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DAVID FROST: Now as the legal battle continues over who's to be the new incoming President, for the outgoing President it's business as usual in what will surely be, almost certainly be his last foreign trip before leaving the White House Bill Clinton travels to Ireland this week and then on to London here. But to Ireland to give the peace process one last personal nudge. But what's required and how high are the chances of the parties agreeing to compromise? Northern Ireland's First Minister, the Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, David Trimble is in our Belfast studio, David good morning.
DAVID TRIMBLE: Good morning David.
DAVID FROST: First hopes and fears and joys, what can you hope for, do you think, it's a short visit but can you hope for a nudge, a boost or something for the peace process from President Clinton this week do you think?
DAVID TRIMBLE: I think on Wednesday we'll see whether the US Administration has been successful in persuading Republicans to keep the promise they made that they would initiate a process to put their weapons beyond use. That promise was made in May and hasn't yet been kept, indeed if anything Republicans have been trying to walk away from the promise and I hope the Administration has been holding them to them. The US Administration of course is in a much stronger position to put pressure on some important areas for the Republicans and we'll be looking and listening very carefully to what President Clinton says when he's in Dundalk. Dundalk of course is the area where the Real IRA, this dissident group, about which Peter Mandelson is warning this weekend that it may be involved in serious violence over the Christmas, we'll wait to see what the President has to say when he's in Dundalk with regard to the Real IRA because I think one of the real failures by government over the last few years, ever since they were responsible for the Omagh bomb is the failure to deal with the Real IRA.
DAVID FROST: But the Real IRA are not part of the IRA in terms of the people that Sinn Fein know well, they are a dissident group and you have at a moment a situation also in the North where the headline here, Loyalists blamed for sectarian murder, Loyalist were tonight blamed for the murder of a Catholic workman in a gun attack on the outskirts of North Belfast and so on. So that there's, both sides have got it, have got their┐
DAVID TRIMBLE: Oh there's very serious problems and what has been happening over the last few months is that the, the Real IRA have trying to provoke violence in, they've been trying to maintain a series of operations in Northern Ireland and indeed they are suspected of being responsible for the murder of a Protestant in North Belfast which as you said then led to retaliation by Loyalists by murdering a Catholic in North Belfast, I mean both murders equally appalling. But the, the, what we have to do, indeed what looks as though there was a deliberate attempt there to destabilise the process. That is the difficulty, I mean one of the things that people will be talking about this week, about whether it's possible to move further in terms of policing and security structures towards normality, well it would be quite unrealistic to move towards normality while we have active terrorist gangs still operating and I think that is the issue that people need to focus on and in particular with the, the real IRA and I think here I'd be interested to see whether, for example, President Clinton will announce that the Real IRA will be added to the State Department's list of terrorist organisations and I do wish the Irish government, who I think is uniquely placed as well, would be more active in their approach to this problem. For if they were it would then possible for the British government to move a little bit more confidently on policing and security issues because at the moment of course, they're inhibited at moving on those issues because of the continuing terrorist violence.
DAVID FROST: How many, members may be too formal a word almost, but how many Real IRA are there, 10, 20, 30?
DAVID TRIMBLE: Oh I think it's into three figures now, it includes some very experienced killers, the person who murdered Mr┐ the Protestant murdered in North Belfast appears to have been a, if I can say that, an experienced killer and the indications are pointing towards a particular person who was until recently a prominent member of the mainstream IRA who may have defected.
DAVID FROST: Who may have defected. Geoffrey Donaldson has said, threatened, that he's planning to challenge, you are considering, to challenge you again in January on the Sinn Fein issue, do you suspect he will go ahead, is there any way you can avoid that?
DAVID TRIMBLE: Well one of the things I'm reconciled to, to David, is that within the Party my critics are also with me, in a sense┐
DAVID FROST: So you're never lonely really?
DAVID TRIMBLE: That's true, but look I'm focused on the important issue and the important issue is trying to secure the peace process, trying to secure the peace and making sure that we can bed in the institutions that we agreed in '98, that's what I want to do. Of course we can't secure the peace, if it turns out that paramilitaries won't give up violence, won't give up their guns then that leaves a huge question mark over the agreement and yes there will be people who will come and ask questions at that point but let's focus on what the real problem is and the real problem is the failure to achieve peace.
DAVID FROST: And do you think therefore that a, the chances of a breakdown in the peace process are, are what?
DAVID TRIMBLE: I, I don't want to, to, to state things too starkly David because, I mean we have a serious problem, we hope that the visit of the President will mark progress, whether we achieve that progress depends on whether in their contacts with Republicans over the last week or two the Americans have been able to persuade them to move. Whether the Irish government is now prepared to be a bit more forward in dealing with the Real IRA, for example, and then whether the British government can respond to it. That, that would be a, a, a virtuous cycle as it were, what I don't want to see is a negative cycle arising from the continuing violence from paramilitaries, Loyalist and distant, or from the government taking risks with security which aren't justified in the present circumstances.
DAVID FROST: David thank you very much and we wish you and everybody over there in Northern Ireland a happy and a peaceful Christmas. Thank you.
DAVID TRIMBLE: Indeed, thank you.
DAVID FROST: David Trimble there. END
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