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Northern Ireland Assembly

Thursday 4 April 2002


Expressions of Condolence on the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Expressions of Condolence on the Death of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother

Mr Speaker:

It is my solemn and sad duty to advise the House of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who died peacefully in her sleep on March 30, 2002 in her one-hundred-and-second year.

Today’s sitting has been called for the special, sole and express purpose of giving the Assembly an opportunity to pay its respects to The Queen Mother for her long and extraordinary life of service not only to our country, but to the Commonwealth as a whole and to express condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and all the Royal Family.

I ask you now to stand in your places and pause to reflect for a minute, giving thanks for a life lived well and in the service of others.

Members observed a minute’s silence.

The First Minister (Mr Trimble):

I would like to say how much I, and I am sure other Members here, appreciate the fact that the Assembly has been recalled on this occasion to enable us to offer our condolences to Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the Royal Family on the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. It is entirely appropriate that we have this opportunity to do so.

Members will know that the coffin of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother will be moved from the vicinity of Clarence House to the Palace of Westminster tomorrow. It will be accompanied by the lieutenant colonels of the regiments of which she was Hon Colonel, who will act as pall-bearers. However, the bearer party will not be drawn from any of those regiments; it will be drawn from the Irish Guards.

A few moments ago, I discovered that the grandson of Sir John Gorman — whom I am delighted to see with us today — will be among the dozen members of the bearer party. It marks the very close association between Her Majesty and the Irish Guards — an association that dates back to 1928, when, as Duchess of York, she presented a shamrock to the Irish Guards on St Patrick’s Day, something that she has punctiliously done since then.

One of the characteristics of Her Majesty — no doubt shaped by her experiences in both world wars — is the close attention she has paid to servicemen and ex-servicemen, marking their service and the anniversaries associated with them. Part of that association is with the Black Watch, the regiment raised in the part of Scotland where she grew up, and in which her brothers served during the first world war. Indeed, one of her brothers was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos.

It was characteristic of The Queen Mother that, when she discovered 60 years later that her brother had been tended by another soldier — a Dublin Fusilier — just before his death, she immediately arranged for that soldier to come from Dublin to Clarence House to meet her. Instances such as that marked her character.

During the past few days many people have paid tribute to her character, the extraordinary grace and lightness of touch with which she discharged her functions as Queen Mother and the way in which she made everybody with whom she came in contact feel an openness and an easiness of approach. She did this without any sacrifice of majesty.

A very strong sense of humour was associated with her, and we have heard many examples of that in the past few days. However, most people when looking back at her long life — nearly 102 years, half of which were spent as Queen Mother — will associate her with carrying out a wide range of official functions and doing so with the lightness and grace already mentioned.

When we reflect on her life as a whole, however, we have to reflect on the 16 years in which she was Queen Consort, and many people remember the special contribution she made during the second world war. In 1939, shortly after the declaration of war, it was suggested that The Queen Consort and the young Princesses should be evacuated to Canada for safety from the threat of air raids. Her response was characteristic:

"The children will not leave without me. I will not leave without The King, and The King will never leave."

I suspect, as many people do, that the decision was made by her rather than The King. However, once the war touched the country during the air raids of 1940-41, and thereafter, she demonstrated her fortitude by not leaving the palace or London; by sharing the same dangers as others, and by visiting bombed areas very soon thereafter.

Those visits were not confined to the East End. She visited other cities, and she was in Belfast in 1942 to see the damage that had been done here. While there is a focus on the contribution that she made during the wartime years, the contribution in the years immediately preceding that war was, if anything, more significant. We were faced with a remarkable challenge from an unusual blend of nationalism and socialism that had arisen in Germany, and there were elements in society, on the right and the left, who were not clear about their response to that challenge, but that cannot be said of The Queen Mother. Before she became Queen she had dipped into ‘Mein Kampf’ and had seen through its author, and she advised people accordingly. That steadiness was reflected in the contribution of Her Majesty and King George VI in the years immediately preceding the war and during it.

The same courage was displayed more recently during the visit of Her Majesty to Northern Ireland in 1983. One does not know the full details, but a few days before her visit there was a lapse, and her itinerary was stolen from a car. However, that did not affect her. She behaved in an entirely characteristic way while here and, in order to mingle with the crowd, departed from the route that those charged with her safety wished her to take.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister made an interesting reference to the years that she had had and the experience that she garnered during them. She lived through the time of 20 Prime Ministers and 18 Presidents, and she could reminisce to him not just about Churchill and Attlee, but about Asquith, Lloyd George and Baldwin. There was a great wealth of experience there, which is a characteristic of the monarchy as a whole being a non-political expression of national identity and one of the few unifying institutions throughout the country.

