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Extracts from Transcript of Press Conference with Margaret Thatcher following an Anglo-Irish Summit, London, (19 November 1984)



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Text: Margaret Thatcher and Others... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Extracts from Transcript of Press Conference with Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, following an Anglo-Irish Summit, 10 Downing Street, London, (19 November 1984)

 

QUESTION:

(The Irish) Foreign Minister, Mr Barry, has said publicly that he believes that in 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 (Margaret Thatcher):

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 analyse 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...

QUESTION:

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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.

QUESTION:

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

Well it is how that in fact can be achieved. We did not want to go into detail because we have not agreed any 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 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.

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 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, given that Dr Fitzgerald has been under some pressure to establish that he has got a positive response from 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: (Margaret Thatcher)

I see absolutely no reason whatever 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 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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 recognised and respected and not now being fully reflected in the structures and processes?

PRIME MINISTER: (Margaret Thatcher)

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.

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?

PRIME MINISTER: (Margaret Thatcher)

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:

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 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 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 don’t you think a case could be made that you were actually pushing people as you did with the case of the Chinese?

PRIME MINISTER: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 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...

QUESTION:

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

PRIME MINISTER: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 shall try.

Humphrey Atkins got them all 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:

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 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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 realised 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.

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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

QUESTION:

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?

PRIME MINISTER: (Margaret Thatcher)

Well obviously, I believe that the 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 try to agree.

OUESTION:

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: (Margaret Thatcher)

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 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 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 can and get some of the personalities and set down and talk, shall I just say that it requires a great deal of patience and persistence. Douglas has both, haven’t you, Douglas?

SECRETARY OF STATE for NORTHERN IRELAND: (Douglas Hurd)

Yes Ma’am, Prime Minister.

 

The above extract was reported in Fortnight, No. 210: 3 December 1984, p.5-7.

 


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