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Omagh Bombing

Volume 827: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 2 February.

“With permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will make a Statement on the Omagh bombing.

The Omagh bombing of 15 August 1998 was an horrific terrorist atrocity committed by the Real IRA that caused untold damage to the families of the 29 people and two unborn children who were tragically killed, and to the 220 people who were injured. It remains the largest loss of life in a single incident in Northern Ireland, and it took place mere months after the signing of the landmark Belfast/Good Friday agreement, just as Northern Ireland had overwhelmingly expressed its desire for a future of peace and stability based on democracy and the principle of consent, and a future without the violence that had dominated the previous three decades and that, once again, caused untold pain and suffering to families on that day in August 1998. That atrocity, as well as other acts of terrorism before and since, had absolutely no justification.

The Omagh bombing has been subject to a number of investigations, both immediately after the event and in subsequent years. This includes the original inquest and the investigations by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and by the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, as well as a review by Sir Peter Gibson, the then Intelligence Services Commissioner, at the request of Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

In 2013 my right honourable friend the Member for Chipping Barnet decided not to establish a public inquiry into the Omagh bombing. Her decision was made in the light of the situation as it was at that time. Michael Gallagher, who lost his son Aiden in the bombing, pursued a judicial review of the decision not to establish a public inquiry into whether there had been a failure to investigate whether the Omagh bomb could have been prevented. Following a short summary judgment in July 2021, the Northern Ireland High Court found in October 2021 that plausible arguments could be made that the state had failed to comply with its obligation under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to take reasonable steps to prevent the bombing.

The Northern Ireland High Court identified four grounds that gave rise to the plausible argument of preventability: the handling and sharing of intelligence; the use of cell phone analysis; whether there was advance knowledge, or reasonable means of knowledge, of the bomb; and whether disruption operations could or should have been mounted, which may have helped to prevent the tragedy. The court did not prescribe the form of investigation that should take place. It left that to be decided by the state authorities.

Since coming into post, I have taken time to carefully consider the full judgment. I have met Mr Gallagher and representatives of the support group he chairs, the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, which works to promote and advocate for the needs of victims of terrorism. I visited the site of the bomb with them—it was a very sobering experience—and crossed the road to the memorial garden that commemorates all those who lost their life. I have also met representatives of Families Moving On, another support group that is doing incredibly valuable work in helping victims and survivors to recover, grow and sustain a sense of well-being. I have listened to the representations of these families and taken their varying perspectives into account.

I have considered important factors such as the independence of any future investigation, the cost to the public purse and how best to allay wider public concern. I have weighed these against the clear findings set out by the court, which we must meet for any investigation to be effective and compliant with our international obligations, and which are at the core of my decision.

I intend to establish an independent statutory inquiry into the Omagh bombing. I have informed Mr Gallagher and members of the Omagh Support and Self Help Group, as well as representatives of Families Moving On, of that decision. The inquiry will focus specifically on the four grounds that the court held as giving rise to plausible arguments that the bombing could have been prevented. The inquiry will also need to take account of the findings of previous investigations in order to avoid duplication.

I know that this is a significant decision, and I am keen to explain to the House why I believe it is also the most appropriate course of action. First, the inquiry will allow us to meet our Article 2 procedural obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, as it will have powers of compulsion and will be capable of compelling the production of documents and witnesses and of subjecting their accounts to scrutiny. The 2008 Gibson review of the Omagh bombing did not have such statutory powers, meaning that Sir Peter Gibson had no means of compelling witness testimony. It is important that any investigation has at its disposal sufficient tools to access all necessary evidence and materials. It is for that reason that I discounted the option of a non-statutory inquiry.

I also discounted referring the Omagh case to the yet-to-be-established independent commission of reconciliation and information recovery, which will be established by the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is being considered in the other place. That new body will have all the powers required to access all evidence and compel witnesses. However, it has been designed to consider cases that occurred before the Belfast/Good Friday agreement was signed on 10 April 1998. That is a well-established approach to distinguish between cases that happened before and after the agreement. I do not think that we should change that approach now, and the legislation setting up the commission has yet to pass into law.

