Unionist threats mount
BY SEAN BRADY
The past week was dominated by negative unionist reaction to the British government's proposed changes for policing in the Six Counties. Betraying unionist resistance to every form of change, David Trimble angrily attacked the proposals, saying the British government had ``dishonoured itself''. Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson warned that many delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council would conclude that the UUP should withdraw from the Executive.
Sinn Féin Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, said the British proposals fell short of Patten and pointed out that there was no draft legislation spelling out the detail of the British government's intentions. ``We have today only received a broad outline of the British government's intentions. I am concerned that political threats from the UUP and others to collapse the entire Agreement over the Patten proposals are tied up with this.''
Ulster Unionist reaction underlined the party's tactical engagement with the Good Friday Agreement and its inability to come to terms with the necessity of far-reaching and fundamental change in the North, for which the Agreement provides. A revealing insight into the party's thinking was given by UUP deputy leader John Taylor towards the end of the week, when he predicted a return to British direct rule in the Six Counties if there was no IRA arms handover by the time of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting in February: ``I must point out that that will be better than direct rule two years ago because there will be no constitutional claim over Northern Ireland in the Irish Republic and there will be no Anglo-Irish Agreement. So unionists have gained in this process.''
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly said Taylor's comments, while frustrating any implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, were ``a remarkable revelation of unionist thinking and strategy'' and questioned whether this was the ``goal of unionists throughout the entire process''.
Unionist fury over policing demonstrates the manner in which they have viewed the RUC as the property of one side of the community in the North. It is also evidence of their one-sided approach to the need for change. While they have raised the issue of IRA disarmament to one of make or break for the entire process, they have proven incapable of understanding the nationalist perspective and the experience of the Northern state and its agents. Speaking this week at Milltown Cemetery, Gerry Adams said that if there is truly to be a healing process, there has to be an understanding of the equivalence of grief.
``To pretend, as elements of the media do and the political establishment does, that republican Volunteers do not have families, do not have loved ones, have not got feelings, is part of the open wound that has yet to be healed as part of any conflict resolution process,'' said Adams. He added that a unionist leader had yet to publicly acknowledge the injustice of partition or decades of unionist misrule. ``In my view, as part of a new dispensation, that will come and all sections of our people will go forward with a better understanding that nobody has a monopoly on suffering.''
In other developments this week, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs David Andrews announced his decision to retire from the position to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on Friday, 21 January. Gerry Adams thanked Andrews for his substantial contribution to the search for a lasting peace and wished him well for the future. ``He took office at a difficult and challenging time and worked diligently on behalf of all of the people of Ireland,'' Adams said.
Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle member and Dublin councillor Seán Crowe also paid tribute to Andrews for his work in the Irish peace process and East Timor but criticised his tenure for ``the erosion of Irish neutrality and the government's failure to mount a vigorous, public international campaign to close the Sellafield nuclear plant''.
Crowe said: ``My personal working relationship with David Andrews in crucial peace process summits in the North and in Downing Street with Tony Blair was a good one. Mr Andrews also deserves praise for his contribution to the independence of East Timor.
``This should not obscure the fact though, that under his term of office, Ireland's neutrality was eroded by press-ganging us into the NATO-led `Partnership for Peace'.
Crowe said that Andrews was entitled to change his view that membership of PfP was a step towards joining NATO, ``but the Minister was not entitled to tear up an election pledge to voters to hold a referendum on joining PfP, then claim in government there was no need to consult the public, and frogmarch us into the arms of NATO.''
As An Phoblacht goes to press, Westminster was still debating the disqualification bill which would allow members of the Oireachtas to sit in the Six-County Assembly and the House of Commons. Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O Caoláin welcomed moves towards this end by the British government and urged the Irish government to clear the way to allow citizens in the Six Counties to be directly represented in the Dáil.
O Caoláin said: ``The issue of representation is one that Sinn Féin has been pursuing for some time now and we welcome moves towards this end in the House of Commons. This development should spur the Irish government to open the Dáil to representatives of the citizens of the Six Counties.
``In Sinn Féin's submission to the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, we urged that Northern political representatives elected in the Six Counties should be allowed to participate in Dáil proceedings.
``We await a swift and positive response from the Irish government on this crucial democratic issue.''