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1984 Nov 19 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference following Anglo-Irish Summit ("out ... out ... out")

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Press Conference
Venue:No.12 Downing Street
Source:Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:MT left Chequers - where the summit was held - at 1555. Her next appointment was at 1830. Douglas Hurd also took part in the Press Conference.
Importance ranking:Key
Word count:5224
Themes:Northern Ireland, Law and order, Terrorism, Defence (general), European Union (general), Famous statements by MT

Prime Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you will know, Mr. FitzGerald , Mr. Spring , Mr. Barry , met myself and [ Geoffrey Howe ] the Foreign Secretary and the [ Douglas Hurd ] Secretary for Northern Ireland at Chequers today. I was very grateful to the Taoiseach for suggesting that we have the meeting in this country and Chequers was a very convenient place to have it.

We have completed, I think, the fullest, frankest, the most realistic bilateral meeting I have ever had with the Taoiseach. We have not, in fact, come to decisions. We have had a very full and constructive discussion and we have agreed to meet again in the early months of next year to take stock of progress and to pursue our shared aim of lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

We cannot indicate what steps may come forward then, but we can assure you that we intend to pursue the aim of lasting peace and stability and also the shared aim of reconciliation with good will and determination.[fo 1]

That was the general atmosphere and spirit of the talks. I think you will find other things mentioned in the communique and I would not wish to enlarge upon that. I will leave it to your questions.[fo 2]

Question (Press Association)

Does this indicate a speeding-up of talks between Britain and Ireland on the question of Northern Ireland?

Prime Minister

I am not quite sure that I would put it that way. I think it indicates that it is quite easy to talk in generalities; it is much more difficult to translate those generalities into practical proposals which are acceptable both to the majority and minority of the community, which will increase the security in Northern Ireland, which will establish a political framework with which both parties will be satisfied, and which therefore will create the kind of situation which is likely to endure and which will help to defeat terrorism and establish a greater sense of security for all parts of the Northern Ireland community.

Question ( Brendan O'Brien , Irish Television)

In the communique, on the end of page 3, sub-section 2, I would like to ask you a kind of double-barrelled question. Firstly, when you say the identities of both the majority and the minority should be recognized and respected, do you mean equally recognized and equally respected?[fo 3]

Prime Minister

That is not what we have said. We have said "recognized and respected". Once you start to come into "equally" one has equal respect, of course.

Brendan O'Brien

The second part of the question is: our Foreign Minister, Mr. Barry , has said publicly that he believes that the Commons speech which was made by Mr. Prior , that Mr. Prior had, in a sense, accepted that the Irish Government had a right to speak for northern nationalists. Do you believe he is right? Is that the position?

Prime Minister

I am not putting a gloss on anything Mr. Prior said. We have in Northern Ireland Unionists and we have Republicans and we have to try to find a political framework which will be acceptable to both. I am not being trapped into putting minutiae which you will then analyze and in which you will find significance which is not there. We are trying to find a political framework which will be a stable framework and which will be acceptable to both. We are also trying to find a system of security which will be very much better for all the citizens of Northern Ireland than the one that we have now.[fo 4]

Julia Langley

Could you tell us a little more, Prime Minister, about why you need to meet again early in the New Year, instead of in a year's time as we would normally expect?

Prime Minister

I think this is the first time we have had this kind of discussion. Hitherto, it has been very much in terms of generalities and, if I might put it this way, they are easy. It is much more difficult when you say "Now, exactly what do you mean by that?" As you see, I am not being trapped into exactly what I mean by certain things, because one slip of the tongue can make things more difficult and not make them easier, and we did have a full discussion and we need to have a look and to consult about further things, and we shall have time to do that before we meet again.

Julia Langley

Have you got something in mind, therefore, that might come to fruition within the next few months?

Prime Minister

Not particularly at the moment. There are several things which we are going to explore further.[fo 5]

David Walton

Do you accept the point which I understand the Irish Government are putting that the central problem is the alienation of the minority community in Northern Ireland?

Prime Minister

Well, this word "alienation" has come in somehow in the last year. I am bound to say that as far as my information is concerned, one did not find alienation. One knows that a number of people are Republican. They have been Republican for a very long time and therefore their views are very different from those of the Unionists, but somehow this word "alienation" crept into the vocabulary, which I do not think is a very good one.

John Cohen

Prime Minister, double-barrelled again. On the one hand you say you are not talking about generalities; on the other hand, in sub-paragraph 4, "co-operation between the two governments in matters of security should be maintained and where possible improved". Could you take that a little beyond the generality?

