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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 James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee, Treasurer, Labour Party 12:00 am, 7th April 1970

As to sinister elements, I have seen what has been said about this, but I know of no new factions in Northern Ireland that did not exist before; that is, the I.R.A., who talk a great deal and in many voices, and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Both are committed to courses of action that would rule out any democratic solution. There are no new sinister elements as far as I know. My information may not be as good as that of some of those who have been able to pinpoint from where the bombs have come.

I regret that I cannot inform the House of that. I do not know the answer any more than anybody else who is in this position can know the answer. However, I do know that both the I.R.A. and the U.V.F. are both capable of planting bombs and of causing great damage and loss of life. So far it has not been possible, despite the most intensive efforts, to discover who was responsible for the latest series of outrages.

However, there is no new sinister conspiracy of which I am aware, except a sudden burst of activity which, as far as I can see, springs from the activities of one of those groups. I am not trying to say who it is, and I hope that no hon. Member will try to pinpoint it. I say that because I remember the debate 12 months ago, when many people thought that they were sure from where the explosions originated. I do not think they are quite so sure about it now. A few of them might be, but not many would be as prepared as they were 12 months ago to take the line which they took then about the origins of the explosions on this occasion.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West that violence will be no solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. I am grateful to him for saying that because I know that he has tried to give leadership in this matter. I also know that Britain will not solve the problems of Northern Ireland, and that is why I was always slow to step in. Only the people of Northern Ireland can solve their own problems and we should be diffident about offering our views. I hope that I am not forward in proffering my views on the subject.

The people of Northern Ireland can decide a simple fact about which there is no need to exaggerate or give way to despair. There may be 250 or 500 men in Northern Ireland today who are intent on dragging the country down so that it lives under the shadow of the gun. The question is not so much what those few hundred will do, but what the rest of the people, the other 1½ million, will do.

Will they allow themselves to live under the shadow of the gunman and permit themselves to be divided by this latest outbreak into two groups, separated by a mile of misunderstanding, or will they support the only institutions which can preserve peace for them and enable them to live peaceably? They are constitutional government, a perpetuation of the reforms and the full implementation of the reforms on which the Ulster Unionist Government have embarked. They have embarked on them and they are carrying them through. Let there be no doubt about that.

To hon. Members who are still disposed to criticise, I say that there must be full support for the Army and the R.U.C. in this situation. They are forces which stand between them and anarchy. It is not their job to weaken them, but to build them up. Unless they do that, nothing can stand between them and the division of the people of Northern Ireland into two factions, each at each other's throats without anybody to keep the peace and with no hope for the future.