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10 May 2001 Edition

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Trimble threat a disaster for process

David Trimble's decision to resign from his position as First Minister in the Six-County Assembly, if the IRA does not decommission weapons by 1 July, is an ``absolute disaster'' for the peace process, according to Sinn Féin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness.

In the immediate aftermath of the UUP leader's announcement on Tuesday, McGuinness said that Trimble is embarking on a ``wrecker's charter.

``We in Sinn Féin had hoped that, in the course of the election, he (Trimble) would come out and bat for the Agreement wholeheartedly. Effectively, what he has offered to the unionist people is a negative manifesto.''

With three weeks to go to Westminster and local government elections in the Six Counties, Trimble's stance is an insult to his own electorate, McGuinness said.

``I think the unionist people deserve better. I think many unionists, particularly those unionists who came out in overwhelming numbers to endorse the referendum on the agreement, will be disappointed.''

Asked about how he believes the IRA will respond to Trimble's threat of resignation, McGuinness said that if the unionist leader persists with his line, ``in my view, we will never see decommissioning''.

 

Trimble digs a hole

It seemed more than a bit ironic that the Assembly was debating how to avert the dangers of fireworks on Tuesday, 8 May, when David Trimble dropped his own metaphorical timebomb.

DUP members cackled during the UUP leader's announcement on Tuesday, but this display wasn't for entertainment. David Trimble's ultimatum that he will resign as First Minister on 1 July, should the IRA not decommission weapons is a disastrous blow to the peace process and an incredible insult to the intelligence of his electorate.

The UUP leader's protestations to journalists that the fact his announcement came on the same day as Tony Blair's formal announcement of elections was merely coincidental, were an insult to their intelligence as well.

The UUP had widely consulted within its own ranks about the decision to resign its First Minister in July, yet that decision was greeted by everyone else with shock. Although Trimble had met for several hours with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last Friday, Ahern said he had heard nothing of the ploy. Neither did Trimble's deputy, Séamus Mallon of the SDLP, who heard of the resignation letter a mere two minutes before it was publicly announced. Clearly, the secretive and entirely cynical way in which David Trimble prepared for this announcement in itself confirms that had only one aim in making it. That aim was not to bring about IRA decommissioning. It was to heal the gaping wounds within the UUP, between pro and anti-Agreement factions, with the elastoplast solution of rejectionism. In the process, Trimble rejected the responsibilities of his office as First Minister, the Agreement, the views of other parties and the views of his electorate, who voted overwhelmingly for the Agreement.

In short, Trimble is engaging in a very dangerous game of crude electioneering, hoping to keep his candidates together with the battle cry of resignation and hoping to survive a leadership battle at the annual Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the end of June.

The lack of clarity in the UUP message is going to cost them at the polls, most notably at the hands of the DUP, who have already dismissed Trimble's move as a desperate election tactic. But that is what happens when a party is semi in favour and semi opposed to the Agreement. Their counter-tactic to this, that of heaping ambiguity onto uncertainty, may offer the semblance of unity for the elections, but it is a disaster for the process as a whole. While they may be able to manage to sell conflicting pro and anti-Agreement vibes to the unionist electorate in the next three weeks, they will also inevitably light the fuse of a timebomb within the UUP. When that bomb explodes we may see the end of David Trimble and a total realignment within unionism - with the most negative elements coming out on top.

Trimble's days of running with the fox and hunting with the hounds may be numbered.

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