HL Deb 09 November 1987 vol 489 cc1216-25

3.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I will repeat a Statement which is at present being made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"I will with permission, Mr. Speaker, make a Statement on yesterday's terrorist attack at the war memorial in Enniskillen. This occurred shortly before the parade arrived for the formal wreath-laying ceremony. I should explain to the House that the normal procedure in Enniskillen is that the parade forms up and marches to the war memorial where the act of remembrance takes place, and then marches to the cathedral for the Remembrance Day service.

"At 10.45 a.m., as spectators were gathering near the war memorial, a bomb exploded in the St. Michael's reading room, outside which a number of people were taking up their normal vantage point. No warning whatsoever had been given. The explosion demolished the gable wall, which fell, crushing the waiting spectators. Eleven people were killed and more than 60 injured. Of the injured, 21 were detained in hospital overnight, of whom five are very seriously ill indeed. Among those killed are three elderly couples, a young nurse and an off-duty policeman.

"I know I speak on behalf of the whole House in expressing our deepest sympathy to those bereaved and injured and to all their relatives and friends, at this appalling outrage. I should like also to pay tribute to the absolutely outstanding way in which all the emergency services responded to their terrible task.

"It is clear from the location chosen for the bomb and the absence of any warning that those responsible for this monstrous act set out deliberately to kill and maim ordinary members of the public: people from both communities who had come together on a Sunday morning, young and old, like thousands upon thousands of others throughout the United Kingdom, to honour the memory of those who have died in two world wars and since. In all the tragedy of the terrorist compaign, this outrage stands out in its awfulness. To perpetrate such an outrage against people, for many of whom the occasion was already one of sorrow and remembrance, betrays a total lack of any human feeling. Nor could there have been a more deliberately provocative act, more calculated to stir up sectarian hatred, than this outrage on this special and solemn day.

"There is a deep sense of anger and outrage felt throughout Northern Ireland today. I know there will be many who will call for retaliation. I say to them most urgently that they must not be provoked. Further acts of violence will only play into the hands of the terrorists and make more difficult the task of the security forces. What we must do instead is to determine that every possible assistance is given to the RUC and the security forces in their continuing fight against terrorism and in particular to bring those responsible for this atrocious crime to justice, wherever they may be. There must be some who have in the past given tacit support to the terrorists or who have preferred too often to look the other way, who must surely be horrified at yesterday's outrage. If they or indeed anybody else have any information at all to identify the culprits, and if their revulsion at this terrible crime is genuine, then they must ensure that they give the RUC any help they can, whether by using the confidential telephone or by whatever means they choose.

"Since my visit yesterday afternoon to Enniskillen, I have had initial meetings with the Chief Constable and also the General Officer Commanding and the Commander Land Forces. In addition, in the light of the serious recent events in the security field both north and south of the border and the successful seizure of the major arms shipment and the implications that flow from that, I will be having further urgent talks with Irish Ministers about security. In this connection, I appreciate the strong message of support and cooperation my right honourable friend, the Prime Minister has received from the Taoiseach.

"There are those who believe that this latest, most foul attack is a measure of the frustration of the terrorists in the light of the considerable recent successes of the security forces. Whatever their motives, it is true that the courage and resourcefulness of the security forces, backed up by the same courage and steadfastness of the community at large and aided significantly by international co-operation, have inflicted severe blows on the terrorists. Nonetheless, yesterday's outrage shows the evil threat they still pose and the vital need for the whole community to continue to stand steadfastly against them.

"There are two messages that I wish the House to send today. The first is to the people of Northern Ireland of our resolve to stand firmly with them in the fight against terrorism and to assure them of our full support. The second is to make clear to the men of violence that no threat or outrage destroys our resolve but rather makes us all the more determined to rid the Province of the evil of terrorism".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we on this side of the House join with the noble Lord. Lord Lyell, in our total condemnation of the appalling atrocity committed in Enniskillen. There are no mitigating circumstances, no vestige of defence which can be advanced in support of this terrible act. It has nothing to do with patriotic loyalty. It is in fact an unmitigated evil and it reflects the extent to which these wicked people are prepared to go.

