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Northern Ireland Assembly

Thursday 13 September 2001


Terrorist Attack on United States of America:  Message of Condolence

The Assembly met at 2.00 pm (Mr Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.



Terrorist Attack on United States of America:  Message of Condolence

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Members and those outside should understand what has happened here today. I tabled an amendment, which you assured me was competent. However, it has not been accepted. You explained the reason it was not accepted. That should be made known to the House and to the public.

Mr Speaker:

An amendment was tabled in the name of Dr Paisley. I have advised him, and I advise the House, that in exercising the responsibilities devolved to me under Standing Order 15 it will not be my practice on this occasion, nor will it be my intention on any future occasion, to select an amendment to a motion of condolence.

Yesterday I received from the acting First Minister and the acting Deputy First Minister the following letter dated 12 September 2001.

"In view of the deeply tragic events yesterday in the US, we hereby give notice under Standing Order 11 that the Assembly should meet as soon as possible for the purpose of the transaction of the following specific business:-

That this Assembly condemns the shocking and inhuman acts of terrorism carried out in the United States of America on Tuesday and, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, extends its deepest sympathy to the Government and people of the United States of America and all who have suffered so grievously."

Today’s sitting is in pursuance of that request under Standing Order 11.

It is with warm but undoubtedly heavy hearts that we welcome to the Assembly on her first official visit as new United States consul general, Barbara Stephenson.

We trust that there will be happier times when she will be able to be with us.

The Acting First Minister (Sir Reg Empey):

I beg to move

That this Assembly condemns the shocking and inhuman acts of terrorism carried out in the United States of America on Tuesday and, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, extends its deepest sympathy to the Government and people of the United States of America and all who have suffered so grievously.

Mr Speaker and Members of the House, we meet today under a heavy cloud to express sympathy and to show solidarity with the United States and its people. As you indicated, Mr Speaker, we have invited Barbara Stephenson to attend our proceedings. In the midst of what must be a most harrowing and painful time for her and her colleagues, we are grateful that her party is able to be with us today.

Perhaps the most disturbing fact about the events of the last two days is that the passage of time has only served to heighten awareness of the enormity of what has taken place. The impressions of catastrophe created by the terrorist attack on the United States have not lessened as the clock has ticked by, rather its implications have become more stark, more horrible and more traumatic. Make no mistake about it, Western democracy, Western freedoms and Western values are under an attack of the most extreme, most cynical and most murderous kind.

As a politician I have worked towards the day when I might play a part in promoting commerce and generating wealth in this country to make it a better, more prosperous place for our citizens. As a Minister with responsibilities and interests in international trade and investment, I was devastated to watch what was taking place at the heart of world business and at the heart of the business world.

The atrocity has touched the lives of many innocent people around the globe. This morning the Foreign Secretary talked about the number of citizens from this country who lost their lives in Manhattan. The confirmed figure is approaching one hundred, but it is feared that hundreds more of our fellow citizens also perished in this cowardly attack.

People from Northern Ireland have been caught up in this harrowing maelstrom. We do not know if any have lost their lives, nor do we know how many were fortunate to escape. All of us thank God that so many were saved.

My ministerial colleague, Michael McGimpsey knows only too well the sense of relief that a family experiences when a loved one telephones to say that he or she is all right. Michael’s nephew Jason is a fireman in New York and was in the north tower searching for survivors on the nineteenth floor when the south tower was attacked. Jason managed to get out in time before the huge skyscraper collapsed. Regrettably, 250 of his colleagues were not so fortunate.

People in Northern Ireland know only too well what it means to have to endure terrorist violence. Yesterday’s attack on the RUC in Londonderry demonstrated that terrorists on this island are also intent on inflicting pain and suffering. As world leaders begin to face up to international terrorism, it is worth remembering the words of the United States Secretary of State, General Colin Powell:

"We are building a strong coalition to go after these perpetrators, but more broadly go after terrorism wherever we find it in the world."

Those are strong words, and words I wholly endorse.

