Northern Ireland

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th April 1971.

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Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down 12:00 am, 6th April 1971

I shall not directly follow the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, though he will find that much of what he said may well be covered in the course of my speech.

I very much share the right hon. Gentleman's hope—and I rather liked his note of hope—that this will be the last Northern Ireland debate called in an atmosphere of emergency. I refuse to be drawn into discussions about the relative merits of King William III or any other Irish hero—[Interruption.]—I am not sure that it would contribute very much to the efficacy of the debate.

However, although I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that we need to concentrate upon the future, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it might not be all that helpful to mock at reverence of the past. Often people revere their traditions. I commend to the right hon. Gentleman Lord Macaulay, apart from Abraham Lincoln, who said something to the effect that no community which did not take a pride in the exploits of its ancestors would have anything to leave to be looked back to with pride by its remote descendants.

The debate is the result of events which took place a fortnight ago. At that time I said to the Leader of the House, in view of what I called the grave turn of events in Northern Ireland, that we might well have to ask for a debate very soon.

What was the grave turn of events? At that time the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland—Major Chichester-Clark—had not resigned. The new ingredient in the Northern Ireland situation was that there had been a very definite deterioration in ordinary public morale and confidence.

I suppose the matter came to a head with the awful, tragic death of the three Scottish soldiers. I do not think that anybody who does not live in Northern Ireland can appreciate the sense of shock that went through the entire community as a result of that ghastly murder. The effect, coming on top of a very long period of civil strife in our capital city—we are a small community and the effects of events such as this are felt by everyone—was such that there occurred a distinct crisis of public confidence.

This was not a question of politicians. This was not a question of Right-wing or any other pressures. What happened was that the entire community suddenly appeared to lose confidence in the civil authority and the security forces. We reached a situation where the business community, people totally unpolitically attached, were suddenly beginning to ask, "How can this situation continue?" Investment was falling and becoming negligible. There was the expense of defending and protecting factories, the damage which was being done, the lack of business confidence generally. At the other end of the scale there was the very remarkable walk-out from Harland and Wolff of the shipyard workers, irrespective of creed and irrespective of politics—Protestant and Roman Catholic alike, Labour supporters and others. The sole cry was, "Can we not have order in our streets?"