2 November 2000 Edition
Defend the Agreement
Dublin, SDLP and Sinn Féin unite against Trimble
Six-County Health Minister Bairbre de Brún will meet her 26-County counterpart Micheál Martin this Friday to discuss Food Safety-related issues, despite efforts by David Trimble to deny Sinn Féin's mandate and exclude its ministers from such meetings.
In a show of solidarity, de Brún and Martin will be joined by Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon of the SDLP. Commenting on Trimble's attempts to exclude Sinn Féin from meetings conducted under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council, Minister de Brún said at a press conference on Wednesday that the move was ``both discriminatory and anti-democratic''. She pledged herself to continue the programme of work she has undertaken in the Six-County Department of Health on behalf of her own and David Trimble's constituents but warned that ``the Good Friday Agreement is in an extremely serious situation''.
The crisis arises out of the latest Ulster Unionist Council meeting at Belfast's Waterfront Hall. After four hours of discussion on Saturday, Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble emerged with marginally more support for his own leadership, gained by attacking the Agreement. 445 members of the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC), 54 per cent, voted in favour of Trimble's proposal to use his powers as First Minister to exclude Sinn Féin ministers from the North-South Ministerial Council, pending IRA decommissioning.
The other 46 per cent lent their support to `anti-Agreement' unionist Jeffrey Donaldson's proposals, described earlier by Trimble as a `letter to Santa', which placed a 30 November deadline for IRA decommissioning, after which Sinn Féin would be excluded from the Executive - or else the UUP would themselves resign from the body. Despite his earlier castigation of the Donaldson proposals, David Trimble emerged from the UUC meeting saying that he and Donaldson were of the same mind on everything but the question of tactics. Donaldson himself said that anti-Agreement unionism had succeeded in moving Trimble closer to their own thinking and that, despite their loss in the crucial vote, this would be deemed by them as a success in itself.
The UUC decision came just days after the IRA's latest positive contribution to the peace process, when it announced that its arms dumps had again been opened to inspection and said it would reengage with the De Chastelain body given positive developments in the peace process. Sinn Féin activists meeting in Castlebellingham, County Louth, last Sunday, were angered at the UUP's decision but more so by the approach of the British government.
The British government, by choosing not to oppose Trimble's actions, has once again helped the unionists to diminish and weaken the Agreement.
Sinn Féin the SDLP and the Dublin government have stipulated that Trimble's veto may be illegal and are currently seeking legal advice. This Friday's meeting is a clear show of solidarity in opposition to Trimble's wrecking efforts. Tony Blair take note.
Angry reaction to UUC decision
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
Sinn Féin has reacted angrily to the decision of the Ulster Unionist Council on Saturday to try to block Sinn Féin ministers from cross-border ministerial meetings.
The British government's chicanery on this matter, on the Patten recommendations and on the issue of the flying of the Union flag over government buildings, have convinced the UUP that they can hollow out the Agreement with impunity.
The party's Assembly member for North Belfast, Gerry Kelly, speaking on Saturday, described the UUC conference vote in support of a position outlined by David Trimble as ``destructive and ill-advised. It is a timetable for disaster.
``Last night, Gerry Adams urged Mr Trimble not to go down this road but to work with nationalists and republicans to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented in full, that all parties keep their commitments and that we provide the better future people voted for in May 1998. He ignored this advice.
This is not about decommissioning. This is about people who are refusing to accept equality, refusing power sharing and the critically important all-Ireland dimension to this process
``Yesterday, in his letter to Council delegates, David Trimble set out his objectives as creating a crisis around the Executive and the Assembly, suspension of the Agreement and that the blame for the crisis be attached to republicans.
``Today he set out his plan to achieve these. The menu set out by the Ulster Unionist leadership is evidence of an absence of commitment to the Agreement and the Peace Process - it reflects a hankering after the failed status quo which all politically sane people accept to be untenable.
``The reality is that Mr. Trimble has not stood up to Jeffrey Donaldson. He has not stood up in defence of the Agreement, instead he has proposed an approach that is in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement. He has been encouraged in his endeavours to have the Agreement and its requirement for change filtered through a unionist prism.''
