Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (1-19)

WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000

MR DENNIS WRIGLEY AND MR ANDREW ROBINSON

Chairman

  1. A very warm welcome to you. We are particularly grateful to you not only for agreeing to give evidence but for coping with the diary and programming problems which we had arising out of the fact that the police debate on Northern Ireland occurred yesterday and, therefore, interfered with other plans we had made. Although the terms of reference of this inquiry on relocation following paramilitary intimidation have previously been made public, I am actually on this particular occasion, as this is the first time we have taken evidence on it, going to read them out at the beginning of this session. "To examine the incidence in Northern Ireland of the practice of paramilitary organisations of intimidating residents into relocating within, or leaving, the Province, and the alleged causes; the steps being taken by Government and law enforcement agencies to eliminate this activity; the response of the Government and public bodies to persons claiming to have been forced from their homes through paramilitary intimidation; and the assistance available to persons affected by such intimidation who subsequently reside, permanently or temporarily, in Great Britain." I repeat our welcome to you, Mr Wrigley and Mr Robinson. We will seek to make the questions we ask follow a logical pattern, although the questions may come from different quarters of the horseshoe. Should you, either at this session or subsequently in writing, want to gloss anything you say, feel perfectly free to do so, and we shall feel perfectly free to come back with supplementary questions in writing if, on reading the transcript, we think that such supplementary questions are necessary. I am conscious, particularly given the nature of the role that your Community plays vis a" vis those who do suffer intimidation causing them to leave their homes, that there may be things that you would not want to say in public session. I do not want you to feel under any obligation, if that were to occur in response to a particular question, to say "I would rather say that privately afterwards" because that will, in a sense, distort the pattern of evidence you are giving. I would be very grateful if you could make a note of anything that you want to say of that nature, perhaps also noting yourself who had asked the question from our side. Our names are on the placards and I will, in fact, be calling people to ask questions. When we have concluded the public session we might have a further private session in case there are things that you want to add which you would not immediately want on the public record, if that is agreeable to you. Is there anything that you would like to say to us initially before we start asking questions beyond the memorandum you have very helpfully sent us?
  (Mr Wrigley) No, other than to express our gratitude for the opportunity to present this case.

  2. Thank you very much indeed. Let me start with one or two ground clearing questions. Expulsions in Northern Ireland can be local, as in the recent examples on the Shankhill, they can be regional within Northern Ireland, or they can be out of Northern Ireland altogether. It would be helpful to know what the involvement of your Community is in each of those three cases. It may obviously be larger in some of them than in others.
  (Mr Wrigley) I think primarily my response would be that we respond to cries for help. Therefore, it is usually individuals or families who say "we are desperate, can you help?" Occasionally you have an extended family. I seem to recall on one occasion we had 14 who came collectively and said "we are desperate. We have been told to leave." In the main our work is with individuals. Where there is a clearance in the sense of a group of people in one community, I have in mind six in one particular community who were told to clear out immediately, they were really directed to other parts of Northern Ireland. So we and our friends in Northern Help would obviously help at their request, not without their request. In the main I think it needs to be recognised, firstly, that the majority of expulsions are to the mainland, to Britain. There are a few to the Republic and rather more to other parts of Northern Ireland. This depends on whether a deal is done. A number of people pay a very substantial sum of money to be allowed either to stay where they are or, alternatively, to move to another part of Northern Ireland as opposed to coming to Britain.

  3. Would you say a word about how people get in touch with you? Would a fair proportion of them be coming to you direct without the benefit of advice from anybody else or would some be coming because other people had advised them to do so?
  (Mr Wrigley) I think the bulk of people come because of other people advising them. We have been working for 20 years in the Province and we have close working relationships with many, perhaps most, of the organisations involved, whether statutory or voluntary. They know us and we know them. I would suspect that the bulk of people who come to us are referred. A substantial minority did know us in the first instance.

  4. In terms of the distinction between people coming to Great Britain and those who are relocated elsewhere in Northern Ireland, and you have made clear the majority come to Great Britain, what are the relative strengths of your Community in the two locations, both in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Wrigley) You are talking numerically?

  5. Yes.
  (Mr Wrigley) The total membership of the Community is approaching 12,000. Of the 12,000 I would suspect that about 1,800 to 2,000 are in Northern Ireland, of that order.

  6. Yes, very good. What is your best estimate of the current level of expulsions, first to alternative locations within Northern Ireland and then, as you have yourself said, the much larger number going outside Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Wrigley) The expulsions in Northern Ireland are extremely difficult to measure because of the recent developments on the Shankhill obviously where large numbers of families have been moved out. Our problem is that we even discover people who have been expelled months after their expulsion and the fact of them moving out is not recorded in any statistic and certainly not in our books, which makes us suspect that the numbers are far higher than most people suppose. In terms of expulsions, we come across expulsions virtually every week. Would you accept that, Andrew?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, on average.
  (Mr Wrigley) On average. Sometimes there may be a surge. Very often the surge is rooted in the desire of the paramilitary group to strengthen its control over a particular estate or community. This is our reading of the situation. At the moment it would appear that the number of expulsions varies in quite a wild fashion. I think I am right in saying that we have not had many, if any, weeks without some expulsions.
  (Mr Robinson) The average would be, say, four per month. That is recorded figures.

