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12 November 1998 Edition

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Blair must push deal

The failure thus far of the Ulster Unionist Party to implement the terms of the Agreement concluded on Good Friday comes as no surprise to republicans. Unionism is engaged in the type of battle against change which is central to its reactionary nature. There has been absolutely no indication that Unionism is prepared to accept the need for equality or for all-Ireland institutions. All this was agreed and has yet to be implemented as specified.

Unionism is on a go-slow, approaching stop. Their stance puts the entire Agreement at risk as they raise preconditions which are not part of the document. They are effectively on a campaign to renegotiate the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

That will remain the situation until the leaders of the three governments involved in the final stages of the negotiations once more put pressure on Unionism to move. Without that pressure there will be no progress. In particular, Tony Blair should get directly involved and make clear to the Ulster Unionists that movement must take place according to what was agreed on Good Friday.

 

Opposition to equality behind unionist go-slow



BY SEAN BRADY

    
The current situation bears a striking resemblence to the unstable and uncertain period which surrounded the final days of negotiation over the Agreement itself
The political crisis created by Unionism's insistence on obstructing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement continues to undermine the progress made in the peace process so far.

The only institution under the agreement which has yet been established, even in shadow form, is the Six-County Assembly, an institution sought by the representatives of Unionism and opposed by republicans in negotiations. Its deliberations seem increasingly irrelevant as it remains without powers and as the entire Agreement comes under threat, putting the Assembly's future in question.

The 31 October dealine has gone, the first breach of the Agreement by the Unionists. As each day passes the February date for the establishment of the Executive proper is obviously under threat.

The failure to agree the all-Ireland Ministerial Council and the policy and implementation bodies puts a question mark over the constitutional elements of the Agreement. As Gerry Adams said this week: ``If that deadline is missed then there is no agreement.''

The current situation bears a striking resemblence to the unstable and uncertain period which surrounded the final days of negotiation over the Agreement itself.

Again we see a familiar pattern recurring - Unionist failure to show political leadership, the slowing down of political progress to the point of a complete halt and loyalist death squads filling the vacuum by the random killing of nationalist civilians.

Unionism, true to form, is unwilling to reach an accommodation with its political opponents and its leadership resurrects the catch-cry of unionist leaders down through the decades; that they cannot move because they are under threat from their own more `hardline' elements.

As always when unionism has no incentive to reach out it will sit tight and allow the situation to deteriorate until someone steps in and says `enough is enough'.

Maintaining the status quo has been Unionism's raison d'etre from its inception. It will continue to maintain the status quo in the face of all the evidence that this is detrimental to all sides. It will do this until the status quo itself changes. Unionist politicians will not move ground until the ground is moved from under them.

It is clear, as it has been for decades, that unionism has no interest in reaching a shared accommodation with nationalists. It has no interest in equality for nationalists. It has no interest in releasing the grip it has had on power and privilege for generations. David Trimble has by now shown that he is in the classic mould of Ulster Unionist leaders.

Unionists are not prepared nor are they willing to prepare their supporters for the eventuality of sitting in an Executive with Sinn Féin. They have no interest in an all-Ireland Council with unionists and nationalists co-operating and planning the future of the island and they will do all in their power to prevent it. They have no interest or desire for equality between nationalist and unionist in the North because it undermines their entire political purpose.

In practice, equality between nationalists and unionists would mean equal job opportunities for nationalists. It would mean that nationalist communities would have the right to equal opportunity and equal right of access to services and resources and to the development and improvement in their material position. It would mean equality in the legislature. It would mean that nationalists had equality with unionists in the civil service, the policing service, the judiciary and that the Irish nationalist ethos would have full recognition in all aspects of public life. Irish national symbols and Irish culture would demand equal respect at all levels and at the heart of all institutions. This is a prospect which political unionism has no intention of allowing, never mind agreeing.

This is what brings us back to the point we were at last April when the Unionists were faced with the reality of their situation. David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party were presented with a scenario in which they had to make a choice between engaging in real politics and real negotiations or having change brought about without their participation and without any influence or input by them.

It was the very direct involvement of the British, Irish and US governments which refocussed negotiations and which in the end secured the Agreement. The nature of Unionism meant that it would never have happened otherwise. David Trimble's attempts since to re-negotiate that Agreement is proof of this. It is also damning evidence that what is needed again is a very direct hands-on approach by those key administrations.

In particular what is required is direct intervention by the British Premier, who bears a special responsibility as the representative of the British state to which the unionists claim allegiance and which still claims jurisdiction over the Six-County area.

It is time for Tony Blair to spell out the reality of the situation to the Unionist leadership - that change is coming and they would be beter served by being part of that change than engaging in futile efforts to prevent it.

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