Human Rights and Equality in Northern Ireland

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Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson: He is a member of the Committee.

Mr. Howarth: In which case, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his views known.

It being Five o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the debate, pursuant to Standing Order 116(3) and Order of the House [30 January].

5 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

5.15 pm

On resuming—

Security Situation

Motion made, and question proposed, That the Committee do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dowd.]

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): I begin by paying tribute to the security forces, which have been endeavouring to cope with an increasingly difficult situation in Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Royal Irish Regiment, the other Army regiments deployed in Northern Ireland and all those involved in the security effort. It has been difficult, and they are doing their best to deal with the problems that confront them.

There was an attack this morning in Dungannon. I understand that a booby-trapped device was placed under the vehicle of a Roman Catholic male, who was seriously injured. Our thoughts are with him, and I hope that he makes a full recovery. I make it absolutely clear that my party and I condemn unreservedly the actions of whoever was responsible for that despicable attack. Sadly, it is only the latest in a series of terrorist incidents, which have seen a marked increase in violence in Northern Ireland. There is growing evidence that most, if not all, terrorist organisations operating in Northern Ireland have been involved in violence to various degrees. Violence is not exclusive to either republican or loyalist terror groups. It is perpetrated against the whole community and both traditions.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) referred earlier to the situation in his hometown of Larne. We have all watched with concern the increase in violence there, which has recently been echoed in other parts of Northern Ireland. We have seen an increase not only in what was referred to earlier as conventional terrorism, but in so-called punishment attacks. In January this year, the number of such attacks reached almost three times the number in the same period last year. In January this year, there were 31 such attacks, 19 of which were carried out by loyalists and 12 by republican groups. In attacks that involved shootings, loyalists were responsible for nine attacks, and republicans were blamed for five attacks. The corresponding statistics for January 2000 were three loyalist and no republican shootings. We can clearly see the trend of a marked increase in violence in the form of so-called punishment attacks.

There is also evidence of the involvement of various terror groups in murder attempts and, indeed, in murder. Before the Christmas recess, I tabled a question about the murders of Paddy Joe Quinn in Magherafelt and Joseph O'Connor in Belfast. The Minister responded:

    ``It would not be appropriate to speculate who is responsible for these murders as the RUC investigation is still ongoing. If it becomes clear that the IRA were responsible for the murders of Patrick Joe Quinn and Joseph O'Connor it would have a direct impact on the Secretary of State's assessment of the IRA ceasefire.''—[Official Report, 29 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 637W.]

I ask the Minister to provide an update of the RUC's investigation into those two murders. Is there now sufficient evidence to indicate the IRA's involvement in those murders?

As well as the IRA being involved, there is growing evidence of the IRA having links to the so-called dissident republican groups. There is a significant overlap. Before Christmas, we had a booby-trap bomb in County Fermanagh at Lisnarick near Irvinstown. The device, placed under the car, consisted of a glass vial containing two pounds of commercial explosive inside a wooden box equipped with a tilt switch, timer and batteries. The bomb was attached to the car with a magnet. A security source, quoted in the Belfast Telegraph of 1 December, stated

    ``the components appeared to have been taken out of an IRA arms dump at some time since the ceasefires.

    The device was armed by a timer power unit—TPU—of a type used in many IRA bombs during its terror campaign.''

Significantly, Semtex was used in the device and it is well know that Semtex is exclusively under the control of the Provisional IRA. Perhaps the Minister will be able to shed some light on this. As it is believed that dissident republicans were involved in this attack in County Fermanagh, evidence from security sources suggests that they have somehow accessed equipment previously under the control of the Provisional IRA. That causes us concern.

Recently, I also raised the case of Joe Fee, a man who was briefly detained in the Irish Republic after the seizure in Croatia of weapons that were destined for the Real IRA. As I said, Mr. Fee, as an Irish Government employee, was sent in 1997 to work as an aid worker in the former Yugoslavia, alongside the charity Refugee Trust. There was an expose on the BBC ``Spotlight'' programme that provided evidence of Joe Fee's involvement in creating links between the Real IRA and Croatian arms smugglers. Those links opened up a line of supply for the Real IRA from the former Yugoslavia. Some of the weapons involved were subsequently found by the Irish police in the Irish Republic. The attack on the MI6 headquarters was carried out by the Real IRA, using weaponry smuggled in from Croatia.

There is evidence that these republican groups are growing in membership and in their capacity to carry out serious terrorist attacks. I quote from The Sunday Times, 17 December:

    ``Republican dissidents, who have secured the help of leading members of the Provisional IRA, are planning to plant a large bomb in London to mark the new year, according to British and Irish security sources.

