§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the recent killings in Northern Ireland, and especially on the murders of two soldiers in Belfast on Saturday 19 March.
I must remind the House of the background and sequence of events during the last week in Northern Ireland. On Wednesday the funerals were held of the three IRA terrorists killed in Gibraltar. In spite of the very large crowds and the extremely tense situation in West Belfast, the funerals had proceeded in an orderly manner, without violence and without any paramilitary display.
Order. This may be a point of disagreement. I shall call the hon. Gentleman in due course.
§ Mr. King
This was the position when a vicious attack took place at Milltown cemetery by a Loyalist gunman. In that attack three people attending the funeral were killed and a large number injured, of whom one remains in intensive care.
On Thursday there was the funeral of the IRA gunman shot by the Army on Monday. He was acknowledged by the IRA as one of its members. His funeral took place without disturbance and without paramilitary display.
On Friday the funeral took place of Charles McCrillen, a Catholic with no paramilitary connections, shot by the UFF; and of Thomas McErlean, one of the three killed at Milltown cemetery. These again took place peacefully and without any breach of the law.
On Saturday the funerals of the other two killed at Milltown cemetery took place, first that of John Murray, and secondly that of Kevin Brady, who was acknowledged by the PIRA to be one of its members. It was at this funeral that the quite horrific events took place that have so shocked the world.
I would like to tell the House the facts as far as they can be established about these events. Just after midday on Saturday, following the funeral service at St. Agnes church, the cortege moved off along Andersonstown road towards the Milltown cemetery. At that point, a civilian car attempted to reverse away from the cortege. Despite the television coverage of the subsequent events, which many hon. Members will have seen, it remains unclear how the car came to be in that position and for how long it had been on that road. What is quite clear, however, is that as it reversed away from the cortege its way was blocked, both forward and backward, by taxis accompanying the funeral.
What immediately followed is a matter of sickening visual record. A number of those in the funeral cortege immediately set upon the car with the obvious intention of pulling out the two occupants. Photographs indicate that at this point the driver of the car leaned out of his window and fired one shot in the air—the only shot which both occupants tired in the course of the attack upon them. After only a moment's pause the crown resumed the onslaught on the car, some of them smashing at it with iron bars, and eventually succeeded in hauling 22 out both occupants. Both men were then dragged by the crowd into an adjacent stadium, the gates were closed, and it appears that a smaller group of attackers continued to assault them, stripped them and searched their clothing, subsequently threw them over a wall, and then bundled them into a black taxi which took them to a nearby piece of wasteland, where they were shot.
It subsequently emerged that the two victims were corporals in the Royal Corps of Signals— Corporal Wood and Corporal Howes. Shortly beforehand they had left the joint police and Army base in North Howard street mill, after completing a routine maintenance task, in order to return to their unit at Lisburn. They had no reason to be in the vicinity of the funeral. This is not an approved route for soldiers who are not on operational duty at the time, and there is absolutely no question of their being involved in any way with surveillance or any other duties connected with the funeral. I am therefore unable to tell the House with any certainty why they were there. If the most likely explanation is that they decided to take the shortest route back to their base, without appreciating the presence of the funeral, this can only be conjecture, and it will probably never be known why they were there.
Whatever the reason, however, nothing can conceivably justify the utterly appalling outrage that then occurred and which resulted in their deaths. The whole House will join me in extending the utmost sympathy to their families, and even more so in view of the awful television pictures of the occasion. Nor has it gone unnoticed, and rightly so, that, although they both had loaded personal protection pistols, they showed incredible restraint in using them only to fire a warning shot in the air.
In the face of this outrage, and the others in the week, the first and immediate objective is to bring to justice those responsible. In respect of the Milltown cemetery attack, a man will shortly be charged with these murders, and also a number of other serious offences. In respect of the killing of the soldiers, two men are already in custody. In addition, a massive murder investigation is under way, in which all possible resources are involved to identify all those responsible.
The next issue that I wish to address is that of the approach of the RUC to the conduct of these funerals. Large funerals and processions are arguably the most difficult events from a public order and a terrorist threat situation that the security forces face. They have been used quite unscrupulously by paramilitaries for propaganda purposes.
The Chief Constable, in determining the most appropriate method of policing any funeral, takes account of all the relevant circumstances in reaching his decision. Clearly a prime consideration has been that they should be conducted within the law and without paramilitary display. He would also have regard to the degree to which other elements would seek deliberately to exploit the presence of the police to provoke violence and disorder.
