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Soldiers answered questions in the course of the Saville inquiry. The 2IC of the Provisional IRA, Martin McGuinness, appears not to have answered questions. The public will want to know from today what he was doing with a Thompson sub-machine-gun on the day of
Bloody Sunday. Does the Prime Minister agree that the sorry saga of the report is finally over and done with, and that we should look forward, rather than looking back?
The Prime Minister: I agree that we should look forward rather than back, and I hope the report will enable us to do that. Of course the hon. Gentleman is right to refer, as I did in my statement, to the 1,000 members of the Army and security services who lost their lives during the troubles, and all that they did to try to keep Northern Ireland safe and secure. Of course he is right to refer to the many thousands of families who have lost loved ones through terrorism and who have not had an answer and have not had an inquiry into what happened to their loved ones. When it comes to answering questions, yes, it is important that IRA members and people who were responsible for things even now come forward and answer so that people can at least bury those whom they lost. Of course that is important.
I hope, as well, that the hon. Gentleman will understand that there is something about Bloody Sunday-about the fact that 13 people were shot by British Army soldiers and died on that day-that necessitated a proper inquiry. That is what the report today is about. Yes, we must come up with the answers to other people's questions and yes, we have to go through with the historical inquiries team to try to settle those issues of the past, but let us not pretend that there is not something about that day, Bloody Sunday, that needed to be answered clearly in a way that can allow those families-all those people-to lay to rest what happened on that day.
Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his courageous and honourable statement and, through him, Lord Saville for a very clear and unequivocal report which has, at last, answered the questions to which 27 families have been waiting for answers for so long. Does the Prime Minister agree that, given that the truth is the precondition of closure, justice and reconciliation, we now have the best possible way to move on because we have, at last, the truth about all those events on that terrible day?
Does the Prime Minister have any plans, when we have all had a chance to digest the report, to go to Northern Ireland and to Derry not just to express the solidarity of the whole House with the people there, and to confirm our support for the troops who for so long did honourable things in the name of the democratic Government, but to encourage the families of the bereaved and all those who, since that day in Derry and beyond, have worked so hard to make sure that Northern Ireland will never again have the terrible past that it had, but always have the prosperous democratic future which events such as Bloody Sunday made much more difficult, but which, in spite of adversity, so many people, including the women of Northern Ireland, did so much to achieve?
The Prime Minister:
I certainly agree. This is about trying to heal the wounds of the past. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan)-the former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party, who represents so many of the families in his constituency-put it, people in Londonderry have not just lived through it,
but lived with it. That is the point, and that is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) makes.
In terms of going to Northern Ireland, I am keen that as Prime Minister I should visit Northern Ireland regularly, and as I said, I have already been there in the relatively early days of my being Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was in Londonderry two weeks ago and met the families, and he has plans to go back and do that again. I know that many people support Derry's bid to be the European city of culture, and that is another part of the healing process in closing that painful chapter around the past.
Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I thank the Prime Minister for his very considered and thoughtful comments in respect of this particularly sensitive report. Since Bloody Sunday the families have had to live with not only the consequences of what unfolded in that short period, but the consequences of the many speculative reports and so on, which were produced following the events and which compounded their pain. So I am glad that, today, this report would seem to be a start in delivering for them the truth that they required and, I hope, the justice that they needed to be able to rebuild their lives.
The tragic events of that afternoon clearly and irrevocably changed the direction and course of the lives of people who were immediately affected by it, but it also cast a very long shadow over the society in which all of us live. Therefore I seek the Prime Minister's assurances that, given how polarising the incident has been throughout politics and society in Northern Ireland, he will listen carefully to all the voices surrounding it, give people time to consider the content of the report fully and encourage them to take the time to read it in full before reaching conclusions on it. Can he also reassure us that he will deal with the Northern Ireland Executive and discuss with the Ministers there who have responsibility for individual victims how he intends to take forward the wider project of dealing with the legacy of the past?
The Prime Minister: First, may I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Lady on her election victory as the new Alliance MP for Belfast East? What she said was extremely sensible. The report is comprehensive and people should take time to study it, but it will take time for them to engage properly with all the information. Our key aim was to try to get it out as fast as we could in a reasonable way, to give the families and others advance sight of it and to try to publish it in one go properly. Mercifully, for a report as complicated and detailed as this, there have been relatively few leaks, and I hope that people can see it, read it and fully engage with it.
The hon. Lady says that people should read the report, but I also recommend the summary document, which is some 60 pages long and incredibly clear. That is why I reached my conclusion about there being no equivocation. When one reads the summary, whatever preconceived ideas one brings to the whole area and to what happened, one is given an incredibly clear sense of what happened and how wrong it was. I hope that, whatever side of the argument people come from, a report as clear as this will help them to come to terms with the past, because it puts matters beyond doubt. In that way, as I said, I think that the truth can help to free people from their preconceived ideas.
Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his statement that that period of the 1970s was something that people of his generation had learned about. In the period between 1971 and 1975, we lost more members of the British Army than we have during the past four years in Afghanistan, such was the bleakness of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
I was born in the Royal Victoria hospital on the Falls road in Belfast in the latter part of the year that the events unfolded in Derry/Londonderry, and the events in Northern Ireland at that time shaped very many of us. One of the great joys of returning to Northern Ireland today is talking to young people, in their teens, for whom even the most recent events of the troubles themselves are something that they study and do not remember. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if civic leaders and politicians in Northern Ireland take the lead of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), this could be a cleansing opportunity of historic proportions, whereby the process of normalisation in Northern Ireland can continue and young people will never have to go back to the dark days of the 1970s?
The Prime Minister: I hope that my hon. Friend is right. As I said, I think that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) spoke extremely clearly and passionately, and there should be a chance of working for a shared future. That is what we want in Northern Ireland.
The point that my hon. Friend makes is right. Every year-every month-that goes by with the peace process working and without a return to violence further embeds a culture in which we do things by political means and we get normal politics in Northern Ireland. That is what we should be aiming for, and it is certainly what we shall try to do.
Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): The Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition both spoke with great sensitivity and balance this afternoon. In that spirit, does the Prime Minister agree that any action taken against former members of the armed services subsequent to the Saville report should be carried out in the interests of justice and not vengeance?
The Prime Minister: The short answer to that is yes. These matters should be determined independently by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the correct way. One of the things that should mark us out is that these things should happen only in the interests of justice and not in the interests of vengeance. I am sure that that is what will happen. I set out the position to the right hon. and learned Lady.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD):
I should like to thank the Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Lady for their measured contributions. On other days, soldiers who had been based at the Colchester garrison lost their lives in Northern Ireland. In 1987, I spent three days with 3rd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment on duty in Belfast and was full of admiration for their courage and bravery, because they faced the prospect of being shot at by fellow British citizens. I wonder whether the Prime Minister will confirm that awful though
Bloody Sunday clearly was, more than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives during the years of the troubles?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; over 1,000 people-from the security services, the Army, the police and other services-lost their lives. Also, 250,000 people served in the Army in Northern Ireland during Operation Banner. Those of us who have not served in the Army cannot possibly know how tough it must be to be on duty on the streets, faced with violence and the threats of violence. It is worth remembering what service those people all gave and what restraint, in almost every case, they showed.
I was speaking to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), who served in Londonderry, in Derry, a year after Bloody Sunday. He rightly made the point to me that the pressures that we put on our often very young soldiers were huge, and we should pay tribute to all those who served for what they did. But it is not in their interests, and nor is it in our interests, to try to gloss over what happened on that dreadful day. The report enables us to face up to what happened and to accept what happened, and that is the best way of moving on and accounting for the past.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): First of all, I thank the Prime Minister for bringing forward the very welcome statement on the Saville report today. I thank the members of the Opposition who brought the report to this point today.
Given the very personal tragedy of Bloody Sunday for the families of the bereaved and wounded and the major political implications that this serious incident had for the people of Derry, the wider community of Northern Ireland over the last 38 years and the wider island of Ireland, could the Prime Minister tell us about the parameters and context of the debate and the possible time scale of the assessment and report from the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland? Will he also give consideration to possible measures of redress for the families in Derry following the exoneration of the victims by the Saville report? In that debate, could wider consideration be given to the Ballymurphy families, who also experienced a lot of distress and pain because the Parachute Regiment, some five months earlier, was involved in those incidents, which resulted in the wounding, but above all the killing, of 10 people?
The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and congratulate her on becoming leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party and on her election as Member of Parliament for South Down. She asked several questions. First, on how long the Government's assessment will take, the report is very long and detailed, and we want to take the summer to consider it and come back to the debate in the autumn, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can answer questions more fully and make announcements, if appropriate.
On redress, I do not think that today is the day to talk about such matters; today is the day to consider the report and take it all in. As the hon. Lady knows, perhaps better than anyone, the families have been involved in a search for the truth rather than for recompense or redress. However, all those issues need to be examined.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has meetings with the Ballymurphy families. The first port of call should be the historical inquiries team. It is doing good work, going through all the issues of the past and trying to settle them as best it can. We want to avoid other such open-ended, highly costly inquiries. We cannot rule out for ever that there will be no other form of inquiry, but let us allow the Historical Enquiries Team to do its very good work.
Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the balance that he has achieved in the statement. It is important to recognise not only the truths of the Saville inquiry, but the sacrifice and the grief of the forces, who played such an important part in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. May I suggest that if the inquiry and the report are to be a true marker in helping the healing process and the peace process to move forward, it is terribly important to keep that balance in one's remarks and perspective about the sacrifice on both sides?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As I tried to say in my statement, we should pay tribute-I do so again-to the 250,000 of our fellow countrymen who served in Northern Ireland with great distinction, often in great personal danger. We should pay tribute to all those who were injured, who suffered and who lost their lives. It was incredibly tough and difficult work but necessary not just to maintain the rule of law, but to make possible what we have now: the peace process. It would not have happened without that service. However, we do the forces no service if we try to gloss over the dreadful events set out in the report. I am sure that serving and retired members of the armed forces, as well as people on the Benches behind me or, indeed, in front of me, who served in the armed forces, want the truth about the events to be out there. That is the right thing to do. We honour the British Army-we should put it at the front and centre of our national life and celebrate what it does-but we do it no service if we do not look properly and in detail at things when they go wrong.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and the previous Government for having the courage to establish the inquiry in the first place. Will he acknowledge that the inquiry came about only because of very brave campaigning for many years by Irish people, throughout Ireland and over here, who often got much press opprobrium for doing so? I am unclear about what happens next and whether there are to be further investigations or prosecutions of those who committed those acts of murder on the streets of Derry, or whether that will be left to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I realise that it is difficult for the Prime Minister to answer all that today, but does he expect to be able to give us clearer guidance in the debate in the autumn?
The Prime Minister:
Let me try to answer the hon. Gentleman as clearly as I can. Prosecutions are a matter for the DPP, and that is right. We cannot have inquiry judges or politicians trying to order prosecutions. Indeed, we must be careful about what we say so that we do not
prejudice any potential prosecutions. If it would help, I can repeat the Attorney-General's clear advice about people not prejudicing their own potential proceedings.
On the campaign, yes, I pay tribute to people who campaigned because the report in some ways justifies itself to those who wanted a clear, truthful and accurate answer. In the report, they have something very clear and accurate that cannot be quibbled with.
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Having read the summary report of Saville, the Prime Minister talks about it bringing out the truth, but is not the difficulty that we have the truth on one side but not the truth on the other? Of Martin McGuinness, the report states:
"The question remains as to what Martin McGuinness was doing"
that day. We do not know the truth about what Martin McGuinness and the IRA were doing that day, and the problem is that while we regret every death in Northern Ireland-they are all personal tragedies-we must not lose sight of the need for balance, as other hon. Members have said. I can well remember hearing the two explosions at Narrow Water close to my home in South Down when I was a child, when 18 members of the Parachute Regiment were cut down in cold blood by the Provisional IRA. No one was ever convicted of their murders. If we are to have the truth and a quest for justice, it should apply right across the board, and not just in a small nub.
The Prime Minister: Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that I absolutely want us to get to the truth on all of those dreadful murders. As I said, ought former paramilitaries to come forward and give information so that we can clear up murders and so that people can bury their loved ones properly? Yes, they should-absolutely. I can see members of the SDLP nodding at that.
As for Martin McGuinness, he must answer for himself on the evidence he gave to the inquiry. Let me read the relevant paragraph:
"In the end we were left in some doubt as to his movements on the day. Before the soldiers of Support Company went into the Bogside he was probably armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, and though it is possible that he fired this weapon, there is insufficient evidence to make any finding on this, save that we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire."
The right hon. Gentleman is right that in the end, we want the truth to come out about all the murders, and we want to know all the information, but in respect of the Government's responsibility for bringing clarity on Bloody Sunday, I think Lord Saville has done us a service. I think people from all parts of Northern Ireland, from all parts of all communities, should welcome the fact that although we might not have clarity on everything that happened, we have clarity on one bad thing that did happen. Let us not make that a reason for not welcoming the clarity of what has been said today.
Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab):
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the clarity with which he has set out, in his words today, the Government view on the publication of the Saville report. Does he agree that as this report is digested and looked at in great detail-difficult though that may be-across all communities in Northern Ireland, what really matters
for the future of Northern Ireland and all its people in all its communities, is reconciliation, leaving the past behind and moving to a new and brighter future for Northern Ireland?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is right that what we really want is reconciliation and working for a shared future, and everyone working across all communities to put the past behind them, but I think we all know that there is still some work to be done on the past, because loved ones remain unburied and murders remain unsolved. That is what the Historical Enquiries Team is there to do. We have to try to do those things at the same time. We must uncover and come to terms with what happened in the past in a way that can allow families to move on, but at the same time we must recognise that Northern Ireland's shared future will be about economic growth and people working together, whatever tradition they come from.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): I am sure the Prime Minister would not like to support a hierarchy of victimhood. On 17 January 1992, eight innocent civilian construction workers at Teebane were murdered by the Provisional IRA, and six others were seriously injured. On 9 April 1991, my cousin Derek was gunned down and his child was left to put his fingers into the holes where the blood was coming out to try to stop his father dying. On 7 February 1976, my two cousins were brutally murdered-one boy, 16, and his sister, 21, on the day she was engaged to be married. Therefore I say this to the Prime Minister: no one has ever been charged for any of those murders, and there have been no inquiries. Countless others, including 211 Royal Ulster Constabulary members, were also murdered. Saville says:
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