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Northerm Ireland Secretary John Reid MP
Northerm Ireland Secretary John Reid MP

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

And in Belfast we're joined now by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid in his first interview, obviously, since the deal to save the Assembly. John, thank you for joining us.

Good morning David.

Good morning to you, just while it's fresh in your mind before we come on to the main topic, obviously, which is what you've achieved in the last 24 hours. Any comment you'd like to make about what you heard from our three wise men here?

Yes I think that what we have, the main characteristic that's required of us when we engage in something like the struggle against terrorism that presently occupies us is not just courage but it's endurance. There is a strategy but just because it's difficult doesn't mean to say we shouldn't see it through and that strategy involves the military, as you said the diplomatic as well as the humanitarian and on the military side it does take a long time, much longer than a couple of days because first of all we have to degrade the defences of the potential enemy, the Air Force command and control and so on. And secondly we then have to do that with the front line troops and that is where the bombing is going on just now. And you know I hear reports about carpet bombing as if the whole of Afghanistan is being targeted, it isn't, one fact I give you David and that is that the landmass which is actually affected by bombing in Afghanistan is 0.0002536 per cent, it is a minuscule so it is targeted, every attempt is made to avoid civilian casualties but in, in war unfortunately there are civilian casualties, we do everything possible to avoid it. But we do have a military strategy and we do have a diplomatic strategy, not only to replace the Taliban because of their support and protection and harbouring of bin Laden and terrorism, but to do it with a broadly based government and to bridge the misunderstandings that arise between those of Islamic persuasion and ourselves and both of those diplomatic efforts have been enshrined in what Tony Blair has been trying to do. So we do need endurance, it's going to be a long and a deep and a wide campaign but just because it's difficult does not mean to say that we don't go ahead with it because it is absolutely essential to do so.

And we have decided, or President Bush has decided we read, that nothing will close down, as it were, in this war for Ramadan?

Well I think the actual operational details, I understand that everyone is interested in all the aspects of troop deployments, when people are going in, whether we will stop or start but I think that it is as well to understand that to go into any greater detail in operational matters is in fact to assist the enemy. This is as far back as the Falklands War we found this out so you understand if I'm rather reticent to go into that. But I think the key thing for people to understand is that just because this is long and difficult does not mean to say that there isn't a strategy, there is a strategy, it is succeeding and the difference in our military campaign between people like yourselves and bin Laden and people like him is that 99.5 per cent of the time we are successful in avoiding civilian casualties. Whereas his whole strategy and those of terrorists are precisely aimed at inflicting civilian casualties, thousands of them as we saw in New York and Washington and, and we should never forget that that's why we embarked on this. There is no hiding place for us if we are going to take on terrorism because if we do nothing then we will still suffer from people like bin Laden and the Al Kaida network.

Right well coming now on to the deal that you were able to do last night, basically the situation, the crisis you would say is now solved in Northern Ireland?

Well if I can use the expression just because things are difficult doesn't mean to say they're not worth doing, there will be huge difficulties ahead, not only in the coming days but over the coming months and years. We're trying to change round decades, indeed centuries of conflict so what we do know is that where there is a political vacuum, where there is instability in the democratic institutions then the men of violence will try to wreck this peace process. We saw it last night again in the course of the night in Birmingham so what has happened in the last few days is that many people inside as well as outside Northern Ireland find it difficult to understand how a candidate, David Trimble, could have 80 per cent of the support of his own Executive and seven, over 70 per cent support of the Assembly members themselves and still not get elected thus giving us this stability. So two of the smaller parties in particular, the Alliance Party and before the Women's Coalition have redesignated themselves and they have asked us to review the voting procedures, by redesignating themselves they, I have to say the Alliance yesterday and before that the Women's Coalition made a very, very brave decision because there's nothing in it for them, there's no self-gain for them in this, they have done this because they believe very, very strongly in the peace process and the stability of the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland. So that at least gives an opportunity, it is now a matter for the Assembly, I am confident that if the Assembly carries out elections which is their wish and their prerogative that they are valid, I'm mindful of my own responsibilities under statute, I'm also mindful that any reasonable and sensible man has to use commonsense and to see those obligations in the light of developments, so there is an opportunity now but no one should think that somehow, that this will be all finished in a day or two days, it won't. You know the interesting thing is when people sign a declaration of war they understand that it's going to be long and arduous and day after day they have to put an effort into it. It's exactly the same when people sign a declaration of peace, the Belfast Agreement when it was signed was not the end, it was the beginning of a long period of struggle which requires just as much determination from all of us to see it succeed and I believe there is a will there, certainly among the pro-agreement parties to make this succeed.

Let me put two questions that have been raised John, one is that while as you rightly say David Trimble had over 70 per cent of the votes, nevertheless this whole thing, people changing their designation, looks a bit like a smoke-filled room, looks a bit like a fix and the other things is that the, Ian Paisley's DUP are saying that last night's midnight deadline was a hard and fast legal deadline and so they'll be challenging you legally they claim. What do you say in answer to those two points John?

Well I think on the first one that the Assembly and the Executive which are relatively new institutions of course have to work within their own procedures, they have to and whether it is Ian Paisley using the, the procedures in order to be half in and half out the Executive to get the benefits of, of putting in or rotating ministers, with a rotating door policy and so on, or whether it is other parties using the mechanism of the Assembly as Parliament would occasionally to suspend standing orders, that is a marker for the Assembly themselves, if you're asking me whether my, in my own view I'm confident that if the Assembly was to hold elections tomorrow that they would be valid legally and politically and otherwise, yes they would be. As far as your general point's concerned about the threat of legal action, I have to tell you that it's not the first time that secretaries of state in Northern Ireland have had legal actions taken against them, nor even the first time by Dr Paisley. They seem to come thick and fast over the whole issue of when flags could be flown for instance, that resulted in legal challenge. So I am aware of my legal obligations, the position we find ourselves in is that I have a statutory obligation to propose an election date because there is no first minister or deputy first minister, that's the position today, we could be in a position tomorrow where there is a first minister and deputy first minister therefore getting rid of the cause which gave rise to the statute, statutory obligation. So, I mean I want to think and to watch developments on this and you can be sure that I'm mindful of my obligations but I also to have to take into mind what a reasonable man would do with commonsense in the light of developments.

Talking about the situation at the moment, would you say the thing that caused all this, namely the beginning of decommissioning by, by the IRA, would you say, do you view that, obviously it's encouraging and symbolic and so on and so forth, do you think they are now committed to full decommissioning?

I think we've made a major step forward and you know when we concentrate in Northern Ireland and the obstacles we've got to overcome we must never forget the obstacles we've already overcome. If people had said a few years ago that we would have had an act of decommissioning, of putting the arms beyond use by the IRA we would have been told, indeed were told this was impossible. On policing if people had said a few years ago that we would get cross-community support for policing with the Nationalists willing to participate and to support policing, we were told that was impossible. So all of these are hugely significant events but just as difficult hurdles lies in front of us. I think you'll understand on the subject of policing, I wish to pay my tribute to the RUC who as of the last few nights so in the past few years have stood in front of abuse, of violence, who have suffered injuries and many have given the ultimate sacrifice in the service in which they served and today is a painful day as well as a historic day. It's painful for their families and for the widows and I can assure them that our thoughts are with them.


They shouldn't be forgotten and they won't be forgotten.

John thank you very much indeed, we'll just go for the news headlines and then we'll see what time we've got left.


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