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Sean Woodward interview

On the Politics Show, Sunday 8 March 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Sean Woodward Northern Ireland SecretaryNorthern Ireland Secretary

Interview transcript...

JON SOPEL: The Northern Ireland Secretary, Sean Woodward, has been at the scene this morning and he joins us live now from Belfast. Sean Woodward, thanks very much for being with us.

SEAN WOODWARD: Good morning.

JON SOPEL: First of all, your reaction to what's happened.

SEAN WOODWARD: I think, like everybody in Northern Ireland, I'm absolutely horrified by the events of last night. It's, without question, a pre-planned attempt of mass murder of off duty soldiers and civilians. This is absolutely despicable and we have to find these people and bring them to justice.

JON SOPEL: Who do you believe was behind this.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well, I want to be careful about speculating on this at the moment. But what's perfectly clear is this is dissident activity by the small number of people who still remain wedded to the idea that somehow the peace of Northern Ireland can be stopped, it can't be.

People of Northern Ireland have turned their backs on the past, they want a different peaceful future, that's prosperous. They don't want this. It has no place here. These people have no support in the community. Regrettably, their cowardly actions stand in marked contrast to the bravery of these young men who were murdered last night.

And I have to say this Jon, these young men were actually here, about to go to Afghanistan, their - most of their regiment had actually already gone. They were literally hours away, having a last pizza before they went last night. They were going out to bring peace to the world, to do humanitarian work. The cowards and thugs who did this last night, couldn't be a starker contrast.

JON SOPEL: You said they were small in number but they seemed pretty well organized and by all account utterly ruthless.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well I think there is no question about their ruthlessness, the degree to which they're organized, I wouldn't quibble with - the hugely dangerous position they actually pose.

But I would say they are small in number and last night they succeeded but every day, the Chief Constable and those officers of the PSNI stand out there to ensure that this small number of people don't succeed and they've been extremely successful in recent months, both in disrupting and apprehending these dissidents who refuse to accept the changes.

But last night, with huge regrets, they did succeed. Our job now is to catch them and put them away and bring these people to justice.

JON SOPEL: Sinn Fein have issued a statement in the last half hour or so. I just want to pick up a couple of things from it and just hear your reaction to that. He said, the statement said, those responsible have no support, no strategy to achieve a united Ireland. Their intention is to bring British soldiers back on to the streets. Might they succeed in that.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well Operation Banner, which as you know, was the military operation, which for thirty eight years brought men and women to serve in Northern Ireland, that came to an end eighteen months ago. That's not about to change.

The Chief Constable this week, indicated that he had raised the security threat level, so we enhanced security at bases, at police stations across Northern Ireland. Regrettably last night, it was clear that when this cowardly attack took place, no matter what measures we put in place, people who have a previous position to plan mass murder of civilians and soldiers, were able to do what they did.

But we will of course today, continue to review the security here in Northern Ireland, but no, you're not about to see soldiers back on the streets of Northern Ireland. It's a complete fiction and the terrorists responsible for yesterday's criminal activity will not succeed in that.

JON SOPEL: And just something else that was said in the Sinn Fein statement, Gerry Adam's statement was, there are elements within Unionism and within the British who do not want the peace process to achieve its objectives. What do they mean by that about you know, British - elements within the British system who do not want this to succeed.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well I'm afraid you're going to have to ask Gerry Adams what he meant by that statement. What I can say is that I welcome the condemnation by Sinn Fein, indeed I welcome it by everybody and I think you know, one of the most important things to do here Jon, is actually to focus on this as a crime.

Last night two men were murdered, there's another man extremely dangerously ill. Three other people badly wounded. We've got to find the people who did this last night and you know, there's a real opportunity for the community in Northern Ireland here, there will be people who know will know who did this.

There will be people who know something about suspicious activity by people yesterday, the cars that might have been used last night. There's a real responsibility by people in the community to come forward. There will be people who are afraid of doing it and what I can promise them is that the Chief Constable will do everything in his power to provide protection for those people.

We need the public to come forward, we need witness statements and we need to catch these criminals and catch them quickly.

JON SOPEL: Of course but there will be political ramifications. There will be economic ramifications from something like this. I mean I think indeed, the First Minister and Deputy were due to fly to the United States today to bang the drum for business in Northern Ireland, ahead of St Patrick's Day. People wanting to invest at this critical time are going to think twice aren't they.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well let's be clear about this. You do get problems that emerge in a process, as we've seen in Northern Ireland after the last ten or eleven years.

But the Northern Ireland of today is a radically different place from that of ten or eleven years ago. Yes, last night poses a challenge, yes, there will be people who think twice. But then we have to re-double our efforts to convince people, as indeed is the case, that Northern Ireland today is a very different place. That the men and women who live here today want to succeed as any other part of the United Kingdom or Ireland.

And it was, I think markedly clear to me last night, from the expressions of support I had from the Irish Republic, from the Ts…. (?) , from the Irish Foreign Minister, from the conversations we were having with America last night, that … they are not going to allow this to stand in their way. We're going to make Northern Ireland succeed and we will not let the criminals, the small number of criminals succeed in any shape or form.

JON SOPEL: The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Liam Fox has said there should be a full review of security in Northern Ireland now. Will that happen.

SEAN WOODWARD: Well, actually, there's a full review of security all of the time. One of my tasks here in Northern Ireland, with the Chief Constable, is to ensure that we actually carry out the security that's needed in Northern Ireland and I think Liam - and I understand why he said it of course but it's a reflection I think on the success of the Chief Constable, that we have driven this kind of criminal behavior out of Northern Ireland.

It's a reflection of the political leadership of the First and Deputy First Minister. So this goes on all the time Jon and people shouldn't think that somehow it hasn't happened for the last few years. It does, it happens every day.

JON SOPEL: Yeah, that's precisely what my final question to you was going to be. You've talked in recent days about the need to step-up security, Downing Street mentioned it again this morning. Is there almost a sense in which you were anticipating this.

SEAN WOODWARD: I'm afraid to say that we have been aware in the last few months of an increased level of ambition, by the small number of criminals, to commit some act of atrocity.

As you know, last year they tried to murder several police officers and nearly succeeded when they put five bullets in to the chest of one police officers, when he dropped his child off at school. Last night's pre-attempted mass murder attempt is despicable. But you know, it does stand in isolation. It's no less despicable for that.

But let's keep a sense of proportion here and let's everybody in Northern Ireland come back behind the peace process, back behind the political process. Re-double our efforts and ensure that peace and prosperity is what the future is in Northern Ireland.

JON SOPEL: Sean Woodward I'm grateful to you. Thank you very much for joining us here on the Politics Show.


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NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 15 March 2009 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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