Skip to main content

Terrorism (Northern Ireland)

Volume 513: debated on Tuesday 6 July 2010

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Philip Dunne.)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Chope, but I must confess that this is the most difficult debate I have ever taken part in because I feel that I must turn the spotlight on the innocent victims of terrorism and their broken-hearted families.

A few days ago, the Prime Minister of this United Kingdom made his way to the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons and gave an apology to families in Londonderry, which was watched by millions around the world. After his speech, many could hear the shouts and cheers from those in Guildhall square, Londonderry, and the media spent countless hours of airtime propagating one single event in the history of our Province, just as if nobody else had endured any injustice over the years of Ulster’s turmoil and trouble.

Outside Londonderry, many other families who have suffered because of countless IRA atrocities simply sat in silence, many wiping away their tears, and feeling dejected and spurned by their own Government. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Prime Minister in his speech, nor do I doubt the significance that it held for those families in Londonderry. However, what about the thousands of other innocent families, who grieve daily for their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, because of years of Provisional IRA terror?

No apology was ever given to the law-abiding Unionist majority, when successive Governments tied the hands of our security forces and allowed the IRA terror campaign to continue for well over 30 years. The IRA claimed that it was at war with Britain, but unfortunately only one side was fighting to win. Our gallant soldiers were—and are—the best in the world, but they were not allowed to fight. They could have crushed the terrorists, but political expedience would not allow them to do so.

I am not entering into a debate on the Saville report, as that will come in its own time. However, I fear that successive Governments, through this £192 million inquiry and the high-wire spectacular response from the Prime Minister in front of the world’s media, have left the feeling that there is a hierarchy of victims from our troubled past, and that brings only further division and misunderstanding.

Over the years, I have wept and comforted many families of innocent victims, and although I carry no open wounds on my body from the IRA campaign—although that was not the intention—there are many deep wounds in my heart that no man, but only God, can heal. I honestly confess that I hate what the Provisional IRA has done to our beautiful Province and its people through its acts of barbarity and murder. However, if we allow hatred and bitterness to take over our lives, we destroy ourselves and allow the enemy to succeed.

In 1969, the Provisional IRA was formed with the aim of removing the British from Northern Ireland and bringing about the unification of Ireland by force. It was doomed to fail, not because the Government stood up for the rights of our people, but because 1 million ordinary British people in Northern Ireland determined to remain part of the United Kingdom and exercised their democratic right accordingly. Even though the terrorists tried to bomb us into submission, murdered hundreds of police officers and soldiers, slaughtered innocent civilians across the Province and tried to wipe out Protestant families along the border, they were never able to break our determination. I have often said that they may have broken our hearts—and they did—but they shall never break our will.

It must also be remembered that Ministers from the Fianna Fail governing party in the Irish Republic diverted funds intended as emergency aid, to illegally import weapons directly for the Provisional IRA. One of those Ministers, Charles Haughey, was later rewarded by being made Prime Minister of the Irish Republic for three terms between 1979 and 1992. Surely it is time for an unreserved and unequivocal apology from the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic for the actions of a former Government who helped to spawn and support the IRA, thereby consigning Unionists in Northern Ireland to over 30 years of bloody Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Alas, that has not been forthcoming, and we shall have to wait, although for how long, I have no idea.

I wish to pay tribute to the bravery of our soldiers who patrolled the highways of Ulster for many years, many of whom paid the supreme sacrifice. Standing alongside them, we were blessed by having many courageous local volunteers who joined the B Specials, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment, and who gallantly provided protection for all our community from a vicious foe.

I also salute the bravery of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, and the Royal Ulster Constabulary reserves for their years of faithful duty, not forgetting the Police Service of Northern Ireland. All those forces have been vilified at some time or other by the republican propaganda machine, but those of us who have lived throughout the troubles know how the B Specials, the UDR, the RUC GC and the RUCR GC were politically sacrificed to appease republican agitation.

Let me come to the heart of the debate. According to research carried out by the university of Ulster, the Provisional IRA was responsible for the deaths of 1,706 people during the troubles up to 2001. Of those, 497 were civilian casualties, 183 were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment, 455 came from other regiments of the British Army, and 271 were members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Of its victims, 340 were Northern Ireland Roman Catholics, 794 were Northern Ireland Protestants and 572 were not from Northern Ireland.

That same research states that the IRA lost 276 members during the troubles. However, in 132 of those cases, IRA members either caused their own deaths, as a result of hunger strikes, premature bombing, accidents and so on, or were murdered due to allegations of having worked for the security forces. Those executions killed more IRA members than any other organisation during the course of the troubles.

The IRA was not fighting a just war, but through bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, punishment beatings of civilians, torture, extortion, robberies, racketeering and so on, even to the extent of kidnapping the racehorse, Shergar, and attempting to ransom it, it forced successive British Governments into endless concessions. Having pocketed one concession after another, it got an insatiable desire for more, and the more it demanded, the more it got. Meanwhile, the Unionist population was being castigated across the world for denying those poor downtrodden fearful republicans their rights. This terrorist organisation had a so-called army council, and on 20 February 2005, the then Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell publicly named Gerry Adams, Martin Ferris and Martin McGuinness as members of that council.

Let me go back for a moment to the day that the Prime Minister spoke in the House about the happenings in Londonderry. After his speech, the families of those mentioned in the Saville report made their way to a platform in Guildhall square, Londonderry, and to the cheers of the crowd, a member of each family read out the name of their loved one and shouted, “Innocent”. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) also read out those names for the record in the House of Commons. Let me therefore remind my colleagues at Westminster—and put on the record some of the other names that were not read out—of those families who simply feel forgotten and were left to suffer in silence.

Those victims and families are worthy of justice but unfortunately the possibility of their getting it may be small. What are the Government to do for them? Today, no world media outlet has any interest in spreading the news of the deep hurt felt by the innocent victims of IRA terrorism around the world. No displays of one-upmanship or cheers of victory will resound across the airwaves from this Chamber. However, I am going to honour and remember the innocent victims of Northern Ireland.

Who will ever forget the three Scottish soldiers lured to their deaths at Ligoniel in March 1971? They were completely innocent. Let me recall the massacre of 22 February 1972 at Aldershot barracks. This is a list of the so-called trophies of IRA brutality: Gerry Weston, soldier and acting chaplain, the Parachute Regiment; Jill Mansfield, civilian cleaner; Margaret Grant, civilian cleaner; Thelma Bosley, civilian cleaner; Cherie Munton, civilian cleaner; Joan Lunn, civilian cleaner; and John Haslar, civilian gardener. They were all completely innocent.

