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Northern Ireland Assembly

Tuesday 21 November 2000 (continued)

Mr A Maginness:

We in the SDLP come to this issue in a spirit of reconciliation. We wish to play our part in healing our society's wounds. We fully accept that the needs of those who suffered during the conflict merit greater attention and support. We can never be truly reconciled as a community until the victims of the troubles are reconciled with the rest of society. Unfortunately, the motion and the amendments tabled highlight the partisan and sectarian differences that exist and the failure of the body politic to reach an overall consensus on who is a victim of the troubles.

I regret the tone of the debate so far. I regret that it has been divisive and non-conciliatory. In particular, I regret the tone of Mrs Nelis, who was herself selective about the victims of the troubles.

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Mr C Wilson:

Does the Member agree that the sad reflection on his party today is that over the past 30 years, when violence was being inflicted on the RUC and the security forces, his party was not able to bring itself to support the forces of law and order in Northern Ireland and instead played footsie with its Colleagues in Sinn Féin?

Mr A Maginness:

In the SDLP we have maintained a balanced approach to the problem of conflict in our society, and I reject entirely the partisan remarks that the Member has made.

The motion and the amendments all attempt to be selective and to distinguish groups of people as the sole victims of violence. Therefore on one hand we have solely security force personnel as victims or on the other hand solely civilians as victims. When one starts to differentiate between victims, more problems are created because it is saying that some people, by virtue of their role in society, have suffered more than others. That is not acceptable.

In the SDLP we accept that people are victims if their lives have altered negatively because of the violence and division in our society resulting from the troubles. Essentially, we regard victims as self-defining, and in order to build a new agreed society to heal the wounds of the past, support should be available for all traumatised individuals according to need.

There is no monopoly on pain. The pain of an RUC widow is no different from the pain of the parent of a child killed by a plastic bullet. Orphaned children, whether they are the offspring of paramilitary or military fathers, still suffer the same pain of bereavement and separation. Their financial and material needs are still acute. The disappeared - the victims of kangaroo courts - are as much victims as those unjustly convicted and imprisoned by the regular courts. Whatever an individual's circumstances, victims stand to gain more by recognising their common suffering than by focusing on their differences.

The Assembly would be better served by a more comprehensive motion that recognised the suffering of all victims of the troubles and asked for more assistance for all of them right across the board. I invite the proposer of this motion to withdraw it, as, indeed, those who submitted amendments should withdraw them. It would better serve the House if there were an all-embracing motion that considered the needs of all victims of violence in our community.

Let us engage in a process of healing the divisions within our society and help all those who have been victims. Let us recognise and publicly acknowledge their individual and collective suffering and let us move in that direction in this House. This motion and the amendments, whether intended to or not, are likely to create further divisions and suffering. Through them, we are in danger of ghettoising victims.

This debate, therefore, may extend rather than reduce the suffering of victims and encourage arguments about the right to victim status. We must ask ourselves what we are achieving today in this Assembly debate, which does not have the power to deliver positive change for the people for whom we speak. This motion and the amendments are merely procedural graffiti.

Mr Berry:

I rise to support the motion and also the amendment moved by my Colleague Mr Paisley Jnr. I am sick of listening to the rhetoric of Sinn Féin/IRA representatives here today. It is worth pointing out that there would be no need for such a debate if the IRA had not murdered innocent members of the RUC, the UDR, the RIR, prison officers and Army personnel.

Mr S Wilson:

Does the Member also accept that there would be no need to talk about the Catholic victims of the troubles had it not been for the IRA's killing more Catholics than the Army, the UDR and the police put together?

Mr Berry:

I agree. It is worth pointing out the hypocrisy when Sinn Féin/IRA Members speak in the Chamber about victims. It is sickening that we have had to bring this debate to the Floor, but we had to because of the problems that RUC widows and the widows and families of members of the other security forces have faced over the past 30 years.

I welcome the compensation money that RUC widows are receiving. Sadly, it is too little, too late. The need for that money was greatest when the tragedy happened.

I recall a cold, wintry morning in February 1993 when a telephone call came through to our house at 5 o'clock and my family was told the tragic news that my uncle had been blown to pieces by the IRA. I can understand the grief and the pain because my family and I faced it. My aunt faced life without a husband, and my cousins faced life without a father, because of the cowardly actions of Sinn Féin/IRA. That is when they most needed the money. Sadly, the Government of that time did not provide sufficient money. Money was provided, but it was not enough. I understand the grief that all families go through, especially those of members of the security forces who have been taken from the community in such a cowardly way.

However, I fear that this is a cynical exercise by the Government. It cunningly disguises the fact that when the RUC and the UDR were facing terrorism head-on and there was no talk by the Government of appeasing Republicans, the officers and their families were treated with little generosity. Now, when the RUC is being lambasted by all and sundry, the Government feel that they have to offer something to those hit hard by the troubles. I fear that this is a patriotic recognition of the force that the Government, and some Unionists, want consigned to history. However, I welcome the compensation.

The motion says that money must also be allocated to families of murdered and injured UDR, RIR, prison service and Army members. They must all be recognised. Following the Secretary of State's announcement of compensation money for RUC widows, the UDR widows, prison officer widows and others felt great pain and betrayal. That is why we are debating the matter. We demand that action be taken to ensure that the loved ones of everyone in the security forces who had their lives so tragically taken from them be recognised and awarded compensation.

I am meeting the Secretary of State this Friday, and I will press for equal recognition for UDR widows, prison officers' widows and Army widows. The sacrifice of the widows who endured the heartache of losing their partners to ruthless murderers must be fully recognised. We cannot allow half-hearted compensation payments by the Government; nor should the compensation be sold as a sugar-coated stone to the forgotten victims.

