The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at the Freedom of the City of Cork Presentation – 20 June 2008

The text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Freedom of the City of Cork Presentation, held in Cork on Friday 20th June 2008.


There are some days that are indelibly printed in the memory: today is one. I shall always treasure the memory of this honour, and the delightful poem by Thomas McCarthy. All that, and lovely Irish music too! My only regret is that Michael Flatley was not dancing to it!

It is an especial pleasure that this honour is in company with Albert Reynolds. Albert and I first met as Finance Ministers, and became Prime Minister and Taoiseach at almost the same time. From the moment we met, we both decided to put the Northern Ireland Peace Process at the top of our agenda.

It looked hopeless: decades of mutual suspicion/recriminations/injustice/ violence. Few thought success was possible.

Albert and I believed in politics of reason/persuasion: we believed that violence would never reach a solution: but dialogue might.

But dialogue without agreement between the British and Irish Governments would simply sow confusion. That appreciation was the root of the Joint Declaration.

Others had tried: others had cared – but only a joint Government agreement was likely to attract widespread support.

The Joint Declaration not easily agreed. Went through many versions / much discussion / a lot of frustration – and the occasional squabble.

But Albert and I got there in the end. Albert took political risks – for which I will be forever grateful – and so did I. It was worth it.

What was the Joint Declaration?

a powerful symbol of Anglo-Irish determination;
a set of principles both Governments could accept;
the essential bedrock of an agreement.

It was not itself an agreement – but without it no agreement was possible.

It offered reassurances essential to negotiation:

To Nationalists:
their traditions/aspirations would be respected;

To Unionists:
a United Ireland would not be imposed;

To Paramilitaries:

a way into democratic politics was open if they gave up violence.

The Joint Declaration was the beginning of what we knew would be a long process. The Irish Peace Process was like a Rubiks Cube in Gaelic – never easy to solve.

The Joint Declaration:
Agreed objectives for London/Dublin;

Addressed contradictory ambitions and fears.

After the Joint Declaration, Albert and I were confident an agreement would be reached: my only regret was that it took so long.

It was that path that has brought us here today: let me echo what Albert has already said: that we are proud to be your guests today, and that I am proud to be honoured alongside one of Ireland’s finest sons.