What of Bloody Friday—21 July 1972—when there was a massacre of civilians in Belfast by Provisional IRA-Sinn Fein terrorists? More than 20 no-warning bombs were detonated in a crowded Belfast city centre. Nine were murdered and more than 100 innocent people going about their daily lives were injured. Brian Faulkner wrote in his memoirs:

“Few people will forget seeing on television young policemen shovelling human remains into plastic bags in Oxford Street.”

Those who died were Robert Gibson, Ulsterbus driver and civilian; William Kenneth Crothers; William Irvine; Thomas Killops; Stephen Cooper; Philip Price; Margaret O’Hare; Stephen Parker, 14; and Brigid Murray. They were all innocent, but of course that was only Bloody Friday—there was no apology to them.

Let us not forget the Claudy massacre of 31 July 1972—Bloody Monday. The roll needs to be called for the nine people who were murdered by IRA terrorists: Joseph McCloskey; Kathryn Eakin, eight; David Miller; James McLelland; William Temple—aged 16, he was in his first job—Elizabeth McElhinney; Rose McLaughlin; Patrick Connolly, 15; and Arthur Hone. The terrorists were no respecters of persons, but those people were all innocent. At Tullyvallen Orange hall on 11 September 1975, five innocent people were murdered: William McKee, farmer; James McKee, farmer; Nevin McConnell, livestock market manager; John Johnston, retired farmer, and William Herron. They were all innocent.

Can we forget the Kingsmills massacre, when 10 Protestant construction workers were murdered on 5 January 1976? Those men were taking their usual route home from a textile factory in Glenanne when their bus was stopped at a bogus security checkpoint. The gunmen asked each person on board the bus their religion. The driver of the minibus was a Roman Catholic. He was told to get out of the way and run up the road. The remaining workmen were lined up and shot down like dogs, with at least four different weapons, some of which were automatic. They were Joseph Lemmon, Reginald Chapman, Walter Chapman, Kenneth Worton, James McWhirter, Robert Chambers, John McConville, John Bryans, Robert Freeburn and Robert Walker. One man was hit 18 times but miraculously survived. He said that after they lined them up, it was all over in a minute, and after the initial screams, there was silence. Those workmen were all innocent.

On 17 February 1978, 12 people were incinerated when the IRA left a firebomb at La Mon House hotel. Three married couples were among the dead. More than 400 people were packed into the hotel. Some were attending the dinner for the Irish collie club and some were there for the Northern Ireland junior motorcycle club dinner. Those murdered that night were Thomas Neeson, Dorothy Nelson, Gordon Crothers, Joan Crothers, Ian McCracken, Elizabeth McCracken, Sandra Morris, Sarah Wilson Cooper, Christine Lockhart, Carol Mills, Paul Nelson and Daniel Magill. They were out for a dinner, and were innocent victims of IRA murder.

On 27 August 1979, 18 people were murdered in the tragedy known as the Narrow Water bombing. That was, I believe, the first time that the IRA used remotely controlled bombs in Northern Ireland. The first bomb that exploded killed six soldiers, and as the Wessex helicopter took off with injured soldiers, the provisionals detonated the second bomb from over the border, killing a dozen more soldiers. Let me give the roll of honour: Lance Corporal MacLeod, 24; Lieutenant Colonel Blair, 40; Corporal Andrew, 24; Private Barnes, 18; Private Dunn, 20; Private Wood, 19; Private Woods, 18; Corporal Giles, 22; Sergeant Rogers, 31; Warrant Officer Beard, 31; Private Vance, 23; Private England, 23; Private Jones, 18; Corporal Jones, 26; Private Jones, 18; Lance Corporal Ireland, 25; Officer Fursman, 35; and Private Blair, 23. All of them were innocent.

On 21 January 1981, the Provisional IRA murdered a former Stormont Speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, and his son James. It bombed their historic ancestral home, Tynan abbey. Sir Norman was 86 years of age and his son was 48. They were shot at point-blank range and died instantly. Sir Norman and James were innocent.

On 20 November 1983, the congregation of Darkley Pentecostal church were singing the hymn “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” Unknown to them, the Provisional IRA was to arrive at the church outside Darkley with the intent to murder. Three elders of the congregation were murdered and several others wounded. Those murdered were William Harold Brown, John Victor Cunningham and Richard Samuel David Wilson. The killers calmly stepped over the bloodstained bodies and began firing at the defenceless congregation, mainly composed of women and children. Fathers dived over their young children—one over his seven-month-old baby. As the people begged for mercy, the gunmen reloaded their weapons and sprayed the exterior of the wooden hall before cowardly disappearing into the countryside and over the border for safe lodgings. Those victims were all innocent.

On 28 February 1985, the IRA launched a deadly mortar attack on Newry police station, and that night the police lost the greatest number of personnel of any terrorist attack during the troubles. The roll of honour was Chief Inspector Alexander Donaldson, Geoffrey Campbell, John Thomas Dowd, Denis Anthony Price, Rosemary Elizabeth McGookin, Sean Brian McHenry, David Peter Topping, Paul Hillery McFerran and Ivy Winifred Kelly. It is right to note that Alexander Donaldson’s brother, Constable Samuel Donaldson, was one of the first police officers to be murdered by the IRA, in August 1970. Those officers were all innocent.

Just before 11 am on 8 November 1987, a Provisional IRA bomb exploded in the heart of Enniskillen during the annual Remembrance day service. Without warning, the provos detonated that bomb, killing 11 people and injuring 63. The victims were William Mullen, 72; Angus Mullen, 70; Kitchener Johnson, 70; Jessie Johnson, 70; Wesley Armstrong, 62; Bertha Armstrong, 53; John Megaw, 68; Edward Armstrong, 52; Georgina Quinton, 72; Marie Wilson, 20; and Samuel Gault, 49. All the dead, who had been standing at that memorial, were civilians apart from one RUCR officer, and they were all innocent.

The 17th of January 1992 would be a day I would never forget. I was in my home when the phone rang to say that a van had exploded at Teebane, outside Cookstown. Construction workers were returning home from work down the Omagh-Cookstown road when a roadside bomb was detonated at the Teebane crossroads, leaving eight men dead and six others wounded. I identified the company whose workers travelled that road for the police, and I made my way to the awful scene of carnage. I assisted the police at the scene, walking among the dead and injured, and I did my best to comfort the bereaved. The victims were: William Gary Bleeks, Cecil James Caldwell, Robert Dunseith, David Harkness, John Richard McConnell, Nigel McKee, Robert Irons and Oswald Gilchrist. They were all innocent. Every year, we hold a memorial service along the roadside at Teebane, come rain, hail or snow.

