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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 23:52 GMT 00:52 UK
Tony Blair's statement in full
tony blair
Blair: 'All paramilitary organisations should follow suit'
This is the full text of Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement on decommissioning.

For three and a half years, since 10 April 1998, we have worked for this moment.

This is a move today of fundamental significance for Northern Ireland, for relations between the communities in Northern Ireland, for Britain and also for the wider world.

Whatever the set-backs, whatever the impasses, whatever the strains and stresses of constant negotiation and dialogue and bargaining this is a peace process that despite it all is today working.

I know that people suffer almost from a fatigue of historic events - or at least claims of them - yet it is just worth thinking for a moment and thinking of where we are today and comparing it with what people would have thought was in any shape or form possible 10 years ago.


Politics is working

Prime Minister, Tony Blair

It is not just that the agreement of 10 April is being implemented in all its parts and what people actually voted for is being delivered.

It is far more profound than that - the principle of consent, that the future of Northern Ireland rests with the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland is accepted and agreed by all the main parties.

The Republic of Ireland yielding up their territorial claim to Northern Ireland and the nationalist community's aspiration to a united Ireland recognised in bodies covering north and south.

A directly elected assembly producing the government of Northern Ireland.

That government, which can now be properly re-established representing unionist, nationalist and republican parties sitting alongside each other, working together.

New start

A new start to policing and criminal justice capable of commanding support across the community divide is now under way.

Seventy per cent of Northern Ireland with no troops stationed and a real process of normalisation in areas still marked by areas of intrusive security now possible and able to be achieved.

The British and Irish governments working together, getting on with each other, not just in respect of Northern Ireland but in the European Union in a way again that would have been considered unimaginable some years ago.

Britain and Ireland closer today than at any time in our history.

Resolve differences

And now weapons being put beyond use in accordance with the decommissioning commission's remit, something thought utterly unthinkable even a few years ago.

Politics is working.

I pay tribute to the republican leadership, to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in particular, for the boldness and the courage of this move.

It has been done not out of weakness, but from the strength that comes from recognition that there is a new dispensation that we can resolve differences politically and that the only aims that ever should or indeed really ever can succeed are those pursued by democratic and peacefully debate.

Peace process

Now of course there will still be difficulties and differences.

It is a peace process, it is not some single event that ends all the difficulties of the past.

But it is a process that can now move forward again.

All paramilitary organisations should follow suit.

Splinter groups

The loyalist organisations said they would wait for the IRA.

They can and they must now move on this issue and the killing and terrorising of the innocent must stop.

There will of course be dangers too from the wreckers - loyalist, splinter republican groups - who do not want or prefer to take refuge in the past.

They should realise that they have absolutely no support in the wider community at all for the continuing campaign of violence.

Inflict terror

But they will try to inflict terror in order to derail what has been achieved.

Then, of course, there will be the cynics, the people who have offered no serious alternative to the 10 April 1998, agreement, who refuse to recognise the magnitude of the changes it has brought about.

And it has taken real leadership to get here - from nationalist leaders like John Hume and Seamus Mallon and from the Ulster Unionists, in particular from David Trimble who has been attacked, often vilified but who has taken the risks that need to be taken and who has remained steadfast to his principles and his convictions throughout.

I simply say we should not let either the wreckers or the cynics win.

Hard choices

Of course, again, this process is not perfect.

It has had, as you know and as I know, its share of hard choices, tricky even unpleasant compromises and inconsistencies.

Of course if you are living in one of the communities like North Belfast mired still in conflict, the peace process seems hollow.

But for the majority of people in Northern Ireland life is better today.

Lives saved

Look at the investment, the extra jobs, look at Belfast city and enjoy it.

Look, above all, at the lives that have been saved.

Yes, the peace process is not perfect.

But it is a damn sight better than the alternative, which is no process at all.

Dead bodies

In the Middle East, indeed even as we speak, we see what no process means - bloodshed, grief, daily funerals, bitterness and hatred fuelling a cycle of attack and counter-attack.

The only thing that is certain is that when the violence ends, though the dead bodies will be greater and the hated more intense, the issues will remain the same and the only way of resolving them - namely through dialogue - will also remain the same.

So, with our own peace process in Northern Ireland today, I hope we can be forgiven for indulging in hope.

It is in short enough supply in our world not to celebrate it when we have it.

New era

Let us hope that for the people of Northern Ireland a new era is indeed beckoning where people can live together freely, in solidarity, tolerance and respect.

We should remember those who have died in the Troubles - Catholics and Protestants, activists and those with no political connection, RUC men and women, soldiers - people whose death inspired us to try to create a better and different way forward for the future.

We are a long way from finishing our journey but a very significant milestone has been passed.


Assembly back

IRA arms breakthrough

Background

Loyalist ceasefire

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SPECIAL REPORT: IRA

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See also:

23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
'Significant' IRA arms move praised
23 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
IRA arms statement in full
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