It is always a privilege to speak in this House on any issue, but on this occasion I speak about something I have wanted to raise for some time: the case of the four Ulster Defence Regiment men who were murdered at Ballydugan, outside Downpatrick.
Four men jump into a vehicle and head to the next part of their job. They have worked together for some time, and the craic is great as they journey through the beautiful countryside on an idyllic morning. Just as any of us might do on any given day, they leave behind wives, children and loved ones to do their job and earn their pay. There the similarity ends, however, as the atrocity unfolds.
This is an important issue, and I am sure that Members in the House will heed its significance. I declare an interest as a former member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. I served in it for three years, as did some of my colleagues on this side of the House. Other hon. and gallant Members in this House have served in other regiments, and I am pleased that they have made an effort to come to the Chamber as well.
On the morning of
Those are the facts of what happened on that fateful morning. These are the faces of those whose lives were destroyed and whose family’s lives were torn apart, never to be the same. The men in the service of Queen and country, much like the officer on duty in this place last month, were simply doing their job and nothing else; there were no links to anything other than their desire to wear a uniform and their bravery in serving the community in Northern Ireland, which we salute.
I remember three of these men very well. Lance Corporal John Bradley, 25, of Cregagh, Belfast, was married with a two-year-old son and a three-month-old daughter. He had recently been promoted, having served four years with the Ulster Defence Regiment. He had served with the Royal Highland Fusiliers, and came from Port Glasgow in Renfrewshire. Private John Birch, 28, was married with a four-year-old son. He had joined the regiment in February the previous year, and came from Ballywalter, where I was raised. The fact of the matter is that I can remember when John Birch was born. His wife was expecting again. Private Steven Smart, 23, was from Newtownards, the main town of my Strangford constituency. He had served for 18 months in the regiment. His mother is dead, but his father is still living.
I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward this Adjournment debate. I had the honour of serving in the 3rd County Down Battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment, the same battalion as these four brave soldiers. Does my hon. Friend agree that, tragic as their deaths and their sacrifice are—the sacrifice of that regiment was immense—their legacy today is the fact that our children and grandchildren can walk the streets of Northern Ireland not having to look over their shoulder. That is because of the bravery of the men and women who served in the Ulster Defence Regiment, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the other fine regiments that came to Northern Ireland—men and women who put their lives on the line.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right: those who served in uniform in that regiment and other regiments in Northern Ireland deserve every recognition for what they did.
Private Steven Smart’s father Samuel still lives in Newtownards, and his sister lives in Donaghadee. Private Michael Adams, 23, who was also from Newtownards, had served with the UDR for seven months, having formerly served with the Royal Engineers. I served with him—I served for 11 and a half years in the Royal Artillery, with the Territorial Army—and I well remember when we were both on guard duty at the Magilligan camp. You used to get guard duty when you had done something wrong; I am not sure whether Michael or I had done something wrong on that particular day, but we were on guard duty. We had a radio in the sangar, and we were listening to some tunes, one of which was “Stand by Me”, a ’60s song. Tonight, I suppose all of us who are in this Chamber are taking the opportunity to do the very same thing, and to stand by them.
These are men that I knew well. These are men whose faces I recall right now. These are men whom I honour and respect today. These are men whose families I see: I saw the mother of one of them just the week before last, and her grief is still evident. These are men who deserve justice. These are men who were brutally murdered by cowardly scum who were not fit to lace their boots.
I well remember that morning of
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Yes, I was aware of that. It indicates the revulsion that there was in the whole of the community in Downpatrick and further afield.
My hon. Friend mentioned the mother of one of the victims and he has mentioned children. Sometimes we are inclined to forget about the families who are left all these years after such events happened. I am sure he will agree that we must keep them to the fore.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for that intervention. He is right that this debate is an opportunity to recall the bravery of the young men, but also to ask the Minister who is here to respond—I spoke to him beforehand—for some action. I will do that at the end of the speech and it is important that I do so.
The disgusting actions of what is estimated to have been the 16 man and woman team that planned, co-ordinated, carried out and helped to cover up the attack are remembered by all right-thinking people in the Province. I became emotional in a debate a few weeks ago and in this debate because we all recall the pain and suffering at the loss of a loved one, friends and colleagues, and we still carry that pain today. There are other Members in the Chamber who carry pain. I think of my hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart and the gallant Minister, who served in uniform in Northern Ireland. We thank them for that.