There have been suggestions that the arrangements for the funerals were the consequence of a political directive and that there had been some interference with the independent operational responsibility of the Chief Constable. This is quite false. The Chief Constable has asked me to make it quite clear that he takes full responsibility for the arrangements for the funerals, and that these were policing decisions, taken after the most careful assessment of all the relevant circumstances. I 23 would emphasise that I fully support the decisions that he took in these matters, and in which the initial outcome had clearly been successful. However, the two incidents that subsequently occurred are clearly wholly unacceptable and require immediate review in regard to policing to be followed at any future funeral. The Chief Constable has informed me this morning that he is carrying this through as a matter of urgency. I can tell the House that he will carry through this work with great professionalism and sensitivity, but the House knows well how difficult it is to ensure that funerals can proceed in good order and within the law when there are elements who have absolutely no scruples or respect for family feelings in the way in which they seek to exploit them.
Faced with the appalling violence of the last weeks—not only in Belfast, but the vicious murders of Jillian Johnston in Fermanagh and Constable Graham in the Creggan in Londonderry only this morning—the House may remember the words that I spoke last Thursday about the desperate need to break the awful cycle of violence and retaliation and end the suffering and heartache that is achieving nothing but more misery for all. This is now urgent, and it is the time when every person with a spark of human decency must determine to give his full support to the fight against terrorism, from whichever quarter it may come. The security forces will take the lead, as they have done so bravely over the years, but they must have the whole-hearted co-operation of everybody in the Province, in the island of Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom, in their task. I saw this morning Archbishop Eames, Cardinal O'Fiaich, the Moderator and Secretary of the Presbyterian Church and the President of the Methodist Church, on the need for all in the Province to take their share of responsibility and to condemn violence in all its forms.
It is vital that we also help the community, in any way, to support the fight against terrorism, and in that connection we are improving significantly the confidential telephone system. Very shortly indeed we shall be supplementing the present system with a single and easily memorable freephone number usable right across the Province. I have asked the broadcasting authorities to publicise the number, and they have readily agreed. That will be a valuable strengthening of the present facility, which is, in fact, being used by a considerable number of people in their horror at the events of Saturday.
The fight against Republican terrorism must be waged also beyond the confines of Northern Ireland, and it particularly raises major challenges for the Government of the Republic of Ireland. A significant number of steps have been taken to help improve cross-border cooperation, and we particularly appreciate the amount of weapons and explosives that have already been recovered by the Garda. We have to keep working to improve that co-operation in our common interest to defeat terrorism. I have this morning agreed with Mr. Lenihan that there will be a meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference this week, at which we shall be discussing cross-border security co-operation, and which will be attended by Mr. Lenihan and myself, as co-chairmen, by Mr. Collins, the Irish Minister of Justice, by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State and by the Chief Constable and the Commissioner of the Garda.
24 The common phrase this weekend is that the troubles of Northern Ireland have plumbed new depths of horror. That was the phrase at Enniskillen, that was the phrase at Milltown cemetery, and it is now the phrase in the Andersontown road following the events of Saturday. The truth is that there will be new depths again so long as this awful and violent campaign of terrorism and revenge continues. It has got to stop, in the name of humanity, if there is to be any decent future for the people of Northern Ireland and for all those living in the island of Ireland, and if the evil shroud of terrorism is to be lifted from the United Kingdom as a whole.
We all have our part to play, whether in actively combating terrorism through the security forces, whether working to build bridges across communities or whether in deciding we do nothing in our words or actions that can increase the tensions. We all have our part, and the duty that we owe to all the tragic victims of these outrages is to play that part to the full.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
It is my unhappy duty once again to have to pass on the condolences of Opposition Members to the families of those who have been so tragically killed in Northern Ireland. Our sympathies today are with the families of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood, but we must not forget Jillian Johnston, and we hope that her fiance will have a speedy recovery. Our condolences must go also to the family of Constable Graham, who was killed in the Creggan.
In the past four days the Secretary of State has twice had the melancholy task of coming to the Dispatch Box as the bearer of bad news. Five tragic deaths have occurred at funerals, three at the hands of a maverick gunman, and two after being cornered by a bestial pack that had trapped its quarry.
However, the important thing is that in this House we maintain cool heads. Our justified and righteous anger should not be allowed to overcome a reasoned judgment, for if it does the men of violence will have won.
On Thursday Opposition Members supported the decision of the Chief Constable in the attitude that was taken to the policing of Wednesday's funerals. He took a similar decision on Saturday, and in the successful funerals that occurred earlier last week, which we tend to forget. We thought that he was right then; we think that he is right now. He must decide how best to police events in emotionally charged atmospheres. That is sensitive policing, not soft policing. He must take each case as it comes, on its merits. We welcome his review, but we welcome also the knowledge of his integrity and of the fact that he will do what is best for the rule of law and for the feelings of the families of the dead in Northern Ireland when he comes to his decision.
