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1985 Dec 13 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Belfast Telegraph

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Des McCartan, Belfast Telegraph
Editorial comments: 1545-1645. The interview was embargoed until 1700 on 17 December 1985.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 7505
Themes: Autobiographical comments, British Constitution (general discussions), Parliament, Defence (general), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, By-elections, Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (USA), Law & order, Leadership, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

At the moment, perhaps many people think that Northern Ireland is a preoccupation with you. You saw the churchmen last week; last night, you saw the Assembly delegation. I mean, you are very much a central figure in what is happening at the moment. Can you just say to me … twice, Unionist leaders have come to see you and they have gone away believing that you did not want to go down this road with Dublin, and they believe at some point you changed your mind.

Can you say, if that is true, why you did?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think that is quite right. I was always absolutely adamant that I would never have a federal Ireland. I would not have joint sovereignty. I would not go for joint authority. I would never do that, because I know the sensitivity of the Unionist population and I know that it is fundamentally against the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am also very much aware of the sensitivities of the Sunningdale Agreement. It is not like a Council of all Ireland, because that had a smack of federation and therefore [end p1] it was against the union.

They did not like any thought of a joint parliament, because that is the same thing. So we avoided all that, and in my own mind, I knew how much…I thought we had avoided all the special sensitivities, and I knew that we had got this first article, under which the Republic of Ireland accepted that as long as the majority wanted the union was safe.

So therefore, my object became how to get a reasonable—not merely system of government—reasonable order and stability in Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom. That was constantly what I was after, because if you look at things, you know, from here, it is very difficult to understand how it is that people from the two traditions do not get together and say: “Look! We have had enough! For the sake of our children, just let us get together and stop this! We have all got a vote. We are all part of the same country. All right, we might have different views. For the sake of our children, let us get together and stop this” and in a way, I was trying to, for the sake of the children, “let us get together and stop this,” but within a context of the border and Northern Ireland remaining part of the union, which I hope it does.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

But Prime Minister, that is obviously a very natural wish that you would have for the sake of the next generation, but is it not true that, in fact, you are trying to reconcile two different aspirations in Northern Ireland and in the process of trying to do that, you have put yourself out on a limb with the majority community who do not any longer appear to believe that what you say about the union is acceptable to them?

Prime Minister

Well, it is my job to try to reassure them that it is not, because as I said right from the beginning, I know the sensitivities—of course I do. It is a Conservative and Unionist party and has been for years. I know the sensitivities. I had hoped that we had avoided the particular sensitivities and the reaction has been rather, you know, much worse than I expected. That is the only way I can use it, and I think one is trying to find out why and I think it is first…various people have said different things about the meaning of the Agreement, and therefore, when you hear someone saying something that actually is not justified by the terms of the Agreement itself…the Northern Ireland Unionist does not know that and he is afraid by some of the things that are said…fearful of some of the things that are said. When you get some people saying: “Of course, the Republic has a very big role in Northern Ireland in decision-making!” that is not true, because the decisions are made by us and will be continued to be made by us.

But I understand—and always have—that I am not dealing with logic. I am dealing with fears born of years and years of background, and that is much much more difficult to overcome than anything else. It is not a thing that you overcome by reason. It may be a thing which you overcome by reassurance, by constantly saying: “Well now, look! Look what it says and can I reassure you and say it does not mean what you think!”

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you think, Prime Minister, that if you go on continuing to try and reassure them that you will find a response in the community? That you can find a form of words which will appear to them to be convincing?

Prime Minister

It is not only a form of words. It is how things will continue if they will let it.

I remember once, when I first started work, one of the people for whom I was working saying to me: “You know, you do not want to enjoy this particular work, because it is not quite what you wanted. If you let yourself judge it for what it is, you will get on much better!” In a way, that is what I am saying. Look at it for what it is. Look at it for the intentions that it has. Try to make it work, and we might succeed.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The comparison has been drawn in some ways with what happened in the Falklands campaign. Against major odds, you conducted a successful campaign to restore those islands to British rule.

