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Bombing Incident (Ballykelly)

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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4.3 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on yesterday's bombing at Ballykelly, County Londonderry. Before I begin my statement, I wish to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State deeply regrets being unable to address the House because of bad weather conditions on the return journey by air from Northern Ireland. This morning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited the headquarters of the 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment at Shackleton barracks, Ballykelly. He visited those being treated in Altnagelvin hospital near Londonderry. He also met the chairman and members of Limavady district council.

At a quarter past 11 yesterday evening a bomb exploded in the Droppin Well Inn at Ballykelly, County Londonderry. No warning was given and the inn was crowded at the time with soldiers from the nearby army camp and civilians from the locality. The walls of the building were badly damaged and the roof collapsed. So far 16 people have died, 11 of them soldiers and five civilians. Four of the civilians were women. In addition, 66 people have been injured. Forty of the injured are now being treated in hospitals in the immediate area and in Belfast. The Irish National Liberation Army has claimed responsibility.

I know that the whole House will join me in condemning this merciless massacre and in expressing our sympathy to the injured and to the relatives of all those who have been killed or hurt. Let nobody pretend that this is anything other than ruthless mass murder. May this atrocity bring home to people, wherever they may be, and if they need any reminder, the true consequences of offering support of any kind to terrorists. Support for terrorists inevitably and invariably means support for what they do.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary will pursue relentlessly its search for the criminals responsible. In this task it will have the unreserved backing of the Government and the House.

I make no complaint about the Secretary of State not being present to make the statement. I know full well the vagaries of the weather, especially in December, across the stretch of water from Britain to Northern Ireland.

My right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches and the whole, I think, of the Labour Party offer our deepest sympathy to the relatives and friends of those killed and injured in this barbaric act. May I join in the tribute to all our security forces in carrying out their day-by-day grind in Northern Ireland? They warrant a salute from the House. They have told me that they have tended to be something of a forgotten force of late. I trust that the families and the injured receive the same treatment and consideration as that received by all those who have been killed or injured in our service.

Since Sunday, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I have been asking those responsible for the invitation to the Sinn Fein representatives to withdraw it, and I repeat that request today. I suggest to the Secretary of State—I hope that this will be conveyed to him—that this horrific act, with all the appropriate films, is given good viewing time in America to remind those who contribute with their dollars just how much blood there is on their hands and their dollars. I understand that INLA has claimed responsibility for this atrocity. It is one more atrocity to its credit. It matters little what initials it uses. Its members are the professional killers of the IRA and must be treated as such.

There are security questions to be asked and I am sure that in due course explanations will be forthcoming. We shall have a debate on security later in the week. The main question to which the House must turn its attention is, what security measures were taken at an obvious off-duty, once-a-week disco, which was frequented by off-duty soldiers, their wives and friends? I hope that more information will be given to the House after due consideration.

In the circumstances, I think that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for the Home Department will be greatly tempted—there will be calls for this—to ban the entry of those two individuals into this country, unless, as I hope, the invitation is withdrawn.

The Secretary of State and the Home Secretary should think carefully about banning Mr. Adams and Mr. Morrison. They would love us to do exactly that. They are not all that courageous but they are astute enough to want to set off to visit this country in the hope that the authorities will turn them back in either Belfast or London. This will give them the added publicity that they seek. I say, let them come if they dare. Let the British people respond and let them know in peaceful fashion what they think of them and their barbaric methods.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his words of sympathy and for his strong support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and our armed forces in Northern Ireland. I know that his words will be echoed by all those in the Chamber. I am sure that he will appreciate that the guidance to be issued to off-duty soldiers in Northern Ireland is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I know that he is considering issuing guidance.

Is further publicity needed? Bearing in mind the terrible events of yesterday both in the United Kingdom and the United States, I can only reiterate what I said when making my statement—that support for terrorists inevitably and invariably means support for what they do. Surely that must be clear. I listened with great and deep concern to what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the invitation extended by certain members of the GLC to Sinn Fein representatives. I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said during Question Time this afternoon. Before yesterday most of us were astounded that the invitation had ever been issued. Now the nation would find it intolerable if it were not withdrawn.

As to the possible exclusion of those who have accepted that most unfortunate invitation, the matter is one for the police in the first instance, in consideration of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Order. I propose to call the constituency Member before I call anyone else.

