Previous Section Home Page

Column 1172

UDR was first considered in 1970. I presume that the difficulties of creating an homogenous but hybrid regiment were considered at that time to be too difficult to resolve, especially as the two tasks of the regiment as it is now to be constitued are almost mutually exclusive. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the regular battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment will also perform duties in Northern Ireland alongside the home service battalion or whether it will always be deployed outside the Province?

How easy will it be to create a single regiment to which everyone will feel the same loyalty when it will comprise four different categories of soldiers? There will be regulars designated for service all over the world ; regulars confined to Northern Ireland ; part-timers to serve in the Province ; and Territorials. Although I hope that the amalgamation will produce the effects desired by the military planners, I have considerable misgivings that the new regiment will inevitably be tainted by the political climate of Northern Ireland, with its sectarian intimidation, in a way which did not happen to the Royal Irish Rangers and thus kept it out of the present troubles. I also fear that that may make the task of the home service battalions of the new Royal Irish Regiment if anything more difficult to achieve than was the case with the UDR.

7.28 pm

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : It is entirely appropriate, when the UDR is being merged into a new regiment, that one should begin by paying tribute to the thousands of men who, over the past 20-odd years, have served the whole community excellently within that regiment. I shall not go into that tribute in great detail. Comments have been made by hon. Members of all parties and I know that the men will appreciate the sympathy and good will which have been expressed here this evening, and the recognition of the tremendous sacrifice that so many Ulster men have made in their service in that regiment. Reference has been made also to the small percentage of the minority community in Northern Ireland still serving within the UDR. Some 18 per cent. was achieved when the regiment was first formed, with an enrolment figure at that time of some 4,000, but as a result of intimidation by the IRA, that percentage has now dropped to 2 to 3 per cent., or between 150 and 200 men.

I wish to say a special word about that small number of Roman Catholics from Northern Ireland who, despite all the pressures, continue to serve. Curiously, it is a smaller percentage than that within the Royal Ulster Constabulary, some 8 per cent. of which is Roman Catholic. As the RUC has a total strength of some 12,000 men, 8 per cent. means about 1,000 people. Therefore, some 1,200 Ulster Catholics actively serve in the security forces to defeat terrorism. That is many times more than the number of Roman Catholics in Ulster actively engaged in Republican terrorism, which is a sobering thought. There is no reason to doubt that the number of people actively involved in Republican terrorism at any one time is between 200 and 500, so they are outnumbered several times by the Ulster Catholics serving in the security forces.

I mention that balance not simply to pay tribute to Ulster Catholics serving in the security forces but to draw attention to the skewed concern expressed by Roman Catholic community leaders and politicians, who are constantly concerned to ensure that the security measures taken, legislation passed and action undertaken by the

Column 1173

Government should not bear too hard on the poor terrorists. They do not express the same concern about the larger number of their community and flock who are actively engaged in the fight against terrorism and who, in many cases, pay a very high price. That contrast says much about the attitudes, loyalties and sympathies of the people who express that inappropriate concern.

A further question with which I should like the Minister to deal when he winds up the debate was sparked when I read the otherwise excellent brief prepared by the Library, which says :

"The UDR does not patrol West Belfast Londonderry or the border area of South Armagh, nor does it engage in crowd or riot control." Will there be any limitation or prohibition on the service of the new regiment? Will it be limited to certain geographic areas and told not to enter other areas which we refer to as "bandit country", which are virtually under the control of terrorist organisations, thus leaving those areas under terrorist control? Will there be certain forms of service or activity in which that regiment cannot engage? Restrictions such as those mentioned in the brief are not realistic and I hope that the assimilation of the UDR into the rest of the Regular Army will be accompanied by assimilation of the service that they undertake and the areas in which they undertake it.

As the Minister knows, my hon. Friends and I feel strongly, as does the wider community in Northern Ireland, about the name of the regiment. We bitterly regret the fact that the term "Ulster" will disappear and that the regiment will instead be called the Royal Irish Regiment. I appreciate that a certain cast of mind on this side of the Irish sea is unable to recognise the existence of Ulster and prefers simply to use the term "Irish" at every opportunity. It fails to recognise the culture and identity of those hon. Members who represent Ulster. The name may simply reflect that blindness to our identity and traditions, but it is particularly unfortunate because I understand that there used to be a Royal Irish Regiment that was recruited in the Dublin area. It was disbanded when the 26 counties seceded from the United Kingdom in 1922. To revive a title associated with Dublin and apply it to Ulster is particularly maladroit at present.

The Minister said that the new title reflects composition--I presume that he meant the composition of the Royal Irish Rangers--and reference has been made by several speakers to the composition of the Royal Irish Rangers. I regret to say that those references were not particularly accurate. Again, I refer to the Library's brief : "In contrast to the UDR, the Royal Irish Rangers present a more equal reflection of the Northern Ireland population. Around 30 per cent. of the regiment is Catholic, with approximately 15 per cent. coming from the Irish Republic".

That figure of 30 per cent. has been quoted by several hon. Members this evening, but I am sorry to say that it is not accurate. Way back in October, I tabled a question asking for a breakdown of the Royal Irish Rangers by nationality and religion. The holding answer appeared in Hansard. I then received a letter, which was a curious way to proceed. I am not sure why the letter could not have appeared as an answer in Hansard. It could then have been available to all hon. Members. Naturally, I circulated my letter to people who were interested.

