» Monday, February 21, 2005

Northern Ireland

Asked if it came as a surprise to the Prime Minister that he had been negotiating in Northern Ireland with the leaders of the IRA Army Council the PMOS said that as we had always said all the way through we believed that Sein Fein and the IRA were inextricably linked and that had obvious implications at leadership level. However, what was important was that we had also always been working on the basis that we were in the transition from conflict to peace. As the Prime Minister has said the time had now come for the IRA, the republican movement and Sein Fein to make a simple choice. That choice was either you continued with the paramilitary activity and criminality of the past or you chose the politics of the future. What you could not do was have it both ways; you could not continue to ride two horses. With the exception of Sein Fein Ireland was now united in this view, and the moment had come for Sein Fein and the IRA to make a choice. Suggested that the facts of the matter showed that that moment had gone, the PMOS said that what the facts showed were matters of deep concern. Equally what we should not ignore, whilst recognising fully, starkly, clearly, not trying to hide those current matters of deep concern, was that we should not lose sight of the progress that had been made since The Good Friday Agreement. That was what allowed us to put the question. But there had to be an answer to that question otherwise, as the Prime Minister said very carefully in the House a few weeks ago, everybody had to think about the implications of that. Therefore it was right to put that question to Sein Fein.

Asked if it was fair to suggest that those negotiations were based on spurious grounds if indeed during the course of those negotiations murders, very large bank robberies and other violence was being perpetrated, as we know now was the case, by the IRA and those doing the negotiating were senior figures in the Army Council of the IRA the PMOS said that was why it was right that we, the Irish Government and the other political parties from the north and south in Ireland, as well as the parties here have the right to ask very directly the question of Sein Fein and the IRA what choice were they going to make. This was the question that was put to them. What the Prime Minister had said very clearly was that there could be no prospect of a deal with republicans unless there was an end, a final end, to all paramilitary and criminal activity. In terms of the concerns posed by the robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney and so on there was every right to ask the question but equally given the progress made in the process since 1998, and before that too, it was right that we said to Sein Fein surely the end game was for a genuine transition and not this because if you think the end game was this then you were wrong.

Asked how this was different from previous "the moments" as it seemed there had been numerous very elastic moments before, the PMOS said that he disagreed with that analysis. We said at the time of the agreement that as the process went on the tests of an end of paramilitary activity would become more rigorous. At the time of the signing of the agreement the primary issue was an end to violence and decommissioning. The test now was an end to all paramilitary activity including criminality. Therefore the test had got more rigorous over time and rightly so. The test now as the Prime Minister said in his last meeting with the Taoiseach was now very simple. We have dealt with all the other matters of the agreement. The simple test now was whether the IRA was prepared to end paramilitary activity or not. If it was not then we all had to think very carefully about the implications of that. However, what was difficult now was that the question that was being posed was not just by the British Government and the Unionist parties but also by the Irish Government and all the other parties on the island of Ireland. We now had a situation where the rest of the parties were agreed that we had met our commitments and therefore the onus was solely on the republican leadership.

In answer to further questions about the recent activities of the IRA the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not just condemned those actions he had also faced Sein Fein very clearly with the choice and it was important that we did not duck our responsibility to set out clearly and specifically to the IRA and to Sein Fein that simple choice. It had then been for other parties to respond. What was unprecedented was the way in which the other parties had responded posing that same question. At the same time however we had to recognise that other parties had not expressed their view in favour of exclusion. Therefore you had to ride this balance between setting out clearly the choice that the IRA had to make on the one hand and at the same time bringing the other parties in Ireland along with us, and that we were doing.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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