HC Deb 17 March 1988 vol 129 cc1239-49 4.17 pm
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the attack yesterday upon mourners attending the funeral in Milltown cemetery, Belfast, of the three terrorists killed in Gibraltar.

Before the funerals, the Roman Catholic Church, local politicians and community leaders had appealed for the occasion to be orderly and without violence. The police had made it clear that they wished it to happen, and would do all they could to assist. Against this background, and in the trust that neither the families nor the community wished to see any exploitation of the funerals for paramilitary purposes, the Chief Constable decided his dispositions accordingly. His aim was to police the whole area in a sensitive manner, and to avoid intervening in a private and solemn occasion. I would emphasise that the funerals were proceeding in a peaceful way until the attack took place.

At about 13.40 hours, a man on the fringe of the crowd in the cemetery opened fire with a handgun, and started to throw grenades among the mourners. He was identified, and as he made his retreat he threw further grenades and continued to fire. He was pursued by members of the crowd, who caught him at the nearby motorway, where he was subsequently arrested by the RUC. He is at present under police guard in hospital, recovering from the injuries he received at the hands of the crowd. A second man, subsequently arrested by the police at his home, is now helping them with their enquiries.

In the course of this vicious attack, three people were killed, and 68 injured, of whom four have been detained in hospital, one in intensive care. The House will wish to express its sympathy with the relations and friends of those killed and injured in this appalling incident.

A telephone call was made to the BBC, purporting to be from an organisation calling itself the Protestant Action Force, and claiming responsibility for the outrage, but the accuracy of this claim is not yet clear.

It was an obscenity that an occasion which, whatever its origins, should have been one for private mourning and grief was brutally and savagely interrupted by such an attack. The events of yesterday serve only to underline the total futility of violence in all its forms. The day began with a blast bomb attack by the IRA on an Army patrol, in which, fortunately, there were no fatalities, but in which one soldier was injured.

Even after the incident at the cemetery, and notwithstanding the professed appeals for calm, the IRA tried to launch a mortar attack on a police station in Belfast which was fortunately forestalled by the security forces. There was further violence last night, with hijacking and burning of vehicles, petrol bomb attacks, and a sectarian attack on some Protestant houses. We can only be grateful that the violence of last night did not lead to still more deaths and serious injuries.

Nothing could have demonstrated more clearly that if people's thoughts are only of revenge and retaliation after any incident, this awful cycle of killing and murder and violence will continue; yet nothing showed more clearly the total futility of violence and the fact that it offers nothing to any part of the community in Northern Ireland.

There are likely to be funerals every day this week in Belfast as a result of recent events, at which the human suffering, sadness and heartache will be all too plain.; and the ultimate tragedy for all the bereaved is that it is all to no purpose. Two thousand five hundred people have been killed in Northern Ireland in the past 20 years. We know how many of those deaths flow from terrorist action and we know that those killings have not advanced any cause whatsoever. Instead, they serve only to deepen the bitterness and hatred that can divide the communities.

At this time of great emotion, it is now incumbent on everybody in the Province to play their part in ending the cycle of violence and retaliation and further violence.

It is not just the politicians, the Church and community leaders, crucial though their role is—everybody in the Province has a responsibility, to heal, and to calm and to mind what they say as much as what they do. The need once and for all to repudiate violence in speech as well as in action and the determination to work positively to build a tolerant and caring society is the message that this House should send today. It is a message that does not seek to judge, or to distinguish between one section of the community and another, but one that is deeply important for the future of every single person in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that on 9 November, in the aftermath of the obscene bombing at the cenotaph at Enniskillen, I said: In the past, even the most barbaric have accepted that people should be allowed to honour their dead in peace." —[Official Report, 9 November 1987; Vol. 122, c. 20.] That view is still held by Opposition Members, and it is shared by hon. Members of all parties. Our sympathies and condolences must go out to the families of the three young men killed and to all those who suffered physical and emotional injury yesterday. Would that yesterday would see the end of all that in Northern Ireland.

