4 September 2003 Edition
Side-letters, graffiti guarantees and backroom deals failed to deliver unionism
BY MITCHEL McLAUGHLIN
Once again we approach the spectacle of David Trimble going in front of the 900-strong unelected Ulster Unionist Council ostensibly to secure backing for his tactical approach to the implementation of the Agreement as opposed to that of Donaldson and Burnside.
For those of us that are still interested in the day to day mechanics of the peace process and the impact that the general political process has on it, the goings on in the Ulster Unionist Party are most enlightening.
You see, David Trimble sold the Agreement to the 51% of unionists who endorsed it by convincing them that it copper-fastened the Union. Tony Blair was quick to publicly endorse this interpretation of the Agreement by furnishing Trimble with secret side letters of support and giving the unionist people guarantees with graffiti type wall slogans.
Even with all of this fluff and flannel, 49% of unionists opposed the Agreement, although it offered a peaceful and democratic way out of the cycle of violence created by the status quo. These were the unionists that realised that the Agreement did not copper-fasten the Union. They recognised that it represented for the first time since Partition an opportunity for republicans and nationalists to promote and pursue the goal of a united Ireland through a non-violent way that would not allow for oppressive measures to be used to stop it.
The slippage from the 51% of unionists that accepted, however reluctantly, the need for the change contained in the Agreement has resulted not from an increase in support for Donaldson and Co. It occurred because of a realisation that if they railed against change enough, the British government would capitulate to unionism's inbuilt fear of equality and attempt to dilute or delay the change.
Every strand of unionism is united in one aspect and that is - if you give equality to republicans and nationalists the raison d'Ítre of the Union is gone. They know that the delivery of the Equality agenda beckons the demise of the Union with Britain. And the British government's pandering and the Irish government and others' acquiescence in unionist intransigence only served to encourage more unionists to try and frustrate the change that they knew was in train - change that they know will lead to constitutional change.
The solution to the stop-go approach to the Agreement adopted by the rejectionists is for both governments to make it clear to all that the Agreement was accepted by the vast majority of people on this island and if the politicians cannot implement it then the governments will. The only majority that can prevail is the majority of the population, whether it be in the Six Counties or on the island as a whole. The refrain of anti-Agreement unionists that there must be a majority in 'each community' cannot succeed. It is a recipe for eternal deadlock.
The 'principle of consent' embedded in the Agreement refers to the wishes of a majority in the Six Counties for political change. It must be applied to all aspects of political change, not just the issue of sovereignty. Unionists should not be the arbiters of the interpretation of political change.