British bolster anti-Agreement unionists
Patten to be further diluted?
BY MICHEÁL MacDONNCHA
Throughout the peace process, unionists have had a huge disadvantage and a huge compensation. Their disadvantage is their inability to take a lead in bringing about change. Their compensation has been the British government's willingness repeatedly to stall the whole process at their behest.
This is the constant theme underlying the most recent efforts to revive the Good Friday Agreement. Talks were held in London on Tuesday involving the two governments, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP. While lengthy discussions took place, it was clear that the major difficulties caused by the unilateral British suspension of the institutions remain insurmountable.
Trimble's failure to take on his opponents in his own party has given them time and space to build. They have rallied around opposition to implementation of the Patten Report on Policing and are doing so also around the issue of the Orange block vote
As time goes on, it becomes ever clearer what a massive political blunder it was for the British government to enter a side agreement with the Unionists at the time of the Mitchell Review, which meant the British would suspend the institutions when the false unionist deadline on decommissioning was not met at the end of January. Far from strengthening the hand of David Trimble against his opponents, it emboldened them and allowed them to place further preconditions in the way of an inclusive Executive. Thanks to the British government, the anti-Agreement camp within Trimble's party is stronger than ever and he has allowed himself to become their hostage.
All this compounds the failure on David Trimble's part to act as a leader. He has failed to take on the opponents of the Agreement in his own party in a concerted fashion. His appeal should be to the majority among the unionist population who voted for the Agreement. To make that appeal successful, he would have to democratise his own party and remove once and
for all the block vote of the Orange Order on the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC). This is something Trimble has talked about doing for the last couple of years but he has actually done nothing.
At the start of April, Trimble told the Daily Telegraph that discussions have been ``ongoing for a number of months'' on the removal of the Orange block vote on the UUC and he would put proposals to the UUP's Rules Revision Committee in June. He told a UUP meeting in Breagh Orange Hall on 18 April that while the link between his party and the Orange Order should remain, it must be modernised. But even this minimalist effort has been lambasted by the anti-Agreement Jeffrey Donaldson and by Peter Weir, recently selected UUP anti-Agreement candidate for North Down at the next Westminster election.
The degree of division within the UUP was seen when former UUP Executive Minister Sam Foster attacked critics of reform and singled out Weir, who had actually been suspended from the UUP Assembly party but was selected as a Westminster candidate by the North Down constituency organisation.
Trimble's failure to take on his opponents in his own party has given them time and space to build. They have rallied around opposition to implementation of the Patten Report on Policing and are doing so also around the issue of the Orange block vote. They succeeded at the UUC in making the blocking of Patten a precondition for Trimble's re-entry into an Executive. If leaked reports are true - and they would seem to emanate directly from the Mandelson spinning factory - then they have also succeeded in having the Patten proposals further diluted by the British