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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 in Northern Ireland on 10th June 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he agreed that the all-party talks had started in confusion].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I wouldn’t frankly. I think if you had been in there at the outset of the talks, they started in extremely good order and in extremely good humour. There are going to be many difficult things to discuss over the weeks and months that lie ahead and from time to time they are going to be difficult. I don’t think is any doubt about that. These are very difficult issues. No, I don’t agree with that.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why Sinn Fein were turned away when they said they had an electoral mandate].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well if I may say so they would say that, wouldn’t they? The reality is that they have known from the outset that the position of the British Government and of the Irish Government and of the overwhelming majority of opinion is that Sinn Fein cannot enter the talks with the gun under the table. Now that is the position. I would like to see Sinn Fein in the talks and the doors are open for Sinn Fein to come into the talks, but we do need an unequivocal IRA ceasefire and then their entry route is clear.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if just a statement was sufficient].

PRIME MINISTER:

It’s got to be clear and unequivocal, be certain of that.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if that would get them entry into the all-party talks].

PRIME MINISTER:

They could come into the talks.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked what he needed from the decommissioning of weapons process].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think we need them to meet the proposition set out in the Mitchell Report. If you recall at one stage the position was that from some parties there should be decommissioning before the talks, the IRA position was that they would decommission only at the end of the talks and the Mitchell Report proposed the compromise of parallel decommissioning, that is to say decommissioning taking place during the period of the talks. That is what the Mitchell Report says. It is quite unequivocal about that and that is what we expect from decommissioning.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether the main negotiations could begin without weapons being handed over].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I  think everyone is going to have to operate in good faith. If anyone thinks they can enter the talks saying "yes, I'm going to decommission" but in practice not do so right until the end of the talks then the reality is that the other parties to the discussions would not permit that. If there is a progress on decommissioning there will be progress on the other elements of the talks and I think it is a twin-track process that is the purpose of the Mitchell compromise of decommissioning during the period of the talks. But it has to operate in good faith. We need to get through these talks in good faith and without that we won't get there. It is very easy for people to prevent there being an agreement, that is very easy.

You can always prevent there being an agreement in talks of this sort but it will take a certain amount of courage and a bit of compromise and a good dollop of commonsense to make sure that we do get through these talks. I hope everyone will show those qualities.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if serious negotiations would start without decommissioning].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the political parties will want to see firstly a clear intention that there should be decommissioning and then they will take stock of progress, probably at the end of September. Now the decision as to how far that goes is a matter that will have to be made by the participants in the talks as well as by the Governments. So I think there will be a general question to be asked about that.

QUESTION

[Mr Major was asked if there was a difficulty over the choice of George Mitchell as the chairman of the all-party talks].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we shall see. This is a matter that is being discussed. Quite probably I think it is entirely proper that the participants in the talks should discuss who should chair the plenary and then the decommissioning on top of that. I think that is absolutely fine. I am very happy with that. I have no problems with that at all. I think at the end of the day they will reach an agreement and Senator Mitchell will chair the talks. I believe that will be the case. I almost hope it will. We invited Senator Mitchell to do that because we thought his personal qualities made him an admirable choice for that role and also of course because as author of the Mitchell Report, he is in a better position than anybody else to be clear about what is said in that report. There can be no obfuscation of people saying the report means this, the report means that. The author of the book is there. He can make it perfectly clear what it means.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he had any problems over the choice of George Mitchell].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don’t. I think he will approach it with integrity and with impartiality and if I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t have invited him to chair the plenary.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the talks could succeed].

PRIME MINISTER:

The world is full of pessimists. The world is full of people who will say to me it is not going to work. But those are the same people who have been saying to me over the past five years that you'll make no progress in Northern Ireland, that you won't ever agree anything. That you won't agree the Downing Street Declaration, you won't agree the Framework Document, you won't agree how to hold elections, you won't agree how to set up a Forum. Well we have done all that and now we have a new series of challenges just in front of us and we will do what we can to agree them as well.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the possibility of a ceasefire being achieved].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is not productive of me to guess. I very much hope there will be a ceasefire. I very much hope so firstly for the people of Northern Ireland and secondly because providing there is an unequivocal ceasefire Sinn Fein will be able to enter the talks and that is clearly better than having them outside. But without such a ceasefire there is no way they can enter and that is the agreed position with the British and Irish Governments and I think of all commonsense opinion as well.