Prime Minister

Well, it is how that in fact can be achieved. We did not want to go into detail because we have not agreed any[fo 6] details. When you start to go into detail, then a number of things emerge which must be discussed between us.

Obviously, security can be improved or should be improved in Northern Ireland. It is not exactly easy to devise a way which is acceptable to all of the people there and it must be acceptable to all of the people there and it must be acceptable if it is to be improved.

We will be discussing more methods for improving it and discussing with people who represent the Republican Government south of the border, because if we are to improve security it can only be done with cooperation south of the border.

Now, it is in their interest as well as ours—when I say "ours" I mean not only the Unionists but also the Republicans in Northern Ireland—that that security be improved. I cannot go into detail and you will cross-examine me, but I am afraid I cannot go further than that, except to say that we are exploring it in a very constructive atmosphere.

The other barrel, yes?

John Cohen

On the simple question of whether it is generalities or not, may we take it that things like Maze escapers and extradition and so on had a part in today's discussion?[fo 7]

Prime Minister

I think if you are discussing security, you would take in things which are policing, prisons, judicial and so on. We did not get down to very great detail today.

Question (Financial Times)

Can we take it, Prime Minister, from what you have said that both Governments have now put their hand to the task of devising actual practical proposals which will reflect these general principles?

Prime Minister

We are seeing whether we can devise practical proposals which will lead to a fundamental improvement in the situation.

Question

Could I ask you, Prime Minister, if you dealt with the Northern Ireland Assembly with a view to examining ways of enticing the SDLP to take their seats in that body?

Prime Minister

We cannot impose ways from London. An improvement can only be brought about by agreement between the minority and the majority communities and we obviously will strain for that agreement, but you know, I have long taken the view that we cannot impose something from London. Any improvement[fo 8] has to come about by their agreement and most of us have thought that the conditions there, which are not good at all, especially for the children, one would have thought that the parents in both communities would have wished for a better atmosphere and for better conditions in which their children can be brought up, and that that wish would incline those who lead them to try to come to some agreement about a better framework in which politics satisfactory to both can be pursued.

Question

Prime Minister, will the final test of acceptability of any political framework such as you talk about in Northern Ireland be a referendum of the people of Northern Ireland and did you discuss any possible changes in the South which might demand a referendum there, such as changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution?

Prime Minister

No. That is a matter for the [ Garret FitzGerald ] Taoiseach and the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We only talk in the north about the referendum in connection with the border poll; what we are talking about is agreement between the majority and minority political parties. That is the SDLP and the Unionists.[fo 9]

Question

Prime Minister, would it not have been better—I am over on your right—if you had cocked one of your characteristic snooks at terrorism and declined Dr. FitzGerald 's invitation to come here and gone ahead and gone to Dublin? Would that not have been more reassuring all round and more in character with yourself?

Prime Minister

No, Sir. I was very pleased when Dr. FitzGerald suggested that he came here. It is very much more convenient and, as I say, we had a very full and frank and realistic discussion. So I do not think your idea would have been better at all.

Question

Prime Minister, given that Dr. FitzGerald has been under some pressure to establish that he has got a proper positive response for you after the Forum Report, do you feel that he may now be facing criticism in Dublin in that he has not got very far today in this Summit meeting?

Prime Minister

I see absolutely no reason whatsoever why he should face any criticism. I made it perfectly clear that we had the fullest, frank and most realistic discussion we have ever had and it does not seem to me that that is a[fo 10] cause for criticism.

Question

Perhaps the expectation that he would return to Dublin tonight with a more positive response from you on that matter. In response to the Forum, that has not been achieved.

Prime Minister

That expectation was never realistic, never, and I think it is quite wrong to raise expectations and then only to ask that kind of question at this kind of press conference.

Question

In the sub-section when you two talk about the identities of the majority and the minority being recognized and respected and reflected in the structures and processes, is there, at base, an assumption on the fundamental notion that those identities, particularly of the minority, are not now being fully recognized and respected and not now being fully reflected in the structures and processes?

Prime Minister

The fact is that the minority do not think that they are and therefore, we try in fact, again, to get a framework which is satisfactory both to the majority and the minority.[fo 11]

John Tusa

Can we take it, Prime Minister and Secretary of State, that when you do meet again in the New Year that there will be serious and hard political proposals to discuss and not, as you put it, an exchange of easy generalities? There would not seem to be any point in meeting again if you were just going to agree on the generalities that you have agreed upon this time.

