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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: JOHN REID MP AUGUST 5TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Now the Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid joins us here in the studio, good morning John.
JOHN REID: Good morning.
PETER SISSONS: It doesn't sound very optimistic that, does it?
JOHN REID: Well Jeffrey has his views and other people have their views, they're expressing them but I think we'd be better to wait and see what the responses from the parties are, we've put forward a package and I say we, ourselves and the Irish government because we're very close on this which we think is a comprehensive package, that would implement virtually in full, because it is a process, it will take time, but full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and I think apart from the details in it, and I don't particularly want to get into responding to some of the details because the parties are reflecting on them, I think there's two things that arise out of it. First of all against the wake of what we've been seeing over the past week or fortnight, not only the bomb in Ealing but obviously the tragic murder of young Gavin, the pipe bomb attacks and so on, we have an opportunity to illustrate and I believe a responsibility, all of us, to show that politics can work because that is actually what these atrocities are about, trying to wreck the belief that politics can work. And secondly the, the fact that there has been mature reflection among the parties who won't like every bit of what, you know each party and each individual will object to some bit in the package that's put forward but no one has said in a knee-jerk fashion reject this, there has been reflection.
PETER SISSONS: Well I think that's it exactly, he came as near as anybody's saying reject it, he's called, and Donaldson of course doesn't speak for Trimble, the two are at odds over many aspects of how the thing should go forward, but he's talking, the words used, he wants a fundamental review, he wants to go back to the drawing board?
JOHN REID: Yeah without getting into the detail of what Jeffrey said because as you said that's not necessarily a view of every Unionist far less everyone else in it but I respect what Jeffrey said.
PETER SISSONS: A growing number of Unionists though¿
JOHN REID: But he was very conditional in what he said, he said if certain things don't happen, well of course what we have to do is to take the package as a whole and we've said that everything in it is inter-related to everything else. None of them are preconditions but of course they all have an effect on it, on each of the aspects in it and of course some elements of it, indeed I would argue all elements of it are indispensable if they're to succeed.
PETER SISSONS: What they really object to, the Donaldsons of this world, and there are a growing number, you only have to look at the general election results to see that, is you might have¿you might as well have called it a Green Paper¿there's lots there for the Nationalists and the Republicans, name me one thing that's in your governmental paper that the Unionists get out of it¿
JOHN REID: Well the Unionists wanted an RUC Foundation, that's in there, they wanted a review of the Parades Commission, that's in there, you know we can go through this list but if we look at this as merely a tick-list, a league table of who wins in terms of agreement this will never succeed. It has to be package where there's compromise by everyone and at the end of the day the only winners out of this are the people of Northern Ireland. Let me give you an example, the institutions themselves, a new democratic institution. The Executive, power sharing and so on, the stability of that institution, that isn't a concession to Nationalists or Republicans, that's something that's of benefit to everyone. A new police service participated in and respected by the whole community, that's to the benefit of the whole of Northern Ireland. A de-escalation of the military presence commensurate always with the threat is to the benefit of everyone, a reduction in the number of deaths. You know we've come a long, long way and the people who have benefited from that are not Joe Bloggs Nationalist or a Joe Bloggs Unionist, they are the people of Northern Ireland who now, despite the imperfect world in Northern Ireland, I'm the first to accept that we still have a long, long way to go, are far better off than they were ten years ago.
PETER SISSONS: Why is there so little in your document about decommissioning with the one thing that the Unionists want to hear about is decommissioning, you say it's, it's indispensable, that just repeats the wording of the, of the Good Friday Agreement?
JOHN REID: Well we are implementing the Good Friday Agreement Peter.
PETER SISSONS: One newspaper called it just six lines of pious aspirational waffle, another shameful betrayal of democratic politicians why aren't you taking a hardline on decommissioning? If the Good Friday Agreement was meant to ensure decommissioning?
JOHN REID: Well I would just merely ask you not to fall into the mistake of thinking you can judge the import of substance of a particular part of the document according to the number of words allocated it. It only takes four words to declare war or declare peace. But the substantial import of those words is immense, that's the first thing. And the second thing is we have said that all of this is about implementing the Good Friday Agreement and an indispensable part of that.
PETER SISSONS: Why isn't there are a timetable for it?
JOHN REID: is putting arms beyond use¿
PETER SISSONS: Why isn't there a timetable for that¿ An ultimatum for it?
