Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s press conference at the launch of the “Frameworks for the Future” document, with the Irish Prime Minister, Mr John Bruton. The press conference was held at the Balmoral Conference Centre in Belfast on Wednesday 22nd February 1995.
There is one reason, above all, why the Taoiseach and I have come to Belfast this morning, we wish to offer the proposals that our governments have been working on, here in Northern Ireland, for Northern Ireland’s people and to their representatives. We seek to help peace but we are very well aware that only the people of Northern Ireland are able to deliver that peace. So let me say directly to them at the outset, these are our ideas that I present this morning but the future is up to you. You have an opportunity now which has not been there for many years, an opportunity to work together to build a better future and a lasting peace.
The proposals that we launch today stem from the talks process that began four years ago in March 1991. It was agreed then by the two governments and the four participating parties that the process would have three strands: it would seek a new beginning for relationships within Northern Ireland; relations between the north and the south of the island of Ireland; and relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic. We agreed that it was only by addressing all these relationships together that agreement would be found across the community in Northern Ireland.
At this press conference the Taoiseach and I are publishing the document, "A New Framework for Agreement", which deals with the second and the third of these strands. A little later this morning I will return to this conference hall and put forward a separate document proposing new arrangements within Northern Ireland, that is of course a matter for the British government and the Northern Ireland parties alone.
Our proposals this morning are based on several principles -
Let me turn firstly to constitutional matters. On constitutional matters each government has offered crucial new commitments to this framework document. As part of a balanced agreement the British government would enshrine its willingness to accept the will of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland in British constitutional legislation. We shall embody the commitments we made in the Downing Street declaration. The Irish government would introduce and support proposals to change its constitution so that no territorial claim of right to jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, contrary to the will of a majority of its people, is asserted. This is a very important proposal that I welcome unreservedly. These changes would offer Northern Ireland a constitutional stability that it has not hitherto enjoyed. Its future status, by agreement between the two governments, would be irrevocably vested in the wishes of a majority of its people.
Let me say a word about the north/south institutions. In line with the three stranded approach, we propose new institutions for north/south cooperation. The north/south body that we outline would comprise elected representatives, chosen from a new Northern Ireland Assembly and from the Irish Parliament. It would draw its authority from those two bodies, it would operate by agreement and only by agreement.
On the United Kingdom side the north/south body would initially be set up by legislation at Westminster as part of a balanced agreement. It would come into operation following the establishment of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. Thereafter, it would be for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Irish Parliament both to operate the body and to decide whether its functions should be extended. Like all of our proposals the new north/south institutions will be a matter for negotiation, but the way should now be open for beneficial cooperation between north and south without the constitutional tensions which have been such impediments in the past. We have made suggestions about areas which might be covered in this cooperation to the advantage of both sides, but like all aspects of this document, they will be for discussion and for agreement between all concerned.
The European Union already operates cross-
In the third of our strands we outlined a new broader based agreement to take the place of the 1985 Anglo-
The Intergovernmental Conference would allow concerns to be expressed about any problems or breaches of the agreement reached. But there would be no mechanism for the governments jointly to supervise or over-
Our two governments have worked for a long time with patient determination to agree on this framework and I am grateful to the Taoiseach, his predecessor and the Tanaiste for their efforts and the spirit of accommodation. And I would like also to express my gratitude to Paddy Mayhew and to Michael Ancram who have worked so hard on the UK side.
Our proposals seek to stimulate constructive and open discussion and to give a fresh impetus to the political negotiations. The outcome of those negotiations will depend not on us but on the consent of the parties, the people and Parliament. It is not for us to impose, but what we propose is an end to the uncertainty, the instability and the internal divisions which have bedevilled Northern Ireland for far too long.
