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9 October 2003 Edition

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Unionists jeopardise progress

BY LAURA FRIEL

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has cautioned against any further postponement of elections, pointing out that putting off the election again would be to "wave goodbye" to this phase of the process. Speaking on Tuesday at Stormont, Adams said that although Sinn Féin as a party is currently on an election footing, an election is in no way a foregone conclusion.

"My big concern at the moment is that the two governments and the Ulster Unionist Party have set the bar too high, right outside the Agreement," said Adams. The Sinn Féin leader pointed out that demands were being made of republicans while the British and Irish governments were in breach of the Agreement.

At the same time, as a result of its Executive resolution on the Joint Declaration last Friday, the UUP has adopted an agenda in which other elements of the party had joined the rejectionists to move backwards, said Adams. The UUP has moved away from elements such as the Equality Commission, justice issues and other matters at the core of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Last Friday, the rejectionist unionists had their way," said Adams. "I look at the Ulster Unionist resolution and read through it and see rejection of element after element of the Good Friday Agreement and then I read the demands."

Adams pointed out inconsistencies within the unionist rejectionist position. "The UUP wants to see the IRA going away, and Sinn Féin's peace strategy is to achieve that objective, but at the same time the UUP are against the British Army going away and they want to see the RIR retained. It just doesn't make sense," said Adams.

"How do nationalists read this? Unionists want the IRA to disappear but they want a small, locally recruited militia to be maintained and they want the British Army to stay in Crossmaglen, in Carrickmore or wherever else throughout the Six Counties."

The Sinn Féin President also highlighted a lack of commitment to sustain the institutions. As for the current negotiations, Adams said Sinn Féin's case has been transparent.

"We are prepared to play our part and we are prepared to stretch beyond ourselves and beyond our commitments under the Agreement but we cannot do any of that in the absence of a date, certain and publicly promulgated, for an election," said Adams.

The process could still be delivered said Adams but there was only so much one party could do on its own. "There are just so many difficulties being raised," he said.

Current difficulties in the peace process were further exacerbated last Friday during a 110-strong meeting of the Ulster Unionist Executive that unanimously adopted a motion demanding 'radical change' to the Joint Declaration.

The motion that had been tabled by party leader David Trimble had been framed by amendments from Jeffrey Donaldson. For many commentators it was difficult to see the amended motion as anything other than a rejection of the Joint Declaration.

"We are calling for radical change," said Donaldson, "and we are saying that the Joint Declaration doesn't provide a satisfactory basis for progress. If that isn't rejection, what is?"

Trimble appeared less sure but called on the three UUP Westminster MPs currently refusing to adhere to the party whip to return to the party fold. Trimble said the three had "no argument for continuing to defy the party whip".

But Donaldson is unlikely to relinquish the rejectionist strategy of defying Trimble as a means of securing more concessions while the UUP leader continues to dither about party discipline.

Describing Friday's motion as 'progress', he said he and his colleagues were not yet in a position to make a definitive statement on whether they could resume the whip.

Trimble has had his chance to throw his dissidents out of the party. By failing to do so, he is now the leader of a party that proclaims it is in support of the Agreement but consistently allows the agenda to be set by a determinedly anti-Agreement rump.

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