HL Deb 21 November 1983 vol 445 cc20-5

3.45 p.m.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Mansfield)

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

"At approximately 6.15 p.m. yesterday, at least three men armed with automatic weapons entered the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Gospel Hall near the village of Darkley in County Armagh. They opened fire in the entrance hall, killing two church elders and fatally wounding a third, whom they then followed into the Gospel Hall itself. There the gunmen opened fire on the congregation of between 60 and 70 people, including about 20 children. Seven members of the congregation were injured, two seriously. The gunmen then ran outside, fired another 25 shots at the congregation through the outer walls of the hall, and then fled. None of the congregation had any connection with the security forces. Responsibility for this appalling attack has been claimed by a body calling itself the "Catholic Reaction Force". One of the weapons used has previously been used in incidents for which the Irish National Liberation Army has claimed responsibility.

"The whole House will join me in extending our sympathy to the families of those killed and injured. It will also share my horror and disgust at this outrage. Though in the course of the 14 years campaign of terrorism endured by the people of Northern Ireland there have been other incidents involving greater loss of life, none before has involved the cold-blooded murder of people at worship. The shootings show the true nature of terrorism, and the true nature therefore not only of those who perpetrate it but also of all those who advocate and support it.

"The universal condemnation they have received from all sides of the community, and from all parts of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland, shows in full measure the revulsion which this hideous act has aroused.

"The Government of the Republic has given the strongest possible assurances of its full co-operation in pursuing those responsible. The RUC, assisted by the Army, is determined to arrest the murderers".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this Statement. It is a tragic commentary that consideration of an order dealing with the recreation and ordinary life of people in Northern Ireland has to be interrupted by a Statement of this tragic nature. First from these Benches we join in expressing sympathy to the families of all those persons who have been killed and to those who are suffering injury. We join also in the expression in the Statement, of horror at this indescriminate and insensate act. I note in particular in the Statement the emphasis of the universal condemnation which is being given by all sections in the United Kingdom and also in the Republic of Ireland.

No stretch of imagination could justify these acts for any reason whatever. It may be understandable that there are reactions to these horrific acts. From these Benches I would implore that there should be no reprisal activities, and urge also that there should be no protest withdrawal from the Assembly. Either course would play into the hands of the terrorists. I should like to feel that the Government will endorse these two appeals.

Reference is made to steps to be taken by the RUC assisted by the Army. I welcome in the Statement the assurance that the Government of the Republic has promised all co-operation in trying to track the perpetrators of this act. These shootings may bring pressure for additional security measures and changes in legislation. May I ask the Government, if they should consider such pressure, to await completion of the review now being undertaken by Sir George Baker?

3.50 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, we in the Alliance in both parties wish to be associated with the horror which has been expressed by the Secretary of State, and we thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement today. Those noble Lords who heard Lord Fitt's maiden speech a few minutes ago will realise that we can say very little to improve upon what he said in his disgust and horror at this intolerable action.

There are two things which are very significant about it. The first is that it was a Nonconformist church, where all the people, on the whole, may be regardedas not terribly keen on Catholicism. It was unquestionably an action motivated by an indirect religious motive. I think that those who did it were probably using religion but were not themselves religious. This feature is particularly disgusting to all of us who believe that people's relationships with their Maker, if any, should be respected by other people as well.

The other significant fact is that one of the weapons used belonged to an organisation which has done great damage already. It is, as it were, the extreme wing of the IRA. I believe it has never been specifically dissociated from the IRA by the IRA, though I may be wrong about that. So far as we are concerned, this is an extreme wing and an even more extreme group has done something which we all deplore.

In his maiden speech, my noble friend said that he thought that this was a deliberate attempt to induce a religious war. It is the first time that I have heard those words used in this House. I believe he was right to use them. I hope he is wrong in his expectation, but I think it is a great warning to all of us to relax not at all in our fight against terrorism. I am glad that the noble Earl, in repeating the Statement, has made it perfectly clear that we will pursue these scoundrels as hard as we possibly can.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for their welcome to this Statement. It is quite obvious that feelings of disgust and revulsion are universally shared throughout the House.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made an extremely important point about possible reprisal activities. It is true to say that no amount of horror at these shootings could ever be a justification for people taking matters into their own hands. The rule of law can only survive if its enforcement is left to the proper authorities. To do otherwise will merely mean an escalation of violence and will further the objective which the terrorists themselves seek. There can be no question of a religious war; it would merely be an excalation of terrorism.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made another point which is also important. Of course the framework is there in the Assembly at Stormont for the people of the Province to workout their political differences in an atmosphere of democracy and union, and it is for them to take up the opportunity. One hopes that the OUP will determine its attitude with the good of the greater number—indeed, of all people in the Province—in mind.