Let me mention one other major slaughter of the innocent. On 23 October 1993, nine ordinary people on the Shankill road were murdered. The provos walked into Frizell’s fish shop dressed in white coats and looking like delivery men. They carried a bomb that was to deliver death and destruction seconds later. The timer gave the terrorists 11 seconds to escape, but it gave the innocent shoppers no time. However, the bomb exploded early, and the carrier of the bomb, Thomas Begley, died in the explosion. Gerry Adams brazenly carried the bomber’s coffin at his funeral—I suppose that by their actions we will know them. The roll of honour that day was: John Desmond Frizell, Sharon McBride, George Williamson, Gillian Williamson, Evelyn Baird, Michelle Baird, who was 7, Leanne Murray, who was 13, Michael Morrison and Wilma McKee. All of them were innocent.

When I came to the House many years ago, I brought with me a wedding photograph. The family circle in it was well known to me; it was the Kerrigan family. The photograph had four people in it: the bridegroom, the bride, the best man and the bridesmaid. Sadly, three of those four people were murdered by the Provisional IRA. The groom, the best man and the bridesmaid were all murdered by terrorists.

I sat in my study pondering again the many individuals who were murdered in our community. The UDR has recorded a list for Magherafelt, where I live: Private Callaghan, Captain McCausland, Private Sammy Porter, Private Hamilton, Captain Hood, Staff Sergeant Deacon, Captain Connelly, Private Stott, Private John Arrell, Private McCutcheon, Staff Sergeant R. H. Lennox, Private R. J. Scott, Captain Bond, Lieutenant-Colonel Speers, Lieutenant-Colonel McCaughey, Major Hill, Private David McQuillan, Lieutenant-Colonel Cloete, Lieutenant Kerr, Captain Gordon, Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery, Private Ritchie, Private Alan Clarke, Lieutenant-Colonel Brownie McKeown, Sergeant Boyd, Sergeant Jamison and Private Boxall.

Then I thought of friends in my former constituency of Mid-Ulster, many of whom I walked among and whom I was happy to call friends: Albert Cooper; Winston Finlay; Ronald Finlay; Colin Carson; Edward Gibson; John Eagleson; Jack Scott; Raymond McNickle; Nigel McCollum; his brother, Reginald McCollum; Mr Watters; Jim Gibson; Robert Glover; Trevor Harkness; Matt Boyd; David Sinnamon; Donnelly Hazelton; George Elliott; Kenneth Johnston; John Proctor; David Shiels; little Lesley Gordon, who was just 10 years of age and who was murdered with her daddy; Wilbert Kennedy; Noel McCulloch; Leslie Dallas; Austin Nelson; Ernest Rankin; Robert McLernon; Rachel McLernon; and Derek Ferguson. The list goes on and on, but let the House not forget that behind every one of those names, and those of many other innocent victims—I apologise because time does not permit me to name them—there is a personal tragedy, a lifetime of heartache and tears. Every anniversary brings afresh the wrenching of the heart and the feeling that, for most, justice will never be done. All that these people see are murderers walking free, with some even being exalted to high office, while they themselves wait for justice.

As a Christian minister, I know that the judge of all the earth will one day call every man to account. For those who have not confessed and repented of their sins, there is a hereafter of eternal woe. They will not escape the justice of God. What, however, will our Government do for the families of these innocent victims? There are certain to be no expensive inquiries for them, and one can rightfully ask why there are such inquiries only for some. I have heard it said that it is because the people in Londonderry were killed by British soldiers. However, unlike those involved in the killings that I have placed on the record, and in many others, the soldiers in Londonderry did not set out to murder anyone; they did not seek to pick a fight with some innocent bystander. There was serious violence in Londonderry, with pandemonium and confusion across the city. There were stones and bullets, and mayhem had broken out; panic was everywhere. However, the people I have mentioned were threatening and endangering no one. Many were in their own homes, coming home, going to work or going to the shops. I have no doubt that no films will be made about Teebane or La Mon, and few film stars will line up to expose the murdering thugs of 30 years of republican terror.

Some suggest that a truth inquiry should be enough to satisfy my friends, but I simply ask what that will mean. Indeed, how could it be meaningful? When asked about his terrorist past, Gerry Adams looks into the camera and brazenly denies that he has ever been in the IRA. Martin McGuinness was exposed by the Saville report, despite saying in his evidence to the inquiry:

“I wish to make it clear that I will not provide the Inquiry with the identities of other members of the IRA on 30th January 1972 or confirm the roles played by such persons whose names are written down and shown to me…As a Republican I am simply not prepared to give such information.”

The same man had the audacity to welcome the report, pointing the finger at soldiers, while dismissing the findings in regard to the part he was identified as having played in Londonderry with a sub-machine-gun.

I conclude by reminding the House that many thousands of innocent people in our Province carry scars in body and mind that will go with them to the grave. Many are the living dead, and some even pray for death itself. I had a mother in my constituency office the other day. She was an elderly lady in her 80s, and she was weeping over her 19-year-old son. It is many years since he was murdered by the IRA, but her pain, like mine, is as real today as ever. She asked what the Government will do for her. She got £200 for her son. Where are the wheels of justice turning?

I read an article about the Saville report in The Times on 22 February 2002. A son of one of the cleaning ladies in the incident at Aldershot said that although the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday had been marked by two films, media coverage and a renewed interest in the Saville inquiry that is investigating the killings in Londonderry, he and his three brothers would again have to remember their loss in silence. He said:

“I'm sickened by the fact that whenever Bloody Sunday is mentioned there is never a mention of the atrocity at Aldershot which was committed in the IRA’s name.”

He also said:

“There are so many films and documentaries about Bloody Sunday, but the feeling is that we’re forgotten. Gerry Adams demanded an apology for Bloody Sunday and I remember thinking ‘Where’s my apology?’”

There is another comment, about the bombing of innocents in the city of Belfast. In 1997 an RUC officer interviewed by BBC reporter Peter Taylor said:

“You could hear the people screaming and crying and moaning. The first thing that caught my eye was a torso of a human being lying in the middle of the street. It was recognisable as a torso because the clothes had been blown off and you could see parts of human anatomy. One victim had his arms and legs blown off and some of his body had been blown through the railings. One of the most horrendous memories for me was seeing a head stuck to a wall. A couple of days later we found vertebrae and a ribcage on the roof of a nearby building. The reason we found it was because the seagulls were diving on to it. I’ve tried to put it to the back of my mind for over 25 years.”

