April 27, Newcastle

April 13, Edinburgh

March 30, Belfast

March 23, Maidstone

March 16, Truro

March 9, Nottingham

March 2, London

February 24, Leeds

February 17, London

February 10, Birmingham

February 3, Brussels

January 27, Southampton

January 20, Liverpool

January 13, London

December 16, Leeds

December 9, Manchester

December 2, Cardiff

November 25, Birmingham

November 18, Durham

November 11, Maidstone

November 4, Glasgow

October 28, Southampton

October 21, London

October 14, Sydney

October 7, Manchester

September 30, Bournemouth

September 23, London

July 15, Belfast

July 8, London

July 1, Birmingham

July 15, Belfast

You can still watch the special Question Time programme broadcast on 15 July, 1999 by clicking on Latest edition.

Below is a selection of comments from the six panellists and from viewers' emails.

On the panel:

  • John Hume MP, leader, SDLP
  • Pat Doherty, vice president, Sinn Fein
  • Ken Maginnis MP, Ulster Unionist Party
  • David Ervine, leader, Progressive Unionist Party
  • Albert Reynolds, former Irish prime minister
  • Michael Ancram MP, Conservative Party chairman

    Your comments:

    What came across to me as a UK mainland resident watching this programme is that nothing really has changed. Each side still fervently hates each other. And can somebody in authority please, please confirm whether or not Sinn Fein is or is not associated with the IRA? That point alone is an obstacle to some of us trying desperately to understand the viewpoint of the various factions involved. I know what the official line is on this, a fudge of the issue.
    Bridget Kenton

    Shouldn't Sinn Fein stop trying to score points with comments like "Death of Unionism ... I'd never trust a British politician"? But then how can the unionists claim to be democratic if Sinn Fein are not allowed in to the Executive (being legally elected representatives)? It disgusts me when the dedication of individuals such as Mo Mowlam and John Hume are questioned or mocked. Both have taken gambles to ensure peace - Pragmatism first, Ideology a close second: Nelson Mandela will tell you that. Simple gestures would also help: if the unionists want more ties with Britain they should abolish themselves and be part of the Conservative Party; they deserve each other and at least the people of Northern Ireland could have a say in a UK government.
    R McNeil

    Gerry Adams has accused the Prime Minister of treating the parties like children. So far the evidence is that all parties are acting like children - and the world knows it! How can any of the parties involved expect to gain the benefits of shared power if they continue to act in this manner? As an end game it is being played badly, and only goes to show that maybe, the people are being ignored, as are their wishes. If the parties wish to be treated like adults then they should behave like adults. Grow up and settle up - the people have voted and their views should be respected.
    Dave Morgan

    It's astonishing that anyone should be attacking the Unionists for Northern Irish problems. All the UUP and the DUP, and those who vote for them, are asking is that the law be obeyed. What's the problem with that? Why should the IRA, a criminal organisation, be allowed to keep the machine guns and explosives it's accumulated for the purpose of killing innocent people? It's Sinn Fein and the SDLP who are guilty, for defending criminals and murderers. As for the idea that some Loyalists have weapons too, that's true, but only a small minority. The UUP and DUP have made it quite clear over the years - in a way that even "constitutional" Nationalists have not - that they are opposed to all violence, from whatever side. As for the Unionists - who are after all the majority - not wanting to enter government with Nationalists, why should they? The Labour Party in Scotland does not involve the SNP in government.
    Alex Swanson

    Once again the orange card has been played by the Ulster Unionists. Everything smacks of double standards. Why is it that the sole focus of decommissioning is on Sinn Fein? Mr Paisleys' connections with Ulster resistance were well known and presently the guns obtained by that organisation are used to terrorise the Catholic community today. Mr Trimble's past is also riddled with associations with extreme right wing organisations such as the vanguard, which in partnership with the UVF, brought down the Sunningdale agreement. Also, why has Mr Trimble's alleged associations with subversive organisations as detailed in the book 'The Committee' not ever questioned or investigated? Surely it is time to stop bending over backwards to appease Trimble and question his real motives.
    Eddie Murray

    Mr Trimble, in my opinion, does not want a change in the status quo. He would rather have the Catholics remain in a 2nd class position. How can this situation continue with the Republic of Ireland enjoying a robust economy? Please for the equal and just treatment for all the Irish people give the Good Friday Agreement a chance.
    Ann McCulliss Johnson