Her passing will be felt with sadness by many people communally across the divide in Northern Ireland. It is quite right and appropriate, therefore, that we have this opportunity to express our condolences. I appreciate, and I am sure that the community as a whole will appreciate, the attendance of so many Members here today to mark that.

The Deputy First Minister (Mr Durkan):

I join with other Members today as party leader and Deputy First Minister in formally extending our condolences and offering our sincere sympathies to The Queen and her family at this sad time.

The Queen Mother was a remarkable woman of great character and sense of duty who carried out her role with dedication, commitment and great dignity. The esteem and regard in which The Queen Mother was held has been recognised through the many expressions of condolence and the tributes that have been paid to her by world leaders. The Queen Mother’s sense of service, her contribution to public life and the charities that she supported such as MENCAP and the NSPCC were significant. Many of the tributes of recent days recalled the war years when her personal contribution provided a much-needed boost to the people of Britain during those dark times. One does not need to be British or a royalist to recognise The Queen Mother’s position in public life and the esteem and affection in which she was held in her nation and beyond.

I recognise that the British Royal Family has a very special place in the hearts of many people in Northern Ireland, and The Queen Mother’s death brings a deep sense of loss to them just as her role was a source of great pride to them. People who do not endorse the concept of royalty can still appreciate the qualities of someone who loved life and demonstrated a clear strength of spirit.

10.45 am

The Queen Mother lived her long life to the full. Those who knew her well will greatly mourn her passing. Many in Ireland shared her love of racing. Several well-known politicians on this side of the water — and on this side of the House — enjoyed success on the back of The Queen Mother’s tips, real or surmised. I extend my sympathy to The Queen Mother’s family, friends and many admirers.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley:


The House is grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for your initiative in calling this meeting. It is most appropriate that the House meet as have done the other representative bodies of the United Kingdom, so that politicians can express their views and pass on their sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal House. We welcome that opportunity.

On behalf of the people whom I represent, I resent deeply the slogans that have appeared today on walls in certain areas of Belfast, with the words "Royal Family, where is your granny now?". It is preached to us that parity of esteem exists here, but there is none in such language — it cuts across the idea of parity of esteem. Unionist representatives must say that that activity is deeply resented and does not reflect the attitude of vast numbers of people on both sides of the religious divide. Many Roman Catholics feel, too, the sadness and darkness of this day. As the Deputy First Minister said, some do not accept the system of the monarchy but are prepared to be courteous at such times and admit the contribution of royalty and the monarchs of the United Kingdom, especially The Queen Mother. I regret that the SDLP was not represented in the House of Commons yesterday; however, I am glad that its representatives are here today.

Those who had the privilege of knowing and spending time with The Queen Mother could only say that she was a most remarkable woman. The Queen Mother’s greatest characteristic was her tenacious memory. Ballymena had the privilege of receiving a visit from her in the early days, when she and her husband opened the town hall there. I was only a little boy, not even a teenager, at that time.

Yesterday, in the House of Commons, the Father of the House reminded Members of a meeting that 15 MPs had with The Queen Mother on her ninetieth birthday. My wife and I had a lengthy conversation with her then. She reminded me of her visit to Ballymena and of the town hall that she and her husband opened. She also asked me about various businesses in Ballymena. At the time of her visit, the town had a flourishing linen business. She then asked me whether Ballymena had a tobacco business, and I told her that the town was home to Gallaher Ltd at Lisnafillan. She said that she had had that in her mind when she thought of Ballymena. She had a tenacious memory.

It was recorded in the House of Commons yesterday that The Queen Mother prayed nightly for the people of Northern Ireland. That characterises the type of woman that she was. There are no other real competitors for the title "lady of the century", because in all aspects, she was the lady of the century. She saw the century in and she saw it out, and her remarkable keenness and zest for duty were staggering.

Once, The Queen Mother attended a meeting at St Patrick’s Barracks in Ballymena. I spoke to the Royal Flight pilot who had flown her there. He said that she did not keep to schedules. He had been informed of the time at which she must leave Ballymena, but when the plane took off, the first thing she said was that she would not keep to the schedule, because she thought that she could spend two more hours in Ballymena, and she intended to do so. The pilot told her that that would be difficult for him, because he had been instructed that they should leave Ballymena at 6.00 pm, but she was instructing him to leave at 8.00 pm. He told her that he would be in trouble. She replied that he could leave the settlement of the dispute to her because she was in charge and she would leave when she wanted to leave. Therefore, on that occasion she lengthened her visit to Ballymena in order to meet many more people whom she would not have met otherwise. Her behaviour in my constituency mirrors that in all the constituencies that she visited, and that was the universal assent of Members from all sides who spoke in the House of Commons yesterday.