The Government have spent £192 million to give certain families in Londonderry closure: or will it be closure, when so many questions are left in the hearts of others, unanswered? Why did our loved ones have to die? Why did successive Governments allow IRA terrorism to go on for more than 30 years without determining to defeat it, holding to a policy of containment rather than conquering? Why did a Minister in a previous Government state that there was, in Northern Ireland, an acceptable level of violence? Why did it seem that, as long as the violence was kept off the streets of the mainland, the people of Northern Ireland would just have to accept it? Why, in the midst of our turmoil, did a Prime Minister state that his Government had no strategic interest in Northern Ireland? Why did the lying propaganda of republicanism go unanswered across the world? Those involved were the perpetrators and the murderers of the innocent; yet the majority population were maligned. The republican movement sat in their pubs and clubs around the world, romanticising their acts of barbarity against Britain, but there is nothing romantic about butchering men, women and children. It is time for the books to be opened. It is time for the answers to be given.

We, too, need closure. No one can understand the nightmare that the people of Northern Ireland have been through, terrorised in their kitchens and bedrooms, while walking the streets, as they sat in restaurants and hotels, or while worshipping in their churches; leaving their children in the morning and not knowing whether they would ever see each other again. We lived through that. It was reality. We need the truth. We need justice and no one can be too high or mighty to escape the reach of justice. What will our Government do to give it to us? We have to wait and see.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Chope and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) on securing the debate on such an important issue. We can all agree that he spoke with passion and honesty about the issue of victims, many of whom, of course, were murdered in his constituency and in his former constituency of Mid Ulster. All of us who have been elected to this House have lost many friends in the past years.

We in Northern Ireland are under no illusions about the past. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim said, we lived through it. We suffered it, visited the homes and followed all the coffins. We embraced the widows and the orphans, and in many cases we had personal loss and heartache to carry while trying to build a better future for others. I have spoken in the past about the members of my extended family who were murdered in such a cold, brutal and matter-of-fact way by terrorists. Those of us who were there during those dark years will carry the scars to our graves, but we are determined that the next generation will have a future better than the past we had.

We do not want the victims of that terrorist brutality to be left behind and under Government policy we run the risk of that very thing happening; we should not allow that. There are two areas of concern in which I believe there is a danger of the Government’s falling into the routine of previous Governments and making the same mistakes. The effect of that would certainly be that those who bore the brunt of the troubles and of vicious sectarian terrorism would be left behind by the Government. I appeal to the Minister in these early days of the Government to change direction and avoid that state of affairs.

The two areas I want to draw to the Minister’s attention are related. The first is the process by which historical cases are dealt with. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim mentioned, the Saville report was recently published; it cost in the region of £200 million. It was essentially a no-expense-spared inquiry. I will not deny those families their moment, but I will highlight the injustice flowing from Saville that automatically falls upon the many thousands of others who have nothing. Very many of those victims and relatives have no answers and no prospect of any answers. In fact, almost daily many people in Northern Ireland have insult added to injury, and must endure lies, which cover like a blanket the truth that everyone knows.

For example, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams continues with the fiction that he was never a member of the very organisation that he was a leader of. How could people ever have confidence in any truth-finding commission when, because of such denials of reality, it is guaranteed that the truth is highly unlikely to emerge? The Government could take a significant step in bringing Adams’s fictional account to an end. They could publish the full security file on him and let everyone see for themselves just how much was known about his activities, including his personal role in creating victims. His continued denial only stymies any attempt to take the historical context forward.

The other thing that Saville has highlighted is the great imbalance between the finances that have been poured into it and funding levels associated with the treatment of other victims of the troubles and the handling of other historical cases. Clearly there is a need, even in financially straitened times, for the Government to do everything possible in that regard.

The second general area of concern that I wish to raise today is not about already existing processes. Rather, it is about those areas relating to the troubles, and to the victims and survivors of the troubles, for which at present there is simply no process in place. Recently the Northern Ireland victims commission argued for the establishment of some sort of truth-finding forum. We also have the recommendations of the Eames-Bradley consultative group on the past.

On the question of a comprehensive truth forum, given that one of the IRA’s main godfathers is in denial about his role, does the Minister agree that Unionists are justified in thinking that it would be a waste of time? On the Eames-Bradley proposals, the then Secretary of State agreed that the so-called recognition payment was unjustifiable. Will the Minister tell us his view on the granting of legitimacy to cold-blooded sectarian terrorists?

That brings me on to the final matter that I wish to raise under this general heading. Those who campaigned for the Saville inquiry did so in large part because they thought that the involvement of the state set it apart—in other words, the Government were up to their neck in it. It was argued that the state should have higher standards than terrorist organisations, and that a democratic Government should uphold and enforce the laws that have been passed.

There have been long-standing allegations about the involvement of elements of the Dublin Government in the setting up and arming of the Provisional IRA. If true, we need to keep in mind what those allegations would entail. If elements of the Dublin Government were involved in the formation and arming of the provos, it would mean that actions by elements of the southern Government had led directly to the murder of UK citizens in places such as Warrington and London.

Those allegations, if true, would mean that elements of the southern Government were implicated in the IRA’s attempt to kill the entire UK Conservative Government at the Grand hotel in Brighton. It would mean that elements of the Dublin Government were implicated in the attempt to kill the UK Cabinet when the IRA fired mortars at No. 10 Downing street. It would mean that elements of the Dublin Government were implicated in the mortar bomb attack on Heathrow airport. It would also mean that elements of the Dublin Government were implicated in the murder of many hundreds of UK citizens in Northern Ireland. If true, the allegations would help to explain why the extradition of suspects from the Irish Republic was so difficult. It would also help to explain why people could organise open collections for republican terrorist organisations in places such as Buncrana, Bundoran and Dundalk.

It is a truly shameful thing that a succession of UK Governments should have failed to press the Dublin Government to put an inquiry in place to investigate those allegations. A succession of UK Governments, of whatever colour, have turned a blind eye to the allegations; never once did they put their own citizens first and demand that the truth be told. In the early days of this new Government, I ask the Minister to have the resolve to end that silence and to press Dublin for a full independent public inquiry into those long-standing allegations.

