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1994 - Mr Major’s Doorstep Interview in London

Below is Mr Major’s joint doorstep interview in London, with Irish Prime Minister John Bruton, held on Tuesday 20th December 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

I am delighted this evening to have had the opportunity of welcoming the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste to London where we have had the chance for the last hour and a half of running over the present situation in the peace process in Northern Ireland and looking at some of the problems that lie ahead.

If I could say at the outset I am delighted that we have been able to agree to have this meeting so speedily; I think it is the clearest possible evidence of the absolute priority that both the British Government and the Irish Government give to making further progress to entrench the ceasefire into a permanent peace process in Northern Ireland and I am delighted with the exchange of views that we have been able to have today. We have really been looking across the whole field of what has been agreed thus far and the steps that we need to take in the future.

We have been able to agree over the last hour and a half that we will endeavour to complete the framework document as speedily as we can; we have deliberately not put an end-date on that; we would rather get it right than get it soon but certainly we wish to make progress as speedily as possible. With that in mind, we have agreed that our officials will meet in early January to take matters further and a few days after the officials meeting, there will be a meeting at Foreign Minister level to see what further progress can be made. The Taoiseach and I of course will remain in close touch by telephone or face-to-face as necessary throughout this period with the intention of carrying this process forward.

We looked at the progress that has been made; I have discussed also the range of areas that we need to cover; we have discussed the preliminary talks that the British Government are engaged in both with Sinn Fein and with the Loyalist paramilitaries. There are many important issues to be determined in those talks, many in relationship to Sinn Fein, many in relationship to the Loyalist paramilitaries as well. We share the view that substantial progress needs to be made on the decommissioning of arms not just with Sinn Fein but also of course with the Loyalist paramilitaries as well and there are a range of other important issues that need to be discussed.

I found this first meeting with the Taoiseach very refreshing; I am very encouraged about the determination that the Irish Government retains to continue to make progress in this matter. I am delighted we were able to meet so speedily and I shall very much look forward to our next meeting.

I will invite the Taoiseach to say a few words about our meeting and then we will endeavour to take a few questions.

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

The important thing I would like to stress is that we have met so quickly after the new government came to power in the Republic. It is extremely important that both governments have shown by the prompt arrangements of this meeting how determined they both are to move forward on the peace process and also towards bringing the communities closer together on the island of Ireland. It is extremely important that the governments work together to achieve that objective. There are many difficult issues that remain to be settled both between us and between the parties involved. I think what this meeting shows is a resolution on the part of both governments to tackle these issues without any avoidable delay.

There are of course many others whose views must be taken into account and we will on both our parts be listening and talking to all the other interests involved. The governments cannot act purely alone on this matter, they must bring public opinion with them, but I think this meeting so soon after the formation of the new government is an indication of our determination to do just that.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I share that view entirely.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (BELFAST TELEGRAPH):

Has the Taoiseach confirmed or denied to you the assessment made by Albert Reynolds about the state of negotiations over the joint framework document that already agreement has been reached on the issues that he claimed were reached to that stage?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I am not going to comment on what Albert had to say last week. The Taoiseach and I certainly looked at the extent of agreement that exists in the joint framework document but rather more importantly, we were looking at the areas that remain to be agreed in the framework document and looked at how we might seek a way through those areas to find a final agreement; that is why we have agreed that we will have officials meet to carry on our discussion in early January and then Foreign Ministers thereafter.

QUESTION:

Are you in trouble?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

No. Our negotiations on the framework document are not in trouble. I think you would have been very surprised and everyone else would have been very surprised if we had been able to sit down in five minutes and agree a framework document.

The Joint Declaration took many months to agree. We have made a lot of progress on the framework document but there are still areas to be decided. I think both the Taoiseach and I are optimistic about the prospects of reaching agreement on these other matters but they do have to be discussed. The Taoiseach will wish to add some words but I think he would share that view.