Given our experiences, it is worth reminding the House of a simple truth. As stated in ‘The Irish News’ editorial:

"In moral terms, attacks on Canary Wharf in London and the World Trade Centre differ only in terms of scale."

I do not propose to dwell on that now, but we must acknowledge the read-across to our situation, which we will address in the coming days.

Tomorrow, meanwhile, we will officially remember our American friends as they attempt to come to terms with their loss and to mourn. It will be a time to stand side by side with President Bush and the American people and present a defiant face to those people who would threaten basic freedoms and the democratic way of life. It will be a time to recognise our duty to our friends and to stand by the side of right.

The Acting Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon): 

Mr Speaker, it is with a very heavy heart that I rise to speak on the motion in the name of Sir Reg Empey and myself. The horror and the scale of the destruction visited on the United States of America on Tuesday has shocked us all. It is a horror that will burn in our minds for many, many years to come. Our hearts go out not only to those affected but to all the people of America who have suffered physically and psychologically from the impact of these horrendous acts of terrorism.

Sir Reg Empey and I have written to the President of the United States offering the sympathy of the Executive. We are grateful to Barbara Stephenson, US consul general, and her colleagues for their presence today to hear at first hand the views of the Assembly.

Our prayers are with the victims of these unspeakable atrocities. Many of us have family, close friends and acquaintances in New York and Washington. Many people from Northern Ireland have found new lives in America. American investment has been very important in creating employment and opportunity here.

This was not simply an attack on America; it was an indiscriminate attack on a centre of world commerce used and staffed by people of all nationalities. It was an attack on us all. Many of us can recall parades on St Patrick’s Days and on other occasions that included members of the City of New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department - members of all nationalities. We pay tribute to their heroism in the face of this outrage, a heroism that has seen all too many of them perish in their endeavour to save lives.

As part of a society that hopes to emerge from conflict, we have some understanding of the American people’s feelings at this time. Just as they have supported us in so many ways as the peace process has developed, so we should now offer them our support in coming to terms with their pain and loss. Their solidarity, most notably in the aftermath of the horror of Omagh, is a fine example of the way in which friends from other nations can help in times of great distress. It is an example that we should seek to respond to now as the American people face a time of great loss.

For other reasons, the events in America touch us all. This unprecedented attack makes the world a less safe place. For evil people, advances in civilisation offer a new and more horrific means to kill and new opportunities to terrorise. That raises the issue of global security. The impact of these attacks will reverberate around the world in different ways. It is important for democracy that those responsible for the planning and organisation of these crimes be quickly brought to justice.

We ask ourselves what we can do to help. I suggest that the greatest tribute and help that we can give, as human beings and as leaders of our community, is to ensure that terrorism will never again be seen or enacted in our country. We must create the stability and the type of progress that alone can end and replace the awfulness of terrorism on a global scale.

2.15 pm

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:

The world has been given a fiercely highlighted message through this atrocity that razed a feature of New York’s skyline to sea level and made its rubble the cruel sepulchre of thousands of unsuspecting victims.

Rulers of Western democracies must learn the lesson that there cannot be dialogue with terrorism - for it is the lie incarnate. Its high priests and acolytes are unchangeable liars. They are hellish bloodsuckers, who in these crimes were prepared to knife young children to reach their heinous ends. Concessions have turned the monster into a greater monster, which now rages across the world and comes forward to torment us all.

A new and terrible dimension has been added to the terrors of our unknown tomorrows. We must have firm faith in a sovereign God - the only true and living God - who will ultimately bring evil to the judgement bar and mete out his judgements on those who have committed such dastardly deeds.

Reference has been made to the Omagh bombing. Tragically, the authorities in this land have not brought a single person to justice, and the victims have to gather up the money to take the case to court. In the past, we have heard strong statements in reaction to such terrible deeds as we have witnessed, about dealing with evil men and about bringing them to justice. However, those reactions have not attained their claimed ends. The tragedy is that terrorism has been made respectable through concessions. Terrorism has decided that it can take on the world and wring more and more concessions out of those who abide by democratic principles.