Those responsible for supplying these people with the means and weapons to commit these crimes must also be condemned; and if there is any government who assist or condone the supply of arms then they too are guilty of criminal conduct.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we must not overlook the fact, as the Statement points out, that one of the objectives of this calculated outrage is to secure a reaction by way of reprisals. I am sure that all of us would strongly support the appeal that no such action be taken as it would only play into the hands of the perpetrators.

I also join the noble Lord in expressing our very deep sympathy for the families of those who died and for those who are injured. We also express our great appreciation for the courage and compassion shown by the emergency services—the police, the fire brigade, the army, the ambulance service and the nurses—and indeed by civilians, who did all they could to help those involved in this tragedy.

It is of course too soon to examine this event in detail, but perhaps the noble Lord will be kind enough to answer one or two questions. First, will he assure us that the Government will move very quickly to set up a review of the machinery of the security services in Northern Ireland? We shall at the end of the day be judged by the effectiveness of the action we take. Does he not agree that security cannot be really effective unless there is complete understanding, coordination and co-operation on both sides of the border? I welcome the announcement that the Secretary of State is to meet officials in Northern Ireland very soon, and also Irish Ministers.

Will the noble Lord also urge his right honourable friend the Prime Minister to initiate talks as soon as possible with Mr. Charles Haughey, whose condemnation we also noted with satisfaction? Close and understanding co-operation between the two governments in London and in Dublin is now absolutely essential.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, my noble friends and I should like to associate ourselves with everything the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, have said. Is the Minister aware that many of us have in the past used harsh language to describe terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland, but that it is extremely difficult to find adequate language to describe what happened yesterday? It was an ultimate act of obscenity on a day of remembrance for those who have died to save the freedom of the people of Britain and indeed the freedom of the people of Ireland as well. Is the Minister aware that we should also like to be associated with everything he said about the Royal Ulster Constabulary, and obviously the need, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said, to further improve security in the border areas and the degree of collaboration between the security authorities on both sides of the border?

Is the Minister also aware that many of us very much hope that those who have been responsible for raising money in the United States, through organisations such as NORAID, will pause when they realise what happened yesterday, and that it is quite impossible for terrorist organisations such as the IRA to exist without substantial financial support from outside Ireland? Let us hope that as a result of what happened yesterday there will be some pause, there will be some hesitation, among those who have supported NORAID in the past.

