Report of a Committee to consider, in the context of civil liberties and human rights, measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland
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Report of a Committee to consider,
Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Command
of Her Majesty
Published in London by,
Crown copyright material has been reproduced under licence from the
Controller of Her Majesty's Stationary Office.
To the Right Honourable Merlyn Rees MP, Her Majesty's
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
We were appointed:
We received written submissions from 61 different individuals, groups of individuals and organisations and considered each of them carefully; we invited 36 of them to give oral evidence, including everyone who expressed a wish to do so. A number of organisations submitted more than one memorandum or were represented before us by more than one individual; in all we considered 157 memoranda and heard 97 witnesses. A full list of those organisations and individuals who gave evidence is in Appendix A.
At our first meeting on 19th June 1974 we decided that, in the interests of security and of the protection of witnesses, all our meetings would be held in private and that we would not publish the evidence we received. We subsequently held ten hearings of one, two or three days' duration; five of these were held in Northern Ireland and the remainder in London. After the conclusion of these hearings we met for three further discussions, each lasting three or four days, in order to prepare this Report. In all the Committee met for a total of 29 days. We also visited Crumlin Road, the Maze and Armagh Prisons where we met staff, detainees and prisoners, including women and young persons. We visited Army posts and Royal Ulster Constabulary stations to meet and talk to the security forces on the ground.
During the course of evidence we heard some complaints against the security forces, the courts and the administration. We referred these to the bodies concerned for their comments. We have commented on some of these complaints in the relevant part of our Report.
As we were completing our Report Parliament passed the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974; we have reviewed our findings in the light of its provisions at the appropriate points in our Report.
We all desire to express our gratitude and appreciation to Mr Gerald Watson and Mr J Howard-Drake of the Northern Ireland Office; Mr P Coulson and Mr J M Steele, the Secretaries to the Committee; Mr A R Marsh, who at a critical point prepared abstracts of all our documents; Mr A H Dent and Mr M Hunter, and other members of the supporting staffs, including the secretaries who typed for long hours, often at night, to enable us to complete our Report on time. We owe a great deal to their efficiency and unsparing help. The frequency with which the Committee met and the large body of evidence, both written and oral, which we received combined to make the task of those who helped us particularly arduous. No Committee could have been better served.
Subject to the reservation of Lord MacDermott, our Report is unanimous.
1. The situation in Northern Ireland has altered considerably since Lord Diplock's Commission was asked in the autumn of 1972, as a matter of urgency, to consider means of protecting the community against terrorism, The Report of this Commission led to the passage of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 (hereafter " the 1973 Act "), which has since formed the basis of much of the administration of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, and which we have been asked, among other things, to scrutinise with a view to amendment where necessary.
2. While shooting and bombing in Northern Ireland remain high by any standards, they have been much reduced over the last three years. Explosions, which totalled 1,382 in 1972, were down to 973 in 1973 and have fallen to 648 for the first eleven months of 1974. Shootings, which totalled 10,628 in 1972, fell to 5,018 in 1973 and to 3,052 for the first eleven months of 1974. Punishment shootings, however, such as "executions" and "knee-cappings," have recently increased: in the first eleven months of this year there have been 122 knee-cappings, as compared with 71 for the similar period in 1973. Details are shown in Appendix B.
3. On the political front, however, progress has been erratic.
During 1973, as a result of patient inter-communal diplomacy
by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a new constitution,
based on the principle of " power-sharing ", was agreed
upon and promulgated. An executive, containing for the first
time representatives of both the majority and minority communities
in Northern Ireland, came into office on 1st January 1974. But
a politically motivated strike in May 1974 brought about its downfall
and a return to direct rule from Westminster. The Secretary of
State shortly thereafter announced that a Constitutional Convention
would be convened, composed of representatives elected for the
purpose by a fresh election in Northern Ireland. The purpose
of this Convention will be to consider, " what provision
for the government of Northern Ireland is likely to command the
most widespread acceptance throughout the community there ".
4. Our work has been concerned primarily with the operation of the law, but it has had to be undertaken in something of a political vacuum, when the future arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland have yet to be determined and the elections to the Constitutional Convention have still to take place. Moreover, it has coincided with a time of growing questioning in Britain on the future relationship of Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is therefore essential, before setting out our recommendations about the law and its administration, to make clear the political assumptions to which they are related. These include the following:
(b) Until there is a marked reduction in violence in Northern Ireland which permits a significant reduction in the role of the Army, security must remain the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom, even though a wide range of other responsibilities may be devolved to Stormont.
