1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of John Major’s speech at the Children for Peace Lecture, held in Warrington on Friday 4th April 2003.
There are some events seared into the mind and never forgotten. The Warrington bomb is one. I remember the day vividly: Saturday, March 20th, 1993, a warm, sunny afternoon and I was walking in the garden of my home in Huntingdon. It was a rare moment of peace of mind at a turbulent time. The sound of a ringing telephone interrupted that Spring day and in quiet despair I listened as Number 10 told me of the bomb and the likelihood of there being fatalities.
And so it proved. Two little boys, wholly innocent of any political thought or action, had their young lives cut short by that bomb. 56 others -
The true horror of that Warrington day struck deep into the British psyche. The images of Tim and Johnathan are as vivid today as they were during that dreadful weekend.
That bomb -
The process had begun over two years earlier. In 1992, Albert Reynolds had become Taoiseach, Prime Minister of Ireland. He and I knew one another from our days as Finance Ministers. We were at ease with each other from the start -
Albert and I knew that if progress were to be made it would require a joint approach by the British and Irish Governments: a solo effort would not be enough. Before 1990, contact between the two Governments had been minimal despite our mutual membership of the EU. Charlie Haughey, the then Taoiseach, and I had agreed we should meet at least twice a year bilaterally and be in regular contact between such meetings. Albert Reynolds was keen to do the same. Over the years our senior officials were to get to know one another well, too.
From the moment I arrived at Number 10, Northern Ireland was a priority issue for me. I can’t rationally explain why: I can only say the issue kept bubbling to the front of my mind. And during the 6½ years I spent as Prime Minister, it never fell from the top of my agenda. I visited Northern Ireland more often than any of my predecessors and more frequently than any other part of the UK. I held meetings beyond number with leaders of the main Northern Ireland Parties at Westminster and special interest groups at Westminster and in Belfast. Some were interminable. Some were friendly. Some were raucous. Some were hopeful. Some ended in people walking out. All were necessary. It was a panorama of protest and progress.
Invariably, I was struck by one common perception. It was the distinction between the warmth and charm of most of the politicians and community leaders I met, and the depth and viciousness of the rivalries that divided them. In Northern Ireland itself that perception was magnified. Yet, from Belfast to Derry, from Ian Paisley’s Antrim to Jim Molyneaux’s Lagan Valley to the SDLP constituencies of John Hume and his colleagues, there came a message demanding peace and a readiness to support action to achieve it. Only the evil of bigotry and deep-
From the beginning, Albert Reynolds and I had similar objectives, although our preferred means of achieving them were often far apart. We had many agreements and some rows. Both of us sometimes operated on a short fuse lit by frustration at the obstacles to progress. Sometimes the climate was frosty and mutual frustration evident. But our disagreements were political never personal and Albert became -
At the time of the Warrington bomb, I was optimistic about movement from the IRA. It was -
If we abandoned our attempt at peace, I wondered, what legacy would that be for Tim and Johnathan? Would it not be a cop-
Would breaking off negotiations simply lead to entrenched attitudes and encourage more violence?
More positively, if we were to continue with our efforts, would not the instinctive reaction of horror following Warrington help box-
So did Albert Reynolds and he, too, was keen to continue. We were both aware of the warped mentality of the hard men of the IRA: if they negotiated at all they guarded their backs by showing their volunteers they did so from “a position of strength”. In their coded language, this meant after an atrocity. In essence they were saying to their members “How can you think we’re going soft -
In the early nineties, the Peace Process was controversial. Many supported it. Many others -
The Labour and Lib-
The causes of the Northern Ireland troubles lie deep in history and have been exacerbated by generations of distrust, recrimination, hatred and out-
Despite ongoing difficulties, I have always been an optimist about Northern Ireland. There will be a settlement because there must be. If one looks back through the avenue of the past three decades or so there are many reasons to justify that optimism. The clamour for normality from the majority of people in Northern Ireland has grown ever louder.
The Women’s Peace Movement was conceived and led bravely, and showed both Loyalist and Republican hard men that the majority of people in their communities opposed violence and wanted a better, more peaceful future. Other grass roots organisations like FAIT -
Of course, “the troubles” are not just political and nor is the solution to them. There are those in the IRA and the Protestant Groups for whom the nature of the political settlement is all important: but there are many others in these movements for whom criminality sheltering behind a political cause is quite simply a way of life. Such men, and women, have no wish for a settlement, no wish for peace, will do everything in their power to frustrate it and, if it were achieved, might peel off to join ever-
To many it is baffling that -
There are two words that bedevil a settlement: “distrust” and “decommissioning”. Historically, in Northern Ireland politics, nearly everyone has distrusted nearly everyone else.
The Unionists distrusted the Republicans.
The Republicans distrusted the Unionists.
Sinn Fein and the SDLP distrusted British Governments.
