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JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. The row
over Tony Blair and the Queen Mother's funeral is still building. I'll
be talking to the opposition and the government about what really happened.
Yet again Northern Ireland is on the edge. Tony Blair has called crisis
talks and we'll be talking to the Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid
and the leader of the Ulster Unionists David Trimble. That's after the
news read by Darren Jordon.
HUMPHRYS: Thanks very much Darren.
Tony Blair took the most unusual step on Friday of issuing a very detailed
document about the sort of thing that would normally never see the light
of day. Discussions between Number 10 and Black Rod about the Queen Mother's
funeral. If he'd hoped that doing that would put an end to all the embarrassing
stories about alleged attempts to give him a bigger role in the funeral,
he must this morning be a very disappointed man. The papers are still
full of it. He can at least be grateful I suppose that England scored
three goals yesterday, that's taken most of the headlines. But there is
still plenty of damaging stuff there, most of it centred on a memo written
by Black Rod to the Press Complaints Commission that accuses Number 10
of sustained and constant pressure to give Mr Blair a bigger role at the
funeral. The Tories say the whole thing is disgraceful and I'll be talking
to their Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Tim Collins. The Government says
it's nonsense and I'll be talking to the Cabinet Minister John Reid.
JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, the man who broke
the story, the Political Editor of The Spectator, Peter Oborne. Peter
Oborne, still no proof that Tony Blair tried to get a bigger role for himself
at the funeral?
PETER OBORNE: I think there is proof and
I have no doubt there is proof. The last story that he tried to muscle
was right. The proof is there in the Downing Street document on Friday,
actually, when we learned that the Prime Minister rang up..the Prime Minister's
office, Black Rod was rung up while he was waiting at the North Door of
Westminster Hall and informed that the Prime Minister was going to come
down into the North Door and he said, apparently, here the accounts diverge,
the Prime Minister's office..the rebuttal document which they published
on Friday says that Black Rod said go ahead. The Mail on Sunday account
of Black Rod's killer memo says that Black Rod urged against it. Whatever
way, whatever..whether Downing Street is telling the truth or whether Black
Rod's memo is the truth, there's no question that this attempt...that it
was talked about on the..actually on the day when they..actually as they
were waiting for the Queen Mother's cortege to arrive, that this telephone
HUMPHRYS: And yet, Black Rod himself
has said 'at no stage' and this is a direct quote from him 'at no stage
was I asked to change the arrangements' - end of story surely?
OBORNE: That's very interesting
that. I think it did cause..he made that statement, under pressure I think
from Downing Street, the day, I think that The Spectator was published.
According to the Mail on Sunday account of the memo, he says that that
was a form of words that actually..that was strictly true but there was
this constant pressure, these endless questions, I've got them here: what's
the PM's role; won't the PM be meeting the coffin and surely the PM meets
the Queen. I mean you have this series, although there wasn't actually
a request to change, you get this intense pressure and these dozen telephone
calls made in those few days leading up to the lying in State.
HUMPHRYS: And the Press Complaints
Commission itself says none of the three publications involved who carried
this story, had produced evidence in their defence that Blair himself was
in any way involved in any of this.
OBORNE: This is the form of words
agreed between the PCC and Downing Street in order to get, to give some
sort of fig leaf to Downing Street's climbdown and decision to withdraw
its complaint to the PCC about us and what they said was and it was a disingenuous
formula, which is we have climbed down from an ascertain that the Prime
Minister was personally involved. We never said that the Prime Minister
was personally involved, my story and I think the Mail on Sunday's story
was that officials ringing up from Downing Street....
HUMPHRYS: But the headlines said
'Blair says this', 'Blair tries that', I mean the implication is perfectly
OBORNE: Well, official rings up
from the Prime Minister's private office in Downing Street, they're not
ringing up on their own behalf, they're ringing up with the authority of
a Prime Minister.
HUMPHRYS: It's all a right wing
plot is what some people say. Look at the publications that it's been in,
The Spectator - a Conservative newspaper, a Conservative magazine. The
Mail on Sunday, ditto.