I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House so soon to make a statement concerning the appalling scenes of carnage at Milltown cemetery yesterday. I should further like to support the Secretary of State in the comments that he made in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and bombing. I am sure that the whole House will wish to echo his words and warnings that there should be no retaliation, otherwise the mad and awful cycle of killing and murder and violence will continue". We agree with that. The perpetration of such an outrage can lead only to feelings of revulsion in all who saw the scenes on television last night.

I feel certain too that this House would wish to associate itself with the calls made throughout these two islands by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister, the Taoiseach in the Republic, the leaders of Churches on both sides of the divide, and political and community leaders—that no matter how understandable the feelings and desires for revenge, retaliation and retribution, firm self-control and discipline should be exercised. What is needed is for those with influence or in positions of authority to seek to prevent further violence. Cool heads are required—the spirit that followed Enniskillen and the voice of the common people.

One of the tragic facts of yesterday's events is that, until the gunman appeared and threw his grenades, the funerals had passed off calmly, with dignity, peacefully and with no hint of trouble—giving due respect to the wishes of the families of the dead.

The security forces have been left in a position where they can do no right. I am sure this House would not wish to see the "blanketing" of funerals again. Decisions on the security measures at funerals should be taken case by case. We believed that the security forces were right to hold back at Milltown yesterday, and we still believe that that was the right decision.

However, there are questions that the House deserves to have answered. First, there is a set of questions concerning the van parked near the cemetery. We are told that the white van parked on the M1 was a police vehicle belonging to the traffic division, which was to be used to prevent access to the cemetery from the motorway. Some reports have said that it was an old and battered van. If so, was it of the usual standard used by the police traffic division? What were just two policemen doing in the vicinity of thousands of Republicans? At what stage did the police in the van see the gunman? Did he get in to the cemetery the same way as he got out? When the police in the van saw the gunman and the mayhem in the cemetery, what did they think was happening? Why did they drive away and when, or if, did they summon support or alert other members of the security forces? Can the Secretary of State shed any light on the story in today's Irish Times that other vehicles were seen in convoy with the van half an hour before the arrival of the funeral at the cemetery?

Secondly, there is a set of questions concerning the helicopter, which is alleged to have been over the gunman as he made his attempted escape. When did the troops in the helicopter first see the man — if they did? What action did the troops in the helicopter take when they saw him? If the gunman entered the cemetery the same way as he left, did the crew of the helicopter see him? Why was no action taken before the carnage, if they did see him?

Lastly, there are questions relating to the nature of the weapons used in the attack. Have the type and origin of the fragmentation grenades and the gun or guns used in the attack been established? Is there any truth in the reports that the weapons used were of the same type as those seized by the security forces in County Armagh in January — supposedly destined for the Ulster Defence Association and similar to weapons believed now to he in the hands of the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Resistance, which were 150 anti-personnel fragmentation grenades, 30 Browning pistols and 60 Kalashnikov rifles? As those are sophisticated weapons, do we know when and how the man who has been detained obtained his training?

In conclusion, we feel that there is a great need for the elected and other leaders of both communities in the North to engage in a constructive dialogue, seeking to make the strength of democratic institutions more important than the strength of arms. The catalogue of events in Northern Ireland since November—the deaths and the political misunderstandings—have shown us all, on both sides of the water and in both parts of Ireland, that we must take the constructive opportunities that are available to us. They do exist.

Tragic though yesterday's events have been, today on St. Patrick's day we must still, as democrats, have hope. We must still work for a democratic, peaceful, political solution to the problems of the North. Violence only begets violence. As democrats, we must say that it must stop.

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for his opening comments and for associating with me in the call for no retaliation and for people to exercise responsibility at this time. I appreciate that. I also appreciate his endorsement of the Chief Constable's decision regarding the approach to the policing of the funerals. I believe that the Chief Constable's decisions were absolutely right and I am pleased to tell the House that he took exactly the same view about the funeral that took place today. According to the latest reports that I have received, that passed off peacefully and without violence. I am sure that that will be a great comfort and relief to all hon. Members.

