Press Briefing: Northern Ireland
Press Briefing: 11am Thursday 3 February 2005
Asked whether we thought Martin McGuiness' comments this morning threatened a return to violence, the PMOS said no. It was fair to say that withdrawing from the decommissioning commission at times of difficulty was something the IRA had done before. Most recently after the breakdown in 2003. Therefore to that extent we had not been surprised. It was important to say that the Government was not seeking confrontation with Sinn Fein, we did recognise the contribution that both Sinn Fein and the IRA had made to the Peace Process. Equally however it was our duty to tell the facts as they were. In this case the facts were that the IRA did carry out the robbery and that was in direct contradiction of what the Good Friday agreement was all about.
Put to him that Martin McGuiness seemed to be threatening a return to violence, the PMOS said that we did not believe that was imminent. Elsewhere Mr McGuiness had indicated that he didn't think it was imminent either. Let us be very clear about this, the people of Ireland, both North and South had voted in 1998 for a complete end to paramilitary activity which included criminal activity. That is what the Government believed should happen. Asked if by imminent, the Government thought that a return to violence might be a possibility in the long term, the PMOS said that we did not believe it was something people should be worried about at this stage.
Asked if the Peace Process was breaking down, the PMOS said no it was not. If we went back to last December, we had had the prospect of the DUP and Sinn Fein sharing power. That did not happen for various reasons. No one was pretending that the robbery was anything other than a setback, but in terms of the vast number of issues which in 1998 we set out to resolve, they were all resolved apart from one single issue. That was continued IRA activity. Therefore what we had to do was resolve that issue. Asked to comment on the Taoiseach's view that the Sinn Fein leadership were aware of the robbery before it occurred, the PMOS said that as we had said before and was our view, it was inconceivable given the sophistication of the robbery and its implications that it was not known about within the highest level of the Republican leadership. Asked if it was likely, as the Taoiseach had suggested, that IRA had been behind other robberies, the PMOS said that there was evidence of other IRA activity and the Chief Constable had spoken about that in the past.
Asked of Gerry Adams had indicated to the Prime Minister when they met at Chequers, that this statement was a likely development, the PMOS said no.
Asked if the Chief Constables had indicated to the Prime Minister whether there would be any prosecutions, and if there weren't any wouldn't it leave the Chief Constables' statements open to the charge of being baseless accusations, the PMOS said that he recognised the legitimate question being asked. First of all we had to recognise that this was not just the opinion of the Chief Constable but a view which had been reached after a very careful investigation. Secondly it was a view which was independently held by the Garda in Dublin in terms of their investigation and what they knew as well. Therefore it was not just an idle opinion but rather a view based on very careful consideration. As the Chief Constable had indicated, he was fully aware of the significance of the statements he had made; they were not statements he made lightly. In terms of prosecutions that was an entirely a matter for the investigating authorities. They would take the time and resources necessary to decide how to proceed. In short while of course we wanted to see progress and quickly as possible, it was both our responsibility and the wisest course of action to let the Police proceed at their own speed. Equally it would be wrong for us not to indicate where we thought the investigations were pointing.