson at the Killeen barrier post has caused me great personal concern. This year we have had to pass through a grim ordeal. Seventy-four people have been killed in Northern Ireland compared with the total of 62 for the previous year. This year the IRA has been more active in Great Britain and on the continent than ever before. The late Ian Gow, who represented Eastbourne, fell massacred by IRA terrorists, leaving his seat vacant, and we must also consider that.

Nineteen ninety has seen the emergence of human bomb attacks. It is appalling that the IRA strap the driver in. Their most recent atrocity was to disable a man's legs so that he could not escape if there was that possibility. That is the depths of depravity reaching rock bottom. The treatment of his father and mother was almost like Saddam Hussein's tortures in Kuwait. We must set our face against that and take steps to ensure that it is not allowed to recur.

There has been an upsurge in attacks on the Protestant community in the rest of the Province with Mr. Gilmore in Kilrea and Mr. Shields outside Maghera. I treat with disdain and scorn those so-called mistaken shootings. People should not have a gun. Moreover, every killing is a mistake. Indeed, it is more than a mistake: it is evil and must be rooted out of society.

What comfort can a mother have when she looks at the corpse of her son and hears ringing in her ears the IRA's apology that it murdered the wrong person? When it comes from so-called Protestant paramilitaries, it is even more nauseating because the basis of Protestantism is civil and religious liberty for all men. We should condemn anyone who says, "We are out to murder, but we are sorry that we have murdered the wrong person." The Government must take as many steps as possible to wipe that out of our community.

The RUC's chief constable has warned us of a threat of increased IRA activity and the Government have taken it on board. We have an extra 550 troops in the Province. Last night the city of Belfast was brought to a complete standstill by a series of hoax bombs and real bombs which were defused. It took me one hour 20 minutes via Hillsborough to reach the airport. I had to fly here yesterday because I dared not leave it until this morning. Anything could have happened and there would have been no possibility of my fulfilling my duties in this House.

The Government need to look hard at that. It is paralysing our economic life. It is putting the mailed fist of Republican terrorism on the artery of our economy and seeking to despoil it. What sort of men who would rule the whole of Ireland seek to blow up the shops in the centre of Belfast which serve the community? I fear that, before Christmas, there may be even greater atrocities in our land, especially in Belfast.

The security forces have confirmed that the IRA has undoubtedly large amounts of Semtex and weapons. Some have been recovered and we welcome that. Every gun that is recovered may be a life saved. Every pound of Semtex that is recovered is probably a life saved or, at least, a life free from maiming. Searches should be redoubled. Although Republican areas protest against the inconvenience of such searches, it is better to inconvenience the public than to follow coffins to the grave and allow the IRA to have its way.

I will not go into the Killeen incident in depth. If anybody has an interest in the life of a police officer, I in my capacity as a minister of the gospel had an interest in preserving the life of Constable Lewis Robinson. His father-in-law is an elder in the church that I serve. I have not only a political but a pastoral and personal interest. He was abducted and murdered. What alarmed us was that when that was reported to the officers at the barrier there were insufficient back-up forces to go down that road and deal with the IRA who were about to murder the officer. That is at the heart of the matter, and I will not weary the House with all the details. The prison officer who informed me of that came with me to see the Secretary of State whom he told exactly what took place.

I am aware of certain criticisms of what happened. They are criticisms not of individual police officers or of members of the Army, but to the effect that there were not back-up forces to deal with the matter. The Chief Constable has every right to defend his men and to condemn the monsters who commit such murders. However, no responsible chief constable has the right to attack a public representative for simply pointing out to the community that something is seriously wrong with a security policy that does not have the back-up on the ground to deal with a crime such as that which was about to be committed against Constable Robinson.

