Trimble's exit strategy
Unionists afraid of sharing power
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The Ulster Unionist Party inflicted a fresh crisis on the peace process last weekend when they decided to subvert the Good Friday Agreement by opting to deny Sinn Féin ministers their right to attend meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. The British government, by choosing to ignore this subversion of the Agreement, also stands accused.
Jeffrey Donaldson had broached a proposal to place a deadline for IRA decommissioning of 30 November, at which point the UUP would table a motion in the Assembly to exclude the two Sinn Féin ministers from the Executive.
Throughout, the British have encouraged David Trimble in minimising change and making impossible demands
This blatantly pie in the sky proposal, supported by 46 per cent of the Ulster Unionist Council, left no doubt as to `No' unionism's desire for an exit strategy from the Agreement. More worrying, and the most significant sign that unionism is finding the Agreement an unworkable compromise, is David Trimble's willingness to actively promote this strategy, albeit using slightly different tactics.
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, immediately after the UUP vote, commented on the similarity between Donaldson and Trimble's positions and pointed to the lketter David Trimble sent out to UUC delegates, basically a unionist exit strategy from the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement.
Unionist perspectives are as insular and myopic as they ever were
``Yesterday, in his letter to Council delegates, David Trimble set out his objectives as achieving a crisis around the Executive and the Assembly, the suspension of the Agreement and making sure the blame for this would be attached to republicans,'' said Kelly.
``The menu set out by the UUP leadership is evidence of an absence of commitment to the Agreement and the Peace Process - it reflects a hankering after the failed status quo which all politically sane people accept to be untenable.
``Today's debate within the UUC and the differing proposals proferred shows that there is little difference between the Yes camp and the No camp. The difference is tactical.''
In the aftermath of the vote, David Trimble spoke in upbeat tones of the similarity between his and Donaldson's points of view, of their differences being `tactical', rather than political. Effectively, Trimble was saying that he now believes the Agreement to have been a wrong turn and that he is hoping that apportioning blame on the IRA will be his vehicle back to the crossroads.
``The reality is that Mr. Trimble has not stood up to Jeffrey Donaldson,'' said Kelly. ``He has not stood up in defence of the Agreement; instead he has proposed an approach that is in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement.''
The choreography of Trimble's manoeuverings was revealing of the breakdown in unionist commitment to the Agreement. Here we had the First Minister in the devolved Six-County Assembly doing his damnedest to exclude Sinn Féin and retreating into what appears to be a unionist exit strategy in the same week as the Executive launched an extensive programme for government. Here we had David Trimble trying to exclude the Six-County Minister for Health from a meeting with her 26-County counterpart on the issue of food safety. As political progress is being made on issues like health, education, housing and crime, the UUP is at the same time regressing on its engagement in this process.
The only thing sustaining the antics of the UUP now is the British government's chicanery on this matter of unionist `fears', on the Patten recommendations and on the issue of the flying of the Union flag over government buildings in Stormont. The British government has convinced the UUP that they can hollow out the Agreement with impunity. By failing to point ofut to Trimble & Co. that the Good riday Agreement instoitutions ar not freestanding but are inextricably linked, the British government is soignally failing as a guarantor of the Agreement. Throughout, the British have encouraged David Trimble in minimising change and making impossible demands. His antics must be viewed in that light.
The Sinn Féin approach to these issues has been solid and patient. The party has not made threats, nor has it undermined, or attempted to undermine the integrity of the Agreement. There is also another basic difference in approach.
Unionism has is caught in a web of tactical posturing. They seem to strain uncomfortably in ministerial seats with Sinn Féin and long for the days when there was no need to explore their own political inconsistencies. Republicans, by contrast, are demanding the delivery of human rights issues that will improve the standard of living for everyone.
The Ulster Unionist Party considers its internal wranglings and crumbling alignment of conflicting political strategies more important than the welfare of society at large. The problem is that unionist perspectives are as insular and myopic as they ever were.
Gerry Adams pointed to this subjugation of the democratic mandate of the electorate to the minority mandate of the Ulster Unionist Party this week.
``Sinn Féin's right to representation on institutions and the Executive derives from our significant electoral mandate,'' he said. ``It is not for David Trimble or any other unionist leader to set limits on the rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans,'' he said. ``There can be no unionist veto.
``Sinn Féin does not hold Executive position by dint of patronage from the UUP. We have a mandate and the citizens we represent must have exactly the same rights as all other citizens.''