BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 13.10.02

Interview: MARTIN MCGUINNESS MP, Northern Ireland Education Minister

Says he will not be resigning from the Executive and accuses the Ulster Unionist Party of having been taken over by anti-agreement forces.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So... no concessions there. It's no longer just a matter of giving up a few guns. The IRA must be disbanded and it has to happen soon. If not that's the end of power-sharing in Northern Ireland with all that implies. A grim scenario. Everyone now agrees - British and Irish Governments included - that it's down to Sinn Fein and the IRA to make the concessions needed to rescue the whole process from disaster. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein Minister in the Northern Ireland Government, is in our Derry studio. Good Afternoon Mr McGuinness, MARTIN MCGUINNESS: Good afternoon John. HUMPHRYS: As I say, everybody's agreed and including - and this is important - Dublin as well as London, that it is now down to you, down to Sinn Fein to do what is necessary to keep this thing alive. MCGUINNESS: Well, I think there will be some surprise in the Dublin Government that you have chosen to speak on their behalf. Certainly from our perspective.... HUMPHRYS: ....repeating what they've said. MCGUINNESS: Well, you shouldn't misquote them. The reality of the situation is that there is a huge problem within the process and the problem resides in the fact that people like Jeffrey Donaldson and others who you've just had on your programme, first of all I should point out, walked into the talks in 1997 along with Mr Trimble with the UVF at the right hand and the UDA at their left, and of course Mr Paisley's party has been associated with Ulster resistance, and the importation of arms for many years. But that said, Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside lead a rejectionist grouping of people within the Ulster Unionist Party. They succeeded two weeks ago in overturning Ulster Unionist policy which was pro-Agreement and I do accept that there are senior personalities within the Ulster Unionist Party who have no difficulty whatsoever in sharing power with Catholics and within an inclusive process, but they have now capitulated, and we have seen a situation develop whereby the rejectionist wing of Unionism led by Donaldson and Burnside are now out to destroy this Agreement because they're opposed to the Agreement lock, stock and barrel. HUMPHRYS: You could save it be resigning yourself. Would you - are you prepared to do that, fall on your own sword. That's what David Trimble wants, that's what Jeffrey Donaldson wants, that's what other people want. Well why not. Do it. MCGUINNESS: No, there's no prospect whatsoever of the Sinn Fein ministers resigning our seats. This was supposed to be from the very beginning an inclusive process. We have been very much at the heart of building the Peace Process, very much at the heart of the Good Friday negotiations and of course the all-Ireland dimension in terms of the North-South ministerial council, the removal of the British Government of Ireland Act. That Act by which they it claimed the right to rule over the North of Ireland. All of these were massive achievements for Sinn Fein that were within the negotiations, and we have a responsibility to represent the people who elect us and for a start as Minister of Education I am involved in very, very important work on the whole issue of the review of post primary education and I think many people within our society, including the children of many Unionist families in the socially deprived areas of the Shankill Road are very dependent on the work that I am doing to put in place an education system where every child is valued equally. HUMPHRYS: You say there are problems with the process, that is manifestly clear, but you are the problem with the process. Yes of course other Loyalist paramilitaries have been involved in doing nasty things, but now you have been - your side has been caught at it. You've been rumbled, you have been doing things you clearly should not have been doing, so you're the problem with the process, Gerry Adams himself acknowledges and I quote him. "There are issues to be resolved". So even he thinks there is a problem here and you could solve it. MCGUINNESS: Well I think there's a big difference in saying that there are issues to be resolved and I too agree with Gerry Adams, that they are saying that we are the problem within the process. We're not the problem within this process, and I think anyone who has watched the way Unionism has been divided from the very beginning knows and understands that there is an unresolved situation within Unionism between Mr Paisley's party and between the rejectionists and those people who told us they were pro-Agreement within David Trimble's party. Let's look at it like this John, yes there are problems, it is an imperfect peace, but I think if the people of the Middle East, the Israelis and the Palestinians, had the type of process that we have at the moment, they would be singing with joy in the streets. Now, what we need to see I think in the event that these institutions will be suspended, and we're opposed to the suspension of the institutions, what we need to see is a very proactive British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern drive forward with the type of change that was promised in the Good Friday Agreement. And I think ultimately Unionists will have to recognise, given the increase in vote of Nationalism and Republicans in the North that they are going to have to settle with us on the basis of equality as we move forward. HUMPHRYS: What we need to see surely, is people on your side not going around collecting the names and addresses and the personal details of prison officers. The implications of that are deeply, deeply sinister and you know what those implications are, every bit as well as I do. And so long as that continues people will simply laugh at the notion that you are not the problem. Clearly you are. MCGUINNESS: Well, I think it's a big mistake for you to prejudge the outcome of whatever