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24 September 1998 Edition

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Trimble must decide

Decommissioning being used to wreck Agreement

The issue of decommissioning has once again been pushed to the top of the political agenda. And once again it has the potential to push the entire peace process into crisis.

On this occasion Unionist political opponents of the Good Friday Agreement are using the issue in a completely spurious way in an attempt to wreck the Agreement. By insisting that the IRA hand over weapons before Sinn Féin can take seats in an Executive and in the All-Ireland Council, they are deliberately pushing the Agreement into crisis.

They are quite aware that nowhere in the Agreement is there such a precondition to Sinn Féin taking seats, nor is decommissioning something that Sinn Féin can deliver. In that sense, it is a dead-end issue. It can only be read as a wrecking tactic.

It is also being used to fight a battle within Unionism. The No men of Unionism, who could not get what they wanted through negotiation or through the ballot box ,are now seeking to get their way through bluster. And David Trimble is being swept along by their empty rhetoric. It is now time for him to face down his opponents. They are yesterday's men who want to turn back the clock. The Agreement has the overwhelming backing of the people of Ireland and it specifies that the next step must be to set up the Agreement's institutions. That must happen without delay


Caught in the headlights

by Laura Friel

The inability of David Trimble to reconcile his responsibilities as the new Assembly's first minister with anti agreement begrudgers within his own Ulster Unionist Party, is threatening to plunge the entire peace process into crisis.

Rather than toughing it out, moves by the No faction within the UUP to undermine Trimble at branch and constituency level, sent the Unionist leader scurrying for cover beneath a smokescreen of decommissioning rhetoric. The First Minister might resign, suggested the Sunday newspapers, if he was pressurised by the Irish and British governments to accept Sinn Fein into the executive before the start of decommissioning. One hint of a white scut and, Jeffrey Donaldson, the disaffected Lagan Valley MP, was urging his leader into full flight. ``I would warn the [British] government that if it pressures David Trimble to back down on the decommissioning pledge,'' said Donaldson, ``it will trigger a deep split in the Ulster Unionist Party which would lead to a collapse of the party structure.''

But who exactly did Donaldson have in his sights? ``There can be no fudging of this issue any longer,`` warned Donaldson. Significantly Jeffrey Donaldson's name has been linked to dissidents busy laying snares for Trimble amongst the party's grassroots. Leading Ulster Unionists unhappy with party policy since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, ran Belfast's Newsletter earlier this week, are to form a new group, meetings are to be arranged and the objective will be ``Union first''. The group which, according to the Newsletter, has Jeffrey Donaldson's full support, plans to stop party leader David Trimble from forming an assembly executive with Sinn Fein membership. ``We expect to be up and running within the next fortnight, and we will be asking all those who are concerned about the direction the leadership has taken to support us,'' said North Down UUP Assembly member Peter King. ``At the moment our stalwart members are drifting away or going to other parties. We have to stop that, and represent those people who voted `No' and others who now say promises have been broken.''

Meanwhile Trimble's untenable stance was bringing him into direct conflict with the SDLP. Replying to a call by UUP Assembly member Reg Empey for Sinn Fein to be debarred from taking seats in the executive, SDLP Assembly group chairperson Brid Rodgers warned that no new preconditions should be put on any party's ability to participate in the new power sharing executive. ``Nowhere and I repeat, nowhere, in the Agreement does it say that there must be decommissioning before parties take their seats on the executive,`` said Rodgers.

Calling on David Trimble to ``publicly defend the Good Friday agreement'' and to stop ``placating'' those unionists who are trying to wreck the agreement, Sinn Fein's Assembly member Gerry Kelly said David Trimble should defend the agreement by speedily implementing its provisions, in particular the formation of the Executive and the all Ireland Ministerial council. ``Sinn Fein is honouring the commitments it made in endorsing the Good Friday agreement. In recent weeks Sinn Fein took specific initiatives aimed at making it easier for everyone to engage with each other. We have gone as far as we can go. It is now up to Mr Trimble to respond in kind by keeping his word,'' said Kelly.

Urging the Ulster Unionist Leader not to lose his nerve in the face of regrouping by the `No' camp, Gerry Adams dismissed decommissioning as a ``dead issue'' and pointed out that under the Agreement there can be no Assembly without the ``interdependent and interlocking institutions'' of the executive, departmental structures and a fully functioning all-Ireland Ministerial Council and civic Forum. Adams called for ``no further delay'' and pointed out that forming of the executive and other structures must be done within the timeframe set out by the Agreement. ``To raise decommissioning now as a precondition is a clear breach of the Agreement,'' said Adams. ``All parties are obliged to fulfil their commitments in all respects. Sinn Fein will fulfil its commitments. The two governments and the First Minister designate must fulfil theirs.''

Clearly as First Minister David Trimble should be representing the overwhelming majority of people, nationalist and unionist who voted `yes' to the Good Friday Agreement, he cannot remain caught in the headlights of dissidents within his own party ranks, immobilised by their decisive rhetoric of past.


Decommissioning row an attempt to sabotage Agreement


The issue of weapons decommissioning has in the past number of weeks been resurrected as an obstacle to political progress. This has been done in a deliberately careful and co-ordinated fashion by unionist politicians who have brought us all to the situation where the entire peace process is in a serious state of catharsis.