I also ask the Minister whether he agrees that all those who deplore violence in Ireland—I am sure that many do, both south and north of the border, in the aftermath of this appalling tragedy—will realise that nothing would do more to improve the general security climate in Northern Ireland than to obtain support in the Dail for the extradition provisions of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Nothing would do more damage to the IRA. Let us hope that the only memorial we may be able to achieve for those innocent people who were murdered in Enniskillen yesterday is to ensure that that agreement is ratified.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I think that all your Lordships will be most grateful, indeed, heartily grateful, for the forthright comments that have come both from the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, and from the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I shall pass on all their thoughts and good wishes to my right honourable friends and to everyone in Northern Ireland, especially the security forces.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, wished me to assure him that we would be reviewing the role of the security services in Northern Ireland. I assure the noble Lord and your Lordships that my right honourable friend has had meetings already this morning. He is returning tonight for further meetings with the relevant gentlemen and, I suspect, one or two ladies, in Northern Ireland. The effectiveness of the security services in the fight against terrorism is a continuous process. If there is anything that we have learnt from what happened yesterday I have no doubt that we shall take swift action to remedy any shortcomings.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, may wish to know that on his return my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be discussing security policy in the light of recent events. I am advised that the additional battalions of the army which are at present in the Province will remain as long as necessary. I understand that there may be an increase of 150 personnel in the Ulster Defence Regiment. I wish to note the successes of the security forces in Belfast. I am sure your Lordships will be pleased to know that a van containing over 1,200 pounds in weight of explosives was intercepted and the driver was arrested. That is as far as I want to go today. But this was clearly the forerunner of a further outrage last night. I hope that the security services have learnt—if there is anything that we may learn—from yesterday's incident and that we may apply those lessons very quickly.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, expressed very clearly any civilised person's feelings about yesterday's outrage. Perhaps I should remind your Lordships that among the victims who were injured, slightly or more seriously, were girl guides, boy scouts and members of the British Legion. Security co-operation on the border and all over the Province is a problem that is occupying both my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and my honourable colleagues who are specially charged with this aspect in Northern Ireland. I am sure your Lordships would not wish me to give you details today.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in wishing that this dreadful outrage will at least be some form of brake on NORAID and other similar organisations in the United States. The fruits of their financial collections are only too evident in scenes such as we saw yesterday in Enniskillen. I shall also note the noble Lord's comments about the Dail, the review of the extradition provisions and the European convention on the suppression of terrorism. But that is something very much for the Dail. I am sure it will note both what has been said in your Lordships' House and the events of yesterday.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, will the noble Lord convey to the Prime Minister the gratitude of the vast majority of the Irish people for the expressions which she made and the words which she used in the aftermath of this terrible disaster on Sunday when she spoke outside Downing Street, particularly when she referred to the desecration of the dead—those dead who included many thousands of Irishmen, north and south of the border, who gave their lives in the two world wars?

Will the noble Lord also accept that of all the tragedies that have been brought about by the activities of the IRA, this was by far the most identifiable as a vicious, ruthless, heartless attack on the Protestant community in Northern Ireland? This is a community which has suffered so much over the past 20 years.

Finally, will the Minister say what it is necessary should be said: that the IRA could not carry on its activities, could not survive, were it not for the help and the support that has been given to it by a considerable section of the Catholic community? A considerable section of the Catholic community, a number of people in Northern Ireland, today know the identity of these murderers who perpetrated this terrible crime. There cannot be any hope of any political advance for anyone, but in particular the Catholic minority, until the minority begins to cooperate with the security forces by making certain that these acts can never again be repeated.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, all of us agree that comments such as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, of all people in your Lordships' House, are most welcome. Indeed, all of us support him as a man of immense courage since he has lived in West Belfast. Those of your Lordships who know a little of Belfast, as I do, will appreciate the courage and steadfastness that has been shown by the noble Lord throughout the years. Certainly I shall convey the comments and thoughts of the noble Lord to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. I am sure the noble Lord and the House will accept that it is a bit early and that I could not give any reaction, but I shall certainly pass on to my right honourable friend everything that the noble Lord has said.

As regards the noble Lord's thoughts on the acts of the Provisional IRA, in so far as one can decipher any rational process in its thoughts this is probably the meanest and most vicious act that it has carried out. It seeks publicity; it has had publicity. But the Statement, I hope, shows that such appalling attacks will not deter this Government or this nation from attempting to suppress the evil of terrorism which has plagued Northern Ireland for far too long. Indeed, what the noble Lord has said reiterates what I set out in the Statement. I stressed that the Provisional IRA and terrorism could not succeed and could not live or even thrive—if one can use those two words—in Northern Ireland or anywhere else without the tacit support of, I suspect, a relatively small number of people and the support through looking the other way of, I hope, an equally small number of people. As I said in the Statement, I hope that the outrage at Enniskillen yesterday will at least cause people who have expressed genuine revulsion to examine their consciences and to do what is necessary to suppress terrorism.