Is the challenge facing you in Northern Ireland a greater one, possibly a more dangerous one, and perhaps the biggest gamble that you have undertaken so far? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I do not look at it as a gamble. I do not think it has any analogy with the Falklands, where we were invaded by a foreign power and our people were subjugated by a foreign power.

It is just totally different and there is no analogy. I had to restore self-determination in the Falkland Islands. Northern Ireland has self-determination. It is a cardinal principle. It is enshrined yet again in the Agreement. It has never been lost in Northern Ireland. It was lost in the Falklands; that is why I had to restore it.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Yes, but Prime Minister, one of the very strong views which have emerged since Hillsborough is that you have acted as a dictator in some ways …   . I am sorry that is an expression which has been used about you … to impose something which has not got the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, and they wonder how you can possibly govern Northern Ireland without that consent.

Prime Minister

We are not changing the government of Northern Ireland, and this is a thing which I have to get across again and again and again. Northern Ireland—the area north of the border—is governed by the same government as it was always governed by. Yes, we have a duty to consult … no, that is not correct. If you look at the actual Agreement, [end p3] the Republic of Ireland is able to make proposals. We do not have a duty to consult. The Republic of Ireland can make proposals.

“The United Kingdom Government accept that the Irish Government will put forward views and proposals on matters relating to Northern Ireland within the field of activity of the Conference insofar as these matters are not the responsibility of a devolved administration in Northern Ireland.”

Now it is all there. We do not have a duty to consult them on everything. We accept that they will put forward views and proposals and if we get a devolved government, which it is my ambition to get, then the Republic of Ireland cannot put forward views on anything which is within the scope of the devolved government and, of course, then we as government do not take decisions on those; that passes to the devolved government. We do not take decisions. There is no point in the Republic putting forward their proposals.

Later, further on, it says—and remember there was the most telling question in that press conference at Hillsborough in my view. Someone on the right-hand side got up and said to Dr. Garret FitzGeraldthe Taoiseach: “You say you support devolved government. Is it your objective to get devolved government in Northern Ireland and therefore not to have the Inter-Governmental Conference or is it not?” And he said: “We support devolved government” . That was quite the most perceptive and significant of the questions and the Taoiseach did not hesitate. [end p4]

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

That may lead me into the question that is raised by the behaviour of the …   .

Prime Minister

So you see the whole Agreement has an inter-governmental conference, but the seeds of its own destruction are there, so long as your two communities sort out some sort of devolved government. I did not impose one on them. It is not my way.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Well, they look at the words of the Taoiseach since then and he has said that he sees the inter-governmental conference as being more than consultative. People cannot understand how you can reconcile that remark with what you have said about the United Kingdom Government having full responsibility for Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister

He says it is more than consultative because it goes on to say that we will make an effort to resolve the differences, and we will. But the decision remains with us north of the border. When we put things to him, perhaps on security or south of the border, he may make great efforts to resolve differences with us, but the decision rests with him and there is a very very clear phrase which we put in again to reassure people—there is no derogation from the sovereignty of either the United Kingdom Government or the Irish Government and they did not want any derogation from their sovereignty either; and [end p5] each retains responsibility for the decisions and administration of government within its own jurisdiction.

You see, I think people are looking at it as a one-way putting forward of views and proposals. We can put forward views and proposals on some things south of the border too.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Some are seeing it, Prime Minister, as a no way, in no way at all should Dublin Ministers be allowed to even discuss any interest in Northern Ireland and I am afraid that view is representative of a wide section of …   .

Prime Minister

Look! They have been discussing things for years and they will go on discussing things for years, and some people in Northern Ireland have been discussing things with them for years. That is a fact of life. There is no point in arguing about it. It is a fact of life, and what is wrong in wanting to get on with the only country with which you share a land border?

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The point of this Agreement is that it has not been accepted so far by the majority in any recognisable way and what I want to know is whether you believe that the majority there has the right to refuse to give their consent to be governed, because of what you have done …   .

