BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 16.06.02

Interview: JOHN REID MP, Northern Ireland Secretary.

Will the Government take any action against Sinn Fein following allegations that the IRA has breached their ceasefire.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: You heard that Dr Reid, the ceasefire has been breached, there is no doubt about that in David Trimble's mind, is the government going to declare that is the case? JOHN REID: We keep all the ceasefires under constant review and as the Acting Chief Constable said recently, he saw no imminent threat to the ceasefire as far as the IRA is concerned, but let me make one point John and that is that, this isn't just a matter of a ceasefire, it's a matter of retaining the confidence in this process, that the journey on which we have all embarked, which is to go from conflict and virtual war through to peace, is in fact a journey, as David Trimble said, which is continuing and that no-one should be under any illusions that there is somehow some half-way house where people can be involved in politics and that at the same time can maintain a level of some paramilitary violence of preparation for returning to terrorism or anything of that nature. That isn't the case and specifically as David Trimble raised it, let me make absolutely plain here, there are no political constraints in the police doing their job. They have to pursue that job wherever it leads them and in fact, recently there have charges been brought against someone for what could commonly be called, targeting, we are pursuing the break-in at the Castlereagh Special Branch Headquarters, that will be done without any constraints whatsoever. If that causes problems for the political process where that leads, then I'm afraid so be it. So we will continue to review the ceasefires, we will continue to counter by any means we can, any level of paramilitary activity. But there is obviously, as David Ervine and David Trimble said, there's a problem in the process at the moment and that is that there is a lack of confidence that the journey away from violence, towards exclusively peaceful means is continuing and that is why we have taken urgent action, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, the Irish Prime Minister, to call together the parties to address this in as open and as frank a way as possible because we are absolutely convinced that the best and indeed the only way in which to achieve the sort of Northern Ireland we want, is through this peace process and I have to say, David Trimble has shown a great deal of courage throughout this process in making sure that we continue that transition. There are others as well, there are others as well, some of the critics who are sometimes called, you know anti-Agreement, I believe people like Jeffrey Donaldson want this agreement to work. But it has to be seen to be moving as David Trimble said and we will make every effort to ensure that that transition continues. HUMPHRYS: Well, you say you will make every effort, you say that confidence must be retained. It's very hard to see how Unionist confidence can be retained in this process when they see the sorts of things that are going on at the moment. You mentioned yourself the break-in to Castlereagh, we have seen the shootings in the Short Strand, we have seen the IRA training in Colombia, its own terrorists trying out new weapons. Well now, if that is not a breach of the ceasefire, then it's very hard, by the time you end all that up and all the other things, you add it all into the mix, it's very hard to see what is, and yet you do not say this morning, yes clearly the ceasefire has been breached. REID: Because I think there are two things that you haven't said there. The first is let's be quite plain that violence is occurring on both sides, Catholic families are being attacked as well as Protestant families, it is a terrible tragedy. The series of riots that have been going on, some of them for almost two centuries incidentally result in terrible tragedy on both sides of this community, let's be under no doubts about that. That some of the comments made about attacks on Catholic families over the past year and recently are just as true as the comments about the attacks on Protestants. The second is, as regards Castlereagh there is a police investigation and judicial process going on. As regards the charges being brought against someone for targetting information, that judicial process is going on, as regards Colombia, there is a judicial process yet to take place. It is not open to me to act on a whim, to direct the police to do certain things for political reasons or to pre-judge any of those judicial processes and therefore I can't say definitely in any of these cases until the evidence is produced and the decision is reached at the end of due process. What I can say is the fact that these allegations are being made is obviously undermining the confidence in the journey that we have undertaken and therefore it is absolutely essential even without these being concluded to say to all of the parties involved in it that although it is true that the IRA have come a huge distance, there's no doubt about that, over the past eight or so years, that it is necessary to be assured, not only that a cease-fire is in tact, but that the preparations associated with a breach of the cease-fire in the future are not continuing. And that above all I think, alongside the violence in the community which has to be dealt with by trying to de-escalate, and I appeal everyone to try and de-escalate that. I welcome the Loyalist Commission's moves on that, saying they would not attack the other side, and deploring the attacks on the Catholic community and the police. That is a step, I hope it gets a response, but apart from the difficulties in the community, we also have to be plain that this journey is continually moving as far as, not only terrorism, moving away from that, but the preparations for that terrorism. And that is I think at the moment, one of the things which is undermining the confidence among not only Unionists, but others in the community, and it has to be addressed which is precisely why we have called the parties together. HUMPHRYS: Indeed, but you say you cannot act precipitately, and investigations have to be conducted and concluded, and all the rest