Trimble prepares election broadcast
As election concerns move to the fore, hopes that the peace process can be put back on track in the short term are fading.
Sinn Féin has said it still has not received an adequate explanation for Tuesday's events, when a deal for a planned sequence of peace moves came to a grinding halt with the refusal by Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble to reciprocate.
South Belfast Sinn Féin Representative Alex Maskey said today that there is `a belief that the UUP have effectively walked away for this phase of the process'.
``The forthcoming Assembly election could have been conducted in a positive, pro-Agreement climate,'' he said. ``That is in our collective interests. That has been the focus of our collective efforts in recent times.
``We had an agreement; an agreed and choreographed series of statements and events to give expression to that and David Trimble committed himself to this in the discussions between the UUP, Sinn Féin and the two governments. Sinn Féin delivered our part of this sequence as agreed. The IRA delivered their part of the agreement as agreed. General de Chastelein presided over a substantive act of putting arms beyond use and reported this. Others did not fulfil their part as agreed.
``Instead the UUP put up new demands. We have spent the days since then trying to find a way through this. But this must be set firmly in the context of what has already been agreed between the UUP, the British Government, the Irish Government and Sinn Féin.
``However, I believe that the UUP have effectively walked away for this phase of the process. I could be wrong. I hope that I am wrong. Mr Trimble needs to tell us. He needs to make his position clear. It now over to David Trimble and the UUP leadership to decide.''
Mr Maskey said he had restrained his comments, because ``recent intense dialogue'' between the two parties was ``a hugely important development''.
``Whatever about the present difficulties this must be protected. It is key to future political progress.''
Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists prepared for their first election broadcast and the start of campaigning in earnest for the November 26 poll to the Belfast Assembly.
David Trimble will appear on television with his wife Daphne tonight and state his party's position as it embarks upon the election trail.
He is expected to take credit for moving the Republican Movement towards a peaceful stance, and criticise his more hardline unionist opponents for their failure to take on Sinn Féin negotiators in the talks.
Encouraging his organisation to get out on the campaign hustings, Mr Trimble said the world would ``understand and respect'' a Unionism ``that stretches itself to reach a decent and honourable peace''.
The UUP will tell voters, he said, that it would not share power with Sinn Féin after the election unless the IRA gives more information. ``As things stand, I cannot recommend that my party returns to government,'' he said.
``Unionism cannot afford a low turnout on November 26th. It has been our Achilles heel in the past. This time anyone with a stake in future prosperity . . . must get out and vote,'' he declared.
Ulster Unionists have semaphored that a key meeting of the party's ruling council on Wednesday, which was to consider any new deal with Sinn Féin, is to be cancelled.
Party leader David Trimble announced the meeting date as an effective deadline for his new demands to be met, particularly his demand for ``transparency'' on last week's move by the IRA to put a large tranche of arms beyond use.
In a newspaper article, the UUP leader wrote: ``I had the chance to push the Republican Movement away from its violent ideology and I took it. I make no apology.''
He said he had insisted on seeing a fully transparent list of weaponry destroyed because of ``past disappointments''. ``When the Republican movement came up short, I put the process on hold.''
He accepted that Sinn Féin's Mr Gerry Adams' speech on Tuesday was ``a significant advance''.
``Sinn Féin's commitment to exclusively democratic and peaceful means of resolving differences is welcome, but we all know from past experience that it is the actions of the IRA that count.
``The pity is that the IRA has not been open and honest in its dealings. Not telling the truth sometimes can be as damaging as telling a lie,'' Mr Trimble said.
The two governments have kept a low profile since Tuesday's debacle, while the hardline DUP and nationalist SDLP have derided the process which led to the collapse.
Democratic Unionist leader Ian Paisley is planning to raise in Westminster allegations that the British Prime Minister misled MPs that he had been given more information about the arms moves from the General than was in the public domain. Tory spokesman Quentin Davies has also accused Mr Blair of deceiving MPs.
Confusion remains over the source of Blair's alleged information.
The head of the international decommissioning body General John de Chastelain has repeated that the Irish and British Prime Ministers do not know the scope of Tuesday's act of disarmament by the IRA.
He said even the IRA itself may not have a full inventory of its weaponry as many of its members who hid the arms and explosives are no longer alive.
Meanwhile, in a television interviww, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams expressed anger that republicans had been blamed for the latest impasse.
``It is hard to calculate the damage done by the arrest of the process. I have David Trimble's statement. I have the statement of the two governments.
``Whatever is said, everyone in this process, everyone in the sequence of statements knew what was going to proceed. There has been huge damage done by the unionists stepping out of that.''
He also insisted that the IICD should not be put under pressure. ``The integrity and the independence of the Commission (IICD) should be accepted,'' he said.