22 July 1999 Edition
BY SEAN BRADY
Thursday's farcical performance began when Presiding Officer John Alderdice granted five minutes to an absent David Trimble to make the first nomination of the day
On Wednesday evening, the 110-strong Ulster Unionist Party Executive met in Glengall Street, Belfast. David Trimble emerged from the offices at 7.15pm to inform reporters that his party would not participate in the d'Hondt procedure to appoint ministers to the power-sharing Executive. The following day, Trimble announced that his party would boycott the sitting of the Assembly.
The proceedings at Stormont on Thursday descended into the realms of pantomime. The Ulster Unionist Party failed to turn up and a fantasy Executive comprised of six SDLP and four Sinn Féin Ministers was formed and immediately collapsed because it did not contain a minimum of three unionists. The Assembly itself adjourned indefinitely pending a review of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. Earlier, a DUP motion to debate the exclusion of Sinn Féin from the Assembly fell as it did not have the 30 supporting signatures necessary.
Thursday's farcical performance began when Presiding Officer John Alderdice granted five minutes to an absent David Trimble to make the first nomination of the day, but the First Minister designate and his 28 Assembly party members were absent and live TV focused in on Trimble's empty seat as the Assembly sat in silence. Alderdice was forced to move on without the UUP after the five minutes passed and stated that he would fill the positions on the Executive with the parties who were in attendance.
SDLP leader John Hume, nominating officer for the second largest party under the d'Hondt formula for the allocation of ministers, nominated Mark Durkan as Minister for Finance and Personnel, which he accepted.
There followed a 15-minute suspension of the Assembly sitting at the request of Ian Paisley on his turn to nominate. When proceedings resumed however, Paisley refused to nominate any Minister so as to ``oust Sinn Féin''.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams then nominated Bairbre de Brún as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
If the unionists think that the equality agenda is going to disappear then they are mistaken. The equality agenda is only beginning. If the unionists think that they are going to hold onto the RUC they're mistaken, because we still need a new policing service for people in this state.
After John Hume nominated Seán Farren as Minister for Regional Development, Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness became Six-County Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, while the SDLP's Bríd Rodgers became Minister for Higher and Further Education, Training and Employment.
Under the d'Hondt formula, with the UUP absent and the DUP refusing to participate, the Alliance Party was asked to nominate a minister. Party leader Sean Neeson refused because of what he said was the ``unforgivable'' absence of the Ulster Unionists and the ``outrageous'' standing order collapsing the Executive if it did not contain the requisite number of both nationalists and unionists.
After Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty was nominated as Minister for Education, a bombshell was dropped when Eddie McGrady, reflecting deep tensions within the SDLP, refused to accept his nomination by John Hume as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Hume then offered the nomination to Joe Hendron, who accepted.
Robert McCartney of the UK Unionists was requested to nominate but said that ``under no circumstances'' would he consider doing so. The final three ministerial posts were filled by Denis Haughey (SDLP) as Minister for Social Development, Mary Nelis (Sinn Féin), Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure and Alban McGuinness (SDLP), Minister for the Environment.
Alderdice immediately deemed that the Executive could not continue as it was in contravention of the Standing Orders, which outlined a requirement of three unionist ministers.
Following the dissolution of the Executive, The Deputy First minister, Séamus Mallon of the SDLP, announced his resignation and in an emotional speech accused the Ulster Unionists of attempting to ``bleed this very process dry'' and implied heavily that David Trimble should resign as First Minister: ``If the UUP leader wishes to speak for the Ulster Unionist Party then he should do so as leader of that party. He cannot do so from the privileged position as First Minister of this Assembly.''
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, addressing the Assembly, slammed the UUP for failing to turn up and accused the DUP leader Ian Paisley of behaving in a disgraceful manner in terms of political leadership over 30 years and the climate he helped create and the type of politics in which he has been involved.
Adams warned the unionists that the human rights, social, economic and cultural aspects of the Good Friday Agreement would continue to be implemented. ``If the unionists think that the equality agenda is going to disappear then they are mistaken. The equality agenda is only beginning. If the unionists think that they are going to hold onto the RUC they're mistaken, because we still need a new policing service for people in this state.''
Adams said it had been a ``huge thing'' for Sinn Féin to change its Constitution and enter the Assembly, but the party had done so in an effort to face up to responsibilities. He said the Sinn Féin members of the Assembly had been ``survivors of Bloody Sunday, of Duke Street. We've been CS gassed, CR gassed, we've been plastic bulleted. We have been in H-Blocks, we have been in prison ships, we have been in prison cells.'' In spite of all this, Adams said he was still asking that a sensible and positive unionism come forward and seize the opportunity for peace and progress.
On Friday, it was clear that the Good Friday Agreement had ``crash landed'' through the UUP's obstructionist stance and that the London and Dublin governments would now proceed to a review of the implementation of the Agreement.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that US ex-Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the Good Friday negotiations, had agreed to devote ``a few days'' to the see if the pieces could be picked up again.
