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26 June 2003 Edition

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Huff and Puff might blow the house down

BY LAURA FRIEL


     
Trimble won last week's Ulster Unionist Council vote, but even his most loyal supporters believe Trimble will, sooner or later, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory
Now let me get this straight. In the interests of unity, Jeffrey Donaldson is to force a split. In the interests of democracy, he is going to ignore the fact that the UUC vote he actively sought went against him. And in the interests of unionism, he's set on destroying the UUP?

No wonder David Trimble has just discovered he's a pro-Agreement unionist, determined to thwart "the last effort to turn back the clock" and looking forward to a time when the UUP is "free" to complete its "historic endeavour". At least that's the spin currently being offered by Trimble, his party supporters and the media.

"Mr David Trimble is going on the offensive against Mr Jeffery Donaldson to try to safeguard his leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party and see the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement," wrote Gerry Moriarty of the Irish Times.

According to Frank Millar, Trimble has been "battling to maintain an agreement. "That he has been faithful to the agreement is not in question. That he has been valiant in the face of formidable opposition is indisputable."

"The Ulster Unionist Party, riven by acrimonious rows over whether to support or oppose the Good Friday Agreement, began to break apart yesterday as three MPs critical of David Trimble's leadership resigned the parliamentary whip," said the British Guardian.

And it is not surprising that both British and Irish newspapers most closely reflect the spin preferred by both of their respective governments. In this comforting scenario, David Trimble is cast in the role of the well meaning but embattled leader of enlightened unionism, struggling to make the Good Friday Agreement a reality against the odds of republican 'failure' and unionist hostility.

Only Susan McKay of the Tribune acknowledged the ambiguous nature of Trimble's tacit 'support' for the Good Friday Agreement. McKay highlighted Trimble's "pathological distaste for active promotion of the agreement" and his "record of squandering its moments of strength".

Outside the Ramada Hotel, after losing the vote to Trimble, Jeffrey Donaldson had cut a sorry figure, tight lipped, tight arsed and apparently deserted by his most ardent co-conspirators. Standing at the edge of political obscurity, Donaldson backed away from his threat to resign. He was "considering his position", Donaldson told the media.

A few days later, after some "prayerful thought" and the much needed support of UUP MPs David Burnside and Martin Smyth, Donaldson announced his decision to "stand his ground".

"It would have been easy for me to take the decision that would purely serve my own interests," said Donaldson, "but I have chosen to act in a way that will serve the best interests of the people I represent and unionism itself."

The trio, transformed into 'rebels' by the media, announced their opposition to Trimble's leadership and their decision to withdraw from the UUP whip in the British House of Commons. The three MPs declined Ian Paisley's offer to join the ranks of the DUP but looked forward to a future realignment of unionism whereby anti-Agreement Ulster Unionists, the DUP and other anti-Agreement unionists would combine to contest elections.

"Never again must unionism find itself in a position where it is represented at the negotiating table by those who do not speak for the majority. That has been the position. It cannot be the position in the future," said Donaldson.

Meanwhile, Trimble was declaring that the trio had in effect already resigned from the party as well as the whip. "Resignation would clearly be the principled course of action," he insisted. "In any party elsewhere, their action would be regarded as a resignation from the party. I can only assume that they recognise and intend this outcome but merely wish to place on the rest of the party the task of tidying up the situation."

Trimble has called a meeting of party officers to institute disciplinary procedures for the removal of the three MPs. Unfortunately for Trimble, both Donaldson, as UUP vice president, and Smyth, as UUP president, would be entitled to attend any such disciplinary meeting.

Trimble won last week's Ulster Unionist Council vote, as he repeatedly has done at every challenge presented by Jeffrey Donaldson. But, given his failure to build on the Agreement, even his most loyal supporters believe Trimble will, sooner or later, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

One pro-Agreement observer of unionism said Trimble needed to seize his advantage. "He should get tough, break the link with the Orange Order, consolidate the pro-Agreement wing," the supporter told McKay.

"Then he could go into talks strongly in the autumn and the IRA could do what is necessary. The assumption is that, in such circumstances, the UUP would see off the DUP and win the elections," he said. But when asked if he thought Trimble would do this, his reply was an unequivocal, "No".

In a recently published essay, The politics of good intentionsí English academic David Runciman accused Tony Blair of elevating the declaration of his 'good intentions' above political responsibility for the outcome of his actions.

"The New World Order is awash with good intentions, many of them Tony Blair's. Yet the suspicion remains that good intentions in politics donít count for much. One of the things that unites all critics of Blair's war in Iraq is that they are sick of the sound of Blair trumpeting the purity of his purpose, when what really matters is the consequences of his actions," writes Runciman.

And it is easy to see how this New Labour notion of 'good intentions' has been utilised by the British, and at least in the public arena endorsed by the Dublin government, in their presentation of David Trimble. In his 'fork in the road' speech, while Tony Blair demanded action on the part of republicans, he offered only reassurances on behalf of unionism.

On one hand, republicans must constantly demonstrate their commitment to the Agreement through 'acts of completion' and Sinn Féin must be held to account, even beyond the actions of their party members. On the other hand, the 'sincerity' of unionists and David Trimble must be taken as given.

"The unionist community knows the only way of having a lasting peace is to have a just one," said Blair. Unionists don't reject the Agreement; they just don't believe its being implemented properly, he argued. Nationalists believe "unionists disregard, even secretly tolerate loyalist paramilitaries. I know this not to be true," said Blair.

And that, as they say, is that. Tony Blair, the PM of good intentions, endorses David Trimble and in doing so exonerates him of all responsibility of actually delivering anything very much. But as an indulgent parent inadvertently encourages a spoilt child, Blair's unconditional support for Trimble has fed the vainglorious tantrums of recalcitrant unionism.

While republicans have been building their house of trust brick by brick, actively campaigning for equality and human rights, endeavouring to show that politics can work, supporting the institutions, seeking peace and reconciliation, the British PM has allowed Trimble to build his GFA house of straw.

Beneath the mantle of Tony Blair's paternalism, Trimble has actively campaigned against almost all aspects of the GFA. Under the banner of pro-Agreement unionism, Trimble and the UUP have vigorously resisted implementation, stalled progressive initiatives, acted as an apologist for loyalist violence and repeatedly torn down the institutions.

And now we have Three Big Bad Wolves, Huffing And Puffing And Threatening To Blow The UUP House Down. And just one little piggy, clutching at straw. There's already more than a whiff of bacon sizzling in the pan.

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