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30 March 2000 Edition

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British still dance to Orange tune


David Trimble was returned as Ulster Unionist Party leader at the annual meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council on Saturday, 25 March, winning 457 votes (57%), against the challenge of former Oranger Order Grand Master, the Reverend Martin Smyth, who polled 348 votes (43%).

The Good Friday Agreement is in the bin and we all must engage in the charade of Operation Save David Trimble. It's a clever, albeit entirely transparent, but nonetheless effective renegotiation tactic by unionism.
Rejectionist unionists immediately claimed that the message of Smyth's relatively high vote was that Trimble must in no way deviate from the UUP's demands around decommissioning and its refusal to form an inclusive Executive in the Six Counties.

A motion at the Council meeting, tabled by David Burnside, linking any resumption of the Six-County Executive to a rejection of the proposal in the Patten Report for a name change in the RUC was also passed. Trimble's attempt to have the motion amended was rejected by delegates.

Following the UUC meeting, Sinn Féin's Mitchel McLaughlin said that Trimble must now begin to lead. The issue of the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party had been resolved and the onus was now on the UUP to end its stalling. What nationalists wanted to hear, McLaughlin said, is that the Ulster Unionist Party is now committed to the Agreement and would desist from blocking its implementation.

Incredibly, rather than directing his attention towards getting the UUP to honour their commitments under the Good Friday Agreement, British Direct Ruler Peter Mandelson has instead attempted to put the onus on republicans, once again echoing the unionist refrain around the issue of IRA arms.

Speaking on Tuesday, 29 March, to an Institute of Directors dinner in Belfast, Mandelson said it must be established that ``now that the guns are silent they will stay silent and that any threat of a return to war has gone forever''.

In what must have come as great comfort to the rejectionist wing within unionism, he said that republicans needed to meet unionists with the ``watertight assurance that the war is over, that violence will never again play a part in Northern Ireland politics''.

It is clear that satifying the ever-changing, ever more strident and unrealistic demands of unionism remains a priority for the present British government. Despite the fact that Trimble has again won the leadership contest within the UUP and that progress and political leadership is clearly needed to marginalise the rejectionists, Mandelson and the British government have taken the cue that the objective of placating unionism should become an even more central objective.

How many more leadership battles within the UUP must we all be asked to witness before progress can be made? How many more new preconditions must we see being laid down by unionists? The bar is being raised each and every time.

The Good Friday Agreement is in the bin and we all must engage in the charade of Operation Save David Trimble. It's a clever, albeit entirely transparent, but nonetheless effective renegotiation tactic by unionism.

The British government is going along with this strategy every inch of the way. Mandelson repeats the meaningless unionist demand that the IRA should declare the war over. This is a replacement for the original unionist precondition for prior IRA decommissioning and is just a different formulation for seeking the Unionist Holy Grail of an IRA surrender.

The reality is that, bar a brief period, the IRA has been on cessation for six years now. The organisation has not been drawn into conflict despite repeated provocations. This situation has been sustained, with discipline, despite repeated loyalist attacks and assassinations against the nationalist community and its representatives across the North; despite the utter failure of the British government to initiate a demilitarisation programme; despite the frustration of all political progress and the fact that the British government and the UUP are in breach of the Good Friday Agreement.

Unionists insist on making unrealistic, impossible and meaningless demands from republicans precisely because they know that they are impossible. The current impasse is not about decommissioning at all but about unionism's inability to come to terms with the need for political change and their refusal to engage with the Good Friday. The biggest problem of all is that this political inertia is being underwritten once again by the British government.

The IRA, for its part, has said that it does not pose any threat to the Peace Process.

On Wednesday, 29 March, at a press conference in Belfast hosted by the party leadership, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams gave the party's considered view of the current political situation:

``The weekend decisions by the UUP, including the conference's unanimous backing for a new precondition linking the retention of the RUC title to any re-instituted Executive, has underlined the UUP's rejection of the Good Friday Agreement.

``At its most basic, the differences within unionism are about how to resist change. It is about unionism being unable to cope with the need for equality and justice, or with the reality that nationalists and republicans have rights and entitlements.

``For some, it is about not wanting a Catholic about the place, or being prepared to tolerate Catholics but only on unionist terms

``The weekend events are also a consequence of a failure of leadership.

``David Trimble was a reluctant partner to the Good Friday Agreement. At no time did he embrace the spirit or the letter of the Agreement. Instead, througout the last 22 months, he sought to delay, dilute and to undermine the Agreement and the process of change which it involves - a process that the vast majority of people on this island, including those within the unionist section of our people, voted for in May 1998.

``Neither is it possible to divorce events at the UUP conference from the decision in February by Peter Mandelson to collapse the institutions.

