HL Deb 25 October 1993 vol 549 cc744-52

5.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (The Earl of Arran)

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

"At around half-past nine on Saturday morning a house in North Belfast was taken over by two masked men who said they were members of the Provisional IRA. The occupant of the house was forcibly detained in an upstairs room for some three-and-a-half hours. His car was stolen.

"Shortly after 1 p.m. a similar car was seen parked on the Shankill Road, close to Berlin Street. Two men got out of the vehicle. One was carrying a box. Both walked from the car into Mr. John Frizzell's fish shop at 275 Shankill Road. At eleven minutes past one a bomb exploded inside the shop, which is on the ground floor of a three-storey building. This is a popular shopping area which at the time was especially crowded with people doing their weekend shopping. The building was completely demolished.

"The police, fire and ambulance services were quickly there, and a major rescue operation ensued, with local people providing tremendous help. The injured were taken to a number of Belfast hospitals whose medical and other staff responded immediately. The work of all concerned, both at the scene and in the hospitals, was beyond praise. I am most grateful for the tributes so widely paid to them, to which I gratefully add my own today.

"Ten people died: two children; four women and four men. They included a seven year-old girl and her parents; the owner of the shop, Mr. Frizzell, and his daughter; a wife and her husband; a 38 year-old woman and a 13 year-old girl on an errand for her mother. Fifty-seven people were injured, ranging from young children to elderly shoppers.

"In a statement on Saturday afternoon the Provisional IRA claimed responsibility for this atrocious act. They subsequently said that some of those who carried it out were unaccounted for.

"The Chief Constable of the RUC took immediate steps to safeguard security. In particular, more police and military manpower has been deployed in Belfast and other areas. Two people have been arrested in connection with the explosion.

"The whole House will condemn with revulsion Saturday's hideous attack. There can be no possible doubt about this: these people intended in any event to commit mass murder and to commit it in a busy street full of Saturday shoppers and their children.

Once again the Provisional IRA has taken away the lives of children, along with those of ordinary men and women who in two instances were their parents.

"The natural reaction of humane men and women to crimes of this enormity is one of rage. The restraint and dignity shown by the people of the Shankill are therefore all the more to be admired. Horrible though the provocation is, I urge the whole community in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland to continue to show equal self-control in the days ahead. I share the Chief Constable's belief that it will do so.

"Reason tells us that revenge merely multiplies the murder and injustice it reacts against; and reason, not rage, must be our guide. Reason tells us that all violence, from whatever quarter, and certainly including recent loyalist attacks—which have already resulted in another murder since Saturday—must be consistently and universally condemned. But reason also tells us that in this democracy those who commit these terrible crimes, those who commission them and those who justify them must not be bargained with.

"To the innocent victims of this attack and those near and dear to them our heartfelt sympathies go out. I assure them and the people of Northern Ireland that the RUC, with the Government's full support, will spare no effort to track down the remainder of these criminals and to protect the public from others like them. The RUC needs, and it deserves, the help of everyone.

"To those who did this terrible thing and to those who justify the use of violence the message, and the only message, is this. In this democracy no political purpose, whatever it may be, will be advanced by a single inch through the use or the threat of violence. No campaign, however horrible or protracted, will shift us from that determination.

"Finally, this atrocity surely reinforces the challenge to all the participants, including the two Governments, who are currently involved as constitutional politicians in the urgent search for a solution to Northern Ireland's political problems. In this democracy it is only through dialogue—dialogue between those who unequivocally reject the use or threat of violence—that the foundation will in the end he found for a fair and hence a lasting peace."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.17 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place. I am sure that the whole House will join him in condemning with revulsion the appalling atrocity in the Shankill Road last Saturday afternoon and in expressing immense sorrow and sympathy to the families of the innocent people who have so suddenly been bereaved and the 57 innocent people who have been injured. At the same time, there is no concealing that it is deeply disappointing that these dreadful events have led to the need for this Statement.

I am assured by the reasoned tenor of the Statement—and we on these Benches support its central theme —that reason, not rage, even in this situation, must guide our response. I am glad to note that the Statement confirms that no effort will be spared to track down the criminals. Although I do not doubt for one moment the Government's intention in that respect, it should be said that that assurance has been embedded in Statements which have been made time after time after every act of carnage in Northern Ireland during the past 25 years. So the people of Northern Ireland will say: "We have been here before". But the sad fact remains that the men of violence have not been defeated, and on the evidence which is observable to outsiders, they are unlikely to be defeated in the absence of a political solution.

