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 Miss Bernadette Devlin Miss Bernadette Devlin , Mid-Ulster 12:00 am, 6th April 1971

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the words of the Home Office, through the mouth of the Home Secretary, will be taken by members of the British Press in the Gallery. No one with any responsibility had a right to express a view, let alone as a statement of fact, on a matter like this. That is the point I am trying to make.

Let us consider not only that aspect but also the aspect that credence is given to the idea that everyone who is shot or shot at in Northern Ireland is a terrorist, that the British Army can do no wrong, that the dead and wounded are all terrorists. One again comes to the main point of the honesty and integrity of the Press, of the response of people in this country to the facts of what is happening in Northern Ireland. Let us take the case of Bernard Watt.

On the morning of 6th February, Mr. Watt was shot dead in the streets of Belfast by the British Army. He had no stones; he had no petrol bombs; he had no guns. He was an ordinary working" class citizen of Belfast, and he was shot dead by the British Army.

A reporter for The Guardian, Mr. Simon Winchester, was present when that happened. He wrote in his report, published in the early Manchester editions of The Guardian, what he had seen take place—that Bernard Watt was shot down by a British soldier for no seemingly good reason. Hon. Members will find that in the early Manchester editions of The Guardian. But the editions they are most likely to have read are the final London editions of The Guardian, and I quote directly from that. It carried the official Army line. It said that Bernard Watt was …a rioter who threw two petrol bombs at an armoured car in Butler Street. The following Monday, Mr. Winchester, presumably to set his own record straight, again had an article of his own in The Guardian. He said: Similarly, the Army's action in the Crumlin Road on Saturday morning after an armoured car had been set on fire was the act of a military and not a civil force. Whatever may have been said subsequently, there is no doubt that the troops had fired deliberately at a group who they thought had been responsible for burning out their vehicle. There was no suggestion at the time that the troops had been returning fire. No enemy shots had been fired at that time. The Army shot and killed Barney Watt as they might have shot an Arab guerrilla—not for what he had done but for what he was. I say it once again to the people who have a responsibility for the facts, a responsibility for creating peace and harmony in Northern Ireland, and I put it as a challenge from this House to the editor of The Guardian, Mr. Alistair Hetherington—no less than the Journalist of the Year—to deny that what appeared under the by-line of Mr. Simon Winchester in the London editions of The Guardian of 6th February was a story concocted in the editorial office of The Guardian in order to condone the cold-blooded murder of Bernard Watt.

The effect of all this on the people of Northern Ireland is that the ordinary people feel that they can be shot, that they can be terrified, that they can be terrorised, but that politicians will continue to slander and the Press continue to libel them and that they have no redress.

I put it to this House that such activities are not solving the Northern Ireland problem. I have said before and I say again that repression will not work. I reiterate the demand for something that I believe will work, and I add to that at this stage, without qualification, what I have not said before—that the Government should withdraw the Army, give us a democratically elected police force and allow the peace-keeping role to be taken over by peace-keeping forces of trade unionists inside the factories, because the role of the Army has become a bad progression.