Dr Palmer

  7. Sorry, how many?
  (Mr Robinson) Approximately four persons per month.
  (Mr Wrigley) That is recorded.

Chairman

  8. Would you like to define what "recorded" means?
  (Mr Robinson) As recorded by the recognised bodies in Northern Ireland. As recorded by the likes of the RUC.

  9. These are essentially statutory bodies?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, who would be recognised bodies, statutory. Those figures have been borne out. We checked them out just prior to coming, within the last 48 hours, and our estimate would accord with the figures that others have.

  10. That is a recorded figure of four?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  11. On average four per week allowing for oscillation?
  (Mr Robinson) Sorry, four per month.

  12. I meant to say four per month.
  (Mr Wrigley) In response to your question, yes, we have because so often we have people who are recorded as having been expelled. I can think of one person who was expelled and then his wife had to follow and then his children had to follow and other members had to follow. The number of people concerned is infinitely higher than the number of individual expulsions, that is the first point I would wish to make. The second point is that retrospectively we come across, as I mentioned earlier, large numbers of people who have literally got up and fled. When we are in Northern Ireland, as we will be from tonight for a week, we come across enormous numbers of people who say to us "would you keep an eye on so and so who is now living in whatever city it may be" and they have crept out quietly. The people on the estates very often know but there are, to my knowledge, no reliable statistics; we wish there were. From our experience the problem is very substantial. It is substantial in the sense that clearly if someone comes to the mainland and has nowhere to live they are going to seek somewhere out. In Britain many of the churches, for example, or charitable bodies, will say "perhaps you should go and see Maranatha", so the first time we see them actually in those instances is in Britain. In other instances we have telephone calls from various agencies in Northern Ireland itself. The real problem only emerges when the cry for help is made. Some of them find lodgings, temporarily or permanently, and we discover their situation later. The bulk of them are really destitute. Some of them have been given an hour to leave, or two hours to leave. I look towards Andrew because he is at the coal face and he deals with this day by day and night by night. The problems are immense. If I may continue, may I?

  13. Yes.
  (Mr Wrigley) You have a situation where they may have some ready cash in their pockets but their ability to meet their requirements in terms of their welfare state is very restricted indeed. Very often they are in a state of shock and they do not know which way to turn, they need not only advice, they need counselling. Sometimes they need urgent medical attention. If I may just give an instance. Two young men came over five or six weeks ago and they were warned to get out after having been shot. They came and they needed medical attention. Fortunately we have a house with doctors who, the day after the shooting and the expulsion, were able to tend to their physical wounds but also they needed counselling and, again, we have trained and qualified counsellors who were able to help them. The sudden experience of being uprooted from their families and from their environment, their country, was traumatic and in one case, perhaps both, they had not been to this country before.
  (Mr Robinson) Never.
  (Mr Wrigley) Never. So they were in a totally alien environment. What I am trying to say is that these people raise enormous problems and very often retrospectively they have arrived and the problem arises here and that is not in any of the statistics.

  14. Allowing for the fact that there is oscillation and that, therefore, it is more difficult to produce what I would describe as regular global figures, would you say that the trend was rising or falling?
  (Mr Robinson) The trend at the moment is reflecting the past pattern. In terms of the oscillation factor, there have on occasions been a rise but overall in terms of expulsions from the North of Ireland, or Northern Ireland, it is maintaining a steady number, working on the averages that we are dealing with.
  (Mr Wrigley) I think there is one thing I would wish to add to that, if I may, Chairman. Very often when there is a public display there is a diminution temporarily. For example, after the first Cease Fire Agreement it was hoped that there would be a diminution long-term, there was short-term and then it returned. Again, after the Good Friday Agreement and after the prisoner release programme you tended to see the hope that, yes, this was going to mean fewer, and there were fewer for a very short period of time, and then a return to the pattern. This is a disappointment because we would have expected with the peace process there would have been a steady diminution. In fact, the desire to control the estates and the other areas has grown because there are young men in these gangs who, frankly, have little else to do and there is a sense of keeping them occupied and ensuring that their power is respected at street level.

  15. Without wanting to suggest that there are steady state figures, we acknowledge the point you made about oscillation, nevertheless Mr Robinson implied that it is much of a muchness, is that fair, the figures are reasonably steady overall? Would you want to essay an approximate global figure on an annual basis?
  (Mr Wrigley) That is very difficult.
  (Mr Robinson) That is extremely difficult to put a figure purely and simply because of what I call the X factor, that is those who come out without coming through any statutory or other referral body. In terms of expulsions from Northern Ireland, that figure would be perhaps at the moment a constant with no diminution.
  (Mr Wrigley) Could I just interpose here, Chairman. We are a voluntary body and we would dearly like to have the resource to do the calibration, as it were, to which you refer. Indeed, we did try. We would need enormous manpower. All of our people have other jobs. Sadly, I believe this is an area which has been neglected and I think we would all be very surprised if that research were done really thoroughly and professionally. We are hesitant to make statements here which we cannot substantiate.