Prime Minister

We are going to explore and see whether any proposals can be brought forward and obviously, one hopes that when we have discussed these things further and in more detail, there will be practical proposals to be brought forward that will lead to greater stability in Northern Ireland as a whole. I have made it clear that none of us can in fact predict whether there will be and what those will be. I do not wish to raise expectations that everything will be solved next time; I do not think it will be, but I hope that we shall get a little further.

Mr. Douglas Hurd (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

And meanwhile, of course, we hope that there will be proper discussions again between the party leaders and representatives of the parties in the north, because as the Prime Minister said, at the end of the day no number of summit meetings at Chequers or in Dublin are going to provide the right way in which the political leaders in the[fo 12] north are going to work together. At the moment, there is something of a hiatus because the Assembly Report Committee has produced an interim report, but it has not really got down to the serious business for which it was created, namely to produce ideas which could command widespread acceptance, and that is partly because the SDLP has not joined in, and I hope that very much that now, in one way or another, and it is for them to settle which way, in one way or another these kind of discussions will progress, because that will make the Prime Minister's job and the Taoiseach's job very much easier.

Prime Minister

Because they will not progress without them, will they?

Mr. Hurd

No, it will not progress unless the SDLP take part.

Question

Prime Minister, we have been watching this for quite a while. We wonder if there is anything acceptable to both sides in Northern Ireland. Is it coming to a point now where it is a question of political courage on your part, on the Irish Prime Minister's part, to put forward some proposal and try to implement it?[fo 13]

Prime Minister

Many proposals have been put forward. After all, there were a number of proposals when Humphrey Atkins was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, as you know, he got everyone together in a conference which lasted for months. When Jim Prior put forward legislation, we tried to put his proposals into action, so there has been no shortage of proposals.

The question is now whether the minority and majority parties will agree. Without that, we cannot impose from London. We are very conscious that if we did it would not work. Our task is to try to persuade them to agree and try to get discussions going with them and hope that with the passage of time they will see the purpose and the advantage of agreeing not only a political framework, but that that will then make it easier to get greater security cooperation which I think is earnestly needed by all of those who live in Northern Ireland.

Question

Your communique lays emphasis on cross-border cooperation between the two Governments. Can I ask you, in relation first of all to the Glenholmes affair recently, are you happy with the way the Irish Government handled that and secondly, briefly, are you generally happy with the way the Irish Government is handling cross-border situations?[fo 14]

Prime Minister

We did not discuss that particular matter. I would like to make it clear, and indeed, I think the communique makes it clear, that any attempt to promote political objectives by means of violence or the threat of violence must be rejected, as must those who adopt or support such methods. The Taoiseach is just as much against violence for political ends as we are, and he gives us every cooperation that he possibly can.

Jo Thomas (New York Times)

Prime Minister, how serious do you feel the situation in Northern Ireland is right now and given that you have many difficulties on your hands, the miners' strike, unemployment, where does it rank on your agenda?

Prime Minister

I am afraid we have had to live with the difficult situation in Northern Ireland for quite a time. Indeed, if you look back over British politics, you will find that Irish matters are not new and have been very much to the forefront in parliamentary affairs for generations, indeed for centuries, so there is nothing new about that.

The difficulty is, and remains, to get agreement between the minority and the majority community in Northern Ireland. That was the difficulty; it still remains the difficulty and until and unless we can, it will continue to[fo 15] give us many problems in Northern Ireland. We hope that when we get agreement that gradually the problems will be reduced, but it has needed years and years of patience and the knowledge that we cannot impose something from here. They will have to agree it for themselves, but I hope that as it drags on, really with dreadful conditions for their families to be brought up in, that they would come together and agree. We can only try once again and the [ Douglas Hurd ] Secretary of State will be getting the parties together to make yet another try, and we hope it succeeds.

Question

Prime Minister, you say you cannot impose any sort of solution on Northern Ireland, yet it could be argued that you recently imposed a change in the lifestyle on many people in Hong Kong, some of whom lived in Hong Kong Island which in fact was not part of the Treaty land ceded by the Chinese, so do you think a case could be made that you are actually pushing people as you did with the case of the Chinese.

Prime Minister

The two cases are totally different. As you will fully appreciate, there is just no parallel between them. Irish matters have been prominent in the United Kingdom Parliament for many many years. The majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, the majority[fo 16] want it to stay that way, and there is a minority that holds different views and there are terrorists who are making it more and more difficult and we want increased security and we want a political framework which will give us stability in Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom. That is what we are striving to achieve.

I cannot pull lots of proposals out of the hat like rabbits, nor can anyone. I am just very conscious that as an English Prime Minister we have to try to get the two parts of the Irish community together. If we tried to impose, we should not succeed. That is the point. You say: can't you impose? But then we should no more succeed than we have in the past. What we want is agreement between them and that, I think, is the only way to try to get improvements. Imposition will not do it.

