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16 August 2001 Edition

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Fury at British suspension

Last week, this paper ran a front page exclusive story, revealing that the IRA had made an historic move that would advance the peace process. The mood of that report was upbeat - republicans had once again taken a major initiative to secure progress. The ball, as so many times before, was in the British court.

     
"I hear also the patronising tone that the institutions have only been stood down for just one day and now it's okay. Well, it's not okay."
That statement, following on a positive statement from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, was enthusiastically welcomed by both governments but, ominously, the Ulster Unionists immediately found fault and even added a new precondition. David Trimble's game plan was still to achieve a suspension of the institutions and renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement.

At the weekend, British Secretary of State John Reid confounded the hopes of those who believed the British were at last ready to put the peace process first. Despite the tremendous opportunity on offer, the British government chose to revert to type, using powers outside the terms of the Agreement to suspend the political institutions at the behest of the Ulster Unionists.

No one should be surprised that the IRA this week, just days after making ``a very difficult decision'', withdrew its proposal in disgust, reminding us in its statement that ``peacekeeping is a collective effort''.

Speaking at the national hunger strike rally in Casement Park on Sunday, Gerry Adams warned that ``behind the soft words, really what is being opened up is a six-week period in which the British government and unionists are going to try to put pressure on republicans to move to resolve issues on British or unionist terms''.

He said that republicans would not be fooled by `Humpty Dumpty' politics or allow those resisting change to pocket initiatives and expect republicans to go along with it.

``I hear also the patronising tone that the institutions have only been stood down for just one day and now it's okay. Well, it's not okay.''

Let us all remember that the present crisis has been caused by the failure of the British government to implement the Agreement. They have failed to meet their own commitments or to take on unionist-imposed obstacles - such as the exclusion of Sinn Féin ministers from cross-border meetings. That failure has created the space from which unionists are attempting to subvert the Agreement.

This is no way to run a peace process.

 

Trimble can celebrate as process begins to unhinge



BY MICHAEL PIERSE

Three cheers for David Trimble. The UUP leader can well afford to relax and savour success as he holidays in the serene hills of Austria.

    
There is a realisation that, no matter what republicans do, unionists will still find a new obstacle to replace the old one. And the British have failed to challenge these unionist-imposed obstacles
Far removed from the deepening, indeed the deepest, crisis that has faced the peace process since its inception, Trimble can reflect on his prophetic letter of October last year with satisfaction.

At the time, he was facing into a crisis of his own, with many media pundits suggesting that his leadership might not survive the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) meeting, convened on 27 October. It did, by a narrow margin, and, lamentably, so too did the strategy his letter outlined.

Essentially that strategy was, and is, to create a crisis in the peace process, blame republicans, achieve suspension and renegotiate the Agreement. And this isn't just idle speculation - it comes straight from the horse's mouth.

In the letter, circulated to all members of the UUC the day before that body met, Trimble outlined what he saw as the way forward for unionism. Jeffrey Donaldson was also to put proposals to the UUC the following day, but these were, according to Trimble, ``fatally flawed''. Donaldson proposed to bring down the Good Friday Agreement institutions - which `appeared reasonable', according to Trimble - but what Donaldson offered was ``an exit strategy without a re-entry strategy''. Trimble believed he could go one better.

Outlining a course of action more appropriate to a Machiavelli disciple than a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Trimble pre-empted the events of the last seven weeks since his resignation:

``Tomorrow I will outline a carefully considered response should republicanism continue to ignore its commitments on the issue of disarmament,'' he wrote.

``The response is intended to increase pressure progressively on republicans and nationalists. This might result in a crisis for the Assembly and Executive. But if that arises we must do all we can to place responsibility on republicans. Only in that way can suspension be achieved. Suspension is preferable to collapse, for it is the only way we can hope to make progress afterwards.''

It is not uncustomary in this, at times, fragile and tentative peace process for a week that began with glimmerings of hope to end in political crisis. But this week's events were a sad revelation of the political strength and influence still held by unionism.

What David Trimble outlined in his letter was a means by which unionism could retain, or regain (after a crisis), the elements of the Agreement they want - the Assembly, devolution - and frustrate, if not negate, those they don't - policing, human rights, demilitarisation. Thuis amounts to a de facto return to the Stormont rule that instigated 30 years of war.

The British government, a malleable media, and, to some extent, the Dublin government, have been compliant in achieving this. `Poor David', the `beleagured' leader of the UUP, has been afforded the space to destroy what is left of the peace process.

The context in which this has been allowed to happen, and in which the IRA withdrew its historic arms proposal, illuminates why republicans are so angry at the past week's events. In its statement of Tuesday, 14 August, the IRA outlines some of this context:

``On Thursday, August 8th, we confirmed that the IRA leadership had agreed a scheme with the IICD to put arms completely and verifiably beyond use. Our initiative was a result of lengthy discussions with the IICD over a protracted period.''

The IRA continues:

``This was an unprecedented development which involved a very difficult decision by us, and problems for our organisation. While mindful of these concerns, our decision was aimed at enhancing the peace process... However, the outright rejection of the IICD statement by the UUP leadership, compounded by the setting of preconditions, are totally unacceptable.

``The subsequent actions of the British government, including their failure to fulfill their commitments, is also totally unacceptable.

``The conditions, therefore, do not exist for progressing our proposition. We are withdrawing our proposal.''

As stated above, the withdrawal of the IRA proposal was the result of unionist rejection of that proposal by the UUP and the subsequent actions of British Secretary of State John Reid in suspending the Assembly and calling for yet another period of `talks' - what David Trimble had envisaged all those months ago.

Predictably, elements of the media and unionism reacted to the IRA withdrawal by branding it a `fit of pique' by republicans. Their assertion that republicans are angry is correct. Why wouldn't republicans be angry when, following seven years of incessant harping on about `decommissioning', the IRA makes a move on arms and it is rejected by unionists. Why wouldn't republicans be angry, when this unprecedented move has received a slap in the face from the British government, who again capitulate to unionist demands. Why wouldn't republicans be angry, when loyalist sectarian harrassment and attacks have characterised a summer of mayhem in the Six Counties, yet have induced little or no reaction from the British government or unionist leaders - while all the while they repeat and re-repeat the mantra of `decommissioning'. Republicans are angry because whenever unionism takes a `fit of pique' the British government has capitulated, whether it be on the issues of the stability of the institutions, policing, demilitarisation or the equality agenda. Republicans are angry and, if current conditions continue, that anger will grow.

This is not to say that republicans have lost their faith in the process, but there is a realisation that, no matter what republicans do, unionists will still find a new obstacle to replace the old one. To date, the British have failed the peace process by failing to take on these unionist-imposed obstacles, such as the refusal to appoint Sinn Féin ministers.

As soon as last week's IRA offer on arms was made, David Trimble was saying that he would not return as First Minister unless the SDLP backed his stance, and that of the British government, on policing. Yet, this glaringly obvious political cynicism did not merit one inch of column space in the national daily newspapers. Instead, they moronically waited for the UUP press release to emerge from their fax machines, and reprinted everything David Trimble wanted them to say.

In terms of the British government, their assurances in private that they would not suspend the institutions, and their public welcome for the IRA proposal, meant nothing when John Reid suspended the institutions - the second time a British Secretary of State had done this in 18 months.

If the British government strategy is to exasperate republicans and drag the whole process down crashing around our ears, they're doing a damn good job.

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