Security (Ulster)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:42 am on 20th December 1990.

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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.