The Northern Ireland press does not treat me very favourably, or at times very fairly, but if one is in the kitchen one should take the heat and not complain. So when I quote from the Belfast Newsletter, I am not quoting from a publication that is a Paisley fan, if I might use that expression. Similarly, when I quote from the Belfast Telegraph, I am also not quoting a newspaper that is a Paisley fan. In the early days, both newspapers did everything possible to keep me from being elected to the House and to Stormont. On the day that I fought the Stormont election, one of them printed the name of my opponent on its front page with an X marked against it, and warned its readers that they should have nothing to do in that election of my wife's husband.

So, when those newspapers take off against the Chief Constable, it is because they are convinced that something must be put right. The Chief Constable viciously attacked the media, and political leaders whom he did not name, for bringing into the public domain the growing sense of hopelessness and helplessness. The Belfast Newsletter printed in its opinion column the headline, "RUC Chief off target." It commented: Whatever else may be said about the response of the security forces it is a demonstrable fact that it has been inadequate. It serves no purpose for the media or anyone else to blame individual officers.But equally it serves no purpose for any one in authority to imply or suggest that, out of a sense of loyalty, the security forces should be above and beyond criticism either for what they do or fail to do. That is the road to further bloodshed and infinite despair.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth , Belfast South

The hon. Gentleman is right to bring to the attention of the House the failure of our own security services. However, did not the abduction in question take place on the Republic side of the frontier? Tremendous claims are made about the great co-operation between the two security services, but how can such atrocities continue to be committed on the main road from Belfast to Dublin without anyone being detained or apprehended? Is that not an example of the failure of that so-called co-operation?

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Yes. I am disturbed that Ministers should have made statements to the House over a period of years about increasing co-operation. In fact, the Government have been very lavish with their praise. I do not know whether the Christmas spirit motivates Ministers every time they stand at the Dispatch Box, but their assurances appal the people of Northern Ireland.

I hope that the tragic incident involving Lewis Robinson will never be repeated, and that the Minister will give a strong assurance, which he will translate into action, that in future there will be a force adequate enough to take out those who would commit such a dastardly murder. To add to the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), the leader of the RUC federation had some strong comments to make in his annual address to the Northern Ireland Police Federation: Mr. Beattie went on to describe the south as 'an open house to murderers, bombers and gunmen', and the Irish Government as 'lacking in political guts', and accused them of hiding behind an 'unpredictable' judicial system and the provisions of the 1987 Extradition Act which he described as 'ineffective'.He said that rulings in cases like that of Father Ryan were `a calculated insult to the British judiciary and a blatant political pandering which betrayed an unwillingness to grasp the nettle of terrorism.'Mr. Beattie also called on Mr. Haughey to intern terrorists if he wanted to deny them safe haven. He said such action would serve more purpose and be a lot more constructive than endless attacks on the UDR and the professionalism of the RUC. I turn to the situation in Enniskillen and in South Fermanagh, which the Minister will know I have raised before in the House. I have in my hand a copy of The Impartial Reporter, which contains in its columns of public notices certain advertisements; and I will read one or two of them. One states: Owing to a phone call we can no longer serve the security forces. Traynor's Cafe, Maguiresbridge. That is a Roman Catholic establishment. Another advertisement was placed by W. J. Kennedy in Magheraveely, which is a Protestant establishment: We wish to make it publicly known that we will no longer serve the security forces. A third advertisement reads: At the request of the Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional IRA, I, Barry McCormack, Proprietor of Silver Dollar Take Aways in Lisnaskea and Irvinestown, will not be serving members of the Security Forces. The Minister has personal knowledge of Northern Ireland and a good grasp of Irish history, so he will know that the boycott weapon has been used in the past to intimidate people. It seems that there is to be a dreadful revival of that technique. It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Members to sit in this Chamber, in the relative safety of this part of the United Kingdom, and to criticise people for reacting in that way, by placing such advertisements—but what are they to do? I have twin boys, and I know how my wife and I would feel if, living in such an isolated community, we received a phone call telling us, "If you want to see both your sons in a coffin, carry on serving the police and the Army in your premises. But if you want to keep your sons alive, put an advert in the local paper to say that you will not serve the security forces."