On behalf of my party, I extend my sincere sympathy to the soldiers, the regiment, my constituents and the relatives of those who were killed in this dreadful atrocity. I trust that there are no further deaths, although I suspect that there will be more.

Is the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, who is now in the Chamber, aware that when I visited Ballykelly just after midnight I was confronted by a scene of carnage, horror and many shocked and angry constituents? Is he further aware that I regret that he was not present then to witness the latest effects of the Northern Ireland policy and security policy that the Government have pursued for many years?

Is it not clear to everyone that pious platitudes are no longer enough? When can we expect the new security policy that the Secretary of State denied that he would introduce when he last answered questions in the House on 2 December?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited several parts of the affected area this morning. With regard to the development of security policy, my right hon. Friend announced an increase of some 800 in the Royal Ulster Constabulary only last week. If additional help is requested by the general officer commanding in consultation with the Chief Constable in Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend will consider what deployment is necessary, including the use of the Spearhead battalion.

Although I congratulate my hon. Friend on his forthright condemnation of the massacre, will he recall that the Secretary of State told the House that his Bill for devolution would ease the security problem? Will he have the grace to recognise that those hon. Members who took a different view were not altogether wrong? It is early days yet. Does he agree that the increase in movement towards the unification of Ireland from the Opposition and our own Government's decision to move towards devolution and to reject integration have only given the impression to the terrorist elements that we are on the run? Will he take steps to correct that?

The level of terrorism has fluctuated over the years. Notwithstanding this and other recent incidents, the level of terrorism has been much higher in the past than it is now. If we have learnt one thing during the troubles in Northern Ireland, it is that terrorists do not need or seek an excuse for their vicious and brutal acts.

On behalf of my colleagues, I join in the condemnation of this appalling massacre. We appreciate the effort that the Secretary of State has made to be with us this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Will the Government consider sympathetically proposals to improve the joint organisation of the security forces of North and South to stamp out terrorism? May I also join in the Prime Minister's plea for the invitation to Sinn Fein members to be withdrawn?

I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's first, second and fourth points. With regard to the third, security in, Northern Ireland is a United Kingdom security problem. It must be worked out within the borders of the United Kingdom.

When will the Government understand that policies that are seen or believed to aim at the same political objectives as the terrorists have are themselves supportive of terrorism? [HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Will the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister immediately recall the Overseas and Defence Committee that approved the policy which is leading to these consequences so that it can propose ways in which we can regain control of the situation in Northern Ireland and in which the credit and position of the Government in Northern Ireland can be restored?

I can only repeat what I said before. Terrorists need no excuse to commit brutal and vicious crimes.

As the Irish National Liberation Army competes with the Provisional IRA in devilry of this kind, should we not assume that this is the INLA response to the remarkable propaganda success that has been scored by the Provisionals, thanks to the Livingstone faction in the London Labour Party? Should not the Leader of the Opposition now speak for the decent masses of British Labour rather than leaving it to his right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)?

I cannot speak for the motives of the INLA. I can only condemn everything that they and their colleagues in the IRA do. The feelings and views of the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) are matters for them.

While condemning such an evil and monstrous crime, would the Minister accept that the need for a political solution in Northern Ireland that involves both communities remains as urgent as ever? Does he agree that a political solution will undoubtedly help to isolate the murderers and the gunmen?

Both communities are rightly and deeply involved in the battle against terrorism.

Will my hon. Friend explain to certain right hon. Gentlemen who do not want to understand that, no matter what measures are taken in an attempt to improve democratic processes in Britain, they will have no effect on the type of people who committed the outrage last night? Does he remember that, despite all the efforts of all men of good will to get the thinking people of Northern Ireland more involved in their own affairs, the atrocities are bound to continue because the people who perpetrate them are not interested in any form of democracy in any part of that island?

I warmly thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I can only repeat that both sides of the community in Northern Ireland are deeply involved in the attempt to stamp out terrorism. If the past 12 or 13 years of the troubles in Northern Ireland have demonstrated anything clearly, it is that one cannot make any appeals for reason when one is dealing with INLA or PIRA.