OBORNE: I'm actually very amused
by this. This thesis suggests they are into advanced dementia. There's
Jack Straw saying we're trying character assassination. We've got one Sunday
paper, a left wing Sunday paper calls me Tory lickspittle today. I've
just say one thing, when The Spectator broke the story, my story, the story
I wrote, that Michael Ashcroft was funding the Tory party, do you remember
the trouble that caused, we put that on the front page. We put that,
we put it right up on the front page of The Spectator. When we ran this
story, we didn't think it was all that important, we didn't even put it
on the front page. We are not motivated by political malice or anything
like that. We are journalists trying to bring facts to the light of the
general public. That is our job and I am not a member of the Tory party,
never been a member of the Tory party, I've written loads of stories which
are deeply wounding to the Tory party and I've never been accused by them
of being part of a left wing plot and I..they are just confounding, they
think, they have a sort of curious, Manichaean view of the world, good
and evil and that they....and actually we just go about doing our necessary,
but not particularly grand job of journalism, of ferreting out the facts.
HUMPHRYS: Right, thanks very much
JOHN HUMPHRYS; Tim Collins, the government
couldn't have been more open here could it. I mean it's published a twenty-nine
page document, it's cleared it all up - that's what it says.
TIM COLLINS: Well, it published a twenty-nine
page document which in itself contradicts itself, and which itself turns
out within forty-eight hours not to be a complete version of accounts,
because not only do we have Black Rod's story or something very close to
Black Rod's story in the Mail on Sunday this morning, we also find out
that there were further meetings between Black Rod and Claire Sumner to
try to discuss the evidence of the PCC that Downing Street didn't even
mention in their twenty-nine page document.
HUMPHRYS: It's perfectly understandable
surely for somebody from the Prime Minister's office when an allegation
like this is made, from somebody in the Prime Minister's office to go to
Black Rod's office and say: Look let's look at what is happening here?
COLLINS; Well, I think this is
a very unedifying saga and I think the millions of people like me who are
passionate monarchists are very unhappy that the Royal family is being
brought into controversy in this way, but I think what we see through this
particular target, I think what this saga is demonstrating is three very
important truths about this government. The first is that their instinct
is to tell a lie rather than the truth, the second is that their instinct
is to bully and intimidate those that dare to be critical. Some of the
smear stories against Black Rod in this morning's papers I think are simply
shocking, and thirdly, it is that we have a Prime Minister who is more
concerned with building up his self-image than building up the public services,
which is the job he was elected to do.
HUMPHRYS: You say smear stories
against Black Rod, there's not a scintilla of evidence that any of those
have come from anywhere near Number Ten.
COLLINS: Well, the Sunday Times
reports this morning that a number of ministers have said that if Black
Rod had done what he allegedly has done, in the army he would have been
sacked. We have a number of Labour MPs on the record in this morning's
Sunday papers saying they're going to call for Black Rod to be dismissed,
and what is his alleged crime, it is simply that he decides to tell the
truth and not go along with Downing Street's fabrication of the truth.
HUMPHRYS: But if you look at what
Number Ten was doing it was working from guidelines - this is stated in
that document that were drawn up in 1994. Now you were in power in 1994,
presumably John Major's office drew up those documents or those guidelines.
COLLINS: Well, one of the reasons
we're calling for a full disclosure and for a statement to the House of
Commons by the Prime Minister is that even that part of Downing Street's
defence now looks rather undermined by the Mail on Sunday this morning.
According to that newspaper this morning Black Rod pointed out to Claire
Sumner, why didn't you refer to this 1994 document when we spoke originally.
Although Claire Sumner says in her documents that she was relying on the
1994 document apparently according to Black Rod, she didn't mention that
document when she had her initial conversation. The detail is complicated
and convoluted but the bottom line is this; we have on the record quotes
this morning from Black Rod saying he was under sustained and constant
pressure from Downing Street to alter arrangements. We have evidence that
Alistair Campbell was spending a huge amount of time writing reams and
reams of letters to the Press Complaints Commission which are full of a
stack of inaccuracies. This is evidence of government at best pursuing
the wrong agenda, at worst trying to intimidate its critics.