[end p6]

Prime Minister

This is not an agreement for the government of Northern Ireland. The government of Northern Ireland comes from the United Kingdom. The decisions continue to come from the United Kingdom, so there is no change in that. There is an inter-governmental agreement to formalise some of the discussions that used to take place.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

So you are saying, Prime Minister, that a majority in Parliament for what you have achieved is superior to any majority in Northern Ireland which perhaps does not want to accept any step in this direction?

Prime Minister

We make quite a number of treaties with other governments. We do not submit them to referendum. They are part of the normal business of parliamentary government. That is the normal thing.

If it comes to whether the people of Northern Ireland wish to stay within the United Kingdom, that is to say a question as to whether there is a majority, that is when the border poll comes in, and the majority has the say then because it is a question about the actual government of Northern Ireland which is in issue. This Agreement is not about the government of Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland can get rid of the Inter-Governmental Conference by agreeing to devolved government.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

What prospects do you really see for that, because it [end p7] does not look as if there has been a very positive response from for instance the SDLP or even the Unionist parties since this Agreement was signed? What step towards stability have you spotted in Northern Ireland since this was signed?

Prime Minister

It is very very soon. You know, you are over there more than I am … watch extremely carefully and get day-by-day messages … day-by-day letters. You have to wait a little while when people feel, as many of them do now, a little bit numb, not quite understanding, and fearful. You have to give the reassurance again and again and you have to wait a little until they know that life is going on very much in the same way as it did before. I hope with greater cooperation, indeed with greater cooperation on security matters. I hope with the increased cooperation of the SDLP and you are right, that is important, because it is reconciliation with those who feel different from majority tradition, and I think they know that is important.

So there are a lot of things, yes, which must come about if the Agreement is to work. It must result in enhanced security cooperation; it must result in greater cooperation with the SDLP, you are right. But I do not think you can look for instant improvements and when you have this fear—there is a fear—as I indicated earlier, you cannot just deal with it by logic. You can only deal with it by a kind of reassurance and by the knowledge that things do go on, the government carries on, the government of Northern Ireland. Yes it does the extra consultation. Yes, [end p8] it does the extra discussion. Yes, it does try to reach agreement, but decisions are not taken in that inter-governmental conference. Decisions are taken back in the Government of Northern Ireland and back in the Government of the Republic. I cannot say it too often.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

I think perhaps you may have to say it more often, Prime Minister, because unfortunately, your message, however explicit, is not actually holding sway at the moment and I do put it to you that perhaps there is now a tremendous gulf between what … how you view the situation in Northern Ireland and how the political leadership of the Unionist community sees its own future.

Some of them believe that there may be a point in time when it is preferable to seek a separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. What would your answer be to that?

Prime Minister

I would recoil from that and I would be horrified that those who say: “Please, we want to be part of the Union!” and then say in the next breath: “We want to dissolve the Union” . The two just do not go together. They just do not.

If they do not want an inter-governmental conference, you know the remedy lies in their own hands. It is to sit down with the SDLP, all of them, and the Alliance, and work out a system of devolved government. But you see, by definition, that means the people of Northern Ireland coming together to [end p9] say: “Look! We have had enough!”

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you believe that is realistic, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

I do not know, but it is part of the job of a politician to try to enlarge what is possible. I do not think we can go on for ever accepting that nothing can be done. We just cannot. Nor is it fair to the young men in the security forces. With everything we do demonstrating our faith in the union, I think one is entitled to say: “Come on! We have just got to have an extra effort, a new effort to get along! You are both citizens of the United Kingdom, whether you are Unionist or Nationalist. You are citizens of the United Kingdom. The chances are that you are both going to continue to live in Northern Ireland. You are both, I believe, going to continue to be citizens of the United Kingdom. Now let us try to live together!”

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you have some practical proposals by which you can open the door of communication with the Unionist …   . and seek perhaps a greater understanding for what you are trying to achieve?