We appreciate that there is a huge amount of courageous work being undertaken by the approximately 30,000 members of the security forces deployed in Northern Ireland. But perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Chief Constable of the RUC and the General Officer Commanding are satisfied that they have the manpower which they require. Is the Chief Constable asking for more resources?

This morning on the radio the Anglican Primate of All Ireland, Dr. Robin Eames, spoke, I thought, with deep conviction and feeling. I hope that Ministers of both Governments will ask themselves the question which the Archbishop posed: "Is there anything else we have not tried?"

We must urge Ministers of both governments to respond to the political challenge and to redouble, and treble, their efforts to seek to agree proposals which both Governments can support and which could lead to a lasting solution—although no one pretends that that will be an easy task. In fairness to the Government, I believe that that point is made in the closing part of the Statement. Meanwhile, we must never forget that it is innocent men, women and children who are being killed and injured by the men of violence and who are, first and foremost, the losers from the failure to seek a reconciliation.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend in another place. From these Benches I should like to express our deepest sympathy to the families of those bereaved, particularly perhaps the four women and two children whose loved ones were snatched away so brutally and unexpectedly. I should also like to express our best wishes to the 57 people who were injured in this horrendous atrocity.

We in this House must hope and urge, as the Government and the Chief Constable have urged, that calm prevails in the next few days so that there is no bloody escalation of tit-for-tat violence across the communities. Is the noble Earl satisfied that the Government believe that for the next week or two of acute pressure they have adequate forces on the ground, adequate intelligence and an adequate state of alert?

In the longer term, however, we should remember the overriding need for the political progress to which the Statement refers. In the end, hopelessness will be the best ally of the terrorist. When may we expect to hear from the two Governments? I know very well how sensitive this matter is. I know that the two Governments, and Mr. Michael Ancram, are canvassing the two constitutional parties. I should like to express in this House the wish that all the constitutional parties will do their best to respond positively and specifically work out what each of them is prepared to give up in the cause of peace; what sacrifices and compromises they are prepared to make in this appalling situation. I certainly say that it is no time for the leader of any responsible party to be sulking in his tent.

Finally, I wonder how much the document from Messrs. Hume and Adams is helping in the current situation. This is a mysterious document in that we do not know what it says. It is also a much travelled document. It has been to America and to Dublin, but it does not seem yet to have to come to London. Certainly this House and the other place have yet to know what it says. I wonder whether it might not be a distraction from the central need to get the constitutional parties together to make progress.

I do riot want to mar this sad occasion with too strong an al tack on any of the participants, but in regard to Mr. Adams' performance last night and this morning—and, incidentally, if I had to hear him at all, I would prefer to hear him speaking in his own voice rather than in that of an actor—I thought that his remarks were breathtaking in their effrontery, particularly in view of the mainland bombings which have followed today. Does the noble Earl agree that to cause havoc and then promise, if only you can be given what you want, to have a word with your partner about it with a view to stopping it is the language of a protection racket, and that must not be encouraged in any way whatsoever?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for the expressions of total condemnation of these violent, heinous acts, these crimes against mankind in Northern Ireland. I am also grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Holme of Cheltenham, for their sympathy towards those who mourn and their best wishes to those who have been maimed or injured for a speedy recovery.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, quite rightly asks about the security forces in the next few weeks, as does the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, has already said, there are some 30,000 security forces—the RUC and soldiers—already serving in Northern Ireland. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has certainly said that he will always at all times have sufficient forces in Northern Ireland to combat terrorism. Obviously, we shall continue to devote all resources necessary to security.

Certainly, the Chief Constable has made a number of redeployments of police and troops in the light of Saturday's atrocity. Clearly, if the Chief Constable feels that he needs further manpower to deal with the security situation, I have no doubt that he will put a request to my right honourable and learned friend. Of course, as both noble Lords know well—indeed, as all noble Lords know very well—the level of forces is kept under careful review. We would not wish to speculate about any particular future changes.