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for giving way. Does he accept that the lives of the victims who are left behind—the mums, the dads, the brothers, the sisters, the children, the loved ones, the sweethearts—are defined by such events? Their lives are defined by “what happened to my life after I lost my loved one”. It is only in the definition of their victimhood that we will be able to heal and cure in some way that pain—when justice is achieved for those people. Hopefully, through my hon. Friend’s debate, we can open up a way to find justice and healing for the people who have been left behind.
I thank my hon. Friend and colleague for his thoughtful intervention and for those kind words.
Like too many people in the Province, I have been touched by the actions of men like the leader of the South Down Provision IRA who was responsible for the murder of the four young UDR men at Ballydugan. That vile, evil, despicable excuse for a human was a man called Colum Marks. He was the IRA commander for South Down when he was shot. It is no coincidence that when he was shot the activity of the IRA in South Down stopped immediately. That is obviously an indication that he was the person not only pulling the strings and dictating, but taking part in action that was completely unacceptable.
My hon. Friend comes to an important point that needs to be emphasised. We have come to a sorry place when it is the men and women who put on uniforms and defended and protected the community and, in the case of Colum Marks, those who shot a commander in the IRA and saved countless lives as a result, who today are the people waiting on the knock at the door and wondering whether someone will come looking for them to haul them before a court and make them answer for what they did, which was within the law and was about protecting and defending the community. We want the Government to do more to protect the integrity of the men and women who served in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner and in other theatres of conflict. They deserve that support.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That is partly what this debate is about. It is about seeking justice. It is about justice for those who served in uniform, as he said, and the importance of that.
Colum Marks headed up the gang and carried out the atrocity, lying in wait with his detonator in a forest just across from Ballydugan. When he had pushed the button and killed four brave, courageous young men, he got on his motorbike in his blue boiler suit, went up the railway embankment into Downpatrick, burned the motorbike, disposed of his blue boiler suit and was picked up by another person. There were 16 people involved in this. There was the person out on the road who told the people at Ballydugan that a Land Rover patrol was on its way. There was another person down the road who confirmed that. Another person left a 1,000 lb bomb. The next time hon. Members lift a 2 lb packet of sugar, they should multiply that by 500 to get the magnitude of the bomb left at Ballydugan. How long did it take them to put that bomb in that culvert at Ballydugan? They were seen doing it, by the way. The question I ask—the Minister knows this because I spoke to him beforehand—is why that visual evidence was not acted upon as it should have been to warn that UDR patrol and other patrols in the area.
Another person was picked up at the shopping centre—Ms Ritchie will know the area better than I do—and taken to a safehouse, where he showered and changed his clothes. The clothes were destroyed and he was moved to another house. Sixteen people were involved in the murders of those four UDR men. Colum Marks is the man who pushed the button and blew the four UDR men to smithereens. He was also the IRA commander involved in the murder of John Moreland—the hon. Lady will remember this—who was a coal merchant on the Flying Horse estate in Downpatrick. As he did his last delivery, he was attacked by two men and shot dead.
Colum Marks’s hands are red with blood. Let us be honest. This man was not a freedom fighter. He was a low-life, mentally deficient psychopath, with no human decency whatsoever. He was rotten to the core, contemptible, detestable and loathsome. He was a man with no good in him whatsoever; a man that should never have been born. That was the sort of man he was.
My hon. Friend is defining that person in a particular way and I agree totally with his definition, but does he also salute the gallantry of the people who stood up to that beast, and recognise that we won the war that they claimed to be fighting and the freedom they claimed to achieve? Today, we are administering British rule in Northern Ireland. There is no all-Irish state republic. The Brits—us—are still there, and we are not going anywhere else. Their death has at least sealed the fact that it has been a victorious and gallant death.
I thank my hon. Friend for his wise words. There are not enough adjectives to describe that loathsome person, Colum Marks, the officer commanding the IRA in South Down, and all the others involved in those murders and all the others during the troubles.
Nine people were arrested—I have read the historical inquiry report. One was charged with a minor charge and did a certain amount of time, but the person who killed the four UDR men was free, until one fateful day for him in Downpatrick. As he was setting up a horizontal bomb to attack and kill even more people in Downpatrick, he was caught in the act of trying to kill other UDR men and other police officers and shot. Justice was done in that he came to the end of his reign. It is pity it did not happen a wee bit earlier, before the four UDR men were murdered and all the other actions he was involved in.
