HC Deb 24 October 1990 vol 178 cc367-74 5.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke)

I regret to report that in the past two days seven people have been murdered by the Provisional IRA in three attacks in Northern Ireland. We must be grateful that a fourth attempted attack failed. This follows a number of other terrorist attacks in recent weeks, in which members of both communities have been brutally murdered. I know that the House will join me in extending sympathy to the families of all those killed and injured and also to those used as hostages in these atrocities.

First, at approximately 11.25 am yesterday, Mr. William Aiken, a taxi driver, was at the entrance to the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children. Two unmasked gunmen approached his Ford Sierra car, shot him in the head, and made off towards the Falls road. Mr. Aiken died a short time later from his injuries. The RUC are investigating and have appealed for witnesses.

Shortly after 4 o'clock this morning, a massive bomb exploded at the permanent vehicle checkpoint on the Buncrana road out of Londonderry, a few hundred yards from the border with the Irish Republic. The bomb is estimated to have consisted of about 750 kg of home-made explosive. It is thought that the bomb was contained in a vehicle which was driven into a search bay at the checkpoint. As a result of this attack, five soldiers were killed and nine injured, one very seriously.

The soldiers killed were serving with the 1st battalion the King's Regiment, based at Ballykelly. A number of civilian motorists in the area at the time of the explosion narrowly escaped death or injury. The checkpoint and about 25 houses in a nearby estate were extensively damaged; some residents were injured and many other houses sustained blast damage.

Prior to the attack, a house in Londonderry was taken over by terrorists and the householder abducted while his family was held hostage. He is still missing and there is grave concern about his safety. The follow-up operation by the security forces on both sides of the border is continuing and close co-operation is being maintained with the Garda, who have arrested a number of men earlier today.

In a separate terrorist attack at around 4.15 this morning, a bomb exploded at the permament vehicle checkpoint at Cloghogue on the main Al road south of Newry, some three miles from the border with the Irish Republic. It is believed that the bomb was contained in a van which had earlier been hijacked by terrorists near Newry and was driven into the checkpoint. An elderly man had been forced by terrorists to drive this vehicle while his family were held hostage.

As a result of this attack, one soldier was killed and 11 soldiers and two RUC officers were slightly injured. The soldier killed was serving with the 2nd battalion Royal Irish Rangers. Fortunately, a shouted warning was able to be given, thus preventing further loss of life. The driver of the vehicle received a broken leg as a result of the explosion and is now in hospital. Homes, a church and a primary school were all damaged in the attack. A follow-up operation by the security forces is now under way.

In a further incident at about 7.45 this morning, terrorists made an unsuccessful bomb attack against Lisanelly barracks in Omagh. The terrorists had previously taken over a house in Gortin and assaulted the householder. They then placed an explosive device in his car, tied him to his seat, and forced him to drive the vehicle to Omagh. Fortunately, he was released by the sentry before the bomb partially detonated, and there were no casualties. The security forces are now carrying out a follow-up operation to make the bomb safe.

I am sure that the whole House will join me in utter condemnation of these appalling attacks. One civilian and six soldiers have been killed. A civilian is missing. A number of civilians and members of the security forces have been injured and one is very seriously ill. The security forces personnel were carrying out their proper duties in Northern Ireland for the safety of the whole community. Today's attacks have also seen the callous exploitation by the terrorists of members of the public in mounting these attacks. Not only has the IRA once again damaged and destroyed houses, schools and churches, leaving families injured, devastated and homeless; it has sunk to new levels of depravity by using people, whose families have been held hostage, as human bombs. It is hard to imagine anything more evil than tying a man into his car laden with explosives and then forcing him to drive to where the bomb was detonated.

The reaction of humane men and women the world over at crimes of this enormity is one of outrage, and justified anger. It is also, in the case of Northern Ireland, one of infinite sadness at this further and futile waste of human life. I can, however, assure the House that, horrible as these murders have been, they have not advanced the cause of those who perpetrated them by a single millimetre—indeed, they have set it back still further.