Mr. Hurd

And there has been, of course, some movement in the last few months. It may be fairly faint, but there has been some movement inasmuch as the SDLP, the Catholic minority, in the Forum Report made it clear that they were only thinking in terms of consent and equally, the Unionists, perhaps in reply, have in various documents shown a bit more understanding of the anxieties of the minority than they have in the past. Now there is a long way to go. There has been a bit of movement and I think it is very important that the elected leaders of both communities should explore the movement which[fo 17] the other community has made to see if there is anything in it, and that is the process that I am very anxious to get going.

John Cochrane (NBC)

Prime Minister, two questions here on security, if I may. Do you feel that by the time the talks resume early next year that you will be able to go to Dublin? That security for you will be such that you feel that you will be guaranteed security? And secondly, in the communique, it says cooperation between the two governments in matters of security shall be maintained and where possible improved, does that include security in Great Britain as well as Northern Ireland? Are you concerned about the cooperation to prevent such things as the Brighton bombing?

Prime Minister

We do have international cooperation on terrorism matters, as you know. There was a communique on that at the Brighton Summit (London Summit?) and you will be able to refer to that. I go to Dublin, of course, for the European Economic Community Summit towards the end of this year.

Bonnie Ainsley (Time Magazine)

Earlier this year, the United States Air Force demanded of Short Brothers before they were given a very very major contract, that they assure that Catholics would[fo 18] be in the work-force in great numbers and that the Air Force would follow up on this to make sure. Would the British Government ever use that sort of affirmative action?

Prime Minister

Well, we were very glad to have that order but, of course, in order to carry out the order efficiently we have to have skilled people. Secretary of State, would you like to add to that?

Mr. Hurd

I went to Shorts the other day and if you go to the apprentices' workshop in Shorts, they are just increasing the number of apprentices after a time when they cut back, and if you go there you find a very healthy proportion of Catholic apprentices. These are the skilled engineers of the future, and that, of course, will work its way up through the workforce, but it takes time, and Shorts realize that they see the need, and this is their own decision, to show meanwhile that they are keen to do what you say, and therefore they are proposing to set up a facility on part of the De Lorean site in West Belfast where they will do some of the jobs which they are now contracting out to English sub-contractors, and that, they hope, will enable them to employ straight away quite a substantial number of Catholics living in West Belfast. So they are very conscious of the problem and have taken their own decision to meet it.[fo 19]

Bonnie Ainsley

But Minister, you say they have taken their own decision. They would not have got the contract if they did not.

Mr. Hurd

Well, of course, when they take their own decisions, they weigh up the whole position. It is their own decision. It is not something imposed on them by a customer.

Roland Hill (Stuttgarter Zeitung)

Prime Minister, the question of Irish neutrality, does that play a part in your discussions with the Irish? Is that possibly an obstacle in Anglo-Irish understanding?

Prime Minister

Ireland is neutral and that is a fact and we are very much aware of it, but Ireland is proud of her neutrality and it is a matter for her. We are just very much aware, when we talk in the EEC, that is one of the things of course which means you cannot use the EEC for defence discussions because the interests of the members of the EEC are different, so when we talk defence we have to go to NATO, and there is some discussion now in Western European Union, but the interests of the members of the European Economic Community are different. Ireland is neutral; France is not fully militarily integrated into NATO, so we have these very different interests.[fo 20]

Question

One very quick one, to clarify, Prime Minister. Are you saying that it is hoped to get a meeting together of all the Northern Ireland constitutional parties irrespective of whether the SDLP agrees to go back into the Assembly or not?

Prime Minister

Secretary of State, would you like to deal with this one?

Mr. Hurd

No, I am not convinced myself that trying to get everybody round a table is the right way to start. That approach has been tried in the past. It has not always worked very well. I think, first of all, you have to try and get people together and make sure they are talking about the same thing, and then perhaps we could help with some ideas and some suggestions on procedure or substance, but I think the first thing is to try and get the elected leaders themselves to talk together rather than to summon some kind of well-advertised conference under my chairmanship.

John Cole

Prime Minister, the repeated emphasis that you and Mr. Hurd have both put on talks between the Northern Ireland parties with the British Government, does one understand[fo 21] that Dr. FitzGerald is going to encourage the SDLP to take part in such talks?