Between 1970 and 1998, 315 people were murdered in County Armagh by the Republican movement. The Assembly would not be discussing victims, RUC officers and their wives and families, or compensation had the IRA not murdered those people. The IRA has wasted the money and has destroyed family circles over the years, so shame on it. The Government must act immediately to show recognition of all security force families.

Mr McElduff:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom aontú leis an mhéid atá ráite cheana féin ag Mary Nelis. Is é an teachtaireacht atá agam go bhfuil gach duine sa tsochaí seo cothrom: tá siad cothrom sa tsaol agus tá siad cothrom sa bhás.

I support Mary Nelis's amendment, which seeks to emphasise that all victims, survivors and relatives are equal with regard to the suffering and grief brought about by the conflict. There is no hierarchy of victims; no one is more equal than others, in spite of what the British Secretary of State may say. Alban Maginness wants to have that equality acknowledged. Mrs Nelis's amendment meets that desire, and therefore I anticipate Mr Maginness's support for it.

I find it difficult to accept that Mr Paisley Jnr is sincere and that he is not trying to use this vexed issue as a political football. Victims of the British State and British death squads are not included in his amendment, nor are the civilians killed by any of the protagonists to the conflict.

It is difficult for any of us to detach ourselves from our political standpoint and the experiences of our communities. I speak as someone whose community has suffered tremendously at the hands of the British Army, the RUC, the UDR, the RIR, the B-Specials, and the Black and Tans. I am a Member of the Tyrone National Graves Association, the function of which is to foster respect for Ireland's patriot dead. I do not apologise for that for one second, but we must try to detach ourselves from the political context. I have here a little booklet that give details of the Ulster Defence Regiment's record of violence against the Nationalist community, but, in the spirit of the debate, I cast it to one side.

The voice of the victims of British State violence is seldom heard. In particular, it is seldom heard on our broadcast media, in UTV and BBC programmes. Nobody went to the home of Aidan McAnespie in Aughnacloy to analyse the family's feelings and listen to their suffering after Aidan was killed by the British Army on his way to a GAA match. I could speak at great length on such matters. I will not make light of anyone's suffering - everyone's suffering is equal. The amendment put down by Mrs Nelis serves us well.

Mr B Hutchinson:

I support Mr Paisley Jnr's amendment. As someone who was incarcerated for 16 years and whose human rights and right to equality suffered at the hands of some prison officers, I still believe that we need to recognise that they were part of this.

I am concerned that Mrs Nelis's amendment does not fit in with this debate. The subject should stand on its own. We would be doing an injustice to the victims of state violence if we were to discuss it now. I have heard people say that they were mostly Republicans. It does not matter whether there was state violence against only one Loyalist or two, there was still state violence against Loyalists. That debate needs to happen, but not as an amendment tagged on to a motion concerning the security forces. The matter should be debated in its own right.

With regard to compensation payments to the Prison Service, I accept that those people did serve. Their families sat at home wondering whether they would return, just as the families of members of the RUC, the UDR and other people did. They had to go through the daily security routine of closing their doors, looking through cameras and checking under their cars for bombs. The threat was not just from Republicans, it was from Loyalists as well - I recognise that. We should recognise that there are victims on all sides, but today our focus is on the security forces, and I would like to keep it there.

I do not support the amendment lightly. Members of my party and I have suffered in prison; some of my colleagues died there. However, I recognise the suffering of the people who were in the Prison Service and of their families. We forget that the families were victims as well, just as we forget that people such as myself and other prisoners were not the only people who served sentences.

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Our families served the sentences with us, yet they were totally innocent. They were not guilty of anything but being our family members. We should remember them and the prison officers who served there.

The Secretary of State could also have used this opportunity to recognise the service of members of the Prison Service, but it was left to Mr Paisley Jnr to bring the issue to the attention of the Assembly and society. We must thank him for that.

In my 16 years of incarceration I regarded the prison staff as the enemy. I have come to recognise that my enemies of yesterday are not necessarily my future enemies, which is where I am focused. I want to make sure that both Republicans and members of the security forces can co-operate in the future. We must recognise the hurt and the pain that we inflicted upon others and that others inflicted upon us. That should be the spirit of this debate, and that is why I agree with most of the sentiments voiced by Mr Maginness.

I do not make these comments lightly. In prison, I suffered from draconian measures that were drawn up by prison regimes in these very grounds, but not in this Building. The measures were implemented by prison officers, some of whom wanted to use them - they were watched and, in many ways, they were amused by this infliction of pain on people. This does not apply to all prison officers, but to some, and this must be recognised.

We are under a new political dispensation, and we need to recognise that there are victims on all sides. I hope that this debate helps people to understand that, even if they do not want to admit it.

Mr Davis:

The proponent of the motion said, at the outset, that he hoped that the debate would be dignified, so the comments of the Sinn Féin Member for Foyle were regrettable.

I congratulate my party Colleague Mr Kennedy on bringing this matter before the Assembly and I also support the amendment proposed by Mr Paisley Jnr. Those in the front line in the fight against terrorism have been neglected by the state; they have been forgotten. It is a fact that 203 UDR and RIR soldiers died in the period between the formation of the UDR and the ceasefires. As well as these deaths, 47 former members were murdered purely on account of their previous association with the regiment. Four hundred and fifty-two members of the regular Army also died in conflict, and perhaps many of them did not even understand what the conflict was about. In addition, over 500 UDR and RIR soldiers were wounded, along with thousands of regular soldiers.

I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of the payments to RUC widows and the fund for injured police officers, former officers and their families. These awards are only right and proper, and although I, like other Members, may query the adequacy of what is being proposed, a start has been made to remedy a great wrong.

I support Mr Kennedy's contention that the Secretary of State's announcement does not go far enough, in that it refers only to police officers. The RUC bore the brunt of the terrorist campaign, with the deaths of 302 officers and almost 9000 injuries. It is only right that the relatives and those who were injured should be assisted, even at this late date.

