Examination of Witnesses (1-19)|
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000
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
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
(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?
(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
(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.
7. Sorry, how many?
(Mr Robinson) Approximately four persons per month.
(Mr Wrigley) That is recorded.
8. Would you like to define what "recorded"
(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?
(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
(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.
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
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
beatingsI do not like the word, people have been smashed
up terriblyand 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.