That is the legacy left by Colum Marks, whereas the legacy left by Lance Corporal John Bradley, Private John Birch, Private Michael Adams and Private Steven Smart is one of honour, of sacrifice, of dignity, of strength and of great love, not only for their families but for their country. That is the legacy that I and my colleagues on both sides of the Chamber stand to protect and reiterate today. Let me be rightly understood—I am reiterating the point made by my hon. Friend Ian Paisley—that Colum Marks and the rest of his abhorrent repugnant ragtag bunch deserve nothing other than the label of what they were: odious, filthy scum.
I speak for those of us who were in Northern Ireland in the Regular Army, including the Minister. Those of us who served in the Regular Army had incredible respect and affection for, and salute the gallantry of, every single member of the UDR, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and anyone who served the Crown in Northern Ireland. They were targets of terrorism. We salute them particularly because they lived and worked with their families around them. They had that huge threat of doing their duty with their families around them, whereas the Minister and I did not. We had huge respect for those who did that. I include the politicians of Northern Ireland, who were also under huge threat. I am sorry if my intervention was long, but I wanted to make that point from those of us who did not normally live in Northern Ireland.
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his intervention. I always look forward to his contributions, because they are always the wise words of a person who has served and done much for us in this Chamber and those from further afield. I know why his soldiers followed him: for his leadership, knowledge and command. We appreciate that very much and thank him for it.
During my time on Ards Borough Council I watched the families of the four brave soldiers murdered in their prime being re-traumatised by the repeated destruction of the memorial raised to honour their loved ones. Killing four brave UDR men was not sufficient for these evil people—they took a sledgehammer to smash the memorial outside Ballydugan. As an Ards councillor I was, with the help of the council, able to see the erection of a memorial in Newtownards to the four young men. Three of them came from the Ards Borough Council area and Lance Corporal Bradley came from Dundonald, which is just outside it. Unlike the Downpatrick memorial, the Ards memorial was not smashed with sledgehammers or desecrated by those with no respect or common decency.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. He has come to an important point. We hear a lot from those who are elected to this House but do not take their seats about respect. We would like to see Sinn Féin give a bit more respect to the men and women who serve our country. We would like to see the armed forces covenant fully implemented in Northern Ireland to ensure that the families and veterans who serve this country and sacrifice so much are given the support they deserve. Let us see Sinn Féin step up to the mark and show respect for a change.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. Respect is something that is earned, and it is very much lacking from Sinn Féin.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for very kindly giving way again. I say this ever so gently: would he and his colleagues agree that there is now a need for a resolution to the political talks process? One of the issues relates to legacy. I know that we perhaps come from different perspectives, but we all understand that many people lost their lives in very difficult and tragic circumstances. Does he agree that there now needs to be a resolution of the outstanding issues to allow the political institutions to be up and running in Northern Ireland and to provide for the people, rather than seeing a stripping and dilution of public services?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Yes, I do agree with that. It is important that we are committed to the talks process and the way forward. We just wish that all the participants, especially Sinn Féin, were of the same mind. There is a need for understanding and respect of other people’s traditions. We have committed to that as a party, and we wish very much that Sinn Féin would do the same.
At the time, I wanted to do all I could to help the families realise that their loss would never be forgotten or taken for granted. That is the reason for this debate, and everyone who has spoken today has expressed that thought very well. Steven Smart’s dad Samuel came to my office just last year and left me a large object wrapped up in newspaper. It turned out to be a blackthorn stick, which he presented to me. He had wanted to give it to me many years previously, but I had always refused and said, “No, Samuel, I am not here to receive anything. That is not the reason.” He said, “Well, Jim, I am not leaving here with it. It is for you.” I said, “Samuel, this is very important. It looks really well, with the motif of the Ulster Defence Regiment on the knuckle at the head of it.” He said, “I have two, one for me and one for you.” So Sam’s stick now has pride of place in my office.
I can only imagine the pain that has been felt for 27 years. Children have grown up without their fathers, mothers and fathers have been without their sons, wives without their husbands. I say this to them: I can only imagine how every glorification of terrorism that you have sat through has twisted the knife in your stomach. I know that this debate will be being watched in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech and some very good points. Does he share my view that we should also concentrate on mental health, think about how we can look after all those families—and everyone else—and find a solution on which we can all agree as soon as possible?
That is certainly part of the issue. As my hon. Friend Ian Paisley said earlier, there is trauma for the families who are left and the survivors among those who have served. Many Members who are present today have served, and it is always good to see them here.
