Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (40-65)



  40. Where the drugs argument is used, does that clash with drug related activities that the paramilitaries themselves are involved in?
  (Mr Wrigley) In my judgment, yes, head on.

  41. Again, you will have said things about this but maybe we could get some sort of summary position. What sorts of problems are faced by those who are expelled within the Province and outside the Province? Are there major distinctions in the types of problems they face in handling the situation of being in exile?
  (Mr Wrigley) I believe there are major distinctions because whereas they are on their own home territory, the fear is just as great in Northern Ireland as it would be across the water because they sometimes go into an area where they can be buried, as it were, and not known too widely but it soon gets out. I find from my experience—I do not know about you, Andrew—a tremendous amount of fear and people who are shifted from one part of Northern Ireland to another, sometimes of their own volition then quit and come to England.

  42. How much of your Community's time and resources are spent upon these problems of beating and exiles? Has it grown?
  (Mr Wrigley) It has grown very substantially. If I may say so, Andrew, like all of us, has got another job—if I may be permitted to say this, Chairman—last week Andrew was on fire duty at night and in the day for five days was engaged in this kind of work. The proportion of our time devoted to this as a Community is very considerable. We are involved in many other areas of activity but it has grown. For example, we are under constant pressure for accommodation because if somebody comes in and needs a roof over their head, if it is a young fellow a hostel might do but generally speaking they want a home where they are made to feel welcome. That means the people in that place have got to be briefed because they can do a lot of damage if they are not sensitive. The time is very much the time of endeavouring to find the right kind of accommodation, as we have heard, the right kind of school, and that is extremely difficult. We have sometimes been on the telephone for two full days trying to find one place for one person, it is very, very time consuming.

  43. In dealing with accommodation and placing people in schools, are you going to be dealing with statutory authorities?
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes.

  44. Considerably?
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes.

  45. Both in Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes.

  46. Can you just tell us about what those links are like and how they function and operate and what problems they create?
  (Mr Robinson) In terms of the links with statutory bodies, there is a strong respect for what we are doing. That stems from the fact that we, as a Community, are non funded in what we are doing. It is because those involved are doing so on a voluntary basis. Now, latterly, and interestingly, some of the statutory bodies such as social services, as they have become more aware of what we are doing and what we have been involved in are now asking if they have a situation where somebody is referred to them and needs to come out of the country can they turn to us because the number of bodies in Northern Ireland now which can render assistance has been greatly diminished. In talking with, for example, some of those involved with social services, it is almost like a weight has been lifted off their shoulder whenever they suddenly discover there is a body who is prepared to give assistance. In terms of local housing authorities, both within Northern Ireland and within England, once they are aware of a situation, generally speaking, particularly here, they will be sympathetic to the case and to the crisis faced by them. In all my dealings throughout the country I have only come across two local housing authorities who have been hostile in terms of addressing or responding to the situation. By and large I have found them supportive. Again, one of the areas which has presented difficulty has been in terms of the Benefits Agency, not because of the bureaucracy and necessary inquiries which have to go on but because of the system itself that in some cases has proven difficult. I have already had discussions with the Agency in Northern Ireland to look at how we can address those problems. Again in terms of housing, it can be very problematic. For example, one local housing authority, after having spent eight hours on the telephone trying to get temporary accommodation, came back to me, we had already put the people up for four to five days whilst we dealt with some of their immediate needs, and said "Andrew, we cannot get anywhere at the moment, even though it is our responsibility. Will you please, please, keep them with you for another 24 or 48 hours?" In terms of private accommodation, again that is a difficult area because one local authority in terms of their processing of claims for Housing Benefit will take up to 30 weeks and landlords are very loath to wait 30 weeks before they begin to get any money. I do not know if that answers your question.
  (Mr Wrigley) Could I just add to that, Chairman. I think it is very important the Committee should be aware of another aspect of this which is the education of children. The expulsions give the parents no notice, and if they come over with their children who need placing into school, almost certainly it is mid term. I am thinking of the two we dealt with last year who went to the same school and needed to continue to go to the same school, one was a year older than the other, so we had to negotiate with the headmaster. No headmaster wants, in his perception, to bring in two children who are very emotionally disturbed and could cause difficulties, so we have to go through the processes of showing this is the need of these children. We can guarantee a base line of behaviour. It is extremely difficult then because where the school is may not be where the house is. There are all kinds of complex situations. Reference has been made to getting them registered with general practitioners, a lot of these things are very, very time consuming, very demoralising for the people who are already distressed.

