HL Deb 21 July 1976 vol 373 cc861-6

3.37 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Shepherd)

My Lords, with the permission of the House I shall now make a Statement, and I shall use the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

"Honourable Members will have been shocked to hear of the explosion in Dublin this morning which wrecked the British Ambassador's car killing the Ambassador, Mr. Christopher Ewart-Biggs, and Miss Judith Cook, a Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Office. Mr. Brian Cubbon, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, and the driver of the car, Mr. Brian O'Driscoll, are now in hospital in Dublin. Both are seriously injured.

"According to the information so far available the explosion was caused by a land mine planted in the road about 150 yards from the Ambassador's Residence.

"The Taoiseach, Mr. Liam Cosgrave, telephoned me a short while ago. He expressed his deepest sympathy and regret and that of his Government and has undertaken that every effort will be made to bring to justice those responsible for this atrocity. He reiterated the Irish Government's intention to safeguard the lives of the United Kingdom citizens in the Republic.

"My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary is sending the Deputy Under-Secretary dealing with Irish affairs, Mr. Richard Sykes, to Dublin so that he can report back urgently on the situation.

"The Queen has been informed. She was horrified to hear of this outrage and extends Her sympathy to the relations of those involved. The whole House will join with me in extending our sincere sympathy to the families of those killed or injured, and our hopes for a successful recovery by Mr. Cubbon and Mr. O'Driscoll."

Those are the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, but there are many in your Lordships' House who knew the Ambassador, Mr. Cubbon and Miss Cook. Many of your Lordships have worked with them—some recently, others perhaps a year or so ago—and I think that I should be speaking on your Lordships' behalf if I sent a message from this House conveying our own very deep sense of sympathy to Mrs. Ewart-Biggs and to the relations of all those who have suffered, and to those who have been injured in this terrible atrocity our very best wishes that they will have a speedy recovery.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will echo the last words of the noble Lord the Leader of the House—and, more particularly, those of us who knew Mr. Ewart-Biggs. I have known him over a great number of years. Certainly we wish to send both to his family and to the family of Miss Cook our very deepest sympathy, and we echo the hope of the noble Lord that the two people who have been injured will recover successfully.

Those who are responsible for these barbarities totally misunderstand the British character and the likely results of their actions. There will be no political shift in the Government's policy or in the bipartisan policy on Ireland which we have followed together. There will only be an even greater feeling of disgust and repulsion of people who can commit this kind of atrocity—alas, an atrocity not confined to this one occasion. It is almost an everyday occurrence in Northern Ireland. I will say just one other thing which I hope will not be misunderstood: that when those members of the SAS appear in court for accidentally crossing the Irish border, the Irish Government will consider sympathetically the reasons why they are in Northern Ireland at all and the kind of incidents which, by their presence, they are seeking to do away with.


My Lords, there is little that I from these Benches can add to the words of the two noble Lords who have already spoken. The nation will indeed be outraged at this senseless and mindless assassination, and most certainly we should like to be associated with the expression of sympathy and the condolences which the whole House will send to the families of those involved in this tragic affair. I would make only one point to the Minister: that if this was a landmine which had been dug into the road within 150 yards of the Ambassador's residence, it casts some doubt on the efficiency of the security arrangements in that area. I assume that the Irish Government and we ourselves will together do something to remedy that gap, but should we not also look at other residences of Ambassadors, particularly in Europe, which also may be at risk?


My Lords, had he not been in hospital, I am quite sure that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury would have wished to associate those who sit on these Benches with the expressions of sympathy for those who have been injured and for the relatives of those who have been killed, and that he would also have expressed the hope that, terrible as the consequences of this awful event are, it should not be allowed to divert us from our peaceful desire to create the right circumstances in Ireland. There is a great temptation for the boundaries to be hardened as a result of this incident, but we must make it quite clear that these terrible acts are purely negative and that in no way will they divert us from our desire to find peacefully the answer to these dreadful circumstances in Ireland.