The noble Lord mentioned Archbishop Eames and said words to the effect that the Archbishop is quoted as having asked: is there anything else that we can do in these circumstances? Over the years successive governments have tried everything in their power to bring about a peaceful settlement. If the Archbishop has some particularly useful suggestions I am sure that he will not hesitate to come forward and put them to my right honourable and learned friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, is quite right about the talks that are going on. The Government have embarked on a process of further private discussions with the constitutional parties to explore the basis upon which they can come together for further dialogue. The aim is threefold: first, to establish areas of common agreement; secondly, to explore areas of continued apprehension or disagreement; and, thirdly and perhaps most importantly, to try to identify the degree of flexibility which may be needed on all sides to resolve them. As regards the question of timing, I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that no specific time has been set in the event of endeavouring to come to a solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, mentioned the Hume-Adams talks. Obviously, Mr. Hume's talks with Mr. Adams are a matter for his own judgment. I believe that the noble Lord understands perfectly well the position of the Government. It has been made clear very often. We will not engage in talks or negotiations with those who use, support or threaten violence to advance their political objectives.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, I should like to join with other Members of this House in expressing much regret and sadness for those who have lost their loved ones in this latest despicable terrorist outrage. Is the Minister aware that it is now obvious that the Provisional IRA was not listening to the Hume-Adams dialogue? Indeed, it was not involved and did not want to know. Is he also aware that, tragically, the talks sparked off a campaign of Catholic killing by the Protestant paramilitaries who were afraid of the rumoured nationalist alliance of Provisional Sinn Fein, Social Democratic and Labour Party and Dublin? Then John Hume, presenting his peace progress suggestions to Dublin and America and ignoring Her Majesty's Government, made matters even worse. Although John Hume tried, those talks are best forgotten. Is the Minister further aware that Gerry Adams is now seen not to be trusted, and in the Province and in talks of this kind is totally irrelevant?

I should like to ask the Minister just one question, because on security much has been said and done. Why do not Her Majesty's Government consider selective detention, a round-up of senior, known suspects—Provisional IRA, Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Freedom Fighters—which would take the tension out of the situation, ease the fears of all the people in the Province and hopefully minimise the backlash?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, regarding selective detention—in other words, internment—as the noble Lord knows very well, that power remains on the statute book, but it would be brought into force only in very particular circumstances; and it is certainly not government policy to discuss what those might be. My right honourable and learned friend has it available to use it if he judges it appropriate.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that in Northern Ireland today there is sorrow, sadness, heartbreak and despair, not only on the Shankill Road but throughout Northern Ireland, because of the terrible, murderous activity of the IRA on Saturday. But added to that there is a great feeling of uncertainty. That is because of the uncertain constitutional position in Northern Ireland, particularly since 1985, since the Anglo-Irish Agreement which was negotiated without any contact at all with the majority community.

Since then in Northern Ireland there has been an air of triumphant nationalism which has caused fear and suspicion among the Protestant majority community. They feel that some way or other moves are taking place behind the scenes which will endanger their position within the United Kingdom. Since then there has been a series of talks—the Brooke talks and the Mayhew talks—with what we refer to as the constitutional parties. Of those constitutional parties there is one—the SDLP—which wants to change the constitution of Northern Ireland and which has entered into discussions with the sworn enemies of the Protestant and Unionist people to change the constitution and to incorporate them into Ireland against their will. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances fear and despair are rampant every second of every minute of every day in Northern Ireland?

I spoke to Robin Eames this morning. I was in the depths of despair about what happened on Saturday and so was he. We spoke of the terrible tragedy and the blood that had been spilt in Northern Ireland. He asked whether there was anything that the politicians could do. The politicians who were involved in the last set of talks—the constitutional politicians—were much too ambitious. Some of them were deliberately too ambitious because they said that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. Strand 1 would bring about concessions within Northern Ireland. Strand 2 would then involve negotiations across the Border; and Strand 3 would follow. There is absolutely no doubt that agreement could have been found within the limits of Strand 1. The Protestant community and nationalist community could have reached agreement to create political structures in Northern Ireland. But when it came to Strand 2 difficulties arose. It should clearly be stated here that it was the SDLP, allied with the Dublin Government, which wrecked the Strand 1 talks in Northern Ireland.

What happened after those talks failed? The Leader of the SDLP entered into discussions with Gerry Adams, the spokesman for the most murderous organisation that has ever appeared in the whole sad, tragic history of Ireland. What does that convey to the majority population? It conveys fear.

I have no intention of overstepping or of limiting the discussion. The situation is much too serious in Northern Ireland. It may curtail my remarks. I ask whether there is anything that can be done and reply that yes, there is something. The talks should begin again in Northern Ireland between the constitutional parties. But they must be told that the Border is not an issue. They must be told to find elements of agreement within Northern Ireland and, after having found a reason to learn to live together, then at some time in the future to talk about the eventual—but maybe the eventual—reunification of Ireland.

