The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Belfast – 13 December 1994

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech in Belfast, held on Tuesday 13th December 1994.


My Lord Mayor, My Lord Mayor of London, Mr Secretary, Mr Governor, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Can I firstly extend to you all the very warmest of welcomes but extend that welcome especially to those who have travelled very long distances indeed to be here on this occasion – to Secretary Brown and his very large and very welcome delegation from the United States; to Mr Cherin [phon] who has done such outstanding work in leading the European Commission’s Task Force; to Mr Bonner, representing the Irish government; to the Lord Mayor and many leading figures from British industry and finance; and to all the representatives of seven governments and 181 companies who are gathered here this evening for this particular occasion.

I will have the opportunity tomorrow to speak about Northern Ireland’s economy at the forum, but I would like for a few moments this evening to sketch out a little of the background, including its international aspects.

Though I daresay that perhaps a small number of you will be visiting Northern Ireland for the first time, many of you will have been here before, some of you will know Northern Ireland extremely well indeed, but I think whether you are old friends or new friends, you will experience on this visit an entirely different atmosphere right across Northern Ireland. You will I hope see a huge difference from the impressions formed in the past, from the impressions that so many people have had for so many years about what life was like here and what the prospects here were for the people who lived in Northern Ireland.

We want on this occasion to show you the prospects in which you and your companies could play a part, to your advantage I hope, as well as for the benefit of Northern Ireland as a whole. I can promise you this from my frequent visits to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland will welcome you with open arms, it will support you and it will do a fine job for you. And I do not frankly think you need take this just from me, ask the many businessmen and other representatives of Northern Ireland at this dinner and at the forum tomorrow, ask other investors who have already taken a substantial stake in Northern Ireland’s future.

Let me say just a few words about the long pathway to this particular evening. When I became Prime Minister in 1990 I had four objectives for Northern Ireland. Progress in this province would be one of the highest priorities for the government. I agreed from the outset that we would oppose terrorism with all democratic means and would show the tiny minority – for that is what it has always been, the tiny majority engaged in that terrorism – that it would lead nowhere for them, except perhaps to imprisonment. But that of its own was not sufficient, we also needed to show those who supported terrorism precisely what it was that they were missing out on by that support, we would demonstrate that all legitimate aspirations could be pursued peacefully and pursued through the democratic process, that those who had excluded themselves from the process could be admitted to it, provided they abandoned violence, that with or without them that democratic process would move ahead. That was, in substance, the essence of the Downing Street declaration that Albert Reynolds and I signed a year or so ago, and of the government’s political talks with all the constitutional parties.

I also felt that the British and the Irish governments should try and work together as never before. If we, the British and the Irish government, could reconcile our own differences without compromising our principles we might set an example for both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. We did so with the Downing Street declaration and we hope soon to take a further step by concluding a framework document to help the talks process. That was the course I set. Some would say, some did say rather optimistically, but we have now travelled a long way down that road and I would like you to know that whatever the difficulties that lie ahead, the British government’s commitment to those objectives will remain as strong as it has been from the outset.

The support of other governments, the support of other countries, will be very significant to us and to the people of Northern Ireland for two reasons in particular. First, terrorism did not just happen in a vacuum, historic grievances were paraded at home and overseas to justify it, in some places during the Cold War ideological connections were made, funds were raised from East, from West, from South, guns and the most deadly explosives were procured. It is crucially important that people around the world should now appreciate precisely what has changed and what has changed most dramatically in the last twelve months or so.

The Northern Ireland of today, the Northern Ireland of tomorrow, the Northern Ireland that our guests will see on this visit is not the Northern Ireland of 25 or 50 years ago. Northern Ireland today has some of the most stringent measures for fair employment and community relations to be found anywhere in the world, there is a general recognition that a fair deal must be offered to all. But the future of this province depends on healing those rifts which in the past tore Northern Ireland asunder for all too many years.

