BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 22.09.02

Interview: DAVID TRIMBLE, Northern Ireland First Minister.

On the deadline he has set for the IRA to prove that it is ending terrorist activity.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Another beleaguered party leader is David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist leader and Northern Ireland First Minister. He survived yet another threat to his leadership yesterday but only by reaching a compromise with those in his party who are opposed to the peace process. The opposition is led by Geoffrey Donaldson whom many would prefer to see as leader. Mr Trimble has now set a deadline of January the eighteenth for the IRA to show that they are ending all terrorist activity. But that could put the whole peace process in jeopardy. Mr Trimble is in our Belfast studio. Good afternoon Mr Trimble. DAVID TRIMBLE: Good day. HUMPHRYS: You've actually given in haven't you, given in to those in your party who never supported the Good Friday Agreement, and in effect, Geoffrey Donaldson is now in control of the party, isn't he? TRIMBLE: No that's not the case at all. In fact the proposal to engage in talks over the next three months and if they are not successful, then to resign was my own proposal and Mr. Donaldson's proposal was quite different, that was my proposal, and the reason why I put it forward was exactly for the same reason that throughout June and July I repeatedly told the Prime Minister that we simply couldn't go on the way we are at the moment, where the transition, and bear in mind, we only went into administration with Sinn Fein, the representatives of the Republican Movement, on the basis that the Republican Movement was going to abandon violence and commit itself to exclusively peaceful means, and we did it to facilitate a transition. Now quite clearly, this year, the transition has stopped and judging by the violence of the summer was regressing. Now we couldn't, we could not sustain that position. In June and July I was urging the Prime Minister to get matters sorted out, unfortunately, come September, the position is no better and with no prospect of it getting better and we just simply couldn't go on like that, that is why we felt it was necessary to set, as it were, this very clear position forward, it may very well cause a crisis, but then it will be a crisis similar to that caused when I resigned last year, again because of the failure of the Republican Movement to fulfil its obligations. So in effect, we're stuck with the same position as we were last year. It's a pity, but it's a consequence of the failure of Republicans to make progress. HUMPHRYS: So what has to happen then to stop you resigning again? When you talk about the transition being completed this time, what are you talking about? Are you talking in effect about the disbandment of the IRA. TRIMBLE: Well that should be the outcome. I mean if you commit yourself to exclusively peaceful and democratic means then that necessarily means an absence of paramilitaries. You can't say that you're committed to exclusively peaceful and democratic means if you're maintaining a private army and the private army is there, active operating and maintaining its capability, so it necessarily involves the agreement, and this is not me talking, this is the Belfast Agreement, which we entered into four years ago, it necessarily involves an end to paramilitarism in all its forms. Now we've had four years for this to happen, it's, insofar as it's happening, it's happening very slowly indeed and we're saying we've got to be in a position where it's demonstrably clear that we're approaching the end of the transition. Now, there may be a little bit of flexibility there, but let's be under no misunderstanding whatsoever, this isn't going to be sorted by a fudge. This can only be sorted by there being very clear unambiguous evidence of that transition approaching its end. HUMPHRYS: And when you say a little bit of flexibility, again to be absolutely clear about this, should the IRA, the paramilitaries, be disbanded by January the eighteenth? Is that what you're saying? If they're not disbanded by January the eighteenth, you walk out? TRIMBLE: If there is not a clear end to paramilitarism. Now, you can have that disbandment in a number of forms, in the nineteen-twenties, in the republic of what is now the Republic of Ireland, the old IRA turned itself into a comrades association, it could be that the people in the IRA move unequivocally into Sinn Fein and you know, devote themselves to purely democratic activities, and there may be other ways in which this can be done. I mean, that's what I mean about a certain amount of flexibility on this, but it's got to be clear, the agreement promised us a future that would operate by purely peaceful and democratic means, that's what I want to see, so I want to see the agreement fully implemented, the problem arises simply because Republicans weren't implementing the agreement. HUMPHRYS: So no IRA, therefore it follows, no weapons in any bunkers, they'd all have to be cleared away and there would have to be demonstrable evidence of that. TRIMBLE: That's right, and that's why we have a decommissioning process, and that decommissioning process as you know has so far produced very little, because the paramilitaries, and it's not just the IRA, the other paramilitaries are at fault in this too, they have only co-operated with the decommissioning process to a very limited extent. Clearly we want to see that speeded up. HUMPHRYS: Well you say you want to see it speeded up? I thought you were telling me a moment ago, correct me if I'm wrong, that you want to see it completed by January the eighteenth, completed by January the eighteenth, otherwise you walk out? TRIMBLE: There's no reason why that can't be done. There's absolutely no reason why... HUMPHRYS: ...really? TRIMBLE: ...there's no technical problem with this. The only problem... HUMPHRYS: ...political problems... TRIMBLE: ...the only problem has been a lack of will. The only problem has been that the paramilitaries haven't been prepared to do it, and if they're prepared to do it, there isn't a problem, and you can speak to John de Chastelain the Head of the Decommissioning Commission, and he'll confirm to you that from a point of view of actually doing it, it only takes, it'll only take a few weeks. HUMPHRYS: But you're a practical politician, if above all else, can you seriously see Gerry Adams sitting down with the man who happens to be running the IRA at the moment and saying, look old boy, that's it, it's all up now, by January the eighth, we close it all down, we clear out all the bunkers, we get rid of it, I mean it's not going to happen is it? TRIMBLE: Well over the last four years Mr Adams should have been telling the Republican Movement what they'd signed up to. Over the last four years Mr Adams should have been preparing them for the inevitable. And if has, then there isn't a problem, and if he hasn't, then obviously there's a problem. What is clear, what is absolutely clear, is that after the violence and the disturbances of the last summer, this process cannot be sustained as things stand at the moment... HUMPHRYS: ...beyond January the eighteenth, so that if there is not complete decommissioning by January the eighteenth, you walk out of the government, that is your position? TRIMBLE: John it took quite a bit of persuasion, to persuade people to give the process this further opportunity to succeed. The reality is because of the violence, because of the failure of Republicans, there has been a very serious leaching away of confidence in the process. People believe they've been fooled. People believe that there's never going to be change for the better. Now it's up to those who have been dragging their feet to remedy that and to show that it's going to succeed. HUMPHRYS: Right so the answer to my question is yes, and, and Gerry Adams, when he says this is a wreckers charter, what he means of course is it wrecks the Good Friday Agreement in his terms and it's all over. The peace process is effectively then, this phase, this, this peace process the only one that we have, is at an end, isn't it? TRIMBLE: Well Mr Adams and his friends said that last year before my resignation last year, so let's see what happens this time. HUMPHRYS: Yes but you gave in last time. I mean, when I say, you gave in, there were concessions made last time, what you're saying this time, is no concessions, either they clear out all of those weapons or... TRIMBLE: ...I didn't give in last time, sorry John, I didn't give in last time, I only went back into Office after decommissioning began. HUMPHRYS: Quite. But this time... TRIMBLE: what has happened, that, that was a year, nearly a year ago, in the interval between, when we, we obtained after the first act of decommissioning on the basis that a decommissioning process had begun, and since then, in the eleven months since then, what, one further act? And then nothing? Now Mr Adams can't have that. He knows quite clearly that I resigned last year because of the failure of paramilitaries to decommission so they start decommissioning and then when I go back into Office they stop. Well there's only one consequence to that. I mean, if we're going to have this in/out, in/out process sobeit, but I would much prefer to see things being properly fixed and that is the objective we've set. HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, thank you very much indeed.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.