I say this to the families: I can only imagine how watching the murderer of your child, father or spouse walk free from their sentence to carry out more crime has felt like coals being heaped on your head as you mourned. I can only imagine how you have cried for your loss, asked for justice and been ignored, while watching investigations and apologies apparently being handed out left, right and centre to those who came to the table with bloody hands. My right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson has referred to that in a couple of interventions. I can only imagine what all that means, and so today I do what I can—all of us in the House do what we can—to highlight the issue.
Today I stand in the Chamber with my colleagues and friends on both sides of the House, and we declare again that we refuse to allow the rewriting of history to twist the ugly to try to make it beautiful, to make evil seem to be good, and to enable the unjustifiable to be thought of as in any way justified.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for initiating the debate. We hear a great deal from members of Sinn Féin who call for the disclosure of Government documents. I think it is about time that there was some disclosure from members of Sinn Féin who were in the IRA—and from members of the IRA themselves—of why the Ballydugan Four were targeted, and why others were targeted in other atrocities. I think there is a lack of openness in that regard.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman—indeed, the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He served in the Ulster Defence Regiment, like many of us who are in the Chamber, and wore the uniform of Queen and country. We thank him for that. As he says, we need Sinn Féin to step up and to recognise and understand the pain that we have suffered over the years in our community.
We talk about pain and disgust, and about the issue of disclosure. I am sure my hon. Friend will confirm that when it was disclosed that certain people had received “letters of comfort” when victims were still suffering, our party, and indeed the people of Northern Ireland, were totally disgusted.
I agree with my hon. Friend. That rankles with us all. I remember it very well, and I think those matters must be addressed.
We call on not simply the British Government and the Minister, whom we look to because he is very sympathetic and understanding about this issue, but the British people, to help us set the record straight and stem the current tide of political machinations that seek to turn history around with collusion and skulduggery, and seek to distract attention from the facts. Those facts are as I have described: a 16-man and woman team planting a bomb that was intended to wreak as much death and destruction as possible, the death of four men in their 20s, and the injury of four other UDR men and two civilians who happened to be passing by in a car.
That was not those people’s goal, however. They wanted more. They wanted more blood, more agony and more heartache, and they carried out more atrocities until they were halted. That happened when Colum Marks—mass murderer and multiple monster that he was—was dispatched in Downpatrick after his attempt to kill even more police officers. This was not a holy war; this was cowardice. This was not freedom-fighting; this was a wretched hatred at work. This was not a noble cause, this was ignoble, unprincipled butchery.
As time moves on, we reiterate our call from the DUP Benches and from across the Chamber for justice for these four UDR men. It is very frustrating to hear the calls for justice for everyone else; I and my party, and the Members in the Chamber today, want justice to ensure that those brave UDR men, and those who wore the uniform whether in the police or the Army, get justice as well.
Does my hon. Friend agree that justice will never be done if Sinn Féin and the IRA are allowed, through the legacy process, to rewrite history and present themselves as freedom fighters who had some just cause, rather than as terrorists who were simply out to subvert the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. People try to equate the two, but let us be clear: those in uniform were serving their Queen and country to maintain law and order; those who wore balaclavas and skulked around at night and pushed buttons on bombs and blew people to death are the murderers and the terrorists, and they have to be accountable for everything they have done. There can be no comparison or equation.
We seek justice for everyone, and that justice will not simply be found in the incarceration of every person involved in the bombing, from the bomb makers to the clothes washers—all 16 of them, every one of them who did a task in relation to this. Justice must also come through an end to historical fiction being accepted as fact.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the team involved in the action on the evening when Marks was dispatched, as he so colourfully put it, should be given medals for the service they did to our country in taking out one of Ulster’s worst terrorist criminals?
I could not have put it better myself; to tell the truth, that is exactly how I feel. My hon. Friend is right: the day that evil, obnoxious, psychopathic multiple killer was put in the grave was a day when Ulster became a better place. I say that without any compunction whatsoever or any sympathy for that person for what happened. It would have been better if he had never been born and come into this world to wreak havoc and murder and mayhem and injury across the whole of the Province.
I seek justice for the four UDR men murdered at Ballydugan on
We ask for justice for those four brave young men, and for their families who have lived every day with the trauma and the memories of losing their loved ones. All of us in this House remember their bravery, courage and sacrifice.
