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1995 - Mr Major’s Statement at Hillsborough Castle

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s statement at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday 3rd May 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning.

Let me just say a brief word or two about the meetings I have had thus far this morning. I had a meeting over breakfast with the Church Leaders. This is one of a whole series of meetings I have had over the last couple of years and I can assure you that there will be more meetings of the same sort in the future. The purpose of this was to brief the Church Leaders on where we are at the moment with the process in Northern Ireland, to seek their views on what the community are saying and to discuss a range of matters relevant to Northern Ireland. Much of that discussion was private but I can simply say this morning that I value very much the contribution the Church Leaders have made. It has in my judgment been significant in keeping this process moving forward and I intend to maintain very close relationships with them in the future.

As you will know I also met the Families Against Intimidation in Northern Ireland and I must say that when one sees a way from the abstract the specific problems and details that are faced by many people in Northern Ireland, it does make the problems that still exist even after the end of killing very vivid indeed. Everyone I think is delighted that for the time we have a ceasefire and people are not being killed by paramilitary groups. That is undoubtedly a great step forward. But because that step has been made it does not excuse the other criminality that still continues to be carried out by the paramilitary groups. And I would just like to make that entirely clear.

People have begun to refer to the term 'punishment beatings'. The first point I'd care to make about that is that punishment is not for anyone to inflict other than the legal Government of the day. It is not for paramilitary groups. And if one looks at the examples of what they are doing - young men taken out of their homes, their legs broken with baseball bats, held down and beaten, people's homes broken into, wrecked as an example, people with their legs spiked with railings. Those are just some of the illustrations many of you will be familiar with. I think people need to realise that that is still being done by the paramilitary groups and that it is wholly and utterly unacceptable for any group that wishes to enter democratic life to behave in this fashion. It is not for the paramilitary groups to exclude people from any part of Northern Ireland. So let me make it beyond a doubt clear to anybody. These are acts of straightforward criminality. Whenever they occur I hope that anyone that has any evidence of any of these acts will bring that evidence forward to the police so that the police can act, secure a prosecution and secure a punishment. People in Northern Ireland must not be subjected to that sort of behaviour by the paramilitary groups and if they are to talk about peace, if they are to talk about entering the democratic system, then they are going to have to behave as democrats and that doesn't just mean that people aren't killed, it means that people aren't beaten up, that their homes aren't wrecked and that people aren't excluded from the areas in which they live by those paramilitary groups.

INTERVIEWER:

There are concerns that the peace process is if not on a 'twin track' basis on a single track basis and that Sinn Fein are very far behind the other parties. What is your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER:

The peace process is on a single track basis. Our objective is to try and get Sinn Fein in the same position where they can join political talks with everybody else. But to do that they need to be at the same position as everybody else. That is the position we have taken right from the start and it remains the position. The purpose of the exploratory talks with Michael Ancram is to move forward so that Sinn Fein are on the same position as other people, they meet the same criteria as the other political groups and then they can enter the other political talks. That is the purpose of them.

QUESTION (Ken Reid):

When Michael Ancram talks to Sinn Fein next week you have said decommissioning of arms is top of the agenda. Do you actually mean the surrender of guns?

PRIME MINISTER:

The decommissioning of arms is perfectly clear. If people are prepared to enter into the democratic process then they don't need arms. If they need arms then there must be a question about how serious they are about entering into the democratic process. Now we need to examine this matter. It isn't a matter of semantics, it isn't a matter of detail, it is a matter of principle and it is a matter of practice. The reality is that if Sinn Fein are to move forward as I wish to see them do, and enter fully into the democratic process as I wish them to do, and to enter into the talks with the other political parties as I hope they will do, then they are going to have to put themselves in a position where the other political parties will sit down and talk to them. And the other political parties will require them to acknowledge that guns have to come out of politics, to agree the polities of how guns will be coming out of politics and to make some progress in that effect. The Secretary of State has set that out clearly before. It isn't a hurdle, it is something that must be done if the other political parties would be prepared to talk to Sinn Fein and if people can then see the sincerity of their wish to enter into the democratic process. Let there be absolutely no doubt I wish that progress to be made. The sooner we can justifiably move Sinn Fein forward into the talks process with the other political parties I will be delighted when we reach that day. It will be a great move forward. But there is no point in trying to move them to that position when the other parties will not talk to them because they have not met the same democratic criteria as the other parties. And that is a substantive point.