None the less, questions need to be asked and observations need to be made. First, is the Secretary of State in a position to tell the House if, and when, the Army was informed by the Royal Ulster Constabulary of the type of policing practices that were to be used at the funeral on Saturday, and indeed at previous ones? What general procedures for liaison between Army personnel and the RUC exist on these matters?
Secondly, can the Secretary of State confirm that instructions were given to the two corporals about the route to be followed and that they had been briefed about the funerals?
25 Thirdly, we welcome the statement that a man is to be charged for what happened at Milltown and that two people have been arrested in connection with what happened on Saturday, but many more people were involved in the soldiers' murders. Can the Secretary of State say whether it has been decided to bring charges against the two who have been arrested and if he expects further arrests to follow?
Fourthly, it has been alleged that the security forces in the area were prevented by orders from seeking to protect the soldiers, the mere suggestion of which I find completely reprehensible. Will the Secretary of State confirm to hon. Members, who may have heard other hon. Members making that statement, that such was not the case?
Finally, in terms of questions, can the Secretary of State say what role the helicopter that was in the vicinity played in seeking to summon assistance to the cornered soldiers?
We welcome the Secretary of State's statement about the Intergovernmental Conference to be held later this week. Obviously, Opposition Members welcome the continuance of that development. We prefer it to suggestions in some quarters that there should be an early meeting between the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach. Our general view is that, while we welcome the support and statements that are coming from the Republic in the wake of recent incidents, gesture politics of a summit nature would not be proper at the present time. Perhaps there should be a summit meeting, but it should take place only after a period of careful planning, with an agreed agenda, and when each of the Governments know what they want to achieve. At present, the mechanics exist in the Intergovernmental Conference for other matters to be discussed.
We believe that the Prime Minister should start once again to play a more active part in Irish affairs. In the past six months horrific events and political misunderstandings have increased. As a signatory to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, many of us believe that the Prime Minister should resume that keen interest which helped to lead to the signing of the agreement. This will be essential in the period leading up to the re-examination of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
There is a responsibility on the elected leaders of the communities in Northern Ireland, who have seen enormous tragic changes taking place in their communities. They must come together. They must sit together, with good will and no preconditions, to attempt to find a peaceful way forward. The vacuum in constitutional politics has for the moment been replaced with a surfeit of violence—the gunman, the bomber, the lynch mob. It is time for the political leaders from both communities in Northern Ireland to find an antidote to this poison in the midst of the communities.
All that the British Government can do, and all that we as an Opposition can help them to do, is to maintain the position in which the political leaders can come together to talk. The Secretary of State has a crucial role to play in this process. We are talking about British subjects directly ruled from this House. If that is his course of action, I am sure that he will be given the full support of all men and women of good will in both these islands. He will have our support in upholding the rule of law against the law of the jungle.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his closing comments and for the way in which he has 26 approached this appalling and difficult issue. He said that he supported the decision as being right at the time, but clearly in the light of subsequent events it requires close review. That will he done. There is close liaison between the Army and the police. In all their activities they work in close co-operation.
In terms of what the soldiers knew, I understand that there was a general briefing at the beginning of the week about the problems posed by the tensions arising from the funerals. As I said in my statement, the route that the soldiers were on is not an approved route at any time for soldiers who are not on operational duties in the area.
I cannot add to what I said about charges, but obviously the House will await further information with close attention.
There is absolutely no truth whatever in the suggestion that the security forces were in some way prevented from intervening. That is a gross calumny on the operational independence of the Chief Constable and the integrity of the senior officers at the time. There is no justification whatever for that claim and I am sorry that certain people have chosen to raise that point.
At the time, the police were obviously assisted by the helicopter. It is no secret that it can provide helpful information of events on the ground, although sometimes it takes time to interpret exactly what is happening. The police did not have access to the sort of television film inside the cameras which subsequently we have all been able to see and with hindsight form other views. In the initial stages it took time to clarify what was taking place. The police knew that there were certainly no security forces or soldiers in the area. As far as their intelligence went, nobody was there. It is no secret that the first impression was of a further attempted bomb attack on a funeral. That was one possibility. As soon as it was clear that the matter was indeed serious, the police acted with considerable determination.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
In fairness to the two young corporals, will the Secretary of State accept that he seemed to say by implication that the route they chose was the direct route to Army headquarters in Lisburn? Will he confirm that the alternative route, which is an extension of the M1 motorway, has been a no-go area to all Army personnel for years? Were the two corporals informed that the motorway extension was out of bounds to them? Were they directed to use a route which had not previously been authorised for military personnel?
Can the Secretary of State now answer the question that I put to him in the House last Thursday, when I asked him to explain precisely how the stand-off decision was taken and what wider considerations and discussions preceded the Chief Constable's directive? Does he agree that dual control of the security forces, the Army and the RUC, as required by article 7 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, is proving to be utterly disastrous?
