AS Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland Affairs, Sir Patrick Mayhew oversees the administration of Ulster and is responsible for helping Britain find a peaceful solution to the sectarian conflict there. He met with Monitor editors April 11 to discuss the peace process since the Downing Street Declaration of Dec. 15 between Britain and Ireland. Among his comments:
On progress of Ulster peace process:
People say to me, ``Are you optimistic?'' I always deny being optimistic; I don't think that's a rational thing to be anymore. ... What people ought to be concerned about is whether you have sensible grounds for being hopeful. And I have. What are we trying to achieve? We are trying to help the people of Northern Ireland find a less antagonistic way of living together.
The principle of the [Downing Street] declaration is the principle of democracy, of consent. The future of Ireland, Northern Ireland, is going to be decided by the consent of the people who are affected by it - the principle that coercion, violence can't have any place in that; the principle that everyone is welcome to come to the table, provided they have a democratic mandate and are committed to peaceful methods. If you wish to back up your arguments with a bomb or a bullet you exclude yourself.
When I walk about the streets of Northern Ireland, and I talk with the people in the factories and shops wherever I go, I find people wanting their politicians to talk. [There is] great impatience now with the occupancy of ancestral trenches and the shouting of tribal hostilities. So that's how I see it, I can't give you a time scale, but I'm privately confident that we are going to succeed.
On the IRA's botched Heathrow attack:
It was for real. Those [mortars] were for real. When they didn't go off, [the Irish Republican Army terrorist group] put it about they never intended them to go off. They were made in exactly the same way, with nothing left out, they were just not particularly well-packed.
I think that it was very influential, not just in America, because people had in mind the use that [the leader of the IRA's political wing, Gerry] Adams had made of the generous gesture of the Americans in having him in, giving him freedom of the airwaves and so on, and he put himself across as a man of peace. And when he came back, he has failed to denounce the murder of not one, but two policemen, [and] the Heathrow attack. And people say, `You haven't denounced any of this.' So I think there has been a tremendous falling away of credibility for Mr. Adams since he returned from the United States.
Can Adams deliver the IRA?
I think there are some who continue to think that progress toward a political end can be achieved by violence against the British. They're wrong. I think there are some signs that the numbers of those who believe that to be wrong are growing. I think there has been a lurking - though I believe unjustified - belief in some republican quarters that ultimately the Irish government would stand behind the republican movement, even though it continues to use violence. The significant thing is that the [Irish prime minister] couldn't have been more explicit. The agreement itself can't be.
On rumors that the British leader's days are numbered:
I've been in politics quite a long time and I can remember all sorts of forecasts of this kind, including about [Thatcher], and she went on.
The electorate in our country is much more stable than the newspapers, which advise them in prodigious quantities strictly for entertainment. And they are written principally for entertainment, in a time of terrific competition when there are more [newspapers] than the market really can sustain.
Any impact on Northern Ireland if the Labour Party wins the election next year?
Very little. This is one of the strengths that there is a common belief [in the current policy]. [Labour leader] John Smith said to me at the time of the declaration: ``We're with you. Nobody rides to glory on an Ulster horse.''
The difference between the two major parties is that the Labour Party wants to persuade the people of Northern Ireland to join a united Ireland. That is their policy. Conservative government declines to be a persuader one way or the other. It's up to you. We'll help you to reach agreement, but for God's sake, reach agreement. We don't mind what it is one way or the other. We have no private interest, but you are entitled to the [same] protection [as] any part of our country ... so long as you are attacked by people who wish to drive you out when the majority wish to stay in.
Next step in peace process?
The declaration is there and it is impossible to think of a sounder platform than what the declaration provides for the continuance of the political talks process. Everyone can join in, except those who use violence to fortify their arguments.