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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): Last Friday, I launched the first-ever publicly available assessment of the threat to Northern Ireland from organised crime and the strategy for countering that threat. The threat assessment is the work of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the strategy is the work of the Northern Ireland organised crime taskforce, which was established in September last year.
Mr. McCabe: Particularly in view of our present difficulties, does my right hon. Friend regard the organised smuggling of sheep and cattle as a serious criminal activity? What plans has he to deal with it?
Mr. Ingram: Yes, I share that view. The foot and mouth outbreak is primarily a matter for the devolved Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. However, the organised crime taskforce takes livestock smuggling seriously and work is already under way to tackle that harmful threat. The recently launched threat assessment identifies at least two organised crime groups involved in
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I am sure that the Minister has seen the welcome condemnation by the Irish agriculture Minister of the code of silence that has existed among the smugglers of South Armagh and Louth--the people who brought foot and mouth to Ireland. Although the measures that the Minister announced last Friday are welcome, does he agree that if we are to get on top of organised crime--in respect of which the smuggling of animals, fuel, tobacco and drugs is the most significant manifestation--we need to find ways to mobilise all society to change the culture of those areas so that people there realise that they cannot continue in the state of lawlessness that has marked them over the past few decades?
Mr. Ingram: The right hon. Gentleman makes a good and valid point. Part of the reason for the law enforcement agencies being unable to achieve more success is that there is so much fear and intimidation in Northern Ireland. That makes it difficult to bring people to justice. Part of the strategy that we have launched, which he fully supports, is to try to create greater public awareness of the extent of the problem and the way in which it corrodes, eating into the very heart of the society of Northern Ireland. That relates to another issue that he raised--the cross-jurisdictional effect. Crime knows no borders and no boundaries. Together, the Governments will look for ways in which we can further tackle the threat.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I congratulate the Minister on his latest initiative to crack down on the 400 paramilitary and non-paramilitary individuals who are involved in organised crime, but does he remember the comments of Danny Morrison, the IRA propagandist, who said:
Mr. Ingram: As the House knows, my hon. Friend served for a time as a Northern Ireland Minister, and followed me as Minister responsible for the economy. We can take some satisfaction from the way in which that economy is succeeding on the back of policies implemented by the present Government. The best message that could be sent from the House would be sent by the return of a Labour Government, by the continuation of policies that have been successful, and by that United Kingdom Government's working with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to increase prosperity
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): The Real IRA has its roots within the Provisional IRA, and evolved as a consequence of a breakaway of disaffected PIRA members over their organisation's support for the political/peace process. We believe that the Real IRA and the Provisional IRA are entirely separate organisations.
Mr. Ingram: No, I do not, and there is no evidence that that is the case. What I do accept is that the Real IRA and the PIRA are linked by a common cause; they are also linked by a callous disregard for human life and the human rights of their fellow citizens.
The IRA and PIRA want to achieve a united Ireland, but Sinn Fein and the IRA have signalled that they are engaged in a transition from conflict to the democratic process. They differ from the RIRA in that regard. There is no evidence to suggest that the Real IRA is acting as a surrogate organisation for the IRA.
Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): What information has the Minister requested or received from the Irish Government about a recent attempt by the Provisional IRA, using guns smuggled from Florida, to murder an alleged member of the Real IRA? It is argued that he stole IRA weapons. Does that event cause the Minister concern, and what impact does he expect it to have on the peace process?
Mr. Ingram: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is only too well aware of the increasingly close co-operation that exists between the two Governments in tackling the real threat and menace posed by the Real IRA. It is manifest in the co-operation between the Garda Siochana and the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the other law enforcement agencies. That is the best way in which we can tackle the situation. The message that should be sent by the House--I know that it would be sent by the hon. Gentleman--is that anyone with information about the conduct of those
Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Given that the Real IRA has rejected the peace process and will not engage with the de Chastelain commission, should not the United States Government designate it as a proscribed organisation? What action has the Minister taken to bring that about?