Kelly supported this comment with three examples:
``The suspension legislation enacted by the British government is no part of the Good Friday Agreement. It was put in place at the behest of the UUP. It is their tactical sanctuary from their responsibility to effect change.
``The triggering of suspension by Peter Mandelson in February, in a crude act of misinformation, manipulation and cynicism, created the deepest crisis in the Agreement to date.
``The British government's chicanery on this matter, on the Patten recommendations and on the issue of the flying of the Union flag over government buildings, have convinced the UUP that they can hollow out the Agreement with impunity.
``The combined effect of the British government's approach to the implementation of the Agreement and the UUP's tactical engagement are leading to a timetable for disaster,'' said Kelly.
Party president Gerry Adams re-echoed the comments made by Kelly when he spoke at a national meeting of Sinn Féin activists at Castlebellingham, Co Louth, on Sunday which discussed the crisis created by the UUP.
Adams warned that ``if he (Trimble) follows through on his threat, he will be in breach of the Agreement and in contravention of his Pledge of Office and of his Ministerial code''.
The Sinn Féin leader pointed out that ``Sinn Féin does not hold Executive position by dint of patronage from the UUP. We have a mandate and the citizens whom we represent must have exactly the same rights as all other citizens.''
He posed the question: ``Could it be that Mr. Trimble's move is tacit acknowledgement that unionism isn't up to the challenge of working alongside other citizens or of developing and sustaining a peaceful future based upon equality?''
Adams, who had spoken to both governments and the White House the previous day, said he told them of the need ``to preserve the political process and the peace process thorough upholding and implementing the Good Friday Agreement. They cannot allow a unionist veto''.
Adams said that republicans ``have serious concerns about the focus and intent of Mr Blair and his colleagues.
``The time ahead will present challenges for everyone. Sinn Féin is up to those challenges and it remains the aim and the function of this party to manage the process in a calm and strategic way.
At a press conference on Monday, Sinn Féin Chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said that the crisis is not about decommissioning.
``Be under no illusion whatsoever, this is not about decommissioning... this is about people who are refusing to accept equality, refusing power sharing and the critically important all-Ireland dimension to this process.
``The reality is that the British government made a commitment in May of this year to fully implement the Patten proposals and to be involved in a meaningful process of demilitarisation. They have dismally failed to honour those commitments.
``I want the British government to honour their commitments. And I want the IRA to honour the commitments they made. But we all know that in this type of a conflict resolution process and peace process, if one side is reneging on commitments made, it is going to create difficulty.''
Trimble's exit strategy
Unionists afraid of sharing power
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
The Ulster Unionist Party inflicted a fresh crisis on the peace process last weekend when they decided to subvert the Good Friday Agreement by opting to deny Sinn Féin ministers their right to attend meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council. The British government, by choosing to ignore this subversion of the Agreement, also stands accused.
Throughout, the British have encouraged David Trimble in minimising change and making impossible demands
Jeffrey Donaldson had broached a proposal to place a deadline for IRA decommissioning of 30 November, at which point the UUP would table a motion in the Assembly to exclude the two Sinn Féin ministers from the Executive.
This blatantly pie in the sky proposal, supported by 46 per cent of the Ulster Unionist Council, left no doubt as to `No' unionism's desire for an exit strategy from the Agreement. More worrying, and the most significant sign that unionism is finding the Agreement an unworkable compromise, is David Trimble's willingness to actively promote this strategy, albeit using slightly different tactics.
Unionist perspectives are as insular and myopic as they ever were
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, immediately after the UUP vote, commented on the similarity between Donaldson and Trimble's positions and pointed to the lketter David Trimble sent out to UUC delegates, basically a unionist exit strategy from the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement.
``Yesterday, in his letter to Council delegates, David Trimble set out his objectives as achieving a crisis around the Executive and the Assembly, the suspension of the Agreement and making sure the blame for this would be attached to republicans,'' said Kelly.
``The menu set out by the UUP leadership is evidence of an absence of commitment to the Agreement and the Peace Process - it reflects a hankering after the failed status quo which all politically sane people accept to be untenable.
``Today's debate within the UUC and the differing proposals proferred shows that there is little difference between the Yes camp and the No camp. The difference is tactical.''
