23 January 2003 Edition
Heath cuts up rough
BY FERN LANE
The thread and the motivation running through the British government's mind at that particular time was... we are fighting a war and let us protect the people who have done these things
Former British prime minister Edward Heath has been involved in prolonged and dramatic clashes with Michael Lavery QC, for the families, at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. Thoughout his evidence, Heath repeatedly insulted counsel, was occasionally incoherent, frequently petulant and almost always deliberately obstructive, repeatedly refusing to answer even straightforward questions from both Lord Saville and Mr Lavery on, amongst other things, his government's documented reluctance to introduce direct rule. His refusal, warned Lavery, would lead the Tribunal to "draw its own inference".
On Monday there were particularly heated exchanges between the two when Lavery put it to Heath that his government, despite being fully aware of the abuses perpetrated during 50 years of unionist administration, only intervened once law and order had broken down in the Six Counties. He suggested that "the regime would have lasted 1,000 years if they had been able to maintain law and order... like Goethe you preferred injustice to disorder". Heath refused to answer, saying that he would have "need to examine history".
Lavery put it to Heath that, so far as his government was concerned, Ireland was "a nuisance". Referring to Heath's own statement, Lavery observed that "at a time when people in the United Kingdom were being killed and murdered the principal preoccupation of their Prime Minister was Europe". He put it to Heath that the meetings of GEN47 (the British Cabinet Committee for the Six Countiesd) usually took the form of "Only seven people killed this week. Let us get on to the next item on the agenda". Heath responded furiously, accusing Lavery of "putting the whole thing in an obscene way" and said that he objected to the barrister's "offensive language and attitude". Heath said that he had two "splendid" ministers dealing with Ireland and he left matters almost entirely to them.
Under questioning, Heath claimed that his instruction to the British Army in October 1971 to provide proposals to "bring terrorism to an end at the earliest moment, without regard to the inconvenience to the civilian population" was a "phrase used by a civil servant" which did not represent his views. In answer to Lavery's suggestion that 'inconvenience' was merely "a euphemism for bloodshed, for killing innocent people", Heath responded that Lavery was using "appalling" phrases.
Lavery continued that 'inconvenience' did not mean "just being stopped at road blocks and being held up; it is not that sort of inconvenience, is it?"
"Well, it can be or it cannot be," said Heath.
"Could you give an example of some major inconvenience that you think that military action might have caused?" asked Lavery.
"That is not my job" replied Heath.
There was a prolonged exchange between the two on the "political penalties" Heath had said his government was prepared to pay in order that the British Army might defeat the "gunmen" by "military means". The suggestion by Lavery was that such penalty was not the anger of the British electorate, which was largely indifferent to what was happening in the Six Counties; rather, it was that the inevitable deaths of innocent civilians through such "military means" would complete the alienation of the Catholic community and incur the wrath of the Dublin government. Heath denied the suggestion.
"Having rejected that," asked Lavery, "can you tell the tribunal what was upsetting them or what would upset them?"
"Well, you must find that out for yourself," said Heath.
"Is there something to hide, Sir Edward, that you do not want to tell us?" asked Lavery.
"Nothing at all" responded Heath; "it is your responsibility to find that out, if you want to know. It is not my job to answer that question, go and ask the people, they will tell you."
When questioned about Lord Hailsham's belief that it would be legal for the army to open fire on civilians, Lavery asked why, if Heath himself and his government thought the proposal was "objectionable", as Heath claims, Hailsham was not sacked. "He was good in other spheres," said Heath.
In other words, said Lavery, "let him propose the killing of Irishmen if he likes, but because he is good at law and so on, we will overlook that".
Like almost every other witness on the British side, Heath denied all knowledge of General Ford's memo regarding the so-called Derry Young Hooligans. Again, he refused to answer questions on the matter, saying that Lavery was "incapable of asking sensible questions". Heath said he was proud of his record in Ireland "despite all the muck which you produce from time to time, whenever you can get a hearing".
Lavery asked why Ford was not "drummed out of the British Army for this outrageous proposal". Heath replied that he was not responsible for discipline in the British Army. "If it had been brought to your attention, would you have ensured that he was drummed out of the British Army?" asked Lavery. "Hypothetical," said Heath. "If you cannot think of anything better to ask, then you had better stop."
Lavery put it to the tribunal that, for Heath, "Northern Ireland was something that was of no great interest to him... he would have been prepared to countenance things in Northern Ireland that he would not have tolerated for one moment in England. The political reality is if this [Bloody Sunday] had happened in England, Sir Edward's government would not have lasted 24 hours. Those who were responsible for security in Northern Ireland knew that their prime minister was not really very interested in Northern Ireland, knew very little about it and they therefore had a considerable latitude to make outrageous proposals without the fear of any sanction or retribution from their political masters."
During his questioning of Heath, Lavery was repeatedly interrupted by Lord Saville, who at one point instructed the barrister to sit down. Lavery refused, saying that Saville's rebukes were "completely unfair". He went on to accuse Heath of being indifferent to known breaches of the Yellow Card by the British Army and argued that the message being sent out by Heath was that "whatever the Army does is a matter for them and I will not be calling them to account for it because that is their business - go on and fight that war and I will not hold you to account for whatever you do".
