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1 April 2004 Edition

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Mock battles and fantasy ceasefires

Every 13 July in Scarva unionists stage a mock battle between Protestant William of Orange and Catholic King James. The outcome is a matter of history and the enactment predetermined before a single strike of a fancy dress sword.

There was just a whiff of Scarva at the Ramada Hotel last Saturday during the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council. The ruling body of the Ulster Unionist Party turned out for the show but with only David Hoey and Robert Oliver to champion the anti-Trimble cause it was difficult to take the leadership challenge seriously.

Now there is a kind of logic to one 'stalking horse' challenger but a second can only be a spoiler to split the opposition. And in the event, it did just that. David Hoey polled 21.6% of the vote and Robert Oliver 17.6%, leaving David Trimble to emerge as a clear winner with 59.8%.

And for once, Trimble appeared to understand how to secure a victory. Rather than concede ground to his opponents (a tactic he has repeatedly employed to the detriment of his own leadership) Trimble told 800 delegates to "shape up or ship out".

"Don't stay in the party if your ambition is to undermine and destroy it," said Trimble. His message was simple. Suddenly an attack on the Trimble leadership is synonymous with destroying the UUP. From now on the party could not be "so democratic that our own members use the freedom granted by our culture and constitution to exploit and undermine our institutions".

Rule changes designed to strengthen Trimble's hold on the party were passed by a large majority. Significantly, the new constitution will strengthen the executive's ability to select election candidates. The replacement of dissident Martin Smyth with Denis Rogan further consolidated Trimble's power base. While three of the four vice president posts went to pro-Trimble members, as did three of four honourary secretary posts, Trimble pronounced himself "delighted" with the outcome.

Despite this, most commentators agree that the UUP remains fatally divided and still unable to offer a clear alternative to the no no no politics of the DUP. But while the UUP meeting resembled a pantomime, the DUP were opting for melodrama.

The forthcoming European elections are a matter of "life or death" Ian Paisley told the DUP faithful. "The European election is now a life and death battle for Ulster's existence," said Paisley. "The result of this election will reverberate around the whole world. It can be the final death blow of Sinn Féin."

On the campaign trail it was all vintage Paisley, except for the frailty of his diminishing frame and the growing tremor in his voice. The British Prime Minister had "decided that unionists are to be sacrificed on the Libyan altar of expediency" and London and Dublin have decided "that pacifying IRA terrorists is more important than holding up the verdict of the electorate".

Of course, 'life and death' battles have peppered Paisley's political oratory throughout his career. Hours before the Orangemen's protest at Drumcree descended into rioting some years back, Paisley appeared at the hill to announce another 'life and death' battle for Ulster.

Meanwhile, Portadown Orangeman Harold Gracey (68) died after a long illness. As district Orange master, Gracey came to prominence during the Orange Order's Drumcree protest. The lifelong Orangeman played a central role in the disturbances, inciting unionists throughout the Six Counties to come out onto the streets in support of the Order's determination to march through a Catholic area.

Following the demise of the mass protest, Gracey set up camp at Drumcree Hill, declaring he would not leave his caravan home until he could walk down the Garvaghy Road but it soon became apparent that Gracey had left after the media revealed he had been holidaying abroad. His stated determination to be carried along the Garvaghy Road in his coffin has also been abandoned.

A number of people were killed as a result of the Drumcree protest, including Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick, Catholic children Jason, Mark and Richard Quinn and Elizabeth O'Neill, whose home was targeted because her husband was a Catholic. Gracey infamously refused to condemn the violence emanating from Drumcree.

Four of those killings were recently attributed to the UVF, despite the fact that the unionist paramilitary grouping was officially on ceasefire at the time. In 1994, Gusty Spence announced a UVF ceasefire while expressing remorse for those killed by the group. But within a year, the UVF was involved in murder and to date has since been identified with at least 24 killings.

These include the killing of Billy Elliot in 1995, Thomas Sheppard, Michael McGoldrick


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