§ Mr. King
If the right hon. Gentleman intends to quote from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, it would be more candid 27 with the House to recognise that the Anglo-Irish Agreement specifically reserves the operational independence of the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable has made his position clear. What has happened is deeply regrettable. The right hon. Gentleman opened his question out of deference to the two corporals concerned. We feel that deference throughout the House. The right hon. Gentleman does no good to misrepresent the position about the sad circumstances that surrounded their deaths.
In my statement I made clear the position about the road. It is not a no-go area. There are no no-go areas in Northern Ireland. There is a difference between routes that soldiers or security forces use when on operational duty, and those that they use when they are not on operational duty.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
Whatever our private feelings about the atrocious happening on Saturday, I am sure that all of us welcome my right hon. Friend's frank, moving and firm statement. With regard to the future, will he take it from me that hon. Members and the country cannot accept any suggestion of no-go areas in any part of the United Kingdom? I hope that he will make that absolutely clear. Although we expect the Government to continue to seek reconciliation between two sorely tried communities by every reasonable means, they must not flinch from the task of eradicating men of violence, wherever they may be found.
§ Mr. King
I appreciate my right hon. Friend's comments. This has been a tragic and most awful occurrence. Whatever the circumstances in which it arose, it is simply intolerable that this could happen, not just in the United Kingdom, but anywhere in the civilised world. I do not think that I was the only person who sensed the utter barbarity that happened on Saturday. Against that background, I assure my right hon. Friend that there are no no-go areas. The writ runs throughout Northern Ireland, as it does throughout the United Kingdom, but I draw the distinction, which right hon. and hon. Members will recognise, between routes where there are no no-go areas and routes that are more sensible, or less sensible, to use when not on operational duty.
§ Mr. John Hume (Foyle)
I join the Secretary of State and right hon. and hon. Members in expressing the deepest sympathy to the families of those who have been murdered in the past week in Northern Ireland and in sending a particular word of sympathy to the families of the soldiers who were murdered in such barbaric circumstances. The dictionary is no longer full enough of words to express proper condemnation and the revulsion that people feel about what happened. I agree with the Secretary of State. There is no shortage of those who, in hindsight, would tell us what we should have done.
I tell the House with conviction that the feeling in west Belfast last week after the Gibraltar incident was such that had the security forces mounted normal operations at these funerals the violence would have been serious and there would have been many more deaths. Unfortunately, political leaders, policemen and soldiers in Northern Ireland are faced, not with the normal choice between what is right and what is wrong—not with black and white—but often with the choice between the roads of lesser risk and lesser evil. In the circumstances, the police 28 and the Army took the proper and correct decision, and I support them. These events have underlined for everybody across the board in Northern Ireland the desperate and terrible futility of killing human beings in order to unite a people.
What that deep feeling, right across our community, cries out to everybody in this House, and particularly to me and the hon. Gentlemen who sit behind me, is that there is a desperate need for dialogue, not to conquer one another, but to accommodate our differences. —[Interruption.] I also say to those who criticise and say that because of these horrific events the Government should be deflected from the road on which they have chosen to go, together with the Irish Government, that they are saying that both Governments should be blackmailed by the people who committed these horrific crimes, and that is unthinkable. —[Interruption.] Strength must be shown, and there is no better way to show that to the people of Northern Ireland than by the two Governments, with all their resources, working as closely as possible to face down and tackle all these problems.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, which drew attention to the appallingly difficult decisions that the Chief Constable, who has the responsibility, has to take. It is easy enough to shout abuse, and the House heard an illustration of that during the hon. Gentleman's contribution, with the shouting and the heckling that will always come from one side or the other. There is plenty of abuse that can be shouted. The problem is how to take decisions in the best interests of the people.
I was particularly concerned about the contribution of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), because he has a part to play in leading. He is looked to for leadership, and I hope that he will be able, as I hope that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) will, to show total support, in the fight against the violence, for the efforts of the security forces, and in the total commitment of both the Unionist and Nationalist constitutional parties to realise that they owe it to their people to encourage dialogue and discussion and not to leave a vacuum in which violence breeds.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I join the Secretary of State, not only in his condemnation of the killings that he had to report to the House, but in his expression of sympathy to the families of those involved.
Is it the Secretary of State's view that some contribution to the fact that the two soldiers were killed was that they restrained themselves and did not open fire? Is any part of that due to the fact that soldiers, and the security forces in general, are concerned at the repercussions should they attempt to defend their lives or those of other people in the community, because there may be calls for inquiries, disciplinary charges and even court cases? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that he will stand behind any member of the security forces who has to defend his life in such circumstances?