Secondly, an independent statutory inquiry is an appropriate forum for examining the vast volume of national security-sensitive information that the court has deemed to be at the core of the question about whether the bombing could have been prevented. A disclosure protocol will be agreed between the inquiry and all relevant partners to take account of the national security-sensitive material involved in this case.

Thirdly, the inquiry will involve the next of kin and will be open to public scrutiny where possible. That will, of course, need to be balanced against national security considerations. It is important to note that it will not be possible to examine some of the material in public. A final report will be published and will respond to each of the issues identified by the High Court. Justice Horner expressed in his judgment a desire for a simultaneous Article 2-compliant investigation to occur in Ireland. He recognised that it was not in the court’s power to order a cross-border investigation. Nor is it in my power, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to do so, but I remain in close contact with the Irish Government on the issue.

I wish to assure the House that this decision has been taken following careful consideration of the facts, of the findings of the Supreme Court judgment, and of the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope that the decision to establish an independent statutory inquiry gives some comfort to the families who have long campaigned for that outcome. I recognise, however, that not all the families affected by the bombing desire such further investigation. Some have worked hard to process their trauma and move on with their lives, and do not wish to re-examine the past. I hope that the targeted nature of the inquiry, allowing it to answer the four points I have mentioned, will provide the middle ground whereby answers are sought for those who want them without reopening avenues that have already been investigated to satisfaction.

On the next steps, I will now proceed to identify a chair for the inquiry and finalise the terms of reference following consultation with that chair. My intention is that the terms of reference will be heavily based on the grounds set out by the court. Further details will be announced in due course, but it is my full intention to establish the inquiry as promptly as possible and for the investigation to proceed at pace.

It must be remembered that those responsible for the deaths and destruction on that awful day in 1998 are the immoral terrorists. As Justice Horner highlighted:

‘It is important not to forget that the responsibility for this terrible atrocity, the worst in the last 60 years of Northern Ireland’s history, lies with those malevolent and evil dissident republicans who, with complete disregard for human life, planned, planted and detonated a huge bomb among shoppers in Omagh’s town centre on a Saturday afternoon in August.’

I fully concur with those words. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, throughout history there are incidents of such appalling horror that where we were when we heard the news remains embedded in our memories. Many in your Lordships’ House will have sharp and very painful memories of the Omagh bombing atrocity. On 15 August 1998, just months after the people of Northern Ireland supported the Good Friday/Belfast agreement with hope and optimism for a brighter, peaceful and more democratic future, as the Minister indicated in his answers to the Private Notice Question, the close-knit community in Omagh was thrust into the spotlight in the most shocking way possible: 29 people and two unborn children were killed, 220 were injured and the shockwaves were felt throughout Northern Ireland and far beyond.

While for many of us it remains a terrible memory, for far too many others it has blighted their lives as they have struggled with the consequences: some because they lost loved ones or were physically injured, and others because they suffered from the trauma as members of the community. That includes those who worked for the emergency and health services at the time, for whom it took a huge emotional toll. I remember visiting a centre in Omagh which gave support, counselling and therapies, both to those who lived in Omagh and to those who were part of the emergency services, to help them cope. So while for some it is a memory, others are still living with it, and the consequences remain part of their lives every day. As they have said, they want answers and are seeking the truth of what happened to try to reclaim their lives, even though it will never be the same. I pay tribute to those, including Michael Gallagher, who have campaigned for so long.

The Secretary of State’s announcement of an independent statutory inquiry is welcome. In his Statement, he explained why he has agreed to take that step and how the inquiry will work. The Northern Ireland High Court judgment in October 2021 found that plausible arguments could be made that the state had failed to comply with its obligations under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights

“to take reasonable steps to prevent the … bombing”.

We also welcome that the Secretary of State has put victims first in considering this issue. The judge did not define what kind of investigation it would be, but the Omagh families and community are at the very core of this decision—and that is right. We must acknowledge that, for those directly affected, this will not be a pain-free process—getting to the truth never is—and additional support for them may be required.

Whatever the outcomes, nothing can absolve the perpetrators of this atrocity, who retain the ultimate responsibility. The Real IRA knew that their bomb would kill and maim, while others across the whole of Northern Ireland had rejected violence and were working for a better, peaceful future. The bomb was a huge betrayal of Northern Ireland’s desire for peace and reconciliation.