  47. Statutory organisations are rule bound organisations and I can appreciate local authorities are not used to this, to having to accommodate to your concerns. Presumably there is a greater understanding of these difficulties in Northern Ireland than there is in Britain. It might be that you have a number of specific points that you want to put to us at some stage that you think could be improvements in the rules which would allow you to be dealing with social security, housing and schools provisions. What I would suggest is if you think about that later it might be useful for that to be sent to us in writing as something we could pursue.
  (Mr Wrigley) Chairman, I feel that is an invitation which we would respond to. Whether we would have the precise answer I am not too sure but at least we do believe something is needed to point the way or steer the way through the labyrinth of statutory bodies.


  48. Since it is sometimes helpful to know problems are shared elsewhere, my present understanding is that in terms of the dispersal of asylum seekers outside London, whereas the plans were that there had to be a marshalling exercise before people were dispersed, the plans were that there would be 500 at any one time in accommodation for a week before being moved, the figures have now risen to being 2,000 and over four weeks. The problems you have got on an individual basis quite clearly also occur on a scheme basis as well.
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes.

Dr Palmer

  49. Just one point on that question about co-operation from statutory bodies. The police, of course, do have substantial experience in helping people acquire new identities. In the particular cases where you feel that people are under continuing threat, even after they have come to the mainland, have you any experience of contacting the police to see if they can advise on procedures to help them escape further notice?
  (Mr Wrigley) The simple answer is yes. We have worked very closely with the police. The need to change an identity was very, very real until about, in my experience, seven years ago. Since then it has diminished. It is not a question of the identity, it is a question of the knowledge of where they are.

  50. Yes.
  (Mr Wrigley) We found that when people had a new identity, and in particular a new name—I would rather not go beyond that at this stage, Chairman—the emotional impact on the person concerned was terrible. They lost their self-respect by virtue of losing their name and identity. I think I would prefer to leave it at that. Yes, we have had a lot of experience, not recently.
  (Mr Robinson) Twelve months ago I dealt with one.
  (Mr Wrigley) It is not regular.

  Chairman: Let me encourage our witnesses, you have been giving evidence for an hour and a half, and we are extremely grateful to you. As will be apparent from those of us who are in the room we are moving towards a conclusion.

Dr Palmer

  51. Moving from statutory bodies to the human rights organisations, do you find you get support from human rights organisations in the Province? Are there other organisations which are active in condemning the practice of expulsions or help in any way in dealing with that?
  (Mr Wrigley) We have worked very closely with NIACRO and at least two other bodies there. We have given evidence and met the newly established Commission. We find that the groupings which are either funded or in private charities in their own right have each got a contribution to make but ironically there are very few of them who are able to look at the whole problem. In answer to your question, yes, we collaborate with them. There have been instances when threats have been made in a house at gunpoint and our route through has been through the local minister or priest within minutes. We have been able to get some measure of support on that in that community. Again, the problem is people in the community feel under pressure not to be seen to be helping because if they are seen to be helping the threatened families they feel they too will be threatened. It is a difficult situation.

  52. Yes.
  (Mr Robinson) In terms of having the new Human Rights Commission and ultimately the proposed Bill of Rights, the sad reality is that people in this position are not able to avail themselves of any new legislation. Again, coming back to the fear element and to the intimidatory element, because although they may wish to avail themselves of that it involves evidence, it involves the naming of those who are perpetrating a crime and that ultimately puts pressure on to, again, the family because if the individual cannot be got at then there is the risk to the family. Whilst we have got the facility or the vehicle, we cannot or they do not feel in a position to be able to use that vehicle.

  53. Very shortly, we are expecting to conclude the passage of legislation for the reform of policing in Northern Ireland. It is the Government's intention that this should result in a police force which has much broader community acceptance. There are different views on the Committee on the likelihood of this happening. You probably would not wish to side with one view or another. However, suppose this actually happened and a way was found to broaden acceptance in one or another community or communities, would you expect that would lead to a weakening of the influence of paramilitaries?
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes.