It may be appropriate if I now put that answer on record so that everyone will know the precise breakdown

Column 1174

of the Royal Irish Rangers, as given to me in the letter from the Earl of Arran. The information shows the position as at mid-October last year. It says that, of the officers, 63 come from Great Britain and 32 per cent. are Roman Catholics ; 49 come from Northern Ireland and 12 per cent. are Roman Catholics ; 13 come from the Republic of Ireland and 77 per cent. are Roman Catholics. Of the other ranks, 382 come from Great Britain and 38 per cent. are Roman Catholics ; 836 come from Northern Ireland and 11 per cent. are Roman Catholic ; 70 come from the Irish Republic and 94 per cent. are Roman Catholic. I deduce from those figures that, in the regiment as a whole, 24 per cent. are Roman Catholics. Some people may say that the difference between 24 per cent. and 30 per cent. is not significant, so why quibble about it? But the number from the Republic of Ireland is not 15 per cent.; it is only 83 people, which is 5.9 per cent. There is quite a difference between 6 per cent. and 15 per cent. I mention those points because so many hon. Members said earlier in the debate that they hoped that the mix within the Rangers would carry over to the UDR, into the new regiment, and somehow affect that. But when we consider the breakdown of the existing Rangers, we can compare the small percentage of persons from the Republic of Ireland with the small percentage of Catholics from Ireland. The great bulk of Catholics from the Rangers are from England. Although they may be of Irish descent, it still makes a difference, which hon. Members will appreciate.

Of the total number of people in the regiment, breaking them down by origin, 62.6 per cent. come from Ulster, 31.5 per cent. from Great Britain and 5.9 per cent. from the Republic of Ireland. The 1,400 men in the Rangers together with the 6,500 men presently in the UDR will form the total regiment. We are told that 750 of the 8,000 will drop out.

It is obvious that the bulk of the men in the new regiment will be men who are at present in the Ulster Defence Regiment. That offers the prospect of the new regiment reflecting more accurately the character of the existing UDR rather than the Royal Irish Rangers. I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) who feared that the Rangers, of whom he is justly proud, would be somewhat swamped--that is my word, not his--in the new regiment.

I underline my dislike of the title of the new regiment. To be told that the word "Irish" is used to reflect recruitment from the Republic of Ireland, when only about 5 per cent. of its smaller element will come from the Republic, is a vicious case of the tail wagging the dog. The title is not appropriate. As the Minister knows, we would have preferred the title of the new regiment to reflect its origins and its character, and be called the Royal Ulster Regiment, or something of that sort.

The Minister said that senior officers in the Royal Irish Rangers welcome the merger. I am sure that they do, and I am not surprised about that. Under the "Options for Change" review, it was inevitable that, even if nothing else happened--given the reductions and mergers in other regiments- -the Rangers would drop from two battalions to one. The Royal Irish Rangers would probably have lost the depot in Ballymena and have had to share another depot on the mainland with other regiments. The Rangers would have lost their character and identity as a result. No doubt, the officers in the Rangers who welcome the merger see it as a way of keeping some of the regiment's identity

Column 1175

in Ulster and enabling them to command a much bigger organisation than would have otherwise been the case. However, I believe that, within the UDR, there is much unease. Some people are opposed to the merger and some have been persuaded that it is a good idea on the grounds of the wider opportunities and so on that the Minister and others described. However, the best way to describe the views of the majority of men is that of unease, compounded by suspicions arising out of past changes and mergers.

We have been told that the merger is Army-driven, in the sense that the decision was largely influenced by the Army's views, but I do not think that the scheme can be divorced from the relentless political pressure that has come from the Republic of Ireland, from Irish nationalist politicians and from other community leaders in Northern Ireland who have attacked, particularly, the part-time element. That factor cannot be left out. In addition, the scheme cannot be divorced from the pressures generated by the "Options for Change" review. Those two factors point to a reduction in, if not a phasing out of, the part-time element. The Army is being reduced in size from about 50 battalions to 36 infantry battalions, leaving the Gurkhas out of the account. I am not sure why the Gurkhas are banned from coming to Northern Ireland--it is not because of our racism. They would be made welcome by my constituents. Unfortunately, the Army seems to regard it as impossible to deploy them, and that leaves 36 battalions. Hon. Members will know that, under present arrangements, up to 20 battalions may have to serve in Northern Ireland in one year. That figure is made up of the six battalions that are on a two-year stay, up to a dozen battalions on four- month tours and one or two spearhead battalions on tour. In an army of 36 battalions, that load cannot be sustained. The only solutions are to reduce drastically the total deployment in, and commitment to, Northern Ireland-- which it may not be possible to do if current levels of terrorism increase- -and drastically to reduce the number of units that are on short four-month tours or find another source of full-time men to replace the existing Regular battalions. It is from there that the Army-led pressure to reduce the part-time element will come.