    The ignorance of some people is breathtaking - David Trimble's Unionists do not have a private army. The IRA and Sinn Fein are but one organisation - McGuinness and Adams were both IRA generals responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of civilians. Even this lily livered government admits that they are 'inexorably linked'. All Question Time's correspondents who are now turning against Trimble have fallen for Blair's little trick (i.e. pick on the decent guy, an easier target, to make him look bad) just as he and Mowlam wanted. Trimble is an honourable, intelligent man who is quite right not sit around the table with terrorist filth, who, let's face it, are unlikely to ever give up their guns.
    R Lewin

    This recent fiasco in Northern Ireland was never of course about decommissioning at all. It was about the unpalatability of the unconditional surrender of the British government and the Unionists to the IRA. Not unconditional surrender in practice - since the IRA and Sinn Fein appear to have been bending over backwards to try to help them both to save face - but unconditional surrender in principle. Why is it that the great and the good have so studiously avoided acknowledging that it was a heap of fertiliser and a shovel that brought the British government round from concentrating their interest in such activities as are carried out at Canary Wharf, insurance companies and shopping centres, to a just society in Northern Ireland. An ex-IRA man on TV put it quite succinctly, "You can't decommission a shovel, can you?". I think it extremely unlikely that I was the only one who noticed that the peace agreement was kept going by the ex-paramilitaries, when the likes of Trimble, never mind Paisley et al, were digging their heels in. But then, the former had put their own lives and freedom on the line in defence, as they saw it at the time, of their people, rather than rabble-rousing from the sidelines. How can the Northern Ireland peace process ever be restored, as long as the mainstream Unionist politicians there are indulged like spoiled children by insanely indulgent parents. One of the most intelligent and indeed crucial points made on Question Time was made by former Unionist paramilitary, David Ervine, now a determined campaigner for the peace process. He pointed out that in a normal society, of course, terrorism is an unspeakable outrage, but he went on, Northern Ireland is not a normal society. It is very sick. Honesty on the part of the Government and the Unionist mainstream politicians with regard to their own complicity in the very roots of the NI troubles; facing up to the fact that indigenous terrorists in an occupied country will eventually win - and the time seems to have come already in this case; both will surely be necessary if a successful resolution of the problems of NI are to be found.
    Paul Becke

    I feel that both sides should come to a peaceful agreement. I speak as a Roman Catholic and I feel that people should remember that the battle which concerned James of Orange was in fact 350 years ago and not yesterday. Both sides must also realise that the continuing bigotry on both sides can only hinder peaceful progress. I hope that the present generation of children can be brought up to get on with people whatever side of the divide they come from. Only their parents and their parents peers can bring this about.
    Chris Rees

    I was in the audience but unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak - it was such a packed hour. I think a joke published in the Irish News last week best sums up the attitude of Unionism today (David Ervine excepted):
    Q. How many Unionists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A. Change? Whaddya mean change? Who said anything about change?
    Sad but true!
    Olly Houlahan

    To all Unionists: It is nothing to do with guns. The fact is Sinn Fein stands for a united Ireland. And no matter what Sinn Fein do, the unionists do not want to see Nationalists/ Republicans/Catholics in a position of power in the six counties. They will see that if Sinn Fein are part of this, then this is the first step towards a United Ireland. I don't care what your excuses are Trimble, but thanks to you and the Paisleys of this world, Ulster is still a sectarian state. How can Sinn Fein tell the IRA what to do anyway? And what about all the continuous attacks by Loyalist death squads? Paisley and Trimble never seem to mention them, yet they are in action now while the IRA is not. I'm not defending the IRA, but I am saying that if you apply the same rules to yourself as you do to Sinn Fein, then none of you would be allowed into power. Right?
    Peter McCluskey

    We have Peace now and the offer was to have decommissioning by May 2000. Isn't that what people have striven for in order to end the cycle of violence for 30 years? Suddenly that dream has been extinguished and yet the majority of the people North and South wanted an assembly to convene. Mr Trimble, your Nobel prize should be pawned.
    Damien Stone

    I watched Question Time (15/7/99) and the people on it claimed to be politicians. Spoilt kids was more like my interpretation and the dislike for one another was clearly evident. No wonder things are not getting sorted when the arguments seem to stem around the same old rubbish "he said"/"he did" type arguments. It doesn't matter whether you're Catholic or Protestant - blood is blood. C'mon guys, give your people a chance. Concentrate your efforts on economic prosperity instead of "the right to march" etc. It's pathetic.
    Neil, UK