On Sunday, Ahern said that the target date for decommissioning could be affected by the stalling of the entire process by the unionists and that the date of May 2000 may have to be put back. His comments resulted in angry reaction from the Ulster Unionists, who demanded a statement on the matter before it had further discussions with Dublin.
On Monday, Gerry Adams met the Taoiseach in Dublin and afterwards insisted that any review of the implementation of the Agreement should be focused and time-limited. ``The unionist stance has been to delay the process and therefore a lengthy review suits the unionists' stalling and delaying tactics,'' he said.
Bertie Ahern and British Premier Tony Blair held a summit meeting on Tuesday where Blair confirmed that George Mitchell would act as facilitator for the review of the implementation of the Agreement. Mitchell immediately met with UUP leader David Trimble.
Both premiers said that the Agreement review would be ``tightly focused'' and aimed at a ``speedy conclusion''.
Unionists cannot write script for Blair
BY SEAN BRADY
Last week, Tony Blair buckled in the face of Unionist intransigence and immobility. He blinked and ended up playing right into the hands of those who had held up the process for over a year
Last week witnessed the outworking of Ulster Unionist Party strategy of obstructing totally any implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, particularly the all-Ireland ministerial bodies, while maintaining the Six County Assembly.
We have now entered the second phase of the Unionist strategy which is aimed at preventing any movement up and until the May 2000 target date for arms decommissioning.
Responsibility for taking the initiative back from those who have no interest in implementing the Agreement and injecting momentum into the process once again lies clearly with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
David Trimble has succeeded in running the Good Friday Agreement into the ground over the past year. His party sucessfully blocked the establishment of political institutions and forced the two governments to break any deadline they have ever set.
Blair's outrageous concessions amounted to a return to the policy of political exclusion, but Trimble rejected them without a second thought
The Ulster Unionist Party leadership, while ostensibly pro-Agreement, are in fact prisoners of the DUP rejectionists and the anti-Agreement members of their own Assembly party. To expect the UUP to contribute to making progress in the time ahead would mean David Trimble facing down members of his Assembly team, which he will not do. Indeed, the anti-Agreement UUP members have been encouraged further by last week's events and will now seek to take overall control of the direction of the proces. They will attempt to obstruct the equality agenda and the implementation of the recommendations of the Patten Reoprt on the RUC and will again use prior IRA decommissioning as a precondition for everything and anything.
Any prospect of progress is now down to the British Prime Minister standing firm and applying direct pressure on David Trimble to face up to what was negotiated on Good Friday 1998 and implementing it.
But the problem now is with British government policy itself, which needs to be changed if there is any to be any hope of progress. Last week, Tony Blair buckled in the face of Unionist intransigence and immobility. He blinked and ended up playing right into the hands of those who had held up the process for over a year. He rushed legislation through the British Houses of Parliament and rode roughshod over the Agreement in an effort to pander to David Trimble. And where did it get him? Absolutely nowhere. Blair's outrageous concessions amounted to a return to the policy of political exclusion, but Trimble rejected them without a second thought.
He showed utter contempt for his own Prime Minister, for all of the other parties and for the process itself and demonstrated his total lack of commitment to the process when he refused even to attend the Assembly sitting which was to appoint the Executive.
Concessions and broken deadlines merely show the unionists that their strategy is working and encourages them even further to do nothing
Tony Blair's capitulation to Unionist wrecking tactics will have to be reversed if anything is to be salvaged from last week's fiasco.
Last week's events must demonstrate clearly to Tony Blair that the more concessions that are given to the Ulster Unionist Party, the more they demand. Their engagement with the political process is dictated by their strategy of slowing down the pace of political change and their objective is to hollow out the Good Friday Agreement until all of its progressive aspects have been shed and the Agreement itself is unrecognisable. Concessions and broken deadlines merely show the unionists that their strategy is working and encourages them even further to do nothing.
The governments have announced the return of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell as facilitator in the review of the Agreement's implementation. Mitchell's return is to be warmly welcomed and Sinn Féin held a meeting with him on Wednesday but we must not lose sight of the fact that for two years George Mitchell tried unsuccessfully to get progress and momentum in political talks and it was only through the direct intervention of the British Prime Minister that unionist minds were focused and the pace was eventually forced.
Sinn Féin representatives meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair today. He will be told that the issue remains that Unionists must be confronted directly by their own government and faced with the political facts. They cannot continue to rewrite the script for the British government. Their interia and political immaturity cannot be continually underwritten or else they will have no incentive to move. That has been the kernel of the problem in Ireland for decades. It is clear to everyone that Unionist political leaders have refused to change their spots and have now introduced their political veto into the post-Good Friday scenario. This is what the Agreement was supposed to move us beyond.
Any review of the implementation of the Agreement must be very focused and time-limited so that it too does not become another vehicle for the unionist strategy of stalling progress and unravelling the Agreement itself.