There is no good reason for the scheme's being limited to only the police. A comprehensive scheme that takes into account all those who have suffered in the service of the state since 1969 should be set up. During the First World War the then Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, spoke of making Britain a land fit for heroes to live in. The Government of the time, for various reasons, did not achieve that end. Today, with our increased prosperity and ability to take care of our fellow citizens in need, there is no reason for that generosity's not being shown to those who sacrificed health and happiness to protect our country. The widows and families of UDR and other soldiers who died in the conflict are no less deserving than the widows and families of the police officers who died.

Over the years those widows faced financial hardship as they struggled to bring up young families. The children of those who were killed faced lost opportunities in education and careers because of the death of the main family breadwinners. In rural areas farms had to be sold as UDR men were murdered and the struggle to carry on became too great for the people who were left behind. Other widows, whose husbands did ordinary jobs, were forced to depend on the state or had to work to keep their families together.

Those who were injured faced a lifetime of pain and suffering and a loss of amenity. We should be generous to them and to their families. Whatever money is eventually paid out will never fully recompense loved ones for their loss and for the injuries they have suffered. It never could, but it can help to make the loss more bearable.

Today we are a rich nation with an expanding economy. What is being proposed in the motion will not be costly overall; it will be a mere pittance in the context of Governmental expenditure. If the Secretary of State takes the motion on board and gets agreement from his Cabinet Colleagues to expand the scheme proposed for the RUC, it will show a generosity of spirit and a basic humanity for which his Administration will be remembered. I support the motion.

Mr Boyd:

I support the motion, including the amendment to include the Prison Service. The only response I will make to Sinn Féin's comments is that its terrorist wing, the Provisional IRA, has murdered hundreds of innocent Roman Catholics and Protestants, including courageous members of the security forces.

I had the privilege, along with Mr Roche of attending a fund-raising concert for the widows and relatives of innocent victims in the south Armagh area last Friday with Mr Kennedy in his constituency. I was humbled by the kindness and sincerity of these people who carry the scars of Republican terrorism and broken hearts that will never heal.

Of course, there is a difference between innocent victims of the security forces, who were upholding the rule of law, and those who were attempting to overthrow it. Regrettably, we have a Government that continues to reward terrorists who have committed the most heinous crimes and yet treat innocent victims very shabbily, sometimes ignoring them completely. There is now a long overdue opportunity for the Government to take practical steps to right some of the many wrongs they continue to be guilty of regarding victims' issues. How many times have we, as Unionist Assembly Members, requested the Prime Minister, successive Secretaries of State and Northern Ireland Office Ministers to meet the innocent victims of Republican terrorism, only to have these requests refused? Yet at the drop of a hat the same Government Ministers will meet those guilty of the most horrendous crimes against society, even going into prisons to meet them.

To put these recent payments to RUC widows into context, I draw Members' attention to pay-outs between 1995 and 1999 to terrorist prisoners through the European Union Special Support Programme for Peace and Reconciliation. The total amount paid out to terrorist groups was over £4 million. The grants were used to provide education and training, resource centres, minibuses for prison visits, training for drivers for HGV licences, guitar and yoga lessons inside the Maze prison and even a computer for women prisoners at Maghaberry. This is quite disgraceful when the funding would have been better spent on the innocent victims of terrorist violence who have suffered throughout the last 30 years. To compound the hurt further, the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust - in my view, a completely discredited body - which administers this European funding recently authorised a paltry sum of £2,000 for the Families Acting for Innocent Relatives (FAIR).

It is one of the largest victims groups in Northern Ireland with several hundred widows of RUC, UDR and RIR personnel in its membership. It is disgraceful that terrorist prisoners are receiving such large amounts, yet innocent victims receive very little, or nothing at all in many cases.

The Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, set up in November 1999, provided small grants of up to £500 each for victims. To apply for this funding, which was for essential items or services, the victims were put under all sorts of scrutiny and felt humiliated just trying to meet the criteria.

The announcement on 7 November regarding funding for RUC widows and injured officers is long overdue but is not enough. It is wrong to exclude UDR and RIR members and their families, many paying the supreme sacrifice for defending democracy and the rule of law against a vicious terrorist and ethnic cleansing campaign. Many widows and their families are still too frightened to speak up for fear of intimidation. While the package of £11 million for RUC widows is welcomed, it still does not achieve parity with those widows whose husbands were murdered after 1982. Many RUC widows who lost their husbands before 1982 have been left poverty-stricken. Some are receiving police pensions of less than £2,000.

The RUC widows group, Forgotten Families, has said that the package falls short of addressing the needs of widows. For example, a widow currently receiving a pension of £1,932 per annum could receive a lump sum of £31,000. If this lump sum were invested at a return of 8%, the income from it would be approximately £2,400 per year. This would mean that the widow would have a total annual income of £4,332. Not every widow will receive the maximum of £31,000 as it depends upon the date of the murder of the loved one. Some will receive an amount between £19,000 and £31,000, which would result in a smaller pension. How can a widow raise a young family on such an amount?

The Government acknowledge the sacrifice made by bereaved and injured officers and the hardship caused to their widows and families, yet they have only partially addressed the issue. The financial package for RUC widows should also have been extended to the widows and widowers of policemen and policewomen who died in non-terrorist incidents. Providing assistance to widows and families of Army, UDR and RIR personnel, as well as those who are retired or injured, must also be a priority. Hundreds of members have been brutally murdered or injured as a result of Republican terrorism. The vast majority came from isolated areas and were in the front line of the battle against terrorism. Many were murdered in front of their wives and children by cowardly scum. These are the forgotten victims.

There have also been 29 members of the Prison Service murdered by Republicans and so-called Loyalists. Many others have been seriously injured. It is vital, therefore, that members of the Prison Service and their families also receive financial support and Government recognition.

I support the motion.