First of all, John Hume will have to realise that he may be a good communicator in Brussels, Dublin, New York and other parts of the world. But the most important place to communicate is in Northern Ireland with a majority Protestant community. Without their agreement there is no peace in the foreseeable future in Northern Ireland.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I may just say with great respect to the noble Lord that there are people in Northern Ireland who have yet to receive Christian burial and perhaps it might be somewhat insensitive, indelicate and improper to go into deep political discussion at this moment. I shall make just two remarks. First, there is unanimous acceptance that the status quo is not a viable option—everyone wants a settlement. Secondly, there is a general recognition of significant areas of agreement in the 1992 talks, even if much was on a contingent basis.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, we have had too many such bloodbaths in Northern Ireland and on the mainland. I join in the condemnation of such acts. However, I must tell your Lordships that the Protestant paramilitaries love it. The more condemnation there is, and the more there is in the papers, the more they feel a sense of victory. They have been mentioned in dispatches. Unimportant people have become important in the United Kingdom. There is no way out of that situation; but they love it.

I should like to express the hope that what happened in the Shankill Road, which has made everybody feel so terrible, will not lead us to believe that it will bring conciliation, because it will not. We have said too many times before that the horror will make decent people say, "We have to do something". One has only to look at the history of the past century. The Liberals tried to do something about Home Rule. How many times did they call on the decent majority in Ireland to stand up and be counted? They never stood up. It is the paramilitaries who stand up and are counted.

I met the Provisional IRA twice when I was in Opposition with my noble friend Lord Wilson. I and my staff spoke with them after the Birmingham bombings—which goes against what I have just said. It is my view that the Birmingham bombings horrified even the Provisional IRA and that they went for some sort of ceasefire. We tried to find a way that the IRA could get out of violence. Some of them said that they were afraid to walk the streets without a gun and if they gave up violence how could they walk the streets without a gun? That was the nature of it. They cannot deliver. They get 2 per cent. of the votes in Northern Ireland.

The only people who can win through in Ireland as a whole are the constitutional politicians. I say to my noble friend Lord Mason that I ended detention without trial because of the advice that had been given to me. It was badly done, and I can see that now; it was done badly, and understandably so. It led to the revival of the Provisional IRA, which was a new group at that time. My information is that one of the aims of the Provisional IRA is a return to detention. It is the best thing that they can have to obtain more recruits. I wish the Government well, but I hope that no one thinks that there is an easy way through.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Government are fully aware that there is no easy way through this situation. That is why we are in steadfast talks at the moment and that is why the talks progressed reasonably well last year. I have already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Mason, and the other noble Lord the Government's view about selective detention; it is an option for the Secretary of State if he wishes to use it. But what your Lordships, and I am sure the whole of this country, are keen to bring about is a settlement which is acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, from these Benches perhaps we can thank my noble friend for making this Statement this afternoon. We thank him and his ministerial team, including my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State, for all the work that they do that is not seen and not necessarily appreciated except on tragic occasions such as recently experienced within Northern Ireland. It is the work done by my noble friend and the ministerial team that provides the climate for the ministerial and other talks that have gone some way towards helping to solve the situation in Northern Ireland.

Perhaps my noble friend will agree that the only way to continue talks is, first, to restrict them to discussions between constitutional parties; secondly, to promote the talks between my noble friend and the ministerial team in the Northern Ireland Office and their counterparts in Dublin; and, thirdly, to do all that at the right time. Today, this week or next month may not be the right time, and the current climate of media-driven and fevered excitement that we have had since Saturday, with all kinds of media persons suggesting that something should be done, is not the right time. Can my noble friend confirm that diplomacy and the style in which he and my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State are continuing the talks is the only successful way to make the substantial progress that has been made over the past few years?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for those comments. I agree with him. I remind my noble friend that Ministers are there to do a job, which they do to the best of their ability. It is not thanks to us but to the security forces out there and to the steadfastness of the people of Northern Ireland who, in spite of all the atrocities, go on about their daily lives.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, mention has been made of the performance of Mr. Gerry Adams on television. Am I not right in believing that there is a. law designed to prevent people like Mr. Adams using television as a platform? Is the Minister aware that at least twice in the past few days Mr. Adams has been interviewed face to face on television, using the transparent device of an actor's voice to put forward his views?

Should not the law be enforced in such a way that it achieves the end that it was meant to achieve? It seems clear to me that both Mr. Adams and the television people are thumbing their noses at the Government. If the law is not enforced, perhaps it should he removed altogether. At the moment the whole thing is descending into farce.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I take particular note of what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, says. I confess that I am not totally aware of the law as it stands at the moment. The fact that the noble Lord brought the matter up suggests that the law is being improperly used. I shall immediately convey that to my right honourable and learned friend.