Hardliners' threat to Agreement grows
Hardliners' threat to Agreement grows

There is increasing concern that a majority of unionists elected to the Belfast Assembly later this month may be opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.

On Friday, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble signed the nomination papers for several members of his own party who are opposed to the 1998 peace accord.

Meanwhile, pundits are predicting gains for Ian Paisley's ultra-hardline DUP, Bob McCartney's UKUP and other reactionary unionists at the expense of Trimble's openly divided camp.

Republicans now wonder which unionist leadership will emerge from the election to engage in negotiations. The DUP has called on a re-negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement following the elections.

Last month, a deal to bring closure to the conflict and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement collapsed when David Trimble and the British government reneged on their commitments.

Talks are due to resume in December to rescue the deal, which fell apart over unionist criticism of the showmanship of Canadian general John de Chastelain and the independent body tasked with the verification of acts of decommissioning.

Amid broad public frustration at the instability of the power-sharing institutions and the repeated breakdowns in negotiations, Trimble and his team face an uphill battle to defend themselves from their critics at election time.

But hardline unionists have been warned thay they must accept an all-Ireland agenda if they want to see a return of devolved government.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, speaking after meeting US Special Envoy to the North of Ireland Richard Haass in New York, said efforts to restore the power sharing institutions must go ahead urgently after the November 26th elections.

``The quicker after the elections we can get this moving forward, the better for the process,'' he said.

With the possibility that Ian Paisley could emerge as the dominant unionist figure in the next Assembly, Mr Adams said his party would have to accept the all-Ireland nature of the Agreement.

``The DUP like all the other parties in the election has to face up to the reality that not only is the Good Friday Agreement an international treaty between two governments that cannot be re-negotiated but if they want a devolved administration the price they have to pay is it be in an all-Ireland infrastructure,'' he said.

The possible response of the DUP following an election triumph to a refusal of their demand for a renegotiation of the Agreement remains an unknown factor. Speculation has mounted that the party could still work the power-sharing institutions in certain circumstances.

However, even more uncertain is the response of republicans -- already exhausted by six years of insatiable and ever-increasing demands by David Trimble -- if faced with the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric of Ian Paisley.

Leading Ulster Unionist hardliner Jeffrey Donaldson has called on unionist voters to vote only for candidates ``they can trust'', and not specifically for his own party.

He said David Trimble's negotiating strategy with republicans had failed and that he wished to see a broad unionist front re-elected to the Assembly later this month and the effective renegotiation of the Good Friday Agreement.

``People should vote for the candidate they feel they can trust,'' he said. ``We want to see the flaws in the Agreement addressed, and the only way they can be sorted out is in fresh negotiations.

``A united unionism is much stronger than an individual party and I am looking for the other unionist parties to be involved.''

Donaldson added to the demands by his party's most recent demands of an inventory of IRA arms already put beyond use and a schedule for full decommissioning.

``Some form of physical verification is required,'' he said.

``We need a declaration that the war is over, that the IRA is going to cease all paramilitary activity and decommission all its weapons.

``Decommissioning only deals with one aspect of this - there would have to be other measures.''

  • A former Ulster Unionist Assembly member will run as a candidate for Robert McCartney's small hardline UK Unionist Party in the Assembly election, it emerged today.

    Pauline Armitage, who stood down from the Ulster Unionists in June because of her opposition to David Trimble and the Good Friday Agreement, is contesting for a seat in East Derry as one of seven UKUP candidates across the North.

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