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1995 - Mr Major’s Joint Press Conference with John Bruton

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint press conference with John Bruton, held in Dublin on Thursday 21st December 1995.


PRIME MINISTER JOHN BRUTON:

The Prime Minister and I have had a very useful meeting. We reviewed the progress that has been made since the Downing Street communique. We are very pleased with the speed and application of the international body to its task and also the speed with which the preparatory meetings in the political tract have been put in place. We believe that every participant is showing commitment to making the process work.

We had the opportunity here tonight to receive and approve a report from our officials on east-west cooperation. This covers cooperation between Britain and Ireland across the Irish Sea in the matter of joint planning of infrastructure, the development of science and technology, cooperation in the areas of health and education and broadcasting, a whole range of matters in which the two countries, both speaking the same language, both sharing much common history, have not cooperated as fully in the past as it would be mutually beneficial for both of us that we should and we are very happy that we have been able to commission this report, which we did at our meeting in Majorca; we have been able to receive it here today in Dublin and we now are looking forward to an intensive series of meetings between our respective members of government to put this into effect over the next year or so.

In the course of the meeting, we also covered a number of European issues. We discussed the intergovernmental conference, we discussed the question of economic and monetary union, we looked at a number of the foreign policy challenges facing the European Union, the positions in Bosnia and Russia were also touched upon or will be touched upon later on in our further discussions.

It was a meeting that was very useful from an Anglo-Irish point of view but certainly from my point of view I found it extremely useful in terms of the preparation that is to be done for the Irish Presidency of the European Union commencing in the middle of next year where obviously Britain is a very important player and it is very important for us to understand British thinking on the whole range of issues that are coming before Europe in that period and between now and then.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN MAJOR:

There is very little to add. Let me confirm that I found it a very useful and very enjoyable meeting as our meetings have tended to be over the years.

As far as the substance is concerned, I would like to say a word about the work that has been done about the Anglo-Irish relationship generally by our officials over the last few weeks.

We have produced a more comprehensive examination of the Anglo-Irish relationship than I think there has possibly been at any stage in the past. We are close neighbours and yet over the years the relationship has not taken a fraction of the opportunities that it could have done. I find that almost inexplicable in logic. I think the reason for that is locked in history. It ought to remain in history and we ought to take advantage of the bilateral opportunities that occur and I think the work that we put in hand will begin that process. Certainly, both the Taoiseach and I expect a significant increase in bilateral exchanges and bilateral examinations of matters interest and I think that can only be good for two nations that have many interests in common; there are areas where we will perhaps even differ from time to time but there are many areas where we won't and I think the work that has been done will assume greater importance when people begin to examine it over the months and years ahead.

Let me confirm what the Taoiseach has said about the start that has been made by the international body. They have had a number of meetings already, they have behaved very impressively from the point of view of the participants who have reported to me on their discussions; they will continue with their work; what they have finished, I look forward to reviewing the outcome with the Taoiseach and I very much hope we can take matters forward.

I spent the morning in Northern Ireland visiting Nationalist communities and Loyalist communities and what strikes me yet again is the universal feeling across the communities that they do not want any of the troubles to reoccur. There is a passionate commitment amongst the people you meet on the streets to ensure that this process can be carried forward. I find that immensely refreshing because in my judgement the biggest single impetus towards peace in the last few years has been the very effective demand for it from the people who suffered so many difficulties for so long so I was glad to see that that feeling was as deeply entrenched this morning as I have found it on every previous occasion I have been to Northern Ireland.

The Taoiseach has set out the other matters we discussed. I won't elaborate upon that except to say that I too found them extremely useful. The Irish Presidency of the European Union will come at an important time, a difficult time. It will be a very full time job to manage that as well as Ireland. We had a very useful series of exchanges and I hope we can have more before the Presidency begins.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

[Questions mostly inaudible]

QUESTION:

[Inaudible, but relating to potential disagreements over the Washington Three and other plans]

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

We both agreed that this is a matter that can be discussed in the political track and we encourage discussion not only of this idea but of other ideas that may be put forward to ensure that we, on an agreed and understood basis, can get all the relevant people talking to one another.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

It is not the case that it is a bilateral government difference as you expressed it just a moment or so ago. If I might elaborate the point, as far as decommissioning is concerned, the key point is that what we are both seeking is to get all the parties sitting down together. Without that, it is extremely difficult to see how the parties will sit down together and I seem to recall seeing an opinion poll I think here in the Republic saying that the vast majority of people in the Republic - I think 75/76% of the people - felt that some decommissioning should start immediately so I think there is a widespread view that that would be desirable.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible, but relating to the Taunista’s comments on a seriously flawed idea]

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

I read very carefully what the Taunista said and I notice he described some of the details in that fashion. I don't think he felt that the idea of using that as a forum from which there might be negotiators produced is seriously flawed but at the end of the day, it is going to be a matter that is going to have to be examined by the parties and is being examined by the parties, all of them I hope, and I think people who don't examine it would perhaps be closing off an option for proceeding that an increasing number of people find attractive.