[end p10]

Prime Minister

Well, we see the party leaders; we see the church leaders; we see …   .

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The party leaders, Prime Minister, actually have spoken in very derogatory terms about you. I wonder if in fact that rules out any possibility of consultation or conversation.

Prime Minister

No, no. If you are in politics, you will hear people speaking about you in derogatory terms, especially when you try to do something. Do nothing and you will not have anyone saying anything against you. Oh well, perhaps that is not true. They do in any event. But no, we go on consulting. We go on trying to put our views across through your paper, on radio, on television, and we will go on, but please let me get this across: we will go on being quietly constructive. We are not going to hit out. I do not want to. We are going on being quietly constructive, because I do have a great ambition to have Northern Ireland with a stable government, with people living together, with a much better atmosphere than there is now.

Every citizen there has rights, every citizen.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

That is a crucial point, isn't it, in what the British Government is trying to achieve?

[end p11]

Prime Minister

They are citizens of the United Kingdom and you have fundamental rights because you are citizens of the United Kingdom.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And do you see what has happened at Hillsborough as guaranteeing the rights of the minority in such a way as they should now make a more positive response?

Prime Minister

It is helping the minority to get together with the majority for the sake of their own lives and of their children's, and for a better life for them in Northern Ireland and to diminish the violence, because I think that if the minority community feel that they themselves have a greater role in Northern Ireland—as they would have with devolved government—I think a lot of their fears would go. They would not then be ready either to harbour any terrorists …   .

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you think the IRA can be beaten, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

Yes I do, ultimately.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Would you care to put a time scale on that?

[end p12]

Prime Minister

No, I cannot. They cannot be beaten by government alone. They cannot be beaten by the United Kingdom Government and the Republic Government alone. They can only be beaten by cooperation with the people of Northern Ireland and the cooperation of the people in the Republic. That, I hope, is what we have also secured in trying to defeat them: the cooperation of the people in the Republic.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And yet they still seem to be able, almost with impunity, to demolish police stations in border areas. They seem to be intent on pushing back the frontier to the point where the realistic achievements of policing and security are being held in question all the time?

Prime Minister

We shall hope to get greater security cooperation and to have greater means of tracking down these people. As you know, it is always difficult totally to defeat terrorism. You cannot do it without the total cooperation of the people, and you have got to have the cooperation of everyone to do that.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And that cooperation has to come from both the Catholic community and the Protestant community?

[end p13]

Prime Minister

Oh yes, and from the people of the Republic as well, because they believe the minority of Northern Ireland is having a reasonable say commensurate with their standing, commensurate with their rights.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And clearly, you believe that those rights are guaranteed under the terms of the United Kingdom's way of governing Northern Ireland?

Prime Minister

At the moment, as you know, we have direct rule. In a way, it is not the kind of rule, I think, which anyone wants, but it is everyone's second best, in the absence of being able to agree on a first best. Well, we are going to try a new first best, because you know, you really do not want Northern Ireland governed by direct rule for ever. You want it to go back to a much much normal form of government and everyone's second best, you know, is not ideal, so it is surely wise to try a new first best.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

What do you think of the view of people in this country in mainland Britain, is there a feeling, any substantive way of people saying: “Let us get out of it. Let us get rid of it!” ?

[end p14]

Prime Minister

No. What there is is a feeling, and a quite definite feeling, that yes, it is right to try something which brings together the people who feel differently in Northern Ireland; that it is right to try to do that and I use the word “right” . Right and reasonable and sensible, and I think that we have some title to expect that they would try to get together.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And if they do not?

Prime Minister

I hope they will. Do not let us say “If they do not?” Because I think that although many of them may be fearful of expressing their views, and some of them are frightened to express their views, I believe a lot of them would like to get together and work together and have a devolved government together.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

But there might be a reason for doing that if there was some hope that the Northern Ireland economy could improve to the extent that some achievement would be made.