My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. It is too soon to question the security arrangements at Dublin. The security arrangements at all British Embassies and High Commissions are under constant review, and until we know more about this incident perhaps the less said the better.

The Ambassador, Miss Cook, the Permanent Secretary and the driver were involved in an incident during the call of duty. It is well to remember that many men and women in Northern Ireland have either lost their lives or been severely maimed in a similar way in the call of duty. I hope that one consequence of the assassination of our Ambassador, the Representative of our Queen, in Eire will be that we become even more conscious of the price that is being paid on a daily basis for the establishment and maintenance of the rule of law and the maintenance of democratic freedom in Northern Ireland.

I do not wish to comment upon what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. I have a great deal of sympathy with his remarks regarding the SAS. They, like many of their other compatriots, follow the call of duty and occasionally mistakes are made. I hope that the Irish Government will take note of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, because I think that his views on this matter are shared by all of us.

I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and also with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London that this incident will not shift the resolve of the British Government, the British Parliament and the British people to bring about order and a decent way of life in Northern Ireland. I do not know how we can get across this message to the people who perpetrate this form of atrocity, and others perhaps even worse, but one day I hope the truth will get through. If as a consequence of this tragic incident the message gets a little closer to them, then perhaps the price of the Ambassador's life might be nearly bearable.


My Lords, I should first like to say how much I agree with the content and the tone of the remarks made this afternoon by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. As one who knows the house, who has travelled in the car, who knows the people, who had Mr. Brian Cubbon here for lunch 10 days ago, I feel deeply involved. I am glad to hear that the Taoiseach has already been on the telephone to the Prime Minister, and I was glad to see on the ticker tape that Mr. Jack Lynch has wholeheartedly condemned this action. These are two brighter spots which we can see on this grim day.

I should like to make two points. As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said, there is a case pending against the Army people who strayed across the border and who are to be tried, I gather this autumn, in the special court which, strangely enough, was blown up by the IRA last week. Secondly, at Strasbourg there is pending against the Government another case which may come up at the same time as the one in Dublin, or probably earlier. I am sure the Government will support me when I say I should like to appeal to the Government of the Irish Republic to put both these cases on the long finger. Up to date we can all be proud, by and large, of the wonderful way in which the British people have behaved towards the large Irish population in this country, and I hope that the Dublin Government will do nothing to put this situation at risk.


My Lords, I have already indicated to the House my sense of support for what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, has said. I wonder whether perhaps we should leave it there. I think the Irish authorities will be as shocked and as grieved as are we today in this House, in Parliament and throughout our country. I know that the sentiment and spirit are here, but my feeling is that the less said on this matter, the better.


My Lords, I think your Lordships might find it appropriate if one member of the Diplomatic Service were just to pay tribute to a gay, gallant and highly serious colleague who had six years at the summit of his career to complete before this tragedy happened, and I am sure his family will be very grateful indeed to your Lordships for the sentiments that have been expressed to them.

I wish only to add a point which is perhaps almost the same as that expressed by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. If, in addition to those who are in official positions in Ireland, whether North or South, the people of Ireland themselves may come a little nearer to consciousness of a collective responsibility for these things and achieve a desire that such things shall at last cease to happen on this earth, then, as the noble Lord said, perhaps Christopher Ewart-Biggs will not have died in vain.


My Lords, gestures are a minor thing compared with the tragedy of which we are speaking, but may I ask the Government to see that appropriate tribute is paid to the sensitive, in some ways courageous and, I understand, fairly unparalleled action of the Irish Government in ordering all flags to be flown at half mast and all members of the Irish Government not to attend public functions, in an expression of official mourning for what has happened? I think we should all be pleased and proud that the Irish Government have done this, and we should give them full credit for it.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the sentiments which have been expressed. I suggest that we move to the next business, but may make one last observation: I have no doubt that one day the Irish problem will be solved; but it w ill only he solved by the people of Ireland, the British Government and people, and the Irish Government and people, working together, and what the noble Lord has just reminded us of, namely, the physical act of the Irish Government. I think this is a symptom of their resolution and ours to bring an end to this tragic story.