    If the IRA were to spontaneously throw in their arms, would the Loyalists not want to find yet another obstacle to throw in the path of an assembly forming, where they would be forced to work politically alongside Catholics? For this seems to be their greatest fear, always bailing out in the last minute. Why does no-one mention Loyalist paramilitary decommissioning? Surely they have an arsenal of their own? Is decommissioning not more a symbolic gesture of surrender, which the Loyalists would so dearly like to see the IRA make?
    M de Burca, Belfast

    The question that no one is asking is this: if Sinn Fein is not connected with the IRA, then why for the last 30 years have they been called by everyone, including themselves, "the political wing of the IRA?" And if they are not the political wing, then who is? If Sinn Fein are not connected with the IRA then how did they negotiate anything for the Peace agreement? This mess is due to the continual doublespeak practiced by Sinn Fein. Are they or are they not part of the IRA? If they are not then they can deliver nothing and Tony Blair needs to find out whom he needs to be talking with. If they are part of the IRA, then they need to openly declare their position - namely that they do not intend to give up any arms now or in the future.
    Tom Campbell

    As an American citizen of Irish and Scots ancestry I am deeply saddened by this latest turn. Mr Trimble and the UUP are adamant about IRA decommissioning, but what of the weapons held by the loyalist paramilitaries? If guns are the issue, why has he been silent? Why has he not demanded that the UFF et al hand over their guns before Ian Paisley could take his seat? Personally, I would like to see some decommissioning on this side of the Atlantic, but that is another issue. It is time to stop playing the blame game and deal with the real issues of peace. Are Mr Trimble and the Unionist community really that frightened by the democratic process?
    Gregory Mast

    So long as the Loyalist/Unionist population/Representatives in Northern Ireland persist in seeking to force the Nationalist population into submission, continue to treat them as a sub-species of a sub-species and expect them (through their reps. or otherwise) to pay them homage or to owe them allegiance (by whatever method), there will never be peace in Northern Ireland.

    Pat Doherty decries the RUC for supposedly having a "shoot to kill" policy. He ought to thank God it was the RUC and the British soldier they were up against. The Russians would have moved tanks in and demolished with shellfire the ground floor upwards any high rise a sniper had fired from. There'd be nothing but gutted buildings on the Falls Road if they'd taken on people with the disposition of the Serbs. Instead of jailing for life a soldier deemed to have broken the rules of engagement and killed someone in a stolen car crashing through a road block, one of New York's finest would have got a commendation. All through years while his organisation deemed itself to have the right to abduct, torture and murder anyone, young boys, old women, it considered to have stepped out of line with Republican policy. Meanwhile, the RUC stand guard in Drumcree to protect some of the residents from having to bear the ordeal of Orangemen marching within a few yards of their homes playing "triumphalistic" music once a year. If it offends their ears so much, why don't they organise a day trip to the seaside on that day, and play with sand castles. This would be less childish than the attitude and arguments put forward by both sides. It is as though the members of two gangs at primary school had acquired guns to settle their quarrels, and is being conducted with the morals and logic of nine year olds, with cries of "not fair" when one of them gets hurt.
    John Smith

    Tonight's programme is the best by far. The questions I have long been wanting journalists to ask the Northern Irish politicians have finally been asked. Why has it taken the audience to ask these awkward questions? Why have the journalists not asked those questions, even today when all seems so tragically up in the air?
    Edwin Bonner

    Why don't the IRA make a token gesture of giving up weapons to put the pressure back on the Unionists?
    Richard Smyth

    I am just old enough to remember Munich, and the hero's welcome Neville Chamberlain got when he returned waving his "piece of paper." If Tony Blair had succeeded in bullying David Trimble into accepting an armed and wholly impenitent Sinn Fein as partners in the government of Northern Ireland, he would, I have no doubt, have received the same adulation. And it would have proved just as short lived. If in half a century Blair is not remembered, as Chamberlain is, as a cowardly, dishonourable, and finally unsuccessful appeaser it will be Trimble and the UUP who will have saved his good name. He should be grateful - though he won't be. Of course the comparison is unfair - to Chamberlain. Chamberlain was intimidated by Hitler's Wehrmacht - the most formidable military force the World has ever seen. Blair has let himself be intimidated by a few hundred cowardly and disgusting psychopaths. Well, Trimble hasn't - good for him!
    David Watkins