For over four years as Prime Minister I have listened intently to the people of Northern Ireland, I have visited them, consulted them, travelled more widely I believe than any predecessor throughout the province, held meetings with political leaders, church leaders, council leaders, community leaders and people from all walks of life. It is my duty as Prime Minister to maintain the Union for as long as that is the will of the people, it is a duty in which I strongly believe and one which these proposals protect. Just as people cannot be held within the Union against their will, so equally they will never be asked to leave it in defiance of the will of the majority. Consent and free negotiation are fundamental to me and they are the foundation stones of this joint document.
In the four years of the talks process we have travelled a very long way, but not yet far enough. I know that many people will be worried, perhaps some even pessimistic, about the future. But as we look at the hurdles ahead, it is worth considering also where we have come from. The dialogue of the deaf has ended.
For four years we have been engaged in talks, the three stranded process is becoming a reality, the Joint Declaration has been accepted, the British Government is engaged in talks with paramilitaries on both sides, we have had six months of peace, prosperity and a normal way of life are returning to Northern Ireland and the principle of consent, once accepted only by Unionists and the British government, is today accepted almost everywhere.
These are some of the gains for everyone in Northern Ireland, of whatever tradition. More gains can lie ahead if we have the courage to conduct ourselves with patience, with foresight and with consideration. To reach our destination all concerned must be ready to look to the future rather than to the past. We must put aside old shibboleths, we must show fair-
Today’s new framework for agreement is a landmark event in the affairs of this island. The two governments are presenting to the political parties in Northern Ireland, and to the Irish and British peoples, a document which is the most detailed expression to date of our views on the subject of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister and I hope that the framework document will receive calm and measured consideration over the days and weeks ahead.
It is an important and a serious text, offered as an aid to discussion and to negotiation. It presents our best judgment of what might be the agreed outcome of future talks involving the two governments and the political parties. We commend it to the parties for their careful consideration and we look forward to discussing it in detail with them at the earliest opportunity.
May I, at this point, pay special tribute to my colleague the Tanaiste, Mr Dick Spring, and his officials, and also to the Northern Ireland Secretary, Sir Patrick Mayhew, and his team. Their determined efforts over many months have brought us to the point of being able to announce this historic document.
The proposals that it contains are, we believe, balanced and fair and threaten nobody. No party need fear this document. To the Nationalist and Republican people this document first of all reaffirms that the British government have no selfish, strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland and that they will uphold the democratic wish of a greater number of the people of Northern Ireland on the issue of whether they prefer to support the Union or a sovereign united Ireland. Also to the Nationalist and Republican people this document says that the British government will enshrine in its constitutional legislation the principles embodied in this new framework by either amendment to the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 or its replacement by appropriate new legislation.
It will also be important to Nationalists that both governments consider that new institutions should be created for the present and future political, social and economic interconnection within the island of Ireland. These institutions will enable representatives of the main traditions, both north and south, to enter into agreed relationships. This is the purpose of the north-
To the Unionist and Loyalist people I would point out that the document commits the Irish government to ask its electorate to change the Irish constitution. The change proposed will address both Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution in the following ways: to remove any jurisdictional or territorial claim of legal right over the territory of Northern Ireland, contrary to the will of the people of Northern Ireland, and to provide that the creation of a sovereign united Ireland could therefore only occur in circumstances where a majority of the people of Northern Ireland formally chose to be part of a united Ireland.
It should also be important to Unionists that the document contains a recognition by both governments of the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to their constitutional status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union or opt for a sovereign united Ireland.
The proposals will thus challenge the two traditions on this island but will do so in an even-
The document is indeed our carefully considered response to many suggestions from the parties and others that it would be helpful if the two governments were to set out what they believed might be an agreed outcome coming out from talks, that response to suggestions has now been provided in this document.
We are asking the parties to come to talk to us, openly and candidly, about these proposals. We believe that taken in the round these proposals offer a basis for structured discussions leading to a new agreement. It is our hope that the political parties, having given these proposals the attention they deserve, will take a similar view. There can be no doubt about the enormous desire on the part of the ordinary public here, in the rest of Ireland and in Britain, for the earliest possible resumption of political dialogue. The ending of all campaigns of paramilitary violence last autumn has created an unrivalled opportunity for such dialogue to take place now with a reasonable prospect of a successful conclusion.