JOHN REID: Because we're implementing the Good Friday Agreement and the person who has to be satisfied is not me or Jeffrey Donaldson in this respect or Gerry Adams or anyone else, but General John de Chastelaine and that is the way under the Good Friday Agreement we established that this would be done and therefore if it is going to be movement at putting arms beyond use the person who judges that objectively according to the legislation which has been passed and rising out of the Good Friday Agreement is General de Chastelaine. Now you can say to me, well of course if we don't get any movement and that, Unionists will walk away, that there won't be any movement forward on that and I just ask everyone, inside and outside of this agreement to reflect on the judgements we make because I think we have an opportunity this week which if we let slip, you know all the gains that we have made, then the only people who will gain from that are the type of people who are placing bombs in Ealing. We have to show that politics works, it has worked in Northern Ireland, it is a much better place than it was but there's a long, long way to go yet.
PETER SISSONS: The speculation that there is so little about decommissioning in your document because there's a bit more going on, that perhaps been assurances from the IRA that just leave it with us and we'll, we'll come up with something in the next week or two which will take the pressure off¿
JOHN REID: While you're asking me a straight question - is there a secret deal, no there isn't.
PETER SISSONS: Well have you, have you spoken personally to members of the IRA or have any of your staff spoken personally to members of the IRA?
JOHN REID: There's no secret deal, there's no secret agreement, there's no secret agenda here with any of the parties, with the SDLP, with the Unionist, with Sinn Fein, far less the IRA, what we have done after six months of detailed discussions and conflicting demands because by the nature of a historic compromise like this there will be pieces that each of the individual parties don't like, there's the two governments, ourselves and the Irish have sat down and said this is what is necessary to implement the Good Friday Agreement and what is happening now is that the parties are going through some of the detail of that, asking for clarification and we have said we would like a response by tomorrow on that. The parties and indeed a wider audience¿
PETER SISSONS: Will that deadline be extended if, if someone asks for an extension?
JOHN REID: Well look we've had an endless stream of so-called deadlines in Northern Ireland, we have said to the parties in the middle of last week here is what is we think the best shot at it, this is what the two governments believe is implied and implementing the Good Friday Agreement, please give us your response by tomorrow I await for that response, I'm not going to prejudge that response, we will see what happens when tomorrow comes.
PETER SISSONS: But if you don't get the satisfactory response from the parties to your document what's the timetable, by this time next week you will have to decide whether to suspend the Assembly or to go for elections?
JOHN REID: Well everyone knows what the timetable as regards the Assembly is and that is if there's not a new First Minister and Deputy First Minister elected by next Sunday then either, as you say, we have to, I have to under statute set a date for elections or to suspend the Assembly¿
PETER SISSONS: What's your preference?
JOHN REID: My preference is actually to have the parties accept that what the two governments put forward is the way of implementing this agreement and to see that every single aspect of it is implemented because if we cherry-pick out of this and say this is the bit we like, this is the bit we don't like, then of course you won't end up with an agreement, you'll end up with two different agendas.
PETER SISSONS: I asked you before whether you or your officials had any contact with the IRA and you, you avoided the answer?
JOHN REID: The answer to that is no.
PETER SISSONS: But in a situation like this, in any other country or context wouldn't the, the sensible thing to do would be to talk to the government direct and not through their intermediaries?
JOHN REID: No the sensible thing to do is exactly what we've done, that is to establish an international commission under General John de Chastelaine, he speaks to those paramilitaries who are prepared to move in the subject of putting arms beyond use, that is how it is dealt with, that is how it is agreed, that is what the statute is and he has to make the judgement and if he's not satisfied that there has been any movement on this or he's not satisfied in terms of what is proposed to him he will say so. So it's taken out of the hands of politicians making judgements on this, there is an independent commission on it, that is what is said in the Good Friday Agreement, that is what is said in this package and that is the best way of approaching it. But I would merely make one point Peter, we concentrate on what remains to be done, and quite correctly, but we've come a huge way and when people say that there's a concession to this side or to that side having a new democratic forum in Northern Ireland where local politicians exercise real power and make local decisions is to benefit the whole community. Having a police service in Northern Ireland where we can get the respect and participation of the whole community and avoid the tragedy of the next generation, that's 320 officers being murdered and dying, these are the sort of things that are at stake this week and I believe that if we can show that politics can answer these questions then we will have done a great service to people in Northern Ireland.
PETER SISSONS: Secretary of State thank you very much for coming in this morning.
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