    Following David Ervine's comments about abnormality/inabnormality it seems to me that since a percentage of the elected representatives (and I single out particularly the Ulster Unionists) continue to act like political dinosaurs they do not deserve to have the opportunity to sit in government. Accordingly, why not create an interim Assembly made up, in the same percentages as the current elected representation, of politicians from Dublin and London and, if one really wanted to be creative, the United States. These politicians could then sit with those elected representatives who are prepared to serve in the Ulster Assembly and in this manner the people of Ulster, who have not had their own Assembly for about 25 years, could at least have the opportunity of experiencing a form of self-government. At the same time the Good Friday accord could continue with the obvious requirement to continue the process of disarmament and thus all the para-military organisations would have to continue the requirement to disarm. The necessary legislation could no doubt be pushed through the House of Commons by the Blair administration.
    Name with-held on request

    Why do the UUP require failsafes when they will be free to leave the assembly at any point in the future?
    John Doherty

    If Sinn Fein does not represent the IRA, why do we continue to talk to them?
    Dave Morgan

    The Ulster Unionists are seriously jeopardising the prospects of a lasting peace. David Trimble is more concerned to save his own political skin than to listen to the voice of the people - a voice which is loudly and clearly in favour of the setting up of the Assembly.
    Frank Cox

    The events which unfurled at Stormont would be hilarious if the consequences were not so potentially dire. The UUP has given nothing in the interests of peace, indeed if lives are lost as a result of the events today they can be attributed to the absence of Trimble & co. Trimble on TV in Belfast today was asked if he would give back his Nobel Peace Prize. He said no (for a change), because he earned it. I beg to differ; Ben Jonson, the disgraced Olympic sprinter deserved his gold medal in the Olympics more than David Trimble earned the Nobel prize.
    Mr McQuade

    Sinn Fein/IRA could solve the current problems inside a couple of days simply by handing over their illegal weapons and explosives. Why aren't they prepared to do this? Why aren't the British and Irish governments - who are supposed to uphold the law - prepared to insist on this? Why aren't the allegedly "constitutional" SDLP prepared to support Unionist demands that they do? All anybody is asking is that the law is obeyed. Is this too much to ask of people who themselves are claiming the right to make laws for others?
    Alex Swanson

    As a moderate unionist I feel that David Trimble has no option but to resign immediately, in the light of Seamus Mallon's resignation. He has put the interests of the Orange Order before that of all the people of Northern Ireland, Protestant and Catholic.
    Alan Houston

    On the matter of arms decommissioning, I can clearly recall some years ago a lot of Unionists, led by Ian Paisley, standing on a hillside and saying they would never give up their guns. From this side of the Irish Sea the issue of weapons in terrorist hands seems to be very one sided. Could someone explain this for me?
    Jonathan Futrell

    It seems to satisfy a few hardliners in the Ulster Unionist Party that David Trimble has sacrificed the entire Good Friday Agreement and raised the ugly spectre of violence returning to the province. The last couple of weeks has seen the UUP leader blame everyone: British and Irish prime ministers, Secretary of State, Sinn Fein, SDLP - all guilty of causing the impasse according to Mr Trimble. As in the 1970s it is clear that the Protestant leaders are simply not really interested in devolved power, especially if it means sharing power with Catholics. This sort of behaviour would not be tolerated in any other part of the UK so why are we tolerating it from Northern Ireland? Surely now is the time for a fresh approach. Why cannot the English, Scots and Welsh people have a referendum to see if they want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK? Afterall the taxpayers of Great Britain have long subsidised the troubled province. The British and Irish prime ministers have spent a great of time trying for a breakthrough only to have all their efforts rejected by the province's ungrateful politicians, men who purport to represent a people desperate for peace! If Northern Ireland was independent from both Dublin and London it might at last focus the minds of its leaders to actually do something positive and constructive, two things which Mr Trimble and Mr Paisley have always lacked.
    Steve Wallis

    How can the Unionists be blamed for bringing down the process when all they wanted was a firmer guarantee from Sinn Fein/IRA that the IRA would disarm before it shared power with Sinn Fein? Surely the blame is with Sinn Fein/IRA for not fully joining the democratic process by getting the guns out of Northern Irish politics!
    Gary Shaw

    It seems the unionists will never share power with nationalists. They have devolution, articles two and three amended, and an end to Republican violence. Trimble is back in the Paisley think-tank of unionism, 'No Ney and Never.' Do Unionists care what Nationalists think or what 70% of the population want? Are the unionist just trying to stall the process until we reach the May deadline and then demand the IRA surrender?
    Henry Dobbin

