I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend Damien Moore for securing this debate and for his excellent speech introducing it. I also pay tribute to all those who have spoken. It is humbling to be surrounded by so many hon. and gallant Gentlemen who served in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.
To introduce briefly where I fit in, I did three tours of Northern Ireland. My first was in December 1978. I remember the sergeant-major at Sandhurst saying to me as I left, “Sir, you have time to say ‘Happy Christmas’ to your parents. Then get your arse over to Northern Ireland.” I said, “Right. Thank you very much indeed; that’s my Christmas gone.”
I went over on the ferry with a great friend of mine. The difference between England and Northern Ireland was absolutely marked at that time. I remember getting off the ship, on which we were treated as normal, free civilians—we enjoyed a drink and a chit-chat—and getting into an armed vehicle, which was affectionately known as a pig.
We then drove to our base in McCrory Park, just off Falls Road, where I spent the first six months of my three tours. As we drove to McCrory Park, I simply could not believe that we were in the United Kingdom. It took a huge amount of appreciation for it to sink in that our country was that divided by hatred and violence, as I would soon witness.
We have heard many examples from hon. Members of how the IRA seems to get away with the atrocious deeds it did, but members of our armed forces who go out to save lives—this point was made by my right hon. Friend Richard Benyon, among others, and I wish to reiterate it—