Mr Neeson:

I welcome the announcement of payments to RUC widows and disabled police officers. For many it is long overdue and, unfortunately, for others it is too late. The Government have tried to address the problems of the legislation prior to 1982, where limited amounts of compensation could be paid. To that extent the statement was welcome, and, in many ways, it recognises the hurt that those families have felt over the years. I also recognise the hurt of other families in the security services who have made similar sacrifices.

The issue looked fairly straightforward when Mr Kennedy brought forward his motion. However, then we had the amendment brought forward by Mr Ian Paisley Jnr. I do not have a problem with that. My problem is that over recent weeks Members have been queuing up to recognise the courage and sacrifices of the Fire Service, so why is the Fire Service not there?

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In the past, other Assembly Members have recognised the sacrifices of the Ambulance Service. Why has the Ambulance Service not been included today?

Recently, I held a meeting with a victims' support group comprising personnel from the Ambulance Service, the Fire Service and the RUC. Because of their attendance at explosions, particularly in the early years, some people claimed that they have contracted asbestosis. So, where do we draw the line?

As far as Mrs Nelis's amendment is concerned, it is important that we recognise the needs of all victims of violence in our society. However, it is quite clear from her delivery that she was being selective. Government have not seriously addressed victims' needs to date. Although Sir Kenneth Bloomfield's report on compensation has moved the situation further, it did not go far enough. We need to go back to the drawing board and look at all victims of violence in our society.

In many ways, it is regrettable that this has turned out to be a points-scoring exercise - it is much more important than that. The people who matter most, the victims of violence, seem to have been turned into a political football. I am not selective about any victims of violence in this conflict and I assure you that many of the victims across Northern Ireland will not thank us for this debate today. I agree with Mr A Maginness. We need a more comprehensive motion to recognise the real needs of all victims of violence, and I appeal to those who tabled the original motion and the amendments to take on board the needs of all victims of violence in our society.

Mr Armstrong:

I noted with satisfaction the contents of the financial package announced by the Secretary of State for retired RUC officers and their families. Although no money can substitute for a husband, wife or family member, there are always financial consequences as a result of family disasters.

Although I endorse Mr Mandelson's proposals for the RUC, I feel that, on the grounds of equality and fairness, members of the UDR, the Royal Irish Regiment, and the Army who have been affected by the Northern Ireland troubles should receive similar consideration.

Insofar as the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Irish Regiment are concerned, I would like to highlight a number of important factors. The men and women who joined the UDR, in 1970 and 1973 respectively, did so mostly out of loyalty to their country and through a personal desire to rescue their beloved Province from destruction and economic disaster. Financial reward was a secondary issue, which did not feature in their thinking.

However, costs arose from their loyalty and contribution to their community. Family farms or businesses were left - to a greater or lesser extent - in the hands of fathers or spouses to administer as best they could. Injury or death frequently led to the demise of a business or farm also. Men and women in full employment found that job security was poor. For example, a terrorist incident in an area could lead to redundancy under some false excuse.

Promotion, despite equality of opportunity and qualifications, also seemed to pass them by. As the terrorists' campaign moved forward into the 1980s, employers began to show less and less tolerance or support to members of staff who were engaged in this part-time security work. Seeking employment became an exercise fraught with difficulty. When serving members resigned or were discharged, the personal threat and the threat to their families continued. The support that they received from local battalions was adequate initially, but, as such problems multiplied, they tended to fade from the security picture. To all intents and purposes, they and their families were left to get on with life as best they could.

Regular Army soldiers had been trained to fight a war. However, in 1970 they found themselves drawn into a policing or peacekeeping operation. For those soldiers that was a most unfortunate scenario - a war situation in which politics dictated that they had to use policing tactics. On that basis alone they were put into a position where they became sitting ducks for anything the terrorists threw at them.

The members of all security forces joined because of love for their country. They offered their lives to the Crown. Looking back, the Government took advantage of this commitment and generosity - they paid £2·50 for one night's work. It was a pittance, and certainly not an initiative to join the UDR. The security forces were reasonably successful in their activities, and many terrorists were put behind bars. Those terrorist lawbreakers were well looked after. Some of them came out of prison with qualifications the length of an arm, as well as compensation which was used to build their lives. Those terrorists - some of them in this Building today - destroyed this country and cost the taxpayers billions of pounds. Meanwhile, all the security personnel and their families struggled to move forward.

Do Members not realise that, had it not been for the brave soldiers of the British Army and the UDR apprehending members of Sinn Féin/IRA, and other organisations, and putting them safely in prisons such as the Maze, many of these people might not be alive and in good health today? They have all now been released, when the risk of harm is over.

Therefore, for the Secretary of State to extend the same level of assistance to Army, UDR and RIR widows, to injured Army, UDR and RIR personnel, and to retired Army, UDR and RIR personnel, would be a small but significant gesture.

Mr ONeill:

We also welcome the recent package from the Secretary of State, as indeed we welcome last week's package of £200,000 from Mark Durkan for the victims. My Colleague Alban Maginness, in his usual erudite fashion, put the case for us. He spoke of reconciliation, which he took - not accidentally - from the agreement. The section in the agreement dealing with victims, small though it is, is packed with very interesting ideas for trying to deal with their problems. For example, it says that it is essential to

"address the suffering of the victims of violence as a necessary element of reconciliation".

It also says that there should be

"community-based initiatives based on international best practice".

It also states that the provision of services should be

"supportive and sensitive to the needs of victims".

As well, there should be

"the allocation of sufficient resources, including statutory funding as necessary, to meet the needs of victims and to provide for community-based support programmes".

There should also be support for organisations dealing with the problems of victims. One presumes that this refers to Cruse Bereavement Care, The Samaritans and the other organisations that are so immensely valuable to people in these circumstances.

