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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
PETER MANDELSON MP SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2000

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

DAVID FROST
Peter Mandelson, as advertised is right here, good morning Peter.

PETER MANDELSON
Morning David.

DAVID FROST
In terms of the situation in Northern Ireland, you've been talking a little this weekend about the subject, obviously the RUC is a trenchant issue, is that the most urgent issue at the moment?

PETER MANDELSON
There are lots of issues and if we're going to continue to make progress with the peace process as we've done this year, quite dramatically, we have to keep all the balls in the air, everything has to be moved forward together because the important thing about the whole peace process is that everyone's concerns, everyone's needs have to be addressed, everyone has to have their confidence fulfilled in what we're doing therefore you can't concentrate on one thing at the expense of another, everything has to be moved forward and the police is one, other issues like flying of flags, the criminal justice review that I'm doing, we've got other issues to do with, you know, prisoners. Everything has to be kept going and it will be.

DAVID FROST
You mentioned prisoners, looking back over the Good Friday Agreement and the prisoner release programme, it's probably the thing that's attracted more flak than anything else since the Good Friday Agreement?

PETER MANDELSON
It's a very difficult issue.

DAVID FROST
And do you think it was correctly phrased in the Good Friday Agreement?

PETER MANDELSON
Yeah, look there are all sorts of things in Northern Ireland which present very difficult political and moral dilemmas, but then we're not dealing with a normal situation, with a normal society. I mean everything has to be judged in terms of how it assists us to move out of that 30 years of violence and conflict and sustain the peace process to keep it on track and moving forward and the prisoner release programme aroused tremendously strong feelings amongst people and I fully understand why, particularly, you know victim's families, you know who have real understandable concerns but this will not be the, it's not the first and it won't be the last such dilemma that we're faced with in this process, I mean sooner or later we're going to have to face the other prisoner issue which is of, you know those who have been convicted of crimes committed up to 30 years ago but have escaped from jail and have been fugitives ever since, now what do you do with those people, I mean they're people who, you know compared to people who have committed crimes more recently and have been let out of jail on the prisoner release programme we're still pursuing, are we going to do that indefinitely. They're going to be all sorts of other issues and all sorts of other dilemmas that we're faced with and the key is judging, you know, what helps the peace process, whether what we do sustains it and keeps everyone's confidence maintained and that's the, that's always the important judgement for me which I'm faced with every day in this job.

DAVID FROST
And you had, you decided to put Johnny Adair back in prison?

PETER MANDELSON
Yes I did.

DAVID FROST
Back in, back in prison which must have been a difficult decision but what does he have to do to get out?

PETER MANDELSON
Well he has to serve his term, I mean he was given a, a chance to benefit from the early release programme but he, like every other, was let out on a licence, on condition he wasn't given his sort of freedom as such, and legislation is absolutely clear people who come out of jail early on, on that licence who revert to terrorism have that licence suspended and they go back.

DAVID FROST
And he's, he's trying for an appeal at the moment?

PETER MANDELSON
Well his case will be considered in the normal course of events by the Sentence Review Commissioners, I mean that will happen in due course.

DAVID FROST
And what about the RUC, is it more of a problem keeping the Ulster Unionists on side or managing to go at such a sufficient pace for the, for the Republicans, for the Sinn Fein?

PETER MANDELSON
It's a problem keeping everyone on side David on every issue the whole time. The, there's no doubt about what we're doing in fundamental terms, I mean we're making a fresh start in police, policing in Northern Ireland and that's necessary, we have a police service which is completely unrepresentative of the community as a whole and it is less effective for that. So we're making a fresh start, a new police service will grow out of the existing RUC, the RUC incidentally is not being disbanded or, or dismantled but it will grow out of the RUC and it will have a new name, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but it's got to command the confidence and support of both traditions in Northern Ireland. If it doesn't manage to do that it won't succeed and that's what I've got to ensure happens.

DAVID FROST
And in terms of the Cyril Ramaphosa and Mr Ahtisaari we read about their first examination of, of the IRA dumps, have they done any more since?

PETER MANDELSON
No and they need to, I mean the original understanding and agreement was that the initial opening of dumps, that very important confidence building measure by the Provisional IRA should continue and that the dumps should be reinspected and I hope that will happen shortly and that people will remain committed to the arrangement they originally made.