Prime Minister

The Northern Ireland economy, I think, would improve if people felt that there was a stable, peaceful government there which had a hope of defeating terrorism and was well on the way to defeating terrorism. Then I think that you would get a [end p15] different atmosphere prevailing and possibly more inward investment.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And is part of that inward investment the promise of United States funds? Was that part of the deal?

Prime Minister

No, nothing was part of the deal, because you do not go into an agreement like this for cash from another government. You just do not. It is far deeper, far more important than that. The reasons I have given you are far deeper reasons than cash from another government.

Anyway, this country has poured a great deal of cash, Great Britain has poured a great deal of cash into Northern Ireland. That is why we know it is not a matter of cash alone. It is much deeper than that. It is cooperation on the part of people and having enough people who are prepared to say: “Yes, we want to cooperate. Yes, we will cooperate!” and that is not easy if they are frightened to say so.

The United States said that it would consider making some financial …   . giving some financial help. I believe they will, but we have not so far heard anything more about that either in quantity or in quality. I believe she will. The United States is very very generous. She is a generous country. She has a lot of people of Irish origin there, a lot of people of English and Scots origin and Welsh origin. I think she will help but it is not part of the reason for the agreement.

[end p16]

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

That brings me directly to the allegation made by Enoch Powell that you cooperated with Dublin as a result of pressure from the United States for strategic reasons. Can you give me an answer to that?

Prime Minister

That is totally untrue, just is totally untrue! I must say that I am immensely grateful to the people of Northern Ireland—as was Winston ChurchillWinston—for the fantastic effort, fantastic contribution they made to keeping freedom alive and in the world in the last War and, of course, I am very conscious of defence reasons, of course I am. That was no part whatsoever, nor did I discuss them with President Reagan.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Prime Minister, do you think that Dublin can deliver its part of the bargain? Do you think that we will see some tangible evidence of Dublin delivering the goods as far as you are concerned, because that is a crucial part of this Agreement?

Prime Minister

I think they will. If you looked at the way in which the Agreement went in the Republic, I thought it went very well. I thought that they began to feel that perhaps the people who felt like them in Northern Ireland had a greater chance of getting a reasonable deal which, until the Agreement, they might have felt they were not getting. Now we have made strenuous efforts, as [end p17] you know, to say: “Look! They are all citizens of Northern Ireland. There must not be discrimination!” The particular religion or particular aspirations that they have, so long as they pursue them peacefully, are aspirations you can hold in a democratic way of life. But that perhaps was not the way in which people south of the border saw it. … absolutely right here, we are dealing, not with facts, we are dealing with perceptions and frankly, they are far more difficult to deal with than facts.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Yes, and although you speak of fears of people and you have emphasized that point and you understand those fears, do you see … what do you see as the way in which those fears can be overcome?

Prime Minister

By just steadily going on; by having the inter-governmental and going on steadily and letting people see their fears are not justified.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

What happens if the progress of the Inter-Governmental Conference is accompanied by increased threatening noises from the majority community?

Prime Minister

I hope it will not. I hope it will not, because … ever [end p18] to say that the majority community will never work with the minority community, because if we are, there is not a great deal of hope for any of the people in Northern Ireland and that, I believe, is what most of them will see—that there must be an effort to try to work together.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The threat of the provisional IRA is nevertheless a very important thing in the minds of the Protestant community.

Prime Minister

You do not have to tell me that!

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And they wonder how it is possible to work with a government towards achieving a more positive constructive future, at the same time see how the IRA operate from the territory of the Republic.

Prime Minister

If we could find the evidence to give the Republican Government against any named person, they would take it up in a flash, because the IRA are as much against democracy in the Republic of Ireland as they are against what we are trying to do in Northern Ireland. The IRA are against democracy. They use the bullet against anyone. The ballot is of no interest to them. And the people of the Republic know that and therefore they too … [end p19] if there is evidence, they would be the first to use it, and do not forget that they have extradited people to us on evidence and it is their intention to sign the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Will they do that?