Knowing the Minister’s understanding of these issues, I know that he will not be surprised at the issue I want to raise with him today. As I have said, we generally welcome the approach that the Government are taking, but it is impossible not to note that it is so different from that of the Northern Ireland legacy Bill. With this announcement, the Secretary of State has engaged and responded in a way that has been regularly and widely welcomed. Yet the Bill that the Minister is steering through this House does not have the support of any of the Northern Ireland political parties, does not have the support of those who continue to live with the consequences of the euphemistically named Troubles and does not have the support of this House.

I know that the Minister is able to tell us how hard he has personally engaged across Northern Ireland with those who represent victims and with the political parties. He has done that. But engaging is a two-way process and I am not aware, even with all the work that he has undertaken, that he has managed to deliver any significant support for the Bill going forward. So there is an inconsistency in the Government’s approach to these two issues.

While we welcome the Statement, we look forward to hearing more information going forward, such as who will be the chair and some of the terms of reference. Will the noble Lord and his ministerial colleagues reflect on what has happened and the welcome for this Statement, to see if we can halt that Bill and work in collaboration for a better outcome?

My Lords, I too am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Northern Ireland Secretary’s Statement from last week and I very much echo and agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.

The decision to hold the inquiry is welcome. It is the right decision, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should be commended for it. He listened, and he changed his mind. He has given the families and community in Omagh the hope that they will now learn the truth. As Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden was murdered on that day, said:

“This is not a case of deflecting the blame from those who are responsible—that was the criminal terrorists who planned, prepared and delivered this bomb into Omagh. What we’re looking at is the failings of the people that are there to protect us.”

The murder of 29 people, including two unborn children—twins—happening as it did just months after the signing of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement in 1998 was a truly appalling and barbaric act of an unprecedented scale throughout the Troubles. The devastation to the community and the impact that it has had on the victims and their families, as well as the 220 people who were injured, is almost unimaginable. It is a credit to the peace process that the terrorists did not succeed and it was not derailed.

The Secretary of State said in his Statement,

“the inquiry will allow us to meet our article 2 procedural obligations under the European convention on human rights”.

That is also to be welcomed.

Will the Minister say what he expects to be the timetable now for the announcement of the chair of the inquiry and the publication of the terms of reference? How will he undertake to keep Parliament informed? Like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, I am slightly surprised by the different type of approach to this inquiry from that of the legacy Bill. Will the Minister say a little more about how he imagines this very different process will fit in with the proposals in the current legacy Bill?

The families of the victims and the injured have already waited nearly 25 years. It will, at times, be a difficult and painful process, but as Michael Gallagher has said,

“If we don’t have this process, for the rest of our lives we’re going to be wondering ‘what if’.”

I am sure the noble Baroness will have her opportunity shortly. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith of Basildon and Lady Suttie, for their broad support and welcome for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s announcement.

Before I respond in detail, I would like to place on the record my own heartfelt sympathy for the victims of the terrible bombing that took place on 15 August 1998. As the noble Baroness reminded us, it was only a few short months after all the hope and optimism that was generated by the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Like many noble Lords across the House, I can vividly remember where I was and what I was doing on that terrible Saturday when I heard the news.

I add my own tribute to the Omagh families’ Omagh Support and Self Help Group, and to other groups, such as Families Moving On, for the work that they have done over the years. In particular, I join those who have paid tribute to Michael Gallagher for his campaigning over the years, not just for a public inquiry, but in respect of the civil case which took place over a number of years and identified four culprits behind this dreadful atrocity.

I concur very much with what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said about never forgetting who actually carried out this atrocity. I can do no better in this respect than to quote the judge, Mr Justice Horner, in his ruling on this in the Gallagher court case. He said:

“It is important not to forget that the responsibility for this terrible atrocity, the worst in the last 60 years of Northern Ireland’s history, lies with those malevolent and evil dissident republicans who, with complete disregard for human life, planned, planted and detonated a huge bomb among shoppers in Omagh’s town centre on a Saturday afternoon in August.”

I concur with every one of those words.