In the aftermath of the vote, David Trimble spoke in upbeat tones of the similarity between his and Donaldson's points of view, of their differences being `tactical', rather than political. Effectively, Trimble was saying that he now believes the Agreement to have been a wrong turn and that he is hoping that apportioning blame on the IRA will be his vehicle back to the crossroads.
``The reality is that Mr. Trimble has not stood up to Jeffrey Donaldson,'' said Kelly. ``He has not stood up in defence of the Agreement; instead he has proposed an approach that is in clear breach of the Good Friday Agreement.''
The choreography of Trimble's manoeuverings was revealing of the breakdown in unionist commitment to the Agreement. Here we had the First Minister in the devolved Six-County Assembly doing his damnedest to exclude Sinn Féin and retreating into what appears to be a unionist exit strategy in the same week as the Executive launched an extensive programme for government. Here we had David Trimble trying to exclude the Six-County Minister for Health from a meeting with her 26-County counterpart on the issue of food safety. As political progress is being made on issues like health, education, housing and crime, the UUP is at the same time regressing on its engagement in this process.
The only thing sustaining the antics of the UUP now is the British government's chicanery on this matter of unionist `fears', on the Patten recommendations and on the issue of the flying of the Union flag over government buildings in Stormont. The British government has convinced the UUP that they can hollow out the Agreement with impunity. By failing to point ofut to Trimble & Co. that the Good riday Agreement instoitutions ar not freestanding but are inextricably linked, the British government is soignally failing as a guarantor of the Agreement. Throughout, the British have encouraged David Trimble in minimising change and making impossible demands. His antics must be viewed in that light.
The Sinn Féin approach to these issues has been solid and patient. The party has not made threats, nor has it undermined, or attempted to undermine the integrity of the Agreement. There is also another basic difference in approach.
Unionism has is caught in a web of tactical posturing. They seem to strain uncomfortably in ministerial seats with Sinn Féin and long for the days when there was no need to explore their own political inconsistencies. Republicans, by contrast, are demanding the delivery of human rights issues that will improve the standard of living for everyone.
The Ulster Unionist Party considers its internal wranglings and crumbling alignment of conflicting political strategies more important than the welfare of society at large. The problem is that unionist perspectives are as insular and myopic as they ever were.
Gerry Adams pointed to this subjugation of the democratic mandate of the electorate to the minority mandate of the Ulster Unionist Party this week.
``Sinn Féin's right to representation on institutions and the Executive derives from our significant electoral mandate,'' he said. ``It is not for David Trimble or any other unionist leader to set limits on the rights and entitlements of nationalists and republicans,'' he said. ``There can be no unionist veto.
``Sinn Féin does not hold Executive position by dint of patronage from the UUP. We have a mandate and the citizens we represent must have exactly the same rights as all other citizens.''
``Trimble is subverting Agreement'' - Ó Caoláin
Commenting on the weekend vote of the Ulster Unionist Council Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has said that David Trimble is now ``actively subverting the Good Friday Agreement''. The TD called upon the Irish and British governments to ensure that any attempt to exclude Sinn Féin ministers from the All-Ireland Ministerial Council does not succeed.
Deputy Ó Caoláin said: ``It is clear from the UUC meeting that David Trimble is now actively subverting the Good Friday Agreement. He has, to all intents and purposes, joined the No camp. This leaves civic unionism - those unionist voters who support the Agreement - without a voice. They are faced - as they were in the South Antrim by-election - with a choice between the `No' brand of unionism and the `Definitely No' brand of unionism.
``It is absolutely vital that the Irish and British governments set their face against this attempt to turn the Agreement on its head. They must ensure that any attempt to exclude Sinn Féin Ministers Bairbre de Brún and Martin McGuinness from the All-Ireland Ministerial Council does not succeed.
``The motion adopted at the UUC meeting also seeks to throw out the entire process of achieving a new police service. Without a new policing service the Agreement, and the entire peace process, cannot succeed. In attempting to block the movement towards a new policing service David Trimble has succumbed to the demands of the most intransigent unionists who have opposed change at every juncture.
``One thing is certain. Republicans will not accept any hollowing out of the Agreement. There cannot be any second-class ministers or second-class citizens.''