The security forces—to whom, today more than ever, I pay the warmest of tributes—will continue to defend the community and to bring terrorists to justice. They undertake this difficult and dangerous task on behalf of the whole community—and we owe an immense debt of gratitude to them.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

On behalf of the Opposition, I join the Secretary of State in extending our sympathy to the families of the victims and to all those whose lives have been so severely affected by the actions of the Provisional IRA and by the Ulster Freedom Fighters. As well as extending sympathy to the families of those murdered in the past 36 hours, the House will want to extend its sympathy to the families of Mr. Craig and Mr. McGuinness.

The murder of Mr. Aiken yesterday morning was an appalling overture to this morning's carnage. The IRA's choice of a children's hospital as a suitable venue for murder has sickened many people in Britain, Northern Ireland and particularly west Belfast. The House will wish to pay tribute to the efforts of both the unions and 'he management to ensure that no sections of the community will be deprived of the services of an internationally renowned children's hospital because of the activities of sectarian assassins.

I have heard—perhaps the Secretary of State can confirm it—that regrettably there has been another murder this afternoon. It was tit for tat for the murder of Mr. Aiken. To that unfortunate victim's family we also extend our sympathy.

This morning's atrocities also inspire us with horror. The death and destruction inflicted only highlights the political and moral bankruptcy of the IRA. As the Secretary of State has said, it is difficult to imagine anything more evil than the treatment meted out to the men forced to drive car bombs while their families were held hostage and did not know whether they would see their fathers and husbands again as they departed as human bombs.

If the IRA believes that such murders can further its cause, it is only deluding itself. It cannot offer anything positive for the future of Ireland—it offers only dead ends and graveyards. We hope that the security forces will soon bring the perpetrators of those evil deeds to justice. We welcome the co-operation of the Irish authorities in that respect.

The House will want to join me in thanking the Northern Ireland emergency services, the Housing Executive and social services staff for their efforts since the early hours of the morning to cope with the aftermath of the personal and environmental damage inflicted, particularly on Benview estate.

The Secretary of State and his advisers will no doubt want to review the security situation, particularly the policy of maintaining permanent vehicle checkpoints.

The House trusts that the Secretary of State will continue the fight against the paramilitaries on the basis that only the determined and persistent application of the rule of law can ultimately end the violence in Ireland.

Mr. Brooke

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the tone in which he has spoken. I share his condemnation of the events at the hospital for sick children yesterday. I can confirm that a further incident has occurred today and that the body of a taxi driver has been found in Dungannon. It is reasonable to assume that it is yet another tit-for-tat murder.

I share the hon. Gentleman's praise for the authorities who have worked to cope with the aftermath of last night's events. The lessons that could be learnt from such episodes will be learnt and, above all, the conduct of the security forces will continue, as always, under the rule of law.

Mr. Michael Mates (Hampshire, East)

In reinforcing my right hon. Friend's determination and that of the security forces—rightly commended by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—to continue to do a difficult job, will he use all the efforts of his considerable propaganda machine to get the message across to citizens north and south in the island of Ireland that, by sheltering people who are prepared to stoop so low to commit ever more ghastly crimes, they are aiding, perhaps passively, the cause of the terrorists?

The best thing that citizens on both sides of the border can do is to tell the security forces where those murderers are, so that they can be brought to justice. Given the turn the IRA has taken in its depravity, my right hon. Friend should warn such citizens that they might well be used next as human bombs to be delivered to the security forces.

Mr. Brooke

I thank my hon. Friend for his tribute to the security forces. I confirm that there is a constant appeal to members of the public throughout the community—we also receive assistance from the republic—for help to bring such terrorists to justice.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence uses the words "propaganda machine", is that exactly a parliamentary term?

Mr. Speaker

I did not judge it to be out of order in this context.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

The Secretary of State has made a grave statement to the House this afternoon. He referred not only to the immediate incidents that occurred in the past 24 hours, but to earlier incidents that have occurred in the past few weeks.

In the past few weeks, there has been a regrettable upsurge in IRA activity across Northern Ireland and, unfortunately, that activity involved the deaths of two of my constituents. Constable Louis Robinson was killed on the border as he travelled back from holiday in the Republic of Ireland and Constable Samuel Todd was shot dead as he handled his dog on the streets of Belfast.

Right hon. and hon. Members on the Ulster Unionist Bench join the Secretary of State in expressing our sympathy to the families whose relatives have been killed and injured. In so doing, we speak for the entire Protestant community of Northern Ireland and at least 75 per cent. of the Roman Catholic community. Regrettably today, almost 25 per cent. of the Roman Catholic community vote for Provisional Sinn Fein, as in west Belfast.

