The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech at Opening of Strabane Police Station – 7 April 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the opening of a new police station at Strabane, made on Wednesday 7th April 1993.


Can I say how pleased I am to be here today and to see this remarkable station opened. It is nice to have had the opportunity of being a small part of it and I am very grateful to Tom and to Paddy Mayhew for making sure that that was possible.

I am grateful to all of you for being here as well today at a time where I believe a lot is happening in Northern Ireland. I spend a great deal of my time, perhaps more I suspect than many of you realise, thinking and talking and wondering about the particular problems and the particular opportunities, for I do not always believe we should talk about problems, that actually exist in Northern Ireland.

Let me just say a word or two about that that I profoundly believe. For more than 20 years now, far too long a period, the people of Northern Ireland have suffered violence. That is a very long time indeed and after so long I think there are some dangers that we need to guard against. We need to guard in particular against the danger that violence will become to be accepted as a natural way of life, we ought never to accept that. There is a danger that people will give up struggling against it, that they will lose hope in their efforts to stop it, that they will cease to believe that we can solve Northern Ireland’s problems by constitutional means.

If people did believe that, if there were people who for a millisecond were tempted to believe that, I suspect the events of the last three weeks must have shaken that feeling. The tragedies we have seen here and the tragedies we have seen on the mainland in England I believe have shocked people into thinking afresh about the situation. Those tragedies have sunk into the national consciousness in a way that many other events perhaps sometimes do not. They fuelled a demand for an end to what most people perceive as the defenceless slaughter that you have had to endure in Northern Ireland for too long.

Moods can be transitory. There have been times in the past when people have come together, only then to fall apart, times when they have made very determined efforts which for one reason or another have not yet then succeeded. I do not believe we should be discouraged by that. I do not believe we can afford to be the prisoner of past failures. Surely, in the light of the progress made in the talks over recent months, in the light of the events of recent weeks, surely now is the time for everyone who is concerned about Northern Ireland to think again about its future, its prospects and the way in which we secure a firm, peaceful future for all the people who live here.

Let me set out for you what that means for the British government. It means several things. It means absolutely no reduction whatsoever in our willingness to confront terrorism. Our opposition to terrorism remains implacable and will do so for as long as terrorism exists. Bringing it to an end is our first priority in Northern Ireland and we will continue to be totally unrelenting in pursuit of those who plant bombs, who maim, who intimidate, who trade sectarian murders or who attack the security forces.

Nor does it mean that the will of the majority of people in Northern Ireland can ever be overridden. We have given our guarantee and no-one should doubt that guarantee. Northern

Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom for so long as that remains the wish of the majority of people who live here. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that reflects the will of its people, we support that and we will continue to defend it.

Those are not casual points, they are fundamental points of principle for the British government, they are widely supported, they do not stand in the way of progress. What they do, I believe, is to define how we move forward.

So how do we move forward? Where does progress lie at present? I believe the way ahead is clearer than many people may imagine. Self-evidently, the people of Northern Ireland want tranquillity, they want peace, the people of the Republic of Ireland want peace, the people of Britain want peace, they are calling for it, they are demonstrating for it and no-one should doubt the depth of the feeling that exists in every part of the United Kingdom.

We have heard some very fine words, moving words, over the past three weeks and they are very welcome. But let me say something about that. I think that people in Northern Ireland want, expect and deserve more than moving words from their political leaders. They surely want their leaders, all of us, to take action, to assume responsibility, to have the courage to show flexibility. We already have a vehicle for dialogue. Much was achieved in the talks initiated by Peter Brooke and carried forward by Paddy Mayhew. But the participants to those talks have not met since last November. I have to say to you today, that delay has been far too long. The dialogue between the constitutional parties and the British and the Irish governments must be resumed and the sooner it is resumed the better it will be.

