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Transcript of Press Conference with Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair, following their meeting at Farmleigh, Dublin, (26 January 2006)



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Text: Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair and Others... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Transcript of Press Conference with Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) and Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, following their meeting at Farmleigh, Dublin, (26 January 2006)

 

Taoiseach: (Bertie Ahern)

Thank you very much for attending this press briefing, and I am very glad to welcome the Prime Minister and his delegation to Dublin, and thank them very much for being here. We have had a very positive and focused few hours meeting today and we have reviewed the current position across all aspects of the peace process in Northern Ireland, and we will issue a joint statement shortly which clearly sets out the position of the two governments.

When the Prime Minister and I met here in May 2003, we have been here since then, but at that stage we published our joint declaration which outlined the acts of completion required by all sides. And I think if you take a look at what was said then, and look at the progress that we have achieved since then, we have come an enormous distance and there is no argument about that. But of course we still have to get the institutions back, and so we are very clear and very determined to try to achieve that. This is not I think a time for sitting back, it is not a time for complacency, and we cannot afford a prolonged stalemate. Our shared objective is simple, we have to complete a transition to peace and to prosperity for all the citizens of Northern Ireland, and we want to see the full restoration of the democratic institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, and we believe that this is in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland and throughout these islands. We recognise that it is an ambitious goal, as always. Dermott Ahern and Peter Hain, here with us today, will shortly start the intensive talks with the other parties, as is Mr Mike McDowell.

We are not saying this is going to be easy. There are serious issues to be dealt with and we understand fully, 8 years on, what those issues are. But everyone knows what is required on power sharing, on policing and working together in democratic institutions for the good of everybody, and everybody needs to take risks and everyone needs to take responsibility, and the Good Friday Agreement is the formula which we have always believed in for peace. There is no other way forward, and there is no going back either. So what we have to do in this year of 2006, and we are anxious to start it off and get into the talks very quickly, is to make progress, because this year we just have to make the necessary progress and bring the institutions back in this year of 2006.

Prime Minister: (Tony Blair)

Thank you very much, and first of all can I thank the Taoiseach and his colleagues for hosting us here in Dublin, and to say I agree entirely with what the Taoiseach has just said to you.

On 6 February, I think it is, the talks will get under way with Dermott Ahern and Peter Hain leading them, and I hope people realise two things. The first is that although this is a process that has now been running over many years, almost coming up to the eighth year since the Good Friday Agreement, the one thing that we have learnt throughout is that a state of paralysis, or stalemate, is not a good place to be, and however benign or placid things may appear whilst that stalemate continues, actually underneath the surface there are all the currents of instability present when there is not a true and forceful direction moving the process forward.

So I don't think we should be under any illusion at all, neither about how difficult it is, but also how important it is, to get to the point where we can set out arrangements and a timeline for getting the institutions back up and running again. And this year - 2006 - is a very decisive year for Northern Ireland, as every year has been since the Good Friday Agreement, but this year in particular we have to remember the progress that we have made and the crucial imperative of getting to a situation where all the issues and difficulties people have, which are still immense in this process, can be dealt with within the framework of proper, functioning, devolved institutions.

So that is our ambition. It is something where it is obvious we have come a very long way, that is true, but I repeat what I said at the very outset, this is not a situation where we can simply maintain the present status quo. We have got to move it forward. Now that is going to take a lot of ambition and pushing for everybody, but we are determined to do that, and whatever difficulties we have, or whatever issues that need resolving, I give my opinion that it is better that they are resolved within the context of proper devolved institutions. So the sooner that can happen, the better.

Question:

Taoiseach, you have just spoken about the need to move away from the status quo. How big a set-back will it be to those efforts if the IMC report doesn't give the Provisional IRA a clean bill of health in the next week?

Taoiseach: (Bertie Ahern)

Well I haven't seen the content of it, so I do not know what is in it. But since the last report, this one covers a more sustained period since 28 July, we will be looking to see that the commitments that were solemnly given on that day are reflected through. The issues are all very, very clear, so it will be easy enough for us to read through it, and it will be important that we are seeing continuing progress. As I have said previously, it is very hard to see every last little bit fall into place immediately. We will watch this report; we will watch the one in a few months time. It is important that we see incremental progress and we do not see any sliding back. Naturally I hope there is no obvious and evident breaches of what was promised on that day, that certainly wouldn't be helpful. But we are moving from a position where paramilitaries and the culture of paramilitarism, and areas that have not got policing, still areas perhaps that have not got proper policing, are moving into a different culture. It is not going to happen overnight, but at least if we are seeing progress, and substantial progress, and ultimately what both of us would want to see that we get to perfection, but I am not na´ve enough to think that that will all happen in a very short period.

Prime Minister: (Tony Blair)

I agree with that obviously, and we have to wait for the IMC report. But I think I would put it to you in this way, because obviously there are a lot of concerns around, as we know. Would it be reasonable to say today that the institutions should be put back in place right now, that the Unionists should go back into government with Republicans? No, and we know that is not going to happen. But by the same token it wouldn't be reasonable either to say nothing has changed. Last July's statement and the actions following it from the IRA are hugely significant and important. My point is very simple, that these outstanding problems, which are clear and understandable, are better resolved within a perspective that can see these institutions back up and running again so that they can deal with the problems of Northern Ireland, and the issues of Northern Ireland, in a devolved way. That is still what I think must be our aim and I do feel a sense of urgency about it.

Question:

Taoiseach, Prime Minister. You have both met Ian Paisley in recent weeks. He now has produced proposals, which are basically phased devolution. Are you interested in those proposals, and indeed proposals from the Ulster Unionist Party, or do you agree with Sinn Fein and Martin McGuinness in particular that there has to be a complete deal?