Prime Minister

I believe they will. It has to be put to their parliament, as it has to be put to our Parliament if we sign those conventions, but I believe they will do that; it is their intention to do so. It is in the communique also issued with the Agreement.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

When you hear the politicians in Northern Ireland using strong language about you and what you have done—words like “treachery” have been used—do you think they are out of touch with ordinary people or do you think they are expressing the views of most people in Northern Ireland?

Prime Minister

I want to be careful of the language I use for obvious reasons. It does not help anyone to use that kind of language.

First, I did it because I want peace and stability in Northern Ireland north of the border, because I believe that the union will continue and I hope with all my heart that it will. [end p20]

I think they are demagogue words and demagogue words are not constructive. Demagogue words play on people's fears. I try to do the opposite, try to be very constructive and therefore I am not prepared to hit back in the same coin.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you think we are entering a dangerous period in Northern Ireland over the next few months?

Prime Minister

I do not believe more dangerous than periods we have had in the past. And do not forget some of the times I have been through. We had two lots of hunger strikes.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And the Government obviously faced a great deal of pressure on those occasions to reach the right conclusion. Will it have the same determination to deal with the threat of …   .

Prime Minister

We believe in this Agreement. We entered into it because we believe it is best for the future of Northern Ireland as Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Yes, minorities do have rights. Everyone has rights, and it should not be beyond the ambitions of the majority to live peacefully with a minority. Democracy is about minorities having rights as well as majorities. The majority will decide, and will continue [end p21] to decide, the future of Northern Ireland.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

I am sure that there are many in the majority who would share your view that they have to live side by side with people, but there appears to be almost total disapproval within the majority community of allowing Dublin to have any role whatever in influencing events in Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister

If we were to get the minority to work with the majority I think they had to have some kind of reassurance and this is a way of giving them reassurance—through this inter-governmental conference, by keeping the decisions north of the border with us as they are kept south of the border with the Republic, and we will come back to that, so let us give it a try. I think they will find that life will go on. The Unionists are determined to have elections. So be it! We will put no obstacle in their way. Not our way. Not our way. Of course, if they wish to do that, of course they can do it.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Would you like to see the SDLP enter the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Prime Minister

Yes of course I would like to see the SDLP, but I recognise and I have to be a realist, that they entered the [end p22] election for that Assembly saying they would not take their seats and that gives a problem for them but if we do not get devolved government there will probably be another Assembly or the Assembly itself might turn into devolved government. I am very conscious—when you are in politics you are conscious of peoples' fears. You are conscious that if they made certain undertakings in an election, then they naturally wish to abide by those, but you know, elections do not last for ever. When there is another election, you have to be very careful that the commitments you enter into on your manifesto, and is it really so very strange to ask people to live together in the same country in a spirit of cooperation and partnership, even though you may have different views?

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The answer obviously is it will be tested by time.

Prime Minister

That is right. Quietly to be tested by time. Quietly to get on and just quietly to go on with the day-to-day work, bearing in mind how the Unionists feel, bearing in mind also might I say possibly how some of the minority feel as well, because as I say, they are all citizens of the United Kingdom and most of them seem to be quite pleased to stay citizens of the United Kingdom. Certainly if you take the minority as the Catholic minority and not the Nationalist minority, then I would say that quite a lot of them will wish to stay citizens of the United Kingdom, so we have to be [end p23] careful not to divide it up just as religion by religion I think. Indeed, I think the Unionists would be the first to say that many people want to keep the union who are Roman Catholic. Not all Roman Catholics are nationalists.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Mr. Kinnock this morning said that he did not share the view that Northern Ireland could remain part of the United Kingdom in perpetuity. You obviously do not agree with that? But do you ever see a majority in Northern Ireland for unification?

Prime Minister

Well that is not for me to say. I mean, I believe that there will continue to be a majority for the union.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

For ever?

Prime Minister

I think as far as I can see. When I get twanging a harp I will look down!

