Finucane result “soon” as Woodward attacks coalition for slow progress on legacy

This a full report of the  Savill debate and replaces Woodward’s bombshell

The unlikely figure of Shaun Woodward has torn open the smooth surface of Westminster consensus by launching an attack on his successor for dilatoriness in tackling the legacy of the Troubles. Despite his criticisms and and government protestations  they were moving as fast as posible, the debate  yielded  few clues about what  should replace public inquries in complex controversial cases beyond a suggestion to look again at Eames/Bradley’s  legacy commission. There was no suggestion of going for comprehensive closure and there was  weary acceptance that Westminster could not pass the whole buck over to Stormont.

In a long and impassioned speech in the debate on the Saville report, Woodward accused Secretary of State Owen Paterson of stalling a decision on a public inquiry into the Finucane murder and dealing with other major incidents like Claudy, Omagh and Ballymurphy.

” We can’t say to the loved ones of Ballymurphy, Omagh and Claudy that there are no mechanism for seeking justice, he said.

Paterson was wrong if he thought the historic enquiries team was the right mechanism or had the right resources for dealing with outstanding major complex cases, although it had won 80% approval from victim’s families.

“To state unequivocally that “there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past” is in my judgment rash, and it is a huge risk. It is a risk not just to the political process, but one that could yet shake the foundations of the peace process itself. Let us give the benefit of the doubt about why he has not yet been able to convey that to Pat Finucane’s family or to tell the families of those who lost loved ones at Balllymurphy, Omagh or Claudy that they will have no inquiry.

What are the Secretary of State’s alternative proposals? What is the mechanism he truly proposes for them to seek the truth, to seek justice? We must all hope he understands that he cannot leave nothing in its place.”

Even if resources were made available, some investigations, such as that into the death of Pat Finucane, could not be carried by a body such as the HET. Although it is fair and works impartially, it is clearly not as fully independent as a public inquiry, and it is not, as Justice Cory would want, international.

Woodward warned Paterson: ” You must avoid suspicions about your motives.”  But  he himself failed to specify an alternative to public inquiries. An answer might be found in the Eames/Bradley report despite the rejection of their idea of  recognition payments.

He accused ministers of “playing politics” when they asked why he had not moved on anyof this in his three years in office.

Winding up the debate Minister of State Hugo Swire stonewalled with  the pious hope that bi- partisanship between the major parties would be preserved.

“There is no question of closing down the past” he said, but his approach to dealing with it  was piecemeal , shared between Westminster, Stormont , and the independent prosecuting authorities and the courts. It was not for the government to alter the HETs’ remit ( It was Stormont’s he meant). Owen Paterson was meeting the Finucane family ” soon” and it was right to make no comment publicly until this happened.

Paul Murphy Woodward’s predecessor insisted the cost should not be an obstacle as “Northern Ireland remains a special case.”

Mark Durkan identified “Ballymurphy, Springhill and Shankill ” as further inquiry cases “as they all involved the Parachute Regiment.” But wider questions should be asked about the thinking of the Government and others in command that day. He also dwelt on unfinished business after Saville.

What has become of the report that was to be prepared by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Defence and given to the Prime Minister. Has that report been prepared? Are there other reports and will they be shared with the House and the wider public?

It is not enough for the present Government to say, “A lot of the questions that arise from Saville are not questions for us.” People might say that the question of prosecutions will fall to the prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland—to the police and the Public Prosecution Service. There is also the issue of whether there are to be prosecutions here in relation to any perjury that may have been committed when the inquiry took evidence here in London.

The question of the inquests is now a devolved matter. Many years ago the inquests that took place could deliver only an open verdict. That was all they could do. Now, in the light of what has become available by means of the Saville report, the families are clear that they want to see that issue addressed. I know that that will have to be followed through other channels, not just here in the House.

Colonel Wilford received an OBE in the Queen’s honours list. I understand that there is an Honours Forfeiture Committee; is it considering the honour that was given to him? It came as a huge insult to people not just in Derry but throughout Ireland because they saw it as his reward for what had happened on Bloody Sunday—for the injustice and murder of that day and for the lies that were concocted and propagated thereafter. What is being done in that regard?

In the years after Bloody Sunday, the families of those victims, like so many of the grieving families of the troubles, received pretty insulting ex gratia payments. They were told in December 1974 that they would receive those very small amounts of money and negligible compensation was awarded in the name of so many of the young dead who were unemployed or who had no dependants.

…the news came on 18 December 1974, The Sun did a cartoon showing Santa with £250 notes coming out of his sack.

MPs who had served in the army in NI made no excuses but gave vivid impressions of what it felt to be on the streets. Among them..

Col Bob Stewart Con

I was a young officer then. I joined my battalion, 1st Battalion the Cheshire Regiment, in January 1970 and the first thing I was told was that I was going to Northern Ireland on operations—my own country. That came as a huge shock.. We did not know what we were doing. We practised dealing with riots at Weeton camp in Lancashire using formations that the British Army had so often used in the past. In the formation, we had snipers, cameramen, diarists and banner-men, and the banner that I was issued said, on one side “Anyone crossing the white line is liable to be shot” and on the other, “Disperse or we fire”. We took that banner to Londonderry, but what was farcical was that the second language on it was Arabic.