The figures for last July show 3,500 part-timers in the UDR, and that number may be reduced to 1,000 or 1,500. The Army has said that it has no intention of phasing out the part-time element completely, but enough statements have been made over the years to make it clear that there is a desire to see the part-time element diminish. If the figure goes down to 1,000 or 1,500, giving another 2,000 to 2,500 full-timers, that is equivalent to three full-time Regular battalions. That would reduce the need to rotate Regular battalions in Northern Ireland. That is the Army-led pressure to reduce the part-time element. There is always relentless political pressure from republican and nationalist sources, and it is particularly targeted on the part-timers. I believe that those two factors are influencing the Army's future.

Another factor underlines why I believe that the way in which the Army is progressing is not desirable. As a result of "Options for Change", the infantry section of the Regular Army will be significantly reduced. I have been told that there will be about 10, 000 compulsory

Column 1176

redundancies. Another 30,000 infantrymen may have to leave the Army if they are not re-engaged at the end of their service.

If up to 40,000 Regular soldiers had to leave their colours and there were opportunities within the full-time element of the new Northern Ireland- based full-time regiment, it would not be unreasonable to assume that a significant number of Regular soldiers who found themselves out of work or redundant would volunteer to join what would be the equivalent of a full- time UDR. There are already a significant number of Scotsmen and Englishmen serving in the UDR and, under the changes that I am envisaging, it is likely that that number will increase substantially.

I suspect that that move would be welcomed in some Army circles. There is anxiety about the reliability of the native Ulster troops not behaving themselves and doing something which is best left to others' imagination. It may be felt that the unit will be more reliable if it contains a higher percentage of Englishmen and Scotsmen. But is that wise?

The men who, on finding themselves no longer employed in the Regular Army, decide to come to serve in Northern Ireland in the equivalent of the UDR might not come out of the purest of motives. They may come because they have a score to settle. Reference has been made to the Stevens inquiry, which was sparked off by revelations about leakage of information from the security forces to loyalist terrorists which resulted in the targeting of republican terrorist suspects.One of the first such cases was that of Loughlin Maginn, a republican terrorist suspect who was murdered by loyalist terrorists. The information targeting Mr. Maginn was leaked from the UDR. Two UDR men, one of whom was an Englishman, were charged in connection with the offence.

It is ironic that the Irish Republic, which concentrates its fire on UDR men, likening them to the equivalent of the hated B Specials, may be about to create a new scenario involving the sons of the black and tans. I wonder if that is wise--I am sure that it is not. I have no desire to see people from England and Scotland excluded from serving with new regiments--indeed, many of them are welcome--but the danger is that they may be coming with scores to settle.

A rundown in the part-time element is in itself undesirable. Contrary to what some say, there is a need for a militia-type operation and organisation to deal with terrorism. A locally based security force with local knowledge is of great assistance. It would be undesirable to lose such local knowledge and the ability to share around local men. That is why I have grave reservations about the merger--it leads in the wrong direction.

There is a clear need, too, for welfare support. The UDR is under unique pressures because its members--and the men of the new regiment--serving in Northern Ireland will always be under threat, on duty, off duty, when trying to relax and even for years after they have retired. Consequently, there is a significant need to provide them with good welfare support so that, in the terrible event of men being killed or injured, their families can be supported. I know that the UDR does a considerable amount of valuable work in trying to support the families and widows of men who have lost their lives in the emergency.

I understand that the formal arrangements for welfare in the UDR go further than those made in the Regular

Column 1177

Army. The families of soldiers who die in Northern Ireland and who served in the Regular Army find that they do not receive the same formal support from the Army. They may receive a certain amount of informal support from the regiment's trusts and benevolent associations. I hope that, with the UDR's greater assimilation into the Regular Army, its welfare arrangements will not be prejudiced. Sometimes there is a little friction between UDR men and Regular officers, particularly officers who come into the UDR and do not appreciate the need for welfare. But it is needed, not just because of the desirability of looking after widows and the children of the bereaved but because a locally recruited regiment serving in a locality should not be seen to be less than caring for the families of those who have made sacrifices. If it were seen as less than caring, that would strike a real blow at recruitment and morale. We need to sustain and improve those welfare facilities and I trust that they will not be prejudiced by the UDR's assimilation into the Army. Some hon. Members have already referred to the sad fact that, over the years, some members of the UDR have gone off the rails. We have been told the number of those who have been convicted of murder--unjustly, in a couple of cases--and of other offences. I do not want to suggest that the Army should be less than rigorous about checking whether men are improperly engaged in activities, detecting them and, if they are found to be involved in illegal activities, subjecting them to the full force of the law. I am, however, disturbed by a recent incident that took place in December not far from my constituency. Three members of the Cookstown company of the UDR were arrested and taken to Gough barracks, where they were interrogated under the prevention of terrorism legislation. They were suspected of involvement in the loyalist terrorist killings that have taken place in recent years in Mid-Ulster.

What was disturbing about the incident was that the fact that these men were being questioned in connection with these crimes was immediately publicised. I do not know who leaked that to the press. It is conceivable that the leak did not come from the Army or from the Northern Ireland Office ; but, as the information was leaked to the press not only in Northern Ireland but in London, that suggests that it might have come from the Northern Ireland Office. Leaking the fact that those men had been arrested and questioned in connection with those crimes was as good as fingering them. It would be easy enough for republican sympathisers to discover which men had been arrested. I know for a fact that one of the men who was arrested and subsequently released was, within a matter of days, the target of a terrorist murder attempt.