HUMPHRYS: But you see even if,
and as you say it's immensely complex all of this, and it's a pity to inflict
on an unsuspecting and undeserving audience, they don't deserve all these
details, but let's try - the basic, even if the charge is right that Tony
Blair sought a more prominent role for himself, he would have taken Iain
Duncan Smith your leader, along with him. This wasn't just him, this was
leaders of the party as well as him.
COLLINS: Well, we have yet to see
exactly what it was. I mean what certainly is one of the allegations of
course, is that the Prime Minister or somebody on his behalf wanted the
Prime Minister to walk from Downing Street to Westminster Hall, glad-handing
I think is the phrase - the people who were there ... That is not something
that would have involved the leader of the Opposition. And the evidence
for that is actually in Downing Street's twenty-nine page dossier. They
admit that somebody from Downing Street rang up Black Rod and said would
it be alright if the Prime Minister walked from Downing Street to Westminster
Hall. Now very interestingly, very interestingly, they say in their document,
the twenty-nine pages, that it was decided and I quote, it was decided
within Number Ten without feedback from Black Rod, that the Prime Minister
would drive. Now, according to the Mail on Sunday this morning not only
was there feedback from Black Rod, but it was fairly vigorously expressed,
and it was very strongly counselling the Prime Minister against doing that.
HUMPHRYS; But that idea......
COLLINS: So we don't have a consistent
HUMPHRYS: That idea of the walk
was supposed to have come from Jack Straw and a sort of casual comment
about it being a nice sunny day, and he wasn't actually planning to walk
down Whitehall or anything, he was going to walk under the corridor, you
know under those.....
COLLINS: Well, I think it is one
of the most absurd developments that we've had this week that Jack Straw
who was actually in Canada for an international summit is supposed to have
woken up one morning, slapped his forehead, said: Oh, of course it was
all my idea, I'd better get on to Number Ten, and then tell everybody it
was my idea to suggest this walk. Really it is the case where a Downing
Street story as ever, as on so many of these cases, falls apart when you
look in the detail, there are many, many inaccuracies. Just to give you
another example. They said that the Prime Minister was going to walk to
the north door, and there was no problem, and as agreed the Prime Minister
was driven to Westminster Hall. He didn't go through the north door in
front of the cameras, he went through the south door.
HUMPHRYS: What do you want to happen
now. Should Alistair Campbell resign in your view?
COLLINS: I think our view is that
this is indicative of a culture of spin, an obsession with driving out
opposition and building up image rather than the public services. Alistair
Campbell is the figure-head of that particular culture. Certainly he should
be considering his position, but it's not enough for him to pack his bags
and go. That whole culture of spin, deceit and bullying at Downing Street
has got to go.
HUMPHRYS: Isn't the problem from
your point of view though, you may inflict a few flesh wounds on the government
as the result of all this, it might be embarrassing for the government,
but it doesn't do politics any good, and ultimately it doesn't do you any
good either, if you're seen to be in this great mess, this great.....
Now people say there are things that..real issues that we care about, the
NHS, education. crime and all that, and what are you doing, you're whingeing
on about what you describe yourself as some very obscure detailed allegations.
COLLINS: But this of course is
the reason why more than five years into a Labour government the public
services are not getting better. They're getting worse because the Prime
Minister spends all his time thinking about the next photo-opportunity.
He doesn't do the hard grind of improving the public services and until
we get him to change his attitudes and get down, knuckle down to the real
work and stop worrying about what he looks like in next morning's headlines,
we will never get better public services.
HUMPHRYS: Tim Collins, Peter Oborne,
thank you very much indeed.
HUMPHRYS: And we can go to Northern
Ireland and John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary.
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon, Dr Reid.
JOHN REID MP: Hi John.
HUMPHRYS: Now, let's deal with
what's possibly the most serious new detail to emerge this morning and
that is that Black Rod told the Press Complaints Commission that Number
Ten had put him under sustained and constant pressure. Now that has been
denied right from the beginning by Number Ten and now we have it from Black
REID: John, can I first
of all say through you, to your viewers, that if they are bemused that
we are leading the programme, not on the problems of Northern Ireland or
the other big issues, but on this sort of playground gossip, we have just
had to listen to, then it's not by my choice. I want to make that absolutely
plain. I'd rather be talking about Northern Ireland...
