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Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:10 am on 10th December 1980.

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Photo of Mr Gerry Fitt Mr Gerry Fitt , Belfast West 12:10 am, 10th December 1980

I shall detain the House for only a few minutes, because my opinions on certain aspects of security in Northern Ireland are well known. I shall try to put into words that the House will understand the reasons why I have taken my stand.

I left the House on Friday afternoon and arrived in Belfast that evening. On entering the door of my house, my wife said "Read the Belfast Telegraph editorial." I read it. It began by stating Mrs. Irene Brown died today. The next sentence was Irene who? Then it went on to tell the story.

Eight weeks ago in Portadown, Craigavon, Irene Brown, a Protestant housewife with a loving husband and two young children, had everything to live for. Somebody did not like her because she was a Protestant, and a petrol bomb was thrown into her home and she was very badly burned. For eight weeks she lay in agonising pain, with her husband and young children watching her until she died on Friday.

Yesterday, the police in Strabane received a telephone call that a robbery was taking place in the area. They got into their van and went to the Kilcolman housing estate. As they got out of the van to go to the house where the robbery was allegedly taking place, IRA gunmen on the other side of the street, in a house in which they were holding the family captive, opened up with their rifles and seriously injured a detective, and an innocent woman was also badly injured by a ricocheting bullet.

A few hours ago in my constituency, a young man of 19 who was on his way home from work—I understand that he was a part-time member of the UDR—was shot dead in Durham Street.

When the people responsible for those three crimes—burning that young Protestant woman to death, injuring the detective and the woman, who is seriously ill and may die, and killing the young man today—are apprehended—and I pray to God that they are apprehended quickly—will anyone in his right mind and senses say that they should be given special category or political status? Those three crimes can be multiplied 100 times over the past few years in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday afternoon, after the attempted killing of the detective and the woman in Strabane, a courageous parish priest, Father Anthony Mulvey, appealed to his parishioners to withdraw any support that they may have been giving to the H-block hunger strike protest because, as he said, compassion is indivisible; compassion for anyone must be the same for everyone. There cannot be compassion for the hunger strikers without compassion for their victims.

I believe that Father Anthony Mulvey is the voice of a thousand priests and nuns in Northern Ireland—people who so far have not made themselves heard as clearly as they should have done. I accept that there are half a dozen Catholic priests in Northern Ireland who can easily be identified. Inadvertently or not, they have given support to the Provisional IRA cause. There are only half a dozen such priests. Thousands of priests do not support the campaign of terroism.

Those who are guilty of such heinous crimes—be they Catholics who burn people because they are Protestants, Protestants who cut people's throats because they are Catholics, IRA gunmen who shoot people who are members of the security forces, the police, the UDR, the British Army, or be they members of the UDA or the UDF—are criminals. They are motivated by a criminal intent. They do not deserve compassion, because they do not show it to their victims.

Should we renew the emergency provisions? Since the Act was placed on the statute book, I have voted against it. Tonight, I shall do so with an easy conscience. There is no contradiction in my stand. Emergency legislation that is couched in such language is not appropriate to the circumstances. In Committee, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and I opposed the abolition of jury trials. We are political opponents, but we did everything that we could to maintain jury trials in Northern Ireland.

I know the situation in Northern Ireland, and I am the first to recognise that it would be impossible to have jury trials there today. Both the Loyalist crowd and the Republican crowd would seriously intimidate juries. It is time that we had two assessors to sit with the judge. In the Republic of Ireland there are three judges. If the Government were to consider that possibility and to appoint assessors, much of the criticism that is levelled at the Act would disappear.

The Government should not say that, although the Act is draconian, it will remain on the statute book until the last shot has been fired by the last terrorist. The Government must continue to try to improve the legislation and to wrong-foot the terrorists. They must not allow the terrorists to be able to say that it is the Government who have no compassion or humanity.

In no circumstances should the Government consider giving privileged treatment to those who have been imprisoned for such heinous crimes. They should continually seek to introduce reform for all prisoners, born in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. I ask the Government to consider appointing assessors to sit with the judge if juries are at present inappropriate.