There being no evidence against the men, they were released. They were entitled to the presumption of innocence, but they were immediately dismissed from the service. Only a few days after their release from Gough barracks, they were told that they had been dismissed and were given less than 24 hours to get their kit out. Thereafter they were for ever barred from entering the UDR base and prevented from joining the UDR ex-service men's association. If the security forces had reason to believe that men in the service were engaged in terrorist activities, it was quite right to take action against them. I cannot tell whether

Column 1178

those men were as pure as the driven snow, but they were entitled to the presumption of innocence. Two factors in the case were distasteful. First, these men had served the community at risk to their own lives--whatever else they had done. For that reason alone they are entitled to a little more consideration than they were given. Secondly, what was the source of the suspicion? I asked the men what they had been questioned about while in custody, thinking that that might provide a clue as to the source of the information. Such information as emerged was exceed -ingly vague. The suspicion in my mind is that the real source was the east Tyrone brigade of the IRA : the IRA decided to manufacture some suspicions and to feed them, directly or indirectly, through political representatives to the security forces--and then to sit back and laugh while those forces took out three men from the local company.

I should have mentioned earlier that the three men were a corporal, a sergeant and a colour sergeant. They were described to me by officers in the regiment as three of the best men in the company--the sort of men one would like at one's side when in a tight spot. I suspect that, having fed in the information, the IRA sat back laughing while the Army took out three of its best men, disposed of them and disrupted the morale of the unit.

I hope that there was an extremely good reason for doing that. Neither the Minister nor I can judge at the moment. One of the differences between the Regular Army and the UDR--it is noticed and felt by the men--is that when a Regular soldier gets into trouble his comrades and the officers of his regiment rally round and try to help him. If a UDR man gets into trouble, he is thrown out, forgotten about and will not be helped, no matter what his circumstances are. That is a sad contrast and I hope that it will not persist in the new regiment. I hope that the same consideration that is given to Army men will be shown to men serving in the Royal Irish Regiment.

Mr. William Ross : Would my hon. Friend, with his legal experience, care to take this matter a bit further? Supposing one of these people were murdered by the IRA, would his family be able to claim compensation or would they be barred from claiming it on the ground that the man had been suspected of terrorism?

Mr. Trimble : That would depend on the position that the Northern Ireland Office took with regard to the application. What my hon. Friend suggests is theoretically possible, but then one must remember that the Northern Ireland Office is ready to pay compensation not just to persons suspected of terrorism but to persons guilty of terrorism.

As can be seen from what I have said, we have considerable reservations about the merger. We will not divide the House on the issue, and if there is a Division we will vote neither for nor against the proposal so as to reflect our reservations and our desire that the proposal should succeed. We do not want to undermine the morale of a significant element of the security forces. The men feel uneasy and suspicious about the change, but I am sure that those same men will strive to make a good job of this, if they can. Her Majesty's soldiers have a distinguished record for rescuing the Army from bad plans and sometimes from poor generalship.

Column 1179

8 pm

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : I rise to speak feeling sad at heart because I represent many gallant members of the Ulster Defence Regiment who have lived through the most tragic years in the history of our Province. They have operated in dangerous circumstances and continue to do so, facing the enemy daily.

The people of Northern Ireland owe the UDR a deep debt of gratitude. Its soldiers have acted with fortitude and courage and the regiment has earned its place alongside the greatest of British regiments. Its name is revered by every decent law-abiding citizen. Ulster applauds the gallantry, diligence and sacrifice of the UDR and gratefully acknowledges the contribution of all those men and women who have served or are serving in the regiment.

Unlike his counterparts in other British Army regiments, the UDR soldier faces attack not only when he is on duty but when he is at home or, if he is a part-timer, at work, and even during hours of recreation. He faces attack even after his term of service with the regiment ends. He lives within reach of his enemy and is known by the enemy. For the remainder of his life or the duration of the conflict he will be a target. Given that sober reality, people should judge not the UDR but those who denigrate its service. I shall return to that issue.

We must examine exactly why we have reached the present situation. I listened carefully to the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), in which he expressed in detail his worries and concerns. Having done that, how can he sit on the sidelines and not vote on this important issue? That is a disservice to the UDR and to the men and women who have served in it over the past 22 years. Every Ulster Member should register the strongest possible protest at the removal of a distinguished regiment which has served the British people of Northern Ireland with great courage and distinction. I trust that the House will wise up to what it is doing and will reject the proposal to remove the Ulster Defence Regiment from the streets of Northern Ireland. Other issues must be addressed. Hon. Members have paid glowing tributes to the Ulster Defence Regiment. I therefore cannot understand why we should rush to get rid of the regiment before the election. Why is there such undue haste to pass the legislation and ensure the removal of the UDR? Perhaps Her Majesty had an inkling of what the Government intended to do when she came to the Province and put her seal of approval on the UDR--firing a shot, as it were, across the Government's bows. Despite glowing tributes from Her Majesty and from hon. Members, however, we are saying goodbye to the UDR and saying that we do not want it. Those who do not vote against the Bill are accepting the end of the regiment. If hon. Members believe the glowing tributes to the value of the UDR and believe that the sacrifice that it has made and is making is worth while, they should not allow their names to be associated with the removal of the regiment. It is significant that on the day the Bill was introduced we gathered in the House to hear a statement about the worst monthly figures for many years for murder and other atrocities in the Province. We were told about the atrocities at Teebane and on the Ormeau road. Yet the Government thought that that was a due and proper time to signal to all and sundry that the Ulster Defence Regiment was to cease to exist. The Government will live to regret that signal because the vast majority of

Column 1180

those who serve in the regiment think that, once again, it was a signal showing that terrorism and those who parade black propaganda against the security forces in Northern Ireland can succeed. Northern Ireland has been well served by the gallant members of the UDR, and they could give equally gallant service in the future.