The hon. Gentleman then raised a number of queries. After any incident in Northern Ireland, the air is thick with rumours, stories and allegations of who saw what and who might have done this, that or the other. That is precisely what I mean when I say that the right authority to investigate the matter is the police. That is precisely what they are doing at present. I have promised to make clear the assurance of the Chief Constable that there will be the most thorough investigation of all the matters. Obviously, I cannot respond to the individual points that have been raised. Those are matters for the police, and anyone who has any information that can assist the police in the proper conduct of the investigation should make that information available to them.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)

In joining unreservedly in the condemnation of this insane and dastardly outrage, can I ask the Secretary of State whether he will refute the truly monstrous allegations that the Army and the RUC engaged in a stand-off tactic to enable such an attack to take place? Does the Secretary of State agree that he can exonerate the security forces by explaining precisely how the stand-off decision was taken and what wider considerations and discussions preceded the Chief Constable's directive?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. I am certainly grateful to him for giving me the opportunity, with all the information available to me, to repudiate utterly the disgraceful allegation that there was collusion and that the purpose of proceeding with sensitivity in the area of west Belfast during the tense and difficult period of the funerals was to enable such an outrage to take place. I do not think that any reasonable person gave a moment's credence to that absolutely monstrous and demonstrable lie. It revealed quickly and immediately the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein in these matters. When the security forces seek to prevent illegality and are provoked by Sinn Fein or the IRA in many of the activities that they seek to police, they are accused of gross interference and violation of personal rights, yet, when they seek to respond to representations, from both the Church and the families, they are alleged to be exposing the people concerned to the risk of violence. It is a monstrous charge, and I am grateful for the opportunity to repudiate it entirely.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

At this distressing and dangerous time, would it not be helpful if certain Catholic priests considered more carefully some of their words and the effect of those words on other people? Should not such people as Father Raymond Murray realise that a priest is called to be a pastor, not just to Republicans, but to Catholics of all opinions, including Catholics loyally serving in the armed forces and the police?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will have noted that I referred in my statement to the crucial role not just of politicians, but of Church leaders. I do not think that I was the only person who found deeply distressing the content of some of the addresses given at the funerals, and I know that there are many throughout the Catholic community who are equally distressed by those statements. Everyone has a responsibility to avoid any language which may itself help to stir up violence and hatred in that way. At present, there is a need to heal and to calm, and people should mind what they say as much as what they do.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I take this opportunity of associating myself with the remarks about the police. I was one of those people who have consistently requested that, at those funerals, the police adopt the position that they adopted yesterday. They should continue to do so. What they did was right, and they should not be under attack from any quarter. As anyone who lives in the North of Ireland knows, if someone wants to commit an attack, no amount of security will prevent it.

Will the Secretary of State agree — I note from his statement that he does—that the business of politics is about creating consensus, binding wounds and healing the terrible divisions that we have had over so many years? Will he accept, with the best grace that I can offer, that the perception of this Government's approach in the North of Ireland is one of confrontation and that that has in some ways contributed to a climate in which confrontation has become the order of the day? Will he take this traumatic opportunity to assure the House that, from now on, the thrust of Government policy should be towards compassion, reconciliation and creation of a just and peaceful society?

Mr. King

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks about the conduct of the police yesterday. I know that he has held his views very sincerely for many years. The Chief Constable's decision yesterday was correct in the circumstances and it was a tragedy that the incident destroyed what would otherwise have been a peaceful and orderly funeral.

On the other hand, I do not accept the suggestion that the Government's approach is confrontational. The Government are genuinely seeking to try to heal the wounds in Northern Ireland. Over recent months and years, people have recognised that the security forces have sought to police impartially and to stand against violence and extremism, from whichever side it may come, with the full support of the Government. We have taken progressive steps to try to deal with the problem of inequality and discrimination in housing, electoral practice and employment. Surely our record shows our determination to see fairness and equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, as we expect to see it throughout the United Kingdom.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