I have already had a personal letter delivered to President Bush. Today, on behalf of the people I represent, I record our sympathy and the brokenness of our own hearts, because we too have passed this way. We can only continue in the confidence that right will prevail. I speak not only for the members of my party, but for the United Unionist Assembly Party, which is associating itself with my remarks.

I must point out that there are those in this House whose organisation is part of the international organisation that brought about those awful crimes. There is a time to speak and a time to take action. The only action that those who believe as I do can take is to withdraw from the House while the spokesperson of that organisation, which is allied with international terrorism, makes his remarks.

I intend, with my Colleagues, to leave the House now. We will return to hear the other Members who wish to make a contribution. However, I will not give my presence or credence to crocodile tears, or to an impious demonstration of a conviction of guilt; a guilt that should be properly expressed by handing in the weapons that they have, which are used for the same type of killings in our country.

Mr Adams:

Two years ago, I visited the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Some Irish-American friends, associated with Friends of Sinn Féin, who work in the World Trade Centre and in the financial district adjacent to it, had organised a lunch in the Windows on the World restaurant on top of the tower. Sadly and tragically, one of the people who organised our visit is now missing. Friends in New York tell me that there is little hope of finding him alive.

Last night, I spent several hours on the phone trying to get through to friends in New York City to ensure that they were safe, and to hear news of the extent of the tragedy. The enormity of the catastrophe is very personal for many of them, as it is for me. My telephone conversations will be repeated by many Irish people who are reaching out to relatives and friends in the USA.

Among those who died was Fr Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. I met Fr Mychal several times. He was a close friend of New York policeman, Steven McDonald, who was left a quadriplegic after being shot down in the line of duty and who has devoted his life to the cause of peace. Steven was at the Assembly only recently. Another New York friend of mine, an ex- fireman who has survived the tragedy, is coming to terms with the fact that all of his colleagues in the station have been wiped out.

Many people in the Chamber have experienced the grief and hurt of loss during the years of our conflict. We understand the personal trauma that now touches thousands of American homes, and homes in Ireland, Britain and elsewhere in the world.

Like everyone else in the Assembly, I unequivocally condemn those who carried out the attacks. I have sent my deepest condolences and sympathy to the people of the United States, to President Bush, to Governor Pataki, to Mayor Giuliani and to other representatives. It is clear that the atrocity will have profound, far-reaching and long-term consequences, not just for the victims or for the USA, but for the rest of the world. Humanity collectively, including people on this small island, should be mindful of that in the time ahead.

It is right that we should express with solidarity and sympathy for the people of the USA. However, we must go further in those essential and necessary expressions of our sorrow, shock and denunciation. The best contribution that parties represented here - together with the Irish and British Goverments - can make to world peace, to the cause of justice throughout the world and to the memory of those who died in the USA and in other conflicts, including our own, is to make our peace process work.

When viewed in the awful context of the difficulties that other regions are experiencing, together with the enormous human suffering in New York and Washington, it is true that great progress has been made here. Is that to be squandered? We know the issues - they have been well rehearsed. I do not challenge only Unionists or the British Government by those remarks. There is a collective challenge for all of us.

Our party is totally committed to the peace process. I rededicate myself and my Colleagues to do our best to resolve the problems that confront us. We share real difficulties. I cannot underestimate them, and I do not underestimate them. Nor do I suggest that Republicans or Nationalists have a monopoly on grievance or problems. However, let us realise that our duty is to make peace with each other, and that our response to the atrocity is to build democracy and justice here and to resist all the factional urges that divide us.

We have still a long way to go to surmount our difficulties and to deal with the problems that beset the process. If we fail to resolve those problems, we will have failed our people - we will have failed ourselves. While we absorb, on both a personal and a political level, what has happened in the USA, we will have failed to meet the challenge and spurned the opportunity, amid the anger, chaos, suffering and sorrow, to make a difference and show that a better way exists.

