Thank you. Chief Constable, I'm just going to say a few words to you. I do apologise for keeping you waiting and I've just come hot foot from Prime Minister's question time. It's nice to see a friendly audience for once. Can I just say to you it is a pleasure to be here with you this evening I gather you're all recruits coming into the RUC and I just wanted to say 2 or 3 things about the future.
The first is perhaps, before talking about the future, just to talk about the past for a moment and to say that I would like to give on behalf of the British Government our thanks to the RUC for the work that it has done over so many years and our thanks in particular to the officers, some of whom sacrificed their lives, many of whom have suffered injury, all of whom have suffered the threat of injury, a danger over the past period of time and I know that much of the spirit that there is in the RUC is born of those dangers and those threats under which the officers have lived for many many years.
As for the future, I think that all things are possible in the context of peace and we just don't know at the moment whether its possible to get a stable agreement for the future, a stable framework for the future, in Northern Ireland. We hope very much it is. We hope that we're able to get an agreement that provides for people being able to argue their point of view in Northern Ireland in the way that people argue their point of view in most democracies - by democratic and peaceful means —— where the bullet and the bomb and the gun are taken out of politics here in Northern Ireland, and taken out for good. If we are able to get that framework for the future, then obviously what we want is for the RUC to develop over time, to be a police force, a police service that is developing in the context of normality where you are able to operate in circumstances and conditions that would be familiar to police officers everywhere, That's not the case at the moment and no one can quite understand from the outside just how difficult it is to operate in the context that exists at the present time. We're trying to make these political changes precisely in order to change that context.
There's an independent commission, as you know, that's going to look at how the police force develops in Northern Ireland over this next period of time. It will do so hoping that we have that different context, that we have that better chance for the future and it will do so also in circumstances where there's going to be full consultation with the RUC, with the organisations that represent you and represent those that work for the RUC in Northern Ireland.
Now one of the things that we've been doing over the past period of time as well, is working with your representatives, for example, we've been working with the Police Federation to work out proposals under the auspices of the Rehabilitation Trust for a ??4.5 million programme which will provide counselling for people, which will provide help for people who are changing their career as a result of, what we hope, is a changing context for peace in Northern Ireland.
But, I wanted to assure you of one thing that the Government will stand by those people that have given this good service for their country over this past period of time, that we will make sure that any changes that are introduced are changes that are not just introduced as I said earlier with consultation, but are introduced in a way which protects the standard of life and the terms and conditions of employment that people have.
It is for everybody, now, a difficult period of time. Perhaps for the RUC as difficult as anyone else. Occasionally I read things in the newspapers about, does the Agreement mean that the RUC is to be disbanded - answer no. Does it mean that we are going to have gangs of former paramilitaries running local police answer no. Does it mean that if the circumstances in Northern Ireland change, we can reach out and build the police service into a police service that is able to be there with the confidence of all parts of the community and able to exist in circumstances where you don't have the threat of danger continually hanging over you - answer yes. I hope that we can do that. It depends on many, many factors, but at least I believe that at the moment we've got the chance to do it.
So I wanted to say to all of you our thanks and gratitude for the Past Service and the past sacrifice, Our obligation and commitment to make sure that that does not go either unrewarded or unnoticed and our absolute determination to make sure that in the future we have the police force and police service here in Northern Ireland that is able and willing to go out and serve the people in the way that it has done in the past.
The one thing that I've been impressed by every time that I've come to Northern Ireland, and every time I've talked to the Chief Constable and to other members of the RUC, and I've just met a whole lot of your representatives now, but also some of the people from those that have been retired out or injured as a result of the troubles in Northern Ireland over this past period of time, and always I've been impressed by the spirit that is there and by the determination that nothing should get in the way of the service of the people.
Now we will have a difficult time over this next period - I've got no doubt about that at all - but I do believe that at long last there is some hope there. You are very much part of the future in Northern Ireland. Whether Northern Ireland develops well or not depends not just on the politicians either in Britain or here in Northern Ireland, nor does it depend simply on the structures and politics, it also depends on people like yourselves and I would like to say to you thank you for what you're committing yourself to here. We will stand by you and we will make sure that together, with the right type of partnership for the future, we can build a Northern Ireland of which we can be proud and we can make sure that the RUC goes from strength to strength serving the people here and making sure that the quality of life for everybody in Northern Ireland - whatever their tradition, whatever their background, whatever part of the community they come from - is improved and enhanced.
Thank you very very much indeed for listening to me, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting for so long. I hope you understand the difficulties of that and again from me to you thank you for both being so patient in waiting and thank you for the work you have done and the work that you're going to do. Thank you.
Prime Minister may I very sirnply on behalf of us all thank you very much for finding the time in such an incredible schedule to be with us this evening. We realised too that today is a special day for you and a day when you should be with your family and we acknowledge that as well and I should warn you that as you leave, Constable Nicola Madill will come forward to mark the fact that is a special day. So we appreciate you finding time to be with us this evening.