HL Deb 03 February 1972 vol 327 cc984-9

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I should like to repeat a Statement which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. This is the Statement:

"As the House will be aware from Press reports, the British Embassy in Dublin was yesterday gutted by fire. This was the culmination of 36 hours of attacks on the premises of the British Embassy and of the Embassy's Commercial Department, about 50 yards away from the main building. In the course of the night of the 1st/2nd of February, the door of the Embassy was blown in by a gelignite bomb and renewed attacks with petrol the following morning led to the fire which destroyed the building. The staff were evacuated from the buildings early yesterday morning and there were no casualties.

"The Government of the Irish Republic have a duty, in international law, to protect the premises of foreign Embassies within the Republic. On this occasion the authorities had ample warning of the danger, both through the build-up of the crowd's activities and through specific warnings conveyed during the early evening of the 1st of February by the British Chargé d'Affaires in Dublin and by the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday morning to the Irish Chargé d'Affaires in London. Accordingly, my right honourable friend the Minister of State summoned the Irish Chargé d'Affaires yesterday evening to protest at the failure of the Irish authorities to carry out their responsibility. He made it clear that the British Government look to the Government of the Irish Republic for the most stringent measures to ensure the protection of all the members of the Embassy and that we would expect full compensation to be paid for the damage suffered. The Chargé d'Affaires accepted full responsibility on behalf of his Government and expressed great regret for what had happened."

That, my Lords, is the Statement.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Marquess for making that Statement. Of course, all noble Lords—certainly we on this side—utterly deplore the attack on the Embassy, and we welcome the fact that the Irish Government accept responsibility and (because there are reports to the contrary in the Press) have in fact, as I understand, expressed their regrets as well. This, of course, is part of the hazard of serving in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We have had a number of Embassies burned down, but I must say that Dublin was not a place where I had expected a British Embassy to be attacked in this way and not be protected. I certainly do not wish to make any further comments to that effect. I am sure our particular sympathy goes out to the members of the Embassy. To have this sort of thing happening must be horrifying; I should like again to express our sympathy to them.

The only further point I would make is that the effects of the situation in Northern Ireland seem to be escalating all round the world. There have apparently been attacks on British property in different places—in Berlin, I understand. I do not know whether that is true—perhaps not in Berlin. There are so many explosions occurring. But this does once again lend point (and I do not wish to repeat yesterday's debate) to the urgency, which we have tried to press on the Government, of new initiatives. In this connection I would ask the noble Marquess—he may not have yet had a chance to do so—whether he has had an opportunity to consider the really rather important statement issued by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will be aware of what a valuable stabilising role the trade unions have played in the Ulster situation. Would the noble Marquess give consideration to a set of proposals on which I will not take up the time of the House but which seem to be, again, a possible approach to a solution? Because of the degree of urgency which this recent incident has produced, I only ask the Government whether they will give consideration to it.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches, I should like to associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in regard to this deplorable outrage. Having said that, I should like to ask two short questions. First, would the Government agree that recent statements by Mr. Lynch and his Minister for Foreign Affairs give some colour to the assumption that the Irish Government are now assuming at least some responsibility for the activities of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland? Secondly, would it not in these circumstances be advisable for Her Majesty's Government to inquire of the Irish Government what exactly their own proposals would now be for a general solution of the Irish question?


My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the reception that they have given this Statement. I should like particularly to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for his expressions of sympathy with the members of the Embassy in Dublin in which I am certain all of us will join. The noble Lord drew my attention to the trade union representatives who have been so helpful in Northern Ireland in the present difficult situation. I understand that they are having a meeting later to-day with the Home Secretary and I have. no doubt that he will consider very carefully any suggestions that they have to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked me whether I thought there were signs that Mr. Lynch and the Irish Government were intending to take more stringent measures with regard to the I.R.A.—


My Lords, my question was whether it was not reasonable to suppose that the Irish Government now seem to be assuming some responsibility for the actions of the I.R.A. in Northern Ireland. I asked the Government whether they thought that that was a legitimate assumption.


My Lords, I am sorry if I misrepresented what was said by the noble Lord. I do not think I should like to go so far as he has gone in his question. I am hopeful that this outrage in Dublin will bring the Irish Government more to the realisation of what really is involved and how dangerous it is to let the situation get out of hand. As Lord Shackleton said, this is something which calls for a political solution; and it is for that that we must continue to strive.


My Lords, while voicing the general condemnation, may I ask one question? Can the noble Marquess give an assurance that the Irish authorities who have in the past over many years been successful in safeguarding the lives and welfare of members of the staff of the British Embassy, will continue to do so in future?


My Lords, as I said in the Statement, they have accepted full responsibility in this regard; so that I hope that the noble Lord's prediction will be correct.


My Lords, if I understood the Statement aright. the Irish Government have accepted the financial responsibility; but would Her Majesty's Government agree that it is hardly reassuring to those in Northern Ireland who, it is sometimes said, favour a united Ireland, that they should go into combination with a Government which allows mob rule?


My Lords, I think that this is going a little wide of the Statement, if I may say so.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, if these outrages are going to continue, Her Majesty's Government will envisage restricting some of the very special privileges that citizens of Eire enjoy in this country? Is my noble friend aware that there are a large number of Irish citizens in this country—about one million of them, I think—which number may have been infiltrated by some I.R.A. members?


My Lords, I think that this subject also is rather outside the terms of the Statement; but naturally it is a matter which must exercise the minds of anybody trying to solve this dreadful problem.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Marquess, since clearly the last two interventions suggest speeches undelivered yesterday, whether he also has given consideration to the extent to which these events show a potential threat to the Irish Republic? There have been some activities already; and this is a very striking additional sign. This is the frightening thing. It emphasises the need for major initiatives. I know the difficulties of finding them; but there are ideas, and I should like to see some real energy on the part of the Government.


My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has said about the potential danger to the Republic of Ireland. I am sure that that is something which calls for consideration.


My Lords, can the noble Marquess tell us whether any kind of explanation has been given by the Republican Government in Ireland as to the alleged inactivities of the police during these proceedings? Many of us, I expect, saw on television last evening the complete impassivity of the police at a time when one would have thought that sonic attempt at least would have been made to protect the Embassy.


My Lords, I am sure that many noble Lords saw the films on television last night which were most distressing, particularly with regard to the inactivity of the Irish police, who, I understand, before the Embassy was burned down, were doing their best to help the situation. I cannot answer the noble Lord's question. I do not know whether the Irish Government have made any explanation. I understand that the British Ambassador saw Mr. Lynch this morning and possibly discussed it then.