CAIN Web Service

Statement by the Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Mandelson to the House of Commons, 8 May 2000

[KEY_EVENTS] [Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
PEACE: [Menu] [Summary] [Reading] [Background] [Chronology_1] [Chronology_2] [Chronology_3] [Articles] [Agreement] [Sources]

Research: Fionnuala McKenna
Material is added to this site on a regular basis - information on this page may change

Statement by the Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Mandelson to the House of Commons, 8 May 2000

Madam Speaker,

I will, with permission, make a statement about recent developments in Northern Ireland, and the declaration issued over the weekend by the Provisional IRA.

On the 11th of February, I took the decision to suspend the political institutions which had been established barely 10 weeks earlier under the Good Friday Agreement.

I did so reluctantly, for reasons with which the House is familiar. If I had not done so, there would not only have been a collapse of the institutions, but a total collapse of confidence within unionism, from which the political process would not have been able to recover for a very long time.

From that moment in February, we and the Irish Government have worked closely, at all levels, to restore the situation. As at so many crucial points in the past, my rt hon Friend the Prime Minister and the Irish Taoiseach have committed time and energy on a scale that must be unprecedented for busy heads of government. I have kept in close touch with the Irish Foreign Minister. There have been intensive discussions with the parties, in the most constructive atmosphere. I would like to thank officials in both Governments whose efforts have been tireless.

Our aim has been to achieve the clarity about the IRA's intentions which was noticeably lacking in February; by doing so to rebuild unionist confidence; and thereby to re-establish the institutions.

This could not be done quickly. Suspension was a bruising experience for all concerned. Unionists were disappointed that expectations raised during Senator Mitchell's review were not fulfilled. Republicans, and indeed many nationalists, saw great symbolic significance in a British Secretary of State acting to suspend local institutions as I did. People of good will on all sides were saddened that arrangements which had promised so much had proved impossible to sustain.

If unionists need the confidence that the IRA are genuinely committed to the path of peace and willing to put their arms beyond use, republicans need to know that the vision which the Agreement offers, of a just and equal society in which both traditions are respected, will actually be realised.

We and the Irish Government therefore drew up an account of the remaining steps necessary to secure the full implementation of the Agreement. Details were communicated to the parties on Saturday morning. I am placing a copy in the Library.

The two Governments believe these steps can be achieved by June 2001. In a statement published on Friday evening, we have committed ourselves to that goal.

The two Governments also called on the paramilitaries to state clearly and urgently that they will put their arms beyond use.

For our part, we the British Government indicated that such statements would constitute a clear reduction in the security threat. In response, subject to assessment of the threat at the time, further substantial measures to normalise security arrangements will be taken by June 2001.

I am not yet able to say what initial measures will be taken. The Chief Constable is considering in consultation with the Army the situation in the light of the IRA statement with a view to what might be done now and in the period ahead if and when the threat reduces. I assure the House, as I have done before, that the security of the public will continue to be my highest priority. There is no question of trading essential security interests for political progress. But equally there is no doubt the statements of the kind I have described impact positively on the assessment of the threat.

As the House will know, the IRA made such a statement on Saturday afternoon.

In the context of the Governments' implementing what they have agreed, the IRA committed itself to:

"a process that will completely and verifiably put arms beyond use".

Not maybe. Not might. But will.

It went on

"We will do it in such a way as to avoid risk to the public and misappropriation by others and ensure maximum confidence".

In the same context, the IRA committed itself to "pursue our respective political objectives peacefully".

The statement further committed the IRA to resume contact with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, under General John de Chastelain. It noted that the IRA's arms are "silent and secure", and that there is no threat to the peace process from the IRA.

In addition, the statement committed the IRA to put in place within weeks a confidence building measure to confirm that their weapons remain secure. Independent inspectors will scrutinise a number of arms dumps and report to the de Chastelain Commission. It will be an ongoing process, with regular re-inspections.

It is important that we now hear, in similar terms, from the main loyalist organisations.

Since the IRA made their statement, my rt hon Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach have announced that Mr Martti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland, and Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, the former Secretary General of the African National Congress and now a prominent businessman in South Africa, both widely respected international figures, have agreed to head the inspections. I am pleased to be able to announce that they will pay their first visit to Belfast next Monday, and I am grateful to them for their speedy response at such short notice.

Madam Speaker, I regard the IRA statement as a very significant development.

For the first time, there is a commitment to put weapons completely and verifiably beyond use, in a context which is realistic rather than simply aspirational. A real prospect of actually achieving decommissioning - no longer just talking about it, or setting conditions for it which make its realisation less likely.

There is a more clearcut assurance of the IRA's peaceful intentions than we have ever heard before. And, as an earnest of these intentions, there is an unprecedented willingness to allow independent third parties to inspect arms dumps containing weapons, explosives and detonators and vouch for their continuing security. An essential element of the scheme is that the process should be continuous, to provide reassurance that dumps have not been tampered with, and weapons have not been removed, between inspections.

The Rt Hon Member for Upper Bann has acknowledged the significance of the IRA statement, and the fact that it appears to break new ground. Not surprisingly, he wishes to examine it carefully, and weigh its implications.

That is entirely understandable. He will also want to be confident, as I will, that, in moving forward with the Agreement, the traditions and concerns of the unionist people will be respected and dealt with sensitively, ever much as the traditions and concerns of nationalists.

I believe all friends and supporters of responsible forward-looking unionism will conclude that the proposals I have outlined today, buttressed by the weekend's statement by the IRA, provide the conditions on which he can lead his party back into government.

On the basis of such a positive response to these proposals, not only from his party but all the pro-Agreement parties, I can confirm to the House that I will bring forward the necessary order to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Executive by 22 May.

In this event, I feel hopeful and confident that the ultimate prize - stable, inclusive government in Northern Ireland and an unbreakable peace - will at long last be within our grasp.

CAIN contains information and source material on the conflict and politics in Northern Ireland.
CAIN is based within Ulster University.

go to the top of this page go to the top of this page
Last modified :