Page 4, 18th March 1977

18th March 1977
Page 4
Page 4, 18th March 1977 — How the Conservative party sees the British role in Northern Ireland
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How the Conservative party sees the British role in Northern Ireland

A I REY NEAVE, Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland and MP for Abingdon has recently attracted much publicity for his remarks about media treatment of Northern Ireland. Last Saturday he called for a new policy against terrorism which would involve the setting up of tribunals to prevent intimidation of witnesses at trials of terrorist leaders, a Young Ulster Community Service to keep young people away from the dole queues and contact with paramilitary groups, the strengthening of the SAS and the setting up of a special antiterrorist group within the UDR. In this interview with Vincent O'Donovan Mr Neave explains more of his attitudes and hopes for Northern Ireland.

Do the media bear any of the responsibility for the increase of terrorist activity in Northern Ireland?

It must bear some. We live in a world today where the younger generation of journalists don't see themselves as naturally on the side of the British army in Northern Ireland. They look upon the viewpoint of the terrorist as a news item and in tact the Director of the BBC in Northern Ireland has replied to Mr Mason by saying exactly that.

I am very much concerned about this because I. feel that one of the strengths of the IRA is not so much the number of people they can kill but their effective and skilful propaganda, creating mystification and bewilderment among the people and acting as a divisive force between the communities.

I would say the same thing about any terrorist organisation on the loyalist side. Some of the media have not helped in this and nor have the Government.

Do you think that the campaign for British withdrawal from Northern Ireland will succeed in this country?

No. I don't think it will. In fact it seems that within both Labour and Conservative parties, pressure for this is declining. The Troops Out Movement is of relatively small political significance.

What initiatives could a Conservative Government offer at this stage?

Many of our political opponents say that the Conservative party only offers a military solution. I would deny this. We are the people who in fact drew attention to the dangers of a political vacuum when Merlyn Rees was Secretary of State.

We have been pressing Northern Ireland parties to conic together to come to some agreement with us on a suitable interim political forum as a prelude to devolved Government, because we felt that this would at least bring the parties together.

We have considered a number of suggestions, for example, a form of advisory council to the Secretary of State, but this was not accepted by the parties. We are now discussing a council to consider legislation which could report to a select committee at Westminster on Northern Ireland legislation.

The answer is that we must work for a Suitable political forum in which both communities can he involved.

Is devolution the answer in Northern Ireland?

Despite the obvious defects of the Stormont regime, there is a tradition of devolution in Northern Ireland. Some aspects of the Stormont rule were very successful. The crime rate was the lowest in the United Kingdom and the Stormont Government promoted investment from all over the world.

What do think we have learned is the need for a clearly defined relationship to Westminster in any form of devolved government for Northern Ireland.

To what extent has Westminster been able to remedy the original grievances of the Catholic minority?

If one looks at this in terms of the history of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland, I think that quite a lot of the grievances have been met. For example, they have succeeded in getting an ombudsman for both central and local government.

I would have thought the

most important thing was the Fair Employment Act on the question of discrimination, which the Conservatives initiated. Although there have been accusations that firms are not actually carrying it out, these cases will be looked into.

I would also mention the points system for the allocation of houses to homeless people.

But we are still a long way off the degree of participation in Northern Ireland by the Catholic community that we ought to have.

The education system has done much to keep the two cornmunities apart. Would you agree with this statement?

Yes I would, and the Conservative party is considering this whole question of segregated schooling and its influence on political attitudes. I would he prepared to discuss this with anyone who wishes to talk about it. I think the idea of at least a pilot scheme on joint schooling was a good one.

Can you see a time when the Catholics and Protestants can work together fur Northern Ireland?

I am not entirely pessimistic about this. I hope for example that the Catholic community will cease to stand aloof from State organisations such as the RUC. I have just completed some very successful talks with the SDLP on this very subject.

But I must say that under the stress of near civil war, it is remarkable how the communities are working together, though of course we have to recognise the terrible problem of the younger generation.

Is there a case for internment without trial?

It is easy to he wise after the event, but I don't think that the method by which internment was introduced was at all wise. It was a wide military-style sweep and as a result was a major propaganda success for the IRA.

It would have been far better if it had been done on a far more selective basis by the RUC rather than the army. I'm not in favour of returning to internment without trial in any Case.

Are you in favour of restoring the death penalty for terrorist offences?

I believe that the death penalty for terrorism has got to be considered now. We arc reaching a stage in the United Kingdom as' a whole where it has got to be considered.

Do you think that, but for the presence of the British army, there would be a civil war raging in Northern Ireland?

I am absolutely certain. I don't think that there is any alternative to the British army at present. Once it leaves Northern Ireland, there would be big loyalist retaliation and then you would get an IRA reaction and the whole island would be involved in civil war.

But I would also say that the

British army did not go there for imperialist reasons in 1969 because the conflict then was between Irishmen.

Since then many international terrorist organisations have been able to make propaganda out of the presence of British troops and say that we were there to oppress the people of Northern Ireland.

Jack Lynch, leader of the opposition in Dublin, has called for a United Nations intervention in Ulster. Would you support him? No. This would mean that the country would have to admit defeat by the terrorists. This would he a national humiliation at a time when we can get on top, get in control of terrorism. I support Mr Mason in trying to do this. It would be admitting defeat in regard of our NATO commitments which are quite important with regard to Northern Ireland's ports ancl air bases.

Does membership of the EEC affect relations between Northern Ireland and the South?

Yes., I do think that this is an important part of the future relations between the two parts of Ireland. It isn't just bringing the two governments together though, and it is hard to see the membership of the EEC in itself having much effect.

It does affect it in the matter of economic prosperity which is a very serious matter in the North now. The Government has a responsibility for seeing that it's improved. But in the long run it is reconciliation that counts, and that's what we ought to work for.




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