We join the Secretary of State in condemning the latest low level of depravity exercised by the IRA earlier this morning, when its members tied the driver of a car to the time bomb that he was instructed to drive in the hope that he would be blown up into small bits. I hope that that did not happen. The IRA has reduced itself to a terrible low by such action.

There are three questions that I should like to ask the Secretary of State. The first relates to the prompt action and co-operation of the Garda Siochana in apprehending suspected terrorists in Donegal. Will that lead to anything? When the Government signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, they sold it to many hon. Members on the basis that it would bring about improved extradition. Five years later, we know to our regret that, successful as the Garda Siochana is in capturing wanted terrorists, they are never extradited by the authorities back to Northern Ireland. Tomorrow, when the Secretary of State meets the Dublin Government authorities, will he ensure that extradition is the No. 1 item on the agenda?

The second issue relates to border roads. I have already mentioned that one of my constituents was murdered on a border road coming back from the Republic of Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) visited the republic last week and he was not allowed to use the roads: he had to fly to Dublin. I went to the republic on Friday and discovered that, even though I was accompanied by security forces, I was forbidden to use two of the main roads between Northern Ireland and the republic. Has the Secretary of State yet advised the Prime Minister that the British Government have surrendered authority over two of the main roads in Northern Ireland leading across the border into the republic?

Finally, I should like to ask the Secretary of State about dog handlers. My constituent was shot through the window of his stationary van. For more than a year, the small number of dog handlers that are employed in the Royal Ulster Constabulary have requested bullet-proof glass in their vans. That request has been consistently refused on the ground of lack of finance. It would take so little money to provide bullet-proof glass in the few vans used by dog handlers—perhaps the life of my constituent could have been saved. Will the Secretary of State please address that problem?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks, speaking as he does for those sitting on the Ulster Unionist Bench. I join him in extending sympathy to the families of his two constituents, of whom I am aware.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the apprehension of suspects by the Garda today and to extradition. I shall see the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the republic tomorrow at a meeting of the Conference, and I guarantee that extradition will take up a large part of our discussion.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about security on particular roads. The security forces must necessarily make their own decisions about what is required to provide safe passage and security on those roads. I should be happy, however, to enter into a separate dialogue with the right hon. Gentleman on that matter.

His question about dog handlers and their cars is not strictly germane to today's statement, but I am grateful to him for raising that matter, which I shall pursue.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I should like first to join in the expressions of sympathy to the relatives of the men killed in the outrages. They died to protect all the people in Northern Ireland, regardless of their political or religious faith. Is the Secretary of state aware that the men who commit such crimes are depraved? They revel in slaughter and are way beyond persuasion to show mercy and deaf to pleas for pity. They reject Christ's teaching about the sanctity of human life.

During the past 20 years, from the Dispatch Box, successive Secretaries of State have promised a security review after each atrocity. We have had those security reviews, expressions of sympathy, condolences, platitudes—everything—but the truth is that terrorists continue to kill innocent people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. The people of Northern Ireland expect constitutional politicians to respond to the outrages by redoubling their efforts to make political advance in Northern Ireland. They also expect the Government——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will he be kind enough to ask questions rather than make a speech that should be made on another occasion?

Mr. Kilfedder

I am putting it to the Secretary of State that the people of Northern Ireland, who have seen the Government send an armada to the Falkland Islands and forces to the Gulf, expect the Government to send sufficient forces to Northern Ireland and keep them there until this evil is eradicated.

Mr. Brooke

The same word "depravity" was included in my statement. Of course, it would be difficult for any Government, in an environment polluted by terrorists, to be able to guarantee total security to the citizens of this land. The defeat of terrorism involves more than purely the working of the security forces, central though they are to it. More people have been charged and convicted in relation to terrorist offences during the current year than in the previous one.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

Speaking on behalf, I hope, of all people in the north of Ireland who value life, irrespective of their political persuasions, I wish to condemn this and other murders, and to offer my sympathy to the bereaved. I ask anyone in the north of Ireland with any information whatsoever about those who perpetrated the recent acts to make it available to the police, so that those responsible may be brought to justice.