HUMPHRYS: And indeed, we shall
be talking about Northern Ireland very soon, yeah.
REID: Yes we will but we're
leading the programme on this sort of, as I said, schoolboy tittle-tattle.
HUMPHRYS: Sorry, before you leave
that...hang on, if I may, accept that I'd just like to point out that if
it is only schoolboy tittle-tattle, why did the Prime Minister himself
choose to make a statement about it on Friday and then issue a twenty-nine
page document. Odd thing to do if it's only schoolboy tittle-tattle.
REID: John, I think you
should let your viewers decide whether the last ten minutes has benefited
either them or politics. As far as the facts are concerned of this issue,
if we have to deal with it. The first fact is this, that there is now no
suggestion, contrary to all the headlines in this story, that the Prime
Minister muscled in on the Queen Mother's funeral. That was offensive and
untrue when it was said and I'm glad that it's now accepted that that isn't
true. Secondly, as regards the civil servants and the so-called inundating
with pressure, I understand this was a series of about twelve phone calls.
I asked my civil servants this morning to give me an estimate of how many
phone calls were made in connection with a half day visit I made to Jersey
three days ago. They've estimated that with the protection team, with the
private authors and with the press, about fifty to sixty phone calls were
made. So the civil servants acted with complete integrity and Tim Collins
shows that he has no, absolutely no idea of how government works, where
the logistics of an operation like this have to be dealt with. And the
third thing is this, Sir Michael has made it absolutely clear...
HUMPHRYS: Black Rod.
REID: ..that he was not
asked to..he was not asked to change any arrangements and any arrangements
that were made, whatever they were to be, would have included Iain Duncan
Smith, the leader of the Conservative Party as well as the Prime Minister
himself. So this whole story, which originally started in a right wing
journal, edited by a Conservative MP, not just a Conservative supporter,
has now been thrown into the agenda because there are elements of the press
who quite frankly want to regard themselves as the opposition because every
time you have a Conservative spokesman on television, they studiously avoid
talking about any of the issues which are really important to people in
this country and have one agenda which is to involve themselves in either
character assassination to get at the Prime Minister, either through his
wife, or through his advisors and now through his civil servants.
HUMPHRYS: Well, just dealing with
the number of phone calls, just a comment on that. The...Black Rod's deputy,
Yeoman Usher Brigadier Hedley Duncan, himself says that they were inundated
with phone calls. So clearly their office were very seriously taken aback
by the amount of pressure from Number Ten. And the other point is, that
if you are...
REID: Can I just answer
that. I mean I don't...can I just answer that, it's a very good point.
I mean I don't know Brigadier Hedley Duncan I have to say, I know Mike
Willcocks, worked with him when I was a minister and had a very good working
relationship. I don't know how often they deal with Downing Street. I understand
from press reports that they hardly ever deal with Downing Street. If he
understands, if he feels that getting a dozen phone calls over six days
is the height of pressure that can be brought on logistic operations on
a major state occasion, then I think that's a misunderstanding. I can tell
you, as I said, that I carried out, a rough I admit, a rough estimate...
HUMPHRYS: ..yes you said.
REID: ..a rough estimate
of the number of phone calls made for me, and I'm not the Prime Minister,
for a half day visit to Jersey and it is many times this number of phone
calls. The suggestion that this was inordinate pressure by civil servants
is ludicrous, they acted with complete integrity and asked all the right
HUMPRYS: Yeah, but you see Black
Rod's memo itself says sustained and constant pressure, Downing Street
have told us half a dozen phone calls at most. Then we learn from Black
Rod that it was sustained and constant pressure, we hear what the Brigadier
had to say, we hear that Simon Virley somebody from Mr Blair's office,
himself went to see Black Rod's office. And the point is this isn't it,
that if you were so confident, that if Number Ten were so confident that
there was no case to answer here, why was the complaint effectively withdrawn
from the PCC. Isn't the reality, that when you knew what was going to come
out of the memo, that Black Rod himself had written, you knew that you
didn't have a case and that it would be too embarrassing and too damaging.