Not everyone will agree with the agreement but I doubt if many people could disagree with those organisations. All groups of victims should recognise that there is no monopoly on pain, and victims have no particular monopoly. Some have suffered bereavement, separation and physical and psychological injury. Many have been forced from their homes or have lost or had their property damaged, et cetera.

We need to consider whether the motion and the amendments attempt to deal with those problems. What about the reconciliation we heard about in the first statements? What have we heard today? No one can deny that Members have participated in a barracking session from one extreme of the Chamber to the other. They have signed up to the agreement, which called for reconciliation.

The motion and the amendments talk about compensation only, financial payments only. There is no evidence of providing community resources. What about the support services, the sensitive services? Are those mentioned? No, they are not. What do we have here today? We have a motion that calls for compensation only. All three - the two amendments and the motion - want money thrown at the problem. Money is necessary, but it is only one part of the problem.

Not only do we have that as the agenda; we also have an auction going on. Three political parties are trying to outbid one another, a repulsive kind of Dutch auction. The UUP is saying that it is the hero for those mentioned in the motion. The DUP is saying that it will show the public that the UUP does not care about those who are mentioned in its amendment. It will add the amendment and become the real hero. Sinn Féin, very cleverly, has tried to outmanoeuvre the whole lot by including everybody and trying to gain the high ground.

This is an awful, repulsive Dutch auction and an insult to all of the victims. I ask the three parties to withdraw the motion and the two amendments and to join with Colleagues to table a comprehensive motion to cover not only the groups mentioned but all our victims - a motion that will cover not only compensation but all of the things that victims need to support them through their trauma.

The Minister of the Environment (Mr Foster):

I support the motion tabled by my party Colleague Kennedy and the amendment from Mr Paisley Jnr. I welcome the news that the wives of RUC officers murdered by terrorists are to benefit from the £11 million package of funds announced by the Secretary of State on 7 November. This compensation package is long overdue and richly deserved, and I hope that the available funds will be increased to meet ongoing needs.

I am concerned, however, that the wives of UDR, Army, RIR and prison personnel have not been included in the compensation proposals. How does one make any distinction or degree of difference between the armed forces of the Crown when it comes to service and sacrifice? Brave men and women in all of those forces have given their lives, limbs and blood in the service of democracy, and it must surely be right that they and their families and dependants are cared for.

As a society, we have a duty to those who put their lives on the line to defend us. Is the pain and grief of any serving person's mother, widow, sister or daughter less than that of any others? I cannot imagine so. Those ladies who remained in their homes over many lonesome nights in isolated areas are the unsung heroines of the callous and brutal acts that were perpetrated against their way of life. They watched over their homes and their children. They were and are the real axis around which the home revolves. They are heroines with courage of the highest order.

Can we imagine how it felt for them on the many nights they spent with fear running through their minds - mental torture indeed - awaiting with trepidation the horrible news that their loved one had been murdered? Most personnel were murdered when off duty, rather than when on duty, which exemplifies the gross danger that personnel were placed in 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Such courage is exemplary and demands the highest accolade that the Government can bestow. Many were gunned or blasted out of existence by a callous, brutal and morally corrupt enemy lurking in the undergrowth.

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I served in the UDR and am proud to have done so. I had occasion to accompany doctors and clergy to a home to break the dreadful news of the death of a loved one to a colleague's wife and family. Last Sunday I attended a UDR service of remembrance with laying up of colours in St Macartin's Cathedral, Enniskillen. There was an act of remembrance for two battalions, one from west Tyrone and the other from Fermanagh, and a total of 65 names were read out - 40 from Tyrone and 25 from Fermanagh. It was a sad, solemn tribute to fallen comrades whom we should remember:

"They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old."

Those gallant people paid the supreme sacrifice. Are they and their dependants to be forgotten like turf in a clod?

The heartache, pain, distress and devastation suffered by their loved ones cannot go on being ignored. The valley of tears is the same for all personnel of Her Majesty's forces. Such remarkable people cannot and must not be ignored by Government; it would be callous discrimination of the highest order if they were. We remember that the loved ones of those broken-hearted relatives served unstintingly, and the Government must ensure that those families are recompensed unstintingly. The soldiers of the UDR, Army and RIR, and the prison officers served Her Majesty with distinction. They never went out with premeditated murder on their mind. They went out to serve the community and did so proudly. As Longfellow said,

"And our hearts. like muffled drums, are beating funeral marches to the grave."

It is absurd that the wives and dependants of those brave security force personnel should have to seek compensation in the first place. It should be there as a matter of right - not as a form of charity to them, but as a debt of honour paid by those whom they have protected. We are, I hope, moving into a new era of political peace and democracy in Northern Ireland. We must look to the future and build for tomorrow but - I emphasise this - we also have a duty to remember those who made that new era possible, many of whom did so by making the ultimate sacrifice.

Mr Shannon:

I support the amendment moved by Ian Paisley Jnr. It is important that we focus on the innocent victims of terrorism. Mr Foster - indeed, most of those who have spoken - focused on them, and I wish to do so as well.

We all recognise the contribution that past and present members of the Army, the UDR, the RIR and the Prison Service have made to society. I want to underline that, as it is very important. They selflessly committed hours of service to our community, night by night for those who were part-timers, and day by day for those who were full-time members. When the announcement was made that the RUC widows and the injured and retired officers and their families were to be recognised, I felt that it was what they truly deserved. A grateful community recognised and congratulated them, for they had given much. They did not look for very much but they gave much, and I believe that they deserve much in return.

However, we also want to consider the Army, the UDR, the RIR and the Prison Service, their injured and retired personnel and their families. We do so not just out of a sense of duty, but out of a deep sense of gratitude for all that they have done. We think of all those who served in the UDR, the RIR and all the other services. Some 40,000 part-time and full-time members of the UDR and RIR have given of their time.

