Lord Tebbit: ‘My wife is imprisoned in a wheelchair’

Lord Tebbit at his home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Lord Tebbit at his home in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Lord Tebbit has spoken of his wife’s “imprisonment” in a wheelchair and his own daily battle with pain as a result of the IRA’s 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

In an interview where he retracted a controversial comment in which he said that he hoped the Real IRA would shoot Martin McGuinness, the Conservative peer spoke candidly about the physical suffering he and his wife Margaret have endured for three decades.

Earlier this week Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams led condemnation of a comment which the former Conservative Party chairman made to the Daily Mail saying “we can but hope” the Deputy First Minister would be shot.

Lord Tebbit told BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme that he had not called on anyone to shoot Mr McGuinness but had “observed it might happen and, wryly added — I suppose indiscreetly added — the words ‘there’s always hope’.”

He went on: “I think it’s a bit rich from Mr McGuinness, who was a leading member of the IRA Army Council... at the time of the plot to murder the Prime Minister of Great Britain, a plot which resulted in my wife being sentenced to life imprisonment in a wheelchair with no appeal possible. I think it’s a bit rich from him.”

He added he was happy to retract the comment and said: “I don’t think I would advise anyone or entreaty anybody to shoot Mr McGuinness. I would welcome it if he was brought to trial, of course.”

Asked if he accepted he had made a mistake, he said: “Oh yes, we often make mistakes, don’t we?”

Lord Tebbit said he would not shake hands with Mr McGuinness because “there has been no repentance; no contrition; no seeking of forgiveness on the part of Mr McGuinness for the acts in which he was involved as a senior commander of the IRA when it was engaged in a campaign of murder”.

He spoke frankly about his wife’s life since being paralysed when buried in the hotel rubble: “She is not in good health; she is in a great deal of pain; she’s extremely limited in what she can do; she’s entirely dependent on people to look after her. We’re not able to go on a holiday or anything of that kind. She can scarcely go to visit anyone because there are very few places which are adequately equipped for her to be looked after. She lives a very restricted life; she’s in prison.”

Of his own suffering, he said: “I myself don’t make a fuss about it, but I’ve never had a day free of pain in the last 30 years.”

Lord Tebbit said he would only consider shaking hands with Mr McGuinness or other former IRA members when they have admitted their role in atrocities, have been tried by a court and “when they have sought forgiveness, having repented for their sins”.