HC Deb 07 March 1972 vol 832 cc1238-42
Mr. Merlyn Rees

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a `statement about the bomb explosions which have occurred in Northern Ireland during the last few days.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Reginald Maudling)

There were 11 explosions during the weekend in Northern Ireland, and three yesterday. The most serious incident was at the Abercorn Restaurant in the centre of Belfast on Saturday afternoon when it was crowded with shoppers. Although the bomb was not a large one, the circumstances in which it exploded resulted in two young women being killed and another 136 civilians injured, of whom 30 were detained in hospital, some in a serious condition. Most of the other explosions during the weekend were also in Belfast, but two were in Dungannon and one was at Cookstown.

Yesterday there were three more explosions in Belfast, a co-operative store was damaged, and during the afternoon a 40–60 lb. bomb exploded in a van parked outside a cinema in the centre of the town. Fifty-six people were treated for shock and cuts, eight cars were damaged, and extensive damage was caused to property. The van in which the charge had been left had been stolen in the Falls Road area earlier in the afternoon. In Londonderry a 40–50 lb. charge of explosive was placed in an hotel in Northland Road by three youths, two of whom were armed. No casualties resulted, but extensive damage to done to the premises.

Those outrages are remarkable for the utter callousness shown by those responsible.

I know the House will wish to join with me in extending our deepest sympathy to those who have been bereaved and to those who have been so terribly injured and mutilated.

The security forces will take all possible steps to apprehend those responsible.

Mr. Rees

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while we accept, given the situation in Northern Ireland, that we cannot expect a statement on each occasion of an incident, two dead and nearly 200 injured is exceptional and warrants a Government view? Is he further aware that we would like to associate ourselves with his expression of regret to relatives? Does the right hon. Gentleman regard these recent tragedies—which are supported only by those who are mentally ill, who are attacked by Catholic and Protestant alike—as part of a new and co-ordinated plan? Has he any information concerning the responsibility for them, and will he assure the House that the shock and reaction to these terrible events will not prevent the Government from taking a political initiative, not as a gesture to murderers but as a well-thought-out policy designed to get the support of the 99 per cent. decent people in Ireland, North and South?

Mr. Maudling

I agree that these crimes are the work of psychopaths. I do not think there is a concerted plan, but it is a new pattern of unco-ordinated bombing by psychopathic killers. As to responsibility, I cannot add to what I have already said. The security forces do all they possibly can to pin the responsibility on those who are guilty. On the subject of a political initiative, I confirm that the Government will make a statement on this at any time when we think it will contribute to progress in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Chichester-Clark

While associating myself with the expressions of sympathy for those involved in this most inhuman of all outrages so far, and also with the relatives of members of the security forces who have been killed recently—not excluding the relatives of Mr. Marcus McCausland, whose family had in its own peculiar way played as much a part in trying to heal the wounds of violence as any I know—may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that the word "initiative" means something different to different people? Will he make it absolutely clear that, whatever it may mean to him, it does not in any language in any part of the United Kingdom mean surrender to terrorism and brute force?

Mr. Maudling

Of course, without any question whatever there can be no surrender to brute force or terrorism. There is a great need, emphasised by these outrages, to do all we can to unite the overwhelming majority of people who are against terrorism.

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that no one wants to make any concession to terrorism or to these outrages that have recently taken place in Belfast? Is he further aware that what many of us are concerned about is that week by week we are told there is to be a Government initiative—we have had it from quite official sources—but nothing ever happens? Does he not agree that this delay might add to the uncertainty and problems existing in Northern Ireland? Will he and the Prime Minister consider saying something fairly urgently about Northern Ireland and about what the Government propose to do?

Mr. Maudling

It is the desire of the Government and of the whole House to make some progress in this tragic situation. We will make a statement at any time when in our judgment it will help to make progress.

Captain Orr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the most important piece of progress which could be made now lies in controlling the materials which these murderers use? Could he say whether any progress is being made in the control of gelignite and detonators, and whether a political and effectual initiative is coming from Eire on this subject?

Mr. Maudling

A lot of work is being done on the control of gelignite, but I will not go into the details; if I did, it might help those trying to do the harm.

Mr. Foley

May I associate myself with the condemnations of violence, and may I ask the Home Secretary whether he realises that in the absence of political initiatives by the Government their room for manoeuvre is being diminished day by day, week by week? When are we likely to have proposals from the Government—political initiatives and not just condemnations of violence and reports of incidents?

Mr. Maudling

I do not think I can add to what I have already said. The Government will make a statement when we judge it to be of advantage to Northern Ireland to do so.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I, too, would like to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy for the bereaved and those so seriously mutilated. Is the Home Secretary aware of the absolute revulsion and horror that went through the whole community on Saturday when this terrible disaster occurred in the Abercorn Restaurant, Belfast? Is he aware that even a surgeon in the Royal Victoria Hospital was so revolted that he took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement? Is he further aware that there are now people without eyes, arms, legs? Does lie realise that this incident has called forth condemnation from every section of the community that is thinking rightly on this subject? Does he not feel that there is great urgency for the Government to make known the proposals that they have in mind, for all sections of the community are under a shadow, and until the Government declare their policy great uncertainty exists which is begetting increasing fear in the hearts of the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Maudling

I certainly am aware of the almost universal condemnation of these outrages throughout all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and indeed, in the South, and in this country as well. On the second half of the question, I can only say again that the timing of any Government statement on the political situation in Northern Ireland should be determined not by individual incidents but by the best judgment we can make of the timing that best suits the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Home Secretary aware that the whole House is appalled by these outrages, which can achieve nothing except an increasing bitterness in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that, while we must accept that this is a question of timing, we cannot be seen to be making concessions to violence? Will he accept that over the years timing has not been the most conspicuous success in our judgment in this country of Irish affairs? Is he aware that it would be the hope of the whole House that support could be given without any question of controversy or differences on the package, but that some of us believe that that package is now long overdue?

Mr. Maudling

What the right hon. Gentleman says confirms the importance of getting the timing as well as the content right. I emphasise that the lesson of these outrages is the enormous importance of not giving way to violence in any form whatever but of uniting the entire community against the men of violence.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will my right hon. Friend be a little guarded in his use of the term "psychopath" to describe men who know what they are doing and are deliberately mass-murdering innocent people? Secondly, with the help of Mr. Lynch in Eire, will he try to arrive at an arrangement to ensure that where I.R.A. terrorists who have perpetrated these hideous crimes can be identified their property should be seized and maximum compensation paid to those who have suffered?

Mr. Maudling

In reply to the first point of my hon. Friend, no one who does a thing like this can be other than a psychopath. It is a form of bestial behaviour which can best be described as being something which no ordinary human being could ever dream of doing. On the second point, where there is evidence of members of the I.R.A. being participants in these crimes, of course our job obviously is to apply for extradition so that they can be tried.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Home Secretary aware that I am happy to be associated with the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in welcome contrast to those of his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark)? In bringing forward this long-awaited statement, will he impress on his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the need not to be deflected by the hawkishness which emanated from the Home Affairs Group meeting last night as reported on the front page of the Daily Mail by Walter Terry?

Mr. Maudling

I did not detect any difference between the supplementary questions of my hon. Friends. Both took the point that there can be no concession to violence but there must be continued attempts to reach agreement.