Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill Debate

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Department: Northern Ireland Office
Viscount Brookeborough Portrait Viscount Brookeborough (CB)
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My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, whose stand on terrorism and violence, and what she has done for many years, I admire very much. I do not necessarily come to the same conclusions as her on everything, but she is fully aware of that.

I appreciate, from Northern Ireland’s point of view, the amount of effort that is going into trying to do something about the legacy, especially from the Government Front Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the Liberal Democrat Benches. We must all be grateful for the amount of effort they are putting into this. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, went into the depths of the trauma, and I would like to follow up a little bit on that.

I declare an interest: my wife and I were both in the home-based security forces in Northern Ireland, and my wife looked after the families of those who were suffering from terrorism. We also host a veterans’ mental welfare charity at our home.

Whatever you think about the Bill, it is giving a form of indemnity to people, and we should look at why we are here. Is this setting a precedent in Ireland? It is actually not, because in August 1923, the Republic had an indemnity Act for its own forces and then an amnesty for all prisoners in 1924. In 1961—this is a relatively little-known fact—there was an amnesty in Northern Ireland, passed by the Northern Ireland Government when my grandfather was Prime Minister, for those people who were involved in what was called the “50s trouble”. This is not a precedent way out on its own.

We have to note how and why we got here. We are here because the state and society have failed to convict terrorist criminals over the period of the Troubles. If that had been possible, we would not be here at all. First, we had internment, which failed—as we are all fully aware of—for a lot of reasons. That was a disaster. Secondly, we had the Diplock courts, where we could not run trials with juries because of intimidation, so the trials were decided by one judge, or three judges on appeal. Although Sinn Féin and the terrorists, and the so-called loyalist terrorists, objected to Diplock courts, by their very nature they were slightly less unfriendly to them, because a jury convicts beyond all reasonable doubt, but the judges had to write down why that person was guilty. For those people who say—it has been said here before—that the Diplock court convictions were roughly level with other types of courts and so on, that may be so. However, I am fully aware of some of the particular cases which arose from Fermanagh, and the police and the investigators could not bring them forward because they knew that they would fail in a Diplock court. That was a slight appeasement to the terrorists.

We have heard about letters of comfort. I believe that when the Government, who were talking to Sinn Féin/IRA, got the list of people, they then checked with Northern Ireland investigators whether they had evidence to bring to court. They quite clearly did not, otherwise they would have done so by then. However, their reply went something along the lines of, “Currently we do not”. In the Chinese whispers, “currently” got lost, yet we are all fully aware that forensic science moves on, and convictions and cases—even more civilian-type cases, if you like—suddenly get new evidence, which comes from new forensics and various other things. So, this was an omission that was simply not acceptable, but it happened.

On the decommissioning of weapons, the terrorists decommissioned the weapons they wanted—presumably the ones with the most forensic traces on them—and got rid of them. That was an elimination of evidence.

We then have—it was not brought out for them—in this country, as compared with most modern countries, inadmissible evidence, which comes from telephonic and intercepted sources. We have discussed this in other Bills. As a result, we have quite a good idea of information, which is not evidence, that adds up to the fact that people had actually committed these crimes. However, that evidence is inadmissible.

Then, of course, we also had the release of prisoners.

People may think that the terrorists were discriminate —no, they were not. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has already mentioned the number of people who were killed from both communities. When I was in the regular Army in Belfast, we had come-ons the whole time, where somebody left a device—whether it was a proper device or a hoax—and then a cordon was put in while the real bomb was some distance away. Most of them were IRA, I have to say, and because of the nature of Belfast, the chances of Roman Catholics from west Belfast going past them were incredibly high—and they did go past, and the terrorists never turned a hair. Then, of course, they had to disappear. We should not give much credibility to these terrorists, I am sorry to say.

Under the Bill, the commission must grant immunity on three conditions, which your Lordships are all aware of—I am not going to waste time going through them—but apparently this is unpopular and unacceptable to all parties. Somebody with a certain amount of intelligence said to me the other day, “Don’t you think that that’s not very true? This is a smokescreen by Sinn Féin.” Public relations-wise, Sinn Féin has to continue to hope that some members of the security forces will be brought to court for things that they should not have done. That is what its PR position is. However, Sinn Féin is very practical about this, and the numbers of terrorists we are talking about—I admit that there were loyalist ones as well—far outnumbers those people; we are talking about a multiple of 100, 200 or 300. However, the Bill is here and it will probably go through—QED, Sinn Féin gets what it ultimately wants: a clean sheet for all those people.