The whole House condemns the obscene outrage at Ballykelly. My party wishes to be associated with the expression of sympathy for the injured and the relatives of those who have been killed. But sympathy is not enough. Will the Government give an undertaking that they are determined to defeat terrorism in Northern Ireland? Will the Minister also undertake that if the visit of the two Sinn Fein spokesmen takes place—like the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), I hope that it does not—whatever members of the Labour Party may do, no Ministers will meet those two godfathers of terrorism?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his expressions of sympathy and support from his party, just as I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and the leader of the Liberal Party. The Government are devoted to doing all that they possibly can to work with the communities in Northern Ireland to stamp out terrorism. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently announced increases in the police force. That is also why more money than ever before is being spent on the law and order programme in Northern Ireland. As to the proposed trip—which has already been condemned by the right hon. Member for Mansfield—of Sinn Fein members from across the water to meet members of the GLC, I can only reiterate that whether the trip takes place is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) has invited Danny Morrison and Gerry Adams to visit the Palace of Westminster? Will he, on behalf of the Government, condemn that despicable act in view of the atrocities that they have conducted? May we also have an agreement from the Opposition that they will not support any member of the Opposition inviting those two murderers into the Palace of Westminster?

My hon. Friend's first point is a matter not for me or my right hon. Friend but for the authorities of the House. I am not able to comment on his second point.

Is the Minister aware that those who have members of the Cheshire Regiment as constituents condemn utterly this intolerable and unacceptable attack? Is he aware that we would like it to be made plain that those who seek to murder and to maim in the name of political persuasion misunderstand the nature of a democratic society?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her message of support. I join in her condemnation as someone who has also had the experience of young soldiers from local regiments in his constituency being murdered in the same manner.

Is not the best means of defeating terrorists some method which means that, for every outrage they commit, the attainment of their objective is made more difficult? As the objective of the terrorists is some form of united Ireland, should we not reconsider our policy and, indeed, any policies that have the aim of encouraging the concept of a united Ireland?

Order. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been standing, before calling, if necessary, the Front Bench spokesman.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the veterans and families of those who have given their lives in the service of their country in Northern Ireland are treated in the same way as the veterans and the families of those who gave their lives in the Falklands?

These are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Is my hon. Friend aware that every day a loudspeaker demonstration and a collection of funds for the IRA takes place outside the offices of the United Kingdom mission to the United Nations in New York? Does he not agree that it would be appropriate for a photograph of this appalling and senseless crime to be displayed so that New Yorkers can see what their money supports?

I am aware of the demonstrations to which my hon. Friend refers. I am sure that everyone in our diplomatic posts in the United States will redouble their already vigorous efforts to get across the message about the appalling, brutal and callous nature of these crimes.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is always an increased risk of violence in Northern Ireland before Christmas? Does he accept that the people of Northern Ireland and Service men there should be encouraged to be as vigilant as possible in the coming weeks?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Not only must Service men, members of the RUC or the community at large, in Northern Ireland, be vigilant. Everyone in this country must be equally vigilant.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind—I am sure that he will—the misery and grief of the relatives and friends of those soldiers of the 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, for which recruiting takes place extensively in my constituency, who were killed? I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody).

Will the Minister also bear in mind the fact that the people of this country require an underlining and emphasis of the Government's determination to destroy the monsters responsible for what has occurred? Is he aware that some people in my constituency will rightly be bitter that the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) has refused to dissociate himself from the friends of those who are responsible and those who wish to talk to the friends of those who are responsible? They will remember.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was forthright in his condemnation of the proposed trip. That is greatly appreciated on the Government Benches. I can reassure my hon. Friend that no stone will be left unturned by the security forces in Northern Ireland to bring these men of violence to book.

If the leaders of the GLC do not heed the clear advice given by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), does the Minister not agree that the leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition has a clear duty to repudiate unreservedly the action of Mr. Livingstone and his extremist friends in inviting these people to this part of the country?

Whatever may be my personal feelings, that is a matter for the Leader of the Opposition. I can only reiterate that the Government are grateful to the right hon. Member for Mansfield for his fierce condemnation of this scandalous and despicable plan.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me again. All the actions that I have taken over the last few days have been with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I deprecate attempts to make political capital out of this issue. The accusations made by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) about my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) are completely false. My hon. Friend has not been involved in the invitation to these two gentlemen. Nor has he been involved in any invitation, whether it is issued or not, for a visit to be made to the House of Commons and the Labour Party.

I accept unreservedly what the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) says. I should have preceded my remarks by asking "Is there any truth".