THE British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Sir Patrick Mayhew, spoke with editors of the Monitor May 23 in Boston prior to traveling to a White House-sponsored economic development conference on Northern Ireland in Washington, D.C. Edited excerpts of Mr. Mayhew's remarks to the Monitor follow:
Is too much being made of the fact that you're meeting Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams at the economic development conference in Washington?
It gives me a chance to make the point that Sinn Fein have a major contribution they can make to trade and investment in Northern Ireland. And that is to establish beyond doubt that peace is there to stay, because confidence in that is a great help to investment.
What is the state of US-British relations regarding the issue of Northern Ireland?
Both governments have shown courage, both governments have taken risks to help the people of Northern Ireland break free from their history and develop for themselves a new beginning....
I think things President Clinton has been saying could have been said perfectly well by the Prime Minister [John Major] or by [Irish Prime Minister John] Bruton.
There is a commonality of approach which is very good. We went through a time when we had a couple of spats ... but that's long behind.
There's a feeling that the nationalist position is better represented in the US and is more influential in lobbying the White House. Why is that?
The central thing about the American administration's policy is this, I think: It recognizes, with the Irish government and our own, that it's going to be the principle of democracy that's going to decide the future of Northern Ireland, constitutionally....
I do think that there is a much greater understanding [than before] in the United States, certainly in the administration, of the unionist position.
I think that there is a feeling that here is a valid position, a valid attitude, and a historic tradition which has gone unrepresented and understood not at all in the United States.
Is lack of agreement on the ''decommissioning'' of arms by paramilitaries such as the Irish Republican Army threatening progress for peace?
It's worth looking at, if I may suggest, what [Mr.] Bruton said on the 25th of April, a month ago, which almost exactly goes like this: The only way to achieve parity of esteem round a negotiating table, parity of position, is for everybody there to be present by reason of the same thing, namely, their democratic mandate. And for no one to be there who seems to be implying a willingness to use pressure deriving from the fact that his associates have got a pile of weapons.
It's exactly how we think.
How can you be sure that all the arms are turned in?
Then what's the use of trying?
There is no guarantee. After all, you can make a mortar in a very short space of time.... What you can do is demonstrate good faith.... If you're not prepared to do that, people ask why.
You say further reductions in the number of British troops in Northern Ireland depend on signs that the risks are continuing to fall. What would be some of these signs?
Well, obviously, a continuation of nonviolence, which we hope is a permanent peace. And one of the most eloquent ones would be the commencement of the decommissioning of arms that we've been talking about. So long as that is retained, there is an uncomfortably large question mark.
Another thing would be the cessation of what's going on at the moment, which is the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries targeting people, preparing and researching improvised weapons, training, all of that.
What is the possibility of the police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, being reorganized to win more confidence from the Catholic minority?
Well, there is a lot of thought being given right now by the RUC itself, and by the police authority, which is independent of government, as to how they best can make the transition from ... countering terrorism to wholly civil policing....
This is a pretty substantial transition. Within the nationalist community, I think you're seeing quite a significant change. The last group of applicants to join the RUC was 22 percent Catholic. It had never been above 12 percent before.
What advantages does Northern Ireland offer companies that might be considering opening operations there?
Northern Ireland is just as effective a gateway into the [European Union] super market, 450 million people in Europe, as if you're established in France or Germany or Italy. And you can add to that that it's a very attractive place to live in....
But it comes down to, time and time again, the quality of the work force: trained, an industrial tradition, dedicated to the jobs. And costs are much lower [than elsewhere in Europe].
Does a stronger leadership need to develop within the parties in Northern Ireland?
You have to recognize and understand [the fears on both sides]. So it leads me not to be unduly impatient with people who have the guts to put their heads over the parapet and take the political positions in Northern Ireland, if they aren't particularly dynamic always....
It has taken a lot of courage for unionist leaders to sign up to the talks process. A lot of courage to say there must be a new beginning.