DAVID FROST
Was their understanding that they'd seen all the dumps or some of the dumps?

PETER MANDELSON
No the number of dumps, it was agreed, should be opened by the IRA, that the arms, the weapons, the detonators, the explosives should be examined by those two independent international inspectors, they would then make a report as they did, to the Decommissioning body, headed by General Sir John de Chastelaine and they've done that. But the important thing is to make sure that the arms and explosives haven't been used in the meantime and that's the importance of a re-inspection.

DAVID FROST
Well that's, that's what I was wondering, I mean who's guarding the dumps at the moment?

PETER MANDELSON
Well¿

DAVID FROST
The IRA?

PETER MANDELSON
They are, they are satisfied, safe and secure but it's important for people's confidence, you know, that they are and that the arms issue is properly being addressed, that they're now reinspected and I hope that that will happen before too long.

DAVID FROST
And does that, are we able to put therefore decommissioning a little lower on the agenda?

PETER MANDELSON
Nothing can go lower down on the agenda, the issue has to be like that and move forward together otherwise some people's confidence will, you know, diminish and that's, you know it's when that happens, it happened earlier in this year, you know, when we started the executive and the Unionists and others all went in to the executive and there's been a tremendous success but the issue of arms then was not addressed as people expected it to be. Unionist confidence, inevitably collapsed and before they left the executive with the ensuing collapse of the entire thing I suspended it to get, get things back on an even keel and we have restored the institutions, we have got the devolved government working again, actually on a much safer and firmer footing than we had originally so in a sense, you know, there was a silver lining in that political crisis that was sparked earlier this year. But to avoid further political crisis where everything has to be taken forward together, hence the importance of the policing reforms, hence the importance of the implementation of the criminal justice review, hence the importance of continuing to address the issue of, of arms. Now all these things have to go forward together and it's my responsibility with the parties to make sure they do.

DAVID FROST
And so at the moment you have to be cautious I suppose, but your progress report would be optimistic, what word would you use for what you're feeling about the peace process this morning?

PETER MANDELSON
Intact, sustained, moving forward, confidence maintained but probably with difficult judgements and dangers lurking round it, round the corner all the time and we have to anticipate them and make sure that we deal with them before we, before we encounter them.

DAVID FROST
And we've just got time for the rest of the agenda for a, for a moment or two. Just on the subject of the, this book, the, the serialisation of the Julia Langdon book, and the rumours, it's not in here but the rumours that they were going to suggest that you'd been briefing against Mo Mowlam, just for the record did you ever brief against Mo Mowlam?

PETER MANDELSON
No but rumours, rumours, rumours and you know I think what's interesting about this book and probably others that we're going to see is they're not actually written for the book shops you know, they're not written for people to read by-and-large, they're written for serialisation in newspapers where the authors get huge sums of money and to get those huge sums of money, of course, they have to flam everything up, sensationalise everything at which point the truth flies through the window and I think that's basically how people should view what you read in the newspapers about these things.

DAVID FROST
In, in terms of the rumours and so on, but I mean Jonathan Powell, no that's Charles Pole, Jonathan Powell, the, that he took legal advice and even perhaps injunctions and he's not appearing in the book. Did you ever think of taking legal advice?

PETER MANDELSON
Good gracious, no. I've got other, I've lots of other problems on my¿on my plate just at the moment which are, which are rather big. And these books, you know, about the past, they're not about the future and quite honestly I've got enough on my plate in the meantime to get on with without worrying about¿

DAVID FROST
One other thing, I remember we had, talk of the past and indeed relevant to the future, up to the future, we had a session in November 1998 overlooking the, overlooking the Dome.

PETER MANDELSON
The Dome.

DAVID FROST
And you said at that point, you said very optimistic, that it might be, it might even top, not just get to 12 million visitors but get more and of course there's your famous quote "if it's a success it will never be forgotten, if it's a failure we'll never be forgiven" which is rather daunting and that sort of, that's one that probably you wish you never said, but in general¿

PETER MANDELSON
No, I don't mind having said that because what people said at the time was that we could never pull it off, that it could never be done and I think that, you know, amongst all the sort of hue and cry over the Dome people should look at the other side of the balance sheet, you know the Dome was delivered on time, on target, on budget at the beginning of this year when it, when it opened. It is the most popular visitor attraction in the country¿

DAVID FROST
Not quite I don't think¿

PETER MANDELSON
Well also I think it is actually and in¿

DAVID FROST
It was second I think it's slipping down the list but anyway¿

PETER MANDELSON
I'm not sure about that.

