Northern Ireland

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd May 1972.

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Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 12:00 am, 22nd May 1972

Rev. Ian Paisley (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the disturbances, shootings and killings in Northern Ireland at the weekend.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

The House will wish to know that the main incidents during the weekend occurred following attempts on Saturday and Sunday evenings by persons primarily within the Willowfield section of East Belfast but also in the Shankill Road section of the city to set up barriers there. The Government's policy, as clearly stated, is that no new barriers will be allowed to remain. The security forces were, therefore, obliged to intervene, and the barriers were cleared. I am glad to say that this was done with the assistance of many members of the community who were aware that, whatever the provocation, their interest and the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland were not best served by an attempt to set up barricades in parts of the city.

The House will have learned with regret of the brutal murder of Ranger William Best of the Royal Irish Rangers, who was on leave from BAOR in Londonderry. His body was found on Sunday morning on waste land by Rossville Street on the outskirts of Londonderry. The official IRA has claimed responsibility for this cold-blooded murder. Another soldier, Lance-Corporal Gillespie, of the Ulster Defence Regiment, also lost his life in an ambush between Aughnacloy and Dungannon on Saturday morning. The whole House will wish to join me in expressing our sympathy with the families of those two soldiers.

As already promised, I will make a further statement to the House on Thursday.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I should like to identify myself with the sympathy that has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman to the relatives of those who were murdered by the IRA in Northern Ireland at the weekend.

In regard to the barricades erected at Douglas Street, can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the number of shots fired by the troops at the time the barri- cades were removed and whether any guns were found in the houses in Douglas Street after the barricades were taken down? Can he also tell us where the shots, if any, were fired at the troops in the Douglas Street area?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was a very serious incident at the Kelvin School on Friday, when Protestant children were fired on by the IRA, and that I have brought to the House a blazer worn by one of the children, which has a bullet-hole through it? Will he examine the blazer afterwards? Does he realise that in the Sandy Row area there is grave concern about the matter?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the terrorists in the area are using derelict houses, and both the Army and the residents in the area have made representations to the Ministry of Development to have those houses removed? Will he see that they are removed as soon as possible, so that the venue for the terrorists may be destroyed and they can no longer attack the children?

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information about the explosion at the Jennymount factory today, when, according to the Press, over 50 people were lured out of the factory by an alarm call which said there was a bomb in the factory? They went out into the car park, where the bomb exploded, and 50 people were injured.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I understand from the reports given to me so far that at the time the hon. Gentleman mentions 10 shots were fired at the Army and 30 shots were fired by the Army. I have no information about the guns, but I shall look into the question further.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says about Kelvin School and the blazer, and of course I shall wish to see the blazer.

I shall go into the question of the derelict houses immediately, and if the facts are as stated by my hon. Friend, as I am sure they are, I shall seek to have the houses taken down at the earliest possible opportunity.

As for the explosion this morning, a bomb was left in a parked car at the Jennymount Industrial Estate in York Road at 9.50 a.m. A telephone warning to clear the area within 30 minutes had been received at 9.36 a.m. from someone claiming to represent the IRA. Fifty-eight people are known to have been injured, but I am glad to say that most of their injuries were of a minor nature.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the catalogue of events he has given is a cause of gladness only to those in the minority and the majority who have a vested interest in real civil war, and that we understand the anguish of the relatives of those killed and maimed and wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we believe it right not to blast a way into the Catholic "no-go" areas of Derry? They have existed for a long time. They must end, but they must end as a result of the continuing policies of de-escalation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that we applaud the good sense of those Protestants in Belfast who have helped the troops in dismantling the barricades, and that we agree that for the general good no further "no-go" areas should be created?

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we still appeal to all those who want peace and talk in Northern Ireland to cease being the silent majority?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that a very small number of people of an extreme nature are the only people in Northern Ireland who wish to continue with violence or have a vested interest in it. That does not make them any the less difficult to deal with, but our determination to deal with them must be complete.

I should make it clear, as there was a Press report about an extension of the "no-go" area in Londonderry on Friday, that a small barricade was put up. It was immediately taken down by the security forces, and therefore there is no question of that area having been extended, because action was taken immediately to stop it, as action will always be taken in all these cases.

I applaud the extreme good sense of those in the Protestant community who helped to take the barricades down, who have—and I pay tribute to a wide section of people—exercised a very moderating influence in certain cases recently. They have realised the extreme danger for themselves in allowing themselves to be provoked at this time. I am indeed grateful to them, as the House should be, for the restraint they have shown.

On the question of appealing to stop violence, the House may have seen the efforts made yesterday outside 12 parish churches in West Belfast, where signatures were taken condemning all use of force and violence. A considerable number of signatures were obtained; there was an overwhelming response. That is important, but it merely emphasises how vital it is to deal with the terrorists' side of the violence which we are experiencing.

Photo of Mr Michael McNair-Wilson Mr Michael McNair-Wilson , Walthamstow East

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I had the honour to serve in a regiment associated with the Royal Irish Rangers, and therefore wish to express my sympathy in particular to the parents of Ranger Best? I dissociate myself totally from the last question my right hon. Friend has been asked, because it would be a very black slur to suggest that Catholics are by and large supporting those terrorists and murderers in the Bogside and the Creggan who are guilty of the crimes being committed in the city. May I also ask how much allowing such areas of lawlessness is helping either the political initiative or the cause of law and order in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

My hon. Friend has made a point about Catholics supporting the terrorists. I am sure that my hon. Friend has misunderstood what the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) said. As the House knows, the vast majority of the Catholic community certainly does not support the terrorists and is doing all that it can to stop them. I trust that the Catholic community will be able to do even more and make its position clear to the terrorists. That is the desire of the vast majority.