Of course, a whole Assembly can't of itself negotiate and I think that was the point that Mr. Spring was making yesterday but from that, many options may themselves be delivered and I very much hope that would be the case.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible, but relating to a small body chosen from an elected body, and what is meant by that?]

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

It could be either. It is not for me to determine, it is not for me to impose. If these agreements are going to be reached it has to spring out of the discussions - forgive me no pun intended! It has to come out of the discussions that people are reaching. The point I made about everyone meeting together works both ways and it would also apply to whatever agreements were reached on that front.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

Let us hope we don't have to.

QUESTION:

Yesterday, the parole board in Britain decided not to allow two prisoners who are serving 20 years to apply for parole, one who had been arrested while only 17 years old, Paul Nauny. I am not asking you to comment on this particular case because that would not be sensible but are you satisfied that the British establishment is showing enough sensitivity of the prisoners’ issues?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

It is a sensitive issue here in the Republic, it is a sensitive issue in the United Kingdom as well. There have been discussions between the two governments and I think both of us realise the sensitivity in the other country. I hope we can reach a satisfactory way forward in a number of cases but I am not going to comment on any individual one.

QUESTION:

[Indistinct] view expressed earlier today that it would be a fiction to see Sinn Fein and the IRA as separate organisations and whether the recent killings made you think on the British line that there should be some hand-over of guns before talks rather than afterwards?

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

It is a fact of history that Sinn Fein's ability to persuade the IRA to cease violence was a very important factor which has enabled us to have more than a year and a half without violence. It is also a fact that Sinn Fein has stated that they will speak authoritatively to the Commission on the matter of IRA weapons and on other matters concerning weapons but not on every other question but it is also a fact equally that Sinn Fen is a political party whereas the IRA is an illegal organisation.

As far as the Irish Government is concerned, we deplore the killings that occurred in Belfast in recent times. We are not in a position to make any judgement as to where organisational responsibility for those barbarities rests but we do see these developments as an attempt to enforce control on an unaccountable basis in a particular area of a city where people who are not elected by anybody or accountable to anybody in any way enforce their law through punishment procedures of one kind or another. We believe that that is not consonant with any understood principle of civil rights or of freedom or of any of the democratic principles which we in this country and all political movements in this country hold dear and that is why, apart from the individual tragedy that is represented by these killings, it is for these wider reasons that we condemn then so strongly and both the Prime Minister and I discussed this here today. We joined together in condemning these appalling barbarities and we want them to stop.

QUESTION:

Taoiseach, are both governments satisfied with the extent to which the Ulster Unionists have engaged the political track of the twin-track process?

PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:

I think at this early stage in the process it is very premature to make any judgements about the contribution of any political party. Obviously, we are talking about long-held views and widely divergent views and we are talking about a very tight time frame within which we are asking these parties to come closer together in their views and after the first round of meetings, it would obviously be very surprising if agreement had been reached but we believe that all of the parties are approaching these discussions in a serious and workmanlike way and for that reason we are very hopeful of the outcome.

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

It is only a few weeks ago that people were saying the parties wouldn't enter into any talks, that this twin-track process wouldn't start; it is not all that long ago that people said there wouldn't be a framework document or there wouldn't be a Joint Declaration.

What people need to do occasionally I think is to stand back and see where we were and where we are and I think if you do that you see the grounds for hope. Those people who think we are suddenly going to rub our eyes one morning and it will all have gone away and it will all be settled I think are deluding themselves. We are making steady progress, we will continue to make steady progress, it will often require painstaking work but that work is being done and I am very grateful for the cooperation we have had from the Irish Government over many years on that work. It is proceeding and I don't think people ought to look at a particular incident, a particular setback, a particular problem that may sometimes occur and overlook the wider progress that has been made because it has been quite remarkable.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, you commended the international decommissioning body for the impressive manner - to use your words - in which it is conducting its work. Will you accept its findings?

PRIME MINISTER MAJOR:

Its remit is quite clear. We have said we will examine its findings. It is an advisory body, it is not a body that it going to tell either the Irish Government or the British Government what to do, that is not its remit. Its remit is to produce its report in accordance with its mandate and then to advise us as to what it thinks. We will then examine it and we will discuss with the Irish Government what we think is the right way forward. It is not for them to impose anything upon us, it is for them to advise and for us to determine.