I made a similar call in the Belfast News Letter a couple of weeks ago, and I was contacted by a number of victims of the troubles from different parts of Northern Ireland. They all said that they agreed with me, making it very clear that this culture of silence needs to be brought to an end by our Government. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister if he will agree to meet the victims of the troubles and to hear their call for such an inquiry; and I ask for Government support for an inquiry.

I know that other colleagues will wish to speak on other matters relating to the victims of the troubles. I do not want to take up any more time. I simply ask the Minister to remember that it is the first duty of Government to safeguard the country’s citizens.

I am sure that this newly formed coalition will have got to grips with the security situation in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that they will agree that there are matters of concern. However, we have a problem in Northern Ireland today with the so-called dissident republicans. I referred to them a while back, saying that I saw no difference between them and the provos because they were all pigs out of the same litter. I was rounded on by many in the press for saying so, because it was thought unsuitable for someone who sits in this grand House to use such language, but I repeat it: they are pigs out of the same litter. I ask the Government not to allow these so-called dissidents to get the same hold over Northern Ireland as the provos did when causing the mayhem, disaster and tragedies that my hon. Friend outlined.

I apologise for not being here to listen to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea). I congratulate him on securing this debate, which is on an important topic. Indeed, it is an emotive topic, as we saw recently with the publication of the Saville report into the events of 1972 in Londonderry. That was preceded by the publication of the Eames-Bradley report, which examined how we might deal with the legacy of the past.

There is no doubt that we have no consensus in Northern Ireland—no political consensus and none among the people of Northern Ireland—on how we should deal with that legacy. There is no consensus on how we should come to terms with what has happened; on how to deal with matters such as justice for those who have not yet had the people responsible for the murder of loved ones brought to justice; on how to deal with the continuing hurt, pain and grief and, in many cases, the injuries and disabilities sustained as a result of terrorist violence. Those are big issues, and I know that the Northern Ireland Executive, and particularly the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, have been seeking to come to terms with them and to provide a greater level of support for the victims in Northern Ireland.

I highlight the fact that over the past three years, the Northern Ireland Administration has set aside a substantial amount of money—more than £30 million—to provide practical help and support for the victims of violence in Northern Ireland. That is welcome, but in many respects it merely touches the surface. Looking beyond it, we see that a multiplicity of problems needs to be addressed. Indeed, I am aware that the Northern Ireland Executive is beginning the task of engaging in a comprehensive needs assessment. It will seek to engage with all victims, to consider their needs and hopefully to design and put in place practical support for them, including victims with injuries. Indeed, evidence suggests that victims who suffered injuries during the troubles in Northern Ireland feel much neglected. A group has been formed that is pressing for greater recognition of those thousands of people who suffered serious injury and trauma during the troubles—and they are worthy of that recognition. We also have the legacy of more than 3,000 unsolved murders in Northern Ireland, which needs to be addressed. The Historical Enquiries Team faces the difficult and challenging task of examining and re-examining historical cases of murder in Northern Ireland. I have worked with a number of families who have been engaged with the Historical Enquiries Team, and found that it can be a painful process. Very often, they learn things about what happened to their loved ones that they perhaps were not aware of before. Such investigations can reopen old wounds, but sadly, in most cases, they do not often lead to convictions. Although the team has had some recent successes, there is a legacy of people feeling that they have not had justice.

The other issue is one of recognition of the sacrifice that people have made. I include here those members of the security forces who gave their lives or sustained serious injury in the service of our country; and the armed forces, the Army in particular, who served in Northern Ireland. I was proud to serve in the locally recruited Ulster Defence Regiment, which provided support to the police in Northern Ireland. I know that there are hon. and gallant Members present who have served with the armed forces in Northern Ireland, and we recognise their contribution and sacrifice. One of my saddest moments as a Member of Parliament was attending the final ceremony for the disbandment of the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment. Her Majesty the Queen presented them with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross in recognition of the huge sacrifice that they and the Ulster Defence Regiment before them made during the period of the troubles.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary was awarded the George Cross in recognition of its gallantry and sacrifice. Hundreds of police officers lost their lives in the course of the troubles. Indeed my own family was affected, as were many families, in that way. My cousin, Constable Samuel Donaldson, along with Constable Roy Miller, was the first RUC officer to be murdered by the Provisional IRA. It happened on 12 August 1970 at Crossmaglen, which later became synonymous with the activities of the IRA. That was unfortunate because many good people live in Crossmaglen. After the murder of my cousin, my family received hundreds of cards and letters of sympathy from the community in Crossmaglen, which was horrified by the murder of these two young police officers. The officers, who were serving and protecting the community, were cut down in cold blood by the Provisional IRA.

Sadly, from those two deaths followed many, many others during the troubles as the RUC stood in the gap between terrorism on the one hand and the community on the other. I say without fear of contradiction that both the Army and the police, who sought to serve and protect the people of Northern Ireland, placed themselves in the firing line. It is unfortunate that there are some who seek to mark out the legacy of the Army and police in Northern Ireland by way of controversy. We saw that with the Saville report. On the day that the report was published, the Prime Minister told the Commons that the events were not the legacy of the Army in Northern Ireland, any more than the so-called shoot-to-kill events were the legacy of the RUC in Northern Ireland. The police and the Army acted in a professional way; they put their lives on the line and sought to protect the community. Had they not done that, Northern Ireland would have slipped over the edge into all-out civil war. There would have been anarchy and thousands more would have lost their lives as a result of the terrorist violence.

We must recognise this legacy and seek to find ways in which to deal with it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) said, it is a matter not just for this Government, the Northern Ireland Administration and the people of Northern Ireland, but the Irish Government. The Provisional IRA and other terrorist organisations used the territory of the Irish Republic from which to launch attacks on Northern Ireland. I have been involved in working with some of the families in the Smithwick inquiry, which is examining the events surrounding the murder of the two most senior police officers in Northern Ireland during the course of the troubles. That inquiry, which is ongoing and will begin its public sessions in the autumn, involves the Irish Government. There are allegations of collusion between members of the Garda Siochana—the Irish police—and members of the Provisional IRA in the murder of chief superintendent Harry Breen and superintendent Bob Buchanan. They were brutally murdered on their way home from a joint meeting with their Garda counterparts at Dundalk police station. Such issues must be addressed. What we cannot have, and what we will not countenance, is a one-sided process that constantly puts the Army and the police in the dock and ignores the terrorists. Let me be clear, I refer here to so-called loyalist paramilitaries as well. Their actions must be examined and they must be held to account for what they did. We are not prepared to see millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on investigating the activities of the police and the Army while minimal attention is paid to the paramilitaries.

