3 October 2002 Edition
Trimble's wreckers' charter
BY LAURA FRIEL
The Ulster Unionist Party's real agenda is not IRA disbandment but the ending of the power sharing arrangement that is the Good Friday Agreement
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, 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 Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams a "wreckers' 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."
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, said McGuinness.
"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 Brid Rodgers accused the First Minister of 'betrayal'. Nationalists had accepted David Trimble as First Minister despite memories of him holding hands with the DUP leader Ian Paisley on Portadown's Garvaghy Road, she said.
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 Féin/IRA, 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. Meanwhile, 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 scapegoated 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's announcement that his ministers would no longer attend meetings of the North South Ministerial Council with Sinn Féin ministers is a disgrace, a sop to his hardliners that will do nothing to stop the rise of the DUP.
"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?"
Unionists are not yet up to the challenge of managing change with the rest of us, but the rest of us can't wait
- Gerry Adams
sOf 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 Féin 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 the 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 Féin'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."
Many of the Ulster Unionist Party's proposals were impossible to meet. "The proposals prevent anyone from helping them," said Adams, "unless we can all cease to be nationalists and republicans." But the proposals were not just about republicans, Adams pointed out, they were also directed against the Good Friday Agreement.
The process is more important than any particular political leader said the Sinn Féin President. The old agenda of a one-party state is finished and eventually another unionist leader will face the same challenge as Trimble.
The Good Friday Agreement is a legally binding international treaty, said Adams and the onus is upon the two governments, most particularly the British government, to stop pandering to unionist rejectionism and push forward with their outstanding obligations.
"The job of the British government is to work with the Irish government and the rest of us to make sure the Agreement is implemented."
Democratic rights must not be thwarted
Doherty speaks at Labour Conference
Sinn Féin Vice President Pat Doherty MP addressed a fringe meeting organised by Sinn Féin at the British Labour Party Conference at Rushkin Hotel, Blackpool, on Wednesday 2 October. He urged the British government to immediately make it clear to the unionists that there will be no suspension of the political institutions established by the Agreement. Michelle Gildernew MP, party chair Mitchel McLaughlin and Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD also addressed meetings at the Blackpool conference.
Like a fast approaching comet, the 'Wreckers' Charter' that emerged from the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) meeting on 21 September is on a direct collision course with the institutions that underpin the Good Friday Agreement (GFA).
Since the signing of the GFA, the world has become accustomed to one artificially contrived 'crisis' after another emanating from the inner sanctums of the UUC. This is the ninth UUC meeting since the signing of the GFA. It is also the ninth occasion on which the British government has made concessions to the UUP in advance of these meetings.
Although said to be nominally in favour of the Agreement, the obstructionist tactics of the UUP have been seen by many nationalists and republicans as clear evidence of the Unionist Party's strategy to frustrate, slow down and dilute the process of change towards genuine equality.
In light of the shenanigans at the UUC on 21 September, the view that avowed Unionist Party support for the Agreement was merely tactical and a temporary measure to ward off pressure from the British and American governments has gathered further credence.
The arrogance of the ultimatums and preconditions contained in this latest unionist invention leave no one in any doubt that this unbelievable example of brass-necked hard balling is designed to create a definitive crisis in the peace process.
Not only does the nine-point combined motion from Trimble and Donaldson commit the UUP to an immediate breach of their obligations under the Agreement but it also establishes three preconditions outside the terms of the Agreement.
The vast bulk of political unionism has given up the pretence and is now unashamedly and vehemently anti-Agreement. It wants Sinn Féin, the largest nationalist party, excluded from the Executive. It wants the Good Friday Agreement dispensed with and renegotiated. It wants a unionist controlled and dominated police force. In short, it aspires to the return of a political order that they can dominate.
The clear message to nationalists is that the vast bulk of political unionism cannot and will not countenance the concept of equality with nationalists because to do so would undermine the raison d'être of their political philosophy, which has historically been based on exclusion and supremacy.
