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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Stormont Suspended
Once again the people of Northern Ireland are having to watch the politicians they elected locally cede power to the distant apparatus of Westminster government.

After allegations that Sinn Fein officials were involved in gathering information for terrorist targeting, the Unionists have made it clear they can't work with them and the government announced the Stormont Executive would be suspended.

Jeremy Vine discussed the suspension with Richard Haas, the US Envoy to Northern Ireland and Martin McGuinness MP, the Chief Negotiator for Sinn Fein.

We are joined now by Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein but first by Richard Haas, US envoy to Northern Ireland. Just to pick up on the points David Trimble raised, he said we can't tolerate a situation where there is ongoing paramilitary activity, do you sympathise?

The president of the United States expressed his support for the decision of the British Government. We said the age of paramilitary behaviour needs to come to an end. That applies not simply to the IRA but to paramilitaries across the political spectrum.

What would you be saying to Sinn Fein tonight?

Obviously Sinn Fein has considerable influence with the IRA. I would also appeal to logic and persuasion. It is important to keep in mind the IRA has entered into two acts of arms decommissioning, so the time has come to complete this process. We are not asking for a departure, we are asking for a fulfilment of a process that has been under way for some time.

It is said you saw Martin McGuinness personally and in the wake of the discovery that IRA people, or Sinn Fein people were in Colombia working with terrorists you had a stand up row with Martin McGuinness and said this must end. If that is true, is that still jour view?

Some of the reports were more exciting than any exchange between myself or Martin McGuinness, or anyone else associated with Sinn Fein. The United States Government has made it clear there is no tolerance whatsoever on our part for continued association between the IRA or any paramilitary group in Northern Ireland and the terrorist organisations in Colombia. September 11th changed American thinking and one of the things that comes through here again is no tolerance for association with terrorist groups.

Doesn't it get difficult to handle this peace process if the unionists from having talked so much about decommissioning now move to talking about disbandment of the IRA?

What we learn is the approach to decommissioning was inadequate for two reasons. It wasn't sufficiently transparent so it didn't have the confidence-building effect that we all wanted. Most of the arms were not decommissioned but there is other sorts of activities which weren't covered by decommissioning. Again that's why people talk about the need to end paramilitary activity of all sorts

President Bush 's personal view, is there a loss of focus in the administration now that Bill Clinton has gone and Mr Bush is caught up with many other world events?

This focuses after events on Indonesia and Iraq. However, the President issued a personal statement today. The Secretary of State, Mr Powell, my boss, monitors this closely. He and I spoke about it today. I obviously visit regularly and am prepared to come back, and will assess the situation. If it turns out from various consultations that the United States needs to adjust its level of activity, or the direction of its activity, to one degree or another, obviously we are prepared to consider that. This issue does matter to us.

Mr Haas, thank you for joining us. We can speak now to Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. He didn't rule out disbandment. He thought it was the logical conclusion of where this was all heading, Mr McGuinness?

I don't have a difficulty with that. Certainly, our strategy within Sinn Fein is to bring about a situation where we can see the end of all armed groups within our society. The big challenge is how we get to that position.

Would you argue for the disbandment of the IRA?

I would argue for the disbandment of all groups within our society, but I believe that it is one thing arguing for that, it's a whole other process working out a strategy to reach that objective.

But if Sinn Fein were not linked to the IRA, there would be no reason to suspend the executive here, would there?

Well, with respect, you are going to have to do me the courtesy of allowing me time to answer your questions. The peace process has been the most important thing to have happened in this country for maybe 100 years, and I would make the case that, where we are at the moment within our peace process, ten years on, it's a completely different and far better place than the situation ten years ago. If we work at it, where we will be ten years from now will be a far better place. How do we get to that point, then? We have to face up to the problems that exist within the process. The unionists have made a case about their difficulty with the IRA. Previously, it was a case about the issue of IRA arms, but whenever we got that resolved, they have now moved on to another agenda. So republicans have a huge problem with that.

But very much a problem at the heart of the political process is the question of Sinn Fein's links with the IRA. Let me just ask you. You have admitted publicly that you were in the IRA. Can you tell us when you left?

Many, many years ago. I mean, I think we can get this type of interview - your public will learn nothing about the peace process. Although, with respect, being in London on a number of occasions, people appreciate the role that Gerry Adams and I have played over many years to make this peace process a success.

But allegations of a spy ring inside Stormont to target individuals, do they know about that?

Our officers were faced with two discs being removed and they are entitled to a fair trial and not to be judged by you or anybody else.

But you appreciate the concerns there?

I would appreciate time to answer your question. I would appreciate that very much indeed. Now, the reality of the situation, which your reporter did, I think graciously, explore in the course of his film, is the reality that there is a very strong perception within the nationalist republican community on the island of Ireland that the Ulster Unionist Party, at their council meeting of three weeks ago, effectively turned into anti- agreement mode, and that David Trimble is now a rejectionist leader of Ulsterunionism. A group of people where there are a number of dynamics at play. There are people opposed to power sharing, to the all Ireland institutions opposed to the human rights commission, to the de-chancelling body, they are opposed to the Patten recommendations being implemented fully. We have to recognise that, as we go forward, we are going to have to face up to the problems that exist for everybody within this process, and the only way in my view to resolve that is to ensure that we get all of the participants together, and that we get principally the British Government and the Irish Government to recognise that the Good Friday agreement must be faithfully and fully implemented.

Thank you very much.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

Jeremy Vine
interviewed Martin McGuinness MP and Richard Haas
Find out more about the latest moves in the Northern Ireland peace process

Devolution crisis





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