    The Ulster Unionists would have been fundamentally wrong to compromise the principle of democracy and freedom of choice, in order to facilitate gangsters, killers, and apologists for murder. Sinn Fein/IRA should be removed from the whole process, until such time as they disarm and totally dismantle their armed wing. If our pathetic, spineless Government are unable to get up off their knees, and stop appeasing fascism, then they should leave the equation, and let Ulster's politicians deal directly with the whole affair. Furthermore, the Dublin Government has no right whatsoever to be consulted on the internal affairs of our United Kingdom.
    Brian Maxwell, Portsmouth

    I can't understand that we the people of Northern Ireland voted in our majority for this process and in turn voted you as our leaders. But now us 'people' can't see our choice bear fruit. Are you, the Ulster Unionist Party, true democrats?
    Chris McCarthy

    As a resident of Belfast for 26 years before immigrating, I lived all of my young life through the troubles. As a nationalist I've always supported a peace initiation that is acceptable to my unionist brothers. The Good Friday Agreement was accepted by all sides with overwhelming support and now the unionists have turned their backs on the people's wishes to maintain their own status quo. I now believe that the present political leaders cannot and will not break the impasse and future peace agreements can only succeed through the youth of the province. The process of healing and forgiveness in Irish history belongs in future generations, the chance is lost, the recriminations and mistrust begins.
    Garvan Tohill

    Audience question: Should David Trimble give back his Nobel Prize as he has failed to deliver peace?

    John Hume said: "Let's look at the positive side of this ... all political parties in Northern Ireland are under certain pressures ... It's the duty of all political leaders and political parties to implement the will of the people. I'm hoping that today, rather than looking at the negative of today, that it will focus minds."

    Ken Maginnis said: "The only thing that David Trimble did was to ensure that the horrors of the last 30 years, the guns and the explosives that have cost this country 3.5 thousand lives, were not legitimised and brought into a government. I think if ever he deserves his peace prize he deserves it for that."

    David Ervine said: "No, he should not give his prize back because there is still an opportunity for peace ... there still is much to play for, because once the review happens there is nothing after, nothing."

    Albert Reynolds said: "Everybody is entitled to make demands within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement ... I can the certainty that people want, I can understand the fear and suspicion on both sides. But ... we shouldn't let the past dictate the future."

    Pat Doherty said: "The problem for all of us involved in the Good Friday Agreement is that David Trimble has not led his party - he has been led by the reactionary 'No' men in unionism. At every stage in this developing process unionism has been dragged screaming to the next stage of it."

    Michael Ancram said: "We're all saddened by today's result ... not a bullet has been given up, not an ounce of Semtex ... We've got to get away from the fatalistic approach, we've got to look forward, we've got to be optimistic. This question of arms has to be resolved before you can see the setting up of an executive."

    Audience question: Did the SDLP bottle out when they refused to confirm they would vote against Sinn Fein in the event of no decommissioning taking place?

    John Hume said: "There are no circumstances in which we would sit in government with a party engaged in violence or threatening violence."

    Albert Reynolds said: "We can all go round pointing the finger in various directions ... We need to create a society where guns are not necessary."

    Pat Doherty said: "There is no link between Sinn Fein and the IRA ... We do not have weapons to decommission."

    David Ervine said: "Sinn Fein and the IRA are a single core organisation."

    Ken Maginnis said: "Unionists are the only people being asked to pay up front ... we know the IRA have no intention in the short or medium term of giving up guns."

    Michael Ancram said: "Each time we said 'Let's make a concession', the concession has been made and there's been no decommissioning."

    Audience question: As a gesture of good faith, should the Royal Ulster Constabulary be either be renamed the Ulster Constabulary or the Northern Ireland police force?

    Ken Maginnis said: "Without the RUC there would have been a civil war in Northern Ireland."

    John Hume said: "The basis of order in every society isn't the police force, its an agreement on how you are governed ... Once we have a system of government to which we are all loyal, it will be easy to have a police force to which we are all loyal as well."

    Pat Doherty said: "It's not just about the name of the RUC, it's about the reality, the horrendous reality for nationalists and republicans - the shoot to kill policy, collusion, torture, bigotry, sectarianism. This is what has to be resolved, all of the reality of the RUC. They have to be disbanded."

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