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Powell might as well have said the Nazi Party should become old boys' club, says furious Lord Tebbit

By Claire McNeilly

Published 17/10/2015

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell
Lord Tebbit at home with his wife Margaret
Lord Tebbit being stretchered out of the rubble of the Grand Hotel in Brighton following the 1984 IRA bombing during the Conservative Party conference

Lord Tebbit has reacted with fury to Jonathan Powell's suggestion that the IRA should be legalised, describing the idea as "literally adding insult to injury".

In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the veteran Tory peer, whose wife Margaret was left disabled by the IRA bombing of Brighton's Grand Hotel during the Conservative Party conference in 1984, added that the former Labour chief of staff might as well have suggested that the Nazis should be legalised as "an old boys' club".

Lord Tebbit, who revealed that his wife was "very unwell" at the moment and required 24-hour care, also said he found the current Stormont crisis dispiriting and warned of "grave dangers" for the future of the Northern Ireland peace process if the political impasse continues.

Many people affected by IRA violence during almost four decades of the Troubles expressed outrage after Powell (below), a key adviser to ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, said paramilitary groups could become involved in preserving Northern Ireland's history and culture.

And he added: "If the IRA is there as a veterans' organisation, what does that matter? Why not legalise it?"

But Lord Tebbit, a former Conservative Prty chairman, Cabinet minister and trusted aide of Margaret Thatcher, retorted: "He might as well have said the Nazi Party should be legalised as an old boys' club.

"This is a dark side to Jonathan Powell.

"I hadn't thought of Powell as being a 'Corbynista', but one can understand now a little more of how things went wrong at the moment when the IRA were beaten and then let off the hook.

"We all know why they sought a ceasefire back then. It was because they were beaten, because their organisation was shot full of double or even triple agents and the leadership was afraid that, before long, they would be charged with the crimes which they had committed."

The 84-year-old peer was one of the IRA's principal targets alongside then PM Mrs Thatcher when a long-delay time bomb exploded at the Grand Hotel, where many party members were staying during the 1984 Tory conference.

Five people died and another 34 were injured in the blast.

One of the most enduring images was the then Trade Secretary Mr Tebbit being stretchered from the rubble by firefighters.

Lady Tebbit (81) was paralysed by the October 12 attack, after which she spent two years in hospital, and has been in a wheelchair since.

"Powell's remarks are, literally, adding insult to injury," said Lord Tebbit, who added that justice has never been achieved for his wife and the other victims of the Brighton bombing.

"Although (Patrick) Magee (the bomber) was tried and sentenced, it was a pretty derisory sentence for a multi-murderer," he said.

Magee received eight life sentences in September 1986, but was released from prison in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Of course, Magee was only the monkey, not the organ grinder. Those who conceived the plot and supplied the materials and the money and the plan have not been prosecuted at all," said Lord Tebbit.

"As for Margaret, in recent years she has had other problems not to do with her injuries from the Grand Hotel and she's very unwell at the moment. She requires day and night care and can do less and less."

The veteran politician said he was opposed to the DUP's current revolving resignations policy in the wake of the IRA's perceived involvement in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

"It has left the rest of us (in Britain) scratching our heads," he said.

"It wouldn't happen in England. I find it dispiriting because, before the economic crisis, I had the feeling that there were many people north of the border, ordinary middle-of-the-road unionists who were coming to regard the border as a political fact but not really an economic or a social fact.

"The divisions between the unionist community, of course, have played into the hands of IRA/Sinn Fein activists and unless the unionists can stop squabbling then I think there's grave dangers."

Lord Tebbit, who spent a lot of time in Northern Ireland when he was parliamentary private secretary to Ulster Unionist MP Robert Chichester-Clark in the early Seventies, said he had not been back in the province since the Brighton bombing.

"One of the last times I was in Northern Ireland was when myself and my wife stayed with Robert Bradford (the Ulster Unionist MP for South Belfast who was shot dead by the IRA in November 1981) and his wife Nora.

"It was after the first attempt - the unsuccessful attempt - on his life.

"I shall never forget that we stayed the night at the Bradfords in north Belfast in a very ordinary street, and as we approached their home Nora said: 'I hope you won't be disturbed by the noise of the traffic. We've put you in the front bedroom because that's the one with the bullet-proof glass'.

"I think that's when my wife realised the way in which people in Ulster were living. She was very shocked."

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