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

I would just like to add that I have had the opportunity of reviewing the framework document myself for the first time in the last few days and I would have to say that a great deal of progress has been made by the outgoing government and the British Government on that matter. There are a number of issues remaining to be resolved but I think that this meeting shows the determination on both our parts to resolve those issues quickly. We reviewed them in some depth at our meeting and while we didn't resolve any of those issues I think we created a climate in which they can be resolved.

QUESTION:

Are you any clearer now on the way in which decommissioning of arms and explosives is going to take place and what are both your assessments of yesterday's bomb in Enniskillen?

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

My view is that the decommissioning of arms is a very important issue; it is important that substantial progress be made on that issue in the present phase of preliminary discussions but it is one of a number of issues which have to be addressed; it is important to build confidence in the peace process as well.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I agree with that. The mechanism of decommissioning is of course one of the matters that is going to need to be addressed in the preliminary talks.

We have no confirmation yet of who was finally responsible for the Enniskillen incident.

QUESTION:

Taoiseach, can I ask you what are the outstanding disagreements, if you like, in your approach with Mr. Major on the question of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons?

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

There isn't an area of disagreement here. We both accept that this issue must be dealt with because as long as weapons remain in commission they remain a threat to the peace of everybody living on these islands. There is obviously an importance in dealing with this issue but it is important also to deal with other issues and to show that there is a peace dividend.

QUESTION:

What priority do you put on the question of the decommissioning of arms?

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

We would put a high priority on it in conjunction with a number of other issues.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, both Gerry Adams and John Hume have said today that they would like to see all-inclusive talks much sooner than seems to be the case. How soon do you think there might be all-inclusive talks?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I would like to see all-inclusive talks as speedily as possible but we can't get all-inclusive talks unless we can clear some of the difficulties that stand in the way of them in the preliminary talks. The speedier we can do that, the speedier we can have inclusive talks. I very much welcome that. The sooner we can sit down with the political representatives of all shades of opinion in Northern Ireland, the happier I will be but there is no point in proceeding to that if we haven't cleared the ground properly and some of the main participants then decline to come to the table and that of course is what the preliminary talks are about so I share a view entirely that has been expressed by Mr. Hume and indeed by Mr. Adams if he has expressed that view, that the sooner we can get to inclusive talks the better but inclusive talks with a lot of empty chairs are not inclusive talks.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, do you both agree on the point that Sinn Fein cannot be involved in those all-inclusive talks, that they can't be involved with Ministers, until the issue of the arms has been from your point of view satisfactorily resolved and the weapons are destroyed?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We are looking for substantial progress. We have made that clear from the start. You addressed the question as far as Sinn Fein is concerned and that is true but the same point applies also of course to the Loyalist paramilitaries. We do need to see some substantial progress made on this issue and I very much hope that we will get it.

QUESTION:

Does "substantial progress" still mean that the weapons have to be destroyed and that has to be verified?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

We do need to make sure that substantial progress has been made and that means that weapons that otherwise would have been available for use against peaceable people in Northern Ireland are not able to be used and are not in commission.

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

It is important to point out that the preliminary discussions with Sinn Fein are at a comparatively early point at this stage; there have been I believe as far as the British Government is concerned only two such meetings and obviously there is a very large agenda to be dealt with of which the decommissioning of arms is a very important element but not the only one.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

Let me just add that we have a meeting with the Loyalist paramilitaries in the next few days and we have the next meeting with Sinn Fein agreed at their request in the middle of January.

QUESTION:

Is the change of the Irish Government going to slow down or speed up this process do you feel?

PRIME MINISTER:

All I can say is I am delighted at the speed with which the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste accepted my invitation to come to London. I think that shows that they share the same determination as their predecessor government to make speedy progress, effectively progress and lasting progress towards peace. I have no doubt about their wish to do that and I believe after our meeting today they have no doubt about our determination to achieve that either.

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

I would like to say emphatically that it is the intention of the Tanaiste and I that our discussions will speed up the process.