1 June 2000 Edition
But challenges lie ahead
The Good Friday Institutions have finally been restored this week following Saturday's meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council. The first meeting of the restored Executive is scheduled for Thursday, 1 June, while ministers, including Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún, returned to their posts on Tuesday morning.
The motion to return to the institutions was carried by 459 votes to 403. This 53% support for David Trimble was enough to secure his leadership but the UUC is clearly split, almost down the middle, and UUP rejectionists have threatened to use their increased numbers within the party to work against the implementation of the Agreement.
Anti-Agreement Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson failed to table an expected amendment to the leadership motion, demanding that the UUP revert to its ``no guns, no government policy''. Donaldson spoke against Trimble's motion instead.
While power was restored to the institutions at midnight on Monday, 29 May, concern over the future of policing and other issues overshadowed the belated progress. At the very last stage, UUP Deputy Leader John Taylor returned from the Far East to say he would back a return to government by the party, waving about a letter from Peter Mandleson which he alleged gave him the necessary ``assurances'' in relation to the RUC to enable him to support to Trimble.
These claims have caused considerable concern and indeed anger among nationalists, already angry at the British government's dilution of the Patten proposals on policing. Causing particular concern are persistent and undenied reports that the words `Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)' would be incorporated into the title of a new policing service. Controversy is also growing around the issue of the flying of flags from Executive department buildings, with unionists seeking to impose the flying of the British Union Jack on all buildings.
Although most of the ten Executive Ministers returned to their departments on Tuesday morning, Democratic Unionist Party ministers Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds were absent.
On Tuesday, the DUP revealed its latest convoluted strategy to bring down the Good Friday Agreement. In the wake of the latest political developments Ian Paisley's party will seek to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive through a motion to the Assembly.
In the event that the party does not secure 60 percent unionist support for this already doomed bid, it has threatened to resign its two ministerial seats and nominate short-term replacements on an ongoing basis to ensure the posts cannot be filled by pro-Agreement parties.
So, the difficulties in implementing political change in the North and throughout the island haven't gone away. The challenge for republicans and for all Irish democrats remains. There are many hurdles to be overcome but struggle is what republicans are good at and well practised in. We are up for the challenge ahead.
Adams predicts ``a battle a day'' as Executive is restored
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP has outlined Sinn Féin's view of the restoration of power to the Six-County Assembly, the Executive, the all-Ireland bodies and the other institutions.
The Good Friday Agreement is the contract for the changes that have been agreed at this time. It is of the utmost importance that all of the parties and the two governments, particularly the British government, honour that contract
Speaking at Stormont on Tuesday morning, 30 May at Stormont, Adams said the people of the island had a realistic view to the difficulties facing the effort to build a new democratic dispensation.
``This has been shaped by the experience of the last number of years, by the refusal of some elements to embrace change, and by the British government's action in suspending the institutions unilaterally and illegally at the beginning of February,'' he said.
``There is also a hope that all of this is now behind us and that today will see a real beginning. Sinn Féin shares that hope.
``The institutions would not have been restored if we had not taken the initiative to work with the British government on the one hand, and the IRA leadership on the other hand, so that a context could be created to bring this about.
``In my view, all of this is about creating and implementing change. Sinn Féin wants to see more change than anyone else because we work on the basis that politics is about empowering people.
``The Good Friday Agreement is the contract for the changes that have been agreed at this time. It is of the utmost importance that all of the parties and the two governments, particularly the British government, honour that contract.
``It would also be far better if pro-Agreement unionism fully embraced this Agreement. In that way the problems could be resolved in a shared and inclusive way. I'm thinking here of the rejection by the First Minister of the Patten Report and the emasculation of that report by the British government.
``The issue of policing is a touchstone one. It is not the responsibility of the Assembly but is one which must be resolved nonetheless if progress is to be made.
``There also has been a focus on the issue of flags. Again the Good Friday Agreement has to be the guide for sorting out that matter in a way which recognises and accords equality to all.
``Mr. Trimble has made some entirely inappropriate and provocative remarks about Sinn Féin. He should have withdrawn these remarks and apologised but that is not Mr. Trimble's way, so I hope that he will refrain from comments like these in the future.
``Those who are justifiably angered by offensive and racist comments like this should perhaps see also that this is an admission from Mr. Trimble that Sinn Féin does not roll over at the behest of unionism.
``The DUP are well aware of this also. It is the main reason for their indecision about their future role. They have a choice. It is to play a real part fulfilling their responsibilities as Ministers, or to have the courage to resign those positions so that others can get on with the job.
``The Sinn Féin aim is to create space for all these opposite political positions so that we can come to know each other better. To build a shared future.
``So the difficulties haven't gone away and there will be a challenge a day, a battle a day, to bring about a genuinely democratic future for the people of this island.
``In and out of these institutions, Sinn Féin has never faltered. Our two ministers, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún, our committee chairs and our Assembly representatives will work with all of the parties here to see the promise of the Good Friday Agreement become a reality. ``
Trimble's offensive logic
For every painful and reluctant step forward he takes politically, David Trimble seems to take another backwards leap in the personality stakes. At Saturday's post-UUC vote press conference he revealed some deeply unpleasant sectarian instincts, telling reporters that Sinn Féin needed to be ``brought to heel'' and ``house-trained in democracy''.
This outrageous and offensive rubbish was attributed by much of the British media to the stress of the occasion and to the need for Trimble to placate his hardliners after the narrow vote in favour of returning to devolved government. Whilst it is questionable that people who subscribe to such views should be indulged in this manner, the phrase ``house-trained'' is clearly one which held great appeal for Trimble some time before the vote, since he was also quoted as using precisely the same term in Saturday's Guardian.
In the Waterfront Hall, only one reporter questioned his comments, asking whether it was fitting language for an inclusive society to compare Sinn Féin to dogs. ``That's the sort of language I would have used'' snapped back Trimble; ``That was your language, not mine.'' Not one person in the room challenged him to define more clearly exactly what he did mean by the expression if not that. Instead, one reporter merely smirked and asked ``How do you propose to house train Martin McGuinness?''. Trimble declined to answer the question, preferring instead to smirk back at this little shared sectarian jibe.
Sinn Féin's Bairbre de Brún said Trimble's comments were ``totally and utterly sectarian.
``It's the kind of sectarianism which led to the second-class citizenship that Catholics and nationalists have known throughout the history of the state. It led to much of the conflict and it needs to be left behind,''.
Martin McGuinness said on GMTV on Sunday morning that he had been inundated by calls from nationalists who were furious at Trimble's comments. He said that ``political process can only be advanced on the basis of inclusivity, equality and mutual respect. Trimble's sectarian comments about Sinn Féin members suggest he may have some difficulty in embracing these concepts.''
Although it has been said many times before, it clearly still needs to be said again that it ill-behoves an Ulster Unionist to lecture others on democracy. Not only did the party conspicuously deny democracy to nationalists for 80 years, it also still engages in the nasty habit of redefining the whole notion of democracy in ever desperate attempts to retain its own rapidly diminishing supremacy. It veers between crude majoritarianism and a DUP-style Majority-of-the-Unionist-People version of democracy as and when the situation suits. According to Trimble, the 50 Percent Plus One rule must be enforced with a rod of iron as long as the One is a unionist.
As soon as the One looks like being a nationalist, the rules suddenly become much more flexible.