JOHN HUMPHRYS: Tomorrow the Northern
Ireland Secretary will announce the suspension of devolved government in
Northern Ireland. The province will be governed directly from Westminster.
It's happened before, but they managed to strike a compromise then and
eventually put the Peace Process back on track. This time it's hard to
see how that will happen. The immediate cause for the crisis has been
the discovery that Republican spies have been operating at the heart of
government in Belfast and that they've been collecting details about men
and women who work in the prisons - where they live for instance. The
implications of that are chilling. The Unionists have said Sinn Fein, the
IRA's political wing, is not fit to be in government and should be thrown
out of the Northern Ireland Executive. But that would need the support
of the SDLP, the Nationalist Party that's always been against the use of
violence and they won't give that support. Their leader is Mark Durkan
and he's in our Belfast newsroom now.
Good afternoon Mr Durkan.
MARK DURKAN: Good afternoon John.
HUMPHRYS: You accept the suspension
is inevitable, I suppose, the right thing to do?
DURKAN: Well, I'm realistic about
suspension but I am not at all fatalistic about the Agreement and I think
we can't afford the cooling off period that some people are talking about.
I think we have to move firm and we have to move fast to show that we are
in the business of getting back to business in Devolution and then fulfilling
the Agreement. We can deal with the underlying confidence issues, we have
to deal with all of those that are there and they are not just in one direction
but we should also round up the different aspects of the Agreement we haven't
yet implemented so that we are coming back with things that are bigger
and better than they have been.
HUMPHRYS: But as we speak it is
the right..you can't see an alternative? - suspension is the only way to
DURKAN: Well the fact is we will
not vote for the exclusion of anyone in circumstances where we don't know
what the full evidence is. That's not to say that there isn't a serious
case for Republicans to answer, even in relation to these recent allegations
because clearly somebody, somewhere was putting a lot of information on
getting a lot of material together and that has caused further disquiet
to many people coming on top of the whole series of events involving the
IRA or alleged IRA activity. But we also, as we have opposed exclusion,
we know that it's no more tenable for us to vote to exclude Sinn Fein than
it would be really for the Ulster Unionist Party to stay on in the Executive
indefinitely in these circumstances and we know that Sinn Fein isn't going
to resign as David Trimble has asked them to do. Now, in those circumstances
I don't see how we can sustain things as they are. There will be suspension
but let us make sure that people are very clear, Devolution might be suspended,
the Agreement is not suspended. The Agreement is sustained, the two governments
have to continue to implement the Agreement in ways that fall to them and
there has to be an all-in exercise and an all-out effort by the pro-Agreement
parties to deal with the underlying issues and bring the Agreement back.
HUMPHRYS: As you say, David Trimble
called this morning and we have heard it before, that...for the resignation
of the Sinn Fein ministers in the Executive. Do you think, does the SDLP
think they should go, resign voluntarily?
DURKAN: Well, even if they did
resign voluntarily to prevent suspension, we would still have to deal with
the underlying confidence issues that are there....
HUMPHRYS: ...sure but do you think
they should go, that's the first question.
DURKAN: ...and those arise because
of the continued existence and continued activity of paramilitaries and
we all need to be in a position where we have a much clearer and better
and more reliable understanding that the Agreement means a future without
paramilitaries and that means Republicans being able to articulate that
the Agreement means a future without the IRA and the Loyalists being able
to articulate that it's an Agreement that it's a future without all of
HUMPHRYS: I take that point but
the question is - do you think that they should now, to save this process,
at this stage, talk about what follows later, of course, but do you think
that at this stage, to save it, to keep the Unionists in, they should
resign, those ministers should resign?
DURKAN: Let's face it, even if
they did resign, that of itself doesn't actually solve the problem, any
more than other people who have said that the SDLP should vote to exclude
HUMPHRYS: ..so the answer is no,
you don't think they should resign?
DURKAN: ...I don't think they are
going to resign...
HUMPHRYS: ..no, I'm asking you
whether you think they should?