I am grateful again to the noble Baroness for her kind words about the Secretary of State. He met the families last week in person, before the Statement, in order to tell them of his decision. As we noted, the families obviously very much welcomed what the Government have announced.

Both noble Baronesses talked about the legacy Bill and the difference in approach. The House will be aware that the legacy Bill itself will deal with Troubles-related cases between 1 January 1966 and 10 April 1998, when the Belfast agreement was reached, so this case is by definition outside the scope of the legislation. Were it to be put in scope, it would have a consequence, which I do not think would be particularly welcomed across the House, of enabling people who were involved in this and subsequent dissident republican activities—people who rejected the Belfast agreement and the peace process—to apply for conditional immunity in certain cases. As I say, I do not think the House would welcome that.

However, I do not entirely accept that there is some kind of total contrast between what we are doing here and what we are doing on legacy. Of course, not every case can have a public inquiry, but the legacy Bill seeks to establish structures, which will enable families to access greater information about what happened to their loved ones in the Troubles, in much the same way that a public inquiry will try to establish the facts of what happened in this particular case. So I do not necessarily accept the premise of the noble Baronesses’ comments.

On their other questions about the chair and terms of reference, we will of course work as quickly as we can to identify the person to chair the inquiry and finalise the terms of reference. I should point out to noble Lords who are not necessarily familiar with the process that the inquiry will be targeted in scope and will investigate the four grounds which the court held could give rise to plausible arguments that there was a real prospect of preventing the Omagh bomb. These relate to the handling and sharing of intelligence; the use of cell phone analysis; whether there was advance knowledge or reasonable means of knowledge of the bomb; and whether disruption operations could or should have been mounted, which may have helped to prevent the tragedy. Those will be the areas on which the inquiry will focus. As I say, we will set this up as quickly as possible. I cannot give a definitive timetable, but I will undertake to keep Parliament informed in the usual ways.

My Lords, for 14 and a half years in the other House, I represented the people of Omagh, and I visited the scene of carnage on the day that the bomb took place. Coming from a family with loved ones brutally murdered, I know the deep anguish and pain that these families have suffered over the years. Sadly, that pain will not go away. Can the Minister assure me that while the inquiry learns the lessons of any failures that may have taken place by security personnel, no focus will be taken from those who planted this bomb and carried out this despicable, murderous act, and therefore that every effort will continue to be made to bring those responsible to justice?

I fully acknowledge the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, and I am well aware that he has, sadly, during his political and ministerial career—ministerial in a religious sense—had to officiate at funerals and bury many loved ones over the years. On his specific question, as I indicated earlier, the people who are responsible for this vile atrocity are of course the terrorists who carried it out and nothing should detract whatever from that. I concur entirely with his comments in that regard.

My Lords, I declare an interest: I carried out an investigation into matters relating to the Omagh bomb and published a report in December 2001. I very much welcome the announcement of this inquiry and pay tribute to Michael Gallagher and all those who have fought for knowledge of what happened on that terrible day. When I published my report—I remind the House that I had only the powers to investigate the police—I said:

“The persons responsible for the Omagh bombing are the terrorists who planned and executed the atrocity. Nothing contained in this report should detract from that clear and unequivocal fact.”

I repeat that today. I express my sympathy to all those affected by the bomb, because, as noble Lords have said, this is going to be a very traumatic and difficult experience for them, because it will raise again the things that they have suffered for so long.

I shall just ask the Minister a couple of questions. Can he assure the House, because of the questions that have been asked in the media, that this will be an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005? Can he assure the House that the terms of reference will be sufficiently wide and, in particular, that they will encompass all intelligence and information received prior to the Omagh bomb which related to Omagh, and that it will not refer only to—I quote from the Statement—“knowledge of the bomb”? I ask this in light of the fact that detailed information was received on 4 August 1998 by the police that there would be an attack on police in Omagh on 15 August, the day on which the bomb exploded. It is vital that all intelligence is capable of being considered by this inquiry.

