BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 09.06.02

Interview: MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN, Sinn Fein Chairman

agrees that communal tensions need to be reduced in Northern Ireland but does not agree that that can be achieved by condemning the attempted murder of a Catholic recruit to the new Northern Ireland Police Service.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: It's been a bad week in Belfast. Night after night of violence on the streets, attacks on the police. A warning from the most senior police officer that the province is on the brink of the abyss. Worse still, it seems the violence was orchestrated by the IRA and Loyalist paramilitaries, most of whom are meant to be on ceasefire. There's been an attempt to kill a Catholic police recruit and the so-called 'punishment beatings' such an ugly feature of life in some parts of Northern Ireland carry on unabated. And soon the marching season will reach its peak. In this atmosphere, it's easy to see why David Trimble is finding it so difficult to persuade his Ulster Unionists that he should keep negotiating. Tomorrow Sinn Fein's leaders are going to Downing Street and there can be only one message from Tony Blair - use your influence to calm things down. The Chairman of Sinn Fein is Mitchel McLaughlin and he's in our Foyle studio. Good afternoon Mr McLaughlin. MITCHEL MCLAUGHLIN: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: Is that what you're going to do? MCLAUGHLIN: Of course, but we'll also deliver a message ourselves, because we think that peace-making, and this conflict resolution process obviously involves all of those who were involved in creating and sustaining the conflict in the first place, including your government. HUMPHRYS: In the interests of calming things down, do you condemn utterly unreservedly that attack on the Catholic recruit. MCLAUGHLIN: Well of course we have to put all of that into the context of our failure so far to bring forward agreed and acceptable policing arrangements. But some work, I think some considerable work has been done on that. Now our party is involved in trying to complete that task and to create a situation where everyone, including those whoever they were, who were responsible for that attack, would become part of the policing solution. So I think, you know, we don't want a glib approach. This is a very serious issue. Of course, we regret very, very much that there's still aspects of the type of conflict that we've had for generations now, but nonetheless, let's not forget the work, the achievements that have been... HUMPHRYS: ...yes, sure. MCLAUGHLIN: ...banked so far and let's keep on that focus and let's keep that work going. HUMPHRYS: Well fine, but I'm not sure what's glib about asking you to condemn unreservedly attempted murder of a young man because he wants to join a police force. Do you condemn it unreservedly or not? MCLAUGHLIN: ...yes well, I don't expect your, you know your audience to actually understand the complexities of this issue of the details, let me... HUMPHRYS: ...they understand murder. MCLAUGHLIN: yeah, well let me tell, let me put it this way. What we are trying to do, is create a situation where those, no matter how mistaken, no matter how they misunderstand the situation, do not see any justification for that activity. Now glib reports, glib condemnations make no impression whatsoever on those individuals, unfortunately. What we have to do then is try and create the type of situation where all of those who are disaffected, alienated, or hostile to politics begin to recognise the benefit of making politics work. Now we've done some work on that and we will continue with that task. HUMPHRYS: Mr McLaughlin, you...your party is part of the government of Northern Ireland and you sit there this afternoon, unprepared to condemn unreservedly, an attempt to murder a young police recruit. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, this, that is not the case and we don't want... HUMPHRYS: ...well then the answer to my question was yes you do... MCLAUGHLIN:, no, you see... HUMPHRYS: condemn it unreservedly, I'm sorry I... MCLAUGHLIN: ...well John, I don't want to get into a total diversion. Let me repeat again... HUMPHRYS: ...fundamental. MCLAUGHLIN: Well let me repeat again what we are attempting to do because you know no more about that situation than I do. HUMPHRYS: ...what... MCLAUGHLIN: ...let me say this. I regret very much that there are those in our society, Republicans as well as Loyalists, and the shadowy operators of your Intelligence Services, who are still engaged in war, but there are those of us, and I believe a great majority of us, who are trying to save a conflict resolution process, and who are working day and daily. Now the issue of condemnations do not reach those people, what reaches them is effective politics. HUMPHRYS: Why, why should we accept that you genuinely regret it when the IRA is doing everything it can to intimidate recruits