Mr Sam Foster, the Minister of the Environment, spoke about his service in the UDR. Some of us have served in it as well. I can remember joining as an 18-year-old. I can remember doing three or four nights a week - that included training - and then going to work the next morning. We did not do it for financial advantage, as one Member suggested - there was no financial advantage. Mr Armstrong talked about getting £2·50; I thought it was £3·00 - perhaps I was getting 50 pence more than he was. The money was small - it was no incentive. People did it to make a contribution to the community and hoped that, in some small way, they would be able to rid society of the scourge of terrorism.

Our duty was to make the Province safer for the whole community, and we did not draw any distinction between one side and the other. That type of commitment went far above the call of duty for all who participated and contributed. I will give two examples of that commitment. One is a constituent of mine whom I know quite well. He served in the UDR, but today is unable to work. He was in a convoy in Belfast when two of his friends were blown up. He is traumatised and, as a result, he and his wife and children enjoy less quality of life than the rest of us. He will never work again. We have a commitment to help such people, to make a commitment to them, and do our best for them. That is what we want with this motion.

We need to support those families in some way. I talked to Mr Kennedy earlier, and he said that this was an occasion to recognise some of those who gave so much. I agree. Returning to my example, my constituent received a pension and got help from the Benevolent Fund, but it was not sufficient to look after all his needs as a family man.

The first UDR man to be killed was murdered outside my uncle's farm at Clady near Strabane. I remember 10 December 1971, when my cousin, Sergeant Kenneth Smyth of the UDR, and his friend Daniel McCormick, were murdered by IRA people who were able to rush 200 yards to sanctuary across the border, to the haven where murderers get away with what they do, and are not accountable to the law.

Is that fair play? I think not. We are here to recognise the innocent victims of terrorism, and that is what we want to do. Mr S Wilson referred to the number of Roman Catholics killed. My cousin, Kenneth Smyth, was a Protestant, and his friend, Daniel McCormick, was a Roman Catholic - both members of the UDR (one a serving member and one a past member). The IRA snuffed out their lives. There is something wrong with a society that allows that to happen. We want to recognise that, and commemorate it.

Daniel McCormick left five children - one of them disabled - and the IRA were not thinking about that when they killed him. To them he was an agent of the state, and it did not matter what his religion was or what community he came from. They were best friends, who worked together, played together and died together.

The Government did very little for their families. If there is any decency or justice, it is only right that the Army, the UDR, the Prison Service and the RIR receive assistance - payments for the widows, the injured personnel, the retired personnel and their families.

I support the amendment put forward by Ian Paisley Jnr.

Mrs Carson:

I must point out that the security forces were protecting the whole community from terrorism. They were not protecting the Unionist and the Protestant community alone. They were protecting our whole community, and I regret that the SDLP have never recognised that. I think that their act today of playing Pontius Pilate in the Benches is something to be regretted.

I attended a poignant service on Sunday. It was the rededication of a memorial stone to members of the UDR and RIR who lost their lives protecting the whole community from terrorist attacks. I looked at the widows who had lost husbands, the young men and women who had lost fathers, and the children growing up without grandparents. The suffering and hardship of these good people cannot be quantified. All of the people, and I emphasise all of the people, in Northern Ireland owe the members of the UDR, RIR, and the security forces a great debt of gratitude. Those who paid the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of assassins also sacrificed their families for the good of the whole community. We must ensure that their families are neither forgotten nor neglected.

The Ulster Defence Regiment was a unique British Army regiment formed in 1970. The part-time element was recruited exclusively in Northern Ireland and used exclusively in Northern Ireland. The regiment was in continuous active service for longer than any other since the Napoleonic period.

We have already heard the numbers of injured and dead - I will not go over them again, but they were all soft targets. My own constituency of Fermanagh and South Tyrone has suffered greatly. Many men and women joined the security forces to do their duty of protecting the innocent - all of the innocent, and not just those in the Unionist community - from the evil atrocities perpetrated by this terrorist movement.

Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice. These people were easy targets because they lived in the community. Of the 197 murdered, 155 were off duty, going to or coming from work, or at home. They had no chance to defend themselves.

As a former teacher in Tyrone, I know of the hardships of wives forced to leave home, and children having to move school, leaving where their suffering could be understood for an area perceived to be safe. I know what it is like to teach children trying to cope with the loss of their father. It is heartbreaking.

Our security forces consisted of the UDR, RIR, Army, Prison Service and the RUC. We must count in their number many gallant Roman Catholics. I regret that the opposition Benches have not recognised that. They all served the people, ensuring the threat of terrorist attack was minimised. They were, and are, to be commended. They and their families should be treated equally. I support the motion and the amendment tabled by Ian Paisley Jnr. It is imperative that the Steele Report be extended to incorporate all the elements of the security forces. They selflessly protected the people from terrorism. We must remember the dead, but we must not forget the living.

I wish to ask the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister and our United Kingdom Government why it has taken 30 years for these citizens, who have suffered so much, to be recognised. Why have the Government only recently recognised that there are more widows and families in need of help than those of RUC members? Why was no overall view taken of security force families until now? The Government have dragged their feet.

I support the motion.

Mr Savage:

I support the motion and the amendment put forward by Ian Paisley Jnr. I appeal to the Assembly to stand by the principle of parity of treatment, which all communities should now expect under our new partnership Government. It is only fair that widows of UDR, RIR and Army personnel should expect the same treatment as police widows. That should form part of any equitable general settlement. I am a plain, practical man. Speaking practically, no reasonable person could distinguish between the services of the police, UDR, RIR, Army, and the Prison Service. They were all part of the same security force, under the same central direction and answerable to the same authority. They were all charged with carrying out the same Government policy. All were acting under precisely the same orders and all came under exactly the same terrorist threat. All were confronted by the same danger.