Prime Minister: (Tony Blair)

Well first of all I think that the fact that the Democratic Unionists are putting forward proposals is a sign that they recognise that things can't simply stay as they are. But for any proposals obviously to work have got to get the consent of all the parties, otherwise nothing happens. And I think myself the issue, which I totally understand, you will know this better than me Ken, but I think people, at least I hope people within Northern Ireland recognise that the IRA statement, and the actions that followed last year are important and significant. But there are also obviously still a lot of concerns about the situation in Northern Ireland, the situation in communities, whether the degree of lawlessness and violence is really going to come down and a proper set of political circumstances be in place. But my point is that it is far better to try and achieve those circumstances within some perspective at least that sees the institutions back up and running at a particular time. So I think it is important, when these talks begin on 6 February, that they do so with a view to setting out the arrangements that can lead to that happening. And as I say, I think the fact that they are putting forward proposals is good because it indicates that people know that things have got to move forward, but obviously in the end it is important that any such proposals are seen within the context of people wanting the full institutions back up and running and having the certainty that that will happen.

Question:

You have both said that you would like to see the political institutions up and running in Northern Ireland by the end of the year. Bearing in mind that the deadlines that you have set in this process are rarely met, and bearing in mind the fact that not all of the parties seem to be in as much of a hurry as you are to have the institutions restored, how realistic is it to have that hope for the end of this year? And Part B of the question I suppose is what happens if that deadline is not met?

Taoiseach: (Bertie Ahern)

Well, I wouldn't like to think that because we say 2006 we are talking about the end of the year, obviously we want to make progress as soon as possible and it is not a question of just drifting out the year. As Prime Minister Blair has already said, the key issue for us is to issue our joint statement today, start the talks with Peter Hain and Dermott Ahern on 6 February, to start working with the parties on how we can deal with the outstanding issues that are there and try to see the incremental progress on the IMC report during the year and any difficulties that are still there. See the end of that so that it removes those obstacles to make further progress on policing. But there are not a lot of outstanding items. If you look back where we were in 2003 and the Joint Declaration, it was a large bulky document, building on what the Prime Minister's speech was at the end of 2002, the speech I made shortly after that, and the acts of completion. Substantively now that is finished, but we just want to see it absolutely nailed down, that all of the things we requested are properly fulfilled.

Also taking the point that the Prime Minister made, and I made at the outset, you know the status quo of just continuing on and ticking over time and drifting on into the foreseeable future, that just won't hold, it never is that way in Northern Ireland, it has never been that way. So the comfort zone that everybody can sit on their hands and it will just drift on out would be a horrendous mistake in my view, because it won't work out that way. So we have to focus down on how do we get what the people voted for, and the people voted for north and south, for the Good Friday Agreement, they voted for an Assembly, they voted for an Executive, they voted for north-south bodies, and there were difficulties and obstacles that arose that stopped that happening. And what we have been trying to do, and are still trying to do, but getting near the end of it, is removing those obstacles. So while we haven't got to all our deadlines, I think every time we have made an awful lot of progress, and this time I think we are getting very near the position where we have to get the institutions back, and that is how we read it.

Prime Minister: (Tony Blair)

Yes, I am not going to set arbitrary timelines, certainly not at this stage, but I want to see progress, substantial progress now, or as soon as possible, never mind waiting until the end of the year. You may well be right that other parties don't seem to have the same sense of urgency, but I think what we are signalling today, and by the talks starting, is that we do. I am afraid people have got to realise that we too have a responsibility to take this thing forward, and it can't just be left where it is. Now if there are issues that people need to have resolved, take them into the talks. We will try and sort them out and work them through, and I think everyone knows what the issues and the difficulties are, but you know we have been through a lot of difficult situations over the years on this and at each point we have found a way of moving it forward. We have got to do that again, and I think what the Taoiseach and I are signalling very clearly today is that we can't just wait on everyone to make up their minds, we will want to see this thing move forward.

Question:

Prime Minister, the government today announced that it would table a Westminster motion early in February in order to give Sinn Fein MPs tens of thousands of pounds of allowances back. What would you say to Unionists who might see this as in a way pre-judging the IMC report in an attempt to kind of positively spin them towards a deal? And can I also just ask, on the international scene, what you make of Hamas's strong showing in the Palestinian elections, and indeed are there any parallels you see for the situation here?

Prime Minister: (Tony Blair)

Perhaps it is unwise to get into the latter part of that, we have enough to be getting on with. But it is time to try and assess this situation as it is. There are real concerns within the Unionist community about the issues around criminality and lawlessness within certain communities and so on, the degree to which the rule of law is really going through all parts of Northern Ireland. But at the same time I think everyone has to accept that what happened last July, and the IRA statement, and the actions since then, and the IMC obviously will pronounce on this next week, that is of huge significance and can't simply be put to one side. So the question is, how do we deal with the perfectly reasonable concerns people have about issues to do with criminality, whilst at the same time also making sure that we recognise that the situation has actually changed. And my view has always been, and remains now, that those issues are best resolved within a perspective that sees devolved government back in place in Northern Ireland, and that getting those institutions back is one way of making sure that we deal with all the issues that are there and left over from several decades of troubles and difficulty. That is why I feel it is very important that people realise, you know they have their responsibility and it is up to them to discharge it, but we have got our responsibility and we are signalling today that it is important we move this situation on.

In respect of the Palestinian election, of course we recognise the mandate from Hamas, because the people have spoken in a way in the Palestinian Authority, but I think it is also important for Hamas to understand that there comes a point, and the point is now, following that strong showing, where they have to decide between a path of democracy, or a path of violence. And the only way we will ever get to a solution, good for the Palestinian people, is based on democracy and peaceful co-existence between the state of Israel and an independent Palestinian state.

 


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