After each obscene atrocity committed by the Provisional IRA during the past 20 years, when innocent men, women and children and members of the security forces have been murdered and maimed, I have appealed for restraint and for no acts of retaliation—even when my own cousin, a mother with a family, was murdered by the Provisional IRA, and her husband subsequently died from a heart attack. I agree with the comments of the Secretary of State. We need calm, and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want nothing better than good community relations. They want to see political and constitutional progress in the Province, but, sadly, the bloodletting that has been going on for so long hinders that progress. It is now up to everyone to appeal unequivocally to the people of Northern Ireland to give 100 per cent. support to the police and the Army, so that we shall no longer have such deplorable incidents.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman has consistently called for restraint on these occasions. His comments clearly bring out the fact that what is really obscene about these incidents is that they betray the vast majority of decent, hard-working people in the Province who want exactly what everybody else throughout the United Kingdom wants—a future for themselves and for their families to grow up in peace, with some prospect of happiness for the future. It is the men of violence who stand in the way of that opportunity for the whole community in Northern Ireland, and this is a time for that community to make its feelings felt in the most effective way.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I accept that these are serious matters and of great concern to all hon. Members, particularly those representing Northern Ireland seats, but I must again draw attention to the fact that we have a heavy day in front of us, and I ask for single questions to be put to the Secretary of State. I hope that we may be on the next business by 5 o'clock.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

May I associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with everything that the Secretary of State has said from the Dispatch Box this afternoon? Does he agree that we shall see an end to the cycle of sectarian violence and the tit-for-tat, blood-for-blood revenge killings only when all organisations and people involved in the political process in Northern Ireland repudiate the use of violence to achieve their objectives? Does he also agree that the best course for the British Government now is to continue steadfastly pursuing the policies that have been pursued over the past two years, especially the consolidation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and full support for the security and police services in Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

There is no question but that violence is a threat to the island of Ireland. Indeed, the welcome news of a further arms find by the Garda in the Republic yesterday is further confirmation of the importance of cross-border security co-operation. That might prove to be a significant find, but full details have not yet come through. The Irish and British Governments, as confirmed by the Taoiseach in discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, share a determination to work closely together in the fight to eradicate from the island of Ireland the violence which does such damage and against which the problem of political progress becomes so difficult.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Does not a heavy responsibility lie upon those who stage these highly charged political funerals for their own unscrupulous purposes? Do not those who glorify them on television, and to that extent almost incite violence, bear some responsibility?

Mr. King

I certainly agree, and my hon. Friend will excuse me if I do not repeat the remarks that I made earlier. The way in which funerals have been exploited over recent months and years is a great obscenity. It does no service to the Province and it poses appallingly difficult problems for the police, who do not wish to get involved in any way but who do have a duty to uphold the law.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

Will the Secretary of State accept from me, representing as I do the constituency which contains the town of Enniskillen, that my constituents will fully understand the tragedy of yesterday? It is a tragedy for the entire community, but does he agree that it cannot be swept away with a few platitudes and clichés, and that active measures must be taken to ensure that all the paramilitaries who live off each other's violence must be dealt with, and it can only be dealt with by firmness and resolve and by ensuring that the ordinary citizen can continue with his day-to-day life? The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) has called for the proscription of one paramilitary organisation —

Mr. Mallon

Proscribe them all.

Mr. Maginnis

Many of us recognise the need to proscribe them all, as the hon. Gentleman now says.

Mr. Mallon

It is what I have always said.

Mr. Maginnis

Will the Secretary of State now acknowledge that there are practical difficulties, but that we could make a start by taking out of the community the known godfathers? Will he please, on behalf of the innocent people of Northern Ireland, again consider the possibility of the selective internment of those evil leaders?

Mr. King

I know that the hon. Gentleman has consistently held that view, and I respect it. I recognise that platitudes are no measure of the response that is needed to such a serious issue. With regard to the two particular approaches that he described, we keep such matters under review. Powers were retained in case there might at any time be such a need, but he will be aware—I do not want to mislead him—of the real difficulties that exist in either of those courses and the need to consider carefully whether they would contribute to a solution or add to the problem. Those are issues that the Government must consider seriously, but we keep such matters under review.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Further to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), may I press my right hon. Friend to say whether there is any way in which funerals relating to the perpetrators of violence can be prevented from becoming media opportunities for demagogues and others to stir up still further sectarian hatred?

