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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on the Mitchell Report

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the Mitchell Commission Report, made during an interview held in London on Wednesday 24th January 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if peace was closer now that the Mitchell Report had been published].

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I hope we are. I think the very broad welcome that has been received for the outcome of the Mitchell Report does put us closer. What has been crucial right from the outset has been the pressure of people in Northern Ireland for this process to move forward, and I think that pressure will continue both in Northern Ireland and in the south, so I think yes we are.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked what he thought of the Report suggesting that the paramilitaries would not decommission before talks started].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is worth being clear precisely what the Mitchell Report said. The Mitchell Report said they would not decommission. They emphatically did not say they could not. So what it has done is highlight the intransigence of Sinn Fein / IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries. Everyone in Northern Ireland, and southern Ireland, now knows that it is their intransigence that has held up the possibility of all-party talks. That is clear. What we have said, very well, if you are going to block the talks in this fashion, here is another route, a route that we know has the overwhelming support of people in Northern Ireland. And that is to go down the route of having an election to a body that would not have powers, this is not the old Stormont, but to a body that would then nominate people with a democratic mandate to meet in all-party talks, then negotiations, and that the decommissioning of weapons would take place in parallel with those discussions.

As the talks proceeded, there would be decommissioning; as the talks move forwards, more decommissioning. There are now two options for the paramilitaries, they can decommission and go into talks or they can go through the elected route. But if they turn down both of those options then I think the people of Northern Ireland, and of the Republic of Ireland, will ask - why are they seeking to hold up a process they claim to be in favour of?

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he had given up hope of decommissioning before talks].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I haven’t entirely given up hope. I think events in Northern Ireland often are surprising. That option remains open. I propose to leave that option on the table. There is no justification for not taking it. We are not saying to Sinn Fein / IRA, decommission every weapon you have got before there are talks. We have never said that. What we have said is that we need people to have confidence to get around the table. You - Sinn Fein / IRA - can give them confidence by decommissioning, taking out of use, some of the weapons that you have, not all of them, but some of them. I don’t think the reasonable man in Ireland, north or south, can really find any credible reason why they ought not to do that. So that option remains open and perhaps they will take it. But if they do not, there is now a second option.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he could accept talks with no decommissioning].

PRIME MINISTER:

You see there is a lacuna there, isn’t there? You can’t go on with all-party talks unless you have all parties at the table. That has been the problem right from the start. And it is perfectly clear that the community in Northern Ireland, and indeed the community in southern Ireland, have made it perfectly clear in opinion polls that they believe there should be decommissioning, many of them complete decommissioning, before any talks. It is not just the Unionist politicians who take that view, it is the population, Unionist and Nationalist, north and south of the border who take that particular view. So the reality is it would not be possible for the Unionist parties to sit down and have all-party talks unless that air of confidence is achieved. The question is how to achieve the confidence, and we have now set out a second option.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked how he could reassure nationalists than unionists wouldn’t lead any elected body].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we will address their fears, of course we will address their fears. But what they fear really is, and always has been, is that there would be a body like this that had the powers of the old Stormont, the legislative and administrative powers of the old Stormont. That is now what is proposed. What we are proposing is an election that would legitimise with a democratic mandate people to sit round the table and negotiate and then freely reach an agreement. Now the parties work together in local councils in Northern Ireland, often all of the parties in the same council, the Unionist parties, the Alliance Party, the SDLP and Sinn Fein, they work together and they reach agreement. That is the nature of democratic politics. And the truth is, as it always has been, that if each party just stands in its traditional trench and doesn’t given an inch then there won’t be an agreement. What I have said consistently to all parties, and have practiced myself, is that we are going to have to find a concordat that everybody can accept. That is what I am asking them to do in going down this process and in the talks that will follow it.