I join with the Prime Minister in appealing to all the parties concerned to grasp this opportunity. The framework document is our judgment of how things can best be taken forward. We have in our view the best opportunity now in a generation for a lasting political settlement. We owe it to the peoples of both of these islands to put that opportunity to the test.
QUESTION (ULSTER TV):
[Inaudible] that this is not joint authority, but considering that most of the leaks in the Times article are actually in the document that you produced this morning, how can you convince the Unionists otherwise?
What I am inviting people to do is to read the document, to read it in context and not out of context, which is what they saw in the Times document. Let me give you a particular illustration about the way in which fears arose as a result of a partial leak, and often can. One of the aspects of that leak was that responsibility for education would be devolved to the north/south body, and I understand the fears that existed in the north about that, they saw every aspect of education being subsumed in the north/south body and perhaps significant changes to the traditional way in which education is managed in the north. Rubbish, absolute rubbish.
The sort of thing that is proposed is mutual acknowledgment of qualifications north and south. At the moment a teacher qualified in the south can work in the north, a teacher qualified in the north cannot work in the south. Now that is just one tiny illustration of how, taken without the context, taken without reading precisely what is here in detail, taken without the checks and balances, taken without the explanation, a wholly wrong impression can be created. And the impression that was created was wrong and I hope that when people will study this, this is a big document, in some ways it is a complex document, what I am asking of people in Northern Ireland is to read it, to study it, to think about it, discuss it, to talk about it in their local communities, to their local political parties. Let it mature, make up their mind, think of the overall prize that lies at the end of successfully carrying forward these negotiations and make a balanced judgment on it.
This is not the time for snap judgments, it is not the time for people to throw their hats in the air and say we have cracked the puzzle, and neither is it the time to say no this will not do. This is the time to look at it coolly, clearly, carefully, let it mature and I believe as people do that the fears that they have will be seen to be illusory. There is nothing to fear in this document, I believe, and the safeguards on the consent principle, the triple-
I wish I could give you a categoric answer to that, but the truth is nobody can. The Taoiseach and I both understand that this matter is only going to proceed with consent, it needs to carry people with it or it will not carry. When I referred to the hurdles ahead I meant the need to persuade, the need to convince, the need for the parties to reach an understanding, the need for the people to accept that understanding in a referendum, the need for debate and discussion over the Parliamentary legislation yet to come, the matters that need to be dealt with in terms of establishing a Northern Ireland Assembly that I will return to discuss in this hail later on this morning. Those are the hurdles that I meant. And of course in parallel to those hurdles there are the discussions that the government are holding at the moment with the paramilitaries on both sides to determine how we can return them properly to legitimate democratic politics and remove, de-
They are all big hurdles and I know many people say: "But those hurdles are too big, you are never going to overcome those hurdles". I would simply say to those people who hold those views, look back two years ago and ask yourself whether you would have been expected to be here today, this morning, with six months of peace in Northern Ireland, discussion with the paramilitaries, a Joint Declaration accepted by everybody issued just over a year or so ago and frameworks for the future that can set out a path ahead, So we are embarked upon the road, a lot has been done but a lot more remains to be done.
QUESTION (DONALD KELLY, RTE):
Taoiseach, in this document, is your government proposing to drop Articles 2 and 3, and are you proposing to write into the constitution the [Inaudible] of the Northern Ireland state. And since you are proposing constitutional change, would it not have been better to have the wording for constitutional amendment to be out in the open now?
