1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Mr Major’s article on Ireland, published in Future Ireland in August 2004.
Once more the Irish Peace Process is stalled. The blame game will be back in vogue -
From the moment I arrived at Number 10, Northern Ireland was a priority for me: the issue kept bubbling to the front of my mind. And during my 6½ years as Prime Minister, it never fell from the top of my agenda. I held meetings beyond number at Westminster and in Belfast. Some were interminable. Some were friendly. Some were raucous. Some were hopeful. Some ended in walk outs. It was a panorama of protest and progress.
Invariably, I was struck by the distinction between the personal warmth and charm of those I met, and the depth and savagery of the rivalries that divided them.
The roots of the Northern Ireland troubles lie deep in history and have been exacerbated by generations of distrust, recrimination, hatred and outdated tribal attitudes. But, although the roots may be ancient, the perceived inequity of the old Stormont Parliament, and the divisive gulf between Unionist and Republican aspirations, kept mutual loathing burning steadily. Until the Northern Ireland Assembly was formed, politicians were literally irresponsible -
Despite continuing 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 positive moves to justify that optimism. The clamour for normality has grown ever louder.
Of course, “the troubles” are not just political, and nor is the solution to them. There are those within the IRA and the Protestant Groups for whom the nature of the political settlement is all important: but there are many others for whom criminality, sheltering behind a political cause, is 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. Distrust breeds fear. More especially, it breeds a fear of making concessions and encourages everyone to hunker down in their established positions.
By far the biggest stumbling block is decommissioning: the removal of weapons from the political debate. For the paramilitaries this is complex. The Loyalists -
The IRA has a deep-
Even so, the IRA -
To achieve a final agreement, we need 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 -
This latter requirement means all may yet hang upon the destruction of Arms. When a family has suffered a loss of life the psychological effect is profound: often there needs to be a period of “closure” before life can resume its normal pattern and peace of mind be restored.
The Irish peace movement needs “closure” too: in this case “closure” is the destruction of Arms. No-
For the people of Northern Ireland, we must continue to hope that their desire for peace will soon become a reality. But the question still lingers -
We have yet to hear the answer.