Death of British Soldier: Statements.

Thursday, 13 February 1997

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 150 No. 2

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Mr. Manning: Information on Maurice Manning  Zoom on Maurice Manning  By agreement, statements will last 15 minutes and there will be not more than two minutes per speaker.

Mr. Hayes: Information on Brian Hayes  Zoom on Brian Hayes  Last evening, a 23 year old British soldier from Peterborough was shot dead as he manned a checkpoint at Bessbrook, County Armagh. Stephen Restorick was murdered by republicans. He was systematically gunned down by the same group of people who were responsible for the death of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe. Stephen Restorick's death was an attack on the democratic process and it was the work of a fascist organisation which has consistently opposed the views of the overwhelming majority of people on this island. In every sense, his death was an attack on the people.

Those who represent the people in this jurisdiction must respond to such an attack upon them. As a democratically elected body, the Seanad condemns this murder. Our condemnation does not represent, as someone stated, hollow words. Those who attack the people by eliminating members of the security forces in the Republic or Northern Ireland must be brought to justice and must be shunned by the tiny proportion of Irish people who continue to support them.

It is important that loyalists do not respond to this latest provocation. Let us be in no doubt that the intention of the IRA campaign is to provoke loyalists into re-entering its sectarian game. The appeal of every elected Member of the Oireachtas to loyalists is to hold their nerve against such provocation. They must have the total confidence to continue to secure their objectives, solely and exclusively, through peaceful politics.

There is now a greater responsibility on the middle ground of Northern Irish political opinion to reach a compromise. I appeal to the SDLP, the Alliance Party and the Ulster Unionist Party to lead the majority moderate community in Northern Ireland. By making political compromises [139] they will provide the best possible example to the hardliners in both communities in Northern Ireland. The death of Stephen Restorick must spur politicians in Britain and Ireland to solve our problems exclusively through politics. We have the support of the people and we will not fail.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  I am delighted and privileged to have the honour to represent my party. On behalf of my colleagues I must state that we utterly condemn this terrible act of brutality, not against a member of the British Army but against a fellow human being. That is the most important point because every human being has an equal right to life. I condemn the cold, brutal murder of Stephen Restorick. The language of condemnation is never empty or redundant if it is spoken by those with genuine and sincere feelings.

A clear message should be sent to those on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland who engage in violence that they cannot bomb or shoot their way to a place at the negotiating table. It will not happen that way. On the other hand, I firmly believe that the way the peace process has slipped is, in no small measure, due to the British Government's attitude since the outset.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Rubbish.

Mr. Mulcahy: Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  The insistence of the British Prime Minister and his Government on a permanent ceasefire and decommissioning has raised serious questions about the genuineness of their desire for a real, meaningful peace process and a long-term constitutional settlement. Having said that, I condemn out of hand the terrible murder of Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick.

Mr. Maloney: Information on Sean Maloney  Zoom on Sean Maloney  On behalf of the Labour Party, I unreservedly condemn the murder of a young soldier last night. This callous act was carried out by an illegal organisation which does not have the right to take anyone's life, service person or civilian, in the name of the Irish people. However, condemnation will not change the situation in Northern Ireland if the Framework Document is not put in place as the basis for talks.

Sinn Féin is not included in negotiations, and does not seem to want to be, but it represents 14 per cent of the people in Northern Ireland. It was prepared to compromise in the interests of peace and left the attainment of a united Ireland on the back burner during the ceasefire. The Framework Document was a joint response from the British and Irish Governments to the situation in Northern Ireland and a basis for negotiations. The Unionist parties rejected such negotiations and do not want them to take place. However, substantial numbers of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland want discussions to take place to establish an even-handed, constitutional settlement. Sinn Féin was willing to consider arrangements under which Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom for the time [140] being but it has not had much help along the way. Many of the Unionist parties in Northern Ireland do not want to negotiate. The politics of “No surrender” continue to obtain.

Following the establishment of the ceasefire, Great Britain did nothing to try to move the situation forward. The British Government conceded the Framework Document under pressure from the former Taoiseach, Deputy Reynolds, and President Clinton, but it has no intention to follow through on it. It is for this reason that we are faced with the current situation. When the talks commenced, the British did everything possible to sabotage them. Until the British Government obtains the courage to move the process forward and bring everyone on board, including the Irish and American Governments, acts such as that perpetrated last night will continue. I send my party's condolences to the family of Stephen Restorick.

Dr. Henry: Information on Mary E.F. Henry  Zoom on Mary E.F. Henry  I echo the words of Lorraine Mcllroy, the other victim of last night's shooting, who humanised the situation by speaking about the smiling face of a young man she knew from passing through checkpoints in the past. She referred to the simple domestic situation, going out to buy ice cream for her children, which brought her to the checkpoint at Bessbrook and indicated the total disregard of those who shot Stephen Restorick for her and anyone who might have been travelling with her. Ms Mcllroy spoke about the baby chair in the back of her car where her child might have been had her husband not stated that it was too cold for that child to accompany her.

Those who claim they are trying to bring about a united Ireland have an absolute disregard for the vast majority of people living on this island. We cannot but keep repeating that this is not our desire. It is important to take on board Lorraine Mcllroy's statement that, as a Catholic, she feared a message would be sent out that this is what is sought by people of her religion in Northern Ireland and she wanted to assure the international community that this is not the case.