and incite violence against them and your own party is creating the atmosphere for precisely that. MCLAUGHLIN: Well can I say that I particularly regret your assertion... HUMPHRYS: ...well let me give you the reason why I make that assertion, may I... MCLAUGHLIN: ...okay, that would be very helpful if you could... HUMPHRYS: ...let me give you the reason... MCLAUGHLIN: ...if you sustain it, I would be surprised if you could. HUMPHRYS: ...I will, I will because Gerry Adams the ... well you may or may not be surprised by this quote in that case. Gerry Adams, the leader of your party of course, officers drawn from the national community he says 'they will be accorded exactly the same treatment'. These are people who want to join the new Northern Ireland police force, the same treatment the Republican Movement accorded to the RUC, no more, no less. Now we know exactly what treatment the IRA accorded to the RUC... MCLAUGHLIN: ...but he... HUMPHRYS: ...they tried to murder them, that's what it did. MCLAUGHLIN: Well listen, you did not refer in that quote at all to the IRA and neither did Gerry Adams. He talked about the Republican community. The Republican community did not recognise the RUC as an acceptable police service and the British government, which had its opportunity, bear in mind John, had its opportunity to bring forward acceptable policing based on the Patten Commission findings failed to do so. Now Tony Blair has accepted that principle, he has accepted that amending legislation will have to be introduced, and when he does, and if he does, then Sinn Fein will be glad to be able to endorse those proposals and to be part of the policing solution. So there are failures across the board here, and those failures involve your government as well as those of us on the ground who are working, who are doing their best, but who recognise that there is a considerable amount of work to be done. HUMPHRYS: Well, but if you don't recognise the new Northern Ireland police force, and if you tacitly, some would say rather more than tacitly, some would say explicitly, condone attacks upon Catholics who choose to join that police force, because they want to do the best they can for peace in Northern Ireland, then how can you talk about doing the best you can?. MCLAUGLIN: Well if, if we both apply ourselves to informing your audience about the reality, then we will deal with the fact that for the past six weeks, a small Nationalist enclave in East Belfast been under siege by Loyalist paramilitaries and the police force that you're talking about has had a laissez-faire approach to that. Now there is a context that perhaps your audience isn't aware of which actually feeds into the type of madness that sees young police recruits being attacked. Now what I am trying to do, and what my party is trying to do is to ensure that everybody who does want the Good Friday Agreement to work, and I accept that there are those in your government who do want it to work, I accept it there are those within the Unionist community who does want it to work, and I can tell you that there are those within Sinn Fein who do want it to work. Now it is up to us collectively to ensure that we move through this conflict resolution process, imperfect though it is, to achieve that. Now if the British government had done, what it was clearly within its power to do, which was to deliver Patten in full, then we would not be discussing today problems with policing in the North. We could talk about the other problems because there are many other problems. HUMPHRYS: Yeah but what you're not doing is you're neg..., you're not negotiating here, you're encouraging violence and that is utterly unacceptable in any democratic society. MCLAUGHLIN: Well I reject that and I think that's a disgraceful comment John. I wish you would withdraw that. We are doing nothing of the sort. HUMPHRYS: How can I withdraw it on the basis of Gerry Adams' own statement: "Officers drawn from the Nationalist community will be accorded exactly the same treatment the Republican movement accorded to the RUC'. MCLAUGHLIN: And he was explaining, which everybody on the ground should understand in the North, and commentators about the North will understand. The RUC were not an acceptable policing service by anybody's standards and they were condemned as a police force internationally. Now what we have got is the RUC with a change of uniform, not the new beginning to policing, and Gerry Adams described that accurately. Now the British government have already accepted that there is a need to amend the legislation, that it was flawed legislation, that we missed an opportunity. Now we didn't walk away from the process even though our expectations were betrayed. Tony Blair made a promise, a very explicit one, he will deliver Patten. He didn't do it. But we went back and talked to Tony Blair and we will keep talking until we solve those problems. HUMPHRYS: Mitchel McLaughlin, many thanks.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.