What a century she lived in — perhaps the greatest century of the era after Christ. She was a powerful lady who had conquered difficulties and had faced great challenges. She experienced many hard parts of life’s rough road and endured many bitter sorrows. She displayed remarkable heroism during the war years, and she expressed great love and sympathy for those who were in need of it.

The foundation of The Queen Mother’s power was a living faith in Jesus Christ as her Saviour. It was remarked in a BBC programme that for her church confirmation she chose the hymn

"I am not ashamed to own my Lord or to defend His cause, Maintain the honour of His Word and the glory of His cross".

She had a faith, which she needed in the trials, troubles and tribulations that life held for her.

As we look back on The Queen Mother’s life, as a nation we can thank God for giving us such a gift. It is difficult to think of the kingdom without The Queen Mother. We have been left bereft of someone who acted as a tremendous cement to the society of our nation. She bound all classes and people, who saw in her, and in her dedication to the service of the nation, something that inspired them and was a source of strength.

The testimony of her life is best expressed by an anonymous poem, putting into her mouth these words:

"What does it matter then that I am grey,
That this frail frame has been seized by decay?
Though silver is my hair, sweet flowers of gold are blooming everywhere.
My heart’s not old."

I do not think her heart was ever old.

"And so this tenement of crumbling clay
Is but a hat I rent for one short day.
Love’s wondrous house in peace waits now for me
With joys that shall increase eternally."

John Bunyan, author of ‘The Immortal Dream’, said of the pilgrim:

"They laid the pilgrim in a large upper chamber, facing the sun rising. The name of that chamber was peace."

That sums up well the life, the testimony and the contribution that The Queen Mother made to this nation.

Mr Ford:

I wish to associate my Colleagues and myself with the remarks that have been made about The Queen Mother by others who have already spoken. It is at times like this that people frequently trot out the phrase "This is the end of an era". However, in the case of a life that spanned three centuries and was lived so much in the public gaze, it really can be said that this is the end of an era for the people of this country. The three words that have come to me most often in the millions of words that have been written and spoken over the past few days have been: history, duty and personality. In a life that was in the public gaze for three quarters of a century there was an enormous amount of history.

I have no personal memories of The Queen Mother, but at the weekend I listened as my mother and my aunt described how, as small girls, they cajoled my grandfather into taking them to Newtownstewart railway station to watch the then Duke and Duchess of York arrive on their way to Baronscourt in 1924. The Queen Mother was already something of a media celebrity then, as she had already captured the public attention just a few months after her honeymoon. She remained in the public gaze and public affection all her life. It was not just that she was there —there was her sense of duty, her sense of duty towards the family she had married into, the role that was thrust on her by the abdication crisis and her behaviour, which has been referred to by the First Minister, during the second world war and the famous anecdote about not running to Canada for safety for herself.

She carried that through into the post-war era when she ceased to be The Queen Consort and became the mother of the sovereign. She did not retreat into privacy but continued with an active public life. It was in that that the warmth of her personality showed through. There have been countless anecdotes in recent days as people have talked about how they met her, the things she said and the legendary jokes about how her staff, who were half her age, could not keep up with her. However, it was when she became so popularly known as The "Queen Mum" that her personality showed through to the post-war generations, to those of us who have no memory of her life during the crises of the earlier part of the century. Her work with charities, and her informal meetings with individuals have all been highlighted.

It is clear that she will be missed by people of all ages in every part of these islands, by those who have happy memories of meetings with her at different stages. We send our sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen and to all the members of the Royal Family at this time.

Mr Boyd:

On behalf of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party, I too pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. The Queen Mother was a remarkable woman who was respected by millions throughout the world. The people of Northern Ireland will remember her with great fondness and affection for having visited the Province on many occasions.

The Queen Mother had a great loyalty to her country, a tremendous love of her people and a strong devotion to her Christian faith. She was a wonderful, decent person, and our nation is much the poorer for her passing. Our thoughts and prayers at this sad time are with Her Majesty The Queen and all the members of the Royal Family. It is particularly sad for Her Majesty to lose her sister and mother within a few weeks of each other in this her Golden Jubilee year.

11.00 am

Mr Watson:

We in the United Unionist Assembly Party also wish to be associated with the tributes being paid in the House to the life and service of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Unlike others here today, my party Colleagues and I did not have the privilege of meeting such a gracious lady. Having been born just a few months before her late husband’s death, I grew up in the new Elizabethan post-war era and, like many others, always regarded The Queen Mother as the grandmother of our nation.

