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22 October 1998 Edition

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Crucial week ahead

The end of next week sees the date by which the institutions specified in the Good Friday Agreement should be set up. That date is not an aspiration nor a target. It is a firm deadline which was negotiated in plain language by all those who took part in the multi-party talks. And now the meeting of the deadline is a crucial test for the Good Friday Agreement.

It is - even more so - a crucial test of those who signed up to the Agreement. In particular, it is a test of David Trimble and of the two governments. Trimble signed the Agreement and is now trying to renegotiate it. Are the two governments going to allow that to happen? Indeed, are the people of Ireland going to allow it to happen? Is Trimble - a Nobel Peace Prize winner - now going to turn his back on an agreed process of conflict resolution by refusing to set up the agreed institutions?

The next week will be crucial in determining whether the years of searching for peace are to be put at nought.


Time for Trimble to show leadership


The most significant development in the deepening political crisis this week was David Trimble's pronouncement that he would attempt to move ahead in the political process without Sinn Fein.

Trimble's threat followed his meeting with British Premier Tony Blair at Downing Street on Monday. Sinn Fein's Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness met Tony Blair the same day. Afterwards he rejected Trimble's threat as the redundant language of pre-Good Friday unionism.

Martin McGuiness said: ``David Trimble cannot move on without Sinn Fein or any other party to the Agreement. Nor can the two governments allow him to stall the full implementation of the Agreement in order to placate the rejectionists in his party any longer.

``He should resolve to face down the rump within his party which is intent on maintaining the politics of pre-Good Friday Unionism. He must tell them that they have had their day. A new dawn is breaking in politics on this island and no-one will be able to postpone it indefinitely.

``David Trimble must stand up to those in the Ulster Unionist Party who are attempting to wreck the Good Friday Agreement. He should impress on them that the peace process is unstoppable. That the peace process train is moving and gaining momentum and those not on board by 31 October are the only ones who can be left behind.

``He should do so, if not immediately, then at his party conference this coming weekend. I have no doubt if Mr Trimble shows courage and gives good, positive, decisive leadership he will enjoy the support of the majority of unionists and the gratitude of nationalists as we move togehter to eradicate conflict on this island forever. He will then truly be a peacemaker.''

It is clear that David Trimble has, up to now, been trying to have it both ways as First Minister. He wishes to seee the benefits of office and to be acknowledged internationally and particularly in Britain as an architect of the agreement and the leader of a new unionism which is prepared to accommodate the nationalist perspective for the sake of peace and the building of a common future. But he has not yet been prepared to take the hard decisions which come with that package. He is at the same time attempting to appease and placate sectarian, right-wing, Orange unionism and to be seen as a man who will not compromise on unionist fundamentals. But he cannot have it both ways indefinitely. The decision he must make is to face down those within his own party who have never accepted the Good Friday Agreement and who are actively seeking to subvert it.

It is not as if David Trimble has no precedent in all of this. To hear some media commentators this week one could be forgiven for thinking that the Sinn Fein leadership have had it easy in getting to where things now stand. All sympathy and all understanding is being called for in respect of David Trimble and republicans are being exhorted to get the unfortunate Mr Trimble out of this dreadful dilemma.

But let's set the record straight. On the republican side the Sinn Fein leadership had to make hard decisions in a consistent process of supporting conflict resolution. They did so in order to maintain the momentum of the peace process. The Republican Movement suffered collatoral damage as a result but it could not be avoided. Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness and others put their entire credibility on the line in their efforts to secure majority republican support for forward political momentum. They took very considerable risks and a price was paid.

Those within republicanism who sought to subvert the Sinn Fein peace strategy were faced down because the alternative was to allow rejectionists to drive the whole agenda. That is real leadership and it is no easy thing. It is now David Trimble's turn to demonstrate leadership. As has already been said on a number of occassions Sinn Fein has nothing to give and no room to manoeuvre in relation to the decommissioning issue. The party is fulfilling all of its committments under the Agreement, and that includes the decommissioning issue.

David Trimble on the other hand has some considerable lengths yet to go. He is streets behind Sinn Féin in terms of securing his party's support and the longer he dithers and wavers the harder it will become. Now is the time to act. He is in a much stronger position to do so since becoming joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This gives him stature and the leverage necessary to move ahead. His opponents on the right-wing of unionism are going nowhere but back into the past. If he drops the ball now, those who welcomed his acceptance of the Nobel Prize will not be the only ones disappointed and angry.

The British and Irish gopvernments cannot allow Trimble to continue stalling the entire process. Each day that passes without any progress on the establishment of the all-Ireland bodies and the Executive, further damage is being done to the credibility of the Agreement itself.

The truth of the matter is that all of us on this island are currently being held to ransom by a minority of unionist hardliners. We cannot allow any minority group, no matter who they are, to frustrate the hopes of the broad mass of the Irish people. David Trimble holds the key to breaking the deadlock.


An Phoblacht
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