Northern Ireland

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th June 1973.

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Photo of Mr William Whitelaw Mr William Whitelaw , Penrith and The Border 12:00 am, 13th June 1973

I would like, with permission, to make a statement on the bomb explosion in Coleraine yesterday.

At 2.30 p.m. yesterday a telephone call was made to the Telephone Exchange, Coleraine, giving warning of one bomb in Stuart's Garage and one in Society Street. Ten minutes earlier a call to the police had been received from Stuart's Garage saying that a man had driven a car into the premises and had run off. As a result of this first warning police were already on their way to Stuart's Garage when the second telephone call giving warning of the two bombs was received. The area of the garage was cleared and when the explosion occurred at 2.55 p.m. there were no injuries.

As regards the fatal explosion at Railway Road which occurred at 2.50 p.m., the location given by the telephone caller was Society Street, which is about 100 yards from the actual scene of the explosion in Railway Road. Society Street is inside the sealed-off area in Coleraine, and on receipt of the telephone warning call police searched Society Street and found nothing. They were in the process of carrying out this search when the explosion occurred in Railway Road, which is outside the sealed-off area.

As a result of the explosion in Railway Road, four women and two men have died and 34 were injured, of whom 18 are still in hospital. The House will, I am certain, wish to add its sympathy to the relatives of those innocent people who have been killed and to the injured victims. This outrage proves once again the real dangers to innocent people in an indiscriminate campaign of violence and the depths to which those responsible for terrorism are prepared to sink.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State is visiting Coleraine this afternoon at my request.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South

The House will be grateful that the Secretary of State has returned especially to make this statement. Is he aware that we stick firmly to the view that we expressed yesterday condemning violence from whatever side? This leads me to ask the question that is almost certainly being asked by so many people on this side of the water—"What sort of people are those who kill innocent people in the name of their brand of patriotism?"

We add our words of condolence to the relatives of the victims, but strongly as we feel, our ritual condemnations and words of condolence here are not enough. We in this House must put our minds to the question of security. The explosions today and the killings yesterday reinforce my view that the Government must look closely at international and local co-operation in Northern Ireland.

Can we rest assured that the Governments of those countries which are the source of the arms and the materials which cause the explosions are being approached and asked to block such supplies? Cannot stronger and concerted measures of control against the import of these weapons into Northern Ireland be taken with the Government of the South, not only over the border but through the ports and perhaps out of ports on this side of the water?

Locally, can we be assured—and I realise the difficulty in answering this—that the leaders of the parties to be elected at the Assembly elections will immediately be confronted with the problems of security in their Province, including policing? The responsibility is ours, but only when the people of Northern Ireland co-operate together in dealing with the gunmen will real security be achieved and shall we be spared—it is far less of a problem to us than to the people involved—these weekly statements on the killings in Northern Ireland.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it clear that everyone condemns violence from wherever it comes. I equally accept that condemnation itself is not enough. I can only assure the House that I and the rest of Her Majesty's Government believe that everything possible that can be done by our security forces internally in Northern Ireland is being done.

Naturally, everything is done to obtain international co-operation, particularly with those countries from which arms may come. The details are, naturally, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, not for me. The question of co-operation with the Government of the South is likewise a matter for him and not for me. I can, however, say that considerable improvements have been made on the border and I have no doubt about the determination of the Government of the South to help and to do their best in this matter.

There has been widespread condemnation of yesterday's outrage from all sections of the community. This I am sure is right and only what I would expect. While it is inevitable that as long as we have British forces in their present strength in Northern Ireland this House, to which those forces are responsible, should have overall control, we have equally made it clear that we are anxious to involve the members of the Assembly in managing the police authority and we would wish to have an executive, which I trust would be formed, to be consulted by the Secretary of State on security matters.

Photo of Mr Rafton Pounder Mr Rafton Pounder , Belfast South

May I on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), who, as the House understands, is precluded from expressing a view but in whose constituency this dastardly atrocity occurred, and on my own behalf express our revulsion and unequivocal condemnation of this brutal outrage and express our deepest sympathy and prayers for the bereaved and injured?

Has my right hon. Friend any indication from his sources that yesterday's hideous outrage could be the beginning of yet another terrorist offensive? If so, is he in a position to say that additional forces could be speedily sent to Northern Ireland between now and the Assembly elections to ensure that nothing can thwart the holding of those elections and the public opinion of Northern Ireland being sought through the ballot box?

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

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said. Naturally, I have been in consultation with my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), in whose constituency this horror took place, and I shall have further consultations with him.

In answer to my hon. Friend's other question, all I should like to say is that, with all the information available to us, we shall see to it that we have the necessary forces in Northern Ireland for the task of ensuring that the Assembly elections, as with the district council elections, take place in proper circumstances.

Photo of Mr Lawrence Orr Mr Lawrence Orr , South Down

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the expressions of sympathy, ritual though they may be, are none the less appreciated and endorsed by people in Ulster?

Is he prepared to look again at the practice of sealing off areas of towns such as Coleraine, because one of the bombs was inside the sealed area and the one which did all the damage was outside? As there are liable to be more incidents of this kind between now and the Assembly elections, will my right hon. Friend reconsider that matter?

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

Most certainly, yes. The restrictions are a matter for the local authority concerned, but they are considered very carefully with the security forces and we have them constantly under review in the important areas.

It is important to appreciate that sealing off areas and having troops on static guard at them is not only a very dubious way of employing troops but also detracts from the offensive operations which it is absolutely vital that the troops should continue because, with the ability to catch and, I hope, charge and convict some of those responsible for these offences, the job is much more likely to succeed. But, consistent with that and the need to keep the Army on the offensive all the time, we shall look at the matter and ensure that all possible precautions are taken.

Photo of Mr Evelyn King Mr Evelyn King , South Dorset

On the matter of the supply of arms by foreign Powers, is it a fact that some arms have been supplied by Libya? Did we not recently sell a warship to Libya, and are not members of the Royal Navy in Portland, my constituents, engaged on training personnel from Libya and, incidentally, being subjected to grave discourtesy in that training? Is it reasonable that we should train the armed forces of Libya in Dorset a few months before the Dorset Regiment goes to Ireland where it may be assaulted with arms which have come from Libya?

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

I cannot confirm any of the facts, for the simple reason that they are well outside my responsibilities and I have not personally the slightest idea whether they are accurate. I cannot even confirm where all the arms have come from. It would therefore be wrong for me to speculate.

Photo of Mr Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North

In joining in the expressions of sympathy, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether there are any further methods or means which can be taken to deal with sadistic madmen who leave high explosives in heavily populated areas? A variety of people are wishing, prior to the Assembly elections, to stir up the greatest amount of sectarian hatred. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity of spelling out the motivation for the recent events?

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

If I could understand the minds of people who take these actions, I would find it much easier to spell out their motivation. I simply cannot bring myself to understand them. However, I appreciate that there are those who apparently are seeking for their own ends, to stir up trouble prior to the elections. I cannot say in detail who they are or how they are doing it.

As for specific methods to deal with people who plant bombs in built-up areas, we have had very considerable successes in recent weeks against such people. Perhaps it is not out of order for me to say that some of the measures contained in the Bill which is at present in Committee will be, in the view of the security forces, of the greatest importance in catching and apprehending some of these people. I hope that the House will bear that in mind.