Page 4, 23rd March 1979

23rd March 1979
Page 4
Page 4, 23rd March 1979 — Reassurance on civil liberties

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Organisations: Conservative Party
Locations: London


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Reassurance on civil liberties

IN ALL WARS the danger is that one ends up in the heat and ferocity of the struggle adopting the methods of one's opponents. This danger is present in Northern Ireland, and the security forces are under constant pressure to achieve results by whatever means.

It is to their great credit and to that of the Royal Ulster Constabulary that their standards remain so high but there will always be lapses, and it looks as though the Bennet Report has uncovered some.

One cannot be sure because of the limited terms of reference of the inquiry, which was not to investigate individual complaints and take evidence but to examine the practices and mode of operation of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

The report has come up with some useful recommendations as to how to improve these, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has acted with characteristic vigour in accepting two of them straight away — the suggestion that all interrogation rooms should have "spyholes" so that the processes can be observed, and that suspects detained should have access to their legal advisers every 48 hours.

This will do a great deal to reassure those who are concerned about civil liberties that within the limitations necessarily imposed by the near civil war situation in Ulster these are being respected.

The problems of the security forces are almost insoluble. It is extemely difficult to get information, much less evidence, that can be put forward in a court of law because of the ruthless way in which witnesses or informers are eliminated by the warring extremists.

Senator Kennedy's latest Intervention in the Province's affairs was as unfortunate as his previous initiatives, because he consistently underestimates these difficulties.

The present inquiry has L■cen obscured by the violent and emotional controversy which has raged over Dr Robert Irwin's evidence given on television and elsewhere of ill treatment by the RUC.

The attempt to discredit the doctor by dredging up the sufferings of his wife is despicable and an inquiry by Mr Mason into his own office would seem to be called for if only to protect its reputation against public suspicion which has undoubtedly been aroused of the existence of a "dirty tricks" operation.

Meanwhile the Ulster situation is in danger of getting entangled with the British electoral issue and the parliamentary impasse. Nothing would do the cause of the Ulster Unionists more harm than if they were seen to be putting their narrow sectional interests first and ignoring the good of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Yet this is precisely what Mr Enoch Powell appears to be counselling them to do. Already they have gained extra seats for Ulster, but that has not been of the same order. the case for increased Ulster representation was one of simple justice and electoral arithmetic, and the case had been accepted by both Government and Opposition.

To attempt to screw out uneconomic commitments to such projects as an oil pipeline to Northern Ireland which would cost at least £100 million, or to create a new system of devolved government without any provisions having been made for a fair deal for the Catholic community, by keeping an unpopular government in office for a few more months, would be wholly wrong.

To his credit the chairman of the Ulster Unionists, Mr Harry West, who is in London this week for talks on the future of the Province, has repudiated such tactics, and with them Mr Enoch Powell. lhe latter seems intent on pursuing a vendetta against the

Conservative Party in general and Mrs Thatcher in particular, which no doubt he is entitled to do but not at the price of jeopardising Ulster and United Kingdom interests.

The whole raison d'Ptre of Ulster Unionism is that its supporters wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. The logical consequence of this is in the last resort they must put the interests of the whole kingdom before that of their Province.

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