Sinn Fein and the political representatives of Loyalism have declared that they wish to enter the political arena as peaceful democratic parties. It is a declaration that people across the communities in Northern Ireland had longed for for more years than they care to remember. And so Sinn Fein and the political representatives of Loyalism are now beginning an historic dialogue with the government about how this should come about and how their weapons and explosives may be safely taken out of commission.

The overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland seek peace, and as you will see on this visit they are now enjoying peace. I do not myself believe that they would have any sympathy with any group who sought to disturb that peace again. I hope that equally strong pressure to make peace irreversible will come from outside Northern Ireland. People overseas who take an interest in its affairs, wherever their sympathies may lie should continue to speak up for peace, as so many have done to such good effect in the months immediately past.

They should make clear that there will be no sympathy, and not a shred of justification or support, for any group were any group to return to the violent ways of the past. If I may say so to our guests this evening, by your very presence here tonight you are giving that signal and I am grateful to you. But more important perhaps, I believe all the people of Northern Ireland, on both sides of the community, will be equally grateful to you for that particular signal.

Secondly this evening I would ask you to look at the economic prospects for Northern Ireland with open eyes. A quarter of a century of terrorism inevitably held back Northern Ireland’s development. Today, whether you are from Britain, the Irish Republic, from other parts of the European Union, from the United States or from the Far East, you can be in right at the beginning of a very remarkable and exciting new phase in Northern Ireland.

As I shall explain in more detail tomorrow, you can reap the rewards of coming into that new phase very early indeed. I am not asking you to be anything less than hard headed about your business decisions, I would not expect this and I do not believe anyone in Northern Ireland would either. I would only ask you to recognise that here in Northern Ireland there is a society positively bursting with the desire to succeed, to put the past behind it and to exploit its undoubted potential. It is a society which as I think you can see from the many success stories that are apparent today, has achieved a huge amount despite the unprecedented difficulties it faced from the troubles that there have been over the last quarter of a century. Their endeavour to succeed, the endeavour to succeed of all the people of Northern Ireland, has the whole-hearted backing of the British government and of the European Union, and very strong and immensely welcome support from the governments of the United States and other countries.

We intend to consolidate peace, to consolidate peace by showing what each and every person in Northern Ireland may gain from such a peace. Already, after just a few short weeks and months, the evidence is all around us: in this fine hotel, a hotel which has now shed the scars of past attacks; in other hotels now filling their rooms for the first time in many years; at the airports where extra services and new routes are beginning to appear; and in streets crowded with Christmas shoppers, many coming in record numbers from Dublin and elsewhere in the Republic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the government’s vision for Northern Ireland is very clear, very straightforward. There is no equivocation about it, nothing [indistinct] in any way, it is a vision in which both main communities will be able to feel comfortable and threatened by none, where both communities will feel that their aspirations and their identities are recognised and respected as legitimate, where both communities will recognise that they have more in common both by way of history and challenges than separates them, and where perhaps, above all, they have a fair and equitable stake in growing prosperity fairly distributed right across Northern Ireland.

I am grateful to you this evening for leaving your homes and your offices to come here, at very short notice, for what I know is a very busy Christmas season. I strongly suspect that there is probably nowhere in the world where Christmas will be celebrated more joyously than it will here in Northern Ireland this Christmas. Nowhere will those traditional greetings that we have grown up with and know and love so much, nowhere will the traditional greetings of peace and goodwill have a deeper meaning than they will this year, this Christmas, in this part of Northern Ireland. It will mean for them a great deal.

With your help this evening, the people who are here, I believe that at long last this season of peace can mark the beginnings of a peace for all seasons in Northern Ireland, for all seasons, for all people, for all time – that is the objective that we are seeking, it is an objective that we have in our grasp if we have the courage, the fortitude and the luck to carry through to conclusion the work that has begun over the past few years. I hope and I believe that we may be able to achieve it and if we are we will be able to look back from that happy time to this occasion this evening and you will be able to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your presence here this evening, and at this conference tomorrow, will have played an important part in securing that peace for Northern Ireland and that future for all its citizens.

You are very welcome indeed, thank you for being here.