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1995 - Mr Major’s Joint Doorstep Interview with John Bruton

Below is the transcript of Mr Major's joint doorstep interview with John Bruton in Moscow on Tuesday 9th May 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Let me just, by way of introduction, say a word or two about the talks that the Taoiseach and I have had this afternoon. We have taken the opportunity of both being here in Moscow to discuss a range of issues and I will elaborate upon those in a moment. But I would like to say, before I do, that this afternoon's discussions have been another further illustration, if one would need it, that the relationship between the British government and the Irish government is as good, as sound and as close today as I believe it has been at any stage in the past and I am delighted that that is so and I believe the Taoiseach feels precisely the same way about it.

We touched upon a range of matters this afternoon, let me run through those we dealt with and then you may wish to ask a few questions about them. We looked at the agenda for the forthcoming European Council at Cannes and we discussed a range of issues, most noticeably the problem faced right across Western Europe on drugs, the sort of issues that are going to be discussed at the Cannes Conference. We took a further look ahead to the Intergovernmental Conference itself. Clearly there are a range of issues, institutional questions and other issues as well, and we had a very preliminary discussion about that and agreed that we would resume bilateral discussion about that at our next formal bilateral summit. We have not agreed a date for that but we would expect it to be probably before the middle of September and our officials will now look and see if they can find a specific date for it. This is part of a series of bilaterals that we have agreed to have, two a year alternately in Dublin and London, and thus far they have proved extremely worthwhile and extremely productive.

We discussed the present situation in the talks about Ireland. I was able to say to the Taoiseach that our talks with the Loyalist Paramilitaries are proceeding extremely well, we are very happy with the developments there have been thus far and those of course are continuing.

I also confirmed to the Taoiseach that Michael Ancram will meet Sinn Fein tomorrow, for the first occasion upon which there have been discussions at Ministerial level between Sinn Fein's representatives and a representative of the British government. I expect these talks to go on for some time, there are a range of matters that we will need to discuss there. The purpose of these talks is to reach sufficient agreement to enable Sinn Fein to enter into all-party political talks, that is the objective, we wish to help and ease Sinn Fein into bilateral political talks in due course.

Clearly that does mean dealing with a range of issues, most obviously it means dealing with the question of decommissioning of arms, and we have made it clear in the past that it will be necessary for Sinn Fein to agree that decommissioning will take place, to agree the modalities of decommissioning, and then to move forward to some practical demonstrations. And that is not just the question of the British government saying that needs to be done, the reality is that unless that is done the other political parties will not engage in bilateral talks. To move forward to bilateral talks is essential if we are going to carry this process as far forward as we wish to and we will enter into those talks with Sinn Fein in the hope that we will be able to satisfactorily move Sinn Fein from the present position into a position where the other political parties will be happy to engage in dialogue with them.

That is a broad brush outline of the matters we discussed this afternoon, the Taoiseach may wish to add something and then we will take any questions you may have.

MR BRUTON:

As the Prime Minister said, we discussed the drugs issue which is a major problem in Europe and in both our countries and we are anxious to see action taken both individually and at a European level to deal with this scourge which is affecting the livelihoods and happiness of so many families in our two countries.

We are also very keen to see the Intergovernmental Conference work, to see the European Union enlarge in an effective way and we discussed in a preliminary fashion some of the issues that will be coming up at Cannes and later on in Majorca in the lead-up to the Intergovernmental Conference on these questions.

I welcomed very much what the Prime Minister said to me, as he has now said to you, the fact that the British government is working, as is the Irish government, to a situation where all parties will take part in discussions with both governments and with all other parties on the same basis. Obviously a number of important issues remain to be resolved before one can reach that point, but what is very clear is that it is the intention of Her Majesty's government and the Irish government to seek to achieve that objective as soon as is feasible. Obviously patience will be required, a willingness to understand the concerns of the other side of the table will be required from all participants, but we believe that that requirement will be met.

QUESTION:

You said that there was a question-mark over the talks which start tomorrow, because you have put a challenge to Sinn Fein about whether they would condemn the violent demonstration in Londonderry. They did not condemn those people who took part in that demonstration. Why have you decided to go ahead with the talks anyway?

PRIME MINISTER:

I set out in the House of Commons on Thursday that there are much wider issues at stake. The interests of the people of Northern Ireland are to try and see this process through and I think that is the thing that weighs most heavily on my mind. As I set out in the House of Commons last week, I think we need to look at those wider interests, we need to ensure that nothing artificially puts a block upon the prospects of progress. I have no doubt that the demonstration there was in Derry last week was not Derry people, I don't think Derry need feel any concern about their own particular position. It was an organised demonstration, it was silly. I hope from that that Sinn Fein have learned it was silly, I think it has been very widely condemned from many sources. Let us see if they are now prepared at those talks to make the sort of progress that they have been talking about. Mr Adams has been saying for a long time that he would like to make progress, that he would like these peace talks to proceed. Well now he has the opportunity, his colleagues have the opportunity, face to face with a British Minister, to look at the issues that they know and we know and everybody in Ireland knows need to be resolved if we are to carry this matter forward. I think that is the most important issue.

QUESTION:

Before the ceasefire you once said in the Commons that your stomach would turn at the prospect of talks with the IRA, looking back do you now regret having said that?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, John, because if you look back and read what I said at the same tine and you see the complete quote, you will see that what I said, I was referring to talks while murder, bombing and violence was continuing, and if you look back at what I said in the House of Commons and look at the whole quote and not a partial quote you will see that is what I said.

