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Northern Ireland Secretary, Dr John Reid MP
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

And now to Ireland by way of Scotland, Peter Mandelson's replacement in Northern Ireland joins me this morning live from the Scottish Labour Conference in Inverness, for his first major television interview since he took on the job, Dr John Reid is there, John good morning.

JOHN REID:

Good morning to you David.

DAVID FROST:

Would you say there was any tangible progress from the meetings that were attended by Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair on Thursday in Northern Ireland, was there any progress that you can point to?

JOHN REID:

Yes I think there was, I can't say that there was a huge stride forward but there, there was movement forward on policing, I think that we have bridge the gap but there are still major areas but remember we're bringing in a transformation, the police service in Northern Ireland, that is more radical than anything anywhere in Europe or the United States. Of course on decommissioning, on the same day, there was a re-engagement with the de Chastelaine independent commission for decommissioning by the IRA themselves, I think they were positive singles, signals from David Trimble who said if that continued in a more substantial fashion then he would respond positively as regards restoring the full relationships between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Dublin government and giving the Sinn Fein elected members their full place in that process, so there was a small step forward but more importantly I think there's now a route map for the next few weeks and months and I was talking to one of the parties yesterday and those talks will continue. Don't under-estimate how far we've come in the last few years, we've got a generation in Northern Ireland where there are 3,200 families who've suffered absolutely tragedy and we've made major strides forward already in all of the major areas both political and in the security side. We took another little step forward at Hillsborough and I think that we're now in a position over the next few months to continue that process.

DAVID FROST:

So you think the cross-border talks with the Sinn Fein members could resume in a matter of weeks?

JOHN REID:

No I think there are four things that we've got to do here and there are two dimensions to them. There are those who say 'look the answer to this is more security, more soldiers', there are those who say 'forget about security the answer to this is more political change, democratic change', both of those I think are wrong because you need both of those, you need to be vigilant over security at the same time as you change the nature of Northern Ireland. Now there are four areas which we're working on, one of them obviously is a new and transformed police service where all sections of the community, both Catholics, Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists can participate and respect. One of them is on decommissioning where we've got re-engagement, one of them is the ban which David Trimble has placed on the new Institution's relationship with the Southern government and one of them obviously is the responsibility of myself and the government to try and reduce the military presence there, to ease the security tension, all of those have to be done at the same time and I think in that context then David Trimble is prepared to be positive, but only in that context.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of, so cross-border we hope for progress in the near future, policing you said earlier on that you're getting closer, how much closer, what have you solved and what's left to be solved?

JOHN REID:

Well we've had continual discussions with the SDLP who've had reservations and questions about a whole range of areas in the implementation plan. We've had discussions with Sinn Fein as regards what they regard and the SDLP regard as falling somewhat short of Patten. I think those gaps can be bridged and those discussions will continue. I've had a constructive dialogue, there are outstanding questions, we shouldn't hide that, the SDLP owned inquiries and a number of other areas but I think that what impressed me as an attendee for the first time at these particular round-table talks was the absolute commitment of everyone there to make this process work. They have shown a great deal of moral courage these leaders in Northern Ireland who support the agreement and I know and you know and the British people know from the bomb the other day, from the dissident Republicans, from the pipe bombs that were still being used by the Loyalists on the other side that there are extremists on both sides who wish to wreck this process and I think that the people of Northern Ireland would be well-served at present not to desert this peace process but to give the sort of overwhelming support they previously had to those leaders in Northern Ireland who have had the moral courage to compromise, to put dialogue in place of guns and to ensure that the future generation in Northern Ireland does not suffer what previous generations suffered.