Finally, I join noble colleagues in asking the Minister whether—in light of this recognition of the Government’s legal obligations and the fact that those legal obligations did not terminate as a consequence of the Good Friday agreement, nor was it ever the intention of those who entered into the Good Friday agreement that it would effectively act as a statute of limitations in any way—he can confirm that His Majesty’s Government will now withdraw the Northern Ireland Troubles Bill. It is not compliant with those legal obligations.

It is with some trepidation that I rise to answer the questions of the noble Baroness, given her previous role as a distinguished Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland: she probably knows as much about this case as any other living person. In answer to her questions, of course I can confirm that the inquiry will take place under the Inquiries Act 2005. The inquiry will have full powers of compulsion and access to all the relevant material. Naturally, we expect as much of the inquiry as possible to be conducted in public, but as she will understand, some of the material will be of such a national security-sensitive status that it will not be possible in all circumstances.

On the terms of reference, I refer to the targeted nature of the inquiry in respect of those areas where the judge has held that we have not fully discharged our obligations. The final terms of reference are, of course, a matter to be decided between His Majesty’s Government and the individual who chairs the inquiry, but I very much take on board the noble Baroness’s comments about the Northern Ireland legacy Bill, which has been debated extensively in your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place produced a report on Omagh under my chairmanship, and I take this opportunity of saluting the courageous persistence of Mr Gallagher and others, which has led to today. I also take up the point just made by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan. If one had to categorise the Statement, I would say that its hallmark was sensitivity. The problem with the Bill is that its hallmark is insensitivity, and frankly I believe that it is incompatible with beginning this inquiry to continue with the Bill. My noble friend has handled this with extreme care, but will he have a special conversation with the Secretary of State, who made this Statement last week, and say to him, “Really, as far as the legacy Bill is concerned, enough is enough. Let’s start again”?

I am grateful, as always, to my noble friend for his kind words. He makes his case with customary force and eloquence. Of course, we have yet to complete Committee on the legacy Bill in your Lordships’ House, there is still a further amending stage to come after that, and I remain committed to fulfilling the pledge that I have made on a number of occasions, from this Dispatch Box and elsewhere, to do whatever I can to improve the legislation and to send it back to the House of Commons in a much better state than when the House of Commons sent it to us. I will, of course, continue to have discussions with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State towards that end.

My Lords, first, I send my best wishes and support to all the families impacted by the Omagh bomb, many of whom I know very well. They will never forget who it was that planned, prepared and executed the bomb in Omagh on that fateful day. Indeed, the Real IRA planned and prepared for the bomb in the Republic of Ireland and then executed its dastardly actions in Omagh.

In the Statement, mention was made of the fact that Mr Justice Horner hoped that the Irish Government would also undertake an Article 2 investigation into what happened in the run-up to the execution of the Omagh bomb. I am afraid to say that the Irish Government’s record on dealing with legacy in Northern Ireland is at best patchy and at worst non-existent. I have had the great honour and privilege to attend, with many victims’ groups, meetings in the Dáil and in Dublin Castle with various Governments of various different hues. We did receive tea and sympathy; I have to say that we received little else. Will His Majesty’s Government now put pressure on the Irish Government to hold a similar inquiry in the Republic of Ireland? The bomb was planned and prepared in a different jurisdiction, and if we are to get totality of answers for the people of Omagh, then that needs to happen as well.

I am most grateful to my noble friend for her comments and question. She will be aware that, in the course of meeting many victims’ groups in Northern Ireland, I have had similar points put to me, not least by the South East Fermanagh Foundation in the constituency the noble Baroness used to represent in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Others have made the similar points over the years also. My noble friend is right to point out that Justice Horner did express a desire that a simultaneous Article 2-compliant investigation should occur in Ireland. He recognised it was not within the court’s power to order a cross-border investigation, and nor is it in the power of His Majesty’s Government to compel the Irish Government to do so. However, it is an issue which I take seriously, as do many others, and I will raise this again, including when I next see Irish Ministers to discuss legacy matters in Dublin or elsewhere, which I hope to do very soon.

My Lords, I support this decision while noting, as other noble Lords have done, including the Minister himself, that we cannot fully scrutinise it until we know who the chair will be and the finalised terms of reference for the inquiry. I wish to associate myself with the words of sympathy, support and admiration for the Omagh families, and Michael Gallagher in particular, who tragically lost his son, Aiden, in this dreadful atrocity. They have shown amazing resilience.