``As I warned at the time, both privately to Mr Mandelson and publicly, the British government is not a referee but a major player in the situation. Consequently, the decision to collapse the institutions has strengthened rejectionist unionism.

``It is our firm view that if this crisis is to be ended, then the British government must move quickly to re-establish the institutions and restore confidence in a process that it has severely damaged.

``That must include moving ahead on policing, setting down a clear and definitive programme for demilitarisation, and in general moving ahead with the full implementation of all those aspects of the Good Friday Agreement over which it, and the Irish government, have direct control.''


Unionism's flight from reality


What were the thoughts running through David Trimble's mind last Saturday as he waited for the votes to be cast by the Ulster Unionist Council? Maybe for a brief moment he considered the fate of previous incumbents of the Ulster Unionist Council leadership.

No one is suggesting that the unionist leaders from O'Neill on all developed Lundyist sentiments on achieving the top job, but you could easily be forgiven for thinking that was the case
On the one hand, there were the three successful holders - Carson, Craig and Brookeborough - who between them constructed the myth of what the academic text books call a `monolithic' unionism. In reality, they forged the world view so prevalent among unionists today.

This vista is a simple one. The Six-County statelet was obviously not the desired solution but was infinitely preferable to being a minority within an Irish state. The task of unionist government was then two-fold. First, oppose any attempt to change or adapt the existing status quo on the basis that it would be a further dilution of the unattainable dream of an Irish British union run by a parliament in Westminster. Secondly, quash any revolt either within the Ulster Unionist ranks and in the wider unionist community without. Having a foot on Fenian necks is sadly taken as a given.

It is recognised by many commentators that Craig's abandonment of multi-seat PR elections in the Six Counties fulfilled two objectives. At one level it nullified and ghettoised nationalist politics and achieved the same feat for intra-unionist opposition to the Ulster Unionists. It also created the dangerous precedent that unionism was an unchanging ideology, a new form of political dogma.

When Brookeborough passed the baton on to Terence O'Neill, the cracks were beginning to show. The problems O'Neill had accommodating the nationalist demands for civil rights and the subsequent spiral into state aggression and violence are well documented. What receives much less comment is the secondary whirlpool he unwittingly created within unionist politics - that of a leadership disallowed from actually leading and negotiating on behalf of its people. Ulster Unionist Party leaders since O'Neill have all shared remarkably common entrances onto the political stage and again remarkably similar exits.

Chichester Clarke, Brian Faulkner, Harry West, James Molyneaux and David Trimble all came to power on the pretext that their predecessor had either failed the unionist cause or had not been dynamic enough in promoting its interests.

Now, with Donaldson or whoever waiting in the wings, it seems possible that the Ulster Unionist party is about to enter the whirlpool again.

Unionist leaders will be deemed successful if they merely repeat the easily learned mantras of post-partition unionism. Anyone straying from the Craig/Brookeborough thesis will be met with contempt, disdain and rejection.

No one is suggesting that the unionist leaders from O'Neill on all developed Lundyist sentiments on achieving the top job, but you could easily be forgiven for thinking that was the case.

What does it say about a political movement that its former leaders are objects of derision and sometimes ridicule? David Trimble, in his Nobel prize winning speech, said that he came from a tradition that was based on the European Enlightenment movement and liberal democratic politics.

These sentiments are not found in the unionist party he leads today. There has been mass amnesia within elements of the UUP with regard to the origins of their party. Unionism was developed as a political tactic by loyalists and conservatives in the late 19th century. They wanted to create a mass political movement for those opposed to Home Rule. Their template for such an organisation was Parnell's Irish Parliamentary Party.

In 1885, the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union was formed. In 1891, the Irish Unionist Alliance. In 1904-1905, the Ulster Unionist Council was formed, and in 1919, the Unionist Anti-Partition League. At its zenith, it elected 26 Unionist MPs in the 1918 general election. Ominous then that the high point of Irish unionism coincided with one of the high water marks in nationalist and republican political development

Much of unionist opposition to Home Rule was on the basis that with an ever extending electoral franchise, Protestants, loyalists and conservatives would become a national minority with an Irish parliament.

This in itself was a remarkable political development, because in 1801, the Orange Order in Dublin and other regions was strongly opposed to the Act of Union. Unionism today is in ignorance or denial of its real history. The circling of the wagons post partition was a circling of their political doctrine also. A failed political tactic mutated into a flawed political ideology.

We hear talk from the Trimble camp of a new unionism. If it really wants to succeed (yes this seems patronising coming from republicans, but it still needs to be said) they should start by reclaiming their own history and learn from the mistakes of the past, both recent and antecedent.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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