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Tributes To Reverend Robert John Bradford

Volume 13: debated on Monday 16 November 1981

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3.31 pm

I announced during Question Time, in response to a point of order from the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), that I would allow tributes to be paid immediately after questions to our late colleague the Rev. Robert Bradford.

I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that the House will be grateful to you for having allowed us to recognise what has occurred by the murder of our colleague 48 hours ago.

Our former colleague was one who made himself a friend to many of those who knew him during the seven years that he was a Member of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We in the Ulster Unionist Party, both in the House and in the Province, have lost a sterling and valued colleague. A wife and a child have lost husband and father. Alas, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland, that is no rare event.

Above all, Ulster has lost a man who, whatever controversy there may have been about his opinions, was beyond all doubt dedicated to the interests of the Province and its people as a whole, without any distinction or difference. If he had known what was to befall him, he would have thought it singularly appropriate that he was struck down at the very moment of helping others and carrying out the duties for which he was elected to the House.

The death by violence of any human being never passes without consequences. It is the hope—perhaps I should say the hope against hope—of my hon. Friends and myself that Robert Bradford's sacrifice will be the means by which the circumstances in Northern Ireland can be met, in ways that recognise their realities—which has not yet happened—and in ways that will bring the results in the Province that have been so vainly sought by methods which were clearly not intended to obtain them.

Those bereaved and those who have suffered a personal loss because of the death of Robert Bradford will, I hope, be sustained and proud because of his recognition by the House.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has spoken for the whole House and for the United Kingdom in expressing our horror and revulsion at the assassination of his hon. Friend, who was killed because he was a Member of this honourable House.

Robert Bradford was well known as a conscientious and devoted constituency Member, yet he was murdered on Saturday morning when he was helping his constituents—helping them so that he could better serve them here in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

We shall pursue with the utmost vigour those who committed this wicked crime and we shall persevere in our duty to rid our country of the evil of terrorism. On behalf of the Government and all Conservative Members I extend our sympathy to Mrs. Bradford, whose courage and dignity we all admire, and to Robert Bradford's family, who have lost a father. I also extend sympathy to his constituents in Belfast, South, to the leader of his party and to the right hon. Member for Down, South, who have lost an esteemed colleague and an honourable Member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

I have been asked by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—who is abroad at present—to associate the Opposition as fully as possible with the tributes now being paid, and I gladly do so.

Robert Bradford was a man of strong convictions. He was a man of controversy, but that is what being a Member of Parliament is. He was murdered because, as the Prime Minister said, he was a Member of Parliament and because he was elected as such.

We believe that the violence and the evil that attend that sort of occasion is something that every hon. Member must deplore and must hope to see end. In the meantime, on behalf of the Opposition, we send to his widow and to his small daughter our sympathy and our consolation at this terrible moment in their lives.

On behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, Mr. Speaker I thank you for giving us the opportunity today of saluting the memory of a very great Ulsterman.

Bob Bradford was a sincere, evangelical Christian of the Methodist tradition. He worked in his Church life for all sections of the community and entered into their difficulties, their problems and their trials. He knew working-class people on both sides of the religious divide in Northern Ireland. In the area where he carried out his pastoral duties, he saw something happening that brought great distress to his heart. It was in my home that he made the decision to contest Belfast, South as an Official Unionist candidate. Therefore, his death comes perhaps nearer to me and my colleagues than to anyone else in the House.

Those of us in Northern Ireland who have been elected to office walk with death. David once said in the scriptures
"There is but a step between me and death."
On the day before his murder, sitting in the American consulate in Queen's Street, Belfast, Robert Bradford and my colleagues talked of the possibility that some of us might not make the proposed journey to the United States of America. Little did we think that he would be the first to go.

I would have wished to say to the House that he is the last victim of that sort of terrorism. However, we believe that before Christmas there will be other vacant seats in the House.

On behalf of my colleagues I express my sincere sympathy to Nora, to little Claire and to the whole Bradford family. Tomorrow, the people of Northern Ireland, in a demonstration never before seen, will declare how they feel about the matter.

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), but I hope that we shall soon move to the other business—not out of any lack of respect. I think that the whole House will hold up in its prayers Mrs Bradford and all those who have suffered in Northern Ireland.

At 10.15 last Tuesday evening Robert Bradford rose from his Bench in an Adjournment debate, as he had done so often in the past, to put forward the case for people whom he believed were least able to defend themselves. On this occasion he was speaking about the high cost of living in statutory residential homes in Northern Ireland. I listened to Robert Bradford. It was symptomatic of the occasion that even though he and I were opposed in many aspects of our political beliefs and ideologies we were both concerned about the problems experienced by the people of Northern Ireland.

I got to know Robert Bradford. I first read of him and then listened to him on television. I regarded him as a man who would be inveterate in his opposition to me. However, in the years when he was a Member of this House I travelled with him on aircraft. We sometimes shared a taxi, and sometimes the same television studio when we expressed different points of view.

I found Robert Bradford to be a man of rich humanity and compassion. The brutal, callous and horrific circumstances in which he was killed while trying to look after the interests of his constituents will bring the contempt of us all on those responsible for this callous deed.

It should be put on record that this was not a one-off killing or murder. This was a carefully calculated and meticulously planned murder. The murderers knew where Mr. Bradford would be. They knew of, or hoped for, the effect that they thought it would have. They are trying to drive the Northern Ireland community into total conflict and civil war.

The Catholic population, the minority population in Northern Ireland, are appalled by this dreadful deed. In no way do they concur with those who have carried out this terrible act. On behalf of that population, on behalf of Catholicism in the island of Ireland, and as an opponent of Unionism, I express my abhorrence of the terrible deed. I trust that Robert Bradford's wife and young daughter will be able to live and forget about this terrible act.

May I add a little to what has been said? The Leader of the Scottish National Party has asked that I should say a few words on behalf of the other minority parties in the House to one of our fellow parties which has lost a distinguished Member. It is right that somebody on this side of the water should acknowledge how conscious we are of the risk that all people in public life in the Province run when carrying out their public duties. We are very conscious of that, and we wish to join in the expressions of sympathy to the relatives of the Reverend Robert Bradford.

Since there was an attack during the same weekend on the home of our Attorney-General, it is right to say that both this murder and that attack reinforce the united determination of the House to defeat terrorism.

I join in the expressions of deep sympathy to the wife and relatives of the Reverend Robert Bradford. He was one more of the many victims of the Provisional IRA. The IRA has shown that it is totally opposed to democracy and Parliament. The Reverend Robert Bradford will be mourned in Northern Ireland as a person who worked hard for his constituents, and he will be mourned as an active Member of this Parliament. Northern Ireland has seen over 2,000 dead, which if expressed in terms of the population of England and Wales would amount to 19,000 people. Far too many have died.