Unionists need to know that they can be part of managing the necessary change but that they cannot stop the changes that are coming. People's rights and entitlements cannot be filtered through how much unionism is prepared to tolerate - Pat Doherty
SINN FÉIN FOCUS
This is a dangerous time. For our part, Sinn Féin has given leadership. We argued for collective initiatives from pro-Agreement parties to bring calm to our streets and confront sectarianism. The First Minister failed to respond. The reasoning is obvious. He has already decided on a collision course. He had set out his stall on this at the UUP AGM in March. Having first sought sanctions against Sinn Féin and then having adopted a course for political collapse, he can hardly join with us, even if he knows it is the right thing to do.
At the core of all this is, of course, very basic principles of democracy and equality. Sinn Féin has a democratic mandate. We recognise unconditionally the mandate of other parties and governments. They have an equal responsibility to recognise ours.
Some unionists clearly resent this. They resent the fact that equality discriminates against privilege; against a failed status quo. Respect for democratic mandates and treating those mandates with equality is indispensable to a successful peace process. This is not optional or conditional. The two governments, and especially the British government, have a particular responsibility in this regard.
However, this is not a time for republicans to knee jerk. We intend to stay focused on making the Agreement work - on seeing its many outstanding elements implemented. But Irish republicans are but one element of the body politic. There is a shared responsibility. Those of us interested in conflict resolution, those of us interested in building on the work of the past ten years, must ensure that we minimise the damage that will result from Mr Trimble and his colleagues abandoning the political institutions in January.
Sinn Féin will do what we can to achieve this. We will continue to engage with the two governments. We will continue to engage with the other pro-agreement parties on the island and we will seek to meet with political and civic unionism. This rightward lurch in political unionism has left a large section of pro-agreement people within the unionist community voiceless. We must not only seek out and encourage the articulation of this voice but also encourage its political manifestation.
Pandering to rejectionist Unionism must end
The roots of this crisis can be traced to the constant pandering to every unionist whim by the British government. Time and time again crises were manufactured, UUC meetings held and goodies outside the terms of the Agreement were offered by the British government to be pocketed by Mr Trimble. And we moved along until the next artificially created crisis.
This is no way in which to manage a process of conflict resolution or a process of political change. The most recent UUC meeting shows what the real agenda is. And this is very understandable.
The British government's behaviour gave political unionism the green light to believe that they could stop the change promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Their constant threats to the political institutions and constant threats to stop political progress on equality, human rights, criminal justice, policing, the all-Ireland agenda and a whole range of other issues was continually.
The British government's pandering to rejectionist unionism was always going to result in this situation.
The political instability generated by the last four years of continuous political crisis has encouraged anti-Agreement loyalist paramilitaries to fill such a vacuum with violence. For the past two years they have been involved in a sustained sectarian campaign which has seen hundreds of bomb attacks, scores of shootings, several deaths and thousands of other attacks and threats against the nationalist people across the north of Ireland.
The Good Friday Agreement is a binding international agreement between the Irish and British governments. They are obliged to implement the Agreement and have a joint and co-equal responsibility for the implementation of its terms. The process must be moved forward through resolute and speedy action by both governments, but particularly the British government. It should immediately make it clear to the unionists that the implementation of the Agreement will proceed and the two governments should call a meeting of all pro-Agreement parties
Unionists need to be know that we are not giving up on this process, that we have invested too much time and energy over ten years and more, that we are not going to abandon the desire for equality, democracy and partnership. They need to know that we want them to be part of managing the necessary change but that they cannot stop the changes that are coming. People's rights and entitlements cannot be filtered through a unionist prism. This is not acceptable.
The thrust and dynamic created in this peace process must be sustained. The implementation of the Agreement, even if unionist opposition pulls down the Assembly, must proceed. Political, democratic, peace process and legal imperatives, not to mention good common sense, requires this approach.
In short, the democratic rights and entitlements of the overwhelming majority of the Irish electorate north and south must not be thwarted or denied by the those who have set their face firmly against a lasting settlement based on equality.