4 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I should like to support what noble Lords have said in expressing my condolences to the families of the victims of the atrocity and to wish them courage in the time ahead. In support of what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has said, the best way to commemorate the dead is to examine, clearly and closely, our own actions in the wake of these disasters. I should like to ask the Minister three questions. First, arc we quite sure that we give Northern Ireland a high enough priority on our agenda? Secondly, are we going to use the Anglo-Irish Agreement, unpopular though it is at the moment with the Protestant community, for the purposes for which it was set up—to co-ordinate the actions of the security forces of the North and South in order to ensure that no opportunities are lost to wage war against the men of violence? Thirdly, when there is a disaster on this side of the Irish Sea, very often a fund is set up to show the good will of the public. The people of Northern Ireland endure crisis all the time. Would it not be right if on this occasion we set up a fund to help the relatives of the victims who have been so grievously hurt?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for expressing her condolences to the bereaved and injured in Enniskillen. I shall see that her condolences are passed on and I am sure that her remarks will be read widely in Northern Ireland.

I hope that our actions both in Government and in security matters are relevant. Indeed, in the Statement I repeated my right honourable friend's steadfast plea in another place not to retaliate. This plea was put most eloquently last night by the Primate of All Ireland.

The noble Baroness asked three questions. As regards the high priority given to Northern Ireland, I am too often absent from your Lordships' House working in Northern Ireland but I believe that the Government put a very, very high priority on matters in Northern Ireland. I believe that in the past three years we have shown that commitment with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I hope your Lordships will see that it is a first step and an important and crucial step in attempting to remove the threat of terrorism and to bring a happier chapter into the history of Ireland and indeed Anglo-Irish relationships.

I note the noble Baroness's remarks about a fund. I am not able to give any information today about what funds are being set up in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. However, we are most grateful for her thoughts on that matter.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, while it is understandable that we should express revulsion and an appalling sense of outrage at these events, will the noble Lord accept, as I have said before in your Lordships' House, that this is very unlikely to have any effect on the people who have committed these crimes? This is after all what they are about doing. They want to create a sense of fear and outrage.

Perhaps I may put two points about the security situation in Northern Ireland which I hope the noble Lord and his colleagues will take into account in considering further steps. Is the noble Lord happy that the security forces in Northern Ireland are not operating at the moment under undue restrictions? I have to tell him that many people think that they are. Many people believe for example that, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has said, the identity of a great number of these criminals is known not only to the Catholic community, or certain sections of the Catholic community, but to the security forces? Is it not now time to consider some form of action which would prevent these offences taking place rather than waiting until they have taken place?

Is the noble Lord happy that all modern technology and systems of defence are taken into account in the business of protecting the border? Finally, is he not now convinced that this is not just a simple internal security operation? This is a terrorist organisation with which we are at war. Should we not now be taking far more drastic action against it?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the noble Lord asked whether the security forces are under undue restrictions. It is the Government's view that they are free to carry out their duties but—and I have to add three words—within the law. This is particularly relevant and particularly necessary. I have an idea of what the noble Lord would wish me to go on to, but I can tell him that we have further powers in reserve. These are only in reserve. I hope that we shall not want to take any further action than we need to take at the moment.

The noble Lord asked about technology on the border and elsewhere. I am constantly amazed by the use of modern technology and by the ceaseless work and dogged persistence involved in tracking down criminals and, indeed, all aspects of security on the border. The security forces are using all aspects of modern technology. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gives a particularly high priority to law and order and to the protective services in Northern Ireland.