What contribution does the hon. Gentleman feel that the decision of the Chief Constable to abdicate policing of west Belfast played in the events of Saturday? Will he be pressing the Chief Constable, in his review of policing funeral arrangements, to ensure that if those circumstances should recur there will be taken into consideration 29 the fact that the IRA takes over the policing of an area if the RUC abdicates that role? It is not simply a case of there being no policing in the area.
Does the Secretary of State feel that the vacuum into which undoubtedly violence and terrorism go can be taken up by political movement in Northern Ireland to get a replacement for a system that has failed not only politicians but the people of Northern Ireland? Can we not move towards a system of government that can produce peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and does he not think that with that stable structure of government we might have a firm and resolute security initiative to defeat terrorism in our Province?
§ Mr. King
It is right that the soldiers concerned had an absolute right to defend themselves. The terms of engagement are to save their own or other people's lives. At the same time, we must. recognise the appallingly difficult situation that they were in and the incredible restraint that they showed in the circumstances, to their tragic cost. They would have been entitled to defend themselves.
In no sense do I accept the phrase that the Chief Constable "abdicated policing" in west Belfast. I do not know why we assume that funerals ought to be policed. Should we not expect funerals to be one occasion when there is no need for policing? The appalling and unscrupulous intentions of those who exploit the grief of funerals has in the past made the policing of funerals necessary. There is no question of abdicating policing. Moreover, there is no question of tolerating any suggestion that the IRA, Sinn Fein or anybody else will set up some alternative police force.
Whereas the first funeral was clearly conducted in good order and without display, there were discouraging signs by the time of the funeral on Saturday. Although, as far as we know, there was no firing party, there were signs of some attempts to push the boundary back towards paramilitary displays, and I know that the Chief Constable is concerned about that.
If I read the hon. Gentleman right, I welcome the last part of his contribution, which was in line with other contributions that have been made. It is by dialogue, discussion and a constitutional approach, and not by violence, that we shall find the right way forward.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
In associating myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the condolences that the Secretary of State has expressed, I assure him of our full support for him personally in circumstances which have required great fortitude, courage and resilience. We strongly believe that the ritualistic calls for his resignation and that of the Chief Constable are gratuitously offensive, and should be treated as such. We reiterate our support for the Anglo-Irish Agreement as the best tool for defeating the lynch mobs. We welcome the announcement of the Intergovernmental Conference, and we hope that there will be an early summit at which the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet. We hope that on the agenda on that occasion will be the question of a joint security commission.
Will the Secretary of State review the policy of letting soldiers on duty drive through the Province in unmarked cars while wearing civilian clothing and armed only with pistols? Is it not the case that the only crumbs of comfort 30 to be drawn from a week of funerals, with yet more to come, is that the IRA has been exposed at its most bestial, ruthless and violent, and that no Irishman or Briton who calls himself civilised or Christian can give succour, hiding place or even acquiescence to the IRA or other paramilitary organisations?
§ Mr. King
I apologise for the fact that I have not yet replied to the question about a summit, which was raised also by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). As I announced, I and the Tanaiste, the Deputy Prime Minister, are to have a meeting this week. Any question of a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will be a matter for later consideration, but there are no present proposals.
As to the question of the rules about soldiers travelling around the Province in unmarked cars while wearing civilian clothes, where there are major troop movements there is no question of that happening. However, in terms of administration and maintenance tasks — I see the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) nodding in agreement—the best way to safeguard the lives of soldiers, without massive organisation, is a degree of anonymity. Provided that the normal arrangements are adhered to, and sensible precautions are taken, it has worked extremely well in the past.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's comments about me. I agree about the bestiality of what took place. I hope that everybody knows that what they saw are the people who, with the Armalite and the ballot box, have used the phrase, "Who shall object if we take power in Ireland?" Not just north of the border, but throughout the island of Ireland, through the medium of television, people saw the sorts of people who want to take power over them. It was no coincidence or impulse that made those people rush towards the cameras to try to obliterate the shots. Whatever the tragedy and awfulness of this, it has revealed the IRA in its real, unspeakable nastiness. Those pictures will not be forgotten in the island of Ireland.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
In expressing the full support of Conservative Members and the House as a whole for my right hon. Friend in his enormously difficult task, may I put it to him that, although it is almost impossible to find adequate words to describe the ghastly tragedies of last week, one thing that stands out is the heroic restraint of the murdered soldiers in not using their weapons to defend themselves against their brutal attackers? We should all pay tribute to them for that and remember them with honour. It should be a memorial and an example to everyone in Ireland.
