Security (Ulster)

Part of the debate – 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.