With regard to the noble Lord's third question, all of us are aware that this is a terrorist organisation. But, as I said in the Statement, we believe that terrorism can only be eliminated by persistent and continual efforts allied to firm action by the security forces within the law. This has been our policy and what it will continue to be. I am in no doubt that we shall persist until such time as we can eliminate terrorism. I note what the noble Lord has said.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, this is, I suppose, by far the nastiest piece of terrorism that has happened in Northern Ireland, on a par perhaps with Eichman and his horrors. Is it not worthwhile getting together with the Government of the Republic and using this absolute horror for a major publicity campaign in the United States to try and further dry up the already falling funds to NO RAID? Anything that can be used to dilute those funds must be to the benefit of us all. If it can be done in conjunction with the Government of the Republic, and if we can use this dreadful and appalling massacre, perhaps there is something that may come out of it.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I have no doubt that when my right honourable friend meets the Irish Ministers, and when they continue to discuss security and other matters, this outrage will be fairly high on the agenda. I have no doubt that both Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic will want to take every possible action to try to reduce the flow of arms, materials and money to the terrorist cause. What my noble friend has suggested may well come to pass. I hope it does. However, I shall see that his comments are passed on to my right honourable friend and I hope they will be of some help.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, may I make a small point on behalf of the Royal British Legion, of which I am the metropolitan area president? Perhaps I may inform the Minister that there is anger, shock and grief at the moment, but mostly anger. Will the Government endeavour to do what they can to stop Libya supplying arms to these people? That is shocking. It is even worse when they can get financial assistance from the country we regard as our greatest ally. The United States of America cannot have it both ways. This matter is creating a great deal of anger—and I can speak with some authority—among members of the Royal British Legion.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has said. Indeed, I referred to members of the Royal British Legion who were injured yesterday in the outrage in Enniskillen. I am sure that his remarks will be much appreciated by members of the Royal British Legion in Enniskillen and throughout Northern Ireland.

In reply to the noble Lord's two questions, we have a certain amount of assistance around the world in trying to suppress terrorism. I believe that your Lordships would agree that arms, from wherever they come, destined in furtherance of terrorism should be taken out of circulation. We are aware that the flow of arms continues to swirl around the world but we hope that there will be further successes, as has recently been evidenced. We are very grateful to our French friends for what they have achieved so far.

The noble Lord mentioned the United States and NORAID. We have had firm and forthright messages of support from all over the world—and not least from President Reagan. I am sure that the outrage at Enniskillen will be prominent in the news headlines in the United States. One would hope that would go a considerable way to cutting funds to well-wishers and, I quote, "sympathisers" of the Irish cause in the United States. It has been made abundantly clear by politicians of all shades in the United States of America that contributions to NORAID and similar such funds do nothing at all to help the situation in Ireland, north or south.

Lord Moran

My Lords, while joining in sincere condolences to those who have suffered in this terrible crime may I ask the Minister whether it is correct that Enniskillen lies in a constituency in which 194 people have been killed by terrorists since 1970? If that is correct, does it not suggest that it is necessary for the Government to take more determined action to protect innocent people in this part of the United Kingdom?

Concerning cross-border security, I am glad to hear from the Minister that the Secretary of State proposes to have discussions with Ministers in the Republic. However, do not the rather bizarre events following the recent kidnapping in the Republic suggest that the security forces there do not have the numbers, the resources, or the training to deal adequately with the terrorist threat, so that it is therefore for us and for our security forces to protect people in Fermanagh?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, regarding the noble Lord's first question, I understand that the honourable Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has frequently asked how many people have been made amenable for this number of murders, which I think the noble Lord said is in the region of 194 but I am told that it is close to 200. I understand that 31 persons have been charged in Northern Ireland over the years in connection with deaths in this particular constituency of the honourable Member. Apart from these 31, one more has been charged with murder in the Republic of Ireland, but the murder took place at Belleek in Fermanagh. Therefore, that is a total of 32 who have been made amenable for these murders.

To turn to the events that we have read about in the Irish Republic, I certainly would not want to comment at all on what has happened there since I have not seen—and I suggest that your Lordships do not know—the full details as to what has happened or what has not happened. I would not wish to criticise in any way some particularly brave men in the Garda Siochana who have a particularly hard job. We are particularly grateful for much of their co-operation. Your Lordships may read things in the media; but, as the noble Lord of all people should know, perhaps we should not take it all as gospel truth.