DAVID FROST: Gerry Adams said yesterday that the British government's fixation about IRA weapons, even though those weapons are silent and the IRA has maintained cessations over seven years and a failure of the British government to at least implement the whole of Patten, those were two failures that are really standing in the way, well you can say he would say that wouldn't he, but obviously he needs to be persuaded? JOHN REID:

Well persuasion and talking is of course better than the use of guns and he's right in the sense that there has been an IRA ceasefire and we're all grateful for that, it's not meant an end totally to the violence but there has been an IRA ceasefire, they have re-engaged with de Chastelaine, I welcome that and I hope that those talks with General de Chastelaine become more substantive. But where he's wrong and Gerry Adams is an intelligent man, he knows that to argue that I and the British government have been exclusively fixated with decommissioning is just plain wrong. Over the past few years the British government have established in Northern Ireland political change, we now have an assembly and an executive democratically elected by all the communities in Northern Ireland, indeed ministers from Sinn Fein take place in that. We've incorporated the human rights into Northern Ireland, civil liberties, equality of opportunity and equal rights legislation, we have established the basis now for a new police service, radical transformation, this is like nothing that's been done anywhere before, anywhere in Europe and the United States, yes that will take time but we've done that and from the British government's point of view we've also reduced troop levels to the lowest for over thirty years, thirty two, thirty two establishments gone done, so all of that has been done.

DAVID FROST:

We've undertaken further reductions, we've pledged further reductions in troops haven't we?

JOHN REID:

If it's commensurate with the threat because being an intelligent man Gerry Adams and the other leaders there know that it is not merely PIRA, the Provisional IRA who are using weapons, two days ago, or three days ago we had this massive bomb in London, the dissident Republicans are a threat, Loyalist terrorists have been involved in Sectarian attacks on Catholics with pipe bombs and so on, all at the time when we are transforming the police service in Northern Ireland, bringing Catholics into it in large numbers for the first time. So it is not true that we have not responded but all of us not only have rights in Northern Ireland, all sections of the community, we all have responsibilities and Gerry Adams has those responsibilities as well.

DAVID FROST:

John one question on the Real IRA that people here are puzzled, we hear that those people who did the Omagh bomb, those identities are known and that the Real IRA have been successfully infiltrated, I quote here, by the Irish police and that the names of almost all the leading members are known, if that's true why haven't they been rounded up, arrested and tried?

JOHN REID:

Well I won't make any comments on intelligence matters or intelligence operations or infiltration but I would say this, that the difference between us and the terrorists, those who are prepared to use murder and mayhem is we abide by the rule of law and our rule of law requires evidence. Now the Garda, the Republic of Ireland police have been cooperating fully, they have been dedicating a lot of resources to this but we require evidence which will hold up because the standards by which we operate are different, they are not morally equivalent to the standards of the terrorists who are prepared just to go out and shoot people irrespective of cause or consequence, that is frustrating I know for people in the long time but I know and the British people know and the people of Northern Ireland know that it is that moral legitimacy which in the long run will make sure that that prevails rather than the terrorist guns.

DAVID FROST:

It's six weeks now since you succeeded Peter Mandelson John, if, if we had known then what we know now after Hammond would it have been right to ask for his resignation or fire him?

JOHN REID:

Well I think there are two different questions, the first is the Hammond inquiry which was established essentially to see whether there was any impropriety in the issue of those passports, I am delighted that it is found that there was no impropriety, Peter has said that all along, his reputation has been restored, his integrity is restored and I am very pleased for Peter Mandelson who remains a friend of mine, I'm not afraid to, to say that. Now as regards the, the actual resignation itself, that was a decision taken under very difficult circumstances by Peter as well as the Prime Minister, it may or may not have resulted out of some sort of muddle but I think that decision was taken and Peter has now made it plain that he has no wish to return to government, there's no question of him coming back to government, I will abide by his wish on that and I think that we now have to move on to what Peter contributed so much to as well as Marjorie Mowlem and that is, his contribution along with the other contributions to restoring peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland, that's the big question to me David.

DAVID FROST:

John thank you very much for joining us this morning.

JOHN REID:

Thank you David.

DAVID FROST:

John Reid there.

END

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