Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 February 2005

Northern Ireland Issues: Motion.


6:00 pm

Mary Henry (Independent)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is as well part of his speech was optimistic and pointed out positive developments. All Members are disappointed at the turn of events because considerable work has been invested in recent years by all Governments and many Members of both Houses in the effort to bring to a conclusion the problem in Northern Ireland.

During the Minister of State's speech, I recalled a meeting I attended in the Royal College of Surgeons in London 30 years ago, during which two young doctors from a hospital in Belfast — I believe it was the Royal Victoria Hospital — presented a paper on 82 cases of reconstruction of the knee joint after kneecapping. Members will imagine how I felt as everyone present looked at me, the representative of the Republic. The paper was shocking. It showed how one would reconstruct a knee after an assault using a Black and Decker drill, what one would do when a bullet had entered the knee from the back or side, the sciatic nerve had been damaged, the femoral artery destroyed or the femoral vein injured. That was 30 years ago. What would the authors write now?

Senator Brian Hayes is correct that this form of criminality is turned on and off. We have had a terrible spectacle in recent weeks of hands and ankles being favoured for mutilation in punishment attacks. We can look forward to articles on this in the various surgical journals. It is shameful that our country should be known for the reconstruction of joints which have been injured on purpose in the most brutal fashion. All the paramilitaries, not only the IRA, are involved in this criminal activity. It is extraordinary to see members of Sinn Féin, which states it is part of the political process, in a position in which they will not recognise this activity as criminal. In many cases of punishment attacks, reconstruction is not possible, the limb must be amputated and the victim must be fitted with false limbs. That is disgusting.

I was struck by one part of the motion. As president of the Irish Association, I chaired the first meeting in the South at which Mitchel McLaughlin spoke. It was held in the Mansion House at a time when one could not bring a member of Sinn Féin into the House for lunch. I took Mr. McLaughlin to lunch in a place near Dawson Street. I thought he was a person who would make good progress as he seemed like a decent sort of person. I was, therefore, bitterly disappointed to see him on television refusing to condemn the murder of a mother of ten who, I understand, committed no crime. Even if she had the most terrible crimes on her head, who had the right to murder her? Why was she not entitled to due process? At the time, the Irish Association and many Members of the Houses were making strong efforts to encourage people into the democratic process. It was sad to watch the television programme in question.

The last time I spoke about Northern Ireland was at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation. I thought the Sinn Féin members at the forum were enthusiastic about moving forward. We are in exactly the same position we were in ten years ago.

It is hard to understand how anyone on this island, England or elsewhere could believe that the Taoiseach would not have good reason to state his view that the bank robbery in Belfast was carried out by the IRA. Why would he make such a statement if he did not have proper evidence? It is ridiculous to ask him to produce the evidence because I presume we are hoping arrests will be made, cases will come before the courts and convictions will be secured. The Taoiseach's body language — he was deflated by the events — said more than his words because he and other members of this and other Governments have made massive efforts in the peace process. I cannot understand those who have been involved in the peace process asking to be shown the evidence. It is an impossible request.

I ask the people of the North to be a little more realistic about what is taking place there. To my horror the other day, a very well educated and intelligent young woman from Northern Ireland said to me that the Northern Bank, more or less, deserved it and that it had been very hard on people. Steam nearly came out of my ears. What sort of criminality is acceptable if one thinks that way? If it had been some other bank which had favoured people better, would it have been wrong?

I ask the people of Northern Ireland to look at the society they are saying is all right where an investigation is ongoing into a murder outside a pub the other night and where members of the police force, which is now much more representative of both communities, were stoned in the Markets area. The Markets area is hardly a remote part of Belfast. When one walks to the train station from somewhere like the City Hall, one must go past the Markets area.

The people of Northern Ireland must stand up and be counted. Senator Minihan mentioned the people of Iraq. I wonder how brave I would have been going out to vote if someone had said to me that if I was found with purple ink on my finger, I would be shot. When one considers the courage of those people, the people of Northern Ireland must look at the situation they are allowing to develop there because their loss will be even greater than ours.


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