HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc827-8
5. Mrs. Ann Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has to establish a national monument in Northern Ireland to commemorate those service men and women who have lost their lives serving there.

Mr. Rifkind

The nation owes a great debt of gratitude to the security forces in Northern Ireland; this is already marked in different ways and there are no current plans to establish a national monument.

Mrs. Winterton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while peace would be a fitting memorial to the 500 service personnel who have lost their lives in Northern Ireland—and to that end the terrorists should surrender their arms immediately—would not the erection of a national monument in the Province serve as a lasting tribute to them? Furthermore, does he accept that any appeasement of the Irish Republican Army in pursuing a nationalist agenda would betray that sacrifice and would perhaps lead to the break up of the Union and the break out of further sectarian strife?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree very much with the feeling behind my hon. Friend's question. The main purpose of the armed forces and the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the battle against terrorism over 25 years has been to ensure that Northern Ireland's constitutional status can never be changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I believe that they have been totally successful in that endeavour.

In respect of the earlier part of my hon. Friend's question, we take into account the fact that in the past 25 years, in addition to the 648 service men who lost their lives, the Royal Ulster Constabulary suffered 196 fatalities and some 1,846 innocent civilians were killed. Therefore, it would be felt within Northern Ireland that any commemoration of those events should pay equal attention to all who have lost their lives in the struggle against terrorism.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome the Minister's tribute to those who have lost their lives in Northern Ireland, but as there is a move to remember the civilian bomb victims of the blitz in London and a national monument to the police who have died in keeping the peace, surely such a memorial could be erected in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Government could even pledge to maintain not simply the concept of consent, but the Union for which those men gave their lives.

Mr. Rifkind

I am very sensitive to the important points that the hon. Gentleman makes. There are a number of memorials across the Province: for example, the books of remembrance at St. Anne's cathedral in Belfast and the Garrison church in Lisburn. Any further memorials require sensitive consideration and we are open to any constructive proposals that would be welcome to all those concerned.

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