BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 5.12.99

NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Interview: Martin McGuiness, Chief Negotiator Sinn Fein.


JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first Northern Ireland. David Trimble summed it up in one phrase yesterday "We've done our bit Mr Adams, now it's over to you". It was not the outcome that many people had hoped for. True, the Ulster Unionists agreed to sit in an executive with the old enemy Sinn Fein, so at least devolution can go ahead, but - and it's a very big but - everything now rests on the IRA beginning to get rid of its weapons within the next two months, because the Unionist Council is meeting again in February and if the IRA have not delivered, well then it's over. Mr Trimble has written a post dated letter of resignation and handed it to his party. The chief negotiator for Sinn Fein is Martin McGuinness, he'll be one of the two Sinn Fein ministers in the new government and he's in our Derry studio. Good afternoon Mr McGuinness. MARTIN MCGUINNESS: Good afternoon John. HUMPHRYS: This is what you wanted? MCGUINNESS: Well obviously I am very pleased that the coming days will see the establishment, the creation of the power sharing executive, the all-Ireland administrial council and the All Ireland implementation bodies. I think that that is an important development. Now at the same time I think that I have to express my very grave and serious concern that over the course of the last eleven weeks myself and Gerry Adams and others within the leadership of Sinn Fein have been involved in detailed discussions with the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and the two governments as to how we can break the impasse and move forward, and of course the result of that were the Mitchell proposals. What I heard emanating from the Waterfront Hall yesterday bears no relation whatsoever to the agreement that we made, so I think that it's important that everybody keeps their word and I think that we all must face forward, we're living in interesting and very hopeful times and I think it's incumbent upon all of us to move forward in a very positive and very constructive frame of mind. Tomorrow is going to be a very, very important day for all the people of Ireland and I believe that we can move forward to create the circumstances which will give us the justice, the equality and the peace that we have long since been denied. HUMPHRYS: So on Thursday the IRA will appoint somebody assuming he or she is not already appointed, but we will know the person who has been appointed on Thursday to liase with General de Chastelaine, who is in charge of the de-commissioning process? MCGUINNESS: Well, they have made a statement to that effect, that they will meet for discussions with General de Chastelaine and it is expected that that will happen in the aftermath of devolution on Thursday and will happen on Thursday yes. HUMPHRYS: And who is that likely to be, could it be you. I hear stories that it might even be you? MCGUINNESS: No, there's no prospect whatsoever of it being me. HUMPHRYS: Why not? MCGUINNESS: Because I'm not a member of the IRA. HUMPHRYS: So we will know the name will we on Thursday? MCGUINNESS: Well I don't know. That's a matter for the IRA. I think that that's really a matter between them and General de Chastelaine. I think we will all have to understand that as the result of the very great efforts of Senator Mitchell and the political leaders and the two governments in the course of recent weeks that we have actually ended up with an agreement, that this issue be given back to the person who should have handled it in the first place, General de Chastelaine, and of course both he and Senator Mitchell have been on the record in stating that the issue of dealing with decommissioning is a collective responsibility. It's a collective responsibility for all the political parties and the two governments. They've also made it quite clear that decommissioning cannot be imposed, that decommissioning must be a voluntary exercise by the armed groups and I think we have to ask ourselves the question whether or not the move made yesterday by the Ulster Unionist Party will make that more easier or more difficult. I tend to think it will make it more difficult. HUMPHRYS: In what sense. I mean are you suggesting that perhaps this process will not begin on Thursday as the result of that? MCGUINNESS: Well, I'm not suggesting that for one minute. I think that there is a sensible way to handle this issue of decommissioning and I believe that from the perspective of the political parties in the two governments there is a golden opportunity now for politicians to take control, to make politics work, to remove all of the injustices, the inequalities, the discriminations..... HUMPHRYS: Indeed. You made that point earlier, but I mean you also said - if I may just intervene, because you did make that point earlier, but you also said that what happened yesterday in Belfast at the Ulster Unionist Council made it more difficult. Well, in what sense more difficult. I mean what we are assuming is that the process will begin, the IRA will nominate somebody and the process will begin on Thursday. Are you casting any doubt on that at all? MCGUINNESS: No, I'm not casting any doubt on it, what I'm saying very clearly is that what happened yesterday at the Waterfront Hall is very clearly outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and is most definitely outside the terms of the agreement that we made with Mr Trimble and others in the course of recent days. Now all of that was a very carefully choreographed approach. It was a step by step approach and I think the people have seen this unfold between their eyes. Now, what we need to do as political leaders as we face into what is going to be a very, very important week in the history of this island and for all the people of Ireland, is be very cool, be very calm, very collected, very stoical about how we move forward. HUMPHRYS: So how... MCGUINNESS: .. we in Sinn Fein intend to do all of that, so we now need to see as a matter of urgency, and I expect we will see it in the coming days is the establishment of the institutions and politicians pressing on to implement the agreement that should have been implemented over eighteen months ago. HUMPHRYS: Right. Politicians pressing on, the institutions set up, yes, but how quickly do you expect to see the arrangements on decommissioning agreed between the IRA and General John de Chastelaine? MCGUINNESS: Well I fully expect that the IRA representative will be appointed next Thursday and as far as I am concerned that matter is then a matter between the IRA and indeed all the armed groups and General de Chastelaine. They should be left on their own. From our perspective as politicians, our job is to drive, be the engine of the political process. Our job is to show people on the ground that politics work. Our job is to create the circumstances and conditions which will make it possible for the armed groups to destroy their weaponry or decommission or whatever they want to do in a voluntary way. Now the difficulty about the Ulster Unionist approach is that we have seen over the course of the