Mr Burgon

  54. Just to carry this on about the paramilitaries. In section 6 of the memorandum you comment "There is undoubtedly enormous public opposition to the activities of the gangs, which are associated with the various paramilitary groups . . ." Now what evidence do you have for that assertion in the light of your later claim that ". . . over the years the public has, in large measure, been silenced through fear and intimidation"?
  (Mr Wrigley) Because they will share with us. We go into the homes and have many cups of coffee and discussions into the early hours. When they know they can trust us they tell us exactly where they stand. House after house after house I have been in where people have expressed anger within the confines of their home but feel unable to do so outside. There is real anger and it is growing. It has grown very rapidly even in the last 18 months. We find, for example, when we have people from England going over there, as we have this very day for a series of meetings, they have to be warned. If a high proportion of our visitors from England to Ireland are themselves Irish, let me hasten to say, those who are not need to understand that they must not go into one house and then quote the anger that has been expressed in that one house three doors down. There are things like that which are crucial. When we go to Northern Ireland from England we go primarily to listen and this is something which I wish to make very clear to this Committee. We do have meetings of Catholics and Protestants regularly, there will be one tonight at Randalstown, but we try to ensure that we take on board the inner feelings and frustration of these people. They may help us to respond to their cries for help. If we begin to be quote what they are saying on any estate we would be intruding and we would be rightly condemned. It is a very delicate balance we have to achieve.

  55. In effect you are saying there is no channel for this public view in any of the political structures that exist?
  (Mr Wrigley) None. There are efforts being made very nobly by individual people in the churches and other bodies, but very often when those initiatives are taken there is quite a considerable amount of threatening and criticism.

  56. Could I move on then. Your Community then, what view does it take on trying to create a climate that is less conducive to the existence of paramilitary organisations? It is a well known fact that these paramilitary organisations have been in existence for a generation. Mr Wrigley, you quoted young men with little else to do, how are we going to get over that? In your opinion, are these young men with little else to do more politically driven than they are criminally driven because obviously the view of that helps us in some way to form some way of addressing this particular problem?
  (Mr Wrigley) Initially I think they are politically driven but they can drift into criminal activities if they do not have a trade and they see no means of having a livelihood which would enable them to do the things they want, they see the option of going along that track. In terms of hope, I believe the area which needs attention on these troubled estates and other areas is the people who have got a built in fear and we find that when we have gone into many, many places we have tried to face up to that fear individually. In our Maranatha gatherings we have many people coming who have been injured physically or emotionally and also some who have inflicted injury. This is the point I would wish to make, the coming together of not only both sides of the community but even the hard line people who would collaborate with the paramilitaries and those who would not under any circumstances. I can quote one instance publicly which I will. We held a meeting in Cookstown Town Hall four years ago, I well remember it was a very mixed gathering and it was made up of people who had been involved in the troubles hands on, people who had suffered terribly, people who had lost loved ones, who had been shot dead at their side. At that event, because there was not judgmentalism, there was just an expression of sorrow, we were able to penetrate into the minds of people who would no sooner think of having anything to do with the other side and suddenly they were asking one another for forgiveness. We actually had two men, one who had served eight years, ex IRA, the other seven years, ex UVF, asking for forgiveness of the communities that they had terrorised, publicly, and then asking for one another's forgiveness and embracing in public. That was followed by a whole range of changes which took place at that meeting. I mention that meeting at Cookstown because it is engrained in my heart because, going back to Mr Robinson's question about hope, I did see hope on that occasion but we have a long way to go. It must come through listening to the legitimate anger of people on both sides of the divide. This is the point I would wish to make. We are not saying that their anger is illegitimate, we are not saying that if we were in their place we would not be throwing bricks or whatever. It is a terrible thing to have to say. When I, as an Englishman, say that then the door is open, and we are human beings considering the pain.

  57. You have mentioned intimidation, the process you have just described there in that meeting at Cookstown would tend, one would think, to undermine the whole basis of the power of the paramilitary. Is your organisation itself subject to any intimidation?
  (Mr Wrigley) I have known threats. I would wish to talk to that perhaps a little more confidentially. In the main we are not afraid. We do not feel that we are taking undue risks. Doubtless all parties concerned, when they see us at work, know completely what we are about but we try to be open with them. It is extremely difficult to put this in a political context in this country but we take people as we find them and if we meet people who have been, and are being, involved in really serious criminal activity and violent activity we will still communicate with them and try to listen to what it is that has made them so bitter and, by the way, they welcome that. Without exception I have met people in the paramilitary on both sides and very often they are very unhappy people.