And when it is resumed, when people talk again, the participants must be prepared to move away from entrenched positions, there must be a greater willingness on all sides to show flexibility in return for flexibility. And in this context I have been encouraged by recent statements about Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution and I welcome, without reservation, such readiness to contemplate constitutional change in the context of an overall settlement.

I spoke, and I spoke deliberately, over the last few minutes of the constitutional parties. There are those who stand in the way of that progress and our position on them has not changed at all. Those who use violence for political aims exclude themselves by their own actions. And if they wish to be taken into account, the choice lies entirely in their own hands. They must demonstrate, they must demonstrate to the satisfaction of people who are rightly sceptical that they have turned their backs on violence clearly, unequivocally and irrevocably. They can do that, but only they can do that, and I hope that they will.

I have spoken also in the last few minutes of what I believe the people want. But there is I believe another vital element to peace and it is this. Steadily, without great fanfares, significant progress is being made to heal divisions in the community. Far too little acknowledgement has been given to the remarkable amount of work that has been done by many people, often unknown, often unsung, over the period of the last few years. But that work is valuable, it is changing the hearts and minds of people who live in every part of the Province and it is affecting the instincts and feelings of people who live in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The government has played its part, it has legislated to remove discrimination for example in employment matters. It has adopted the toughest such law in Europe and I can promise you today that it will continue by all the means at its disposal to seek to develop greater trust between the two parts of the community to lay the widest possible foundation for progress at the constitutional level.

I want the dialogue, the dialogue between the constitutional parties and the two governments, to be resumed as soon as possible. So, I know, does the Irish government. So, I believe, do the overwhelming majority of the people of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland. The Secretary of State and I will therefore be proposing an early start to further talks, involving the four parties and the two governments. When they talk we will put proposals before the participants. We must press ahead.

There are, I believe, grounds for hope. People are repelled by violence and I believe also that they are frustrated, deeply frustrated, by political stalemate. There is an opportunity at the moment to catch the mood, to achieve a political accommodation. We must ask today for everyone involved potentially in those talks, for everyone in the community to have the courage to take the opportunity that may exist in the hope that those talks can move forward and end the political stalemate and the difficulties that people have faced in this province for so long.

Let me just end with this thought. Every time I come here to Northern Ireland and I have the opportunity to meet people, not just the opinion-formers, but often people who express just their own personal private view when I meet them, I am struck by several things. I am struck by their optimism about the future for this part of the United Kingdom, I am struck by their courage, I am struck by the determination that they have to safeguard the things of value to themselves, to safeguard the matters of interest to themselves. Those family matters – education, health – all those things that affect families in every part of the United Kingdom, they want to sweep aside these troubles that have laid so many difficulties upon the people of Northern Ireland and have distracted so much from the opportunities that exist in Northern Ireland over the last 20 – 25 years.

I said a moment or so ago there was an opportunity, it is an opportunity for the people, for the people to make it clear to the politicians that they want progress and an opportunity for the politicians to listen to what they are saying, perhaps to take the risks that are necessary, to have the courage to show the flexibility that is necessary to see if we can move from the past impasse that existed for so long and build on the success of the talks over the past two years or so.

Do not under-estimate what has already been achieved, but what has already been achieved is a beginning, it is a springboard to what still can be achieved for the people of Northern Ireland and all Ireland. Those are the opportunities that lie ahead for us. If we look at those opportunities I hope we will have the courage to take them.

Being here today, looking at this remarkable building, and I congratulate without reservation those who conceived it, those who have built it and those who work in it protecting from ordinary crime and extraordinary crime the people who live in this area.

When one sees this one sees the changing circumstances of Northern Ireland and the opportunities that exist for the future, I would simply say this. I am pleased to be here today, I am proud to be here today and I look forward to coming back again at some stage in the future when I talk to you just about the domestic problems that you face and no longer have to talk to you about that dark shadow of terrorism that has hung over this province for so long. When I come back on that occasion that will be an especially sweet visit and I hope it will not be too long delayed. Thank you for your hospitality today.