The position is that the government will be putting forward, at the appropriate time when agreement has been reached, proposals to amend Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution, and the effect of those amendments will be to state that they will no longer contain any jurisdictional or territorial claim of legal right on behalf of the Irish state over the territory of Northern Ireland. But they will go on to provide, however, that the creation of a sovereign united Ireland could take place in circumstances where a majority of the people in Northern Ireland formally choose to be part of a united Ireland. Those are the clear underlying principles upon which the constitutional amendment, to be presented, will be based. And they are balanced in turn by the commitment to agree to set up cross-
As to the publication of detailed wordings, the position is that there was no final agreement reached by the previous government, who were discussing particular wordings with the British government, there was no final agreement reached on those wordings, and I came to the conclusion, in conjunction with the Tanaiste, that the most appropriate way to proceed would be to state not an attempt at a detailed text, which at the end of the day is really a matter for [Inaudible] Airan and Shanatairan [phon] to discuss, but to state the purpose that we would be seeking to achieve in terms of the constitutional amendment that we would be introducing that would give much greater opportunity for discussion and improvement in terms of the wording is concerned, rather than finding ourselves, as I said in the Doyle yesterday, involved in a hair-
Dr. Paisley has described this document as a declaration of war. Have you any proposals to get him off a war-
I would regard it as a declaration for peace rather than a declaration for war. I had an extremely worthwhile, constructive discussion with Dr. Paisley and his colleagues last evening, I look forward to more in the future, there is a great deal of discussion to come. I don’t anticipate that Dr. Paisley will welcome every dot and comma in this document immediately, we will need to discuss that over a period of time, I think that is undoubtedly the case, it is always going to be the case.
This is a balanced document but nobody -
PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:
I would like to add, if I may, in response to that last question and to a number of other questions that have been put in regard to this matter that it is important in looking at the cross-
These are ideas which the governments intend to proceed with on the basis of agreement reached and I am glad to say that news of the impending publication of this document by the governments has encouraged a number of other parties to put their ideas on the table in recent days and we hope there will be many more suggestions put from other parties on the table for discussion in conjunction with this framework document.
What we are seeking is to challenge people to think, to challenge people, if they don’t like what is in this document particularly in regard to a special matter, to ask themselves what is the problem that this document in that regard is trying to solve and then, having identified the problem, say: “Well, I don’t like the framework document’s suggestion for solving it; here is my alternative!"
It is very important that everybody who offers a criticism of an aspect of the document should ask themselves first the question: “What problem is this aspect of the document trying to solve?” and secondly: “Have I a better way of solving that problem?" That is what we mean when we say we are challenging the parties in this document; we are challenging them to either go with this or come up with something better.
[Inaudible but regarding the triple lock]
I am not proposing to change the order of the locks. I think those are the natural and sequential order. We have learned before in the troubled history of the last few decades in Northern Ireland that unless you carry all the people with you then you don’t get where you seek to go; that often means things go more slowly than you would ideally wish, it means a great deal of patience and sometimes a touch of frustration but i think that has to be the way it is and I have set out the way in which we propose to deal with it and I don’t propose to change that.
Mr. Major, will these North-
It is up to the parties. As the Taoiseach has just said, we were asked to put forward proposals for discussion. We have put forward some proposals. These may not be the only proposals. If the parties don’ t like what is in here, then the parties can produce something else. We have the clear indication of where we all wish to get; if they don’t like this, put forward something else. We are prepared to discuss that.
As to whether we will get there by the next general election, I can’t at this stage know how soon the parties will engage in bilateral discussions, after they have examined the document how soon they will sit down collectively, how soon they will reach an agreement so I can’t give you a clear indication about that. We will not unduly delay but I would rather take things securely and be sure of the progress that we have made than try and rush things ahead too fast and let the process fail so I am afraid it isn't possible to give a date but what we do want is measured progress and we want measured progress in the peaceful atmosphere we have had recently.
NICK CLARKE (BBC “WORLD AT ONE’):
You have suggested over and over again that this is a consultation document. Will you not be trying to persuade people of its value and will you not in fact be a persuader for change?