I am reminded of the words of the late President John F Kennedy when he said

"Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."

Those words epitomise the life of our beloved Queen Mother. During that long and inspirational life she was a gracious and kindly Queen, and she has left an indelible mark on our society. Throughout that remarkable lifespan she served her people selflessly and diligently. She was indeed the matriarch of the nation, and through her absolute integrity and warmth of character and personality she was a tremendous inspiration to the British people during the dark days of war and during the brighter days too. Her dedication and duty to her family and country, to the Commonwealth of Nations and to other countries of the world cannot be questioned and will not easily be forgotten.

We extend our deepest sympathy to Her Majesty The Queen and all members of the Royal Family at this difficult time and pray that Almighty God will give them

"beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

Mr Ervine:

It is impossible not to be touched by the loss of someone so wonderful. In common with Mr Watson I did not know The Queen Mother as Queen. You could argue that I did not know The Queen Mother at all, other than by way of the things I am capable of reading or the stories that appear on television. However, to me there seems to have been a benign power, a strength and a rock solid stability that all of us, in some way, have tapped into as a resource, and none more so than members of the Royal Family who have come through a torrid century with circumstances not always as they wished them to be. Yet there was this tower of strength, this benign, relatively petite woman showing all the fortitude and ability to steer her family in the right direction as best she could.

Of course, that family in many ways epitomises the nation, a nation going through trauma and difficulty, having suffered the awfulness of war, the tragedy of death and grief and those things that we know and expect from the sad and terrible moments in any life — in the life of a person, a family or a nation. The Queen Mother saw all those things, but she also saw good things. She saw changes in society that mean we live longer such as the eradication of smallpox. Absolutely destructive and awful things to humankind also happened in the lifetime of The Queen Mother. She would have seen much political chicanery in our United Kingdom. She would also have seen that political chicanery develop through the process of violence. One eye would have been on one part of the United Kingdom that perhaps suffered from its abnormality more than other areas.

My sense is that through all of that — whether we can celebrate it or commiserate about it — there was a life that did make a difference. We have heard today about duty and the undoubted devoted service that The Queen Mother gave to this society. However, hers is not a life to be commiserated; it is to be celebrated, because it has reflected the life of a nation. That nation loved her deeply. We will carry on without her. Our nation is not besmirched by her passing; it has been greatly enhanced by her existence.

Ms Morrice:

On behalf of the Women’s Coalition, I pay tribute to The Queen Mother. It is a sad occasion for many people, especially The Queen who has lost her sister and her mother within such a short period and for the close family circle, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will miss The Queen Mother very much. It is a sad occasion for those who knew her well and for the many millions of people whose hearts she touched. Our thoughts are with them at this time, and as we say in Northern Ireland, we are sorry for their trouble.

Like the death of President Kennedy, Princess Grace and Princess Diana, the passing of The Queen Mother will be captured as a moment in time. People will ask each other: "Where were you when you heard?". Many people will remember the mundane things they were doing at the time — washing the car or peeling the potatoes. Suddenly, those things will take on a new significance as the stories are told and retold and history becomes reality.

However, The Queen Mother’s death was very different from that of President Kennedy, Princess Grace and Princess Diana. Their deaths were tragic because they were cut down in their prime. The Queen Mother passed away having lived her life to the full: that is how she will be remembered. She was a strong, capable woman who for many people embodied the spirit of royalty. She had grace, glamour and good humour. She had dignity and a remarkable sense of duty. She was without doubt a true woman of substance.

Over the past few days we have heard many stories — and we will hear many more — about her resilience during the war years. We have heard about her support for her husband The King; her work for charities; her love of horses and her dislike of change. However, she saw more change during her lifetime than there has been at any other time in the history of the world. Many examples of that change have been cited, but perhaps the most appropriate for me, as a representative of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, to mention is that although she was born into privilege she did not have the right to vote until she was 28 years old — because she was a woman.

It has been said that her death marks the end of an era. The door of twentieth-century Britain has been closed. However, before it did so, The Queen Mother had the chance to glimpse the new millennium with her family at her side. Sadly she had to witness the death of her daughter before she herself passed away. It is right to say that the next few days should be a celebration of her life. She lived to see a hundred and one summers, and she died peacefully in the springtime of her one-hundred-and-second year. What more could a family have asked for.

Mr Speaker:

I have made arrangements for a book of condolence to be made available to be signed by Members, staff, members of the press and others working in this Building or on the Stormont estate. I invite Members to join me in signing the book in the Great Hall after the Adjournment.

Adjourned at 11.09 am.


19 March 2002 / Menu / 8 April 2002