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Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th April 1970.

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Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg 12:00 am, 7th April 1970

I have a great respect politically and a very great personal regard for the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who made such a sincere speech. I was very surprised to find myself again at loggerheads with him when he mentioned the rôle of the Commander-in-Chief in Northern Ireland. I agree with him and others who have said that it is a great mistake to have a general in a political rôle if it can be avoided. Anyone who saw him on television the other night, far from getting the impression that my hon. Friend got, would see that here was a most kindly gentleman, a man who would do no harm to anyone if it could be avoided, a man who nevertheless was determined to do his duty in the position in which he found himself.

It is that position with which I find myself at loggerheads—that a man like that and troops such as those under him should be put into that position. Not that I want them removed, not that I think that they should not have been sent. They should have been sent and they are still necessary. Nevertheless, they find themselves in an impossible position. Before long, as I said in this House and in newspaper articles a year ago, we are bound to have in Northern Ireland a situation where everyone is shooting something or other at our troops. That is the position I want to avoid at all costs. I do not see any way of avoiding it except by asking the world to hold the ring.

I know that this is not a popular cry, but what will happen if we do not have the world holding the ring? We will be there for years and years, being shot at. What will the mums and dads of the troops say when they find their sons being shot at and being told that they must not shoot back? In Ireland, if someone wants to obtain sympathy he must shoot at authority, or at least it is a very good way of gaining sympathy. Unless authority wishes to forfeit whatever sympathy it has, it must not shoot back. I hope that we will not perpetuate a situation in which British troops are asked to be the mother-in-law of Northern Ireland.

A person does not go to his mother-in-law and ask her to settle his disputes, but that is apparently what is expected of our troops. Sooner or later our troops will be unable to contain the situation in Northern Ireland, when they are being shot at from all sides and very likely from the Unionist side. After all, the Unionists have not shown very great loyalty in the past in Irish affairs. From all sides there is this danger of massive blood and fire on an unprecedented scale. It seems too tragic to contemplate.

What can we do? We are there holding the ring as best we can for the moment, and we must continue to do so. But that is no long-term policy. There are some sincere people who feel that maybe there is no solution to the problem, but I am not prepared to accept that. I think that I can see a way ahead, a means whereby a solution might be found. It will not be tomorrow, it might easily be in two generations' time, if we are lucky. The only way we can do it is not by having British troops in command—for British troops will never pacify Ireland and we ought to have learned the lesson of history by now—but by having the world in.

We will be willing to help, not to run away but to contribute to the world authority. The real trouble which I foresee in Northern Ireland is that there will be international complications because Dublin will not be able, much though she wishes to do so, to stand on one side, and have it said that she is allowing her own people in the north to be massacred. Hence the international complications. Even though it is unpopular, I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has done a marvellous job in Northern Ireland and I have no doubt will continue to do so, will bear in mind that in the long-term there is no British solution. It must be a world solution.

It has been suggested by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, and it is a serious suggestion, it is a good suggestion, to be pursued. If we really get world opinion interested in this question there is some hope for the future, for establishing peace.