I congratulate Jim Shannon on securing this important debate. As has been mentioned, he is a former member of the UDR, as are Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson and Tom Elliott. Many people have stepped up to be leaders in Northern Ireland and have served gallantly in very troubled times, both in regular service in the UDR and in the RUC. I pay my respects to those organisations. My hon. Friend Bob Stewart put it absolutely correctly: we have huge respect for those people. We in the regular Army went home: we went back, in my case to Yorkshire, while he is from somewhere down south, I think.
My hon. Friend went back to Cheshire. The point is that we went back to our homes, to a safe place, while lots of people who served in the UDR and the RUC still lived in fear every moment of the day. I would like to express my condolences and sympathy to the families and friends of the young soldiers who on
It is evident that, for many people, the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past continues to cast a dark shadow over the present. I am conscious that in approaching this issue we must recognise the terrible loss suffered by so many people during the troubles, in Northern Ireland and in other parts of the United Kingdom. Over the period of the troubles—broadly, from 1968 to 1998—around 3,500 people were killed, most though by no means all in Northern Ireland. Many were members of the armed forces, killed in the line of duty protecting the public and maintaining the rule of law. Thousands were also maimed or injured during the terrorist campaigns.
This Government have always been clear that we wholly reject any suggestion of equivalence between the security forces and those who carried out those terrorist atrocities. Terrorism was and is wholly wrong. It was never and could never be justified, from whichever side it came—republican or loyalist. No injustice, perceived or otherwise, warranted the violent actions of the paramilitary groups. The terrorist campaigns caused untold misery and suffering and left lasting scars, physical and psychological, in the wake of every atrocity that was carried out. Danny Kinahan, who has now left the Chamber, mentioned the fact that mental health is a big issue. We need to support our veterans, and there is work being done to see what scope we have to offer that support and ensure that we give them good access to those services. I hope that, the other side of the general election, we will be able to assure everyone who cares about our veterans that we are channelling them towards the support that they deserve and need.
As someone who served in Northern Ireland as a proud member of Her Majesty’s armed forces in the British Army, I witnessed at first hand the remarkable dedication, professionalism and courage of the armed forces and the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. More than 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives over the period of Operation Banner, the longest continuous military deployment in our country’s history. Awards and medals were mentioned earlier, and around 7,000 awards for bravery were made. Without the self-sacrifice of the security forces, their dedication and their gallant work to keep the people of Northern Ireland safe, the circumstances that enabled the peace process to take root would never have come about.
Dealing with Northern Ireland’s past is complex and difficult, and many victims and survivors are still suffering on a daily basis as a result of the troubles. It is clear that the legacy institutions as they are currently set up are not working for everyone. We have a duty to victims and survivors to adopt a comprehensive approach that provides a way forward for all of them. That is why the Government continue to believe that the Stormont House agreement institutions remain the best way forward for dealing with Northern Ireland’s past. I believe that these proposals will make the situation better for victims and survivors, and that they represent our best chance to prosecute terrorists for murdering soldiers and police officers, as well as other victims.
The historical investigations unit, which was proposed under the Stormont House agreement, has several important advantages over the current system in Northern Ireland. It will investigate deaths in chronological order, taking each case in turn. It will include in its investigations the many hundreds of murders by terrorists, including the murder of soldiers, such as that of 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint in 1979—the largest loss of life by the Army in a single incident in the troubles. Without reform of the current mechanisms, it is estimated that around 185 murders of soldiers will not be reinvestigated—not to mention the many murders of RUC officers. The HIU will also have a statutory duty to act in a balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable manner. The HIU will be time-limited, with an objective to bring an end to all investigations into the past within five years.
It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the case of the gentleman that the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned, but there is provision under the proposals that the right institutions can go in pursuit of new evidence, get to the bottom of things and pursue the people who are responsible. I say to the hon. Gentleman —my hon. Friend—that if there is evidence, bring it forward and I will use all my offices to ensure that evidence is put in the right hands to be dealt with appropriately.
Despite all that the Minister has said, does he accept that new evidence, or new ways of interpreting evidence, is now being used as a means to carry out what many regard as a witch hunt against members of the security forces who took out people like Colum Marks? That is where the anger and injustice are coming from in Northern Ireland. Many who served gallantly in Northern Ireland are being re-traumatised and now see themselves being used as some pawn in a politically expedient game to try to buy off Sinn Féin to get it back into government.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I give him my reassurance that the route that I have just suggested will address that and give people confidence. I am a former soldier and I played by the rules. Many people played by the rules. Occasionally, there were individuals who made mistakes, for which they must be accountable, but we were part of the establishment. We had rules of engagement. We believed in the Geneva convention, which has a set of rules, and that is the difference.