investigations are taking place at.... HUMPHRYS: You know and I know that that list exists, you know and I know that that list is being held by the IRA, and you know and I know how they got hold of that list. MCGUINNESS I also know that the IRA have been on cessation for years. I believe that the IRA of all the armed groups have been the most steadfast in relation to the Irish cessation. I don't believe the lives of any prison officers are at risk. I don't believe the lives of any soldiers are at risk, and I don't believe that the lives of members of the policing force are at risk. But I certainly do know that over the course of the summer we have seen the vast bulk of violence coming from Unionist paramilitaries, the same people who walked into the talks with David Trimble and Jeffrey Donaldson a number of years ago, and they're killing each other, they're killing members of the Catholic community, and in fact we get a very muted response from Unionist politicians when it comes to their responsibilities of trying to bring that violence to an end. HUMPHRYS: No, they condemn it, they condemn it unreservedly, they've done it on this programme and many others over.... MCGUINNESS: Only when they're asked John. HUMPHRYS: Naturally when they're asked. Are you prepared this morning then to condemn the fact that that list has been got hold of by the IRA, however they got it, as a result of spying. And are you prepared to say they must absolutely do nothing with that list, they must put it away and we must stop doing that kind of thing, and we will never do it again. And, furthermore, the IRA must be disbanded and soon? MCGUINNESS: Well, I'm not prepared to sit here and listen to this nonsense of raising the IRA up as a big bogey man within the process. The reality of the situation is that Nationalists in Republican Ireland know that the IRA has been on cessation and I don't think anybody out there believes that the lives of anyone are at risk... HUMPHRYS: Then I repeat - why do they want the list? MCGUINNESS: We don't know who is responsible for this. There you go pre-judging. HUMPHRYS: Well it wasn't the Ulster Unionists who gave it to them, that's for sure. MCGUINNESS: Well, the Ulster Unionists themselves have had leaked document after leaked document from the NIO for decades. Mr Paisley's party have had leaked document after leaked document and in fact Mo Mowlam who many times you have interviewed on your programme, had no hesitation whatsoever in saying publicly that she had authorised the bugging of a vehicle used by Gerry Adams and myself as we were driving around the island of Ireland trying to save the Peace Process. So let's not over inflate this particular issue. What we need to do is recognise that the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement are coming under strain at the moment because of the inability of Unionism to come to terms with change, and I understand why that is the case. Unionists fear change, they see an increase in the Nationalist vote in the North, they are awaiting the outcome of the census figures which will show the Nationalist community in the North moving forward to some fifty per cent or forty-five/forty-seven per cent of the overall community, and all of these things frighten them. I think that they are frightened that this Republican or Nationalist juggernaut is going to overcome them and dominate them in the way that they dominated us for years, and that is not part of our agenda. We are totally and absolutely opposed to that and we're very committed to working with our Unionist counterparts in maintaining the institutions, keeping the institutions up and bringing about the peace to which all our people e deserve. HUMPHRYS: Well let me suggest to you the other reason why they are scared is that their worst fears have been confirmed as a result of what has been going on recently. Tony Blair put it...well let me put to you what Tony Blair himself said, he said the IRA, that you are pursuing a dual strategy, in other words we know what that means, the armalite and the ballot box in the old phrase. In other words you have not given up your old ways and there is a very serious threat and you are not in truth, serious about this peace process. That's the fear that they have. MCGUINNESS: Well I listened to Tony Blair during the Labour Party Conference and he said quite unequivocally that he believed that Gerry Adams and myself were absolutely committed to the success of the Peace Process and he's absolutely right because in my view, there is no sane or sensible alternative to the Peace Process, no sane or sensible alternative to the Good Friday Agreement and if the Unionists walk out of the institutions or the institutions are suspended, what everybody needs to know is that there is going to be no re-negotiation of the Agreement and Jeffrey Donaldson and others, David Trimble included, are in fact trying to bring about a re-negotiation of the Agreement because there are many dynamics taking place within Unionism at the moment. They are opposed to the Peace Process because some of them in fact are opposed to power sharing with Catholics, others are opposed to the all Ireland dimension, others are opposed to the Human Rights Commission, others are opposed to any prospect of the Patten recommendations being implemented in full, so there needs to be more honestly within ....... HUMPHRYS: A very very quick question, how soon could the IRA, you and Gerry Adams have both said you'd be happy to see the IRA be disbanded, how soon could that happen, very quickly if you wouldn't mind. MCGUINNESS: Well I think in the context of an ongoing Peace Process and the full and faithful implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, that there is every reason to believe that we can bring about a situation where all our groups are silent and then bring about their own disbandment over a period of time. The key for me at this time, particularly when Loyalists are killing Catholics in Belfast, and indeed killing each other, is to get them to stop, to ensure that their guns are silent. HUMPHRYS: Martin McGuinness, many thanks.
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.