Sin an tslí atá romhainn. Ba rud millteanach, ba rud trom, ba rud an-bhrónach an rud a tharla sna Stáit Aontaithe. Caithfimid an difear a dhéanamh. Go raibh míle maith agat.

Mrs E Bell:

Although I rise with deep sadness and profound regret, I welcome the opportunity to support the message of condolence. My deep sadness is a result of the thousands of human beings - most still not found or identified - who had life snatched from them at the scenes of tragedy. The true number of those killed will not be known for a long time, if ever, and it will be a harrowing time for their colleagues, friends and relatives left behind. We must remember - even if it is for our own comfort - that, only minutes after the initial explosions, hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and other rescue workers entered the burning buildings without thought for their own safety. Many of them paid the ultimate price for their caring behaviour.

My profound regret is that, even in the twenty-first century, man’s inhumanity to man achieved a new low with such basic terror. There are men and women who are completely guided in all aspects of their lives and their behaviour by radical conviction or rabid fanaticism. They sincerely believe that the end justifies the means, even though their other beliefs specifically preach the value of life and the evil of taking it. I remember all too clearly, as others will, that in our own dark times a number of terrorist organisations stated that, unfortunately and in some instances, even children’s lives were expendable. We have not really learned.

The public was naturally horrified. However, that attitude is obviously still present in those groups that use terror and murder as the chief weapons in their struggle - even in Northern Ireland. Here we have witnessed graphic horrors, such as Darkley, Enniskillen, McGurk’s Bar, La Mon House Hotel and, ultimately, Omagh. Each of those caused a new wave of revulsion, but the scenes from New York and Washington have undoubtedly resulted in even greater disbelief and absolute disgust because of the scale of what happened.

We must show our support and sympathy to the people of America, as they have done to us so many times in the past. I ask President Bush and other world leaders to spare no effort to seek out the perpetrators and their supporters, but I also ask them to react in a measured way and not to retaliate on the same scale. That would only mean further loss of innocent life. Seek justice, not revenge.

I support the motion.

Mr Ervine:

Like others, I have watched the almost 24-hour coverage of the horror and tragedy in the United States. In many ways, anything that I say or is likely to be said will by now be clichés, as so many people have poured out their condemnation, anger, frustration and disbelief.

There are moments in life - and this has to be one of them - when those of us in our divided society who have suffered from terrorism or who have felt that they were freedom fighters must consider where we are now and what contribution we can make to our lives and the lives of those around us in the future.

2.30 pm

There are few words that I could say to reassure people that they are not in danger. It is one thing to think that you might have the capacity to protect yourself, and another to launch attacks on innocent people. Terror can be on a small or large scale. We must remember that the United States has suffered both, when terrorists murdered its citizens in Tanzania, Kenya, Beirut and throughout the world. However, whether terror is on the small scale, or on the spectacular and, frankly, bloody awful scale that we see now, the outcome is the same.

Can anyone imagine what is was like to be herded to the back of a plane in the knowledge that, as the New York or Washington skyline rose to meet you, you were breathing your last breath? Is that any different from having a 9mm pistol put to your head and finding, in those last fleeting moments, that you are breathing your last breath?

Mr Speaker, I have a personal sense of hurt and anger about what we have seen. Terrorism is wrong; it is unjustifiable. As another Member said, our contribution to the future should be to ensure that our little bit of world peace is helped by our recognising that, although we want to be safe, there is no excuse for making an attack.

Ms McWilliams:

If we are in shock here in Northern Ireland, we can only begin to imagine how people in Pittsburgh, Washington, New York and throughout the United States must feel.

Barbara Stephenson must have been in a terrible state on Tuesday, because I understand that she has children in Washington. We made our telephone calls to ensure that any friends and relatives that we have in America were safe, that they had managed to scoop up their children, take them from their schools and homes, and get to safety. To have heard the telephone calls of people who are concerned about the many who are still missing, we in the Assembly can only express our deepest condolences.

This was cruelty of the most volcanic proportions and has shaken the geopolitics of the world. All we can think about is how we, in our humanity, can reach out to all those Americans who throughout the years have reached out to us with humanity, time and time again.