I say you, I mean collectively Number Ten.
REID: Alright, let me answer
your questions in sequence. If somebody feels that that number of phone
calls is undue pressure, they were inundated because there was six or twelve
phone calls. I mean that's someone's feeling, I can't speak for that,
if..all I can say is give you the reality of government. That it is not
unusual when you are even the Northern Ireland Secretary and you have a
private office, a press office, you have protection teams, you have Detective
Sergeants, right up to you know senior civil servants, you know twelve
phone calls, you know if somebody feels that, that is being inundated,
fair enough. The second thing you said, is that there was a visit, there
was a visit by a civil servant, not a political, they didn't make the phone
calls, not special advisors, there was a visit to inform, as I understand
it, Black Rod, of the Press Complaints Commission move that had been made.
And the third question you asked is, why was that taken, why was that dropped,
it was dropped because the substantial reason for taking it in the first
place was the innuendo, and it was no more than that but it was branded
in huge headlines that the Prime Minister had intervened in order to muscle
in on the Queen Mother's funeral when it made plain that there was no a
shred of evidence for that and there's not. I mean I listened to Peter
Oborne and his pathetic justification that someone had phoned on the day
of the funeral. I understand that this was a member of the protection team,
a policeman who had phoned. So presumably, they are now part of this great
Downing Street machine.
I'm sorry this...there's
actually a much more important question here John and that's about the
relationship between the press and government. We now live in an era of
twenty-four hour a day media. There is constant pressure and I understand
this on journalists, lobby journalists in particular, to have stories,
particularly in the press because they are trying to anticipate what's
coming up because by the time they print their newspapers it's been on
television programmes and constant news. So therefore, there is a lot of
pressure on government to provide stories. We do our best to put that information
out, but we are now in a position where having been demanded that we supply
the information and stories, the press, or certain elements of the press
are trying to run an agenda which says that this is in itself wrong. We
need to rebuild that relationship because you know at the end of the day,
both government and the press are absolutely essential for a good functioning
democracy and if that isn't working well, the people who lose out are actually
the electorate, the ordinary members of the public, who are interested
in their health, in their education and the peace process in Northern Ireland
and must be utterly bemused about the minutia into which we are now descending.
HUMPHRYS: Yes, but you'd have to
accept that this thing has been handled staggeringly badly from Number
Ten's point of view. If the story was as trivial and as unimportant as
you've said in the first place, then why was it taken to the Press Complaints
Commission, that's a nuclear option. Why didn't they simply, why didn't
Number Ten simply issue all the documents relating to it, a list right
at the very, very beginning and say look, here's what happened, let people
judge for themselves and then, why after it was all over, did they try,
after the complaint had gone in to the Press Complaints Commission, why
did they try to bully Black Rod into supporting their version of events.
That's what makes people's eyebrows raise a little bit.
REID: John, that's an entirely
fair question, why does something as small as this require to go to the
Press Complaints Commission and the answer is quite simple, that although
this is a non-story, it was raised to the level of a grievous and offensive
charge, that on a great state occasion, involving the Queen Mother's funeral,
that the Prime Minister or the politicals around him, had muscled in to
try and use this, presumably for party political advantage, although as
we all now know, whatever the arrangements would have been Iain Duncan
Smith would have been standing shoulder to shoulder in all of them with
the Prime Minister. So although it is a minor thing, it was offensive as
well as untrue. That is why it was taken to the Press Complaints Commission.
When it was discovered at the Press Complaints Commission that no evidence
to substantiate that innuendo and allegation had been submitted, then it
was withdrawn. Having withdrawn it of course, some of the elements of the
press then decide to make that a huge issue and that's why we've spent,
instead of talking about life and death in Northern Ireland, we've spent
twenty minutes on the lead item, on the flagship programme of the BBC,
discussing an issue which quite frankly is of utter irrelevance to the
HUMPHRYS: I repeat what I said
at the very beginning, it wouldn't possibly have happened this way if we....if
Tony Blair hadn't reacted the way he did on Friday. But shouldn't he now
do what the Tories are saying, release all the documents involved in this,
make a statement if necessary, in the House himself and shouldn't Alastair
Campbell perhaps, as they say, consider his position.
