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The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mandelson): During the period 1 January to 30 June this year, the RUC and the Army recovered 64 firearms, 6,085 rounds of ammunition, 247.1 kg of explosives, 34 detonators and four launchers. It is not possible to attribute those finds to individual terrorist groupings.
Mr. Mandelson: If that is the case, the hon. Gentleman is right. Let me take the opportunity to make it absolutely clear that if I receive any assessment based on evidence collected by the RUC that any individual has been involved in perpetrating such offences, I shall expect swift action to be taken against that individual. If that has implications, through that individual's membership of a paramilitary organisation, for the maintenance of that organisation's ceasefire, I shall take them into account when considering further prisoner releases.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): My right hon. Friend will be aware of yesterday's hugely successful reception held in the Palace by the RUC, which was attended by Sir Ronnie Flanagan himself. In the light of the passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, will he ensure that Catholic recruits are taken into the RUC and that we have representation at all senior levels in future? Will he state what discussions he is holding and what measures he is implementing to ensure that that becomes a reality?
Mr. Mandelson: The whole House will join my hon. Friend in applauding the performance of the RUC in the past couple of weeks. More generally, I believe that the police response to events surrounding Drumcree was measured and proportionate, but no less firm for all that, and that they acted entirely professionally. If we were not serious about creating a fresh start for policing, we would not be introducing a 50:50 selection procedure to achieve an intake to the new police service that is balanced between Protestants and Catholics. We shall operate that system not only for three years or 10 years, but for however long it takes to achieve the properly representative police service that Northern Ireland needs if its police service is to be even more effective in future.
Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down): With reference to the important issue raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) on the extension of mafia-like activities in drugs, extortion and other criminal acts, the Secretary of State has confirmed the widespread involvement of paramilitaries on both sides. Can he confirm that the paramilitaries involved are largely the good terrorists who support the peace process, not the wicked, dissident terrorists who are allegedly disrupting London?
Mr. Mandelson: Unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not distinguish between good terrorists and bad terrorists. To me, all terrorists are bad and equally unacceptable. If there is any evidence that will bring them, individually or collectively, to book, it will be acted on decisively.
Mr. Mandelson: It is highly regrettable that the loyalist paramilitaries, who, in a sense, got off to a good start--better than that of the Provisional IRA--have now fallen behind on the efforts required to bring about a complete decommissioning of all weapons held by all paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. Their own side of the community--the people for whom they purport to speak and represent--stand to gain just as much as anyone else from a peaceful, demilitarised society in which violence and terrorism have been put behind then once and for all. I hope that those organisations will begin to make their contribution to the complete decommissioning that the people of Northern Ireland expect and demand.
The number of recorded crimes for the period April 1999 to March 2000 has increased by 9.2 per cent. against the same period in 1998-99. More than 60 per cent. of the overall rise was accounted for by increases in two crime classes--offences against the person, which went up 16.2 per cent., and criminal damage offences, which rose 12.8 per cent. The number of offences cleared by the police in 1999-2000 was 13.8 per cent. higher than in 1998-99. There was also a rise in the overall clearance rate from 29 per cent. to 30.2 per cent.
Mrs. Laing: While those figures are in some ways worrying, they are also relatively good in comparison with those for some other parts of the United Kingdom. That is a great credit to the RUC, and the Secretary of State was right to praise the force a few moments ago. Does he agree, however, that a worrying fact is concealed behind the statistics in that a great many punishment beatings and mutilations are not recorded crimes because their victims are too afraid to report them?
Mr. Mandelson: The hon. Lady makes a good point. While comparisons are not straightforward, it is clear that the overall crime rate in Northern Ireland is lower than that in other parts of the UK with comparable population sizes. Paramilitary attacks are entirely the opposite of what the Good Friday agreement was all about. I call on all those who have information to co-operate with the police in order to stop those attacks in future. I call on those with influence over paramilitary groups to call a complete and immediate cessation to those barbaric acts.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): As a member of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, I visited Drumcree and spoke with the police who held the line. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the police on keeping the situation within acceptable boundaries this year and on their record in combating
Mr. Mandelson: The whole House will agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. Everyone should look to the future and towards creating the fresh start in policing for which a consensus exists. The events in Drumcree showed that bullies do not get their way in Northern Ireland and that physical force confrontation--by loyalism or republicanism--does not succeed any more in mobilising the mass of people in Northern Ireland. That is a tribute to the peace process and to the strength and durability of the Good Friday agreement.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I join those who have congratulated the RUC on its work. Is the Secretary of State aware that the force is under tremendous pressure, not only in dealing with terrorist activity but because of the shortage of funds that leaves many stations not properly manned? Is failure to report republican parades a recorded crime? That is happening, and people are concerned that the law is not being applied impartially.
Mr. Mandelson: The RUC is fairly and even-handedly applying the law to all groups in both traditions in Northern Ireland. It has the resources and manning to do so, and, under the present Government, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that it will continue to have all the resources, skills and training that it needs to do its job effectively in Northern Ireland in whatever circumstance and in the face of whatever challenge to law and order from whatever source it comes.