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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Debate over 'Irish solution'
David Trimble:
David Trimble: "Ireland is rejoining British family of nations"
Northern Ireland's first minister has said that the Good Friday Agreement has marked a "huge step forward" in British-Irish relations.

David Trimble was speaking at an Oxford Union debate on Tuesday night which was also attended by SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin.

Mr Trimble said the Agreement has only worked because it deals with relationships between the province's two communities, as well as those between north and south and the UK and the Irish Republic.

The idea that there can be an "Irish solution to an Irish problem" is mistaken, the Ulster Unionist leader said.

Mr Trimble said it was wrong to treat the conflict as a "purely Irish problem".

"To do so is to adopt an Irish nationalist prospective, reducing unionists to a mere cultural or religious minority on the island," he argued.

"I am, frankly, surprised that supporters of the Belfast Agreement are speaking in favour of a motion that expresses the traditionalist nationalist thesis of the Irish problem."

'Common bond'

The Upper Bann MP said the final solution to the Northern Ireland conflict must be both British and Irish.

Mitchel McLaughlin called for
Mitchel McLaughlin called for "British neutrality" in the search for an Irish solution
"It seems to me that the problem - the conflicting national feelings of people living in one small piece of territory - is a British and Irish problem and that its resolution must be both British and Irish."

Mr Trimble said the Agreement reflected the "complex multi-layered identities" on the island and also the social, economic and cultural unity existing within the British Isles.

He stressed the common bond that existed between people living in the UK and the Irish Republic.

'British family of nations'

"Is there a family in Ireland which does not have family ties with the UK?" he asked.

"Is there a family in Ireland which does not absorb the British media output in terms of newspapers or television?"

Mr Trimble said that within the context of history the Agreement's real significance lay not in giving the people of Northern Ireland the freedom to determine their own destiny and to work together but in the "huge step forward" it represented in terms of British/Irish relations.

"The Republic has re-entered the British family of nations.

"The relationship between the two states now mirrors the pre-existing cultural, economic and social reality."

'Irish problem'

However, speaking at the same event, Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin insisted that only the Irish people could solve the Irish problem.

He called on the British government to adopt a position of neutrality, and stop acting as a guarantor of Unionism.

Directly opposing Mr Trimble's view he added: "Only the Irish have the solution to the Irish problem''

"I believe that if we are to see a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ireland then the causes of the conflict need to be recognised and addressed.''

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