We support the work of the Historical Enquiries Team, but it needs to be properly resourced and given the authority that is required to pursue such investigations. We have concerns about further costly inquiries, which is why we believe that the HET represents the best way forward, but it needs to be properly supported and resourced so that it can investigate unsolved crimes and murders that occurred in the course of the troubles. We want to see justice for the victims. They are as entitled to justice and truth as the people of Londonderry are in respect of the events arising from the Saville report. We cannot have a hierarchy of victims in which a small number of people get priority and precedence and millions of pounds for inquiries to investigate murders. Thousands of others do not have the same recognition and support. They often feel that their loved ones have been forgotten and that the events surrounding their murders have been pushed to one side. That must not be allowed to happen.

I know that my hon. Friends have outlined some of the atrocities that are deserving of further inquiry, and they include incidents where there is evidence either of collusion on the part of Irish state authorities or where the Irish Government turned a blind eye and allowed their territory to be used by the Provisional IRA. I can think of one particular incident and it is relevant to the issue of the Saville inquiry because it involved the murder of many members of the Parachute Regiment at a place called Narrow Water, at Warrenpoint in South Down in Northern Ireland. There were 18 soldiers murdered that day. Incidentally, it was the same day that Earl Mountbatten was murdered by the Provisional IRA. In the follow-up investigation to the events of Narrow Water, two members of the Provisional IRA were identified as potentially having been involved in that atrocity. The RUC tried to co-operate with the Garda in bringing those two men to justice, but its efforts were thwarted. Every legal block was put in the way of the police investigation.

I believe that there are issues there that need to be addressed by the Irish Government. Why, in those days, did the Royal Ulster Constabulary not receive the co-operation that it deserved to receive from the Irish police and from the Irish legal authorities? Those are issues that we need to examine.

In conclusion, as I said at the beginning of my speech this is a very emotive issue. We recognise that it is an issue that must be tackled in Northern Ireland, but it must be tackled sensitively. What we will not countenance is the type of “all-singing, all-dancing” commission that was proposed by Eames-Bradley. We do not believe that that is the way forward. I support my colleagues in their contention that the HET should take the lead in investigating unsolved murders; we want to see it take the lead. We want to see adequate resources made available for the HET. We want to see greater recognition of the suffering of the victims. That means looking at their needs and providing them with the support that they need—both the practical support and indeed the financial support that many of them need, as a result of losing in very many cases the main breadwinner in a family.

Mr Chope, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and I thank you.

It is good to see you in the Chair this morning, Mr Chope.

I want to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) on securing this debate and indeed I thank him for doing so. At the outset, he described it as the most difficult debate in which he had ever spoken at Westminster, but he spoke eloquently and very movingly, not least about the difficult emotions that he faced on 15 June when the Saville report was published. We all remember that day, and the measured, sympathetic and unequivocal terms in which the Prime Minister spoke; I welcomed that approach very warmly indeed. We also remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who is with us this morning, read out with great emotion the names of his constituents who were exonerated by the Saville report.

Furthermore, I remember, as others will, the very moving statement from the hon. Member for South Antrim on 15 June, when he spoke about the civilian construction workers who were murdered in Teebane in 1992. He also spoke about his cousin Derek, who was murdered in 1991, and about his cousins Robert and Rachel, who were murdered in 1976. He asked on 15 June:

“How do we get justice, and how do we get the truth?”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 755.]

He has asked those same questions again this morning, and he has reminded us that often the victims are not high-profile; they are often lonely and isolated, and they often go unheeded. I think that it was important that he read out and put on the record some of the names of those forgotten victims of the troubles of Northern Ireland.

I feel that we must tread very carefully in this territory, particularly those of us who are not from Northern Ireland. We must approach a debate such as this one with great humility and with real respect for the unresolved emotions and feelings of anger, injustice, grief and sadness, which in many cases will simply never go away, certainly not in this life.

We have much to celebrate today about Northern Ireland and the progress that has been made. The tragic pictures graphically painted by the hon. Member for South Antrim are, in a very real sense, a thing of the past—we have moved on. Right hon. Members and hon. Members in Westminster Hall today have played a great part in that, along with others, by taking us through the peace process and the political progress that has happened as a result of the Good Friday agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, most recently, the Hillsborough Castle agreement.

As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) reminded us, today we must of course recognise the tremendous work that has been done in providing practical support to victims in Northern Ireland over the years. That work has been funded by Government in some respects but it has also been helped by voluntary organisations too. However, we come back to the fact that there is still much to do in relation to the past; there is still much that faces us in the search for closure, to which the hon. Member for South Antrim referred.

Of course, one way of trying to achieve that closure is holding public inquiries, and we have heard much about the Saville inquiry. I was pleased that on 15 June, the Prime Minister insisted on focusing on the substance of the Saville report, rather than on controversial issues about the length of time taken to conduct the inquiry and its cost. I hope that the report will enable the families involved and the wider community to move on, as we all wish to see.

There are other public inquiries, of course. Will the Minister, in his summing up, tell us what progress he can report in relation into the Robert Hammill inquiry, the Rosemary Nelson inquiry and the Billy Wright inquiry? All of the reports from those inquiries need to be published. Can he tell us what arrangements he is putting in place for doing so? For example, will they be the subject of statements to the House?

Another issue arising from the negotiations at Weston Park in 2001 is the question of a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. I know of and fully respect the desire of the Secretary of State not to rush to judgment on that issue; he wants to meet the family first and have a discussion with them. Nevertheless, can the Minister give us some sense of the time scale involved in relation to that issue and about the discussions that the Secretary of State wishes to have?

There are other cases where there are campaigns for public inquiries, but no such inquiry is promised. One of those campaign is being pursued by the families of 11 people who lost their lives in the Ballymurphy area in August 1971, and the Minister was pressed on that issue last week. Can he tell us what consideration he has given to that particular campaign, and whether or not he or the Secretary of State will meet representatives of the families in the near future?

Another way of trying to examine the events of the past is by holding inquests, which we sometimes fail to remember are a very important form of public inquiry. Before the devolution of policing and justice powers in Northern Ireland, there were about 20 outstanding historic inquests. Many of them have been delayed because of legal challenges and because they were subject to judgments by the European Court of Human Rights. Although the coronial system in Northern Ireland is devolved, the Minister will retain a significant interest in many of these inquests, because of the national security issues involved. I wonder if he can give us an update on the progress of those outstanding historic inquests and if he can tell us whether the newly appointed Attorney-General has yet exercised his powers to reopen inquests in certain cases. If the Attorney-General has exercised those decision-making powers, how many inquests have been reopened? If any have been reopened, what is the cost and who will bear it?

