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Joint Statement by British and Irish Governments, 20 November 1996

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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh

Anglo-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference
Belfast, 20 November 1996

Joint Statement

1. A meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was held in Belfast on 20 November 1996.

2. The British Government were represented by the Joint Chairman, Sir Patrick Mayhew QC, MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was accompanied by the Rt Hon Sir John Wheeler MP, Minister of State, and the Rt Hon Michael Ancram MP, Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. The Irish Government were represented by the Joint Chairman, Mr Dick Spring, TD, Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was accompanied by Ms Nora Owen TD, Minister for Justice.


3. The Conference reviewed developments in the political talks process.

4. The two Governments reiterated their commitment to the achievement of a comprehensive political settlement which would provide lasting peace and stability. They agreed that an inclusive and comprehensive talks process offered the best means of achieving such a settlement. They reaffirmed the hope of both Governments that there would be an early and unequivocal restoration of the IRA ceasefire as the necessary enabling condition for a fully inclusive Talks process.

5. The Conference considered the current position in the light of developments to date in the talks, with particular reference to decommissioning. The two Governments reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of all aspects of the Report of the International Body, including their support for the approach set out in paragraphs 34-35 of the Report, as the best possible basis for progress in relation to decommissioning. They expressed the hope that all other participants would work with them to secure the implementation of all aspects of the Report of the International Body, and to join with them now in effecting the earliest possible transition into substantive three-stranded negotiations on this basis. They reiterated their view that progress should be made on the basis of an inclusive and dynamic process in which mutual trust and confidence is built as progress is made on all the issues of concern to all participants.


6. The Conference reviewed the current security situation with the Chief Constable and the Commissioner. It congratulated both the Commissioner and the Chief Constable on a number of important recent successes, including finds of weaponry and arrests.


7. The Conference considered the measures which are being taken by the security forces in response to the current security threat. It reaffirmed the willingness of both Governments to adjust their response if there should be reductions in that threat.

8. The Conference reviewed recent parades and discussed the prospects for next year's marching season. It underlined the need for those engaged in the planning of parades and the local communities involved to engage in dialogue, and to exercise compromise and balance in the interests of the community as a whole, with a view to reaching early agreements between all concerned. It looked forward in this context to the report of the Independent Review of Parades and Marches in Northern Ireland and recognised that early follow-up on the report's proposals would be an important factor in easing tensions in advance of next year's parades. The Conference recalled its long-standing view that the right to demonstrate must be exercised with respect for the sensitivities of others and with regard for public order.

9. Ministers discussed a number of prisons issues and noted recent prisoner transfers from the UK to the Republic.

10. The Conference also considered a number of reviews of policing matters which are in progress at present. It noted that the need to ensure that policing arrangements in Northern Ireland are impartial, sensitive to both traditions and command widespread acceptance across the whole community would be an important issue for discussion in the political negotiations.


11. The Conference considered recent progress in the work which it had commissioned into ways of improving and extending RTE and Telefis na Gaeilge reception in Northern Ireland. it looked forward to early agreement on this subject.

12. It also welcomed the recent decision to recognise Bunscoil an Iuir in Newry and looked forward to the continuing facilitating of parental choice as regards Irish language schooling in Northern Ireland.

13. It also discussed the future of the Springvale project.

Comments by the Secretary of State, questioned by the media after the meeting

Do you agree with the fringe Loyalist parties that the Stormont talks are on the verge of collapse?

Sir Patrick Mayhew
No, I don't. I think that there is a danger that they can run out of steam unless all participants really put their backs into keeping them going. That of course is the wish of the vast majority of people right across this community here in Northern Ireland.

Are you confident that the parties will be able to move towards the talks, leaving decommissioning behind them?

Sir Patrick Mayhew
I know that it is possible for them to do so and it is certainly the wish of this government, and I am quite sure that it is the wish of the Irish government, and I know it to be the wish of most, if not all, of the participants in these talks that they do get into the substantive stuff.

Do you view the current Ulster Unionist Party's position on decommissioning to be at variance with the spirit and the letters of the Mitchell Report?

Sir Patrick Mayhew
I think that it is very well known that both governments and the parties to this talks process found themselves, base themselves upon all aspects of the Mitchell Report. I am not going to break the rule of confidentiality about these talks in discussing individual party's positions, what they have said and where they are, but everybody knows that what I have just said is a common position, namely basing themselves upon the Mitchell Report. And I think that if people do that then I believe that gives them the best prospect of carrying this process through, out of the procedural matters and out of matters which are now focusing on decommissioning and into the substantive three-stranded talks.

The Republicans are saying that a formula [inaudible] might help bring about a new IRA ceasefire has been with the government, or with the Prime Minister, for something like four weeks. Will there be a response to that?

Sir Patrick Mayhew
I think that the government's position is very clear as to what is needed to get Sinn Fein into the talks and thereby to justify the votes of those who supported them in the recent elections. There has to be an unequivocal restoration of the ceasefire, then there has to be a demonstration of commitment to peaceful means... That is written into the Act of Parliament which set up the electoral process, so all of that is known and we are not prepared to move away from that, and indeed I would not be allowed to move away from that by our own domestic law. I believe that that is fully understood and I want to see them fulfilling those requirements because obviously it is a better process if everybody who has been elected to it is in it than if only 9 out of 10. But let there be no mistake about this, the absence of Sinn Fein from this process, if they insist on maintaining their self-exclusion, is not going to bring that process to an end. There is very valuable work that can be done and it can be brought forward to a successful conclusion even though they are not there. We hope that they will fulfil the requirements as everybody else has.

Can you help us on what basis there is within those suggestions for movement forward, can we believe the speculation that an IRA ceasefire can be obtained.

Sir Patrick Mayhew
Plainly an IRA ceasefire can be obtained and plainly an IRA ceasefire should be obtained and plainly and IRA ceasefire should never have been ended. You have to look, as we have said time and again, at all the circumstances, not just at what is said, though that is obviously important, but what is being done on the ground, and just as importantly what is no longer being done.


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