DURKAN: Well, let's deal with the
real politick of the situation, the reality is I can't see ministers, Sinn
Fein Ministers resigning. We have already had the Unionists Ministers threatening
to resign. We can get into a whole finger pointing exercise here and people
will say it's the SDLP's fault for not voting to exclude, it's the Unionists'
fault for demanding that there be exclusion, it's the Unionists' fault
for threatening to resign, or it's Sinn Fein's fault for refusing to resign.
The fact is that the underlying issues aren't to do with who is ministers
and who is not ministers, the underlying issues are because there is not
sufficient confidence because of the continued resistance and activity
of paramilitaries and there are wider confidence issues now because of
this instability in the institutions. People on the Nationalist community
are lacking confidence on what is the real intent and motive on Unionism
at this point. So let's deal with all of those issues, in what falls to
us during suspension and not continue the silly spat on who should or shouldn't
resign at this point.
HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but what is not
a silly proposition is that you, the SDLP could vote for the exclusion
of Sinn Fein. Now as you say, unrealistic to expect them to resign, I'll
be talking to Mr McGuinness later and I am sure that he will not leap to
do so. But here we have a party, by your own admission, that has a serious
case to answer, clearly the IRA appear to still see itself at war, in one
way or another, you have it within your power to say we will vote to exclude
these people who are pursuing things that we do not like them pursuing
from the Executive and yet you won't do that.
DURKAN: Well we don't see first
of all that that would actually resolve the underlying problem and sustain
and recover the Agreement in the way that it should be. We also know that
where there are a lot of allegations and I think some of those allegations
seem to be serious and more information may emerge to add to that, but
the fact is that we still don't have evidence. And so, I note that Sinn
Fein are saying they have no involvement in anything, have no knowledge,
they are not actually saying that there was absolutely nothing going on.
But we can't afford to have a situation where people are saying that some
sort of on-going level of activity by the IRA is somehow allowable, as
some sort of occupational therapy for hard men. We are very clear that
it is not. There is no acceptable level of paramilitary activity, either
inside the political domain, or outside. But we want to hear Unionist politicians
being as concerned and as exercised about the vicious violence continuing
from Loyalist paramilitaries as they seem to be about the allegations against
HUMPHRYS: But as far as the IRA is concerned,
you say and Sinn Fein is concerned, you say there is not enough evidence
to satisfy you. The fact is there is enough evidence to satisfy Dublin,
who themselves were wholly opposed to suspension but have now agreed to
suspension because they think that there is a very strong case there. And
yet you are saying you are not satisfied with it.
DURKAN: No, I have said that I
accept the case in these circumstances for suspension...
HUMPHYRS: Then why do you not vote
for their suspension?
DURKAN: No, for suspension of Devolution...
HUMPHRYS: Quite so.
DURKAN: There's a difference between
exclusion and exclusion vote under the Agreement and suspension of Devolution.
HUMPHRYS: Quite so, what I am putting
to you - okay let me us clear.....what I am putting to you is that if you
believe that there is a strong case and you certainly seem to be suggesting
that. Then it seems odd to many people that you do not vote for the exclusion
of Sinn Fein from the Executive. That's what I am putting to you.
DURKAN: Well, I believe that there
is a strong case and I believe that Sinn Fein can't continue to say that
the allegations are comparable with the DUP getting some leaked documents
or that this is all a put-up job by Unionists who don't want to share power
with Catholics. I don't think that things can be dismissed in that way.
But equally, let us be very clear, if we are talking about dealing with
the underlying issue, if we are talking about upholding the Agreement and
it was the SDLP was the party who negotiated inclusion into the Agreement,
it wasn't Sinn Fein who put forward the idea of an inclusion of Executive
appointed .... It was the SDLP, it was I who drafted and negotiated and
stuck with that whole proposal whenever people were offering all sorts
of alternatives. Now having done that then, when it was just a good idea
and a good on concept, do you think we are going to turn our back on it
now, whenever it has actually been proven to work and has been mandated
by the people in a Referendum.
HUMPHRYS: Mr Durkan, thanks very
much indeed for that.