BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 16.06.02

==================================================================================== 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 ==================================================================================== ON THE RECORD RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC TWO DATE: 16.06.02 ==================================================================================== 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. NEWS 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 call arrived. 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 clear. 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 for that. 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 story here. 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 Rod himself. 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 questions. 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 vast majority. 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 issues. 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 Ireland. 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 twenty nine. 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, on cessation. 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 I...... 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 specific attack? McGUINNESS: I can't be any clearer than what I've just said. I deplore all injustice. Don't ask about one specific attack because... 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 it. 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 decommissioning. 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 process. 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 there. 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. 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 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. 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, good afternoon. r 23 FoLdEd
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.