REID: Well John, you don't
even see the irony of what you are saying to me, your last question implied,
in fact made explicit, that we were quite wrong to raise this to the level
of taking it to the Press Complaints Commission. Now you are saying shouldn't
we be taking it to the floor of the House and have the Prime Minister make
a statement. I mean we are trying to cope with a Health Service that needs
improved, a war against terrorism, putting the...When I put to Jersey with
the Prime Minister the other day, I can assure you that Afghanistan, the
war against terrorism and Northern Ireland were foremost in his mind.
But the idea that on the basis of no allegation now that he intervened
in any way, no evidence to that effect, that he should suddenly go to Parliament
and make a statement, thus raising and continuing this issue again, is
to me completely to get the priorities of the people of this country and
Parliament wrong. It doesn't surprise me, however, that the Conservatives
want to do that because they have nothing whatsoever to say on the major
HUMPHRYS: John Reid, thanks very
much indeed. We'll be returning to you to talk about Northern Ireland indeed
very soon, many thanks.
HUMPHRYS: Northern Ireland then,
the peace process seems to go in waves. We get a spell when things are
looking reasonably bright and then everyone is plunged into despair yet
again. At the moment we're in the trough. To change the metaphor, it's
probably more accurate to think in terms of being on the edge of the cliff.
Tony Blair himself has acknowledged as much by calling what he calls a
crisis meeting of all the parties who are signed up to the Good Friday
Agreement. I'll be talking to John Reid again as I say and to the Ulster
Unionist leader David Trimble after this report from Iain Watson.
IAIN WATSON: The new Police Service of
Northern Ireland is on patrol during a period of heightened tensions on
the streets of Belfast, the British and Irish governments will meet all
the pro agreement parties in the province this week; a recognition that
the peace process is under increasing pressure from sustained incidents
of sectarian violence.
The most dramatic scenes
have been in the small Nationalist enclave of the Short Strand in east
Belfast, sandwiched between streets which are seen as Protestant paramilitary
territory. Both communities blame each other for provoking the disturbances.
The expected peace dividend from the Good Friday Agreement hasn't been
delivered to some of the most tense and least well off parts of Northern
Some acts of violence
have been on the increase since the main paramilitary groups went on cease-fire.
In 1997, the year before the Good Friday Agreement was signed, there were
ninety three incidents involving bombs -but by last year this had increased
to four hundred and forty eight. In 1997, the police in Northern Ireland
recorded forty six shootings by loyalist groups, but in the first two
months of this year, there were fifty: more than in the whole of 1997,
although some of these were due to internal disputes. Shootings by republican
groups are also on the increase; there were twenty six in the whole of
1997, but in the first two months of this year alone this had risen to
Violence didn't exactly
evaporate four years ago when the Good Friday Agreement was signed; but
the recent disturbances here in the Short Strand area of Belfast is putting
the peace process under even greater pressure. Not only have we seen the
army back on the streets, but there are allegations of involvement by both
Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in recent activities. That, combined
with the revelations about the extent of IRA involvement in Colombia,
and the Good Friday Agreement is under unprecedented strain. And now one
government minister has admitted privately that it's becoming increasingly
difficult to maintain that the IRA cease-fire is holding
DAVID BURNSIDE MP; If the British Government is
prepared to stand up to the Republican Movement which I'm afraid that so
far they haven't proved that they're prepared to do, they will declare
the Provisional IRA cease-fire is over and that will have consequences
for the whole Belfast Agreement.
MARTIN McGUINNESS; I believe the IRA cessation
has been rock solid. The IRA have been, for the greater part of eight years,
DAVID ERVINE; I'm telling it as it is.
UVF have broken the cease-fire. The IRA has broken the cease-fire, and
instead of having a government that's saying, "Well we've got problems,
we'd better do something about it", the government's almost afraid to admit
that it has a problem.