The people who criticise and condemn those who place such advertisements have never been in their position. If people who are threatened go to the police, they are told that the police can do nothing to guarantee that their sons will not be murdered. The owners of such businesses are forced to place advertisements of that kind if they are to protect their families. Some right hon. and hon. Members might say that they should stand up and be counted, but although I in no way advocate giving in to the IRA, I must tell them and others that they should first imagine themselves in a similar situation. Only then could they appreciate what we and those shop owners are up against.

It is important for us to realise that what has happened on the border—the closing down of Army checkpoints overnight—has left Protestant families in a Government-created no-man's land. These people are simply terrified. I have talked to them, and they know not what to do. They are officially shut out from their own country for the period of darkness—the very time when the terrorists strike.

I trust that the Under-Secretary can give us some assurance today that the Government have taken this matter on board. I know that he is not able to tell us—nor do we want to know—the strategy that the security forces are adopting: that would pre-empt the effectiveness of such a strategy. However, I want a categorical assurance from the hon. Gentleman today.

The rubbish spoken by ecumenical prelates, including the new RC Archbishop of Armagh, will not bring a settlement from IRA terrorists. I find it grievously insulting to Protestant politicians when, on the numerous occasions that we pleaded with the clerical gentleman to talk to us—we said, "Please come and talk to us"—he said, "No, I will not talk to you." Yet before the world he insidiously trounced Protestant politicians and said that politicians should be talking.

I will talk to the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh any day that he wants to come to me, as the representative of the whole of Northern Ireland in Europe. I shall be prepared to meet him—he is a constituent of mine—and I am prepared to listen to what he has to say and to tell him what I feel.

I know that the Minister was listening to the prelate recently, as was the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). I do not know whether they benefited from the worship of the Virgin Mary in that programme. I would certainly not benefit from it. However, in politics we need to ensure that we do not act hypocritically.

Photo of Mr James Molyneaux Mr James Molyneaux , Lagan Valley 10:42 am, 20th December 1990

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for allowing me a little time to participate briefly in the debate. I am glad that the Minister has been joined by his ministerial colleague on the Front Bench—although it is not for the first time, especially in a debate on Northern Ireland—because I know that they both recognise the vital importance of security, which has been raised in the debate on the initiative of the hon. Member for Antrim, North.

We could borrow a phrase from another organisation and say that the most important thing is the "right to life". The hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned the Ulster Defence Regiment. I have been astonished how the morale of that regiment has been maintained, and how the steadiness and fairness of its behavour have been so evident in the face of all the vile criticism levelled at it, especially in recent months.

There was a co-ordinated assault which resulted in the ill-fated Stevens inquiry. It was ill-fated because it proved precisely nothing. The Stevens inquiry was unfairly accused, by those who played a major part in bringing it about, of a whitewash job, but that was not the case. The reality was that there was nothing to discover, so it was hardly surprising that it ended in a fiasco.

Not one single conviction resulted on the basis of any terrorist-related offence as a result of the humiliation of all the members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, who were arrested as if they were terrorists or invaders in the early hours of a Sunday morning in the most disgraceful manner, which placed their lives and the lives of their families in jeopardy. Many of their families had to move to safer areas.

There was one astonishing statement in the inquiry report—there were many such statements but this one struck me in particular. It was the assertion that referees of recruits for Ulster Defence Regiment members ought to be interviewed. I have acted in that capacity, together with the hon. Member for Antrim, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) who submitted themselves to interviews. Being the honourable Members of Parliament that we are, we gave truthful answers. I was absolutely astonished that no one had told Mr. Stevens that that had been standard practice.

One nationalist spokesman recently declared that the Royal Ulster Constabulary would not be acceptable for about 50 years. Surely that is prejudging the effect of all that the police are doing to enforce the law without fear or favour. That nationalist spokesman ought to give advice to terrorists because, if they stopped their vile campaign of murder, I am quite certain that every member of the RUC would be only too delighted to revert to civilian policing. That would also encourage and permit a larger number of Roman Catholic applicants to join the RUC. They cannot do so at the moment because it would put their lives in jeopardy.

