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
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
HUMPHRYS: In the interests of calming
things down, do you condemn utterly unreservedly that attack on the Catholic
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
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
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, 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...
MCLAUGHLIN: Well let me repeat again what
we are attempting to do because you know no more about that situation than
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
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