last eighteen months a very combative, very confrontational, full of ultimatums and demand approach which didn't work. Absolutely clearly did not work. Now the difficulty about the step taken yesterday by the Unionists is that it clearly was not in my opinion a decisive step forward, it was a jump forward to uncertainty. We need to remove that uncertainty, we need to know that there is going to be devolution, that the institutions are going to be created, that they are going to continue and that the politicians are going to work in an honest endeavour to create the conditions which will make it possible for the armed groups to decommission, that is what Sinn Fein is committed to. HUMPHRYS: And Peter Mandelson made it very clear this morning that he expects you and Mr Adams as leaders of the Republican movement to make sure that decommissioning does come about fully. MCGUINNESS: Well the Good Friday Agreement makes it absolutely clear that there is a collective responsibility on all of the participants. There is no singular responsibility on Sinn Fein to deal with this issue but we are absolutely committed to playing our part along with Mr Mandelson, along with Mr Trimble, along with all of the other political leaders to create the conditions which will make it possible for the armed groups to engage on a voluntary act of decommissioning. Now our job in the meantime is to press on with the political process. I think that we also have to consider over the course of the coming weeks and months whether or not it is beneficial raising this issue, this issue of decommissioning over and above all other aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. I think there has been a serious blunder, a serious mistake over the course of the last eighteen months that this issue was allowed to gain the dominant position that it gained. Our job over the coming weeks is to ensure the politics is working and the politicians are doing their job. That's what we're committed to. HUMPHRYS: And to making sure that all weapons are decommissioned by the end of May. MCGUINNESS: Well our policy in Sinn Fein is to remove all of the injustices, all of the inequalities, all of the conflict and all of the guns from Irish politics. Were absolutely committed to achieving that yes. HUMPHRYS: And you would expect to start, you would expect the IRA to start that by the end of January which is what the Ulster Unionists want, perfectly understandably. MCGUINNESS: I expect the Ulster Unionists to keep their word. HUMPHRYS: No, I'm asking you what you expect of the IRA because you are after all connected with the IRA. MCGUINNESS: No, I am not connected to the IRA... HUMPHRYS: Oh come on - you say you're not a member of the IRA fine, but I mean the idea that there is no relationship between you and the IRA is preposterous isn't it. MCGUINNESS: Well I mean this is the old debate, the old agenda. Let's not get into that.. HUMPHRYS: ..that's why I'm trying to get over it... MCGUINNESS: ..let's deal with the reality of what I expect over the course of the coming days.. HUMPHRYS: ..yes I am asking you what you expect, precisely. MCGUINNESS: I expect General de Chastelaine to do his job. I expect General de Chastelaine to be allowed to do his job. I expect David Trimble not to interfere in that process and I expect David Trimble to work with the rest of us to create the conditions which will make is possible for the armed groups to decommission under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement - that's our job. HUMPHRYS: Exactly, so you want, you personally as a leader of the Republican Movement, you want the IRA to begin decommissioning by the end of January. That is what you want? MCGUINNESS: Well I am committed to making the Good Friday Agreement work in all its aspects...... HUMPHRYS: So the answer's yes...... MCGUINNESS: Nobody...let nobody be under any doubt or illusion about all of that. The question for us is whether or not as political leaders we can accomplish that. We have seen eighteen months of failure. Now, I'm not into recriminating about all of that, I think that we are on the threshold of a far far more hopeful age in the history of the island of Ireland. HUMPHRYS: So do you believe you can accomplish that, that is to say the IRA beginning to decommission by the end of January? Do you believe that can be accomplished? MCGUINNESS: Well that's a responsibility, a collective responsibility for all of the parties. It's totally and absolutely wrong for people to put that question in terms of what Sinn Fein can deliver, in terms of what Gerry Adams...... HUMPHRYS: I'm asking whether you believe it will happen? MCGUINNESS: Our job collectively, Mr Mandelson, Mr Trimble, all of the other parties - our job is to create the conditions which will make it possible for the armed groups to decommission.. HUMPHRYS: is it possible it won't happen? MCGUINNESS: Can we be successful? - I believe that if we implement in good faith the Good Friday Agreement that it is possible to achieve that objective but, you know, the jury is out on where the Unionists are at. I give them credit for the decision that they took yesterday but I think that people should not under any circumstances enter new elements into this that have not been agreed between us in the course of our discussions in recent days. HUMPHRYS: So there is a possibility, this is what you're saying to me, so I am quite clear, there is a possibility that is will not happen. Is that what you're saying? MCGUINNESS: No that's not what I'm saying. I am looking forward to success, to the successful implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and I am working to that end. Now I believe that my primary responsibility at this time is to make politics work, is for politicians to seize control. I do think, and I think it is important to point out, that I think that the approach adopted over the course of the last eighteen months in dealing with this issue of decommissioning from the Unionist side has been detrimental to the objective they say they wish to achieve. So our responsibility I think is to point out to the Unionists that there's a sensible way to proceed here. Let's not fill this full of ultimatum and demand because if it does it makes our job all the more difficult. HUMPHRYS: Right, let me ask you, just a few seconds left if I may, are you worried about splinter group, people who have splintered away from the IRA over the years? The INLA, the Real IRA, Continuity IRA, some disaffected Provisionals - are you worried that they may get together and make trouble? MCGUINNESS: Well I mean it is well known that there are people who reject the approach that Gerry Adams and I and others within the Sinn Fein leadership have adopted over the course of the last number of years but the reality is that they don't represent anybody. The reality is that we can say without fear of contradiction that we in Sinn Fein and the SDLP and the Irish government do on this occasion absolutely represent the entire nationalist community on the island of Ireland. I believe that anybody who has intention whatsoever of usurping the democratic wishes of those people are making a serious mistake. HUMPHRYS: Martin McGuinness thank you very much indeed.