We have set out, as we were asked to do, some ideas for the parties to consider but I go back to the point that I have made and the Taoiseach has made this morning: the whole thing rests on consent and on carrying people with us; if they don’t like it, they will change it, Of course, we think these are workable ideas or we wouldn't have produced them, that is self-
To the extent that we are persuaders, we are persuaders for people to come together and examine these propositions and bring forward other propositions if we wish to that extent, we are persuaders but beyond that what we are seeking is to draw from the people collectively what they believe would be a workable proposition for the future and that is a point that the Taoiseach emphasised a moment ago; it has to be by consent, it has to be by agreement, slow, difficult, painful but the only way.
Given the facts of the Sunningdale Agreement, the Anglo-
Secondly, did you ever think about throwing in the towel amidst all this?
No, I most certainly didn't. You may call it old-
I don’t underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead but I do believe that with care and patience those difficulties can be overcome and the prize is really very great, isn't it and doesn't really need spelling out. The prize is so great as to be worth the effort, whatever the effort itself might be.
As to the first part of your question, I cannot do better than to reaffirm the consent principle. I made the point a few moments ago that I am a Unionist, of course, but I am a Unionist who wants peace and a prosperous future for Unionists. It is a matter of choice: for so long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain in the United Kingdom, they will remain in the United Kingdom with my full support, with the full backing of the British Government and with the full support of everything that that means. If their choice is to do something different, we will accept it but it has to be their choice.
PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:
I just want to stress that the whole document right through stresses the three strands, the three sets of relationships. It is not therefore all Strand 2, all a matter of looking at the relationships in an all-
QUESTION (NEW YORK TIMES):
Could both of you say what you think the odds are that some day Sinn Fein, the major Unionist parties and of course the SDLP, will actually sit at the same table?
I am not a bookmaker but they are improving. The fact that the Government are now engaged in talks with Sinn Fein is evidence of that; those talks still have some way to go but progress is being made, I hope further progress is going to be made in the future.
Once it is clear that Sinn Fein have renounced violence for good, once it is clear that action is taken on the decommissioning of weapons, then Sinn Fein becomes a democratic, legitimate political party and will be able to sit down with the British Government and with the other political parties. That day is much closer than it was a year ago.
PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:
I would say the odds are about 5-
They will decide in the discussions the extent of these bodies. That is the point we have repeatedly sought to make this morning, that these are ideas and proposals for discussion with the political parties; they will be discussed with the political parties; they will then be put to a referendum; only then will there be legislation; that broad legislation about North-
The position is within the hands of the political parties by agreement right the way through and once the North-
The fear I know exists that someone externally is going to impose all sorts of draconian things on the North-
There are obvious areas where it is very sensible to cooperate. There is cooperation that goes on now and has gone on for the last twenty or thirty years. There are areas where cooperation is self-
I believe in the politics of persuasion and I believe in the politics of reason and I think we will be able to let people discuss these matters and draw out the joint advantages of proceeding as we have proposed.
PRIME MINISTER BRUTON:
Could I answer that question directly by saying that what weakens the Union is the sense amongst the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland that the state doesn't recognise their loyalty, that it doesn't recognise their aspirations, their sense of Irish allegiance. It is that alienation of the minority community in Northern Ireland that creates the tension that in turn means that issues of the Union are constantly being questioned and raised.
What this document is designed to do is to create new structures to which both communities in Northern Ireland will be able to give an equal sense of allegiance, that both communities will feel equally at home in their own place. If that happens, all of the issues that prompted your question will cease to be problems, people won’t see the need to ask that question any more because it won’t be a relevant question because a framework will have been created in which both communities will feel equally at home. That question is only asked out of a sense of insecurity.
The purpose of the document is to create a comprehensive new dispensation in Northern Ireland in which both communities will feel equally at home and that is the security that can be offered to both of them, the security that there is an arrangement in place that their neighbours are as happy with as they are. As long as there are arrangements in place that their neighbour on the street or in the next housing estate is not as happy with as they are, then there is no security for anybody. That is the purpose that we are seeking to achieve in this agreed framework, a new dispensation where both communities would feel equally at home.