Press conference followed talks and the issuing of a 10 year Irish-British Joint Statement.
Good afternoon, everybody. It’s a great pleasure and a privilege to welcome my friend and European colleague, Enda Kenny, Taoiseach of Ireland, to come to Number 10 Downing Street again today. Great to have you here. We’ve had very fruitful discussions about European issues, about economic issues, about issues affecting Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and our relationship - very, very positive and strong discussions. I’d like to take this opportunity of wishing everyone in Ireland and Irish people around the world a very happy St Patrick’s Day for later this week. I am sure there will be a good show put on in London - a warm, warm welcome, Enda.
I believe that relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland - I can’t think of a time when they have been stronger or better. Obviously, Her Majesty the Queen’s visit to the Republic of Ireland was one of those magical moments in the relationship between two countries and I think it was remarkable what was achieved through that visit and the great warmth that everyone who was there felt. But I think there is something else happening as well, which is very much reflected in the declaration that we both signed today, which is - and I’ve always believed this - because the situation in Northern Ireland is stable and we have a return to proper and normal politics in Northern Ireland, and because the security situation has improved, the true nature of the Anglo-Irish relationship is able to display itself. All the friendship between our peoples, our countries, the shared culture, sport and all the ties that we have are flowering to their true and fullest extent.
Enda and I are determined not to just roll back on our heels at this moment but actually to roll up our sleeves and really make the relationship mean even more, so we want to look at what we can do on energy policy; what more we can do on trade and business policy; how our two governments can work closely together with really good ties at official level; and also, how we can be good partners in the European Union pushing for pro-growth, pro-enterprise, pro-trade policies. So, I think you have seen a great flowering in this relationship. It’s got enormous potential. I think there’s a lot more to come and I am very excited about the prospect of working with Enda over the coming years to make sure that we do our bit so that the Anglo-Irish friendship is as strong as it possibly can be. Enda, over to you.
Thanks very much, David. I want to echo the Prime Minister’s comments here. The fact that we signed a declaration today and have signed it speaks of the future relationship between Ireland and Britain, which is at an unprecedentedly cooperative and very high level, covering a whole range of a spectrum here, from business to trade, to economics, to politics, and as the Prime Minister himself remarked, family ties, which is included in the declaration. I made the point that the visit by Her Majesty last year was an outstanding event in Ireland’s relationship with Great Britain - the first state visit in over one hundred years. From that perspective, we want to build on that, and we have made reference to that in the declaration about the possibility of a future demonstration of shared histories and traditions in regard to the Great War, and we discussed possibilities about that.
Clearly, when we met last January, we made the point that this was an opportunity to build on these strengths. The Prime Minister himself has expressed a wish to come to Ireland on a business mission and we would be very happy to accommodate that, given the increasing ties between Ireland and Britain; the fact that there are 40,000 Irish people on the boards of British companies; the fact that there are more British companies doing business in Ireland; and that trade each way is over a billion a week. We reflected on the question of energy and particularly renewable energy, with the potential for direct export from Ireland to Britain, and the fact that the Minister for Energy in Ireland is discussing with his counterpart here, Minister Hendry, about these possibilities, and we will look at that, which I think is important.
Also, research, development and innovation are areas where there clearly is potential for the future. We reflected on issues as diverse as professional and financial services; the construction sector, with a direct impact on Irish contractors here for the Olympics; the agri-foods sector, which has grown to unprecedented levels in Ireland; food technology; information; communications - all of these are areas where we intend to grow this. Later, I have the opportunity to speak at the Chambers of Commerce between Ireland and Britain, which is a new entity that we have set up. The fact has been said, ‘Why haven’t we had this before, seeing as there such close ties?’ Well, I think the fact that the relationship is now so strong that this is something that is important.
In the context of both governments being co-guarantors of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, the Good Friday Agreement and all the institutions, we want to ensure that our working relationship ensures that there is a peaceful, stable and continuing strength between the shared objectives here of having a prosperous society in Northern Ireland with all our communities and on the basis of what we call a genuine and shared future for everybody. So, we have committed ourselves to supporting Good Friday and the institutions and all of that peace process. We fully support the Northern Ireland Executive and we commend First Minister Robinson and Deputy First Minister McGuinness in their efforts to build on that objective. We look forward to improved opportunities for North/South cooperation and we have referred in that case to health, education and tourism, and sport, which are obviously so important.
We reflected on the Eurozone and the European institutions. I gave the Prime Minister a view in respect of the referendum to be held in Ireland arising from the fiscal compact, which Ireland supports very strongly, and which we will ask our people to ratify in due course. Obviously, next January, Ireland assumes the EU presidency. It marks 40 years of joint membership of what we now know as the European Union. Ireland would be very happy to promote a number of causes here, be it in respect of the financial frameworks, the common agricultural policy and so on. Also, I made the point that in regard to the joint statement, which was signed by both the Prime Minister and myself with a number of other prime ministers, about having the European agenda - having central to that growth and jobs and opportunities, the single market, the uniform patent and all of these areas are ones that we will pursue very strongly in the context of the development of the single market. So, Ireland’s presidency will look at that.
