Frank Millar’s final interview of a short series before Monday’s recall of an assembly, following Dermot Ahern, Gerry Adams and Peter Hain, is with the DUP leader Ian Paisley, and it merits a Irish Times front page report too[subs req]. As with the other interviews, policing takes a central role in the discussion and Ian Paisley is definitive were others may have been ambiguous – “Except we have the police issue resolved, there is no way forward.”In today’s Irish Times interview Ian Paisley rejects the accusation that this is a new pre-condition as both Dermot Ahern and Peter Hain have suggested –
The leader of unionism is in rude good health and high humour. But before answering my questions he wants to address some vital issues by way of reply to Minister Dermot Ahern’s interview in The Irish Times last Tuesday.
Dr Paisley rejects what he considers Ahern’s presumption in “setting the parameters” within which he must work. “And the first parameter is the important question of the police. How do you support the police? Joining the Police Board is not an act of supporting the police, because you can go on to the board without making any statement whatsoever, you can carry out your own plan of operation to further what you have in mind, and you are not supporting the police. But we are being sold that the best thing is to get Sinn Féin to support the police and the best way to do it is get them to join the board. That is not supporting the police at all.”
Ahern and Secretary of State Peter Hain have said the DUP must not raise policing as a new “pre-condition” to powersharing. Is that what he’s doing?
“I resent very much them saying I am putting forth preconditions,” the DUP leader says. “These are the conditions I set out in all my talks with them. I fought an election on it. I won my majority on this very issue. And the issue is a simple one. Number one, there could be nobody in the government of Northern Ireland except they accept the forces of law and order. And by accepting them, they hand to the state all the information they have on lawlessness.”
So this issue will have to be resolved if there is to be an agreement in November?
“Yes. Except we have the police issue resolved, there is no way forward. The talks have no future until everyone who’s going to be in the government of Northern Ireland is a complete and total supporter of the police. That doesn’t mean he can’t criticise police activity. But he’s not going to be planning activity against the police, he’s not going to withhold information, he’s not going to use his position on the Police Board to tip off fellows to clear the country. . .”
Since they clearly want the issue resolved every bit as much as him, why does he suppose the British prime minister and the Taoiseach are not demanding this of Sinn Féin at this stage?
“I think they’ve been told strongly by Sinn Féin they’re not getting it.”
As I noted from the interview with the SF president Gerry Adams, Frank Millar also comments that the British Government could interpret what was said then as an indication that there is an acknowledgement within the SF leadership that movement will be required on policing if a November deal is to be acheived.
On whether Ian Paisley recognises that the situation, “the big picture”, is already transformed beyond recognition? –
“Yes,” he replies, before adding the qualification. In the Commons recently he challenged Hain: “I said ‘who is it that brought about those changes? Was it your policy or was it my policy?’ Our pressure had a lot to do with it, our pressure was successful. Then you say to me throw it all in now. You don’t throw away successful policies, you pursue them.”
There is also discussion on the DUP’s proposed changes to the Belfast Agreement –
The DUP leader contends “a democracy” cannot be built on what he says “is lacking” in the Belfast Agreement, and refers to his proposals to the British government for change.
“We have said, at the end of the day the IRA gives up all its arms, the IRA genuinely has no more truck with criminality, the IRA supports the police and called for its people to support the police . . . You do all that, but that is not sufficient.
“We must be able to build upon something that is a democracy, and we haven’t that. Now they promised they would change the agreement in the way we suggested it could be changed, so that we would have a firm democratic foundation, because you can make a quick deal and then, when you start to build, you’d be on sinking sands.”
Paisley confirms this means provision for “collective responsibility” in any executive, “and especially the fact that you cannot forever be stuck, that you have to get agreement between two diverse agencies. There’s bound to be a time when we have to go to a majority weighted vote. I am prepared to have a weighted majority. I’m prepared to go as far as any real democracy goes, but I’m not prepared to tie my country in with people who at the end of the day want to destroy it.”
He doesn’t preclude Sinn Féin in an executive, but raises concerns about the assembly being viewed as an interim solution rather than an agreement, the seven-council model of local government, and about the language being used in The Process –
In the terms in which he addressed those Brooke talks – nobody is asking him to go into a 32-county state. What he’s being asked to do is have a powersharing administration within the United Kingdom?
“Yes, but that government must not be an interim government. They cannot tell me I must take a step, but it’s only a step to another step and another step . . . I mean Adams made that clear, that we’re on a progress (to a united Ireland). That progress is not going to descend on this Assembly. And I do not see this Assembly ever being a real true democracy unless changes are made.”
But these changes don’t preclude Sinn Féin being there as members of an executive? “No, provided the other questions of the police and all are dealt with.” On one specific, he has previously said he would not accept the concept of co-equal First and Deputy First Ministers. Is that an absolute position?
“I can’t see how you could have an absolute position with that [ arrangement], that before you can get agreement you have to have the agreement of a person who has already said ‘this is only a step’. I mean they talk about the peace ‘process’.”
But doesn’t he think they’re bluffing? I mean, he’s already claimed success for his policy? “Yes, but to a degree, we’re not out of the woods yet.”
In this respect Paisley records particular concern about the closures of military bases west of the Bann, and the proposed seven-council reform of local government, before declaring his fear that events are actually moving toward “a repartition of Northern Ireland”.
So he’s not yet satisfied as to where the political process is taking Northern Ireland? “No,” he confirms: “I am shrewdly suspicious of the British government, I don’t put my faith in the British government.” And in a seeming warning against any temptation to go behind his back, he adds: “I think the British government would like somebody else where I sit, and would make a deal. Well I intend to sit on and sit tight . . . I’m not interested in office. Do you think I have come to 80 years of age to sell my soul? No, I’m not.
“What I’m interested in is to have a broad base of democracy on which we build, and then, come hell or high water, that edifice is going to stand.”
Does the IRA have to disband? “I think they have, yes, I don’t see any use for them otherwise. But the whole organisation of the IRA as an army . . . I say that that must change and we can’t have them.”
He’s going to be accused of raising a whole list of impossible demands. “I know that. But I haven’t said anything I haven’t said before and they are on record.”