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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 Monday 15th July 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the government gave no direction to the Chief Constable of the RUC in the last week].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it was an operational matter. The government are responsible for broad policy of course, but the Chief Constable is responsible for operational matters. The belief that Ministers at some distance can give detailed instructions on how to handle a street order or disorder I think is fatuous. So the answer is no instructions were given at all.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if no help was given the sensitivity of a political matter].

PRIME MINISTER:

It depends what you mean by help. If Sir Hugh Annesley had asked for the government’s advice, if he had asked us to assist, if he had asked us to comment, then of course we would have discussed the matter with him. But it is not for Ministers to instruct the Chief Constable how to handle a matter dealing with control on the streets. He is the professional at that, not the Secretary of State or any other Minister.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Sir Hugh had asked him for any advice].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, he didn’t ask for any advice and he has made that clear. It was an operational decision by him to ban the march in the first place. As events changed he sensibly considered the matter and decided in the interests of order that he would make a change to his original decision, and that he did. Both decisions were his and his alone, as he has made clear repeatedly.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Sir Hugh made the right decision].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think he did make the right decision. I am not going to second-guess the Chief Constable or criticise the Chief Constable. He has an immensely difficult task in Northern Ireland. He needs to retain the confidence of both communities. He didn’t just make these decisions on the day. I think it is worth remembering he had been discussing the matter with the Garvaghy Road residents and with the Orange Lodge for some months past, there had been a whole series of meetings to try and and reach an accommodation. The problems he faced was neither side, neither the marchers nor the residents were prepared to reach a compromise to make matters at all easy either for the public at large or for the Chief Constable.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether the government should have become involved].

PRIME MINISTER:

If you mean should the government override the Chief Constable - emphatically no.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if discussions should take place with the Chief Constable on matters such as this].

PRIME MINISTER:

The Chief Constable must make the judgement. He is the professional. Let me put the point to you the other way round. If Sir Patrick Mayhew, or any other Minister, had intervened in this and instructed the Chief Constable, I wonder precisely what you would be saying to me about political control of the police. You would be saying this is unprecedented, it is unconstitutional, where does it stop? And you would be right to ask those questions. We have a very clear constitutional distinction in this country. The government sets the law, it is available to be consulted, but operational decisions, decisions concerning the maintenance of law and order, are properly for the police. And we have full confidence in Hugh Annesley and he has our full support.