Londonderry MP Mark Durkan told the inquiry into the administrative scheme for “on-the-runs” on Wednesday (June 4) that former prime minister Tony Blair responded to SDLP complaints about the exclusive attention Sinn Féin and the UUP were getting during the Weston Park talks in 2001 by saying: “Yeah, you guys, your problem is you don’t have guns.”
Mr Durkan also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee he first became aware of ‘on-the-runs’ as a major political issue in the context of the peace process in the run-up to the crisis talks of summer 2001, which followed David Trimble’s resignation as First Minister over the IRA’s refusal to decommission.
“Although I have learned that various schemes were meant to be in place before that and were being operated on different terms before that, the first time it emerged as a supposedly salient political issue in the context of implementing the Agreement and dealing with problems in the implementation of the Agreement was in the run-up to Weston Park,” he said.
Mr Durkan went on to advise that the SDLP were quite unhappy at the conduct of the British and Irish Governments of the time because, although the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the UUP were supposedly equal parties to the negotiations, not all were being treated equally.
“It was no secret - it is no secret on the part of people who were in the then Irish Government - that we took a jaundiced view of how the British and Irish Governments were handling aspects of the peace process, not least their negotiations with Sinn Féin at one level, and then at other times it was their negotiations with Sinn Féin on the one hand and the UUP on the other - subsequently, the DUP on the other - and abandoned the more inclusive approach, which we thought was the ethic of the peace process and had given rise to the Agreement.”
Mr Durkan said John Hume and Seamus Mallon repeatedly complained to former US President Bill Clinton and Mr Blair about this but the former Prime Minister had responded bluntly during the Staffordshire convention.
“Tony Blair at that time - we reminded him of this at Weston Park - said, ‘Yeah, you guys, your problem is you don’t have guns.’ So we reminded him at Weston Park that he was negotiating in exactly that same syndrome: they wanted to talk to us about policing, because they needed us to make the new beginning in policing happen, but they didn’t want to hear from us on certain other issues,” said Mr Durkan.