BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 16.06.02

Interview: DAVID TRIMBLE MP, Northern Ireland First Minister.

What do the Ulster Unionists want the Government to do about the violent clashes in Northern Ireland.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, has there been a clear breach of the IRA cease-fire and do you want Tony Blair to rule so? DAVID TRIMBLE: It's not a question of do I want the government to rule this or to rule that,. It's a matter of what is the truth, and the truth was stated, my understanding of it was stated a couple of weeks ago by a senior police officer in Belfast. He said that all the paramilitary organisations had been engaged in violence, and indeed referring to the very bad violence in Short Strand a fortnight ago, said that it was orchestrated by Republicans, and that senior Republicans, senior members of the IRA, which are supposed to be in a cease-fire, were there orchestrating the events, and I've got deep suspicions too as to just exactly what was the reason for the rioting that broke out on Thursday when there was an initiative coming from Loyalist paramilitaries to try and calm the situation down. So there's no doubt in my mind about what the facts are. The unfortunate aspect of the matter is that the Northern Ireland Office and Downing Street don't seem to have the courage to tell the truth. HUMPHRYS: And what you're saying is that they should tell the truth by which you mean, say there has been a breach of the cease-fire and act accordingly. Is that what you're saying? TRIMBLE: I think it's essential that we face the realities and we tell the truth, and that we do so in order to sustain confidence amongst ordinary people. And we mustn't always look at this question of political faction and in-fighting in particular parties. The most important thing is the people of Northern Ireland and retaining confidence with them in that there is a process which is going to move forward and that the government will act as guardian of that process. You see, paramilitaries are bound to try and push the envelope out to see how much they can get away with, and the big mistake that government has been making is allowing them to get away with things. And you can probably put on fairly modest constraints if you moved quickly, but the more the government delays the more likely it's going to have to act in a quite an extensive and dramatic way.. HUMPHRYS: You say modest restraints, such as what? TRIMBLE: Well, something that has actually happened is that a number of persons who benefited from the early release programme have been returned to prison because they have been involved in apparent violent activity. Unfortunately it's been entirely one-sided, and the only paramilitaries that have been returned to prison have been Loyalists. But yet Republicans have also been heavily involved in violence, but the Northern Ireland Office seems to be unwilling to apply sanctions to them, but they've been quite happy to return members of the UDA to prison, and to declare the UDA cease-fire to be ineffective, presumably because they reckon that there have been no political consequences from that. So you see what is happening is that by its actions the Northern Ireland Office is making it clear that the law, and keeping the peace, have been made subordinate to political considerations, and that is a fatal mistake which they must reverse. HUMPHRYS: So in other words they must declare the IRA cease-fire to be ineffective, and you would like to see some IRA people being returned to prison. You're quite clear about that? TRIMBLE: I simply want the police to be encouraged, permitted to enforce the law, and when they find paramilitaries who have been involved in violence who were released early, that they should be returned to prison, yes. That should happen because that is - those are the safeguards that were written into it at the time of the agreement. And when we were asked to accept this quite remarkable arrangement to release people from prison we were told that there would be safeguards. Now, you can't blame people for feeling annoyed when the government hasn't even applied the safeguards that it assured us they were going to take. This is one of the reasons why there's a lack of confidence, because years ago at the time of the agreement we were given assurances, promises were made and the general perception, accurate in many cases is that the promises have not been kept. HUMPHRYS: And should other sanctions be taken against Sinn Fein. Such as ending, withdrawing their privileges at Westminster? TRIMBLE: Well, I think we should look very carefully, and government should look very carefully at this. I mean, I think the key thing that the government has to do is to give people in Northern Ireland confidence that the law will be upheld, and that it will insist that the transition, and we all hoped and believed that a transition was taking place, that those who in the past had been involved in terrorism were on a course towards a purely peaceful and democratic life. That transition must be sustained. We are actually acting in an exceptional way in having an administration of this nature, but we're doing so in order to encourage a transition. If that transition is not taking place, then the justification for our conduct disappears, so I think it's imperative that the government make it clear that, that transition will be insisted on, and that it will be actively seeking ways, not just to hang out carrots in front of people, but to look at what levers, what sticks might be available as well. HUMPHRYS: But given that they are not at the moment as far as we know, prepared to use those levers and those sticks, why are you not saying to your own members, right, we will have a vote in the assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and do our damnedest to exclude Sinn Fein from the executive? TRIMBLE: When I consider that appropriate John, I'll do it. I am able to say to people that I'm the only person that I know of who has voluntarily put himself out of office twice in order to sustain progress. I have resigned, I have ensured at an earlier stage that there was a suspension of the assembly in order to sustain progress... HUMPHRYS: And you're prepared to do it again? TRIMBLE: ...if that happened .When the circumstances are right. If it is necessary I'm quite happy to do it, but if I do this John, please, if I do it, it will be in order to make progress, to make further progress in order to ensure that the agreement is fulfilled and fully implemented. I will not be acting to destroy that agreement, because I know that agreement represents the best hope for the people of Northern Ireland. And our present difficulties are coming because the paramilitaries on all sides, but particularly Sinn Fein and the IRA have not kept the agreement, and are not implementing it properly. That's the problem. HUMPHRYS: You clearly see it as a possibility that you will do it at some stage? TRIMBLE: Clearly. HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, thank you very much indeed.
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.