§ Mr. King
We all feel deeply humbled at the way in which those soldiers reacted with discipline and restraint in the circumstances. It may interest the House to know that the GOC told me last night that the Army has never received as many messages of sympathy, concern and respect from members of the public across the Province as have been flooding into Army headquarters in Lisburn, where the two soldiers were based.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
First, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in expressing my sympathy and the sympathy of my constituents to the families of the two young soldiers. My constituents know from bitter experience how the families and comrades of those two soldiers feel. Only the evening 31 before the death of the two soldiers, which was seen so vividly on television, an unsuspecting young girl of 21 was gunned down, by 47 shots from high-powered weapons, in the yard of her own home. She was the 196th victim of terrorism in my constituency, and the 111th victim since a date exactly 12 years ago. Of those 111 people, 110 were victims of the IRA.
We have heard people talk, because they saw it on their television screens, about the unbelievable savagery of what happened on Saturday. I and those whom I represent live with that same unbelievable savagery day in and day out. That is why we are so bitter and feel so helpless when a decision is taken to remove the police and the security forces from west Belfast, giving the freedom of the streets to those who, equipped with radios and mobile in their black taxis, can take complete control on behalf of the Provisional IRA.
It is not true to say that there was no paramilitary display and no disturbance in Belfast as a result of withdrawing the police and the Army. No shots may have been fired over the coffins, but the deceit is that the terrorists go round the corner into the next street, set up a shrine and there, before the media invited for the occasion, display the same paramilitary activity as they used to display over the coffins.
We must not be fooled by the platitudes that we hear from those who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the paramilitaries who supervise the funerals. I refer to the SDLP. I refer to the Irish Catholic Church and to those priests who can describe a terrorist who died in Gibraltar as someone who died like Jesus Christ. Neither I nor those of my co-religionists who heard those words can accept such blasphemy.
I ask the Secretary of State to try to listen to the voices of those, Protestant and Catholic, who want nothing to do with any paramilitary organisation and who would condemn the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters as they would condemn the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein. Will the right hon. Gentleman now listen to the voice of the people and those who try to be responsible elected representatives on their behalf, and not give way to something that may appear to have short-term advantage, but which will provide nothing but long-term disadvantage, suffering and tragedy for the people of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. King
The whole House understands the depth of feeling with which the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) speaks. The name of his constituency says it all to anyone who knows anything about recent events in Northern Ireland.
In my statement last Thursday I made clear my concern about some of the comments that are made in addresses at funerals. I include such people in the categories of those who have a part to play in trying to ease tension and build bridges. It is incumbent on everyone to have great regard to the phrases that they use, whatever the emotion of the moment.
In that connection, although I obviously do not approve of paramilitary displays in which people slide down side alleys and set up little stunts for the television cameras, that is markedly preferable to their appearing at the graveside as they have in the past. Having said that, it is obvously against the law and should not happen. 32 Although we prize highly freedom of speech and publication, the broadcasting authorities for which those stunts are arranged, and without which they would have no purpose, should consider their responsibilities in such matters.
In all the horror of the murder of the young girl in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, what revolted me as much as anything was the expression of regret from Mr. Adams, who said that he thought it was a mistake.
Order. I fully understand the importance of the matter, especially to those who represent Ulster constituencies, but I remind the House that there is an important debate to follow this. I hope that questions will be brief so that answers may also be relatively brief.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
I join in the expression of sympathy. Is not the photograph of the naked young soldier poignantly relevant to this season leading up to Good Friday, and does it not remind us that we must never give way to despair?
The Secretary of State said that IRA funerals pose a serious problem. When he spoke to Cardinal O'Fiaich this morning, did he point out that the IRA uses its funerals for the glorification and justification of terrorism, and did he ask the Cardinal whether the Church will excommunicate the terrorists? Did he ask him to ensure that IRA funerals will be reduced to private funerals, with minimum rites and only a small number of people? That would save the security forces from danger.
Finally, did the Secretary of State raise at the Anglo-Irish Conference the question of allowing the coffins from Gibraltar to be landed at Dublin, thereby prolonging the funeral and inciting people to violence?
§ Mr. King
I do not think that it was any wish of the Irish Government for the coffins to arrive in Dublin. That was the choice of the families, and of others who may have been seeking to influence them. It posed significant problems for the Irish Government in policing the funeral as well.
I commend to hon. Members the editorial in the Irish News today. I am struck by some of the phrases in it. It states:The participants in the brutal orgy may well have formed part of the congregation that had just celebrated the ritual of the sacred liturgy.It goes on to say:The barbaric murders of Corporal Wood and Howes were a satanic rejection of the Christian faith.I think that the leading Nationalist Catholic newspaper in Northern Ireland brings across very forcefully the strength of decent Catholic feeling about those matters.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
The Secretary of State told us at the beginning of his statement that the soldiers who were killed had been briefed earlier in the week. Is he aware that the individual whose funeral took place on Saturday was still alive at the beginning of the week, and would he care to comment on that?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of the Official Unionist party, made it clear that the Royal Ulster Constabulary could not have moved to the rescue because of a directive from the Chief Constable. Will the right hon. Gentleman take it from me that the people of Northern Ireland expect more from him than a new telephone number if we are to deal with IRA terrorism?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman's contribution falls somewhat short of the level that I would have looked for on this occasion.