(c) Northern Ireland is not a homogeneous society. It consists of two communities which, despite many characteristics held in common, are divided in culture, religion and political sympathies. In a plural society such as this, the normal conventions of majority rule will not work. No political framework can endure unless (i) both communities share in the responsibility of administering Northern Ireland, and (ii) recognition is given to the different national inheritances of the two communities.
6. In considering the administration of justice in Northern Ireland, we are charged to consider two matters:
(b) the preservation of civil liberties and human rights.
7. Political dissent is as old as political society; its roots may be resistance to oppression or simply idealism. The new factor in the long history of dissent is the effectiveness of the weapons its more extreme proponents can command. Terrorism is probably more widespread in both the industrial and developing world than at any other time in recent history. There are a number of reasons for this, which include the relative ease with which arms, money and terrorist skills can cross frontiers, the effect of mass communications in both facilitating and glamourising violence, and above all the vulnerability of complex industrial societies. But the greater ease with which terrorism can be organised does not legitimise it.
8. This is particularly evident in the case of Northern Ireland. To work through the process of political persuasion for a united Ireland, a Northern Ireland integrated with the United Kingdom or even a sovereign Northern Ireland is quite legitimate. But the terrorist organisations reject the democratic process and they can only embitter relations between Britain and Ireland. They cannot bludgeon the British out of Ireland and, as the events of November 1974 have proved, the extension of terrorism to Britain simply increases the resolution of the British. They can offer no gifts to the people of Northern Ireland by way of greater freedom, security, or prosperity which the people cannot now attain by legal and democratic means. Moreover, they command the support of only a small fraction of either the minority or the majority community in Northern Ireland. Because they are attempting to destroy Northern Ireland as a political society, terrorists who break the law - which in Northern Ireland gives greater protection to the accused than in most disturbed communities - are not heroes but criminals; not the pioneers of political change but its direst enemies.
9. The same is true of those who engage in subversion; who participate in attempts to undermine the authority of government or change its policy by forceful or obstructive means. Strong penalties already exist for those who devise or employ such tactics. The crime of treason felony, for instance, which is punishable by life imprisonment has been on the statute book for over a century to deal with those who intimidate Parliament. Yet the most effective protection against the development of a subversive situation lies elsewhere: in the recognition by government that it must act with speed to demonstrate its determination to sustain its authority, and in the recognition on the part of the public at large that it is they - not some remote official body - who are the target and will be the victims of subversive action.
10. There is one aspect of the problem of communal conflict which should not be overlooked in this context. It involves the special international obligations of the Government of the United Kingdom. In the first place the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland are both members of the European Community, whose members explicitly recognise an even higher degree of obligation to co-operate than is the case between sovereign states in general (as expressed, for instance, in section 224 of the Treaty of Rome which specifically covers situations of internal disturbance in a member country). Secondly, the United Kingdom has been for over 25 years a leading member of the North Atlantic Alliance, whose function, as reiterated regularly in other contexts, is purely defensive. Consequently, in the case of any hostile action on the part of either the majority or the minority community against the other, which implied even the risk of civil war in Ulster or of organised violence spreading across the borders of the Republic, the Government of the United Kingdom would be obliged to deploy all the force at its disposal against such an action in order to honour its international as well as to discharge its domestic responsibilities.
11. The presence of influential communities of Irish descent in many parts of the English-speaking world means that a number of Britain's allies and Commonwealth partners have a keen interest in the stability of communal relations in Northern Ireland. Yet some of these same Irish communities have themselves helped to sustain violence there by their support for the paramilitary organisations.
12. The greater ease with which terrorism and subversion can now be organised, and the degree of fear it can generate in an otherwise peaceful society like Northern Ireland, make it unwise to compare the present emergency with similar troubles in Ulster in the inter-war years or in the 1950s. Terrorism and subversion in Northern Ireland can only be defeated, or guarded against, by the energetic pursuit of measures against them by the Government, and equally important - of continued, parallel progress in other fields of social, political and economic activity, especially of community relations as a whole.
13. Northern Ireland is now subject to direct rule from Westminster. This has been the position for many months and is likely to be the position for some months to come. Direct rule imposes upon Westminster the responsibility for policy making, policy implementation and the supervision of administrative services in many fields which are likely to become devolved powers at some future date. The full backing of the United Kingdom as a whole, together with all the necessary resources, must be made available to discharge these responsibilities. There must be no question of the responsibilities being regarded as transitory, since this will result in a lack of will, thus contributing to pessimism and frustration.
