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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Would the noble Lord apply the same language to the Protestant terrorists who have killed rather more Catholics than the other way round?
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, in reply to the noble Earl, I thought I had made it clear that when I referred to terrorism I was condemning terrorism of every kind, from whatever quarter it comes, just as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and I have done throughout our entire time in Parliament. I make no distinction; they are all equally evil men.
So, today we are doing the bidding of the terrorists. It should be remembered that the Bill extends to the whole of the United Kingdom. Those noble Lords learned in the law will be disturbed to see that the core of the Bill, Clauses 3, 4 and 5, totally ignore the grieving families, but concentrates on protection for the murderers, providing for amnesty, immunity from disclosure of facts likely to lead to criminal proceedings anywhere in the United Kingdom. It does the cause of truth no good for anyone to say that these are not amnesties, immunities from disclosures, because the general perception throughout the United Kingdom at all levels and in all classes of people of all political views is that the acts are exactly what those words mean.
Further protection is provided in the cover-up in Clause 3. It places an absolute ban on disclosure of information uncovered in locating the remains and evidence as to where, when and how the victims were executed. It should also be noted that under Clause 3(2), if any person has been charged with that or any other criminal offence the information can be disclosed in his defence. That latter provision illustrates the professionalism of the legal guidance available to
The shear fiendishness of the terrorists of all classes and creeds has forced the two Governments into a high risk strategy of extracting yet another concession from the First Minister, Mr. Trimble. Her Majesty's Government are under no obligation to heed me, but I cannot believe that they will disregard all the assessments from the field of deep intelligence, despite the regrettable publication of the names of those who are now put at risk. Therefore, I conclude with a plea to the Government. Think again while there is yet time; time which may be measured in the interval between this Second Reading debate and the Committee stage next week.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the very title of the Bill fills me with great sadness. It is the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill. It is not about the former Soviet Union, or Rwanda or Indonesia, where terrible murders have taken place. This Bill relates to the United Kingdom. Of all the legislation that has passed through both Houses since I came here more than 30 years ago, I find this the most unacceptable. I cannot understand the two democratic Governments, the Irish and British Governments, freely elected on a democratic franchise; a Parliament in Dublin which has one Sinn Feiner and a British Parliament which has two Sinn Feiners who have never taken their seats. Those people are dictating what the two Governments should do in relation to those bodies.
When listening with great interest to my noble friend Lord Dubs, I had vivid recollections of my term as an MP in West Belfast, Northern Ireland, when people went missing and rumours circulated about their murder and abduction. Perhaps I may illustrate one case. A lady called Jean McConville lived in Divis flats. She was a widow with 10 children. Her husband had died four months previously. One evening a gun battle was taking place between the British Army and the IRA outside her home. Some people would say that she foolishly opened her door to see what was happening. She went outside to find a British soldier lying dying where he had been shot by the IRA. She cradled him in her arms until he died. For that act of humanity, the next day the IRA called and took her away. They murdered her. Devastation was brought to that family, where the father had died four months previously. Ten young orphans were then handed out to different charitable societies and homes and lost each other. Helen McKendry, her daughter, who has been so courageous over the past years, tried to bring up what was left of the family.
The IRA took that woman away, as they did so many other people. They not only took them away and murdered them, but they then intimidated their relatives: "Do not say anything or we will murder you." For many years the relatives were unable to speak, until the recent cease-fires. Helen McKendry found the courage, with her husband, Seamus, to speak out against what
I pay tribute to a brilliant young Belfast Telegraph reporter by the name of Gail Walker who wrote a very poignant profile of Helen McKendry. Then the people in Northern Ireland who had been school children when these things happened were able to read the awful circumstances in which those murders took place.
I was in Northern Ireland for the past three weekends, and I have spoken to Protestants and Catholics about the Bill since the announcement was made on 29th March. There is deep and bitter resentment among those who believe in democracy and believe that justice can be obtained through legislation, and that parliaments for which they have voted will take a stand against murderers and gunmen. The people in Northern Ireland are now aware of the awful anguish that was inflicted on those families for far too long.
The Bill has nothing to do with the Belfast agreement; it has nothing to do with the peace process; this Bill is about appeasing the IRA. I cannot anticipate what will be said by noble Lords who follow me, but I am certain that if they are from Northern Ireland they will express the same point of view as the one I am expressing.
I attended last week in the other place and then spent a most depressing weekend reading the reports of the Second Reading and Committee stages of the Bill. Ministers were doing their damnedest to justify having made this further appeasement to the IRA. I found it absolutely sickening. One speaker stated that those who had spoken on the Bill referred to it as being obnoxious, obscene, distasteful and disgusting. That is no exaggeration. I have mentally ransacked Roget's Thesaurus to find other words which convey my detestation of the Bill and its further surrender to demands of the IRA.