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

I wonder if just for a moment we could turn to what you said at Hillsborough about the younger generation coming up and you wanted to provide conditions under which they could live in security and stability and peace.

[end p24]

Prime Minister

Peace, yes. And Heaven knows we all have enough problems with unemployment. If you also have got the problems of Northern Ireland as well, it is a very difficult thing.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Do you think your Government has done enough in Northern Ireland to promote the prospects for young people?

Prime Minister

I do not know what else we can do. As you know, we have poured money in to help, we really have. We have youth training schemes there—some of them work extremely well. But you know, the real thing is if we can get peace; then I think you would get more businesses growing there. We still have problems with unemployment because in manufacturing, as you know, you can get more goods produced with fewer people, because that is the latest technology. We put so much into this terrible word infrastructure in Northern Ireland and when I go across and look at it, some of it is a great deal better than a lot that we have in Great Britain.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

The Northern Ireland economy nevertheless is dependent upon peace being achieved, so would you say that the first priority was to stop the violence?

Prime Minister

Yes, but in trying to stop the violence you do need the [end p25] maximum cooperation of your minority communities, some of whom may well have been intimidated, and you need maximum cooperation from the people south of the border, some of whom may feel that their relatives north of the border or their friends north of the border have not had as fair a deal as they think they should have had, and so that really is the basis of the heightened cooperation on security matters.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

But that cooperation obviously does not envisage Sinn Fein supporters who have voted for a policy which is entirely different?

Prime Minister

If you cannot do everything in life, it should not stop you from doing as much as you can, and in the end you hope that one's own view of trying to get people working together should prevail, because in the end, if you belong to a democracy, your fundamental belief is yes, that there are evil people about, but there are far far more who are decent and honourable and who want to work together and in the end you believe that those who are decent and honourable and who want to work together can overcome those who are disruptive and do not. That is the fundamental equation of democracy, if I might put it that way, and that is your belief in a majority.

[end p26]

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And that means that the Government must hope that the strength of Sinn Fein, the deadly combination of the ballot box and the Armalite, will have to be removed from Northern Ireland Society before any progress can be made?

Prime Minister

Not before any progress can be made, no. We hope to make progress with the people who agree neither with the IRA nor with Sinn Fein—one or the other, or both. There is a certain similarity between them. In some respects there is an overlap.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

But what do you want them to do, Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

What do I want them to do? First, I want the SDLP to start to cooperate. John Hume said in our Parliament he was prepared to sit down with anyone to talk about devolved government soon. Yes, I would like them to start to join in the Assembly—whether it would have to be a new Assembly, it may have to be. Yes I do want them to sit down and start to talk, because you are quite right, that is crucial, and getting them to take part is crucial to learning to live together. It is getting them to take part, I hope, with a new reassurance for them. You see, we have to do such a lot of reassurance really to all of the people—everyone who is not a terrorist—and I hope that the reassurance we give everyone who is not a terrorist will gradually help to [end p27] defeat the terrorism from the north of the border and from the south.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

So in fact for months you are going to be actually seeking to reassure people.

Prime Minister

This is why I see people yesterday, I will see you today. I will go on seeing people. I just want them to know that I believe that this is the right way. I would not do it otherwise.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

One commentator suggested the other day that if you fail in this, if you back down, if you withdraw or pull back from the brink in this …

Prime Minister

What brink?

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Well not the brink, but if you pull back in such a way that it sends a signal to someone that you have caved in, that this will be a crucial thing for you personally.

Prime Minister

I am not looking at it from my viewpoint personally at [end p28] all. Why should I? I have done things for six and a half years because I believe they are right. I shall go on doing things because I believe they will be right. If I backed down from doing what I believe to be right then I would be a different person.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

And that strength of leadership which is recognised by them although they criticise you …

Prime Minister

If you think I just look at this personally, you are quite wrong. I do want Northern Ireland to have a much better future. I do want Northern Ireland to stay part of the union. I recognise that that is a matter for the majority. It is for the majority to say and therefore I cannot decide the future. I can only say: “Look! If you want a future in the union, let us make it a better future than the one you have got now!”