A further way of dealing with tragedies in the past has been through the Historical Enquiries Team, which we heard about from a number of right hon. and hon. Members. It was established in 2005 to review all the deaths attributed to the conflict between 1969 and 1998—3,268 deaths in all. I want to place on record my appreciation to the former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, who established and pursued this very innovative approach to trying to deal with the unresolved deaths of the past. I believe that he should be given great credit for that and I hope that the whole House will join me in expressing that view.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe described the HET as playing an important role in bringing “a measure of resolution” to those affected. The HET enables the state to meet its obligations under article 2 of the European convention on human rights, but more importantly it offers information and explanations to families who are still grief-stricken and bewildered years after the murder of their loved ones.

In his statement to the House on the Saville inquiry, the Prime Minister made much of the work of the HET. However, the £34 million of additional funding that the previous Government made available for the HET runs out next March. Will the Minister tell us whether he has had any discussions with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, about the future funding of the HET? This is a very pressing issue, because with pressure on policing budgets and—who knows?—even greater pressure after the comprehensive spending review the problem will become even more acute in Northern Ireland: every pound that is spent on policing the past is a pound that is not spent on policing the present. Indeed, we were reminded in this morning’s debate of the importance of some issues facing Northern Ireland and the importance of putting resources into dealing with the challenges that remain. I therefore wonder if the Minister can enlighten us on any discussions that he has had with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister about the future funding of the HET.

Individual investigation alone, through public inquiries, inquests and the HET, cannot provide deeper answers in the search for truth and reconciliation, which require a wider process that engages the whole of Northern Ireland society. In my view, Robin Eames, Denis Bradley and their colleagues in the Consultative Group on the Past deserve great credit for beginning the process at least of searching for that truth. They said that dealing with the past is a process, not an event, and I agree. Although their conclusions may be imperfect and subject to criticism across Northern Ireland for many different reasons, they are at least a start. The report reflects considerable work and many public meetings and submissions.

I welcome the confirmation last Wednesday that the Government intend to publish a summary of the responses to the previous Government’s consultation on their proposals. It is easy to understand why proposals for a £12,000 recognition payment were rejected out of hand universally, but it is more difficult to begin to tease out what is required for genuine reconciliation.

Eames and Bradley say that two ingredients are essential to the search for reconciliation: forgiveness and truth. Those words are easy to say, but much harder to pursue in practice. It is hard, if not impossible, for some people to forgive. Some, of course, are not yet seeking forgiveness because they still do not regard what they did as wrong. The search for truth is problematic because people have different versions of the truth, and some—although I am not one of them—would argue that we will never get at the truth fully while the possibility of prosecution remains, and that the search for truth requires the removal of that possibility. The experience of the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill demonstrates that although the people and politicians of Northern Ireland may be prepared to speed up the process of justice using early release from prison and so on, they are not prepared to circumvent it altogether.

Eames and Bradley point to many interesting and important initiatives such as healing through remembering, storytelling and days of recollection. In my personal view, there is much to be gained by working with Churches, voluntary organisations and trained volunteers in quieter and less high-profile ways to take people through the healing process, hopefully releasing them from the grip of some of their terrible memories as everybody tries to face the future. It will not be a perfect reconciliation. The hon. Member for South Antrim made the point that in the end, there are some people whom perhaps only God can heal. However, we must try. We must use Eames-Bradley and other initiatives as a stepping stone to move forward and face the issues.

On dealing with the past, I would like to ask the Minister about the independent commission for the location of victims’ remains. Great credit is due to Kenneth Bloomfield and Frank Murray for the way in which they have led that initiative. It is traumatic not only to lose a loved one but never to be able to find their body because it is buried who knows where. The commission has taken on the heroic task of helping families by uncovering such information. It has had some success, but what assessment has the Minister made of the commission’s work, and what future does he believe it has?

I shall conclude by pressing the Minister on two issues that I believe are important now. First, what is the new coalition Government’s attitude on the holding of public inquiries? In his statement on the Saville inquiry, the Prime Minister said that

“there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.”—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 741.]

However, in answer to questions on the statement, he said that

“we should look at each case on its merits”.—[Official Report, 15 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 744.]

Those statements are clearly contradictory. Those considering future inquiries as a way of resolving the problems of the past—whether a Finucane inquiry or the inquiry demanded by the families of the Ballymurphy victims—will need to know where they stand. It is important that we understand clearly and as soon as possible what the Government’s approach is.

Secondly, what does the Minister understand to be the role and responsibility of central Government alongside the roles and responsibilities of the devolved Executive in Northern Ireland? Only last week, the Commission for Victims and Survivors laid at the door of central Government in London and Dublin the responsibility for taking matters forward, yet on the very same day, the Secretary of State said that

“we cannot impose. It is up to people in Northern Ireland to work together to decide a strategy going forward.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 848.]

I contend that there are responsibilities on all sides. We cannot simply abrogate our responsibilities to somebody else. Central Government have responsibilities, just like the Executive.

I end, as I began, by paying tribute to the hon. Member for South Antrim for reminding the House of the forgotten victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Their memory should reinvigorate and spur on our search for the truth and for reconciliation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) on securing this debate. No one can have failed to be moved by what he said. I acknowledge the loss that he has suffered with the murder of members of his family, and the horrible scenes to which he has borne witness. My sympathy and, I am sure, the sympathy of the whole House, is with him.

In the time left to me, I will try to answer all the questions that right hon. and hon. Members have asked me. I recognise and empathise with the suffering of all victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The list of innocent victims read out was a salutary reminder of the horrors and injustices of the past. What struck me more than almost anything else is how many of them were young and were cut off before they reached adulthood.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his statement to the House on 15 June, we should never forget that the overwhelming majority of those who lost their lives in Northern Ireland—some estimate nearly 90%—were killed by terrorists. The brutal terrorist campaigns waged by republican and loyalist paramilitaries caused enormous suffering, whose lasting impact I do not forget, but I remain firmly of the view that there was and is no justification for politically motivated violence. I want to make it clear that the Government absolutely condemn the terrorist crimes that have been committed.

