Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Stormont Castle lunch

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Belfast
Source: Thatcher Archive: NIO press release
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1430. Sections of the speech have been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 945
Themes: Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

When I visited Belfast in March, I said that it should be as normal for the Prime Minister to visit Northern Ireland as to visit any other part of the United Kingdom. And so I have come again today.

I am here to bear witness once more to the Government's commitment, and to my own personal commitment, to the future of the Province. We are committed to the well being of all the people of Northern Ireland. The men of violence are enemies of law abiding citizens everywhere. As Pope John Paul said at Drogheda “Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings. Violence is a crime against humanity, for it destroys the very fabric of society” .

The terrorism to which His Holiness has now himself fallen victim is the same as that from which we suffer here in Northern Ireland. It is a terrorism which says “give me what I demand or I will kill, capture or maim indiscriminately” .

I have seen myself this morning how in spite of everything the people of Belfast are carrying on the commercial and industrial life of the city. But I know how great are the hardships and the difficulties. [end p1]

Worse than the damage to the economy is the physical harm to people's lives and the effect on the minds of young people. We know how children are being used by evil men as shields and as tools. Young people are being taught to practice violence as a way of life. Many have never known peace, stability and freedom from fear.

Meanwhile the suffering is being inflicted on all sections of the population. The security forces are the targets of PIRA terrorism; the Protestant community of their threats, the Catholic community of their intimidation. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981:

Faced with the failure of their discredited cause, the men of violence have chosen in recent months to play what may well be their last card. They have turned their violence against themselves through the prison hunger strike to death. They seek to work on the most basic of human emotions—pity—as a means of creating tension and stoking the fires of bitterness and hatred. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981.

In doing so the PIRA have put the Catholic Community on the rack. Our heart goes out to all those there who are finding themselves in an increasingly intolerable position—especially perhaps to the parents; our encouragement goes to the many—including the clergy of the Catholic Church—who are urging the rejection of the arguments of the extremists.

People say that something must be wrong when such things can happen. They are right. But the present situation is not of the Government's choosing. It is a tragedy that young men should be persuaded, coerced or ordered to starve themselves to death for a futile cause. Neither I nor any of my colleagues wish to see a single person die of violence in Northern Ireland—policemen, soldier, civilian or prisoner on hunger strike. We welcome the decision of one hunger striker yesterday to take food. [end p2]

The PIRA take a different view. It would seem that dead hunger strikers, who have extinguished their own lives, are of more use to PIRA than living members. Such is their calculated cynicism. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981:] This Government is not prepared to legitimise their cause by word or by deed. And we should be clear what that cause is. It is a dictatorship by force and by fear in Northern Ireland, and in the Republic. These men deny democracy everywhere; they seek power for themselves. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981.

Some people argue that the Government could make the problem go away. We can of course maintain and improve an already humane prison regime. But there is no point in pretending that this is what the PIRA want. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981:] They have remained inflexible and intransigent in the face of all that we have done because what they want is special treatment, treatment different from that received by other prisoners. They want their violence justified. It isn't, and it will not be. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 28 May 1981.

I recognise that the present violence has its roots deep in the past. That is part of the agony of Northern Ireland. The Government has consistently and impartially sought to eradicate the causes of discontent. We will continue to do so.

But past failure cannot justify crime and violence today. Nothing good can come from them. They cause present grief and sow the seeds of future pain and sorrow.

Government can staunchly uphold the law and ensure that it is applied equally and fairly. This we have done and will continue to do for our duty is to all the citizens of Northern Ireland.

But the Government cannot bring peace and tranquillity. These things are not in our gift. The necessary will, desire and understanding can only come from the hearts and [end p3] minds of men and women here in the Province. No Government can make people thoughtful and considerate towards one and other. Only they themselves can do that.

Surely it is now time to make a supreme effort to achieve that freedom from fear which should be the birthright of every child and which should be commonplace in every democracy.

Each of you may be asking what any one person can do. But no-one can opt out. No-one who cares, who really cares, can be indifferent or passive.

I do care about the future of the people of Northern Ireland. I care very much indeed.

I have no time for hate. I also know that “when bad men combine the good must associate” . It is up to you, too.

My abiding hope is that humanity will prevail and that your children will grow up in happiness.