QUESTION:

On the question of decommission, the Prime Minister has been quite specific that he still needs to see progress, he needs to see modalities in position before Sinn Fein can take part in talks with other people. Are you in agreement on that position?

MR BRUTON:

I think there has got to be serious progress made on the issue of getting the guns out of politics and putting them out of commission. This is not just a requirement of the government, it is a requirement of the other parties with whom the settlement must be reached. It is not practical to think in terms for example of Sinn Fein sitting down on the basis of equality with the Unionists and reaching an agreement with them while guns are still in commission, that is the reality that the government recognise, it is not a requirement imposed by the government as such, it is a reality there which has to be met anyway, this is obvious that decommissioning has to be dealt with very seriously on the agenda of these talks. And we will both be looking for discussions to take place not just on the principle of decommissioning but also on exactly how it is going to be done in some detail. But as we have stressed on several occasions the decommissioning of arms is not the only item on the agenda, there are other items as well and we want to see progress on those too.

QUESTION:

But does it have to be decoupled from the question of demilitarisation which Sinn Fein don't want to do?

MR BRUTON:

I believe that a satisfactory basis has now been reached for discussions between Sinn Fein and the British government, all the background has now been satisfactorily covered and we have reached a formula upon which the discussions can now take place and it is a question of getting down to business now, discussing the whole range of issues that are important here, not just decommissioning of arms, also the issues of policing, the position of prisoners, the possible releasing of prisoners in due course, an issue which I mentioned to the Prime Minister during the course of our discussions, and the recognition of the mandate of the parties involved, the ability of parties to make representations to Ministers, all of these are issues that now need to be dealt with in a constructive spirit. There is not one item on the agenda, but it would be entirely wrong to under-estimate the importance of getting rid of the guns.

QUESTION:

Martin McGuiness has apparently said that there would be no surrender of arms this side of a political settlement, can you comment on that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the place to have discussions like that is in the discussions and not here with you and nor with Mr McGuinness making statements outside. I think often things are said for public consumption. The reality is to test whether those things are meant or not. Sinn Fein say to me, say to everyone, that they want to move forward with their democratic mandate. You cannot move forward with a democratic mandate with a gun in your hand. So the reality is that in the discussions the gun is going to have to come out of Irish politics, everyone understands that. So I think people should be less concerned about statements made for public consumption and look at what practical progress can be made in discussions. The discussions are there for practical progress, I think no-one is in any doubt about what needs to be done, it has been self-evident, the Northern Irish political parties are clear about it, the British government is clear about it, the Taoiseach has made his position clear, the Vice-President of the United States yet again made the American position clear, the position of the churches in Northern Ireland collectively is entirely clear. So we are now entering into talks in which the old oratory I hope can be thrown to one side and pushed aside, now we are reaching a situation where we need to see what actions can be taken and in Northern Ireland it is going to be actions in the future that matter, not the words of the past.

QUESTION:

The Taoiseach mentioned the release of prisoners, do the British accept the early release of convicted terrorists?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have a British legal system, I cannot change the British legal situation, that is the situation now and that has always been the situation and I certainly cannot discuss that today.

QUESTION:

The ceremony this morning in Red Square was billed in advance as a parade of veterans, there were clearly more than veterans there this morning, including possibly some soldiers who fought in Chechnya, does this disturb you at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there were boys there, very young men there who clearly were not veterans, there were some youngsters there who were 15 or 17 who I think came from some of the Academies in Moscow, I am not aware of any veterans that were being there, but I simply don't know.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible] serving soldiers, I spoke to them.

PRIME MINISTER:

That is not a matter I am aware of and it is not a matter I can comment on at the moment. You told me that, I was not aware of that.

QUESTION:

I understand the Russians [inaudible] would be strictly veterans only?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were not expecting Chechnyan veterans there, that is certainly the case, I don't know whether there were or not, I certainly have not heard that there were.

QUESTION:

In your bilateral talks with President Yeltsin, did you bring up Chechnya and were you satisfied with what he said to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I did bring up Chechnya, we discussed a range of matters, Chechnya, NATO, bilateral matters, a number of other things, and they were very satisfactorily discussed. The substantive part of the discussion was about NATO and we had discussed this at some length when President Yeltsin visited me at Chequers some months ago and we returned to those discussions again this morning and I think they were very worthwhile and very productive. We also look forward to the G7/G8 meeting in Halifax later this year and looked at some of the issues that we may discuss there. So although it was a good deal briefer than many of our meetings because there were a lot of other events for us to attend today, we managed to cover quite a lot of ground.

QUESTION:

What did you say to him about Chechnya and what did he say to you?

PRIME MINISTER:

I made it clear, I think people understand the British government's position about Chechnya, we have emphasised that again. We also made it clear that it is very important to keep the OSCE heavily involved in Chechnya and President Yeltsin assured me that that would be the case.

QUESTION:

Did you discuss the expansion of NATO?

PRIME MINISTER:

The Russian position is as it has been for some time, the Russians are concerned about the expansion of NATO and clearly what concerns the Russians is that there is going to be a very sudden and very dramatic expansion of NATO, right across Central and Eastern Europe and the Russians are self-evidently worried about that. I was able to say to President Yeltsin that we don't envisage a dramatic and sudden remarkable expansion of NATO, that this is a progressive evolutionary expansion and that, at the same time we will be building up with the United States and other countries the Partnership in Peace Initiative and clearly within that there is a very special place for Russia because Russia is quite apart in terms of its size and its military importance of any of the other nations. And I think many of the concerns that I understand abound here in Russia, I understand why those concerns are there but I think many of them are a mis-reading of what is actually proposed in terms of the future of NATO and we were able to talk about that this morning.