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26 September 2002 Edition

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UUP brings process to brink

BY LAURA FRIEL

     
Nationalism believes that unionism still baulks at power sharing, that it harks back to those halcyon days of Carson and Craigavon when no one would have a Catholic about the place
The British government must stop pandering to Unionist rejectionism and work towards minimising damage to the Good Friday Agreement by implementing outstanding change as a matter of urgency, the Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams told a Belfast conference on Tuesday.

Adams was speaking shortly after meeting SDLP leader Mark Durkan and Brid Rodgers to discuss the impact of UUP leader David Trimble's surrender to the no camp within his own party.

At a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party's ruling council last Saturday, Trimble avoided a challenge to his leadership by endorsing a motion even more damaging than the proposals of the anti-Agreement lobby.

The proposals endorsed by the UUP were dubbed by the Sinn Féin leader as a "wrecker's charter". There is no alternative to the Good Friday Agreement and to the process of change it requires, he said. "This is the ninth occasion on which the British government has made concessions to the UUP in advance of Ulster Council meetings and the ninth time the UUP have pocketed these concessions and made more demands. Effectively what the UUP has signed up to is a wrecker's charter," Adams said.

Earlier Martin McGuinness described the UUP proposals as a "full frontal attack on the Good Friday Agreement". There can no longer be any doubt where the UUP stand in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, McGuinness said:

"The UUP have set out a manifesto to destroy the Agreement and the agenda for change. David Trimble is no more than a front for the rejectionists who now control the party."

Mark Durkan of the SDLP said it was clear that an anti-Agreement agenda had now been adopted by the UUP, while Bríd Rodgers accused the First Minister of 'betrayal'.

Emerging from last Saturday's meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council, Trimble had hammed his way through the usual performance of moral outrage. Unionists were fed up with republican foot dragging and with the British government taking them for granted after a summer of violence, he said.

But with the unionist myth of ongoing republican violence already widely dismissed, the UUP leader's comments were exposed as merely excuses dressed up as grievances. A fig leaf to cover the nakedly sectarian agenda of anti-Agreement unionism and the proposals the party had just endorsed.

But the hypocrisy and deceit continued. "Power sharing with democrats is on," said Jeffrey Donaldson, "power sharing with those who are linked to terrorist organisations, who are continuing violence on our streets is definitely not on." The IRA must 'disappear' said Donaldson.

Accusing the SDLP of 'hysteria', Martin Smyth said Ulster Unionists did not have difficulty sharing power with nationalists, only 'terrorists'.

"The council has mandated its support for measures against paramilitaries at every level," but "it has to start with the Executive and Sinn Fein/IRA is the only terrorist grouping in that administration."

It's a curious notion. According to Ulster Unionists, by engaging in a peace process, republicans have put themselves at the top of the list for sanction and exclusion. While the ongoing violent sectarian campaign of loyalists who share Smyth's anti-Agreement agenda but are devoid of a significant electoral mandate themselves can be ignored. It's a convenient sleight of hand but not one clever enough to hoodwink nationalists.

"Nationalists regard the unionist council's decision as deeply hypocritical and a self-serving political con trick to boot," wrote Derry Journal editor Pat McArt in the Newsletter.

"They see the IRA allegations as totally spurious. The real context is that the IRA, quieter now than at any time in 30 years, is being scape-goated in a totally cynical way in order to allow unionists to exit from an agreement that unionism cannot stomach because it is delivering equality and downgrading their dominance."

"The Ulster Unionist Party is a sad joke," ran the editorial of the Sunday Tribune, " but the ones laughing are the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party. The UUP demands, dressed up as "righteous" are "impractical and hypocritical", said the Tribune.

The UUP are propagating "further the myth that republicans are mainly to blame for the sectarian violence in North Belfast when it is clear that Sinn Féin is using its best efforts to curb response to loyalist provocation.

"Trimble has failed for years to give real leadership, to provide a dynamic focus for a progressive unionist approach towards the new political institutions of Northern Ireland and the power sharing intentions of the Good Friday Agreement."

Meanwhile, the editor of the Newsletter was on the horns of a dilemma. Entitled "politics is the art of the possible", the editorial posed the question "why should a constitutional party absolutely dedicated to exclusively peaceful means have to commit political suicide to sustain in government the associates of a terrorist organisation still active?"

Of course Ulster Unionists have never been 'dedicated to exclusively peaceful means' but merely relied upon state violence, as the first, and loyalism as the last, resort, to do their dirty work.

But more interestingly, by posing a question, the editor of the Newsletter sidesteps away from a statement of support. He is desperately trying to get to grips with the UUP's position, but it's untenable and he knows it. "Realistically there is little chance of the Ulster Unionists demands on decommissioning and disbandment being fulfilled."

So if, as everyone appears to recognise, the UUP's proposals are as Brian Feeney of the Irish News calls "an early letter to Santa" just what is going on?

The Ulster Unionist Party has halted the peace process, concluded Niall Stanage, writing in the British Guardian. "The unionist position is absurd. It seeks to block political progress until the members of the UUP are satisfied with the behaviour of Sinn Fein and the IRA."

"There is not the remotest possibility of leading UUP dissidents such as Jeffery Donaldson and David Burnside declaring themselves happy with republicans, now, in January or at any other time."

But as Stanage recognises that's not really what it is all about. "The Ulster Unionists current manoeuvrings have nothing to do with forcing the IRA's hand. They are a cover for getting out of the power sharing government..."

"No one has ever claimed Jeffery Donaldson was stupid," writes Pat McArt, "so we can take it as read when he demanded that either the IRA disband before Christmas or the Executive be brought down in January, he knew which was going to happen."

"The real agenda was, therefore, not disbandment but the ending of the power sharing arrangement that is the Good Friday Agreement. Nationalism believes that unionism still baulks at power sharing, that it harks back to those halcyon days of Carson and Craigavon when no one would have a Catholic about the place."

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams put it more politely, "unionists are not yet up to the challenge of managing change with the rest of us," Adams told the media, "but the rest of us can't wait."
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