We are constantly told that the SDLP is the constitutional party of Northern Ireland. Its members are missing from the debate. They have no reason to come because their electorates are not bothered about the Bill. None of the people who vote for the SDLP or who choose to support it will be annoyed at the removal of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I suppose that SDLP Members are not here because they feel that others will do the dirty work for them and will put the knife in and betray. If the Bill passes into law it will be a gross betrayal of the UDR and those who serve in it. This is a sad day, because it marks the continuation of a policy of appeasement of the enemies of the United Kingdom. The Library reference sheet states :

"The Army bill 1992 is in part a result of the reductions in the British Army undertaken under Options for Change'."

On 23 July 1991, the Secretary of State for Defence announced changes to the British Army structure and a number of amalgamations of regiments. He said :

"we are taking the opportunity to bring the Ulster Defence Regiment more fully into the Army by merging it with the Royal Irish Rangers. The new regiment will comprise one battalion for worldwide service and up to seven battalions for service in Northern Ireland only".--[ Official Report, 23 July 1991 ; Vol. 195, c. 1034.]

In a moment I shall develop the first statement, which is to be found in the House of Commons Library sheet.

The Army Bill 1992 is "in part" a result of the reduction in the British Army. What is the other ingredient? We find an answer in the reference sheet and in another statement issued by Government sources. In 1970, the Ulster Defence Regiment came into existence. Those who can recollect the situation at that time will remember the vilification of the Ulster Special Constabulary and its betrayal by the Government of the day.

There are few hon. Members in the House who can understand the betrayal felt by the people of Northern Ireland when the Ulster Special Constabulary was removed from the streets of Northern Ireland. Until that time, the IRA was held at bay--it was defeated because of the excellent local intelligence and the mode of operations carried on by the local community special constabulary. As a result of the effectiveness of the USC in deterring IRA operations, nationalist republican politicians and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church agitated against the USC. The Government of the time decided to buy the suggested appeasement policy. That day marked a retrograde step for the safety of my constituents and of the people of Northern Ireland.

We have paid. When I say "we", I mean that the people of Northern Ireland-- British subjects in Ulster--have paid a tremendous price in their own blood for that folly, mistake and betrayal. Whether people like it or not, I must say that, had the Ulster Special Constabulary been on the roads now, we would not be standing here, 22 years on, with a worse catalogue of tragedy, murder and destruction than we had at the time.

Consider what happened immediately afterwards. A signal was given then. The IRA accepted the signal that the Government were not willing to take it on and defeat it,

Column 1181

but would give in to the suggested appeasement. The IRA accepted that signal and its campaign of terror went into top gear. If anyone needs to know what I am talking about, let him look at the statistics sheet that I have here. It is a graph which shows exactly what happened when the signal was given to the terrorists that the Government were not willing to take them on but bowed to pressure--the vilification and black propaganda used against the Ulster Special Constabulary. In this graph we notice that in 1970 there were 25 murders. Once the signal was given in 1971, there were 174 murders, and in 1972 there were 467 murders. Why? Because of the signal given by the useless Government of the time that they were not willing to take the terrorists on but that appeasement was the policy of the day.

One will never appease terrorists. One has to defeat terrorism and one can only do so with the expertise of local people who know terrorists and who know their hide-outs.

I have great respect for the young men in the other British regiments who come from across the water to Northern Ireland and I know many of them. When they come many of them do not know where they are. Two young men sadly experienced that on the Falls road. They did not know where they were and they went into a crowd of republican supporters. Tragically, they came to a sad and brutal end, as we all remember.

Therefore, it is a serious matter to give a signal to terrorists. That signal was given more than 20 years ago and the Ulster Special Constabulary was removed.

What happened as soon as the Ulster Defence Regiment was born? At the time we were told that the answer was a regiment which was more representative of the community. We were told that the Ulster Special Constabulary was the problem. Get rid of it and we would be well on the way to peace and everyone would accept the alternative. That was until the alternative came about.

So the Ulster Special Constabulary was moved aside and the UDR came in. No sooner was it formed than the agitation recommenced--this time against the UDR. It was no surprise to those of us who knew that appeasement does not pay--but it was a surprise to some--that the agitation came from exactly the same group who had put out black propaganda against the USC. Capitulation and appeasement encouraged greater demands, and agitation for the removal of the UDR started. Just after that time, I remember driving down the road in my car, listening to an hon. Member of this House--who is missing tonight--on the radio. He had just campaigned for the removal of the USC, saying that it was the worst thing that had ever existed, that we needed a new regiment and that he promised to give it a fair wind. He has told the Minister and us the very same thing in the newspapers, although he is not telling us that today as he is not here. I heard the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) say that the UDR was even worse than the Ulster Special Constabulary. The Government accept that he is one of the "moderates" in a nationalist community. People who live in Ulster were not surprised by the agitation because they know that nationalists have never supported anything which supported Ulster within the United Kingdom.