    The Real IRA and Continuity IRA are collaborating and are now assisted by leading members of the Provisional IRA in Armagh and north Belfast.''

Again, that is evidence of links between members of the Provisional IRA and dissident groups.

The Minister will be aware that, last week, the Irish police intercepted a vehicle near Mitchelstown, County Cork in which members of the Provisional IRA, it is believed, were caught in possession of three fully loaded, semi-automatic pistols, which had previously been smuggled in by the Provisional IRA, during the ceasefire, from Florida, USA. What were those Provisional IRA members doing in that vehicle with armed weapons and baseball bats? What were they up to? We have a ceasefire. It is complete and unequivocal.

The Minister will see that there are concerns. We have an escalating terrorist threat, and one that is not exclusive to the republican side. There is growing evidence that the Ulster Defence Association is involved in significant acts of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland, as are the Ulster Volunteer Force and other splinter loyalist paramilitary groups. Again, that calls into question the quality of those ceasefires.

When will the Minister review the ceasefires of all terrorist organisations—in the light of the growing evidence of their involvement in acts of violence, in clear contradiction of the Mitchell principles on democracy and non-violence? If the Government establish that the ceasefires are regularly breached, as I believe that they are, what action will they take in response to that? Some of the ceasefires are clearly disintegrating.

There is also the issue of decommissioning. As the Minister will know, the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning reported just before Christmas that there had been no progress on the decommissioning of illegal terrorist weapons. The chairman of the commission, General John de Chastelain, reported:

    ``We believe it is crucial that we have substantive engagement with the IRA representative as soon as possible, followed by early movement on actual decommissioning by each of the paramilitary groups, if we are to meet the Agreement's decommissioning requirements by the beginning of June.''

As the Minister knows, June is the deadline for the completion of disarmament. Does the Minister expect that terrorist groups will meet the June deadline? When does he expect to receive another report from the IICD? What role does he envisage for the IICD beyond the end of June if decommissioning has not been completed by then—or even if it has not commenced—in terms of each of the mainstream terrorist groups?

As I said, there is clearly escalating terrorist violence, which is matched by an increase in criminality in Northern Ireland. We are seeing a crime wave in many areas, including my own constituency. We had the tragic case recently of Mr. Foster, whose home—which is just 200 yds from the local police station—was broken into. He and his wife were subjected to cruel intimidation by their assailants. Mr. Foster had a heart condition and asked for medication; it was denied him and he subsequently passed away as a result of the incident.

People are saying to me, ``We need to be protected from those criminals,'' but the police cannot cope with the situation because they are not recruiting new members. Recruitment to the full-time Reserve stopped more than a year ago, and there has been no recruitment to the regular police for some time. Police numbers are diminishing, and the Chief Constable cannot cope with the increased terrorist threat and the crime wave on the streets as well as meeting the demands of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and others for downsizing. Will the Minister assure me that there will be no further downsizing of the police until the security threat has been properly dealt with and police can be returned to the numbers that operate under normal conditions? We are far from normality in Northern Ireland, given the marked increase in terrorist violence. I hope that the Minister will assure me that the full-time Reserve will be retained for as long as the threat to security exists.

I quote from ``Return to Normality'', a document published by the Northern Ireland Office with which the Minister will be familiar:

    ``The Government have an overriding duty to protect the community from threats from whatever quarter and in whatever form they come.''

I believe that that duty extends to maintaining the security forces at a level at which they can cope with the existing threat and the crime wave on our streets—and that means that the Chief Constable must have enough officers to put on the streets in Larne, Coleraine, Lisburn, west Belfast—wherever it is needed. At the same time, sufficient troops must be available to provide support to the RUC, particularly in dealing with the terrorist threat. The Government must not allow political expediency to get in the way of doing what is necessary to protect the citizens of Northern Ireland—and those of the United Kingdom.

As the Minister well knows, many of the bombs that end up in London originate in places such as South Armagh and north County Louth. If watchtowers and other security installations are removed, it will pose a risk not only to the lives of people in Northern Ireland, but to the whole of the United Kingdom. The frontier of South Armagh is the frontier of the United Kingdom, not just of Northern Ireland. I therefore urge the Minister not to reduce security in such places while a significant terrorist threat remains, as it certainly does at present.

There are two main issues. The first is the quality of the ceasefire and the Government's intentions towards it. The Government cannot indefinitely turn a blind eye to violence on the streets. Secondly, we must maintain an appropriate level of security to deal with current threats. I hope that the Minister will provide some assurances on those matters.

5.30 pm

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