Mr. Ingram: The Government are determined to explore every option available to disrupt the activities of members of the Real IRA who continue to use violence. For that reason, the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have made joint representations to the United States authorities for the Real IRA to be designated under US law. We have submitted information in support of that request.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. John Reid): Recruiting to the Police Service of Northern Ireland began on 23 February. The level of interest has greatly exceeded expectations. About 20,000 inquiries have now been made, and by 26 March nearly 3,800 applications had been received. The closing date for applications is this Friday.
Mr. Ruffley: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware that, in the past three years, the RUC's reserve and regular strength has decreased from 12,700 to 11,500. Will he detail the active steps that he will be taking to reverse that depressing trend?
Dr. Reid: The hon. Gentleman did not mention the target of about 7,500 that was outlined in the Patten commission report and that has some relevance to his question. We are taking various measures to remedy the situation, not the least of which is our current recruitment. Not only have we had an overwhelming response to that, but it has been targeted on a 50-50 basis, so that both sides of the community and both traditions will be involved. We hope to have a police service that is more acceptable to the whole community. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am in constant touch with the Chief Constable to ensure that the operational capability of the RUC and of the future police service will not be diminished beneath the necessary levels.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): Does my right hon. Friend know how many of those applications have come from women applicants, and does he have any idea of whether the number of women recruited into the police
Dr. Reid: I am afraid that I cannot as yet tell my hon. Friend the breakdown of the figures on grounds either of sex or of religion. That will come at a later stage. However, not only do we of course welcome equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, but we have incorporated--probably to a greater degree than anywhere else in the United Kingdom or, indeed, in Europe--the principle of equality of opportunity.
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Has the Social Democratic and Labour Party provided the Minister with an explanation of its apparent continuing unwillingness to give wholehearted support to the initiative to encourage more Catholics to apply to the police service? Does the Minister know why it has not yet nominated its representatives to the Policing Board?
Dr. Reid: There have been many constructive discussions with the SDLP over many months. [Interruption.] When possible, the Government have moved to meet the SDLP's concerns, and I believe that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 is better for that--[Interruption.]
We hope very much that the SDLP will support recruitment--especially because of the figures that I have cited of no fewer than 20,000 inquiries and, so far, of about 3,800 applications to the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. I very much hope that, following the talks at Hillsborough led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the SDLP will see that the gap between us has narrowed and find its way to joining the new Policing Board.
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): Does the Secretary of State agree that we owe a tremendous debt to the RUC reserves? Does he also agree that, in giving that service, they have had the least security of tenure and least regard, but have made a huge sacrifice for society in Northern Ireland? Will he assure me that members of the RUC reserves who wish to join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland will be given every opportunity and encouragement to apply so that we can make use of their experience and dedication?
Dr. Reid: I can assure my hon. Friend that they, with everyone else, will be welcome to join the new police service. I also have no hesitation in according to the RUC the accolade of the whole House for the sacrifices that it has made over very many years in fighting terrorism. Indeed, that was recognised by the award that was given to the RUC. I hope that the widows of RUC officers who died fighting terrorism before 1982 will feel that their sacrifice has been recognised in some small way by the grant that we made recently. That grant was made
Mr. John M. Taylor (Solihull): Does the Secretary of State share our dismay that, despite the Patten reforms--some of which have caused great pain to the RUC--nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government and the Catholic Church still refuse to recommend that young Roman Catholic men and women join the police?
Dr. Reid: The police service that we are creating in Northern Ireland is not merely a negotiating concession to the nationalist side. We are creating a service that will be accountable to, and respected by, the whole community, all of whom will participate in it. That will be of enormous benefit to the whole of Northern Ireland.
Given the number of applications and inquiries that have been made with regard to the new police service, I hope that parties on the nationalist side will take the opportunity to join the Policing Board. I believe that the gap is narrowing among members of the SDLP, and I welcome the positive statements recently made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).