Column 1182

Rev. Ian Paisley : Is it not a fact that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) carried out a continual campaign of vilification of the Ulster Defence Regiment? So much so that no Unionist in the Assembly would sit when he was in the House because, after those attacks, so many men were murdered. A lot of UDR men were murdered at that time.

Rev. William McCrea : I confirm to the House the truth of that statement. Often after the vilification of the UDR by the hon. Member for Newry and Amagh there was an IRA atrocity. The IRA jumped on the bandwagon of that vilification and used it as its excuse to murder Ulster Defence Regiment personnel. The only people who know exactly how hard the people of Ulster took that vilification and how angry they have been are people who have visited and talked to the families in their homes. That situation has carried on until tonight. There has been no let-up in the campaign against the Ulster Defence Regiment.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson) who spoke a few moments ago from the Government Back Benches gave us a clear understanding of the vilification and how strong it was. The sad feature is that whenever right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies ask Ministers to condemn southern politicians for their meddling interference in the affairs of Northern Ireland, and especially those of the security forces, thus costing the lives of security force personnel, there is always a weak reply. It seems that no rebuke can clearly be given. I do not know what happens behind closed doors, but no encouragement is given to the community when foreign Ministers of a foreign country can vilify the forces of law and order of a part of the United Kingdom and United Kingdom Ministers cannot stand up for them, protest, and rebuke them to their face.

The oxygen for terrorist attacks was once again pumped out in republican propaganda against a body of men and women whose chief crime was to desire the defence of their home and hearth. In a Library briefing--reference sheet 92/4, page 2, paragraph 4(a)--the UDR has been criticised by Catholics, it appears, for its alleged Protestant bias. These allegations have been supported by the Irish Government, who have called persistently for the UDR's disbandment. More than one third of the population of Northern Ireland is Catholic but Catholics represent only 3 per cent. of the UDR personnel. Surely that begs a question, and similarly it begs an answer. Were there no factors that gave rise to that representation ? The answer is no ; there are several relevant factors.

The new regiment was opposed from the beginning by the Social Democratic and Labour party. There was no fair wind. The Ulster Special Constabulary was out and a new bandwagon was rolling against the UDR. The Roman Catholic community has an 18 per cent. representation in the regiment and we have been told this evening that instead of a 30 per cent. representation in the Royal Irish Rangers the real figure is 24 per cent. That is close to the 18 per cent. who originally joined the UDR. What happened to reduce 18 per cent. to 3 per cent.? Did those people just disappear? Did they retire? Did they become weary of having to put on a uniform and go out? The answer is no to all those questions.

The truth is that members of the UDR who were Roman Catholics were harassed, harried, abused and

Column 1183

ostracised. By whom? Let me answer the question. That was done by the constitutional nationists who sit in the House and by the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, who never once to this very night have supported the UDR and who have never called upon the members of the community to face the terrorists.

It is all very well to sit on the sidelines and criticise. It is lovely to be an armchair general sitting by the fire and having the privilege of criticising everything that is done by the security forces. That is very easy provided that that person does not ask any of his supporters to join the fight and face the terrorists. The members of the Roman Catholic community who joined the UDR--the 18 per cent. of its membership--found themselves ostracised at their place of worship, at their place of work, and within their families. This might be unpalatable to some people but it is the truth. Anyone who does not believe what I am saying should leave his ivory tower. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) talked about the clerical gentlemen in the Province. They should leave their ivory towers and come and see what is actually happening. They should experience what others have gone through. There were Roman Catholic UDR men who could not return to their families. In some instances their families did not want them. That was because they happened to put on the UDR uniform.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) talked about a young Roman Catholic member of the UDR whom he knew well. The undertaker would not bury him. It was necessary to bring in an undertaker from 25 miles away. That young man had committed one sin : he happened to wear the uniform of the UDR. He was murdered by the IRA and he could not be carried in peace to his grave. He was ostracised to the very place of his burial. That is what the 18 per cent. experienced. It is sad that there are some who are not here this evening to answer for their crimes.

Rev. Ian Paisley : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that that has happened in police families as well. A sergeant in the town of Newry was murdered by the IRA. What happened? His grave was desecrated. It was opened to receive his body. He could not be buried by the local Roman Catholic Church. He had to be taken to Banbridge. He was a voter in my constituency and I was at the funeral. It took place not in Newry, where the man lived and had his family, but in Banbridge. As I have said, his grave was desecrated.

Rev. William McCrea : I thank my hon. Friend for that information. It must be realised that the majority of those in the Roman Catholic community who put on the uniform of the UDR, or that of the RUC, have to move from their place of residence. They are permitted to return only on certain occasions if their families are happy for them to come home. Only rarely are they allowed to return home to see their families, and only on particular occasions.