I commend this Statement in particular because I think it very fully sets out the history of investigations and inquiry thus far and shares with us the factors which were taken into consideration by the Secretary of State, the department and, I suspect, the Minister who is answering these questions, in coming to this decision.

Following on from the question the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, asked the Minister, does the Minister appreciate that the process of thought in this Statement, which inexorably leads to the conclusion that a judicial inquiry is necessary to meet the Government’s Article 2 procedural obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, provides a template for any future legal challenge that will undoubtedly follow the passing and implementation of the provisions of the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, if it passes this House in its present form?

I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is another distinguished former Northern Ireland Office Minister. He referred to Article 2 obligations, and of course His Majesty’s Government do take those obligations very seriously and considered them carefully when coming to the decision in this case. I am grateful to him for his support for the decision that has been taken. He will be aware, notwithstanding, that it would simply be impossible to have a public inquiry into every unsolved killing in the Troubles. What we are trying to do in the legacy Bill, as I have explained on a number of occasions, is provide more information about what happened to loved ones, victims and survivors of terrorism. We are confident that the bodies that will be established under that legislation, should it pass your Lordships’ House, would be Article 2-compliant and the noble Lord will be aware that I brought forward amendments in Committee to make it very clear on the face of the Bill that Article 2 obligations would be met. I will continue to look at that issue as it progresses further through your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I too join in tributes to the families of the victims of the Omagh atrocity, and to Michael Gallagher in particular, whom many of us have met, for his courage and bravery. I also plead that, in all of this, we remember that terrorists were responsible for this atrocity.

I add to the calls for the Irish Republic to be put under pressure to do more in relation to this, and to other areas where the IRA carried out terrorist activity in Northern Ireland and found a safe haven in the Irish Republic for many, many years. I refer to the recent case where the sole survivor of the Kingsmill massacre, which again has been found to be a totally sectarian murder of Protestant workmen by the IRA, has been forbidden from revealing secret Garda evidence about the attack, following special legislation passed in the Dáil to prevent that becoming transparent and open to the public. Many of us are really concerned about the lack of input from the Irish Republic in getting justice for victims. I urge the Minister to continue to press the Irish Republic on this matter.

I am of course aware of the case to which he refers. I do not think it would be appropriate for me, at the Dispatch Box, to comment directly on a case which is still live and ongoing. However, I do hear the comments of my noble friend very loud and clear and, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, I will raise these issues when I next meet Ministers from the Irish Government.

My Lords, I join with voices from all sides of this House in welcoming this inquiry and pass my sympathy and thoughts to the families of this horrendous and heinous crime.

In response to a number of questions, the Minister has rightly indicated that the focus should remain: we must not be deflected from focusing on the perpetrators of this evil act. Will he agree also that, whatever direction the inquiry takes, it should not be exploited by some others to try to deflect that focus, either by turning the security forces into scapegoats or by trying to besmirch the bravery of their actions down the years in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful to my noble friend, who makes a very important point. Of course, the inquiry will be established and set about its work, which it will do thoroughly, and in due course a report will be published. My noble friend makes a hugely important point about the security forces. We all acknowledge that mistakes were made in the course of Operation Banner; I speak as somebody who helped to write David Cameron’s Statement in response to the Saville inquiry in June 2010. However, as I have always maintained, over the course of 30 years, over 250,000 people served in the security forces and the overwhelming majority did so with great bravery, distinction and restraint. I put on record again that, without the service and sacrifice of the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross and our Armed Forces, there would have been no peace process in Northern Ireland, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

My Lords, I remember that terrible day, in particular because I received a telephone call from the office of the then Prince of Wales to check a small historical point with me. It was borne in upon me, as I spoke to one of his Private Secretaries, how deeply the then heir to the Throne was affected by the news of this awful atrocity. I place this before the House today so that Members are aware of how deeply our now monarch felt about that quite dreadful atrocity.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for bringing that point to the House, and it certainly concurs with the experiences of myself and the Secretaries of State for whom I have worked, who will all attest to His Majesty the King’s huge personal interest in, and affection for, Northern Ireland.