The arguments being used by unionist spokespersons are entirely bogus and are being made in order to minimise political progress and divert attention and energy away from the important business of implementing the Good Friday Agreement and proceeding with an agenda for political change.

What the decommissioning subterfuge amounts to in real terms is nothing less that an attempt to sabotage the Good Friday Agreement and by extension the Peace Process itself.

The relevant provisions of the Good Friday document in relation to the decommissioning issue state:


3. ``All participants accordingly reaffirm their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations. They also confirm their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith with the Independent Commission, and to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommisioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement.


4. ``The Independent Commission will monitor, review and verify progress on decommissioning of illegal arms, and will report to both governments at regular intervals.''


Sinn Féin has said it is committed to fulfilling the provisions in the decommissioning section of the Agreement but in the context of the implementation of all the provisions of the Agreement. It needs to be clearly understood, as Sinn Féin has pointed out, that as far as the nationalist community is concerned decomissioning is only one of a wide range of provisions of the Agreement, that this is a peace process and not a decommissioning process.

The provisions in the Agreement on decommissioning are explicitly set ``in the context of the implementation of the overall setllement''.

Sinn Féin's right to representation on all of the institutions for which the Agreement makes provision, on the basis of proportionality, is automatic. The Agreement makes no provision for the decommisioning of weapons prior to the establishment or transfer of power to such as the Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council etc. Decommisioning is not a precondition to Sinn Féin reprsentation.

Since Good Friday the Ulster Unionist Party and other unionists have attempted to publicly sell decommissioning as a precondition. This is entirely bogus. But more recently they have changed tactics and several senior unionist spokespersons now deal with it as a purely political issue - not as a provision of the Agreement - which must happen if their political capacity to deliver on the institutional provisions of the Agreement is to obtain.

If David Trimble's party maintains this position it will clearly be responsible for a breach of the Good Friday Agreement and in turn possibly its collapse. They need to think long and hard about whether they are prepared to be responsible for dashing people's hopes on what they know is red herring.

Apart from being in breach of the Good Friday Agreement the unionist demands on Sinn Féin are entirely unrealistic and undeliverable. They also fly in the face of contemporary and historical experience. There is no precedent in Irish history for the decommissioning of weapons by insurgent republican forces, either voluntarily or under pressure from state authorities.

Following the Irish Civil War of 1921-'23, the IRA simply dumped their arms. They did not face pressure from the Free State to surrender weapons or explosives and no attempt was ever made to prevent De Valera and others on the anti-Treaty side from entering Leinster House because their IRA comrades had not decommissioned weapons.

No attempt was later made to stop De Valera, aided by the IRA, from taking office in the Freee State in 1932 because of a failure to decommission republican weapons.

In later years when members of the then named `Sinn Féin the Workers' Party' entered Leinster House they faced no pressure to deliver the surrender of weapons held by the `Official' IRA despite the fact that politicians and journalists of all hues persisted that the party was inextricably linked with this armed group.

These Workers Party representatives under the Democratic Left banner later went on to form a coalition government with John Bruton who never sought the decommissioning of Official IRA weapons but who currently seems particularly vulnerable to unionist arguments that decommissioning of IRA weapons is now a precondition to Sinn Féin involvement in the Six County Executive.

It is beyond time that the unionists were asked some straight questions in relation to their one-sided demands on decommissioning. The IRA has stated with on several occasions that it is not prepared to decommission. Sinn Féin does not possess any weapons. It cannot deliver by itself the object of decommissioning.

What has been the most noticeable feature of the recent decommissioning controversy is its entirely one-sided nature. All of the focus is on the weapons of one protagonist to the conflict, namely the IRA. Little mention is made of the weapons in the hands of loyalist organisations which have put to death hundreds of nationalists over the years and virtually no mention is now being made of the weapons held by the largest armed groups in the equation - the British armed forces in the Six Counties, including the RUC.

In this situation what realistically do Unionist politicians expect Sinn Féin to do?

Some air of reality urgently needs to brought back into the discussion around decommissioning. If the IRA were to surrender every rifle, handgun and ounce of explosive material today, there is nothing stopping it from re-arming itself with a greater, more sophisticated and more modern arsenal tomorrow. There are no shortages of such materials on the world arms market and the IRA has shown its ability to import massive amounts of it undetected when it felt the need to do so in the past.

So-called `home-made' weaponry has been a significant feature of the conflict we have faced over the past 30 years, particularly on the republican side. How can fertilizer, coffee grinders, metal tubing and other everyday materials which have been used to manufacture weapons by a underground guerrilla army, be decommissioned?

Huge bombs can be made with agricultural fertilizer, if people have a mind to divert their energies to such tasks. Decommissioning would do nothing to stop the manufature of such bombs or the manufacture of mortars by people who will learn to apply themselves to the construction of such weapons.

What is clearly important therefore is the removal of the objective conditions where people are more likely to engage in such activity or where such activity is increasingly less acceptable to the population because they see a peaceful, political means of addressing their concerns.

Such a scenario is rapidly slipping away as Unionism continues with every day that passes to dig itself deeper into a hole which could end up burying the hopes for peace and progress that have been raised among the people of Ireland


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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