My view, which is shared by members of both our Unionist parties, is that all members of all arms of the security forces require and deserve the full support of Parliament and the Government. I know that Northern Ireland Ministers would agree that those forces should not be starved of the financial resources necessary to provide equipment. However, there are others in government whose job it is to ensure that money is not spent unless it is absolutely necessary to spend it. I have in mind those Ministers who occupy the building just across the road. However, they found the money to conduct the Falklands campaign and—all honour to them—they are finding the money to conduct the preparations for a possible campaign in the Gulf.

The security forces deserve and have earned our moral support. We could all help in that regard by illustrating the fallacy that only one side of the community suffers from inconvenience, and what is sometimes called harassment, by the actions of the security forces. All of us have been stopped, invited to get out of our cars on a pouring wet night and frisked. On one occasion, I had the distinction of being placed under close arrest for 50 minutes because I had committed the unpardonable crime of having an Ordnance Survey map of my constituency on the dashboard. However, I fully accept that the Army unit had to be impartial, and had to treat us all as potential terrorists and suspects. The security forces do not enjoy their arduous and dangerous duties, and the entire community has a duty to understand the stress under which they operate.

Hon. Members can say with confidence that no security forces anywhere in the world would have conducted themselves with the fairness, determination and display of fortitude which has been so evident among all the security forces operating in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney , Peterborough 10:48 am, 20th December 1990

I thank the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for doing the House a service by initiating this important debate, and for the way in which he did it. He and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) hold a common view in support of the security forces and of the police. I want to begin my response, which I fear may not be as full as I would have wished, given the importance of the subject, by adding my tribute on behalf of the Government to the security forces, the police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve. I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I thank them for the job that they do on our behalf in difficult and dangerous circumstances. We are immensely in the debt of the security forces, the UDR, the RUC and the reservists. They show enormous courage and make real sacrifices, and it is right and proper for us to recognise that.

It is my sad duty to tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North that the 74 deaths to which he referred have been augmented by the murder of an RUC full-time reserve officer, Wilfred Wethers, in the lane-way of his house in Waringstown road, Lurgan, just after midnight. He had served in the force for 15 years, was married and ha .d four children aged between nine and 20 years. I know that the whole House will join me in offering sincere condolences to his family in this tragic circumstance, and in expressing our utter condemnation of those who murdered him.

I have listened with great care to what the hon. Member for Antrim, North had to say, and I understand the depth of feeling and breadth of experience underlying his arguments. He was, I think, right to rehearse again for the benefit of the House the harrowing statistics that he delivered, and also to point the finger: he, and all Northern Ireland Members, reject violence from whatever quarter it may come, but there is no doubt that the hon. Gentleman was right to single out the Provisional IRA as people who glory in murder more than any other organisation.

Neither the Government nor the security forces are complacent about the current level of violence. Indeed, the Secretary of State's statement about security policy made it clear that there is no such thing as an acceptable level of violence. We are determined to eradicate terrorism, whatever its source, and not merely to contain it; we are also committed to maintaining the rule of law, defending the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland and their opposition to terrorism, and creating the conditions for a just, peaceful and prosperous society.

However, we must also be realistic. The complete removal of terrorism is a difficult, complex and dangerous task. There is no quick fix, and, although many possible measures seem attractive at first sight, they may prove on analysis to be of little value, perhaps even self-defeating. That is not to say that the defeat of terrorism is an impossible task; it is not and it will be achieved. The Government are committed to ensuring that the police, supported by the armed forces, have all the resources that they need to undertake their difficult and dangerous work on behalf of the whole community. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

It is, I suppose, only natural for the media and some others to concentrate on the tragic events that occur in Northern Ireland, and perhaps even to take a downbeat and depressed view of what happens in the Province. Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who did not fall into that trap today. There are successes. Only yesterday, for instance, the security forces recovered two AKM rifles, an Armalite, a pistol, ammunition, 5 lb of Semtex and other items of terrorist equipment. As the hon. Gentleman has rightly said, such action takes equipment out of the terrorist arsenal and saves lives. At the end of September, the security forces had recovered 167 weapons, nearly 17,000 rounds of ammunition and over 4,000 lb of explosives. So far, 288 people have been arrested and charged in connection with terrorist crimes, and 307 have been convicted.