First, let me say to him that the warning and guidance given to soldiers concerned funerals in west Belfast during the course of the week. He will be aware from my recitation that, sadly, there was a funeral every day from Wednesday through the whole of the week in west Belfast. As I have made clear, the route that the soldiers were on was never approved for non-operational use, whether for funerals or other matters.
As for the directions that were given, it was a police decision when to intervene. Allowing for the uncertainty at the start about just what was happening, and the difficulty of identifying events, the police arrived on the scene fairly soon, and in some numbers, but, sadly and tragically, not soon enough to prevent the deaths of the corporals.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
My constituents and I join Members of the House, who, genuinely and sincerely, send their sympathy to the families who have been so sadly and tragically bereaved.
On Saturday, shortly after the two corporals were murdered, I stood at the bedside of my constituent, young Stanley Liggett, whose girl friend was being prepared for her coffin. As I stood at the bedside, that young man did not know that his young partner was dead. He was hoping, as he spoke to me, that soon he would be joining her in happiness, for the love that was in their hearts the one for the other.
I assure the Secretary of State that the people of my constituency do not feel happy about the security decision. Whether hon. Members accept it or not, it is different for those who live with this problem day after day. It is different for those who watch coffin after coffin going down the road. It is different for those looking into the faces of their loved ones—their kith and kin—who have been murdered.
People are lecturing us on how we are supposed to feel at the time of our sorrow and grief. We do not take very kindly to lectures at present. For 20 years our hearts have been cut asunder and our homes have been butchered. I know, because that happened to my family. I know what it is to carry the coffins of two young people down the road together.
There are Members of the House who have played along with the terrorists, and with a terrorist organisation, inviting its members to this country and sitting down with them. Indeed, in recent days, the leader of the SDLP has been in consultation and negotiation with the head of Sinn Fein. It was a Conservative Member who said on Northern Ireland radio this morning that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was an apologist for the terrorists. That was not my statement. It was made by a member of the Secretary of State's own party, who was trying to get out of the present tragedy of condemnation of the awful, brutal, savage murder of our people.
We want to live, and, whether or not it is accepted by hon. Members, we want to live in peace, but we can never live in peace with murderers. We cannot live in peace with men who have the weapons to kill our people. I ask the Secretary of State, genuinely and sincerely, to tell the House when he will fulfil the promise that he made at that Dispatch Box that he would bring peace to Northern 34 Ireland with the eradication—that is the word used both by him and by the Prime Minister—of terrorism. I beg of him: let it be soon, for that is what my people cry out for.
§ Mr. King
The whole House understands the reasons, and the most recent reminders, that have prompted the emotion with which the hon. Gentleman has spoken, and I know that every right hon. and hon. Member will respect them. The hon. Gentleman., too, will respect the fact that he is not the only Member of the House who feels deeply and tragically about the extent of the suffering and sorrow. I have taken certain responsibilities as Secretary of State. I hope that I do not lack feeling, and I share the concern that the hon. Member feels so acutely, with even more personal knowledge of the people concerned.
Against that background, however, we all have a duty to work for the future, to try to make it better for people, and to find a way through the problems and tragedies. That is why I say that it must be through co-operation. We should not try to find people whom we can criticise or make into scapegoats. We should try to find people with whom we can build and improve a life for all those in the Province.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
While expressing my horror and revulsion at the horrible killings of the recent past, and the 2,600 killings that have already taken place over a number of years, let me say that the understanding and sensitivity shown by the Secretary of State over a very difficult recent past have been recognised and much appreciated.
As one who publicly urged the Chief Constable of the RUC not to allow a confrontation to develop at the funerals, I feel that it would be absolutely wrong to allow the Chief Constable to be ultimately responsible for that decision, which I believed then was right, and I still believe was right. Having said that, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he agrees that the essence of the problem has not been changed by the terrible events of recent days? The essence of the problem remains the same, and therefore the essence of the solution must necessarily remain the same.
I strongly urge the two Governments, through the structures that they have developed for themselves, to approach a solution to the problem in terms of creating, not just peace, but the type of political stability that is so essential. If that were done, there would be a response, believe it or not, from the political community in the North of Ireland. Without that, every other effort is to no avail.
