Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the publication of the Mitchell Report. The statement was made in the House of Commons on 24th January 1996.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): With permission, Madam Speaker, I shall make a statement on the report of the international body on the decommissioning of illegal arms, which was published earlier today.
The key to progress in Northern Ireland is confidence-
The body's remit was to identify and advise on acceptable methods of verifiable decommissioning, and then to report on the commitment of the paramilitaries to work constructively to achieve that. We set the body the challenging target of reporting by mid-
The body's main conclusions are: first, that the total and verifiable disarmament of all paramilitary organisations has nearly universal support and must continue to be a principal objective; secondly, that to reach an agreed political settlement and take the gun out of politics, all parties should commit themselves to, and honour, six principles embodying the path of democracy and non-
Thirdly, the body concludes that there is a clear commitment on the part of those in possession of illegal arms to work constructively to achieve full and verifiable decommissioning as part of the process of all-
Fourthly, the body concludes that other confidence-
The body also records its conclusion, on the basis of its discussions, that the paramilitaries will not decommission any arms prior to all-
The Government welcome the body's endorsement of the seriousness of the decommissioning issue. We welcome and fully endorse the six principles that it sets out. We call on each and every one of the parties to do the same, speedily and unequivocally.
If all concerned were to accept those principles, and honour them, as the international body also rightly emphasised, that would be a significant step forward. Even more significant would be if, in addition, all parties, particularly Sinn Fein, also joined the two Governments in supporting the wide principles of consent set out in the Downing street declaration.
The Government also welcome the body's broad recommendations on the modalities of the decommissioning process. We are ready to implement them. It is now for those in possession of illegal arms to say whether they will accept and act upon them. We look forward to an early and definitive response from the paramilitaries on both sides.
We welcome, too, the emphasis on other confidence-
There is therefore much in the report that we can welcome and endorse. But the practical problem remains-
There can be no justification for the maintenance of private armies by those who claim to be committed to exclusively peaceful means. Opinion polls in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have shown overwhelming public support in both communities for decommissioning before talks. We shall therefore keep up the pressure for an immediate start to the process.
However, I am not prepared to accept that any one group should, through its intransigence, stand in the way of peace and a comprehensive settlement for the people of Northern Ireland. We will not be deflected from our aim. It is now apparent that there may well be another way forward, consistent with the basic principles to which we have always adhered.
One of the confidence-
The Government believe that such an elective process offers a viable alternative direct route to the confidence necessary to bring about all-
The election proposal originated in Northern Ireland and, as recent opinion polls have shown, has widespread cross-
It is true that other parties have registered their concerns; they will certainly need to be addressed. We will discuss urgently with all the parties how to overcome them. But, in a democratic system such as ours, I cannot see how elections could be regarded by any of the parties either as a side issue or as a block to progress.
As the Mitchell report says:
"Elections held in accordance with democratic principles express and reflect the popular will".
So let me make it quite clear to the House that we are ready to introduce legislation, and to seek both Houses' urgent approval for it, in order to allow such an elective process to go ahead as soon as may be practicable. I hope that this will attract support right across the House.
To sum up, we believe that, in the light of the Mitchell report, there are two ways in which all-
Those are two routes to all-
The people of Northern Ireland are enjoying today's peace. They wish it to be permanent. They also want and deserve political progress. It is time to put the old enmities to one side, and to allow the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives once again to have a normal say in their future and their affairs.
The proposals that I have put forward today require all concerned to take risks for peace. We have done so before, and we will do so again. Consistent with our principles, we will pursue this process. That is what is needed if we are to build on the achievements of the past two years.
Let us never forget that we are dealing here with the lives of innocent men, women and children. We are dealing with their future, and with the future of Northern Ireland. In the end, our obligations as politicians-
I pledge that I will leave no stone unturned to deliver to the people of Northern Ireland, on a permanent basis, the precious privilege of peace that they have enjoyed for the past 17 months.