So, we must be aware of the effects of the Bill in giving immunity. Is the bar on this evidence going to be high enough? If somebody admits to driving a car and being part of an incident—there were sometimes 20 or 30 people, especially on border incidents—are they going to be obligated to give the other names? Where do we go from there? This is going to rattle down the thing. I cannot see how somebody making an admission of what they did could avoid giving the names of their fellow conspirators. What is going to happen here?

What we really have to look at are the ordinary people and the families, and what it was like. I will focus on the families of security forces, prison officers—people who contracted for the Government. We lived with constant tension and threat every minute. We had bomb detectors on our cars and alarm rockets on our houses. We were armed at all times, whether it was going out to dinner, going to church, or whatever. Some of our houses were seriously targeted, where SAS or covert people were even put into them. It may sound funny, because it is more like “Yes Minister”, but there were gas mask drills for the families. It went to that extent.

These were serious times. Down with us, a policeman was being covered by the very best of soldiers, but they were withdrawn when the threat had supposedly gone down, and he was shot the next night. We did pattern of life studies for all our soldiers and everybody we connected with so that they could be covered. The bin lorry, with two soldiers on it, was covered 24 hours a day by a plain clothes patrol. They were called “pixies” by some. Bus drivers were also covered—it was everybody who had a routine. From my point of view, when I was lambing ewes at three in the morning, there would always be a police car somewhere locally for the same reason. That is what people were living under, and it did not produce anything other than an awful lot of stress.

Soldiers, victims and the community suffer from intergenerational trauma. We have heard about that, but we should look at it. Perhaps overidentification with victims causes trauma—the term used is vicarious traumatisation—among people who are so close to the victim. It is not just families; it is also friends. If one of your friends came to the attention of terrorists, it would affect you too. So, this goes much wider than just the victims. According to Children in Need, PTSD in parents translates into very much higher rates of ADHD in children. We have instances in our charity where the trauma has gone down to grandchildren—this is serious. People also say that when parents are stressed, babies and children lack bonding in their formative years because their parents are not smiling. This is serious stuff. It is not just the victim but an ever-increasing cascade of traumatised people. It is vast.

There was a study published in the National Library of Medicine in Maryland on its intergenerational effects. It says:

“Intergenerational transmission of memory is a process by which biographical knowledge contributes to the construction of collective memory—

which we have been talking about—

“(representation of a shared past).”

Participants were children from Croatia and were asked to recall the 10 most important events that occurred in one of their parents’ lives. Approximately two-thirds of people from eastern Croatia, where there was more conflict, and one-half of people from western Croatia, where there was slightly less violence, reported war-related events from their parents’ lives. War-related memories impacted the second generation’s identity to a greater extent than non-war-related ones, so it is totally out of proportion with all this violence.

From our area, I knew three brothers who were soldiers. Jimmy was ambushed when he was going to work on a school bus in the morning. Luckily, he was only wounded. He was then shot months later in Derrylin on a school bus, in among all the children. Ronnie was shot delivering vegetables for a shop, about eight months or a year later. Cecil had married across the community and was killed on the doorstep when visiting his wife’s family in Donagh. Their sister Hilary who joined up—and the ladies were not the fighting part—was killed in a hit and run accident while serving her country on a VCP. Look at the trauma and look at where it all goes.

Then, of course, you have Enniskillen and the Omagh bombing and enough said about them—but there is never enough said about them. Therefore, the effect of the Bill is to give terrorists a get out of jail free card while yet again doing little or nothing for terrorists’ victims, their wider families and their friends. The mental trauma continues. Why are people, especially Sinn Féin, allowed to glorify terrorism? We have heard about it almost daily. This is psychologically induced, perpetuated trauma, which is an issue and an effect. It is also far too commonly believed that knowing more will help give closure to the victims. I am not suggesting that it may not help but, when I talk to the bereaved and injured, they say this will not give closure. What they want is some form of accountability for what has happened.

There is virtually no glorification of the successes of security forces by themselves or by the peaceful majority. That does not happen and would be totally unacceptable among our peaceful communities on both sides of the religious divide. I would just ask that when we talk about the hurt and lasting feeling of injustice, people understand that it is not a skin-deep protest. This is real and the grief is normally dealt with privately—and most people like to deal with it privately—but it becomes public when tormented by glorification of terrorism and the constant appeasement of those groups.

I hope we will see that this Bill might work with amendments that will come through and I thank the Government for being prepared to accept them.