This attitude, he suggested, characterised British rule in Ireland at the time. "The thread and the motivation running through the British government's mind at that particular time was... we are fighting a war and let us protect the people who have done these things. I am trying to build up a picture, which the tribunal apparently is resisting, of a country that regards itself at war, is prepared to use methods, such as interrogation, which are not too squeamish; and the question is what signal all of this sent to its soldiers who were on the streets fighting a war? [Was] the message being sent to them, 'be very careful' do not put one foot outside the law or you will be held to account for ití or was it, 'you are fighting a war, accidents happen, carry on, do your best and we will protect you'?"
On Tuesday, Lavery took issue with Lord Saville for allowing Heath to be abusive and for allowing him to refuse to answer questions. Such "latitude" said Lavery was completely outside his experience and the result was that "Sir Edward, emboldened by the latitude he has been given, feels that when I ask him a question all he has to do is roll his eyes, look at the Tribunal, offer an insult to me and refuse to answer the question". Although Lord Saville said he would note Mr Lavery's comments, Heath continued with his refusal to answer questions he did not like.
Heath did, however, make one noticeable admission on Tuesday, which he immediately retracted. Recalling that he had spent the evening of 30 January with his sailing crew, he said "it was only after that that I got the telephone messages that there had been this ghastly outbreak, and people murdered". Asked by Counsel whether it was his view either then or now that people had been "murdered", as he put it, Heath replied "No".
Bloody Sunday 31st Anniversary
Programme of events
Monday 27 January
Opening Reception 7.30 pm
Eden Place Arts Centre, Pilot's Row, Rossville Street
This exhibition explores the impact and effects of military occupation, faltering attempts at peace and the importance of history, memory and memorialisation in Palestine and Ireland. Open daily until 1 February.
Wednesday 29 January
"Prelude to '81"
The Gasyard Centre, Lecky Road
Admission £3/£2 concession
A powerful drama dealing with the horrors of imprisonment in the H Blocks and Armagh during the blanket and no-wash protests
Thursday 30 January
Vigil against The International Arms Trade
12 pm - 12 am
Organised by Foyle Ethical Investment Campaign (FEIC). Raytheon, the world's biggest missile manufacturer equips states to perpetrate the "Bloody Sundays of the 21st Century." Join our call to set Derry and the North West free from complicity in military production. One World, One Struggle.
Bloody Sunday Monument, Rossville Street
A minute's silence to mark the time 31 years ago when British Paratroopers started firing. Please join the families of the deceased and those who were wounded on Bloody Sunday for this moment of silent reflection. "Let their epitaph be the ongoing struggle for democracy"
St Mary's Church, Creggan
The anniversary mass in memory of those killed on Bloody Sunday
Friday 31 January
The Bloody Sunday Inquiry - The Families' Perspective
Gasyard Centre, Lecky Road
This forum discussion, chaired by journalist Eamonn McCann (who has closely followed the inquiry) will include a video diary presentation of the experiences of the families and wounded made as the Inquiry began hearing evidence in London.
The Policeman's Ball - An Alternative Cabaret
9.30 pm - late
The Bogside Inn, Westland Street
Ease your social conscience with an irreverent night of music, comedy, drama and craic, all in a good cause. With special guests. Organised by the Pat Finucane Centre.
Saturday 1st February
10 am - 4 pm
The Gasyard Centre, Lecky Road
Organised by Tar Abhaile/Coiste na nIarchimi in conjunction with the Bloody Sunday Weekend Committee, this event is organised specifically for young people. The films "SUNDAY" and "H3" will be screened. Both films depict key 'turning points' in contemporary Irish/British history. The screenings will be followed by discussions on Bloody Sunday and the H-Block/Armagh Campaign. Lunch provided. Alternative screenings for those not attending the youth event are listed below.
The Nerve Centre
Admission £2 (£3 for two films)
Screening of the EMMY nominated film tracing the events of Bloody Sunday from the perspective of one of the victim's families. Written by Jimmy McGovern and co-produced by Derry company Gaslight Productions.
The Nerve Centre
Admission £2 (£3 for two films)
H3 is Laurence McKeown's powerful and moving reconstruction of events surrounding the Hunger Strikes of 1981 in which ten men died.
The State on Trial
The Gasyard Centre
A panel discussion and short film looking at human rights issues in Ireland, Colombia and Palestine with Jeremy Hardy (comedian and political activist); Brid Smith (Irish delegate, European Social Forum); Nick Deardon (Campaigns officer, War on Want). Chaired by Goretti Horgan.
Annual Bloody Sunday Weekend Fundraiser
9.30 pm - late
The Nerve Centre, Magazine Street
The usual mix of ceol agus craic with featured artists, guest appearances and a little bit of everything thrown in!
Sunday 2 February
Bloody Sunday Monument, Rossville Street.
Please join the families and friends as they lay wreaths and offer prayers for those who were killed and injured.
31st Commemorative March and Rally
Assemble Creggan Shops, Derry
The march retraces the steps of the original Anti-internment March in 1972, finishing at Free Derry Corner where a short rally will be held. Speakers will include SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and a representative of the families of the deceased and wounded.