Prime Minister

[ Garret Fitzgerald ] He is very much aware that we cannot get any further with a political framework unless that political framework is acceptable both to the majority and the minority communities; not only acceptable to the majority, but to the minority; not only acceptable to the minority, but to the majority. The words trip easily off the tongue; the process is much more difficult. But we have to try and we are aware of the need to try again and if we do not succeed, then many hopes will fall. But we will try.

Humphrey Atkins got them all together round a table for a very long time and they went on quite well and then you tried to translate the general feeling into particular proposals and that was not easy. It is quite a long time since then. Jim Prior tried his solution, and either you just give up trying or you try again and we decided to try again. I do not know how successful we will be. We just hope that we shall, because I think if you want enduring stability in Northern Ireland, it is important that they agree among themselves.

Question (Irish Television)

Prime Minister, you said that you want political stability within Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom.

Could I ask you, in your view, does Dr. FitzGerald [fo 22] therefore accept that what you are both working towards is an internal solution within Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom, and by implication, does that mean that the British Government has for the foreseeable future ruled out the three main options within the Forum Report?

Prime Minister

I have made it quite clear—and so did Mr. Prior when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—that a unified Ireland was one solution that is out. A second solution was confederation of two states. That is out. A third solution was joint authority. That is out. That is a derogation from sovereignty. We made that quite clear when the Report was published.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. She is part of the United Kingdom because that is the wish of the majority of her citizens. The majority wish to stay part of the United Kingdom.

The Forum Report indicated that they realized that any change in the status of Northern Ireland could only come about by the consent of the people of Northern Ireland, so we are dealing with a situation where Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom because the majority of her people wish to be part of the United Kingdom and we have a minority community.

That is the situation we are presented with.[fo 23]

Question

Is it your view nonetheless that Dr. FitzGerald accepts that the three main options are out and that what you are both working towards is an internal solution?

Prime Minister

Dr. FitzGerald knows that that is our view and it has been very cogently expressed in the House of Commons and in discussion.

Question

This question may have been answered in the previous one, Prime Minister, but I was just going to say that the Irish Press at the week-end suggested that Dr. FitzGerald would be putting forward a suggestion that there be an Anglo-Irish treaty for twenty years to run Northern Ireland. Did he in fact put that suggestion forward?

Prime Minister

I know of no such suggestion. I have only heard of it from the press. I know of no such suggestion.

Question

Prime Minister, if one can say this; in this so-called East-West meeting, it seems …   . one falls into these things I am afraid … but this London-Dublin meeting seems to have been mostly about an internal set of discussions within the North.[fo 24] What I am wondering about is was there much discussion of even a consultative role for Dublin within the current structure in the north? There was talk of perhaps a Dublin official sitting with Mr. Hurd and giving advice and suggesting that the minority population might be best heard through such an official. Is this under consideration? Is this something that is being looked into?

Prime Minister

You are asking for details. I cannot give you details, save to say that many many things were discussed and matters have to be explored further. The critical thing is that anything within a political framework must be acceptable to majority and minority, which is why I know that we have to get together with them and start from there, but I do not want to go into discussion of details, because I do not think it would help at the moment.

John Macindy (Irish Press, Dublin)

What role has Dr. FitzGerald and his Government in your future, in the suggestion that the stability of Northern Ireland and the agreement of the minority and majority are important? I mean, what can his government and the Taoiseach do to help towards that process?[fo 25]

Prime Minister

Well obviously, I believe that the [ Garret Fitzgerald ] Taoiseach and I both saying that a lot depends upon the agreement between the minority and the majority, I believe that the Taoiseach can urge the minority to come to the meetings and to try to agree.

Question

Prime Minister, once again you stressed the importance of consent within Northern Ireland and the need to achieve common agreement for any future propositions in government. Nevertheless, some people might be saying tonight that the Unionists will be congratulating you on giving nothing away to the Dublin Government. Do you think this Summit has any important message for them?

Prime Minister

I think the Summit has an important message for all the people of Northern Ireland: that we want a political framework which will endure; that cannot be achieved without their agreement and without their cooperation. If we have such a political framework it will make very much easier great improvements in security which I think all people in Northern Ireland need and the [ Garret Fitzgerald ] Taoiseach and I are absolutely at one in totally and utterly condemning violence as a means of pursuing political objectives. That means we are all working for a stable and enduring situation in Northern Ireland and[fo 26] that has to be satisfying to both communities.

I am very much aware that I am repeating this again and again. You do have to repeat these things again and again, because they are true, but nevertheless, when you come and get some of the personalities and sit down and talk, shall I just say that it requires a great deal of patience and persistence. [ Douglas Hurd ] Douglas has both, haven't you Douglas?

Douglas Hurd

Yes Ma'am!