As for the "no-go" areas, certainly I do not suggest that their existence in the Bogside and the Creggan makes it any easier to deal with the problems of Northern Ireland. I think that the House knows that very well. I have made it clear that this is a matter which has to be dealt with. I have also made clear that the adoption of some of the options open to us would be very difficult and unwise. But I have no intention of allowing the position to continue. It must be part of any peace initiative that the "no-go" areas come under proper democratic rule from this country.

Photo of Mr Reginald Paget Mr Reginald Paget , Northampton

Has the right hon. Gentleman begun to learn that violence cannot be charmed away or terminated by pious petition? Will he also begin to learn that violence can be met only by an assertion of the rule of law ruthlessly and everywhere—and that "everywhere" includes the Bogside?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

In the first instance, I must tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I do not think it is reasonable for him to suggest that I am "beginning to learn". I have known a good many of these facts for a great part of my life. Equally, I am not prepared to be provoked into over-reaction. Nor am I prepared to depart from the course which I believe is the only one for sensible peace in Northern Ireland. It is, on the one hand, to act ruthlessly against terrorists, which I am determined to do, and at the same time to pursue a policy of reconciliation between two communities which have become polarised and divided over many years in the past.

Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East

Is my right hon. Friend aware that violence in Northern Ireland unfortunately has been escalating dramatically since the initiative was taken? Is he aware, further, that the loyalist community is very seriously disturbed by the fact that areas such as the "no-go" areas in the Bogside and the Creggan can continue to exist for two months after his political initiative and can be used by terrorists to arm, to train and to prepare for violent attacks on the ordinary community with impunity? Is he aware that many people in my constituency have been attacked, have had bombs thrown at them and have been shot in their own houses, and that the Army has been unable to protect them? Members of the loyalist community, by way of protest and in order to protect themselves, have erected their own barricades, only to find the Army reacting with harshness and force against them People living in this area cannot understand why that should be, and this does not help a reconciliation between the two sides.

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I do not accept my hon. Friend's first point that violence has escalated since the initiative. Equally, no one knows what would have happened if the initiative had not been taken. However, a good many people have a shrewd idea.

As for the position of the Bogside and the Creggan, I quite understand the feelings of those whom my hon. Friend describes as the loyalist part of the population. I fully appreciate the extent to which they have shown self-restraint and have not been provoked in the past. But I must point out that the position in the Bogside and the Creggan was not a creation of the initiative. The position existed for many months before, when the loyalist people, presumably, appreciated that it existed.

As for people putting up barricades to protect themselves, I must state categorically that I am determined that the Army and the security forces generally will protect all law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland to the best of their ability. There have been some unfortunate incidents. But none of these, I believe, could effectively have been prevented by more military activity. Where military activity is necessary to protect people, it will be taken. My hon. Friend can assure his constituents of that. That is the right way for them to be protected, and I shall do my utmost to ensure that they get that protection.

Photo of Mr Dick Douglas Mr Dick Douglas , Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the situation which is likely to develop in Northern Ireland in the next few weeks means that it is likely to be an extremely difficult period? Many groups in Northern Ireland will want to display their political and religious virility. What ideas has the right hon. Gentleman to discuss these matters with representatives of all the communities to ensure that clashes between the various sectors in Northern Ireland are avoided and that the unhappy events which occurred over the last weekend do not recur? People in both communities have a great fear of being provoked by all manner of violence. How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to get to grips with the leaders of both communities in order to ask them to tone down the extremely difficult period lying ahead of them?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

This is being done. I am having discussions with all the people concerned. It is not unreasonable in these circumstances, since we all have considerable responsibility in this matter, to say that the greatest need in Northern Ireland now is for calmness on all sides, a refusal to over-react and to be panicked, and a full realisation that however tragic events are—and they are very tragic—there is a danger of their being exaggerated.

Photo of Mr Richard Sharples Mr Richard Sharples , Sutton and Cheam

While I deplore the bestiality of terrorist activities which have now descended to attacks on children, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will agree that the main purpose of the terrorist is to provoke a reaction from him and from the Protestant community? Will my right hon. Friend resist firmly any temptation to be deflected from the course on which he has embarked, since this provides the only hope for a peaceful solution in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am determined not to be provoked or panicked. It is sometimes difficult. But I am reinforced by what I find to be the mood of this House, which is that I should not be panicked or provoked into overreaction.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that both the terrible killing of Private Best and the paramilitary training in Belfast witnessed by many of us on television over the weekend arc extremely disturbing? Will he re-emphasise especially to the Protestant working-class community that he intends to continue to be impartial in this situation and that he is aiming not at any section of the community but at reconciliation? In that regard, can he say what political steps he may take in the near future to bring together the different strands of the community so that some political initiatives can be discussed and taken?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I have the initiatives point very much in mind, and I am seeking to take them as soon as possible. The end of violence is one of the most important pre-requisites for a sensible political advance. As for the various pictures to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, they are very easily taken. There have been pictures of various groups on all sides. I dislike the extremist activities very much, and I hope that such activities on all sides will not be given what sometimes appears to be more publicity than they deserve.

Photo of Mr Angus Maude Mr Angus Maude , Stratford-on-Avon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is probably no one in this House who would favour a full-scale military operation against the "no-go" areas in Londonderry at the cost of high civilian casualties? However, is it the Government's intention indefinitely to continue the provision of social security payments and postal and utility services to areas which effectively are under alien control?

Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first comment, which I believe accords with common sense and reality. As to his second comment, there are various matters which in the solution of this problem I am entitled to consider. Equally, it would be unwise for me publicly to state the various matters which I may consider towards the solution of the problem.