We deployed by car ferry to Belfast from Liverpool. I could not believe that. We were there with school trips and cars; it was just astonishing

When the riots came, we were totally surprised. We went down Rossville street and William street in a sort of box formation à la Malaya or Aden. Immediately, we realised that we had made a mistake. About one third of my platoon were hurt, either with broken legs or with burns from petrol bombs. Do you know what? My goodness, we were frightened. I have been under fire quite a lot since then, but I want to tell the House how fearful it was being on the streets in those days and not having an answer as to how to behave. People were banging planks against walls to make it sound like we were under fire.

We did not use CS gas, we certainly did not open fire and we were not even allowed to draw our batons. We took to putting newspaper down the front of our trousers in wads to try to stop our legs being broken by the incoming bricks. I was in 6 Platoon, and my fellow platoon commander, Nigel Hine, in 4 Platoon, was caught by the crowd and had his jaw broken in three places. He bandaged it up and kept going through the night. He was the first officer to receive the MBE for gallantry in Northern Ireland. We were grossly inadequately prepared, and I suspect that that continued all the way through the early ’70s. We did our best, and the last thing that we wanted to do was to open fire. We had the yellow card, and we understood the rules of the yellow card absolutely.

Former Pte Kris Hopkins Con

I was out on patrol with a group of colleagues when we came across a Catholic fireman who had been shot in the head, chest and arm. We tried to save his life, but we failed. His only sin was to be a Catholic in a taxi in a Protestant area. We saw it as our job to try to save him; it was not a bolt-on. It was part of our role to try to save that person’s life, and I was saddened that we did not.

Two members of my unit committed suicide while they were over there, and one lad lost his leg. My regiment, and those before and after, served with great honour and courage. I have worked with the Parachute Regiment, which is fantastic. It consists of men of great honour and courage, and goes back a long time. I had the privilege, as leader of the council, of offering the 4th Battalion the freedom of the city of Bradford just six months ago. It is a privilege to be in their presence. What was done on that day was wrong and horrific, and badly damaged its name, but I tell you it is a good regiment with good people.

Col Patrick Mercer Con was not alone his concerns about he dissident threat – in spite of one SF claim that closure had already been reached

The spirit of amnesty has been mentioned. In the past 38 years, the various inquiries have provided an opportunity for violence and confrontation every time they reached a crossing point. For example, in June, I listened with great interest to a Sinn Fein councillor from Londonderry, who told me that everything would be brightness, sunshine and quiet, that closure had been reached and that people could now be forgiven. I said, “You’re wrong. This will beget violence.” The next day, a 200 lb bomb was delivered outside Aughnacloy police station. It did not go off, but anybody who has failed to notice what is going on in Northern Ireland needs to have their eyes opened.

We are again involved in a campaign by Irish dissidents. It should come as no surprise to anybody who can open a history book—one could start from Wolf Tone or wherever one wishes. However, approximately every 25 years, there is another pulse of violence and we are in the middle—or perhaps at the start—of one now.

Jim Shannon DUP on “one sided justice.

Speaking as a Unionist, I am sick, sore and tired of being told that we must forget the past by those who refuse to forget it and of being told that we must move forward. I am all for moving forward—and fully, totally and absolutely support the political process in Northern Ireland.

I am all for getting the truth—I am the first person to put my hand up for that—but I want truth for other people as well. I want truth for the people at Darkley Hall, the people at La Mon, the people who were at Enniskillen on Remembrance Sunday, and the people who were murdered at Ballydugan. I want the truth for all those people. If we are to have truth, we must have it for everyone, not just for selected people. The fact that this process seems to be trying to obtain the truth for selected people is what annoys me.

Mel Stride Con

I wish to talk briefly about future inquiries. As the Prime Minister has suggested, we have to draw a line under future inquiries of this nature. If we do not, we will get into the business of some kind of hierarchy of victimhood, involving those who should be given this kind of opportunity and those who should not. We must not go down that road. It is time for Northern Ireland to move on. It is time for Northern Ireland to start focusing on the big issues, such as the economy, rather than the past.

There is some inconsistency in the DUP’s position.While they clearly deplore the prospect of a new cycle of inquiries, if there is to be one they want atrocities committed against mainly unionist targets to be included. David Simpson is typical.

The Saville report has also now created a fresh campaign and demand regarding events in Ballymurphy. It is clear that there is now to be an attempt to repeat the entire inquiry cycle all over again. …Yet all across this United Kingdom, whether it be in Aldershot, Birmingham, London, Warrington or all over Northern Ireland, many people—UK citizens—have been abandoned for decades by successive UK Governments. The direct role played by the Irish Republic in the formation, training, financing and arming of the Provisional IRA is a matter of public record. It is a thorny issue, but it is fact. Yet successive UK governments have said nothing and done less than nothing.

Let me again make an appeal to the Government. If Bloody Sunday was different because of the involvement of the state, then so too were the deaths of many UK citizens because of the involvement of the Irish Republic. Without any cost to the UK Treasury, the new coalition Government could press for an inquiry in the Irish Republic. Yet both the Secretary of State and the Minister have yet to make that call. I have to ask why. Why is it that they will not demand the truth? If Bloody Sunday families deserve the truth, then so, too, do all of those other victims in Northern Ireland and on the mainland.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London