  Chairman: Before I conclude with what are some slightly unrelated questions, can I just verify that none of my colleagues has any supplementaries they want to ask arising out of what we have heard?

Mr McGrady

  58. Just one question following the last question. It is in respect of perceptions and threats. In your paper, on perceptions and trends, paragraph 6.2, you state "There is considerable evidence that during both cease fires the recruiting of young people by the paramilitaries continued to take place, and in some areas today it is accelerating." Does that not tell us—I assume the evidence is verified—that the problem is going to increase rather than decrease unless we have a comparative force in place?
  (Mr Wrigley) I believe that is the case. We have come across efforts to recruit youngsters in half a dozen places very recently and there is no doubt at all that this has accelerated.
  (Mr Robinson) It is a matter of fact that we are aware of young people who have indicated that, following approaches, they were considering going into organisations but subsequently, for very practical reasons and once they have been shown what will happen or what involvement can entail, have sought to step back from that. Yes, it is a reality that recruitment does continue in whatever form.
  (Mr Wrigley) I think the most effective blockage to that is the testimony of men who have been in the paramilitaries and come out. The two men I referred to earlier are meeting young people and the impact of those two men's work is incalculable.

Mr Barnes

  59. It is sometimes said that paramilitary groups have been able to turn off violence, such as punishment beatings, like turning off a tap, on particular occasions, such as the visit by President Clinton, after which that type of IRA violence ended. What is your experience of that?
  (Mr Wrigley) It is exactly that. If I could just give a slightly political view, which is a personal one. I believe that over the past years, and our submissions to the Secretary of State over the last six years support this, the inflicting of punishment beatings and the carrying out of expulsion orders could have been used as a negotiating card in the peace process, that in exchange for these things stopping other things would happen. I do not want to go beyond that, Chairman, that is entering into the realm of politics. We did actually make the point that this was a negotiating card that the paramilitaries would readily recognise. It seems to me that it is still a key issue in terms of moving forward to real peace.


  60. My unrelated questions are borne of human curiosity but are intended to be constructive. I am not seeking in any way to know how you are funded, but how large a budget do you have to have approximately to carry out the remarkable work that you do?
  (Mr Wrigley) We are entirely self-funded. In other words, it is members of Maranatha who pay in. We operate a little office over a teashop and bookshop which covers our rent. The teams of people who go over to Ireland pay for themselves. The postage and the telephone is paid by the Community. If you were to ask me, I should know but I am afraid I do not, it is tens of thousands of pounds that come in and go out. At any given moment our resources are laughably small. We find the resources come. I am not trying to dodge the question because we would gladly show you our annual accounts but it is very limited.

  61. My question was asked out of admiration. Do you happen to know your registered charity number?
  (Mr Wrigley) Yes, indeed. It is on our letter heading. Can I record it to you? I have not got my own letter heading with me but I think we can provide it. Yes, indeed. Registered number 327627.

  62. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Wrigley) In terms of costs, we have been amazed at the number of people who have borne the cost of accommodation. I think this Committee should know that it has been quite surprising that very, very committed Protestants very often have been provided hospitality by very committed Catholics in England and vice versa, and that in itself has been a great healer. Over and over again we have seen the recognition by the people we have helped that we are not doing anything other than trying to help them and that recognition is itself a building block to peace in Northern Ireland. We find that especially in Northern Ireland. We make many mistakes, Chairman. I would hate this Committee to imagine that we are very smug and self-righteous, we have made many mistakes in Northern Ireland. I do believe that in the last analysis mutual respect for motives is what will part the waves.

  63. I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole Committee in the real appreciation not only for the time and trouble you have taken today but also for the quality and the quantity of evidence you have given us. We are extremely grateful.
  (Mr Wrigley) Thank you so much for letting us come here. We do appreciate your interest and your concern. If I can say at the end, again, a very large number of people have been praying for this meeting in the last two hours all over Britain and all over Northern Ireland, Catholics and Protestants.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.


  64.     *    *    *

  (Mr Wrigley)     *    *    *

Ordered, That the witnesses be further examined in private.—(The Chairman.)

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