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Mr. Thompson: I do not like being compared to Sinn Fein. I am a democrat. I believe in the ballot box, and I shall accept the results of the ballot box and seek to change the result democratically if I do not like it. I am not involved in terrorism or ticking bombs. I am not trying to get my way by violent means.

7.41 pm

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down): I suspect that whatever is said here today by the very few Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland will be futile, in the sense that it will not alter a full stop or comma in the proposed legislation. However, I believe that people should appreciate that the agreement is the product of terror. Terror and terrorist violence produced the policy change that led the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) to say, in January 1991, that Britain no longer had any selfish economic or strategic reason or interest for staying in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. McCartney: No. I shall give way in due course. I am simply saying that that was the start of a policy change.

I listened to the touching speech by the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Ms Southworth). She is right about the bomb in Warrington, because that year two bombs, albeit of very different kinds, had a dramatic effect in developing the Conservative Government's policy: the bomb at Warrington and the bomb at the Baltic exchange.

For 25 years, Northern Ireland was a place apart within the United Kingdom. It was a place where terror could be encapsulated in some sort of safety net that, by and large--there were exceptions--protected the rest of the United Kingdom from the level and degree of violence that saturated Northern Ireland.

Bombs like that at Warrington were two a penny in Northern Ireland; they happened regularly. That is not to suggest that the bomb at Warrington was any less poignant than some of the bombs that took many more lives--including those of young children--in Northern Ireland. However, the bomb at Warrington, like the bomb in the Baltic exchange, was on the British mainland. It was not a place to which terrorists could be sent back in an internal exile process--British citizens, sent back to a part of the United Kingdom because that was where wicked terrorists should properly be kept.

Prevention of terrorism legislation was largely for keeping terror in Northern Ireland. As the late Reginald Maudling once said, for 25 years a level of violence, in human and economic terms, was acceptable in Northern Ireland because the British Treasury and the British public could take it--because, after all, these people, these Ulster Defence Regiment men and Royal Ulster Constabulary men, were being murdered in a strange part of the United Kingdom--indeed, a part of the United Kingdom that many citizens of the mainland did not even fully appreciate was part of the United Kingdom.

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For reasons that I have given, those two bombs--at Warrington and the Baltic exchange--changed all that. The bomb at the Baltic exchange is said to have cost more than all the damages paid out in Northern Ireland for death, personal injury and property between 1969 and 1992. Violence had reached a level on the British mainland that was, in economic and human terms, a la Warrington, unacceptable for first-class British citizens living on the main land.

Mr. Winnick: I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not forget for a moment the 25 people who were butchered in Birmingham, near my constituency, in November 1974. I do not for a moment wish to minimise the violence inflicted on the people of both communities in Northern Ireland--far from it--and I have condemned it on every occasion, but I hope that he will not give the impression that the violence in the United Kingdom started from the terrible tragedies in Warrington and the Baltic exchange. Remember what happened in Birmingham.

Mr. McCartney: I take the hon. Gentleman's point entirely. Indeed, he will recall that I said that the violence was essentially in, but was certainly not confined to, Northern Ireland. However, we are talking about 3,200 dead in Northern Ireland. I entirely accept that 27 in Birmingham was a terrible atrocity. We are talking about 299 members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary--279 of them murdered by the IRA and 11 by associated republican terrorist organisations.

Ms Southworth: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with my constituents that the time has come to move on, and move forward toward a peaceful settlement?

Mr. McCartney: I think that is a very lofty sentiment, which many people would endorse; but somewhat facile expressions of emotional sentimentality, while perfectly legitimate, do not answer the question in Northern Ireland.

This agreement permits terrorists who have carried out outrageous crimes against humanity in Northern Ireland to be released within two years. It permits those same terrorists to retain every ounce of Semtex and every gun. It does not require any party representing those paramilitary groups to do anything more than


"may"; my emphasis--


    "have"

to persuade those groups to give up their guns.

No one who has lived in Northern Ireland and who is intimately familiar with the IRA believes for a second, at any time, that a single gun or a single ounce of Semtex will be decommissioned until the IRA has obtained its ultimate objective of a united Ireland.

I object to the immorality and the injustice that has been done by the release of prisoners in the service of nothing but political expediency. I object to the suggestion that victims can be palmed off with kind words and the promise of a possible memorial in Londonderry. I think that that debases and diminishes their suffering.

It is very easy to travel lightly over another man's wound. It is easy for Members of this House of Commons to say, "Let us put the past behind us." Will it be easy for

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members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who have given their limbs and their lives in order to place dedicated terrorists behind bars, to see them walking the streets?

Is it justice that those former terrorists may become members of a community police force? I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have read the agreement carefully. I have also listened to the claims of representatives of Sinn Fein; to Mr. Durkin, who is a senior figure in the SDLP; and to Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald, a former Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland. They have all stated that former terrorists will be eligible to serve in some form of acceptable community police service for Northern Ireland. They may all be wrong, but that is the position.

The police force in Northern Ireland is being demoralised by the early release of people that they have risked their lives to put out of society. They will see them walking the streets and possibly operating in a police force, while they see their own forces demoralised--all for the price of an agreement.

After the treaty of Utrecht, the first British Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, said:


That was the case. We forget the euphoria that greeted Neville Chamberlain in 1938. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) smiles and laughs, but the same sort of euphoria greeted Mr. Chamberlain. People hung out of the windows and cheered because he had the infamous piece of paper that would prevent bombs from falling on London.

This agreement may be a little longer, but it might be no more substantial in preventing the IRA from returning to London and to places such as Canary Wharf, Hammersmith bridge and Heathrow airport when it decides that the political process has, for the present, nothing further to offer it.

I am always amused to some extent when hon. Members who are among the greatest peripatetics in Northern Ireland stand up and tell the House what the people of Northern Ireland want--what their feelings and desires are. I have lived in Northern Ireland, raised a family and carried on a profession in Northern Ireland for 62 years. My understanding and my feelings about what the people of Northern Ireland want bear very little relation to what casual visitors tell me are the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland.

I object to a process whereby, as shadow Secretary of State, the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland visited the Maze prison on 16 October 1996 and met two people she did not know: Michael and Johnny. She then told a press conference that Michael and Johnny were two of the unsung heroes of the peace process. Guess who Michael and Johnny turned out to be? Johnny was Johnny Adair, who was doing 16 years for organising up to 20 murders of Catholics; and Michael was Michael Stone, another loyalist psychopath. He went to the Milltown cemetery equipped with several revolvers and bombs, and murdered three or four Catholics and wounded many others. He was described as an unsung hero of the peace process.

We now know why those unsung heroes were so much in favour of the peace process--because they were induced and bribed to support it by the promise of early release. Once they are out of prison, they will return to a

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life that is depicted on the murals in the H blocks, which say, "The only good Catholic is a dead Taig." We are told that those people, upon their release, will say, "I'm finished with violence, and I won't join in any more." If the House believes that, it will believe anything.

Let me say in closing that I am not opposed to peace. [Interruption.] Labour Members may snigger. However, I am opposed to a process and an agreement that I really believe will create in Northern Ireland a state in transit. States in transit all over the world, from Yugoslavia to Lebanon, provide a field day for warring paramilitary groups, who exploit and inflame the communities they claim to represent. I fear that that will be the ultimate legacy of this peace about which there has been so much euphoria, hype and hysteria.


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