I saw the veterans’ march that was on a few weeks ago, and Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, whom many Members here will know, was a guest speaker. He made many good points, but one of his key remarks was that if people break the law, they should face the law. There was a man who was campaigning for veterans, but he still recognised, as I do, that if individuals have broken the law, they need to be accountable, regardless of which side they were on.
I say gently to the Minister that I agree totally with that, but it does not address the point that my hon. Friend Sammy Wilson made. In this particular case, the officer who dispatched Marks has been through three separate inquests. I know the chap personally; he was a friend of mine growing up. He has been through one ombudsman’s inquest, and now has hanging over him a second ombudsman’s inquest, on the basis of the most dodgy, fragile, fake evidence that has been produced. That will be disposed of quickly, but that is not the point. He will be dragged through that process again, and his wife and family will be traumatised by it. He and his team should have been given a medal that night. That is the honour that our state should give to these people, rather than dragging them through this process of constantly going over what they did.
I understand the passion with which the hon. Gentleman talks. It is important that our response and the state’s response is balanced and proportionate.
I know that the Minister totally understands, but there is a real worry, as my hon. Friends on the other side of the House—they are really my friends—have said, about the proportionality of the investigations. Many people who carried out crimes seem to have had those crimes wiped clean or blown away, yet soldiers, policemen and others who carried out their duties using the yellow card rules and under the law seem to fear that there will be a knock on their door and that they will be dragged before a court for something that happened as long as 40 years ago.
The worry of the people sitting in this Chamber—I know the Minister understands it, because we have discussed it outside the House—is that our men and women who did everything right cannot sleep as well as others who did everything wrong.
My hon. and gallant Friend is right that it is about being proportionate. As a man of justice who wants to see things put right, he will know that people who do something wrong need to be accountable for it. Under the Stormont House agreement, it is important that we have a model that is right for the victims and survivors. I appreciate the support of Northern Irish Members on reaching a conclusion. Part of that is a working mechanism of government in Northern Ireland in which a devolved institution can work effectively to bring justice and peace to these individuals.
I have outlined why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recently announced his intention to move to a public phase on the legacy bodies and why he and I have engaged intensively with political parties and victims’ groups to find a way forward on the outstanding issues. That approach has the potential to build greater confidence in the new bodies and resolve the remaining issues. It is clear that the status quo is not working well enough for victims and families. It is time to make progress.
The approach we are taking will ensure that our veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated, and it will reflect the fact that 90% of the deaths during the troubles were caused by terrorists, resulting in so much pain and suffering. This Government remain unstinting in their admiration for the role that our armed forces played in ensuring that Northern Ireland’s future will ever be decided by democracy and consent, and we salute the brave soldiers and police officers who sacrificed so much to protect us.
I have responded to several debates of this nature, and I know they are difficult for those who speak and intervene. We have talked about the horrors that happened on that day and afterwards, and hon. Members have talked about being respectful to each other and working together today in a different place that is not
As someone who was born, reared and educated in Downpatrick, I can say clearly to the Minister that Downpatrick’s was one of the first councils—this was back in 1973—to introduce and participate in a power-sharing arrangement at local government level, and that became the pioneer arrangement for the rest of Northern Ireland. Having talked to those pupils in Down High, and having met the staff and the people who participate in the projects at the Ballymote centre, located in the Flying Horse estate, does he agree that that is very much the view of Downpatrick that I and others want to see portrayed—an integrated place for a shared society?
I do not want to get away from the subject of today’s debate, but it is important to reiterate something. The hon. Lady is right to say that people across the community there have come together and they live in a peaceful, cohesive place. There are always tensions and pressures around, but Downpatrick is a completely different place now from how it was before.
I want to finish on the following point. During my visit to Downpatrick, I went to the police station there, because at 2 pm on that day PC Keith Palmer was being buried. The funeral service was here and we were over there, and we had two minutes’ silence for him at the memorial inside the police station, where many, many people who lost their lives are listed. We should remember the people who have been lost, but as we do so we should also make sure we project the future of the Downpatrick of today: a beautiful place, full of some amazing people.
Question put and agreed to.