Irish Republican News · September 3, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Unionism will never share power

By Brian Feeney (for the Irish News)

Ten years ago nationalists woke up in hope and expectation that a new political landscape had opened up with the IRA cessation announced the previous day. That night the UDA murdered a 32-year-old Catholic, John O’Hanlon, in a drive-by shooting in north Belfast.

In some ways that has been the pattern for the last decade. The IRA have killed many people since 1994, but since the final cessation of the armed struggle in 1997, and it was final though they won’t admit it, the vast majority of violence has been loyalist. Despite that fact the British government and unionist politicians concentrate on the IRA. Despite official rejection of the UDA ceasefire, UDA leaders, regularly named in the press remain free to come and go.

Few nationalists would have imagined on September 1 1994 that the IRA cessation would have been followed by 10 years of unionist prevarication, excuses, walk-outs, ultimatums, anything to avoid sharing power on equal terms. All of that messing around aided and abetted by British governments, Conservative and Labour.

Perhaps most astonishing was the naivety of republican leaders in 1994 who assumed that they would be in talks ‘within weeks’ because the British intermediaries ‘gave them to understand’ that would be so. Instead, weak, vacillating John Major, in hock with unionists at Westminster, began asking the IRA to say their cessation was permanent. Then came the nonsense of decommissioning. Over the next two years of specious delaying tactics Major, and his faithful echo, the inept John Bruton, created the Real IRA just as surely as Benyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon created Hamas by refusing to deal with Fatah.

When Blair finally managed to prevail on Trimble to say yes on Good Friday 1998 it made no difference. He still wouldn’t share power without conditions. The truth of course is that he could not whole-heartedly endorse what he’d agreed because it would split his party. Indeed his party had instantly split on the day of the Agreement as Donaldson walked out. And here we come to the crux.

As most of the same actors assemble at Stormont today, why does anyone think unionists in the shape of the DUP are any more ready to share power than the UUP was six years ago or, for that matter, 60 years ago? Every unionist leader who has contemplated sharing power with nationalists has been destroyed: Trimble went the same way as O’Neill and Faulkner. Those peaceful wall flowers, the SDLP, stood available as partners for 25 years from 1973-98, yet were repudiated. Unionists won’t even share power at council level when they can avoid it. Look at the bigotry in Lisburn. Why then should the DUP consider making a partnership deal with Sinn Féin? What evidence is there to support such a contention?

Oh yes, you can point to articles by Peter Robinson and speeches by Jeffrey Donaldson. But you’ll see no proposal to share power on an equal basis with fenians. They’ll make a deal but it has to be ‘accountable’, that is unionists must remain in control. No, the truth is they are manoeuvring to sound reasonable and avoid the blame for wrecking negotiations, but they have no intention of closing a deal.

A deal would need the imprimatur of the doddery demon Doctor whose whole political life has been devoted to preventing a deal. Don’t forget he’s the man whose guiding text is Corinthians, ‘Come ye out from amongst them and be ye separate...and touch not the unclean thing.’ In case you don’t know, the ‘unclean thing’ in political terms is fenians.

Both governments subscribe to the myth that Peter Robinson is gagging for a deal but needs Paisley to endorse it. He isn’t and he won’t. Why? The DUP rank and file are totally unprepared for Peter Robinson grinning at the top of those Stormont steps with Martin McGuinness. If the DUP tried to make a deal the party would split, just as Faulkner’s UUP did in 1974 and Trimble’s in 1998.

What Dublin and London should be doing after 10 years is looking for a way to penalise unionists for refusing to share power on equal terms instead of rewarding them for stalling and endorsing each and every pre-condition no matter how preposterous. The evidence of the last decade is that appeasing unionists simply results in them placing another hurdle in the way of progress.

Perhaps Sinn Féin is playing a long game, planning to split the DUP just as they split the UUP by hitting them over the head with the unanswerable demand for equality. If so, the outcome will be the same. Dublin and London will have to run this place. The sooner the better.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News