The Roman Catholic members of the UDR were pilloried and ostracised by their politicians and their church officials. They discouraged them--and "discouraged" is the mildest word that I can use in the circumstances. The Dublin Government unrelentingly opposed the UDR and used every opportunity to accuse it of being a force of hate against the nationalist community. If they were really interested, some might ask whether the

Column 1184

charge made by the Dublin Government and the nationalist representatives was justified. The answer lies in the real statistics.

Since 1970--that is 22 years ago--17 members of the UDR have been convicted of murder. It is right to say that that is 17 too many. It must be remembered, however, that it is being questioned whether four of the 17 were wrongfully convicted and sentenced. So we are down to 13, but 13 out of how many? There must be a proper perspective. The answer is 13 out of the 48,000 men and women who have passed through the ranks of the UDR.

There have been 13 bad apples. If a search was made of all the regiments of the British Army and of all ranks of the police forces throughout the United Kingdom, would there be a ratio equivalent to only 13 : 48,000? Did the 13 constitute a reason for a campaign of vilification? What did the hon. Member for Foyle say? In the midst of all this vilification and propaganda and Dublin saying that the UDR must be removed, the hon. Member for Foyle had to admit that only 0.28 per cent. of deaths in Northern Ireland troubles were attributable to the Ulster Defence Regiment, which is contrary to the black propaganda pumped out by some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues who are against the UDR. He added :

"Republican terrorists have killed 250 times as many, but successive Governments are still unfortunately playing around with that bunch of terrorist rats that are responsible for those killings in our Province."

Given that a much higher percentage of deaths were attributed to the rest of the British Army and even to the RUC, why was there no agitation to disband those forces? It is because it would not get a hearing--it would not get a wind. But when black propaganda against the UDR is put out, many run to listen. Also in the official document to which I referred is the statement that "many hundreds" of UDR members have been convicted of lesser offences--but they include even car offences.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North reminded the House of the Stevens inquiry, and of how all the vans, armoured cars, and machine guns were rolled out to capture UDR men at 6 o'clock in the morning and to bring them in. He did not tell the House of the words of an assistant chief constable, who said that the crime of the few who were found guilty was one of which he, or any of his officers, could have been found guilty at any time during their years of active service in the RUC.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann spoke of an incident in my constituency where, in recent days, three members of the UDR were also treated in a despicable fashion. No charges were brought, but they were thrown out of the UDR and told that they would never again be allowed on a UDR base. Will the Minister explain how the arrest of those three men was reported by the media just a few moments after it occurred? No charges were made against those men, but they were dismissed, and they remain the subject of suspicion.

I will tell the House of an incident involving an IRA man who was returning from the funeral of one of his IRA colleagues. When he was stopped at a checkpoint, he told the soldier on duty, "If you want to know who murdered the man whose funeral I attended today, here are the names." He took a book from the soldier's hand and wrote down the names of those who he said were guilty, and told the soldier to go and get them. We are now seeing IRA evidence behind the movements of certain members of the security forces.

Column 1185

Let us remember the 200 UDR men and women murdered by IRA terrorists. I could show right hon. and hon. Members a photograph taken at a wedding showing the bride, groom, best man, and a bridesmaid. The only one left alive today is the bride. The best man was murdered, the bridesmaid was murdered, and so was the groom. Of that wedding party, only one person remains alive. That is the kind of sacrifice made by people on the border whom the House has decided must go. They were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment. They did not join to travel the world--if they had wanted that, they would have joined other regiments. They joined the UDR to defend their homes and their hearths.

The Minister and others say that the change is being made to improve the regiment's career structure. I assure the Minister that the people in my constituency who joined the UDR did not do so for the sake of their careers, but to allow their kids to enjoy a career--to protect Ulster, and to bring it back to peace and stability so that their children would not have to grow up in the nightmare of terrorism that my kids have known.

My eldest daughter is 18, and not one day of her life has gone by without her witnessing trouble, violence, or tragedy in our Province. UDR men and women put on a uniform, not to have a career themselves, but to ensure that their kids would have the possibility of a career in whatever sphere of life they saw as their vocation.

Two hundred UDR men and women and 44 ex-UDR members have been murdered, and 377 seriously wounded, by IRA terrorists. In a recent attack in my constituency, the headmaster of a school in Castlederg who is a part-time UDR officer was driving to work in the early hours of the morning when he noticed a man walking a dog. It all looked simple. In the providence of God, he happened to look in his rear view mirror, and saw the man with the dog putting a walkie-talkie to his mouth--for he was the IRA scout man. The headmaster, realising that he would probably come under attack, took evasive action--and four gunmen immediately appeared to do him to death. Tonight he is in hospital but, thank God, he survived that murderous attempt. The UDR has demonstrated its unfailing commitment to the peace of Northern Ireland. Tonight, the sacrifice made by the men and women of the UDR is being thrown back in their faces. The courage of that body of Ulster men and women is beyond words of commendation ; yet action is being taken to remove that gallant force, which is urgently needed at a time of one of the bloodiest onslaughts that our Province has ever faced. The decision to remove the UDR at this moment cannot be condemned strongly enough.

The Bill heralds the end not of an era, but of the Ulster Defence Regiment. The Conservative party research department refers to "The End of the UDR," saying :

"The Bill winds up the UDR at the end of June 1992".

