Republican News · Thursday 30 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

British still dance to Orange tune


David Trimble was returned as Ulster Unionist Party leader at the annual meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council on Saturday, 25 March, winning 457 votes (57%), against the challenge of former Oranger Order Grand Master, the Reverend Martin Smyth, who polled 348 votes (43%).

The Good Friday Agreement is in the bin and we all must engage in the charade of Operation Save David Trimble. It's a clever, albeit entirely transparent, but nonetheless effective renegotiation tactic by unionism.
Rejectionist unionists immediately claimed that the message of Smyth's relatively high vote was that Trimble must in no way deviate from the UUP's demands around decommissioning and its refusal to form an inclusive Executive in the Six Counties.

A motion at the Council meeting, tabled by David Burnside, linking any resumption of the Six-County Executive to a rejection of the proposal in the Patten Report for a name change in the RUC was also passed. Trimble's attempt to have the motion amended was rejected by delegates.

Following the UUC meeting, Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said that Trimble must now begin to lead. The issue of the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party had been resolved and the onus was now on the UUP to end its stalling. What nationalists wanted to hear, McLaughlin said, is that the Ulster Unionist Party is now committed to the Agreement and would desist from blocking its implementation.

Incredibly, rather than directing his attention towards getting the UUP to honour their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, British Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson has instead attempted to put the onus on republicans, once again echoing the unionist refrain around the issue of IRA arms.

Speaking on Tuesday, 29 March, to an Institute of Directors dinner in Belfast, Mandelson said it must be established that ``now that the guns are silent they will stay silent and that any threat of a return to war has gone forever''.

In what must have come as great comfort to the rejectionist wing within unionism, he said that republicans needed to meet unionists with the ``watertight assurance that the war is over, that violence will never again play a part in Northern Ireland politics''.

It is clear that satifying the ever-changing, ever more strident and unrealistic demands of unionism remains a priority for the present British government. Despite the fact that Trimble has again won the leadership contest within the UUP and that progress and political leadership is clearly needed to marginalise the rejectionists, Mandelson and the British government have taken the cue that the objective of placating unionism should become an even more central objective.

How many more leadership battles within the UUP must we all be asked to witness before progress can be made? How many more new preconditions must we see being laid down by unionists? The bar is being raised each and every time.

The Good Friday Agreement is in the bin and we all must engage in the charade of Operation Save David Trimble. It's a clever, albeit entirely transparent, but nonetheless effective renegotiation tactic by unionism.

The British government is going along with this strategy every inch of the way. Mandelson repeats the meaningless unionist demand that the IRA should declare the war over. This is a replacement for the original unionist precondition for prior IRA decommissioning and is just a different formulation for seeking the Unionist Holy Grail of an IRA surrender.

The reality is that, bar a brief period, the IRA has been on cessation for six years now. The organisation has not been drawn into conflict despite repeated provocations. This situation has been sustained, with discipline, despite repeated loyalist attacks and assassinations against the nationalist community and its representatives across the North; despite the utter failure of the British government to initiate a demilitarisation programme; despite the frustration of all political progress and the fact that the British government and the UUP are in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionists insist on making unrealistic, impossible and meaningless demands from republicans precisely because they know that they are impossible. The current impasse is not about decommissioning at all but about unionism's inability to come to terms with the need for political change and their refusal to engage with the Good Friday. The biggest problem of all is that this political inertia is being underwritten once again by the British government.

The IRA, for its part, has said that it does not pose any threat to the Peace Process.

On Wednesday, 29 March, at a press conference in Belfast hosted by the party leadership, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams gave the party's considered view of the current political situation:

``The weekend decisions by the UUP, including the conference's unanimous backing for a new precondition linking the retention of the RUC title to any re-instituted Executive, has underlined the UUP's rejection of the Good Friday Agreement.

``At its most basic, the differences within unionism are about how to resist change. It is about unionism being unable to cope with the need for equality and justice, or with the reality that nationalists and republicans have rights and entitlements.

``For some, it is about not wanting a Catholic about the place, or being prepared to tolerate Catholics but only on unionist terms

``The weekend events are also a consequence of a failure of leadership.

``David Trimble was a reluctant partner to the Good Friday Agreement. At no time did he embrace the spirit or the letter of the Agreement. Instead, througout the last 22 months, he sought to delay, dilute and to undermine the Agreement and the process of change which it involves - a process that the vast majority of people on this island, including those within the unionist section of our people, voted for in May 1998.

``Neither is it possible to divorce events at the UUP conference from the decision in February by Peter Mandelson to collapse the institutions.

``As I warned at the time, both privately to Mr Mandelson and publicly, the British government is not a referee but a major player in the situation. Consequently, the decision to collapse the institutions has strengthened rejectionist unionism.

``It is our firm view that if this crisis is to be ended, then the British government must move quickly to re-establish the institutions and restore confidence in a process that it has severely damaged.

``That must include moving ahead on policing, setting down a clear and definitive programme for demilitarisation, and in general moving ahead with the full implementation of all those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement over which it, and the Irish government, have direct control.''

Contents Page for this Issue
Reply to: Republican News