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11 October 2001 Edition

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Unionists withdraw from process


The threatened resignation of the UUP's three members of the Six-County Executive by next Wednesday represents another stage in that party's continuing withdrawal from the Peace Process. It also leaves that process is an even deeper crisis.

Citing its abhorrence for silent IRA arms, the UUP enlisted the support of UVF-linked representatives to table an Assembly motion calling for the exclusion of Sinn FÈin on Monday. Both of these PUP representatives have previously stated that the UVF might not even decommission, if the IRA did.

Not content with this blatant, yet under-reported act of hypocrisy, the Ulster Unionists' political gymnastics stretched even further. After announcing their intention to bring down the Executive, straight-faced, feigning concern, they tabled a motion calling on the same Executive to redouble its efforts to safeguard industry in the North.

Trimble's motion to exclude Sinn FÈin from the Executive was lost in the Assembly. The previous Friday, the Appeals Court in Belfast had ruled that Trimble's decision to bar Sinn FÈin ministers from attending meetings of the North/South ministerial council was unlawful. Trimble will not have been unduly bothered by either putdown, however, as he made his decision to disengage from the process and bring down the institutions fully a year ago.

This disengagement by unionism takes place against the background of a continuing campaign of intimidation by the UDA against the nationalist community. At the same time, fundamentally flawed policing legislation which retreats even from the provisions of the Patten Report, is being foisted by the British government on the Six Counties. Furthermore, measures on demilitarisation, equality and human rights simply do not add up to what was envisaged in the Agreement.

Despite all of this, it is the UUP that is walking away from the institutions, from political consensus and progress and fundamentally, from the outside world. Sinn FÈin is not walking away. The party leadership has held talks this week in London with Tony Blair and in Dublin with Bertie Ahern to find a way forward. Gerry Adams described these as "helpful", but said that more work needs to be done.

During the debate on Monday in the Assembly, Adams acknowledged that "the issue of weapons is a huge issue for unionists" but added that progress had been made on the issue. This and other changes in republicanism pointed, if only unionists had the vision to see it, he said, "to a future free of IRA weapons".

The onus now shifts to the governments, particularly the British government, to live up to the commitments it made in the Good Friday Agreement and to act to save the peace process.


The politics of exclusion


I suggested to Danny Morrison on Monday as we travelled to the Assembly at Stormont that whatever the political distance for republicans to travel to Stormont, it was too far for unionists. They could not accept equality with nationalists and republicans and sit in the same administration.

That view would become depressingly real in the course of the debate in the Assembly chamber that afternoon.

As we entered the hallway of the Assembly building, there was the atmosphere of a wake about the place. Small groups of press people from various parties mingled with Assembly members and the press corp who have covered much of the last 30 years of conflict and the twists and turns of the tortuous peace process since 1994. Sombre faces greeted my eyes.

I've been in the middle of a few of the big events over the last number of years since the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement as part of Sinn Fein's team. On this occasion I was there as an anxious observer hoping against hope that David Trimble would have decided to pull back from the brink.

I knew the Paislyites wouldn't. They thrive on this type of sectarian grandstanding. It is their meat and drink; a diet of Old Testament theology and the arrogance derived from supremacist attitudes that produce childishness, pettiness and sectarian vitriol in large measures. And they doled them out at the debate.

Martin and Briege Meehan joined Danny and myself in the queue for the public gallery. They are both Sinn FÈin councillors newly elected in May. The areas they were elected for, Antrim town and Newtownabbey, represent the areas where Sinn FÈin is rapidly expanding.

In these areas Sinn FÈin picked up the extra votes which led to them achieving an unbelievable breakthrough and becoming the leading nationalist party in the six counties. Republicans have made so much headway over recent years that this development, unthinkable a short while ago, is hardly commented on.

I thought about Martin Meehan and his political journey over recent years. He started out his republican life in 1966 as a militant activist and spent over 20 years in gaol for his activities. Yet here he was, a staunch backer of the political and the peace process - a man who has experienced the war at first hand yet has embraced the work of a peacemaker with the same enthusiasm.

I also reflected on the previous occasions when debates of importance were taking place. I remember when the Executive was established and Bairbre de Br˙n and Martin McGuinness were appointed ministers. I remembered the gasps of disbelief that swirled among the unionists in the public gallery as Martin was confirmed as Education minister. I was delighted. They were stunned. My delight was justified because I knew something the unionists didn't and that was that Martin would be a first class and scrupulously fair minister, which he has been.

As I sat in the gallery on Monday and watched Trimble deliver his speech I knew the peace process had turned into a cul de sac. I've been in close proximity to the man on a number of occasions. I've seldom seen him relaxed. I've seldom seen him smile. I'm more used to seeing him red faced, given to histrionics, a bundle of nervous energy.

But as he proposed his motion to exclude Sinn FÈin, this was a man composed, relaxed, smiling. He spoke uninterrupted for nearly 30 minutes. It struck me that he thought he was back at Queen's University at a podium lecturing law students on the nuances of jurisprudence as he did in a previous occupation, oblivious of the consequences for millions of people of his words. He seemed to me as if he was actually enjoying himself.