14. The struggle in Northern Ireland is only part of a larger
conflict. The Rule of Law is presently under attack in many places
throughout the world. Sometimes this takes the form of blatant
terrorism; sometimes more sophisticated methods are employed.
But where the attack, whatever its nature, succeeds, ordered
democratic government is in jeopardy. The Rule of Law must therefore
be maintained in Northern Ireland not only for the sake of its
people, but for the sake of all those in the United Kingdom and
beyond who want freedom and peace instead of anarchy.
15. Our terms of reference require us to consider the problem of terrorism and subversion outlined above with due consideration for the preservation of civil liberties and human rights. We have been set the difficult task of maintaining a double perspective; for, while there are policies which contribute to the maintenance of order at the expense of individual freedom, the maintenance without restriction of that freedom may involve a heavy toll in death and destruction. Some of those who have given evidence to us have argued that such features of the present emergency provisions as the use of the Army in aid of the civil power, detention without trial, arrest on suspicion and trial without jury are so inherently objectionable that they must be abolished on the grounds that they constitute a basic violation of human rights. We are unable to accept this argument, While the liberty of the subject is a human right to be preserved under all possible conditions, it is not, and cannot be, an absolute right, because one man may use his liberty to take away the liberty of another and must be restrained from doing so. Where freedoms conflict, the state has a duty to protect those in need of protection.
16. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 sets out in Article 5 the general right of liberty and security of persons; but Article 17 specifically negates the right " to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein". Article 15 gives any High Contracting Party the right to derogate from its obligations under Article 5 "in time of war or any other public emergency to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation". The United Kingdom ratified the European Convention in 1951, and has given due notice of derogation necessary to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland. The 1973 Act is therefore not in breach of international agreement.
17. The suspension of normal legal safeguards for the liberty of the subject may sometimes be essential, in a society faced by terrorism, to counter greater evils. But if continued for any period of time it exacts a social cost from the community; and the price may have to be paid over several generations. It is one of the aims of terrorists to evoke from the authorities an over-reaction to the violence, for which the terrorists are responsible, with the consequence that the authorities lose the support of those who would otherwise be on the side of government.
18. In the present situation there are neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland where natural social motivation is being deployed against lawful authority rather than in support of it. Any good society is compounded of a network of natural affection and loyalties; yet we have seen and heard of situations in which normal human responses such as family affection, love of home, neighbourliness, loyalty to friends and patriotism are daily invoked to strengthen terrorist activity.
19. The imposition of order may be successful in the short term; but in the long term, peace and stability can only come from that consensus which is the basis of law. The tragedy of Northern Ireland is that crime has become confused with politically motivated acts. The common criminal can flourish in a situation where there is a convenient political motive to cover anti-social acts; and the development of a " prisoner-of-war " mentality among prisoners with social approval and the hope of an amnesty, lends tacit support to violence and dishonesty.
20. We acknowledge the need for firm and decisive action on the part of the security forces; but violence has in the past provoked a violent response. The adoption of methods of interrogation " in depth ", which involved forms of ill-treatment that are described in the Compton Report (Cmnd 4823), did not last for long. Following the Report of the Parker Committee in 1972 (Cmnd 4901) these methods were declared unlawful and were stopped by the British Government; but the resentment caused was intense, widespread and persistent.
21. The continued existence of emergency powers should be limited
both in scope and duration. Though there are times when they
are necessary for the preservation of human life, they can, if
prolonged, damage the fabric of the community, and they do not
provide lasting solutions. A solution to the problems of Northern
Ireland should be worked out in political terms, and must include
further measures to promote social justice between classes and
communities. Much has been done to improve social conditions
in recent years, but much remains to be done. Though these
matters, strictly speaking, lie outside our terms of reference,
we should like to see a number of developments: the implementation
of the recommendations of the van Straubenzee Report on Discrimination
in the Private Sector of Employment (now eighteen months old);
further improvements in housing; and a new and more positive approach
to community relations. Consideration should be given to the
enactment of a Bill of Rights. Measures of social reform
may not produce immediate results in the reduction of violence.
In Northern Ireland memories are long, and past oppression serves
to colour present experience; but a more united community is the
only real answer to the dilemma of maintaining peace while preserving
SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND
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