Tonight I am to chair a meeting of the Irish Association at which Cardinal Daly will deliver an address entitled “Is Peace Still Possible?”. Following the actions in Bessbrook last night, I wonder if there are not a substantial number of people within these islands who do not want to make peace possible?

Mr. McAughtry: Information on Sam McAughtry  Zoom on Sam McAughtry  It is my desire to hasten the process whereby the spokesmen for the IRA and other organisations face each other across the negotiating table and debate the only issue that separates them. I have already condemned last night's murder, but condemnation is really a form of steering towards the last shell burst. We should get to the heart of the matter.

If the talks to which I referred took place, I would expect the representatives of this State, the British Government, the Protestant people and [141] those Catholics in Northern Ireland who wish to remain under the United Kingdom's system of Government to assert that only the greater majority in the North may decide when, and under which form of government, Northern Ireland may detach itself from the United Kingdom to form a unity with the Republic. The sooner this meeting takes place the sooner those in Northern Ireland who pay lip service to nationalism, while secretly praying that unity might never come about during their lifetimes, will be forced to come clean.

When this happens, the stark isolation of the IRA's position by the Irish people will be apparent to everyone. From then on, fair and unbiased government of Northern Ireland in the interests of all people will replace unity on the agenda. That is why, through all the years of tragedy, I have urged Unionists to talk to Sinn Féin. The sooner the central core of our problem is faced the better. Too many on both sides have made reputations by choosing the outer circle of the talks process instead of going for the bullseye of direct talks with those who believe in Republican violence and who command less than 4 per cent support on this island.

Mr. Dardis: Information on John Dardis  Zoom on John Dardis  Depressingly, we must again condemn violence on this island. It has been argued that such condemnation is meaningless but nevertheless we must express our horror and dismay at the senseless shooting of young Lance-Bombardier Stephen Restorick in Bessbrook yesterday. We extend our sympathies to his family and friends. His mother was on the radio this morning and displayed more humanity in her little finger than is evident in the whole IRA. The IRA should know, even if they never listen, that this House utterly and completely rejects violence as a political weapon.

This is a democratic institution; our political system is founded on democratic principles and we shall continue to say as often as is necessary in this House that violence and democratic politics do not mix. We cannot take up arms to make our point of view and at every opportunity we must restate our commitment to the negotiated compromises at the heart of democratic politics. The hidden, malign hand of the IRA is obvious in the shooting of Stephen Restorick; but even by the standards of the IRA Army Council's perverted and warped collective mind, what point do they see in the coldblooded murder of a young man? Can they not see that they achieved more in 20 months of peace than they did in over 20 years of war?

They had access to Government Ministers, to the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation, to the airways, to the White House and fundraising in the United States when we had peace. If nothing else, surely Sinn Féin have learned that violence achieves no discernible political end. What do they expect to achieve? That question demands a more coherent reply than that postulated by Mr. Adams this morning, when he said everyone must [142] redouble their efforts to rebuild the peace process. We in this House and other democratic politicians will redouble our efforts, but what are Mr. Adams and his friends prepared to do? Will their redoubled effort be to sanction another killing or two? If the only channel of communication for the IRA is down the barrel of a gun, more and more doors will be rightly closed to them, not just in Ireland but around the world, denying access to the people who pervert the course of peace. We hope for restraint from the loyalists in the face of this provocation. The Governments must continue to talk, but the talking with Sinn Féin is over until they restore the ceasefire we so strongly desire.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I dissociate myself from the tenor of the remarks of Senators Mulcahy and Maloney, which attempted to blame the British Government. That is misguided and plays into the hands of the gunmen. I received a telephone call at 1 a.m. this morning from a friend of mine who is a brilliant young academic from a Catholic Nationalist background in the North of Ireland. He said he was sick and cannot wait to get out of the North. That is the effect of this activity. The decent people are leaving and the North is being left to the brutes.

A cold, cynical and calculated decision was made to attempt to catapult the loyalist paramilitaries back into violence. I appeal to those Protestant paramilitaries not to fall into this trap. A young man's life was cynically regarded as expendable by the IRA in order to achieve this sinister purpose. Sinn Féin gets about 2 per cent of the vote in the Republic and about 12 per cent in the North. They got that vote on a promise of peace, which they have betrayed. It must be made clear that they have forfeited the privileges that went with that promise.

I wish to speak directly to the other young man involved in this, who sat safely concealed in a hedge three quarters of a mile away and pulled the trigger in such a cowardly way. Senator Gordon Wilson said that dirty words do not help but these words are frank and honest. I say to that young man that he is a brute, a coward and a disgrace to this island. I hope in coming years that his conscience begins to work and that it tortures him as the bereaved family and girlfriend must be tortured at this moment.

I believe there will be an end to this in the shape of an amnesty. The two Governments should signal clearly that for any future amnesty the terminal date is today and any crimes of this nature committed from now on will be excluded from the operation of any such amnesty.

I am glad Mr. Adams was interviewed and I look to members of the media to call the spokesmen and apologists for this kind of violence. Although he may not be directly involved, Mr. Adams profits politically from this.

Sitting suspended at 1.15 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.

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