of it. You don't need any investigations to tell you what Sinn Fein thinks about attempts to murder a young man who wants to join the Northern Ireland police force. Mitchel McLaughlin on this programme, exactly a week ago and Martin McGuinness again today, both of them flatly refusing to condemn attempted murder. That is about as clear as it could be isn't it? REID: Well, I think that does Sinn Fein no service at all. I have been absolutely plain all along that those among the Nationalists and Republican community who have been asking for eighty years to have a police service in which they can participate as their right, now have that right, we are reforming and beginning a whole new beginning in policing in Northern Ireland, they now have to face up to their responsibilities. I utterly deplore and condemn whoever does these things, such cowardly and attempted murder of a young Catholic police recruit to a new police service in Northern Ireland and I wish that everyone else could find themselves in it to condemn that in the same way that I have done. If they haven't done, then of course that is up to them and people will make their own judgement. HUMPHRYS: Well, there's no if is there? REID: It doesn't inspire confidence when people attempt not to address that - as I said - callous, cowardly and murderous attempt on a young man's life. HUMPHRYS: There's no if, they haven't and that's that so it gives you a very clear idea of what their view, their interpretation of a ceasefire is which would not be the case as the interpretation of the ceasefire by any other reasonable man. I would have thought. REID: One of the great problems John, in Northern Ireland is that whenever violence of this nature breaks out, a whole range of politicians are quick to point at the other side to condemn any attacks on their own community, but to be reticent about highlighting the attacks by their own community. That isn't true of all politicians here, but it's true of a great many. I condemn violence wherever it comes from, particularly violence that is obviously meant to achieve political ends, to stop young Catholics from joining the police force and I hope that all of the politicians in Northern Ireland are now at the stage where they can say, that wherever the violence comes from, whether it's from their own community or from the others, whenever murderous attempts are made to impose political objectives on people in Northern Ireland, that they are to be utterly condemned. And that is where we have got to get to, I believe this process has brought enormous benefits to the people of Northern Ireland, there's no question in my mind about that, in the lives saved and the jobs created and the security that it's given to hundreds of thousands of people who have always felt they couldn't go out of an evening into Belfast or into other towns. But there is a long way to go in it and there's no stopping at any half way house - it has to continue. HUMPHRYS: And the trouble it, David Trimble, you heard him say there, believes that keeping that process going, means that keeping the peace and ensuring that the ceasefires are genuine ceasefires, are subordinated to that process and you can understand why they feel isolated. REID: Well, I can understand David's frustration and as I said, I can understand that frustration particularly when those who criticise him are people who never put forward any other alternative. He believes, as I believe, and I hope every party to this Agreement believes, that this is not only the best way to achieve a peaceful, democratic Northern Ireland, it's the only way. But no-one thought it would be without great difficulties and those difficulties don't get easier. As we go on the contradictions sharpen and people must be under no illusions that they can engage not only in politics but in the government of Northern Ireland and at the same time, stay at some half-way stage where there is a level of paramilitary activity which will be acceptable to all the elements involved, there won't be. HUMPHRYS: Therefore, are you prepared to say to David Trimble, to save him from having to take the very serious steps that he threatened so clearly here this morning, are you prepared to say to him: 'yeah, we will take some sanctions against Sinn Fein, maybe we will withdraw their Westminster privileges, send back to jail some of those people who have been blatantly breaking the ceasefire'. Do something to give him something that he can take back to his party and say we can rescue this. Just do something, give him sanction. REID: Well, let me take the two things you've mentioned there. You know, you use the words of the opposition spokesman, the privileges at Westminster, there are no privileges that have been extended... HUMPHRYS: You know what I mean, you know what I am referring to, we don't have very much time left I'm afraid, but you know what I am referring to. REID: But words are very important in this, aren't they. For a hundred and fifty years the same situation pertained, there weren't privileges then, they, Sinn Fein have been given those facilities in the House of Commons that have always existed up until four years ago. As far as the police are concerned, the police will pursue whoever it is that is breaking the law, whether they be Republican or Loyalist, whether they be Nationalist or Unionist, Catholic or Protestant, I can assure David there are no constraints on that; as far as those who are out on licence are concerned, if that licence is still there and they are breaching the terms of that licence, then they will be put to the Sentence Review Commission. But I cannot act on a whim, I cannot for political purposes start sticking people in jail because it suits me or gets rid of my frustration, that road was taken a number of years ago during the height of the Troubles with internment and it was a disaster. And can I say, last year the Republicans were demanding exactly the same thing of me, that whether or not I had the evidence I should put away Loyalists because of the number of bomb attacks that were going on. So it's isn't as easy as that, but the largest sanction and the most disastrous sanction of all is if this process falls. If this process falls, then all of us have failed and that includes the leadership of Republicans as well.
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.