WATSON; This event, at Northern
Ireland's parliament buildings, was to celebrate peace. The American envoy
Richard Haass was presenting a prize for cross community reconciliation,
which went to the brother of Belfast's Sinn Fein mayor. But he did more
than glad hand; during his visit, he met all the key political players,
and his assessment is that both Loyalists AND Republicans were involved
in orchestrating the recent disturbances
RICHARD HAASS; Obviously there's been some
violence and clearly not all the violence is spontaneous, we're seeing
a degree of organised violence from the Loyalist paramilitaries as well
as on the Republican side.
WATSON; The Nationalist lower
Ormeau Road is about a five minute drive from the Short Strand, and it's
also seen sporadic clashes recently. A community leader there says he
believes Republicans were involved in violence in the Short Strand, but
that they had every right to be.
GERARD RICE; The Republicans clearly did
shoot - you know - elements in the Short Strand, clearly did shoot five
people. So, when people in - in Short Strand, you know, have their houses
wrecked and then people attempt to burn 'em, somebody has to defend them.
WATSON; The problem for the government
is that, unlike those politicians who are close to the Loyalist paramilitaries,
Sinn Fein sit on the Northern Ireland Executive, so declaring the IRA cease-fire
over could be tantamount to declaring that the peace process is over; the
Short Strand area is of strong symbolic significance to Republicans; a
nascent Provisional IRA carried out one of its first ever actions in the
grounds of St Matthews church thirty two years ago when three Protestants,
they say were part of a marauding mob were killed. Now, after two acts
of decommissioning, the IRA may be keen to prove that they haven't abandoned
Catholic communities under siege, but Sinn Fein say it's just ordinary
householders protecting their property
McGUINNESS; Whenever homes are being blast
bombed, paint bombed, petrol bombed, shot at by Loyalists, people come
climbing over walls and into communities, the people come onto the streets
and defend their community. No Republican involvement anywhere in the
world. That would have happened anywhere in the world. People have a right
to defend themselves against this aggression, now really - really what
WATSON: Are the IRA effectively
defending their own community?
McGUINNESS: Well I don't know what
the IRA are doing. I - I am dealing with the root of the difficulty here,
and take it from me the IRA are not the root of difficulty in Belfast.
WATSON: Last week on this programme
the Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel Mclaughlin refused to condemn an attack
on a Catholic recruit to the new police service. That now appears not have
been a spontaneous reaction, but a strategic decision by Sinn Fein. Their
refusal to endorse the new police service allows them to differentiate
themselves from their Nationalist political rivals, the SDLP.
Would you condemn the
attack on the Catholic recruit?
McGUINNESS: My position is very, very,
clear. I deplore all causes of conflict and all violence within our society.
It's very clear.
WATSON: But do you condemn that
McGUINNESS: I can't be any clearer than
what I've just said. I deplore all injustice. Don't ask about one specific
WATSON: Why not?
McGUINNESS: I have just come from a community
yesterday, that has been attacked on a daily basis, by Loyalist paramilitaries
and you don't ask me, my views on that?
WATSON: I did and you condemned
McGUINNESS: No, I don't...
WATSON: You condemned the Loyalist
attack. But do you also condemn the attack on the Catholic recruit.
McGUINNESS: I'm sorry... I'm sorry but
I don't be asked specifically - no one comes to me for example from the
BBC with a specific agenda to deal with a situation where Catholics are
being attacked by Loyalist paramilitaries
WATSON: Anti-Agreement Unionists
were defeated at yesterday's meeting of the party's executive in their
attempt to get David Trimble to set a date for pulling out of the government
with Sinn Fein. But party officers will meet to consider action against
the Republicans this Friday. If they don't take a tough enough line, some
of David Trimble's opponents inside the party are threatening to call a
meeting of the much larger and less leadership-friendly, Ulster Unionist
Council - where they'll try to force him to resign from the government
of Northern Ireland.
BURNSIDE: I don't believe that
Unionists will have any credibility if they continue in the Executive with
Sinn Fein, the political mouthpiece of the Republican Movement which incorporates
the provisional IRA that continue to be involved in terrorism and violence
domestically and internationally. It must be brought to a crunch as soon
as possible and I don't believe we as an Ulster Unionist party can allow
it to drift through the summer, I think it must be done this month.