Can it be that we could go on as we are now for ever? I doubt it. Direct rule for ever? No, surely not. It is not right.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Because that is not an acceptable way of governing?

[end p29]

Prime Minister

Well it is not, no. We have got five or six ministers over there taking decisions, intricate detailed decisions, that ought not to be the decisions of ministers. They ought to be the decisions of people working together. They ought to be the decisions of local authorities. If I say: “Right, return to local authority!” then some of the minority community will say: “Ah, that is where the trouble started before!” so then you are driven back to say: “All right, start working together!” and then these decisions will go back to where they should be in a democracy.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

If you want them to work together, do you believe that a majority should have the power or do you believe—to use the Government's own phrase—it should be based on a widely acceptable form of government, i.e. power sharing?

Prime Minister

We have not used the word “power sharing” , because that is another word which some of the people in Northern Ireland do not like. They will have to work out their form of devolved government. Yes, you will have to have some of the minority community in positions of responsibility to make decisions. In our Parliament, the chairmanship of some of the most important committees—the Public Accounts Committee for example—is by tradition held by the Opposition Party and it is a very important position. Some of the Chairmen of our Select [end p30] Committees are by tradition held by Opposition. Now, having described that, you say: is it power sharing? It is certainly influence-sharing. Even by being members of an Opposition you have an influence. Again, I have tried to avoid those words. I have tried not to arouse peoples' fears and I have not dictated. I did not say what type of devolved government they had to have. I said: “You have got to get together and decide!”

What we have done is: we are the Government; we have an Inter-Governmental Conference with another Government, and we are each responsible for our own decisions.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

But do you see the Government then launching another initiative to try and get the parties round the table again?

Prime Minister

It will have to be done in some way through the Government making an effort and it is a question of judging the time, because it is very important to get the timing right and quite clearly, at the moment, obviously we have got the elections coming up and the people concerned must get those through. As I say, no-one in this Government is going to stop them from what they want to do. They can go ahead and do it.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

If they do and they get themselves re-elected.

[end p31]

Prime Minister

They are elected now!

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

Of course. That is a point which some people believe is the case. If they come back with a majority which says: “We have a mandate to tell you, Prime Minister, that we are not accepting this!” what do you do then?

Prime Minister

They believe that they are elected now. I do not believe that they will tell me anything different after the elections from what they are telling me now, but I am equally saying that we are responsible for the government of Northern Ireland. We are direct rule. The Government of Northern Ireland should not be under direct rule in the same way as it is at the moment for ever. You could only get over that by trying to get together. The mechanism that we have proposed in the Agreement is one that we believe will help the peoples of Northern Ireland to come together and they can knock out that Inter-Governmental Conference—we would have to have something else on security—but then we always would cooperate on security—by having devolved government, and the Government of the Republic support devolved government in Northern Ireland and recognise that Northern Ireland will continue to be Northern Ireland as part of the union so long as the majority wish. It is the existence of the majority wishing to stay part of the union that keeps and holds, and will continue to hold the union.

[end p32]

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

I will just wind up, Prime Minister. One more question perhaps.

Prime Minister

When I said something that he realised could mean something different in Northern Ireland from what … the flash in the eye showed immediately …   . I am very grateful to you … it is very nice.

Des McCartan Belfast Telegraph

I think sometimes words can kill …   . that is the problem. Obviously this is a difficult period ahead and there are many people who are, as you say, fearful of what might happen. What single message have you got for people in Northern Ireland at the present time, which will convince them that they are not heading towards a confrontation with the Government or heading into something much worse?

Prime Minister

Confrontation with the Government? They are not heading for a confrontation with me. How could they confront us? I do not understand. They are part of the union. They have their elected representatives. They will continue to. There is an Assembly. There are many many ways in which we can discuss it. I am not talking about confrontation. I am talking about trying to be constructive, trying to live together and giving the Agreement a chance.