DAVID FROST
Well, someone might correct me.

PETER MANDELSON
I'm not sure about that and in terms of its architecture, the engineering and construction achievement, it's something in which Britain can take pride. Now if there have been mistakes more recently or this year then there should certainly be an inquiry into those, they should, they should be examined and they should be brought out but let's for goodness sake not spend so much time casting around for people to blame the whole time and try and concentrate on making it a success¿

DAVID FROST
Right¿

PETER MANDELSON
Wouldn't that be a better approach at this stage.

DAVID FROST
Something, something from when you were talking about 12 million plus something did go wrong, something big went wrong and the thing is people are rather angry about the £782 million going into a venture that is not attracting their¿

PETER MANDELSON
Well it's not taxpayer's money, I mean that's the first thing to understand.

DAVID FROST
Well it came from the taxpayer via the lottery, didn't it?

PETER MANDELSON
Half of it has come from the private sector and so, you know, you know, facts tend to be overlooked when the hyperbole takes off but I can understand people's concern, heaven knows if I was a sort of, you know just sort of bystander and observer of these things which in a sense I have been at the Dome since I left my responsibility in 1998 and I read all these things in the newspapers, I'd be a bit concerned but you know what, you can't anticipate everything and I think what was obviously not anticipated was the sort of fury of the media that was unleashed on it which is bound to have some effect, a depressing effect on visitor numbers.

DAVID FROST
And you don't think, or do you think perhaps that in retrospect the mistake was going ahead with it in the first place - proceeding with it in 1997?

PETER MANDELSON
Well these are decisions that had already been taken by the preceding Conservative government. I mean the conception of it, the decision to do it, to go ahead with it, to locate it in Greenwich, to, to have that sort of design of it, all these decisions had been taken¿

DAVID FROST
But you could still have, you could still have got out of it, I mean¿

PETER MANDELSON
Well we would have¿

DAVID FROST
In fact a lot of people thought Labour wouldn't go through with it?

PETER MANDELSON
Well we would have paid a colossal price, you know, in cancelled contracts if we had done that but in opposition we had been asked by the then government and Michael Heseltine in particular, quite properly, to commit ourselves as a possible incoming government to honour the contracts. Now in opposition we did that, you know we thought obviously and then realised it was a bold and ambitious project, but one that Britain was capable of pulling off and we have pulled it off as a country but there have also been, you know, difficulties over visitor numbers and therefore its finances and as I say, you know, if, if management mistakes have been made then those need to be brought out and I'm sure they will be.

DAVID FROST
And what about in terms of the next election, you decided that it must be New Labour, there was a bit of teetering in the middle of the summer about New Labour and it was dropped off, a can of soup or something, but New Labour is back as a phrase?

PETER MANDELSON
It wasn't actually dropped off as a phrase and it's much more important than a name you know, or a label, no what New Labour represents is what we are or what we think and the philosophy that we bring to government, I mean traditional Social Democratic values of the Labour Party but not applied through dogma but through new ideas and new means, stable, sound, competent economics, investment in public services but also their modernisation and their reform. Industrial policy, a non ideological industrial policy to help build a knowledge-driven economy in our country, to prosper in the future. A new relationship with Europe, a new politics in our country, that's what New Labour is all about and that's what I want to see and I'm confident will be seen as us continuing to stand for at the next election.

DAVID FROST
And to the editors today who've written about the Dome, that it's time for someone in the government, Tony, Peter, whoever else, Charlie or somebody to say sorry, do you think that's appropriate?

PETER MANDELSON
I think that it's appropriate for everyone now to look at the thing in the round, if there are mistakes that have been made, accept that they have been and bring those out for people to make their judgement about, but as I say stop the name-calling, I'd say, stop the blame shifting, let's try and concentrate now on making something a success which could and should be good for Britain and which incidentally millions of people have or will have visited and enjoyed immensely, let's celebrate a bit rather than constantly do ourselves down and talk ourselves down.

DAVID FROST
At that point we must go to the news for an update, from Jane, from Jane Hill.

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