1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech made to the Trinity College Dublin Historical Society on Wednesday 21st November 2007.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Mr Chairman, Mr Auditor, Provost, Ladies and Gentlemen of College Historical Society, Ladies and Gentlemen.
My privilege to propose “that the Best Thanks of the Society are due to the Auditor for his Paper”.
Well done, Tim.
Chancellor, Provost, Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It’s always a pleasure to come to Dublin and doubly so to be at this famous University.
As you know, Albert Reynolds is unwell and can’t be with us this evening. However -
Let me begin with a disclaimer: many people -
Before I arrived at Downing Street, I had very little contact with Ireland -
Invariably, I was struck by the disparity 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Ireland Troubles lay deep in history, and were made worse by generations of distrust, recrimination, hatred and outdated tribal attitudes. But, although the roots were ancient, the perceived inequity of the old Stormont Parliament, and the divisive gulf between Unionist and Republican aspirations, kept mutual loathing burning fiercely.
And that loathing had led to carnage that, by the early 1990’s, seemed a permanent and irreversible way of life in Northern Ireland, with violence spinning off to the British mainland. Another atrocity. Another hooded victim. Another soldier dead. Such violence seemed to be so common-
But I did not believe the situation was irreversible. Nor, when I met him, did Albert Reynolds. I will now embarrass Albert. I’m sorry, Albert, but what I’m about to say is true. When I met Albert, I liked him instantly -
At our very first meeting in No. 10, Albert and I agreed to put a peace process at the forefront of our political agenda. We knew we might well face hostility. Deep-
In his Paper, Timothy Smyth observed that there were lessons learned that might offer sign-
Any Peace Process means dialogue: dialogue with the Government of the Republic of Ireland and dialogue -
That was my view -
For years, the IRA had sought a political objective through violence. For years, they had been resisted. It was a dance of death -
Albert Reynolds and I approached the problem in the belief there would be a settlement because there must be. That ideology must give way to common sense. Some thought that was a triumph of hope over experience: we did not.
It seemed to me the groundwork for a settlement was obvious:-
(i) We had to agree objectives between London and Dublin for -
(ii) We needed to get inside the mind of the para-
(iii) We knew we had to address the grievances that made it so easy for mischief makers to stir up hatred and foment disputes between the two communities.
(iv) And we had to offer an end product that would encourage those within the para-
(v) We also had to address contradictory ambitions and fears. Unionists feared a united Ireland. Nationalists favoured it. Both communities needed reassuring.
Returning to Mr Smyth’s observation about lessons learned: the above approach, with modifications, has to be the bed-
Putting together a Peace Plan in the early 90s was like playing multi-
The Joint Declaration
In his Paper, in a masterpiece of under-
In retrospect, the Joint Declaration stands out. But -
There was, of course, the three-
There was also the “back-
It was in February 1993, through this “back channel”, that I received the following message:
“The conflict is over but we need your 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.”
In London, we gave this message a very restricted circulation. Even so, amongst close colleagues, some were suspicious. Some saw a political trap to lure the British Government into concessions. Few thought it would yield anything worthwhile. Doubt, as well as distrust, was ever-
The advice I received from the Security Services was that the message was from the Provisional Army Council -
In his Paper, Mr Smyth reminds us of the bombs at Bishopsgate, Shankill Road, and Warrington to which he could have added the Loyalist murders at a pub in the village of Greysteel, in revenge for the IRA’s bungled bombing at Shankill Road. These atrocities were pivotal in hardening the public mind against violence, and boxing in the para-
I remember those bombs with the clarity of yesterday. I was in my garden in Huntingdon on a bright and beautiful Easter Saturday when I heard news of the Warrington bomb which fatally injured two little boys. It came only days after I had received assurances of progress from the Provisionals through the “secret link”. It was the only time I seriously considered breaking off the Peace Process. I did not -
The concept of a Joint Declaration had been around for some years. John Hume and Gerry Adams had pioneered the idea in 1988. Various private enterprise and Government texts had been floated but none was remotely likely to gain the support of the Unionist community. They were seen as too “Green” in complexion. Therefore -
It was not easy to agree a text. Officials -
Albert Reynolds and I resolved the final points in the text of the Joint Declaration over the telephone on 14th November 1993 and announced it publicly sixteen hours later.
What was the Declaration about? Was it worth all the effort?
I believe it was. After 74 years of partition and almost 25 years of violent conflict, the British and Irish Governments -
The Joint Declaration promised fair play to both communities. The Unionists were guaranteed there would be no imposition of a United Ireland, and the Republicans were guaranteed their traditions and aspirations would be respected. It was implicit that if there were ever to be a majority in the North for unification, that the British Government would not stand in the way. In addition -
The impact of the Joint Declaration was immediate. It received massive public support at home -
Much work still needed to be done. Political restrictions on the para-
Prior to 1990, the Prime Minister and The Taoiseach met irregularly as sparring partners, often playing to their own gallery: today, the political relationship between London and Dublin is a relationship of allies -
Ireland saw a new future and grasped it -