It is an insult to their intelligence to differentiate between them. That is why RIR, UDR, Army and Prison Service widows should receive equal treatment. In law, the test is often that of the reasonable man. What would a reasonable man do in the circumstances? The same applies here - what would the reasonable man do? Faced with the same danger, and acting under the orders of the same authority, often acting in conjunction with one another - the widows of these gallant servicemen should be treated in exactly the same way as police widows.

Natural justice is another legal principle that is applicable here. It would be unjust to differentiate, for example, between police widows and UDR widows. In the comprehensive peace settlement the guiding principle should be generosity and not the penny-pinching that we had before. When I consider the massive savings of public money achieved through the scaling down of the security situation - and the size of the Chancellor's war chest to fight the next general election for the Labour Party - I am amazed that the funding for this compensation cannot be found quickly.

5.30 pm

For reasons of natural justice, and with a view to behaving as reasonable men and women, for reasons of parity and because of the overriding need for generosity in our behaviour towards one another in this new age of peace, I appeal to the Assembly to support this essential, decent and fair-minded motion. Money cannot compensate for the loss of a husband or a father, nor can it fill the empty chair left in so many homes throughout our Province. I make no apology for giving the best 13 years of my life to the Ulster Defence Regiment. Never did I see anyone step out of line. I hope that we who have survived will see fair play for the widows of our servicemen.

Mr Paisley Jnr:

The House is right: whoever judges what is before him tonight can judge what is behind the main motion, which is genuine. My amendment is also genuine and is intended simply to fill a gap and endorse what is already on the record.

However, we should also look at the amendment before the House in the name of Sinn Féin. I do not believe that it is genuine, for its comments have demonstrated its concern that neither the amendment nor the motion should recognise the role played by the Provisional IRA. It did indeed play a role: it wrecked peace and destroyed the society which for more than 30 years it sought to undermine. That has been its motivation tonight, and the Assembly should judge its position.

I was amazed when I heard someone say that this was an attempt to get people onto the Mandelson gravy train. This comment came from an organisation whose members keep everyone else away from the gravy train as they seek gratuities from the Government. Look at the money the Government have thrown at issues that are the concern of Sinn Féin people. I quite unashamedly mention the "bloody Sunday" tribunal, which has cost over £30 million. Is it getting on a gravy train to give a few million pounds to grieving widows and disabled RUC, RIR, UDR and Prison Service members? What we heard tonight from Sinn Féin was disgusting. The political reality is that if they had not created the victims, there would be no need for this debate.

It is important that we contrast the great gap between the comments made tonight by Mr Billy Hutchinson and those made by Sinn Féin, and the House would be right to point it out. Sinn Féin's atrocious comments have been vindictive and spiteful. Mr Hutchinson could have taken an anti-Prison Service attitude, for whatever reason, but he did not - something which says more about him than about Sinn Féin/IRA. It is right to recognise that. I hope that the House will reject the second amendment and accept mine.

I should like to place on record an extract from an article written by Gail Walker of the 'Belfast Telegraph'. She looked at the life of Victor Arbuckle, the first police officer murdered in the troubles. Having interviewed Dorothy Arbuckle many years after her husband had been appallingly murdered, Ms Walker said:

"Victor made the ultimate sacrifice, yet, scandalously, his widow received not gratitude and care and endless support but years of financial hardship. Dorothy endured a lonely struggle to feed, clothe and educate her son, just two when his father was killed."

He got a meagre £137 a month. This motion and the amendment I have put before the House are essential to send out a message to the Government that people who have allowed their husbands and wives to enter the police, the UDR, the RIR and the Prison Service to defend society deserve respect.

In that article, Gail Walker quoted Dorothy Arbuckle as saying

"I wonder what Victor would think of how we have been treated."

I am sure that now people are saying "I wonder what the victims think of the comments of Sinn Féin/IRA in this debate." They have been thoroughly atrocious.

I appeal across the House to the SDLP not to dance in the shadow of Sinn Féin/IRA. Come out of that shadow. Get off your self-erected high moral perch and take a decision that recognises, respects and rewards those people who defended this society, whether you like it or not, for me and for you. I appeal to you to vote for the amendment and not to run away from the challenge that is before this House.

The SDLP said that we should get together and sort something out. Here is a specific motion and a specific amendment that set down a criterion. Accept that tonight and make an effort to demonstrate that you do want to see people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this society being rewarded in their hour of need.

I ask members to support the amendment.

Mrs Nelis:

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I want to address some of the comments made in the debate. Mr Paisley Jnr says that the RUC, the British forces, and the Prison Service should be duly rewarded and given due recognition, but how are these organisations viewed by the Nationalist/Republican community? As bereaved relatives of state violence have seen and experienced, those are the forces responsible for the death and torture of their loved ones. Mr Paisley Jnr wants us to applaud them and pay them compensation.

Mr Maginness accused me of being selective, but my motion is entirely consistent with what he wants. It is quite explicit in that it addresses all victims. Who will speak for the victims of state violence? Has Mr Maginness spoken for them? Who will acknowledge that their grief is as legitimate as everyone else's? Does Mr Maginness believe that Peter Mandelson's announcement addresses their needs?

I remind those on the opposite Benches that Loyalists on the Shankill Road killed the first RUC member murdered in this conflict. I also remind them of their parties' close associations with an organisation called Ulster Resistance, an organisation that Michael Stone claimed, on television last week, first armed him.

Getting back to my party's amendment, all victims and bereaved families deserve to have their pain acknowledged and their needs addressed. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement, one hoped, would be the time, and create the climate for such a move. Indeed, victims' groups were beginning that painful process of engaging and talking. The victims of state violence and the RUC widows were getting together and discussing the commonality of their pain and grief.