Mr. King

If the organisations concerned are sufficiently unscrupulous and uncaring of the attitudes and feelings of families and virtually shanghai the privileges and rights that should belong to the families of the deceased, it is extremely difficult to prevent this sort of exploitation. There is some evidence, certainly in the case of one of the families concerned on this occasion, that they find themselves swept up in something way beyond anything that they would have wished to see.

Mr. John Hume (Foyle)

May I join in the expression of sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured and welcome the unanimous, right-across-the-board condemnation in Northern Ireland of this atrocity, and the equally unanimous call for restraint? May I repeat the call that I made yesterday — that, despite the extreme provocation of this particular act, I hope that the Catholic community will respond with the same dignity and restraint as did the Protestant people after Enniskillen?

Have the weapons, ammunition and other equipment used in the attack been found, and is there any evidence to suggest their source or previous use?

Mr. King

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman says. I welcome the statements that he made yesterday which, undoubtedly, were helpful and were in marked contrast to the statements coming from Sinn Fein. While pretending to such an approach, as I made clear in my statement, the IRA was at that moment planning further attacks for that evening.

My understanding is that two handguns were concerned and that neither has been recovered. However, I think that ballistic tests have identified the type of weapons concerned. The source of the grenades is under investigation at the moment and further information about that may become available shortly.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that he has already proscribed certain paramilitary organisations in the Province? Bearing in mind my right hon. Friend's consistent arid proper commitment to impartial policing in the Province, and to the even-handed administration of justice, will he please consider once again with his security advisers whether it would not be in the best interests of protecting the innocent from further tragedies if he were to proscribe all — I repeat, all—paramilitary organisations in the Province?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend has made, with his usual sincerity and concern, an important statement on his own behalf. I do not wish to add to the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), but, as I made clear to him, we keep these matters under review.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I join those who condemn the atrocity of yesterday, associating with some of my own constituents who are bereaved today as a result of it, as I did with the families of the members of the UDR in my constituency a fortnight ago. I ask, following the Secretary of State's answer to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), whether it is time that the British Government followed the lead of the Government of the Republic of Ireland and banned the media from promoting the actions, activities and policies of terrorists? Is it not time that that is done, even by proscription? I make the point, which friends in the media have confirmed, that the other night, when the IRA had a firing party at a new "shrine" to commemorate the dead, coincidentally a television camera and crew were there, ready to proclaim it to the nation. Is it not time that such things were stopped?

Mr. King

I have to say that we have no proposals in that specific direction, and I think the hon. Member is aware of the obvious disadvantages and unattractiveness of seeking to ban political parties, if they seek to stand as political parties, from access to television. I certainly echo the sense of what he said. I am in no doubt that in a free society the media, particularly the television cameras, have a great responsibility for what they decide to broadcast.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Will my right hon. Friend accept that we feel very strongly that he has exercised his functions as Secretary of State with dignity and statemanship in relation to this whole affair, not only on this occasion but on many others? We believe that the work he is doing in Northern Ireland is anything but confrontational, and we congratulate him on everything he has done to help to solve this very difficult and tragic situation.

Mr. King

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend; I appreciate his comments very much.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In the light of the decision by the Home Office to transfer a written question of mine, prompted by the Stalker book, in relation to Michael Tighe and the hayshed, does one assume that all the responsibility for any covert operations is now in the hands of the Northern Ireland Office and no longer has anything to do with the Home Office?

Mr. King

I fail to see how that remotely arises out of the statement I have just made.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

If the gunman at the funeral had been intercepted and shot by the security services before he committed that appalling massacre, does my right hon. Friend think that the security forces would have been thanked or condemned by the IRA and their friends? Might not the answer to that question reveal the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the IRA and its apologists in its attitude to the deaths recently of three acknowledged terrorists in Gibraltar?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend and neighbour takes me into wider country than I would wish to go in response to the statement, but we recognise the demands we place on the security forces. We recognise clearly from the incident the way in which irresponsible elements can seek to abuse the security forces, from whichever position they choose to take, and the very difficult task they have to pursue in their proven and bounden duty to seek to protect the whole community from the abuse and foulness of terrorism.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

Does the Secretary of State accept from the lesson of the dreadful events yesterday, the killings in Gibraltar, the shoot-to-kill policy, the conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and Enniskillen that his hope to bring peace to Northern Ireland is a hopeless quest because Britain's presence there prevents the people of Ireland from having the political stability that will take them forward to a better future? The view of the people of Britain is increasingly that it is time for the troops to go. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of British troops going into Northern Ireland and what have we achieved? I put it seriously to the Secretary of State that he must cease to pretend that this route will bring peace to Northern Ireland, and should look to what the British people are saying, which is that we must start to organise a withdrawal.