To reply to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, very little is known about the Catholic Reaction Force, because no organisation bearing that name has ever claimed responsibility for an incident and therefore nothing is known either about it or about its members.

Lord Rawlinson of Ewell

My Lords, having regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said, which, in certain quarters, may not be fully understood, will my noble friend make perfectly clear the utter horrorand degradation which is felt by everybody, and particularly the Catholic community, at this vicious and vile murder which took place last evening?

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I am sure that all responsible sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and not least the Roman Catholics, will, if they have not already done so, express their revulsion at what has happened.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I wonder if I may put on record, following what my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, that, as I understood it, the Roman Catholic Archbishop has already stressed his condemnation. It would be most unfair if that were not recorded.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, may I add my expression of horror at what happened last night? It has increased the danger of retaliation. I can only say that any of us who live in Northern Ireland in areas which are under attack will have to do a lot to try to convey confidence back to the people who suffered this appalling tragedy.

What I think has come out—I should very much like my noble friend to convey it to the Royal Ulster Constabulary—is what a magnificent force it is and how scientifically based, so that, within 24 hours, it can trace the ammunition back to the person who has been using it. That is how efficient the force is, and it deserves our tribute from the whole House.

Will my noble friend represent to the Secretary of State that a certain increase in over-security adds confidence in areas where there is a shortage of confidence? That is the presence; a higher level of profile, I think it is called. Secondly, will my noble friend remember that the rule of law is a very delicate thing when there is an attempt at revolution and that suspension of freedom as given by the emergency legislation is something which has, so far, deterred retaliation? When the new emergency laws come back for re-enactment, will he remember that any further weakening of the forces of law might have a disastrous effect in the present climate? Therefore there must be no weakening in the new laws of emergency.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I shall be very happy to pass on everything that my noble friend has said by way of congratulation. In fact only a week ago I went to the forensic science laboratory in the suburbs of Belfast and was extremely impressed with what I saw. I have no doubt that a word of congratulation should be passed to that organisation and the scientists there. I also endorse the other matters which my noble friend mentioned.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that there are a number of factors attached to this very brutal murder which are not evident in other murders? First, it was deliberately and overtly, without any ambiguity or qualification, designed to be a sectarian murder. It took place in a church hall. What arose from that was deliberately designed to bring about retaliation from the other community.

Secondly, the word "Catholic" has been used by those who claim to be the Catholic Reaction Group. This is only the second time that the word "Catholic" has been used by those who claim responsibility for murders. The other occasion was when 10 Protestant workmen were killed in the very same area in January 1976. Again, no one has been apprehended for that. It may well be that it was the very same bunch of murderers who murdered the 10 Protestant workmen which carried out the atrocious murder yesterday.

Thirdly, there is a question which frightens me in Northern Ireland. There are many Northern Ireland politicians on the minority side who talk of the alienation that now exists between the minority community in Northern Ireland and this Government. Such sentiments expressed can only but give succour and support to the murderous thugs of the IRA and the INLA. Alienation from the establishment or from the Government can mean one thing, but it should not mean that one then proceeds to the ballot boxes, as many Catholics did in June this year, to vote for candidates who were openly in support of murderers and thugs. That is most important.

Finally, no matter how many troops you may have in Northern Ireland or how many members of the RUC, the only people who can defeat these murderers are the community which at the moment would appear to be giving them support. These murderers could not operate for a single second were they not given the assurance that people within the community either in Northern Ireland or immediately over the border are willing to protect them. It is those people—and particularly the Catholic community in Northern Ireland—who now have it in their own hands to take those people out of circulation by giving information to the security forces. By doing so, they will not only be protecting their own lives but they will be protecting their own community in Northern Ireland and—whether or not it is said by Cardinal O Fiaich—it is in the interests of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland that they should inform on those people, if they know who they are, to the security forces.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House agrees that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has neatly and succinctly summed up the situation pointing out not only the difficulties and dangersbut—perhaps most important of all—that if it were not for the regrettable attitude of some parts of the community, then the men of violence could not exist. This, of course, applies on both sides of the sectarian divide. So I think that it is up to all those who live in the Province—and it is certainly up to the Government—to continue to provide the machinery and the framework which will enable people on each side of the sectarian divide to sink their differences and resort to the ballot box and the debating chamber rather than the bullet.