The announcement by Peter Mandelson has put that delicate process in jeopardy and has subverted the need and the search for truth for victims and survivors, which is central to this process. He has supported the concept that state forces are above the truth, are not amenable, and should be applauded and rewarded. The father of nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, shot dead by the RUC in 1969; Jim McCabe, the husband of Nora McCabe; the parents of children killed by plastic bullets; the children of Sammy Devenney; the 400-plus victims killed by the state; the relatives of the many Loyalists also killed by the state, whom Billy Hutchinson mentioned - they understand the pain and grief that others have experienced. What they cannot understand is why they are treated differently.

The continued attempt to operate a hierarchy of victims has done little to heal all our wounds. The failure to understand and recognise equally all victims, survivors and their families is in essence sectarian. It is about presenting a very narrow definition of the causes and effects of conflict in this part of Ireland. Peter Mandelson's announcement reaffirms to the relatives of the victims of state violence that their hurt, their pain and their trauma are somewhat less important.

I do not accept that I was being selective. In fact, I acknowledge that with regard to the loss of a loved one, all grief is the same. But, according to Peter Mandelson's announcement and the opinions of Members speaking today, some grief is different. I make no apologies for raising the issue of state violence, for no one else in this Chamber has had the courage to do so. A hierarchy of victims is in place, with the victims mentioned in Mr Kennedy's motion at the top, and those murdered by the state at the bottom. Who in this Chamber is asking the families of those killed by the RUC, the UDR or the British Army how they feel? Why will Peter Mandelson not even meet them? As for the monetary packages, let us put them in perspective: £11 million for the RUC and £200,000 to victims' support groups. Contrary to what Eamonn ONeill has stated, I did raise the recommendations contained in the Good Friday Agreement, and I will finish by quoting these words:

"The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence."

Mr Kennedy:

I am grateful for the opportunity to wind up. This has been an important debate. I listened carefully to all the speeches, and I thank the Members for the content of most of them. I have indicated that I will be accepting the amendment of Mr Paisley Jnr. I am happy to confirm that again, and according to the contributions I have heard, acceptance of that amendment is widespread. I strongly agree with Mr Paisley Jnr that the Benevolent Fund should never be used by the Government as a substitute to providing adequate state compensation.

With regard to the contribution of the Member for Foyle, Mrs Nelis, I, like many others, was greatly offended by its tone and spirit. It was most unfortunate that we had to hear a litany of Republican bile. I draw a clear distinction between the actions of the security forces and their role in conflict and those of people who go out to perpetrate atrocities, to murder and to maim. That is a very clear distinction in the minds of all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland. Neither can I accept the idea of a hierarchy of victims. I know that Sir Kenneth Bloomfield did not accept that in his main report.

I listened with interest to the lecture from Mr Maginness. It was interesting that his party has proposed no motion on reconciliation to the Assembly for its consideration. He ought to bear in mind that when it employs personnel to act on its behalf, the state has a duty to look after and cater for their families in the event of their death. I sincerely think he is wrong in his assessment of my motion.

I want to thank Paul Berry and several other Members. I agree with Mr Berry that there should be no half-hearted attempt made with regard to compensation for the security forces. I was interested in Mr Hutchinson's contribution. He recognised at least that this motion was aimed at alleviating the sacrifices made in the service of the security forces. It was brave of him to accept that prison officers should be included. It highlighted a real difference between him and Sinn Féin. I also want to thank my Colleague Mr Ivan Davis for his contribution, and Mr Norman Boyd, Member for South Antrim.

5.45 pm

I am sorry that Mr Neeson is not in the Chamber. His speech was a classic Alliance statement. He initially welcomed the announcement and then went on to criticise the motion. His speech was curious in that respect, but perhaps one should never be surprised by the antics of the Alliance Party. One of the significant points that he made was that the motion omitted the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service. I must remind Mr Neeson that they are emergency services. This motion is clearly aimed at the security services, of which prison officers are very much part.

I thank my Colleague Mr Billy Armstrong for his contribution. Mr ONeill did not bring forward a motion in his own name or on behalf or his party, nor did he supply an amendment. We had another lecture on reconciliation. It was clear that Mr ONeill has not read the Steele Report or its recommendations. It was also clear that he wrote his speech before hearing the debate. That was a mistake.

I thank my Colleague Mr Foster, Minister of the Environment, for taking time out of his extensive ministerial duties to contribute to and be part of this important debate. I also thank Mr Shannon and my Colleagues Mrs Joan Carson and Mr George Savage. It is important to remember Mrs Carson's point about the contribution of Roman Catholics in the security forces and their sacrifices. That should be borne in mind by everyone in the community.

Mr Savage rightly said that there should never be any differentiation made between the contributions and sacrifices of the security forces. It is impossible to say to any member of the Army, UDR, RIR, RUC, or to any of their families who are victims, that their contribution was less, or less valued, than anyone else's. That was an important point.

I am grateful for this debate. I recognise, of course, that it is a reserved power. It is a matter for the Government, the Secretary of State and others to bring forward proposals and recommendations. I hope that they will move speedily to do so. It is right that we remember that the sacrifices of the security forces crossed the sectarian divide.

This motion seeks to address the great injustice that has been carried out against the security forces in relation to compensation. I wait with interest to see what others, particularly the SDLP, will do. I am also saddened that there was no contribution to today's debate from the Women's Coalition. On other occasions they have been very keen to lecture Members about remembrance and all that that involves.

I commend the motion and ask the entire House to give it its wholehearted support.

Question, That the amendment in the name of Mr Paisley Jnr be made, put and agreed to.

Question, That the amendment in the name of Mrs Nelis be made, put and negatived.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this Assembly welcomes the announcement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 7 November 2000 of payments to RUC widows and the fund for injured police officers, retired officers and their families; and calls on the Secretary of State to provide the same level of assistance to Army/UDR/RIR widows, injured Army/UDR/RIR personnel, retired Army/UDR/RIR personnel, injured Prison Service personnel, retired Prison Service personnel and widows of Prison Service personnel and their families.

Adjourned at 5.50 pm.

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