The background to the Bill should be understood in the context of the families that have suffered so grievously. I met some of them here last week. They were my constituents, and they told me of some of their experiences. Members of Sinn Fein, which has no connection with the IRA, went to some of those victims and said: "We have good news for you; you can now bank on getting your bodies back". Who gave that information to Sinn Fein? The Minister in the other place stated that there was no contact with the IRA and that it was done through an intermediary. There are intermediaries from Sinn Fein running in and out of Downing Street every day of the week, so they do not have to go very far to know who speaks for and who speaks against the IRA.
The Bill flies in the face of every concept of democracy as we know it in these islands. I repeat that two democratically elected parliaments are now bowing to a demand and a threat by the IRA. Some people in Northern Ireland have asked me whether this is all about keeping bombs out of England. Is that what this blackmail is all about?
On 29th March this year the IRA issued a statement, stating that they were prepared to identify the location of nine of the bodies. Some of the relatives contacted me that very evening and said: "Gerry, isn't it great, after all these years; we are going to get our loved ones back?". Within 48 hours the IRA had issued another statement, saying: "There is a pre-condition". This is the party that is always talking about pre-conditions, particularly in relation to decommissioning. They said: "Oh, no, we are not going to identify them until you give us an amnesty".
My noble friends will talk around the words of the Bill, but we all know that this is an amnesty. No-one will be brought before the courts for having committed these murders: otherwise, the IRA would never have agreed. The IRA will not make an agreement whereby their murderers will be brought before the court. They are now prolonging the agony. In answer to repeated questions in the other place, the Minister said he could give no guarantee that the bodies will ever be recovered.
I say with some degree of sadness that there were only two Government Back-Benchers in the other place when these issues were being debated. Roger Stott came in at a later stage for a few minutes. I would like to think that Members, by their absence, were indicating that they could not give wholehearted support to the Bill.
Those people from Northern Ireland feel the injustice of the Bill in their bones, as I do. The Minister asked why, as the Tories had granted some form of immunity on the decommissioning issue, we are so opposed to granting immunity. The two cases are entirely different. Anyone who is going to give information on where to find arms is in a totally different position from the person who is going to give information about a murder that has already been committed. Murder is the greatest crime in the English criminal calendar. It has absolutely nothing to do with decommissioning.
I have found it very difficult over the past two or three weeks to reply to people who have said: "Gerry, what would you do? You are only prolonging the agony of the people who want those bodies back. Please let it go through because the IRA will realise they have been appeased and they will release the bodies". I am not sure that they ever will do so. I want to place on record--although I probably do not need to--that my life in politics, from a Belfast city councillor to my arrival here, will show that I have the greatest and utmost sympathy in every fibre of my being with those who want the return of their loved ones so that they can give
Last Friday evening, after a marathon session in Downing Street with the political parties, the Prime Minister issued a statement. He said that he was setting a deadline of 30th June for the culmination of the talks between the political parties in Northern Ireland in relation to the Belfast agreement. That is yet another deadline. However, he said that that deadline will be the final one and that agreement had to be found by 30th June.
If deadlines have to be met, and that is the final deadline, it is all right for the Prime Minister to lay down a deadline again to freely elected representatives from Northern Ireland, no matter how much they may disagree with each other. But he referred to 30th June, the date on which he demands that the political parties find agreement. Perhaps he could also say that those bodies must be returned on that date, so that we would have a date on which those bodies will be returned and that will prove the bona fides of both Governments.
I have spoken at some length and I could go on as this is an issue with which I feel personally involved. This Bill is a shabby deal, in violation of every concept of democracy and humanity as we know them. I could never support this Bill in the Lobbies if there were to be a vote.
Lord Blease: My Lords, I support the Bill for a number of reasons, but largely on the ground of the full support it was accorded in another place, the elected Chamber of the United Kingdom. At Second Reading on 10th May, after four hours of debate, the Bill was agreed on a Division by 289 votes to 10. Only three Northern Ireland Members of the House of Commons opposed the Bill. Two days later, following almost five hours of debate in Committee and on Third Reading, the Bill was approved by 324 votes to 5, only four Northern Ireland Members opposing the measure.
It is understandable, in the existing highly charged political situation in Northern Ireland, that the sensitive and difficult nature of the laws governing terrorism and murder are being challenged. However, issues arising from the experiences and suffering of families who have not been told where their loved ones have been buried must be addressed. In the interests of humanity, reason and justice--by all means let us uphold justice--we must be sensitive enough to distinguish between the vicious and the unfortunate, between the media hype and the real, meaningful, neighbourly actions concerning the families of the disappeared.
The heart-rending stories of the victims of sectarian, bigoted, terrorist actions are distressing and harrowing. That goes for those who received the dead, those who nursed the dying and those who mourn without the bodies. The agonising suffering of the families who have not been told where their loved ones are buried must be given our earnest compassion. We must distinguish between the vicious and the unfortunate.
