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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on Northern Ireland

Below are extracts of Mr Major’s comments on Northern Ireland, made during an interview held in London on Thursday 28th November 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why the Government had published their position on Northern Ireland at this stage].

PRIME MINISTER:

We were asked to publish this originally some time ago, there has been a lot of discussion about what it should be. Earlier this week Mr Adams pre-emptively gave his views, so I think not to have published now would have just caused great uncertainty in Northern Ireland. People would have just said: “well if the British Government are asked to publish what their position is, what is the delay? Are there secret negotiations? Is there bargaining?”, and we have seen the sort of turmoil that that misinformation has caused in the past. So the moment there was the interview by Gerry Adams it was necessary to publish speedily.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked what would be a credible ceasefire].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we were cheated last time, weren’t we? When the ceasefire was declared we were told by the IRA and by Sinn Fein that this was for good, that it wasn’t going to go back to violence. But it did. And not only did it go back to violence, we now know that within days of declaring the ceasefire they were actually putting many tons of explosives in the London garage that we subsequently found. Now that won’t do. That was a fake ceasefire. They didn’t just mislead the British government, they misled Ireland, north and south, and the rest of the world as well. Well I don’t think that is any good in the future. So what we are saying about an unequivocal ceasefire is that when they declare it, we will need to be satisfied that this time they genuinely mean it and it is not a fake. And we will judge that in two ways: firstly, by what they say at the time of the ceasefire, we will require them to say that this is for good, for lasting.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if it needed to be a written statement].

PRIME MINISTER:

They will make a statement presumably, I am not going to be pedantic about how they do it, but we want them to commit themselves to the fact that this is real. And secondly, we will judge what happens on the ground, we will judge what they do as well as what they say. And by that I mean we will judge whether they are still conducting surveillance, whether they are still targeting, whether they are still purchasing arms. We will judge those things. We will judge whether there are paramilitary beatings. If those things continue then it is a fake ceasefire and we will state it as such. If those things cease then we will be able to accept - as I hope it will be - that this is a genuine ceasefire. And when we can be satisfied that it is a genuine ceasefire, then the door opens for Sinn Fein to enter the talks.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked for a timescale].

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t want to put a timescale on it because I think a timescale would be supremely unhelpful. What matters is not the artificial passage of time but the certainty that what they have said is actually being carried out on the ground. Now I don’t know how long that will take, but I am not looking for artificial delay, I am not looking for a piece of string stretched from here to forever, I am looking for the certainty that what they have said is genuine. And when we can be satisfied that it is genuine then we can open the door to talks.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether it would be one or two months].

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to put a time to it, either short or long. I don’t think we can put a time to it. But I will make a judgement as soon as we think we credibly can.