Early this morning, I stood at the scene in my constituency of the murder of one of the soldiers in Cloghogue. Once again, I saw the grisly remains of an IRA night of carnage.

The murders at Derry, Cloghogue and Belfast, and the potential murder at Omagh, were particularly cynical, cowardly and evil. They were cynical because they involved hijacking and kidnapping people, and taking their families as hostages. They were cowardly because, on those occasions, the IRA, rather than do its own dirty work, took innocent members of the public and made them drive its bombs to the scenes of murderous destruction. They were evil because, above all else, they added to the appalling violence that is tearing the heart and soul out of the fabric of Northern Irish life. Will the Secretary of State reinforce my view that those murders were evil, cowardly and cynical?

Mr. Brooke

I am particularly grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the vehemence of his condemnation. I know the extent to which his constituency in particular has been stricken by murder during the course of this year. I am sure that the House is grateful for the manner in which he has just spoken.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

I endorse the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State, but is he satisfied with the co-operation that he has received from the Southern Irish Government? It certainly looks as if the excellent work of the Garda Siochana could not have come about were it not for the progress made under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Will he comment generally on future co-operation with the Southern Irish Government on cross-border security matters?

Mr. Brooke

I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Garda's actions today and the co-operation that we have received from it. Intensive investigations are in progress on both sides of the border, and I reported the arrest of a number of men by the Garda. I shall be seeing Mr. Collins, the Irish Foreign Minister, at a conference tomorrow, when we shall discuss the border issue and its consequences for security.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

Does the Secretary of State not agree that the justification for the cowardly killings by the Provisional IRA over the years that it represents the aspirations of people in all of Ireland is disproved by the fact that its total vote is about 2 per cent. of the people of Ireland? What we hear from the elected representatives in the north is the true voice of the people of Ireland. All the Provisional IRA does is prevent any political action and, sadly, encourages tit-for-tat murders.

I shall ask a precise question. As someone IA ho no longer has a detailed knowledge of the subject, I thought that the use of large agricultural nitrate bombs, topped up with small amounts of commercial explosive and commercial detonators, had declined but it seems to be increasing. Do we no longer know the origin of the commercial part of such devices by markings and scientific tests? Surely we could find out where the commercial parts for such bombs come from.

Mr. Brooke

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the total lack of popular support in democratic terms enjoyed by the terrorists. As to his specific question about fertiliser, as far as we can ascertain, much of what is used is commercial, but of long standing.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Is my right hon. Friend convinced that static security checkpoints are the best way to impose security on roads in Northern Ireland? Does he think that there is something to be said for a review of their success and the possibility of introducing mobile checkpoints, as suggested by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)?

Mr. Brooke

There is a need to control movement across the border to interdict the movement of terrorists and terrorist munitions, to reassure the local community that maximum control is exercised over the border area and to provide protection to security force bases and installations. Clearly, as I said earlier, we shall review matters arising out of the recent incidents. The House is aware that about 1,000 mobile vehicle checkpoints are mounted every night in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I also join in extending heartfelt sympathy on behalf of my constituents to the relatives of all those who have suffered bereavement because of the latest barbaric IRA bombings. My constituent, Cyril John Smith, was a young man serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. Like those in the King's Regiment, who courageously took on a role to protect the community and give service to all its sections, he was murdered. The lives of those people have been taken from them by evil, depraved men.

Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that those young men's lives will not have been sacrificed in vain? Will he deprive the IRA of its objective, and ensure that both politically and militarily the Government will bring an end to the carnage that we have suffered for 20 years? Will he further consider the reasonable justification for limited selective internment for those believed to be involved in terrorist activity? Since the IRA has declared war on our society, will he also give serious consideration to bringing in legislation to ensure that those who are convicted are held in prison for as long as this war of theirs is waged on our people?

Mr. Brooke

I join the hon. Gentleman in what he said about his constituent, to whom I pay a particular tribute for his contribution to the security forces, and in saying that the House is concerned that those lives should not have been spent in vain, that democracy continues to be defended and that the terrorism is brought to an end in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that other judges will take the view that selective internment is not the most constructive way forward. I would not use the particular words used by the hon. Gentleman in his last remarks, but I am conscious that we are dealing with vicious criminals and that the sooner their activities cease the better for the whole of the kingdom.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I apologise to those hon. Members whom I have not been able to call, but we must move on.

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