Noble Lords will have received reading material from organisations representing the families of the disappeared in Northern Ireland. I know that some noble Lords have already promised to visit. Some of the organisations span the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Catholics, Protestants, nationalists and unionists are gathered together in the group, not only those who are residents of the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Noble Lords are looking forward to meeting some of them.
Perhaps it would be relevant and helpful if I read an extract from one of the group's papers. I shall paraphrase, as the style is different from that which I could use before your Lordships: "As a victims' group we would normally oppose such legislation, an Act that proposes forensic evidence may not be used in relation to a conviction of any terrorist. However, realising there is no other way to obtain the remains of our loved ones, we would plead, in this instance, to dismiss any thoughts for the actual perpetrators. We are acutely aware of our feelings concerning them. We invite noble Lords to concentrate on the loss, the grief and the deep and lasting feelings of the victims."
Another note states, and again I paraphrase: "In our Shankill Stress and Trauma Group we represent 90 per cent of victims where no known perpetrator has ever been brought to justice." I am referring to instances where bodies have already been buried, particularly in circumstances when there was no respectful burial. The note adds: "We all realise that we have gone beyond our sense of personal feelings for such perpetrators."
Such in-depth feelings go beyond the ordinary feelings of human beings who have suffered murder at the hands of terrorists. Those who cannot grieve and do not have a grave by which to remember the victims have an additional suffering. We know what that would mean to most of us in normal circumstances.
The note continues: "However, we have found some relief by bringing into force the special time of mourning with our families, friends and loved ones, the remedial, peaceable, simple act of remembrance." So they come together for an act of remembrance for those whose burial place they do not know.
The note adds: "We invite noble Lords to support the Bill. Focus your attention and sense of humanity on the grief and continuing agony of the families of the disappeared. They need to have the remains of their loved ones buried, not in mud and concrete, but in a consecrated place and a place of eternal rest."
I believe that the Bill, when enacted, will go a long way to meet the needs of the families of the disappeared. I am aware that it is difficult, but so are many acts of justice. We should recognise that justice must follow with a sense of mercy and, above all, those who preach it must walk honourably before God.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, this is a most unfortunate Bill. It has resurrected memories in many of us which we hoped to have forgotten. The disappeared to whom we refer are all victims of the most
The apparent object of this Bill is to facilitate the return of victims' remains to their families in order that they can arrange a Christian burial. But it is not as simple as that and it is important to understand the circumstances.
This was a group of murders that took place in the 1970s. At that time the provisional IRA was determined to control what it called "their areas" and no opposition was tolerated. If anyone was suspected of informing on or opposing the IRA in any way, they were abducted and never seen again. They were tortured and mutilated. If they survived the torture, they were taken in front of a kangaroo court, sentenced to death and shot. The bodies were disposed of, generally believed to be in the most convenient way such as being buried in concrete foundations or under roadworks. I shall be surprised if any of them were buried in a place where the remains can be recovered. With the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I do not believe that any of them will be found.
All that must be recognised to realise that they were not ordinary murders--if there is such a thing as an "ordinary" murder. They were the vilest of crimes. The terrorists allowed some details of their horrific acts to leak out so that others would know what would happen to them if they did not accept IRA control.
The IRA policy remains in place in 1999 but the methods have changed. IRA/Sinn Fein has mounted a well orchestrated campaign to discredit the RUC and is attempting to ensure that the police service is rearranged in a way which will allow it to organise community policing. IRA/Sinn Fein will then remain in control of "their areas". But it has been embarrassed by the continuing pleas of the families of its victims of murder 20 or more years ago. The way it overcame that embarrassment was to request the Government to give it this amnesty; it will help it to get "Brownie" points from the families of victims, and it will be able to say what it persuaded governments in both parts of Ireland to do to locate victims' remains. It is significant that this Bill deals with location rather than return, which is most unlikely.
Governments are claiming that this Bill and the international agreements they signed are in response to the pleas from the families of the victims. I have no doubt that it is another example of the Government's desire to accede to every request from IRA/Sinn Fein. Why our Government with the Government of the Republic of Ireland signed this agreement in such haste speaks much for what they are doing. Now they seek power to tamper with the criminal law. That is very hard to understand and, like the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne--with my far less experience of Parliament than his--I never thought that I would be faced with a Bill which attempts to tamper with the criminal law to please terrorists.
