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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on Northern Ireland

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on Northern Ireland, made during an interview held in London on Thursday 25th July 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he was pleased about the progress at Stormont, but how would he stop slow progress in the future].

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I do welcome it very much, I think we are now making progress. What we now need to do is to move from the talks about talks, the talks about procedure to talks about the items which should be on the agenda and then to get on to the talks about substance and to do it speedily and I hope we can use the momentum created by the enormous disappointment - almost despair - felt by so many people after Drumcree to give some real momentum to these talks. That I think is the best way to restore confidence across Northern Ireland.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the Loyalist paramilitaries were being treated differently to Sinn Fein].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there is quite a difference between the Loyalists at the moment and Sinn Fein. The Loyalists have a ceasefire, they have held to that ceasefire, they are engaging constructively in the talks, they have accepted the six Mitchell principles. None of those things apply to Sinn Fein and the IRA; they are in the middle of a campaign, we have seen a campaign, they are not engaged constructively in the talks and they haven't accepted the Mitchell principles. I wish they would. I would like to see Sinn Fein/IRA call a ceasefire, it is what I believe every sensible person in Northern Ireland would like to hear from them.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he would let Sinn Fein join the talks].

PRIME MINISTER:

I propose that they should get themselves into the talks. That is what I have set the talks up for. For a very long time Sinn Fein and others have said: "We need to sit in round-table talks with the other political parties!" You know, I know, everyone watching this interview knows that has been their cry for very many years.

I have delivered an opportunity for them to do so. We have set up these talks, we have set up a forum in which they can take part. That opportunity to sit down face-to-face with the other politicians they have wanted to meet for a long time is there and the only reason they haven't taken it is because they don't have a ceasefire and they haven't adopted the Mitchell principles and it is in their hands to do so.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if mob rule was ruling Northern Ireland].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, mob rule isn't going to rule and it mustn't be allowed to rule. The events of Drumcree were a disgrace and so were the events that followed it and on both sides the behaviour frankly in many cases was appalling, let there be no doubt whatsoever about that and I hope everyone has learned the lesson of Drumcree.

Nobody gained from Drumcree. I hope the Orange Order or anybody else don't think they gained anything from Drumcree. Everybody lost including the peace process in Northern Ireland. What we now have to do is to prevent a recurrence of that sort of event and use that event to push some real momentum into the talks in the months and weeks ahead and that is what we intend to do.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the marches situation was now out of control].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, of course it isn't out of control and there is a great deal of work going on at local level between community leaders and others to make sure that the Apprentice Boys march does not cause trouble and I think it is very important that it doesn't and Northern Ireland will feel very badly let down if anybody gets out of hand in the Apprentice Boys march.

Freedom of marching and assembly is a traditional part of the United Kingdom tradition, it has been that way for a long time but it needs to be exercised responsibly and with restraint. The right to march should be a right to march for something not a march that is seen as an affront by other people and I hope those people organising that march or indeed any march realise that while they have a right to peacefully march, they do not have a right to cause disturbance and affront to other people in Northern Ireland.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked how he wanted Northern Ireland to be governed in the future].

PRIME MINISTER:

I would like to see a peaceful Northern Ireland governed certainly with its own proper local government structure. We have had three generations of Irish politicians who have never had any responsibility at all except to advance views but never any responsibility to take decisions. That is a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland and I would like to see that corrected. Beyond that, it is a decision for the people of Northern Ireland but I would imagine they would still be part of the United Kingdom.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about Michelle Smith’s performance in the Olympics].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is a superb performance, a magnificent performance. I don't think anybody expected Michelle to win three gold medals and there may of course yet be a fourth in the butterfly so I very much hope there is. My warmest congratulations. I hope that everyone on the island of Ireland is cheering her, she deserves the support, she is getting a lot of cheers from over here.