The UUP and DUP distrusted Irish Governments -
The paramilitaries distrusted most politicians and all authority.
The authorities distrusted the paramilitaries and their political spokesmen.
I could go on -
Distrust breeds fear. More especially, it breeds a fear of making concessions and encourages everyone to hunker down in their established positions.
It is for this reason that successive British and Irish Governments have made policy changes aimed at confidence-
By far the biggest stumbling block is decommissioning -
Protestant politicians and their communities must have decommissioning as a sign of good faith and a guarantee that the gun will not enter into Irish politics again in the future.
The British and Irish Governments, responsible Northern Ireland politicians and the public as a whole share that view and would warmly welcome decommissioning.
It is what they have long sought. For them, it would signal a certainty that the conflict which has haunted them for so long is finally coming to an end.
For the paramilitaries, it is more complex. The Loyalists -
The IRA has a deep-
Even so, the IRA -
The irony is that the surrendering of weapons, so vital to confidence, may turn out to be a red herring, for not all may be delivered up and, even if they were, more can be purchased readily. It’s a Catch 22: disarmament is a touchstone of good faith and yet, if it occurs, it may not turn out to be the guarantee of peace that is sought.
One unintended -
The most obvious loser is the SDLP -
And yet, in the 1980s and 1990s, a mode of argument arose that pragmatism was weak, had no spine, and that only unblinking pursuit of pre-
The road towards peace in NI has been the work of many hands. Politicians from a range of political persuasions, men of religion -
So have events, some of them tragic. I have spoken already of domestic tragedies but the wicked terrorism in Oklahoma, New York and Washington brought home to the US the pain and the horror of violence for political ends. So did the sight of the IRA being caught red-
Curbing economic deprivations is an important ingredient in cutting away the support structures of the paramilitary groups. What does terrorism feed on? Hatred and bigotry, of course. But not only that. It fuels up on resentment as well. It feeds on deprivations and poor living standards. People with little or nothing to lose can often be attracted to desperate causes. Terrorism gives a focus to their lives.
So the pursuit of growth and success of the economy in the Republic of Ireland is vital in every way and the British Government needs to focus on the deprived areas of Northern Ireland that -
But an improving economy must by matched by political normality. “Normality” for Northern Ireland must include an active role for the devolved Assembly. This is vital.
It is vital -
Once established, the Assembly was moderately successful. Old opponents worked together, albeit often disagreeing face to face and using the Assembly for Party political purposes, but also delivering new policy and benefits to Northern Ireland. More important is what the Assembly could -
Instead, the Assembly has been suspended following violence from all sides and a general lack of confidence in collective goodwill. As ever in Northern Ireland, the events leading to suspension had all the elements of Greek theatre: challenges to David Trimble from the ruling Council of the UUP, the raiding of Sinn Fein offices by the police investigating intelligence gathering by Republicans, and the arrest of a senior Sinn Fein figure accused of having documents of use to terrorists. It is easy to see why there was a collapse of confidence.
The need now is to rebuild the Assembly which is why the British and Irish Prime Ministers have met twice recently at Hillsborough to plan the way forward.
I understand these meetings made good progress although, as ever, the Parties needed time to consider proposals and consult their grassroots before giving approval. Soon, the two Prime Ministers will meet again to publish their proposals to finalise implementation of the Belfast Agreement and repair the damage to it of recent events.
A settlement -
We need also, the end of all preparations for paramilitary activity by Loyalists and Republicans alike. The end of paramilitary will being enforced on the streets. Above all -
But all may yet hang upon the destruction of arms. When a family has suffered a loss of life the psychological effect is very great: often there needs to be a period of “closure” before life can resume its normal pattern and peace of mind be re-
The peace movement needs “closure” too: in this case “closure” is the destruction of arms. No one knows for sure how many weapons there are -
There is a second element to closure. In 1991 I was sitting in the Cabinet Room of Downing Street on a grey November afternoon when a message was brought into me. It had come through a secret channel of communication opened in 1990 and was from the Provisional Army Council of the IRA. I was convinced then -
“The conflict is over but we need your [British] advice on how to bring it to a close. We wish to have an unannounced ceasefire in order to hold a dialogue leading to peace. We cannot announce such a move as it will lead to confusion to the volunteers, because the press will misinterpret it as a surrender. We cannot meet the Secretary of State’s public renunciation of violence, but it would be given privately as long as we were sure that we were not being tricked.”
The conflict is over. That message helped persuade me to continue on with the Peace Process and, in the following ten years under successive Governments, we have come to be in sight of the end of the Northern Ireland tragedy. The blood that has been spilled requires that end to be secured.
Let me return to Tim and Johnathan in whose memory we are here tonight. Were their lives wasted?
In one sense -
But, in another sense, the loss of these young lives -
Let that forever be their epitaph.