WATSON: One small island off the
coast of Britain where symbols of identity aren't contentious is the tax
haven of Jersey, the venue for last week's meeting of the British/Irish
council. It should have been all about the knowledge economy but it soon
became the impromptu venue for the Prime Minister to get up to speed on
the developments in Northern Ireland. He agreed to convene a meeting of
all pro agreement parties, but the Unionist delegation was pressing for
something more firm.
The formal business of
the British/Irish council was conducted here in this room but many of the
real negotiations took place on the sidelines. Pro-Agreement Unionists
have been lobbying the government intensely to punish Sinn Fein for what
they see as a breach in the IRA ceasefire. They say a lack of willingness
by the government to take on Republicans, simply plays into the hands of
anti-Agreement Unionists and they are becoming increasingly frustrated
that the government's rhetoric against paramilitary activity simply isn't
backed by explicit threats of sanctions against Sinn Fein.
David Trimble had drawn
up a list of demands involving action against Sinn Fein, short of leaving
the Northern Ireland Executive, which he presented to the Prime Minister.
But his pro-Agreement colleagues say without visible support from Tony
Blair, the option of walking out of government may yet become inevitable.
SIR REG EMPEY MLA: There is a limit to our patience
and a limit to our ability to maintain institutions while they are being
continuously undermined by Republican Paramilitaries. That is the target
that must be addressed and addressed by Tony Blair now.
WATSON: The Conservatives, say
the government, are in a position to send a strong signal to Sinn Fein
immediately without having to exile them from the peace process. The government
could withdraw guarantees apparently made to Sinn Fein at Weston Park in
Staffordshire last July when the government was trying to encourage IRA
QUENTIN DAVIES MP: There is a whole range of sanctions
which are possible and I have set them out in the House of Commons. I personally
would start with probably the easiest one which is to remove the Sinn Fein
IRA special status at Westminster which should never have been given.
Secondly I would suspend all the Weston Park promises to Sinn Fein IRA
amnesties for on the run terrorists. And then if that didn't work I would
certainly take powers to remove the Sinn Fein members of the executive.
WATSON: But Sinn Fein say the current
street troubles in the Short Strand are being exploited by shadowy figures
in the security services who have deliberately timed their allegations
of IRA weapons training in Colombia to coincide with the current tensions
and to stoke up retaliation.
McGUINNESS: I don't believe that the peace
process in Ireland is under threat from the IRA but I think that it is
under threat from people within the British military establishment, and
from within Loyalism here attacking Catholics who are doing that in order
to prevent change and to destabilise all of the work of the last ten years.
WATSON: This isn't the West Bank.
It's East Belfast -the Israeli flag is flying alongside Union Jacks in
an apparent Loyalist tribute to the tough - some would say brutal action
- taken against terrorism in the Middle East. Some of the politicians
closest to Protestant paramilitaries such as the UVF say that ceasefires
were breached partly because the government hasn't taken robust enough
action to stop tit for tat sectarian violence.
ERVINE: Every time there's been
a violent action that hasn't been jumped on from a great height, we're
sending messages to every paramilitary, of whatever colour, in Northern
Ireland, that the parameters are broader, the barriers are coming down
and sometimes people behave because they can, and we have to retrace our
steps and offer to the ordinary people the belief that this is not a paramilitary
WATSON: It's not just the new police
service of Northern Ireland that's been stretched to the limit by street
violence, it's the entire peace process. If the government fails to take
tough action against Sinn Fein, that could play into the hands of anti-Agreement
Unionists, but to declare the IRA ceasefire has been breached could provoke
a potentially more dangerous backlash.
HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting
JOHN HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, has there
been a clear breach of the IRA cease-fire and do you want Tony Blair to
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
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
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
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
HUMPHRYS: You clearly see it as
a possibility that you will do it at some stage?
HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, thank
you very much indeed.
HUMPHRYS: And let me return now
to Dr John Reid, the Northern Ireland Secretary.
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
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.
HUMPHRYS: John Reid, many thanks
for joining us this morning and that's it for this week. We'll be back
on BBC ONE next week, don't forget about the website. Until next week,