I have wished the Prime Minister well in respect of his visit to America, where he is meeting with President Obama. I have turned with the sympathies of the Irish people to the Prime Minister in respect of the loss of life of a hostage in Nigeria and the loss of lives of a number of British soldiers from the West Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan. From that point of view, I have said that we look forward to the development of these links with the British government in the time ahead. Obviously, over the next ten years we will mark 100 years, the hundredth anniversary of many events which shaped the tradition and the history and the development of both our countries, and we want to do that in as sensitive, as fair and as understanding a way as possible.
Having said that, I suppose the fact of the matter is that the Prime Minister can’t visit Cheltenham this week, nor can I. He is going to be at the match on Saturday; I’ll be in another land. So, it’s a case of difference of opinion here about who is going to win at Cheltenham and who is going to win on Saturday. In my case, I believe the green and white will be victorious here; the Prime Minister believes very strongly that the British team will win on Saturday, but that remains to be seen.
Very good, thank you, and sorry about the outbreak of coughing in the middle of that - a bit of the hay fever today. Sorry about that.
Prime Minister, I would like to ask you about Afghanistan, if I may. After the killing of civilians by an American soldier - the threats of revenge attacks, the outcry - how concerned are you that the British troops in Afghanistan now are in even greater danger now? And, as you prepare to meet President Obama, is this a time when you feel you should be advising President Obama of a change in strategy, a shift in policy of any sort, as these events have unfolded? And Taoiseach, sir, you mentioned Afghanistan briefly. You, I think I am right in saying, have a small number of Irish forces there. Is there still a role for the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan?
First of all, this is obviously an absolutely dreadful event that has taken place and one’s heart just goes out to those families in Kandahar who have suffered these appalling losses. It really is an absolutely appalling thing that has taken place. Of course, it will have its impact, but we must do everything we can to make sure that it doesn’t in any way derail the very good work that American, British and other ISAF forces are doing in Afghanistan. It is worth remembering why we are in Afghanistan; we’re there to train up the Afghan army and the police so that that country is able to look after its own security and make sure that country isn’t a haven for terrorists, without having foreign troops on its soil. That’s what we all, ideally, want.
Now, in terms of my talks with President Obama, we have a good plan. We have a plan which is about transitioning Afghanistan over to Afghan control. That plan applies in Helmand as much as anywhere else, and I think the most important thing is that we stick to that plan; we deliver that plan and then we can bring our troops home having done a good job in giving Afghanistan at least a chance of stability, prosperity and growth for the future. That is what we must do. It is very difficult. My first concern, of course, is with the British troops and making sure they are properly protected and making sure that they have all the equipment and everything that they need. We should pay tribute to them; they do an amazing job at what is obviously a difficult time. But we must stick to the plan and deliver the plan as we set it out.
We’ve got a small number of personnel in Afghanistan. Clearly, coming from where Ireland comes from, we’re in a very different position than Great Britain. But, obviously, having learned the lessons of the troubles over 30 years in Northern Ireland, there is always a place for counselling and for cross‑community information and cross-community encouragement and motivation to build the sort of society and peace that’s very necessary - even more so given the difficulties and the complexities of the tradition and the culture that has been in Afghanistan and many countries in that region for so many years.
Taoiseach, you talk in your statement about Northern Ireland about close cooperation. You talk about promoting reconciliation. Does this mean that you have now accepted the British model for a Pat Finucane inquiry headed by de Silva and that you have given up asking for a judge-led inquiry? Prime Minister, are you happy that there will be now no judicial inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane?
Well, I have a difference of opinion here with the Prime Minister on this matter. I’ve raised this on many occasions, on every occasion I’ve been here. Clearly, the British government took a view that they would have an inquiry headed by Mr de Silva. As you’re aware the Finucane family took this matter to court and a judicial review has been granted and that judicial review is underway. My point here is that, in the case of the Finucane issue that, arising from the comment of Weston Park, whatever Judge Cory would recommend would be followed through by both governments. In regard to the recommendation about the Smithwick inquiry, the government of the Republic obviously issued its own inquiry into that matter which is - in regard to Breen and Buchanan - is underway. So, Cory made clear comments about Pat Finucane and, for that reason, I wanted that followed through on behalf of the Irish government. So, I have a difference of opinion with the British Prime Minister. This is under review for a court hearing to be held in regard to the judicial review shortly.
