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15 January 2004 Edition

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Age-old intransigence

BY LAURA FRIEL

Martin McGuinness and David Cullinane

Martin McGuinness and EU candidate David Cullinane speaking after Sinn Féin's Ard Chomhairle Saturday 10

The DUP will not be allowed to wreck the Good Friday Agreement, Sinn Féin's chief negotiator Martin McGuinness told a meeting of the party's Ard Chomhairle this week.

"Sinn Féin is prepared to listen to what the DUP have to say but if it emerges that the DUP's position is still to wreck the Good Friday Agreement, then there will be massive responsibility on the British and Irish Governments and the Pro-Agreement parties to move ahead and implement the Agreement," said McGuinness.

McGuinness' comments accompanied a series of preliminary meetings between the British Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, and the political parties in the North. The review process is set to begin by the end of January and will be co chaired by the British and Irish Governments.

"We have to remember that there are only 34 members of the Assembly opposed to the Agreement and that the 74 in favour of it represents a very strong and powerful hand," said McGuinness.

"We cannot and will not, under any circumstances, allow the Reverend Ian Paisley and those that he leads to overturn an Agreement that has been endorsed overwhelmingly by all of the citizens of this island," he said.

Meanwhile, the leader of the DUP was pursuing his own particular brand of religious fundamentalism outside the sports grounds at Ravenhill Park in East Belfast. This time a rugby match was the object of Paisley's wrath. Out of place and out of time, the Reverend and a handful of supporters protested against a European Cup fixture being held on a Sunday.

"Life is short: Death is sure: Sin the Cause: Christ the cure," read one leaflet being distributed by the protestors. Placards encouraged us to "seek the Lord" and "keep holy the Sabbath". And there in a nutshell lies the problem. Fundamentalism, in whatever form, is not about resolving difficulties or accommodating difference but imposing absolutes.

Writing in the Irish News, unionist commentator Roy Garland warns Paisley against "age-old intransigence" which "if he blows this his last chance, his kind of unionism will again be seen as that of incorrigible dinosaurs, idiots and bigots incapable of cooperating with their nationalist neighbours".

Garland sees the UUP as the natural unionist party of government whose fortunes have temporarily failed because "constructive members" have been "driven out by bigotry and enmity". Garland sees the Orange Order as primarily responsible for the UUP's demise.

"The special relationship with the Orange Order is an abusive one and is a disincentive to many people joining the Unionist Party," says Garland. He suggests that senior Orangemen are already "making overtures to the DUP about affiliating to that party".

But Garland deems such an eventuality unlikely. He suggests that Paisley will never allow the development of another power base within a party in which he wields absolute control. And like any good conspiracy theorist, Garland sees "Orange delegates can be more effective in subverting the UUP from within".

For Garland, the DUP and Orange Order represent "tribal unionism" which if it "fails to facilitate progress" will "inevitably" engender a "return to blatant sectarian bigotry". Given such a crisis, Garland sees "tribal unionism" returning to the fold by allowing the UUP to re-emerge as their power brokers. "Responsibility will almost inevitably fall to a new, effective and reformed UUP that can now forget young Jeffrey and move on," says Garland.

At the heart of Garland's analysis lies the arrogance of a particular class and colonial elite. In Garland's fable, all the negative aspects of unionism can be laid at the door of the DUP and Orange Order; in other words, the rank and file. It's as if the unionist elite never presided over years of sectarian misrule.

The fact that the Orange Order is affiliated to the UUP doesn't suggest there's a conspiracy at the heart of unionism to defeat the elite. "Tribal" unionism isn't an anathema to the UUP, it's as much a part of its history as any other unionist political party. How else can we understand the footage of David Trimble sporting a collarette and prancing in front of the cordon on behalf of the Orange Order at Drumcree?

Of course, this is not to dismiss the recognition, acknowledged by Garland, of the different dynamics within unionism, some of which do recognise that change has become inevitable and desirable. But the Good Friday Agreement is not the 'gift' of unionism, whether represented by the UUP or DUP; it's an internationally recognised treaty endorsed by the majority of people on the island of Ireland and guaranteed by the British and Irish Governments.

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