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1994 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with Albert Reynolds

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with Albert Reynolds, held at Chequers on Monday 24th October 1994.


PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I would like firstly to say how pleased I am to have had the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste with us today. We have had a very useful opportunity and some very useful discussions.

As I said when I spoke in Belfast on Friday, I think we have now entered a new phase in the peace process, a phase that should lead to exploratory talks with Sinn Fein before the end of the year.

We are going to have to work extremely hard to make up for all the opportunities that have been lost in the last twenty-five years but what we have now is a real opportunity to move forward and say that I look forward to taking and it is that opportunity in the future that the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste, Paddy Mayhew and I have been discussing in our talks over the last few hours.

The Joint Declaration that we signed last December opened the way for a ceasefire. We have now had nearly two months without any acts of terrorism by the IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries have called off their violence and I thought to myself in very vivid fashion indeed last week in Belfast, in Dungannon, in Nurian, in Lisburn that there is a truly remarkable change in the atmosphere of normal life for people in Northern Ireland. There is a new buoyancy, there is a wave of support from both Unionists and Nationalists for the peace process and we are determined to build upon it.

This morning, the Taoiseach and I have taken stock of the developments and have looked at the way ahead for the joint framework documents and the talks process that will follow. We are both clear that stability is vital for Northern Ireland’s future development and it must be based on an accommodation agreed by the political parties and that of course is the purpose of the joint framework document; it is to offer our joint understanding of what is most likely to secure widespread acceptance by the parties; it is not a blueprint to be imposed but they are ideas to be discussed by the parties and by all the people of Northern Ireland.

We are making steady progress with the document and we have had another extremely useful discussions about it this morning. It addresses very important issues and for each side there are still some very important issues that remains to be resolved. We can’t yet set a final date for completion of the document by let me say that we are both determined to conclude this exercise successfully and at the earliest possible time. No-one is dragging their feet and we are both confident of being able to reach agreement.

Let me say a word about security and weapons.

Close cooperation - unprecedented cooperation to be frank - between the two governments has been a very big contribution to cross-border security in recent years. Both the Taoiseach and I want to deal effectively with the serious problem of weapons and explosives. Peace won't finally be assured in Northern Ireland until the paramilitaries on both sides of the divide have put their weapons away; that will permit a democratic debate between law-abiding parties.

We also, in addition to that, want to put an end to the racketeering, the drug-dealing and the other crimes which so frequently are a by-product of terrorism and so frequently used to fund the activities of terrorism so we have an entirely common interest in this area and I think the action taken by the Garda over the weekend illustrates that far more clearly than anything either the Taoiseach and I could say this afternoon. We have discussed this morning ways of coordinating our approach to deal with this particular problem. We spent some time on it and we have given a remit to our officials to develop this approach and report back to us as speedily as they can and their report will clearly be an important document for us to consider - I hope we will be able to consider it before very long.

Let me just say finally a brief word about the economy:

We need to move quickly to show the people in Northern Ireland, especially those in the worst-affected communities and particularly those who have been without jobs for a long time, the benefits for them of a peaceful way of life and that is the reason I launched two initiatives on Friday, firstly to hold an investment conference in Belfast in December and secondly to gather ideas right across the spectrum in Northern Ireland on the new projects which we and the European Union will back financially and I look forward to that conference moving ahead.

I would like now to ask the Taoiseach to say a few words, but before he does let me say in conclusion that we will continue to keep in very close touch as we have done throughout the period immediately behind us, so will Paddy Mayhew and Dick Spring and so will the officials of the two governments. I myself do not believe we could have reached the present hopeful stage in Northern Ireland without absolutely unprecedented cooperation between our two governments; that cooperation is precisely what we have had over the last two years, it has become an ingrained habit and I think it will assist us as we move forward from now on.

PRIME MINISTER REYNOLDS:

Thank you, Prime Minister. Your statement indeed has outlined the matters that we discussed today at our meeting. First of all, we spent up to almost three hours in discussion, reviewing the peace process, where it is at in the light of two ceasefires now in place which indeed nobody believed was possible a few short months ago. After the Prime Minister's statement in the north of Ireland at the weekend, it is quite clear that a very significant impetus has been given to the peace process and it is now moving along and today we reviewed where we had come from and how we are going to proceed in the future and of course we are going to proceed together, we always did up to now and we are going to continue that excellent relationship and keep in close touch as we move along step by step.

It also gave us the opportunity to review progress on the framework document and allowed us the opportunity to give political direction to our officials as they restart their work on it. The Liaison Committee meets tomorrow to start work in the light of the directions given to them today.

We have made further progress at this meeting today both at the meeting and over lunch and I have no doubt that we are all very well satisfied with how well the peace process is progressing and we aim to conclude successfully the framework document as soon as possible because we recognise that the momentum behind the peace process in Northern Ireland is so strong and so palpable on the ground that we are not going to delay or in any way hinder the development of that process which indeed will bring normality back to every family in Northern Ireland in both communities; they have suffered long enough, they have suffered for twenty-five years and the great sense of relief that has now permeated all the families in Northern Ireland has to indeed be built on by us and we are not going to be found wanting in that regard.

As I say, it has been very sold progress today, I am absolutely satisfied that we have made good progress and that we will continue to make good progress from hereon in and that the two governments will continue that excellent cooperation between us and that great understanding between us. There is no question that this was a do-or-die effort here today, it was never envisaged to be that and it was a good solid working meeting albeit an informal meeting and indeed sometimes at those meetings more progress is made than at formal meetings.