And in a dispassionate and matter of fact tone, he declared the manner in which he would destroy the Executive and the Assembly (having already neutered the all-Ireland Ministerial Council), and set us all on a course the outcome of which is unpredictable.

As I listened to Mr. Trimble in the ornate and somewhat unreal surroundings of the Chamber, I thought of the schoolchildren from Holy Cross school and their horrendous daily journey through unionist street bigotry; the sort of bigotry Mr. Trimble toyed with during his days in the Vanguard Party in the '70s.

He had moved on of course, or at least he had learned the art of concealing his Vanguard views, but as he likes to say himself and as Gerry Adams in his remarks later on reminded him, 'Because you have a past it doesn't mean you can't have a future'. I wondered did he ever think he has a responsibility to help move on the bigots on Ardoyne Road? Does he think he has a responsibility to crusade against the UDA's nightly bombing campaign against the Catholic population of the Six Counties?

Before Gerry Adams rose to reject Trimble's assertions of republican bad faith, I looked at him and Martin Mc Guinness sitting relaxed side by side.

The men who led the Republican Movement out of a 30-year armed conflict. The men who launched the republican ship onto uncharted waters and who have steered it through good and bad days. Two men who have earned the admiration of the world as peacemakers.

I wondered from where they get the patience when dealing with small minded unionists and bigots and a British government that lacks the metal and vision to deal with a handful of wreckers but can organise a worldwide operation to bomb Afganistan.

And then it was Seamas Mallon's turn to take the floor. He wearily climbed to his feet. He needn't have said anything. His body language said it all.

With his head slightly bowed and his voice hardly audible, I thought of the number of times past in a similar setting but without republicans in a chamber he had appealed to unionists to treat their nationalist neighbours with respect and equally. Those words were rejected many times before and on Monday they were again rejected.

It wasn't just that the DUP harangued and shouted abuse at Gerry Adams and Seamas Mallon. David Trimble, a partner in the Executive, didn't have the decency to listen to either man. He shuffled about, spoke to his backbenchers and made it clear that he was impatient and wanted to leave.

As Danny and I left the Chamber, Harold McCusker's words from 1985 rang in my years, 'unionists and nationalists are mutually exclusive people'. He was a unionist MP for the old Westminster seat of North Armagh. I thought he was wrong at the time. After Monday I'm not so sure but I want to be convinced. Nationalists and republicans are waiting and willing...


US Foreign Policy Committee backs process

The National Committee on American Foreign Policy has urged those who have leadership responsibility to "show the imagination and courage it will take" to bring the Peace Process quickly to a successful conclusion.

In a statement issued on Tuesday 2 October, the committee recommends, "in the strongest possible terms", that the people of the Six Counties reject all arguments and political manoeuvering designed to destroy the Agreement and the institutuions of government established under it. "The Agreement and the governing structures it established provide a solid base for a lasting peace. We urge that these not now be thrown into the dustbin of history," the committee said.

It also callled on loyalist groups to, "as have republicans, fully engage on an accelerated basis with the IICD" and that "all paramilitary groupd take immediate steps to commence the decommissioning process". It added that the British government should "present a comprehensive plan for the demilitarisation of the North of Ireland and take immediate steps to commence implementation".

The committee concluded by urging both governments to "take the strongesrt possible steps" to support the governmental structures establiahed under the Agreement and that, "should all else fail, that they fulfill their responsibility to jointly govern the remaining implemantation of the Belfast Agreement, thereby preventing any individual or group from interfering with the will of the people as declared in the 1998 referendum".


McGuinness reports 'no coincidence'

Sinn FÈin Chief Negotiator Martin McGuinness has rejected as "bogus, malicious rubbish", media reports that he has been elected as Chief of Staff of the IRA.

McGuinness said that the stories, printed in The Observer and Daily Telegraph, at the weekend, were politically motivated.

"It is no coincidence that these stories from the same journalists and quoting the same sources surface every time there is a crisis in the political process," he said.

The timing of the reports was obviously designed "to give cover and credence" to Monday's Assembly motion from unionism calling for Sinn FÈin's exclusion from the Executive, he pointed out. This has a become a regular feature throughout the peace process, he said.

"I have no doubt that this non-story has been released by the usual securocrats who have never missed an opportunity to undermine the Irish peace process and try to bolster the wrecking tactics deployed politically by David Trimble."

The reports were indeed used by unionism during the Assembly debate. While, previously, unionism had maintained the position that the arms issue was to be dealt with by the IRA, exclusively, in comments made to the media, the DUP's Ian Paisley junior went one further. Now that McGuinness was supposedly the Chief of Staff of the IRA, that responsibility could be narrowed down to one individual.

"Mr McGuinness tells us that he would very much like to see decommissioning, McGuinness tells us that it could not happen soon enough," opined Paisley the Younger. "If he is the Chief of Staff then clearly he has a very important role to play and it is clearly down to him to ensure that the IRA honour their word."


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