§ Mr. King
The challenge for political dialogue and progress is now within the Province, and that must now be addressed. To those who believe that there might be some solution through violence, the events of recent months, and above all the horror of Saturday, have shown where violence leads and shows the evil of the people who seek to perpetrate it.
I note what the hon. Gentleman said about the Chief Constable. He made a comment about the Chief Constable not having to take the responsibility. The Chief Constable does not shirk responsibility, and I have the greatest admiration for him in that respect. I hope that the House recognises that I will not shirk my responsibilities either. In making my statement I did not wish to cause confusion and suggest that responsibilities are different from what 35 they are. I have no hesitation in making it clear that I stand fully behind the Chief Constable in the decisions that he took.
Order. I must tell the House again that I must have regard for subsequent business. Many hon. Members who are rising have already spoken in the Budget debate, and there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate today. I shall allow a further five minutes of questions on the statement, and then we must move on.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, like all my constituents in Carshalton, I and all hon. Members were deeply shocked and appalled by these tragic murders at the weekend? Our hearts go out to the parents and family of Corporal Derek Wood, who lived in my constituency. Is my right hon. Friend further aware that we were gratified by his words of sensitivity and sympathy for the families and that these will be of great comfort to them in their time of trial? Will he see to it that the results of the review that he has set in hand about the policing of funerals are speedily considered and acted upon?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he said, Corporal Wood was one of his constituents, and we understand very well my hon. Friend's feelings on the matter. I hope that he will draw to the attention of the family the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who has just returned to the Chamber. The House will have noticed that he spoke most movingly, and my hon. Friend will draw attention to the strong approbation of my right hon. Friend's admiration for two very brave young men.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
There is considerable sympathy for the Secretary of State in what must have been the most difficult week of his political career in the most difficult job in British politics. We must also recognise the special courage that enables two NCOs not to use their weapons when they could have done so in the closing minutes of their lives. Have we not seen a chain reaction of events that can be dealt with only by the very closest co-operation between London and Dublin?
Bearing in mind the events, not only of the last week, but of the last few months, will the right hon. Gentleman state clearly that the British Government's response to paramilitary organisations, whether Unionist or Republican, will always put first the British national interest of protecting the democratic forms within which we operate, and the rule of law? If we are ever seen to operate, or are believed to be operating, outside those, we shall undermine our own position. If we can reiterate that and operate within it, we will not only carry Dublin with us, but will triumph in the end, because democracy can triumph only when we operate on that basis.
§ Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while this is a tragic occasion, it is none the less an occasion on which we can all 36 appropriately unite to commend the work of the heroic forces of law and order in the Province—the UDR, the RUC and our own armed forces? Does he agree also that probably no armed forces in the world but ours could have sustained the burdens that they have had to sustain over a prolonged period? I hope that he will join me in hoping that before very long there will be condemnation of the violence direct from the Vatican.
§ Mr. King
My service in Northern Ireland forcefully brings home to me the debt that we owe to the security forces, not only for the effectiveness of their operations, but for the restraint and good humour with which they are conducted. In all the annals of their activities and service in Northern Ireland there has been no greater illustration of that restraint than the courage of those two young men.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
On behalf of my constituents and myself, I, too, wish to place on record my sympathy for the relatives of the two young soldiers, for the family of Jillian Johnston and for the family of the constable who was murdered in Londonderry, Constable Clive Graham. Many hon. Members have spoken about the courage and bravery of those two young soldiers. I hope that the message will go to their colleagues who are still serving in Northern Ireland that we do not want any more of them to sacrifice their lives unduly. I can tell the Secretary of State that my constituents see that there are still no-go areas. As long as our people perceive that there are such areas, the Secretary of State must take note and with the Chief Constable take steps to ensure that there is proper policing throughout the Province.
May I also convey to the Secretary of State our very grave concern that in the absence of proper security and policing at IRA demonstrations those who are there already tooled up for murder and violence will use any excuse to perpetrate that violence? It is fine to suggest that the problem has to be solved within the Province. We as Unionists accept that, but we will play our part only when the conditions are right. The conditions can be made right by the Government of the Irish Republic and our own Government—with the agreement of the SDLP, if it is genuine—setting aside the obstacles to progress and the disgraceful so-called Anglo-Irish Agreement, which has produced nothing of success. It is being bolstered up. We must admit that we shall never have progress until the conditions and the opportunity are made available so that all the people in Northern Ireland can suggest a way forward that can be accepted and supported by both Governments.
§ Mr. King
I should like the hon. Gentleman to give me any details of any no-go area of which he is aware. I would appreciate it if he could give me those details. The determination and courage of the security forces ensures that such areas do not exist. The hon. Gentleman sought to widen this into other political issues. I should be happy to debate those with him at any time.
Order. I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who have not been called on this statement when we return to this subject again.