  Chairman: We entirely understand. You have been very helpful in the answers you have already given.

Dr Palmer

  16. I just wanted to raise two small points arising out of what you have told us so far. It is not entirely clear to me whether there is always a sharp ultimatum "get out by day X" or not, or whether some of the refugees are, in fact, coming over because they feel a threat, no doubt for good reason, where it is less explicit? I know in the context of asylum seekers from other countries it is often difficult to weigh up the difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat. My other question is you referred in passing to the difficulty of some of the arrivals in fitting in with the requirements of the welfare state. That is an issue which we might be able to take up and I wonder whether you have views on changes that would be needed in regulations to allow for emergency help for people in this situation?
  (Mr Wrigley) Could I deal with the first part of your question and pass the second to Mr Robinson, who is more familiar with that. With regard to the first part of your question, the people we deal with have very often been expelled at gun point, sometimes they have already been beaten up or shot. The ones who come who feel that they are on the list, as it were, or there have been murmurings, we meet. They are the people who will plan their exit rather more efficiently and they will look for relatives and friends to help them out and when they are in desperation then they will come to us. The situation we face repeatedly is that they have been identified and they have been personally told to get out by tonight or within two days, or whatever. If they have not then they have been assaulted. We have had instances in past years where they have been killed for not moving out and that is known. Therefore, most of the people who run have the fear of God in them, they will not even clear up their house, they just run out of the community. Does that answer that question?

  17. Yes, it does.
  (Mr Wrigley) I will pass the other one to Andrew.
  (Mr Robinson) In terms of dealing with the difficulties, social and emotional, medical, the situation desperately does need addressing. In actual fact, I have had the opportunity to discuss with one of the statutory bodies difficulties which families and individuals encounter, particularly when it comes to social benefits, etc. If we can just use as an example in terms of medical care, two of the young men whom we referred to earlier required medical attention and because of the area in which they lived and because of the address, which was a temporary move-on address, there were 20 medical centres in that area and not one medical centre would accept them. This was after our own doctors within the Community had given them medical care for several days. We actually then had to draw in the assistance of the Health Authority in order to get them temporarily registered. That temporary registration lapsed and they cannot re-register. That is one of the very real difficulties. Another major difficulty is that whilst we have, in terms of housing, legislation which gives a responsibility to local authorities, the reality is that each authority will have its own interpretation and its own application of that legislation, so invariably we have to work very hard to get them accepted pending investigation that their case is a genuine case. This also comes back to the point which Mr Wrigley made earlier regarding verification. It is important that we know that those who are seeking help are genuine cases because the fact of the matter is once the housing authority make an investigation regarding homelessness, they will have to deem whether they are intentionally homeless or whether they are "under a threat". Therefore, it is important that, before we approach a body, we know that the information is genuine and the individuals and families we are referring are genuine cases.

Mr Beggs

  18. Good morning, gentlemen. Given the apparent pressure from the paramilitaries that those expelled should not draw attention to the fact, or report it to the police, what confidence can there be that the scale of the problem is accurately known?
  (Mr Wrigley) We can be sure that it is bigger rather than smaller than it appears to be. I can say that with absolute confidence. I believe that the pressure to keep these things under wraps is instanced in a number of cases. For example, we have been involved for years with helping victims of so-called punishment beatings—I do not like the word, people have been smashed up terribly—and initially they would recognise the voices of their assailants but they would not see them because they would be wearing a balaclava disguise. The trend now is for the people who are meting out the treatment not to wear any masks and, indeed, not to do it at night under the cover of darkness. If I may refer to those two who are fresh in our minds, they were just taken to a park and shot, I think, on three consecutive nights before they were expelled. This is the worrying thing, that the trend is to a more open and more overt exercise of authority so that people in these areas know precisely who is responsible. I think this, again, is a pointer towards a tightening of the grip in those key areas.

  19. Thank you. What is the relative prevalence of expulsions in, first of all, the Nationalist communities and, secondly, in the Loyalist communities?
  (Mr Wrigley) We have not discussed this but I will speak now, and this is two views independently, and say it is approximately 50/50 if you go over a period. If you look at it in a given period when there happens to be trouble and outrage in a Protestant area clearly there is a blip, as it were. From my experience it has been around 50/50. I would be interested to hear what Andrew thinks.
  (Mr Robinson) I would reiterate that really in so far as what happens in one community is mirrored within another community. The reality is that there is a fair equation in terms of those expelled from either community.


 
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