As we once said, the Americans never had to send soldiers to Northern Ireland or bring bodies home in body bags. They sent us diplomats, community workers, academics and funding. We thank them for that. All we can say is that, in this moment of their terrible horror, we shall give them anything that they ask of us. That is the least that we can do in our humanity. We shall also remember them as the weeks go on.

In the end, we must redouble our efforts to find democratic, anti-oppressive methods to deal with differences, both in our own very small part of the world and throughout the world.

I would like Barbara Stephenson to know that - as we say in Northern Ireland - we are very sorry for your trouble.

Mr McCartney:

I extend my profound sympathy to the President and people of the United States. Events of such horrific magnitude make language inadequate to express our empathy and solidarity with those who suffer. The words of Colin Powell and the resolution of the United Nations Security Council to combat all terrorism, wherever it may be, must bring some sense of belief that, following this enormously tragic event, the world has at last awakened to the fact that the third world war, which began long ago, is reaching a new level of horror. This horrific outrage outlines the principle that my party and I have always contended: democracy cannot co-exist with terrorism.

There is no difference in principle between the outrages of the Baltic Exchange, Canary Wharf, Manchester, Thiepval and the present catastrophe in New York; the difference is in the scale. Their purpose and effect are exactly the same - to induce, by terror, policy adoption by the nation that suffers, whether it be the United States or the United Kingdom. The purpose is to force nations to adopt policies that are conducive to the realisation of terrorist aims.

ETA, Libya, Columbia and the Balkans have all inflicted terror that was internationally organised, and people in this part of the world have played a central part in that. My refusal to countenance any kind of political inter­course with the political representatives of armed terrorists of whatever kind, colour or persuasion has been criticised by the so-called liberals of political life in Northern Ireland as rigid, implacable and unbending. However, there can be no point of compromise between the arsonist and the fireman - and many firemen died, discharging their duty in New York. Nor can there be any point of compromise between the democrat and the terrorist.

The Republican movement’s contributions to terrorism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been the car bomb, which decimated American citizens in Beirut and in their embassies in east Africa, and the more recent concept of attacking the commercial heartland of the country that terrorists wish to persuade to follow policies that will realise their terrorist aims. In the commercial and media heart of London are the Baltic Exchange and Canary Wharf, just as New York had the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. The bitter lesson of London was learned by those who perpetrated the outrage in New York. However, the British Government were willing to follow a policy of abject appeasement to protect the mainland. We did not hear the kind of words that came from Colin Powell from a British Minister. We did not hear a British Minister say that the Government would hunt down terrorists and eradicate them wherever they were found.

I deliberately stayed to hear what Mr Adams had to say, although my sympathies were with those who left. Mr Adams held a position in the Belfast brigade of the IRA when it blew apart the bodies of 11 people on Bloody Friday. I treat his words of consolation with contempt.

Mr Speaker:


Mr McCartney:

Mr Ervine -

Mr Speaker:


Mr McCartney:

I did not understand, Mr Speaker, that there was -

Mr Speaker:

Order. There can be no one in the Chamber who has not had to be present in places of sadness and at funerals. Most of us are aware that more words spoken do not necessarily mean more condolences expressed. It is time to express our condolences in ways other than in words.

Question put and agreed to nemine contradicente.


That this Assembly condemns the shocking and inhuman acts of terrorism carried out in the United States of America on Tuesday and, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, extends its deepest sympathy to the Government and people of the United States of America and all who have suffered so greviously.

Mr Speaker:

I have arranged for a book of condolence to be made available for Members, staff and press working in the Building or on the Stormont estate who wish to sign it. I invite Sir Reg Empey, Mr Séamus Mallon and other Members who wish to sign the book to do so with me in the Chamber after the Adjournment. The book will then be made available in the Great Hall for Members’ staff, party staff, Assembly officials, civil servants and others who work on the estate, and the press corps.

Adjourned at 2.42pm.


10 September 2001 / Menu / 17 September 2001