In a sense, those finds are only the tip of the iceberg. Every day, at all hours of the day and night, in all weathers and everywhere—I repeat, everywhere—in Northern Ireland, the security forces are present. Sometimes they are visible, conducting foot or mobile patrols or vehicle checkpoints; sometimes they are not so visible. The effect of their activity is to deter the terrorist, to make him abandon deeds that would otherwise have cost lives and, sometimes, to catch him red-handed.

It is important to the security forces, and to the pursuit of a security policy in Northern Ireland, that those forces receive the backing of the law. The Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill is currently in Committee. If it is the will of the House, a new power will be given to the police and the armed forces—the power to examine documents and other recorded data found in the course of a search as far as is reasonably required to ascertain whether they contain information that is likely to be useful to terrorists.

There will also be a new offence, that of possessing items intended for terrorist purposes, and a new power to allow the armed forces to seize equipment used to reopen closed border crossings. There will be another new offence, that of making bypasses around closed crossing points. All those measures are part of the fabric of tackling terrorism.

The hon. Gentleman raised the sad and deplorable death of Mr. Robinson. Continued attacks carried out on that Killeen stretch of the A I are in the interests of no one but the terrorist. Attacks or abandoned bombs on the road not only cause inconvenience and affect the financial returns of traders in the area, but are designed to kill. I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman when he deplored all the Provisional IRA's talk about mistakes. These are not mistakes; those people set out to murder, and they did so. If they got the target wrong—in their terms—that does not make it a mistake: it is still murder, and everyone should understand that.

It will not surprise hon. Members to learn—I thinks that this is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman was seeking—that we are looking closely at how better to protect that stretch of road, and are discussing with the Irish Government possible practical measures to improve its security and that of other border roads. I know that hon. Members will understand if I do not disclose the details of those discussions, for obvious reasons. Our aim is clear, however: we want to ensure that murders such as those of Constable Robinson, Judge and Lady Gibson and the Hanna family, and the recent attack on the Cloghoge permanent vehicle checkpoint are not repeated.

The hon. Gentleman talked with feeling about what was happening in Fermanagh, and again I share his feelings. Those who have not been put in such a position should think carefully before delivering serious criticism of the actions of those who have. The Government readi:ly acknowledge and appreciate the valuable contribution of those who serve in the security forces in that particularly difficult part of the Province. They provide a service to the community—as, indeed, do others who help them in their work.

I utterly condemn the Provisional IRA's campaign of intimidation and threats aimed at the people of Fermanagh. The security forces in that area are already stepping up their operational profile to protect and reassure those who are at risk, and to deter further terrorist activity. A comprehensive range of measures is already in place to protect and support those who are at particular risk. For obvious reasons again, I will not give hon. Members the details of the arrangements, but I assure them that all possible steps will be taken.

As we approach Christmas, it is important for us all to understand that we have a role to play in supporting the security forces in Northern Ireland. There are people who know who is causing intimidation in Fermanagh. There are people with information that coulld be of assistance. Apathy is not an acceptable discharge of civic responsibility when the lives of people are at risk. I appeal to all the people of the Province to show their support for the security forces and the police, not least by making available any information that would bring those perpetrators of violence to justice, for that ultimately is the best way to secure peace, tranquillity and prosperity in the Province.

I take this opportunity to wish right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies and who have a complexity to their lives and a pressure that the rest of us do not experience a very happy Christmas. I am sure that they will agree with me when I say that it is perhaps even more important also to wish all their constituents a happy and peaceful Christmas.