Irish Republican News · October 22, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The deal that never was

Efforts resumed today to rescue a deal with the potential to revive the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, with the Irish and British governments coming under pressure from both Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionists.

Despite yesterday's derailment of the choreographed moves, the British government has not changed plans for the Assembly election to go ahead on November 26.

Northern Secretary Paul Murphy made a statement in the House of Commons today confirming the elections.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair could help retrieve the stalled peace process deal in the North of Ireland by making a statement stating the IRA has been fully compliant with disarmament procedures, Sinn Féin said today.

The party's national chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, said he believed the deal which faltered yesterday over a lack of transparency over weapons decommissioning was still salvageable.

Mr McLaughlin said: ``If Tony Blair were to make a statement that the IRA was in full compliance with the agreed scheme, agreed with General John de Chastelain and also agreed with all the political parties including David Trimble's, if the two Governments were to put their authority on the line and say this scheme is being followed by republicans if not the loyalist organisations, then we can retrieve the situation.''

But concerns are mounting that the deal was never meant to succeed, and that the necessary good faith wasn't there.

These concerns were reinforced by the comments of the Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, today.

Mr Ahern told the Irish Parliament in Dublin he was deeply frustrated. But he added: ``I'm not into recriminations that will get me absolutely nowhere.''

He said he feared General John de Chastelain's report on IRA disarmament would not be enough to satisfy the Ulster Unionists, and revealed he had been reluctant to go to Hillsborough Castle yesterday.

But Mr Ahern said he had been unable to contact General de Chastelain to discuss the matter.

It also emerged that the British government was well aware of Mr Ahern's concerns, but was inexplicably determined to proceed with arrangements. The arrangements had also been discussed and agreed in advance with Ulster Unionist David Trimble, who pulled the plug without warning in an announcement to the media at 6pm yesterday evening.


Yesterday's extraordinary events began with the confirmation by the British government that elections to the Belfast Assembly would finally be allowed to go ahead on November 26th.

There followed a historic statement by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams intended to pave the way for the full and final closure of the conflict. Later, two statements by the IRA that it had again put arms beyond use was followed by independent confirmation by the de Chastelain arms body that it had witnessed the largest act of decommissioning yet.

But this unexpectedly proved insufficient for Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble. He demanded an itemised list of the arms destroyed, something which had not been agreed beforehand and was not delivered by the head of the arms body, General John de Chastelain.

The predictably petulant unionist leader then said he would ``suspend'' the carefully choreographed sequence of events instead of making a commitment to supporting a restoration of the North's power-sharing institutions.

Today, Mr Trimble urged the British Prime Minister to intervene to unilaterally break the confidentiality clause under which the decommissioning process operates, and reveal the arms involved in the latest act.

Trimble said: ``All I can do is refer you to what the Prime Minister said, that he thought if the people in Northern Ireland knew what he knew, they would be satisfied.

``There is clearly an obvious response to make that the Prime Minister should put the knowledge that he has in the public domain.''

The British and Irish government are aware that any move by them to breach confidentiality could scupper the decommissioning scheme altogether.

Nevertheless, with a critically important election in five weeks, Trimble could stand to gain by what will be perceived as his hardline stance, while Sinn Féin might lose out to their nationalist rivals in the SDLP for the same reason.

Some republicans believe that a public catalog of the decommissioning process will invariably lead to accusations -- and material for the possible future expulsion of Sinn Féin from the Assembly -- that some arms had not been decommissioned.

But others believe Mr Trimble and others are making impossible demands, effectively asking for the humiliation of the IRA and a symbolic victory.

But the most serious casualty of yesterday's developments was the tentative trust which had developed between Mr Adams and Mr Trimble.

The prospect of a `win-win' pre-election deal for both parties now seems distant. The dilemma now centres around a `zero sum' stand-off and, despite the ongoing talks, could prove intractable in the short term.

While negotiators met to discuss how to repair the damage done to their deal, unionist hardliners were cheered at the development.

Ulster Unionist dissident MP Jeffrey Donaldson insisted that Mr Trimble had been ``hung out to dry'' by republicans.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson described yesterday`s unravelling of the deal as a ``shambles''.

He argued: ``The events of yesterday highlight the total shambles and incompetence at the heart of the Ulster Unionist Party.

``Through its actions, it has once again demonstrated that it is not fit to negotiate for unionism.

``Their new slogan should not be `Simply British'. I think it should be replaced by `Simply Stupid'.''

Mark Durkan, leader of the SDLP, urged the IRA to remove the confidentiality obligation to get the peace process back on track.

Mr Durkan said: ``I don't think public confidence loses anything by the IRA waiving that right to confidentiality.''

He added: ``Let us get in the public domain everything that the public have a right to have in the public domain.''

He also objected to his party's ``exclusion'' from talks leading up to the deal.

However, there was the perception, even before yesterday's debacle, that his party would only gain by its distance from what may have been a doomed negotiation process.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News