The hon. Member for South Antrim raised a number of important points about Government policy in relation to victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland. He is right to emphasise the importance of addressing victims’ continuing needs. As a UK Minister, I am mindful of the need to recognise that a number of important powers relating to victims’ issues have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Our considered response to the Bloody Sunday inquiry report demonstrates that, for our part, the Government take seriously our responsibilities on the past, but I am firmly of the view that dealing with the past cannot be a matter for the UK Government alone. As the victims commissioners said, an effective approach to the past will be based on political and civic consensus.

To answer the question asked by the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), about the Government’s approach to future inquiries, I can only concur with Justice Minister David Ford, who said:

“We cannot have a Saville-type inquiry for all the tragedies of the past, but the fundamental matter of dealing with the past is something which has to be dealt with collectively by the Executive.”

The shadow Minister also compared the Bloody Sunday inquiry to cases involving other victims. To respond to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), the Prime Minister made it clear in his speech at La Mon House during the general election campaign, and again in his statement on Saville, that no Government he leads will ever put those who uphold democracy and the rule of law on an equivalent footing with those who have sought to destroy it. We will also not be party to a rewrite of history that seeks to give a spurious legitimacy to terrorist campaigns on all sides. I am clear that the state must be determined to judge itself against the highest standards. In relation to the Bloody Sunday inquiry report, the Prime Minister demonstrated how that had to be true and how the state’s standards had to be higher than those elsewhere. It is important that the Government continue to emphasise the crucial distinction between the state’s response to wrongdoing, and the actions and responses of terrorists.

The hon. Member for South Antrim is, of course, right to note that the public inquiries that are under way have proved very costly. The Government are clear that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries. However, our views on the process followed for such inquiries should not detract from the need to consider the substance of their reports when they are published.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) raised the work of the Historical Enquiries Team. The Government have been strongly supportive of the HET, which is investigating 3,261 deaths in the period 1968 to 1998, including deaths from all sides of the community. I understand that the HET has completed 782 reviews relating to cases involving 1,007 victims.

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and the shadow Minister raised the issue of funding for the HET. They will know that responsibility for directly funding the HET now lies with the devolved Administration. However, the Government have made a substantial financial package available to the Northern Ireland Executive to deal with these issues. Despite the pressure on finances, we have honoured the commitments we gave in opposition on the matter. The Government have not directly specified—nor should they—that the Executive should make funds available to the HET or, indeed, to the police ombudsman. That is properly a matter for the Justice Minister and the Executive to decide on. However, the financial package that the Government have provided enables the Justice Minister and the Executive, despite the huge pressure on the public finances, to continue to ensure that such important work has the funding it requires.

On addressing the needs of victims more generally, I welcome the work being done by the First and Deputy First Ministers, the victims’ commissioners and the victims’ forum. Some positive steps in the right direction include the strategy for victims and survivors—published last November—the comprehensive needs assessment being undertaken by the victims’ commission, and the plan to introduce a new victims and survivors service next year. I am very much aware of the role played by voluntary and community groups on the ground in Northern Ireland. As I am sure we would all agree, their work in supporting victims and promoting reconciliation is crucial. I agree with the victims’ commissioner’s view that we must build “from the ground up” when considering how best to deal with the past in Northern Ireland.

A number of issues raised by the hon. Member for South Antrim relate to the broader question of how best to deal with the past in Northern Ireland. I reiterate my view that there is no question of the Government imposing solutions on Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I intend to listen to the views of people from across the community on dealing with the past in Northern Ireland. That listening process will be important in helping to determine the role that the UK Government can play.

I also want to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State and I intend to meet victims and groups from both sides of the community to listen to their views. He has specifically raised a number of cases involving murders committed by republican terrorists. I fully recognise that the memories of those atrocities remain raw for many people in his community. I reassure him that I agree with the point made by the victims’ commissioners that the past cannot be dealt with in a way that holds only the state accountable. The commissioners have identified a number of cases that they note retain iconic significance for the Unionist community. I recognise that that is an important point, and I stress to the hon. Gentleman that the Government will approach the legacy of the past in a measured and impartial manner. It is important that any approach to the past does not seek to favour, or is not perceived as favouring, any particular section of the community.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised a specific question about the past role of the Irish Government. It is of course for the Irish Government to respond directly to specific allegations relating to their past role. However, I recognise the importance of involving the Irish Government in discussions on how best to deal with the legacy of the past. The hon. Gentleman will want to know that the Secretary of State has already had a series of meetings with the Irish Government, and that I will be travelling there shortly. In the Taoiseach’s statement to the Dail last week, he noted that the Irish Government would continue to work with the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on contributing to the healing process in Northern Ireland. I welcome that commitment.

Before I conclude, I shall address some of the points raised during the debate. The shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, asked for an update on progress with the Wright, Nelson and Hamill inquiries. We expect all those inquiries to publish their findings by the end of this year, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will today lay a written statement on the pre-publication process for the Billy Wright inquiry report. Other inquiries will follow a similar process, with a written ministerial statement.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Attorney-General had reopened any inquests and what their costs will be. He will understand that in Northern Ireland, the new Attorney-General has exercised his powers in that regard. With devolution of justice powers, issues such as the cost of specific inquests should now be addressed to the Justice Minister, David Ford. The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the Finucane inquiry, and I can tell him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to the family and offered to meet them. I know he is very keen for that meeting to take place as soon as is practicable. On Ballymurphy, again, the Secretary of State has met the Ballymurphy families and intends to do so again in the very near future.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised the issue of the security file and Gerry Adams. Regarding the publication of any security information held by the Government, he will know that it has been the long-standing policy of successive Governments never to comment on security matters. The hon. Gentleman asked me to meet the victims, and I would of course be happy to meet him and any of the victims he mentioned in his speech. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already met many victims’ groups and will continue to do so.

Today’s debate has been on the Government’s policy on the victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland, and in the time available to me I have tried to show that we do not believe that it is just for the UK Government to impose such a policy on the people of Northern Ireland. If it is to succeed, it must be done in co-operation with the Northern Ireland Executive and, at times, the Irish Government. However, crucially, such a policy can provide some of the answers to the questions we have discussed this morning only if it is done by the people of Northern Ireland—the people who have suffered in the ways we have heard about this morning. I was particularly struck by what the hon. Member for Upper Bann said about wanting our children to have a better future than their parents did. I can think of no better way to end the debate than with a note of cautious optimism. With devolution now working in Northern Ireland, we can all—those of us who have responsibility—work together to make Northern Ireland a better place in the future.