Mr. King

The hon. Lady, on the occasion of this statement—which is proof, if ever it was sadly needed, of the depth of hatred and bitterness that can exist in the Province — should remember that British troops first went to the Province at the request of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster as she then was, Bernadette Devlin, to protect the Catholic community at that time. That was the original reason, and the troops have sought since to deal impartially and protect the community against terrorism.

How out of date can the hon. Lady get? Is she not aware that successive Irish Governments recognise that there is no solution to the problem by the withdrawal of British troops? They have recognised, as does the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his party, that the way forward is not by some arbitrary withdrawal of British troops but by both countries standing together to defeat terrorism and by letting the democratic views of the people of Northern Ireland be heard.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is there any truth in the statement on BBC television lunchtime news that security at today's funeral was provided by the IRA —in which case, with whom was this negotiated? Were those purporting to be providing security armed, and is this the way ahead for funerals in the future?

Mr. King

As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), my hon. Friend has fallen prey to just the sort of damaging and pernicious propaganda that people seek to put out to stir up trouble. That is exactly the point I made—when we have appeals for sensitivity and for funeral processions to be able to proceed without intervention by the security forces, somebody will step forward and say, "We are now providing security ourselves." I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) will not fall for that sort of propaganda.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

While joining in the condemnation of this act of horror and all the previous acts of horror, irrespective of from where they come, will the Secretary of State reflect that over the past 20 years eight Governments have successively failed to win the war or win the peace? Is it not time that the people of this country had the right to decide what to do? Is it not time for a referendum of all the population of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to decide whether we should continue to remain in Northern Ireland?

Mr. King

I am not sure what contribution the hon. Gentleman has made in recent years to try to help to tackle some of these very difficult issues. He may not be aware of his party's policy and the support it has given, which is that the determination of the future of Northern Ireland should be a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. If he is in disagreement yet again with his party's policy, perhaps he will sort it out with the party.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

May I associate myself fully with the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)? In view of the immutable connection between the killings in Gibraltar and the funerals yesterday, when can we expect a ministerial explanation concerning the involvement of police officers in that sad affair in Gibraltar? I severely condemn the murderous intent of those shot down in the colony, and believe that such a statement would, at the very least, acknowledge the very deep concern felt by many people about that affair.

Mr. King

I appreciate the fact that the hon. Member included in his question some recognition of the murderous intent of the people who lost their lives in Gibraltar. Some people do not appreciate that the potential impact of the bomb in Gibraltar would have been some 50 times more damaging than that discharged at Enniskillen, and the possible carnage and loss of life that could have resulted hardly bears thinking about. In some of the reports, some people have lost sight completely of that. Having said that, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made it absolutely clear that the due process will now be gone through, and there will be an inquest in Gibraltar, so obviously that is the next stage in the matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Would it not be fair to say that, in the course of the 18 years that I have been in the House, a succession of Ministers representing Northern Ireland have given reports of what is taking place? Several times a year one of those Ministers comes along and talks about the need to get together, about unity and all the rest of it. It has struck me, as one who has not intervened in Irish debates over the years, that the statements are being repeated constantly, without any effect upon what is happening over there.

Would it not be sensible to put the Anglo-Irish Agreement on the back burner? Would it not be sensible to consider some of the other options, such as withdrawal? Surely it is time, bearing in mind that the British people are getting fed up to the back teeth with what is taking place, to start considering all the other options?

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman was candid enough to include in that question a statement that he had no close acquaintance with the problem. The longer he went on, the more I agreed with that sentence.