I respect the wishes of the victims' families, with whom I have every possible sympathy. I remember at the time of these murders how much we felt for those families. They were in their own communities having
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and in a different way I am saying the same thing. I feel exactly as they do. This is not a Bill to which I can give my support.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I do not need to come from Northern Ireland to share the feelings of horror and disgust expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. We are being asked to rush a hateful Bill through the House. The last time we had to rush a Bill through the House happened after Omagh; it was the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill. The Prime Minister said,
"twenty years ago the Army Council issued a directive that anyone executed by the IRA"-- note the effrontery of its word for murder--
"should be left for their families. Prior to this directive, in the 1970s, the IRA was responsible for the execution and burial of a small number of people". The spokesman went on to say,
"Last autumn  the IRA established a special unit under the command of one of our most senior officers to ascertain the whereabouts of those graves". He added that the passage of time, changes in leadership and the deaths of some IRA members had made that difficult, but that the work of the unit would continue and when it had established as complete a picture as possible, the relevant families would be notified. That was said eight months ago when the unit had already been established for a year and no conditions were then set.
What guarantee is there that this legislation, which utterly flouts the rule of law, will not be used again? It is of course a matter of extreme concern that even when the legislation is passed and the murderers are safe, the IRA may decide for tactical reasons and in order to bring pressure to bear, not to find those bodies--and certainly not to find those of any family which talks too much or on whose individual behalf we say anything which the IRA does not want said. What guarantee do the Government have that, having secured this automatic amnesty for all its murderers--I beg your pardon, executioners--the IRA will not be stricken with collective amnesia and find itself unable to remember where the bodies are? What sort of freedom fighters, what kind of national patriots could coolly bargain over the bodies of the dead, and those dead their own people? I hope there will be no words of gratitude or praise for them and that this obscenity among laws will not be described as yet another "confidence-building" measure by our Secretary of State; and above all, that it will not constitute a precedent.
I should add that I found it particularly horrifying, though I realise that it is now a standard preface to all Bills, that the Secretary of State should declare the provisions of the Bill to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, when it is a mockery of the human rights of both the families and the victims that the murderers should be both appeased and protected, and the rule of law flouted and set aside.
It is all the more hateful and reprehensible that it seems likely to allow the IRA to impose a double standard upon us in this most delicate area of justice. On the same day as the Secretary of State signed the treaty which gives complete protection and complete anonymity to IRA murderers, the RUC asked for anonymity for police witnesses at the Bloody Sunday inquiry because of well-grounded fears for their personal safety. But the family of one of the Bloody Sunday victims said, through their barrister:
I was glad to hear the Minister speak of the Government's concern for victims. I give him warning that I intend to ask what the Government will now be doing for the many RUC officers and reservists who were blown up, killed or shot over the past years; and who, since their 20s, have been tetraplegics and paraplegics for no other reason than serving their country. They, too, have suffered severely from the present very strict application of the compensation laws. I shall be returning to this issue in the context of the inquiry of Sir Kenneth Bloomfield.
There is one more aspect of this hateful Bill and of the whole question of "The Disappeared". We all know that we cannot even enlarge on what little we know of what goes on behind the iron curtain of silence from the occasional very brave man or woman who speaks out in the nationalist community, without putting them at risk from such grinning hyenas as Gerry Adams. Fortunately there is unimpeachable evidence of what is happening in the Rowe Report on the operation in 1997 of the Northern Ireland Emergency Provisions Act; this was published in June 1998, after the Belfast agreement. It says:
"I agree that there is a reduced amount of terrorist activity, and of course there are ceasefires and the April agreement and a "Yes" vote in the referendum of 22 May. But I have heard and seen real evidence of intimidation exerted by paramilitaries and the fear caused by it. I refer to Chapter 3 above where I survey the facts about the present terrorist situation and in my view those facts demonstrate what is the influence, still, of the paramilitaries. Furthermore, where a jury was empanelled to try a case which had paramilitary connections, jurors reported incidents in which they were obviously intimidated and they were made apprehensive and the trial was therefore aborted; and there were several attempts to complete the trial but each failed, and for the same reason. To my mind the case is a clear illustration that juries cannot yet be asked to try cases where there is a paramilitary connection". Isolated as the republican community is, and despite the strong culture of distrust and even hatred of the forces of law and order which has been inculcated in them, the existence of the rule of law remains a vital part of life in a free country. The IRA is waging a powerful and unrelenting campaign to have the RUC abolished as a result of the report of the Patten Commission, and replaced by a so-called "people's police" or "community police". We all know who they would be. It is, incidentally, difficult to conceive how such "police", who would themselves be dealing in drugs and violence and murdering any troublesome rivals, could co-operate with any international force or even with the forces in the rest of Great Britain or in the Irish Republic. If it cannot secure the outright abolition of the RUC, the IRA, in the name of normalisation, wants it disarmed.
I think that the Government must stop thinking about normalisation in IRA terms. They must recognise that they now need urgently, and have done for many months, to restore the confidence of the good, law abiding majority. If the Bill brings that about it may not have been wholly a disaster, though I have to say that I am not sure, even in the face of the grievous suffering of the families, that I can bring myself not to oppose it should it come to a vote.
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