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Statement by Secretary of State, Dr. Mo Mowlam following the deaths of Mark, Richard and Jason Quinn on 12 July 1998
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following the deaths of Mark, Richard and Jason Quinn (issued 13 July 1998)
THREE bunches of flowers propped up against the entrance gate of Hillsborough Castle - the sight of them hit me as hard as hearing the neighbour of Mark, Jason and Richard telling how the boys cried as they burnt to death. Even at the end of a day of tears in Northern Ireland, that tragic tribute - a symbol of the shared suffering over the terrible deaths of three young boys - still had a powerful impact.
It is often said that words are important in Northern Ireland but for the past 48 hours images and an eloquent silence have said so much more especially of the futility of loss of life.
The cheeky faces of three mischievous lads, the blackened walls and the blown out windows of their family home and the grief of relatives and neighbours produced strong emotions of anger and grief in me just as they did for the vast, vast majority of Northern Ireland people.
They are all too painful reminders of the horrible images of Northern Ireland's recent past.
Three young boys who never did anybody any harm are dead and that profoundly angers me but their deaths have deepened my determination that other families should never have to suffer what their relatives are now having to live through.
And I feel a sense that the terrible images of a fire-bombed home in Ballymoney flashed around the world have strengthened the resolve of responsible people here in Northern Ireland to build a better future, to find a path through their undoubted differences.
Those terrible sights will never be forgotten but in their wake came another image on Sunday which brings great hope for Northern Ireland: David Trimble and Seamus Mallon standing together to condemn the killing and pledging their commitment to finding a resolution to the parades issue.
"Between us we have the mandate to strive for peace and progress for all our people" they declared.
It was a sign, I believe, that the Good Friday Agreement has come through its first great test, and that Northern Ireland has two political leaders of great courage and leadership - shared qualities that will be so important in the months and years ahead.
And I took great comfort from the dignified silence that surrounded the Orange Order parade down the rain-soaked Lower Ormeau Road yesterday morning.
That silence spoke loudly of the commitment given by the local residents to protest peacefully against the ruling of the Parades Commission to let the march proceed down the road and the Orange Order's acceptance of the conditions laid down by the commission despite the provocation of hoax bomb alerts.
I am not underestimating the difficulties that continue to face us over the parades issue.
The government will continue to make all efforts to settle the problem over this year's Drumcree - the proximity talks begun on Saturday will be restarted this week to help.
But we have to keep up the momentum to resolve finally the issue of how we deal with parades in future years.
For in the end the problems can only be overcome by dialogue and the prime minister and I will do everything we can to encourage that dialogue.
In the coming months the government and Northern Ireland's new political leaders have another important confidence-building task to perform: to convince all sides that their traditions will be respected.
I was asked on Sunday what I would say to the Orangemen who believe they are making their last standing on the hill at Drumcree.
My message remains that they should not fear for their traditions and culture. The government understands that Northern Ireland cannot prosper if the traditions or culture of one community or another is seen as dominant. Both sides have an equal voice.
And I would tell them that just like for the rest of us - the opportunities for Orange culture to flourish lie in a peaceful future for Northern Ireland as a whole.
With the Good Friday Agreement and the election of the New Northern Ireland Assembly, the ground has been laid for those better times. Tragically Mark, Richard and Jason will not share them.
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