I ask the Minister what happens if the Bill goes through. I trust that it is not a foregone conclusion, as it will not be if there are those who are willing to listen to the argument. But the Benches all around are empty. There is one hon. Member on the Benches of Her Majesty's Opposition for a Bill that could cost the lives of the people of Northern Ireland. That speaks volumes. When the vote comes--and it will come, the House will divide--hon. Members will come out of the woodwork. Why will they vote? Will they

Column 1186

vote because they have listened to the arguments or because they believe? No. They will vote because they are told to vote to take out the Ulster Defence Regiment. Talk about voting fodder!

Unfortunately, my constituents will pay the price. There is no doubt that very few of those who vote tonight will ever bother to meet a widow or to speak to a child who will suffer through their decision. It is just a routine, a very costly one.

There is money in the coffers of the UDR that was raised by the people of Ulster for the Ulster defence benevolent fund. It was raised for the UDR because of the sacrifice its members made, and for the widows and children who are left. What happens to that money? Does the UDR get it, or does it go to the new regiment?

We are told in the document that the merger has political advantage. That is the other part of it. It is political--it is a piece of political movement. It is a numbers game, so that the community can be told that it is a more representative regiment. Of course, it will be. There are two parts to the regiment : those who will be travelling the world and the others who will be staying. It will be most interesting to find out what percentage of those who join will be facing the terrorists in Northern Ireland and living in the community. This will be seen exactly. One can fool some of the people some of the time, but about the representatives who are facing the real brunt of this terrorism we shall not be fooled any of the time. Every action will be scrutinised.

Unfortunately, tonight the decision will be taken and it will mean the demise of one of the most gallant regiments that has ever faced a foe--a regiment which, had it been given the tools and the support, could already have finished the job on behalf of all the services of the United Kingdom.

8.44 pm

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The need to have local people involved in local security forces in a terrorist situation is admitted by anyone who has ever taken the most casual glance at the terrorist organisations that have been faced not only by our own armed forces but by many others throughout the world. I believe that it would also be accepted that it is those local forces that do the most necessary work of building confidence in the communities in which they live and move, rather than the regular armed forces of either the state in question or an outside state coming in to help. The Minister today agreed with that. He said that the Army and the RUC could not do the job without the Ulster Defence Regiment. Mr. Archie Hamilton indicated assent.

Mr. Ross : I am glad to see that he indicates assent to my words, because it means that he recognises with great clarity that the UDR is an absolutely vital component if the IRA is to be defeated and peace restored.

It is because the Minister has given certain assurances about the new regiment that, while we are not overjoyed, to put it mildly, by the appearance of the Bill, we are unwilling to vote against it, for that would send a signal to many members of the UDR that would not be completely accurate. But we shall certainly be keeping a fairly close

Column 1187

eye on the situation to see whether the assurances that have been given are fully honoured, not only in the immediate future, but in the long term.

The question has always been what sort of a force is needed to defeat a terrorist organisation and how it should be structured, trained and used. What is the job to be done by the UDR in Northern Ireland?

I am one of the few Members in this House who served in the Ulster Special Constabulary. I lived, and still live, in a nationalist area. Like the rest of that organisation, I was subject to a massive campaign of vilification, which had more to do with the vapours of Irish republicanism than with reality.

Unfortunately, it was not only the House that believed those stories. There was a weakness in the Stormont Parliament at that time, which allowed that force to be disbanded. There are those who say to me now that we could never have stopped the IRA at its present level, but the reality is that it was not at its present level at that time. I believe that, if that force had been used fully and comprehensively, the IRA would never have become the force that it is today. I was proud to serve in that force. I recall very clearly even to this day the bitter resentment that I and many thousands of others who served felt--the resentment that I still feel and will carry to my grave. I will never forgive those who did that to the force of which I was a member. I am concerned this evening that there are those in the UDR who, if the assurances given are not honoured, will have the same feeling of bitterness against the Minister.

The UDR was raised initially to be locally based. It was supposed to be able to attract a large number of Roman Catholics. I do not want to rehearse all that has been said in this debate, but I hope that hon. Members who take a real interest in the security position in Northern Ireland and want to refresh their memories will read Hansard slowly and carefully.

We are told that, in the early days, the UDR was a representative force, but there are a great many Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland who are simply Republicans, and there is no way that any Republican could ever join a force which was designed to maintain the union. It was therefore representative of the Unionist population of Northern Ireland in the widest sense rather than of Protestants and Roman Catholics. That should be borne in mind.

The force was immediately attacked by the enemies of the Union, and it has been attacked by them right up to the present day. The Stevens inquiry was another sign of weakness, and it was one of the most foolish episodes with which we have ever had to live. It is the Government's job to keep the activities of the armed forces of the Crown under control, but the Nelson case--that whole strange episode involving Army intelligence--has left more questions in its wake than have yet been answered.

Anyone who thinks that, in a climate of terrorism, an agent can be put into any terrorist organisation and expected to have clean hands and live is a fool of the highest order. It simply cannot be done. I hope that, with the ending of that case, the intelligence network that is used against terrorists in Northern Ireland will be sorted out once and for all--that in future it will be controlled comprehensively and centrally, and properly run.

In his opening speech, to which I listened very carefully, the Minister said that changes had taken place in the force since its formation. Those changes have, among other

Next Section

  Home Page