Well, we do - as the Taoiseach said - have a different view about this. But on my behalf, it’s a different view, though, that comes from a very honest and frank point of view, which is: I want us to get to the truth about what happened with Pat Finucane. I don’t think that it’s necessary to have a lengthy, open‑ended, judge-led judicial review with all the problems, costs, expense and time that it takes. To me, it’s not the nature of the review that is the issue; what matters is getting to the truth. If there are things that need to be said, is the British Government prepared to say them? I hope I showed over my response to the Saville inquiry, I’m prepared to face up to difficult points and be frank about them, and I’ll do exactly the same if that’s the right thing to do, if that’s the truth with Finucane. I think that we should allow Desmond de Silva to do his work. I completely understand those who take a different view. I completely understand why the Finucane family aren’t happy with what has been - what is being done, but I hope to demonstrate through the de Silva process and through what happens out of that process to show that this is honesty in action, of coming to terms with the past.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has told the United Nations this afternoon that it has failed in its responsibility to the people of Syria. With reports still coming in of atrocities in Homs and elsewhere, what confidence do you have that you can persuade Russia and China to come on board for the latest round of talks to support a resolution? Would you be satisfied with any resolution that fell short of calling for the president to step down?
I am delighted that William Hague is at the UN Security Council in the chair pushing forward this debate at the moment. I think it is absolutely vital. Of course, I want the Russians and Chinese to live up to their full responsibilities as permanent Security Council members and to support a strong resolution that shows that the world is really taking seriously these appalling massacres that are taking place in front of our eyes. I think the key here is to keep up all the tracks of our approach at the same time. We need to get humanitarian aid into Syria and we need those humanitarian aid corridors to be opened properly. We need to keep the pressure up on the regime, so that means the sanctions, the travel bans, the asset-freezes, all the weapons we can bring to bear in that regard. Also, yes, I cannot see a future for Syria where the people of Syria are offered any sort of life with President Assad still in charge. We do need transition. For the British government’s part, we will push all of those three agendas as strongly as we can at the Unites Nations. I hope we can achieve a good resolution that China and Russia will support, that will really get some progress for the people who are suffering.
Ireland obviously supports the European Union’s stance on this very strongly.
What is new in this declaration? How much of it is aspirational? How much of the relationship can be driven by the two governments in any event? Specifically on Ireland, during the Irish EU presidency, will Ireland actively oppose the introduction of the financial transaction tax?
Well, first of all, what is new is that this is a declaration. We have never had one before. What is also new is the fact that this is the first time in many years, I think, that the Taisoseach has visited Britain during this Saint Patrick’s week. When you read the declaration you will see that it covers a very broad spectrum of reality here: a billion a week in trade is being done over and back across the Irish Sea, and the extent of trade and negotiation and interaction in regard to research innovation, be it through the health arena, be it through the education sector, the business sector, the agri-food or scientific sector. These are all realities. So, what you have here today is a declaration recognising that the relationship between Ireland and Britain is now at an unprecedentedly high level of co-operation, with interaction in trade and business, which is to the benefit of both countries. It is also a recognition that we are both strongly supportive of a joint view, which is shared by other leaders in Europe, that we need to get to a point where the European Union focuses on its potential in terms of the single market, both within the European Union and on the periphery. In that sense, we both share the view that, central to the agenda for Europe for the future, should be the question of the growth of single market jobs. In respect of Northern Ireland we have stated in the declaration what this means.
In regard to the financial transaction tax, clearly Ireland has stated views on this very clearly. It is the legitimate right and responsibility of the Commission to produce papers on a legislative basis. We have said we would involve ourselves in that debate constructively. There are very strong voices around the table, at the European Union level, opposed to the financial transaction tax and Ireland has made its view known on this in the past without any equivocation.
As the Taoiseach says, what is most new about it is its existence. I think there is a lot of very detailed work in there. I think the common view on EU policy is quite a new departure for the British and Irish governments. I think the most important thing about it is that we are signing a declaration that is so broad in its terms. If you think of former occasions when prime ministers and taoiseachs have stood in this room, or indeed in a room in Dublin, we would have been talking about political processes, prisons, parades and policing. Instead of this, there is another P, which is an entirely positive agenda, the agenda between Britain and Ireland. It’s about two countries who are friends and neighbours and who could be even better friends and go on to do many more things together. That is what the declaration, to me, is all about. That is why I think it is quite a new departure. It is because we made so much progress over Northern Ireland, because there is basically a stability in the affairs of Northern Ireland - although, obviously, there are still huge challenges in terms of security and defeating the remaining terrorists, huge challenges, I do not deny that. But because Northern Ireland is stable, the relationship between Britain and Ireland is going to a new level, a level it always should reach. That is what is so exciting about this declaration today.
Thank you very much indeed. Thank you all for coming. Thank you, Enda, as well and best of luck with your trip to the States coming soon.
The same to you.