AP front 1 - 2022

8 October 1998 Edition

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Unionists paralyse process

A serious situation is developing within the political process with the failure to establish the various institutions under the Good Friday Agreement.

Sinn Féin as a party is entitled to Executive positions and nationalist representatives are entitled to places on the all-Ireland Ministerial Council. They are currently being prevented from exercising those rights.

As the 31 October deadline for the establishment of the above bodies approaches, unionist opposition is clearly beginning to paralyse political progress. David Trimble's attempts to re-negotiate the Good Friday Agreement on Unionist terms is the cause of the lack of movement.

There is now a dangerous sense that the political process is adrift. This must rectified at all speed. The Irish and British governments are obliged to defend the Agreement and the rights of all parties under the terms of the Agreement. It is the governments who can inject momentum once again and clear the road of obstacles which have been erected. They must act now and stop the rot by forcing the pace and implementing the Agreement.


Trimble takes step backwards

Any hope that David Trimble would provide evidence of a possible breakthrough in the current impasse which besets the peace process were dashed when he took to the podium at the British Conservative Party Conference on Tuesday.

Trimble's speech to the Conservatives went completely against the grain of the new opportunities opened up since Good Friday. Rather, his words harked back to the days of Margaret Thatcher and were imbued with a sense of the old Tory security agenda.

In his address David Trimble praised former Prime Minister John Major for his stalling exercises in the early days of the peace process. He then took the opportunity to allude to the current impasse which he himself has created over decommssioning and while a smiling John Major looked on, Trimble used the former premier's obstinacy in dealing with republicans to endorse his own current tactic of immobility. The logic of Trimble's message is bleak - Major's tactics eventually led to the collapse of the process and the breakdown of the IRA cessation in February 1996.

Trimble went on to pay tribute to two notorious right-wing British securocrats, Airey Neave and Ian Gow. Both men were members of a small coterie of Tory strategists around Margaret Thatcher who, in the late 1970s, formulated the basis of the British policy pursued in Ireland throughout the 1980s which led, among other things, to 10 hunger strike deaths in Long Kesh and an increased emphasis on a militarist approach to the political problem. Airey Neave was killed in a booby trap bomb explosion at the House of Commons in 1979 in an operation claimed by the INLA while Ian Gow died in similar circumstances in an IRA attack in June 1990.

Trimble will have added to the growing sense of despair at the slow pace of political events when he suggested at a fringe meeting that the establsihment of an Executive in the Six Counties could be delayed until next February. He claimed there was ``an explicit cross-reference between decommissioning and holding office and that while it might be ``convenient'' to have a shadow executive pending the transfer of powers to the Assembly ``it isn't necessary'' under the terms of the Good Friday document.

These words are extremely ominous in that they give no hope for political progress as time rapidly slips away. They also encourage those on the unionist side who want to destroy the Agreement and the Peace Process itself. Trimble's posturing has increased a sense of foreboding in relation to the political situation.

In a statement issued immediately after David Trimble's address in Bournemouth, Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin said that Timble had chosen ``to indulge himself in confrontational politics and is pandering to a narrow minded mentality within the Tory Party and within unionism - a mentality which has consistently opposed political progress''.

Trimble's speech is also out of step with the mood of the unionist people who voted for the Good Friday Agreement. In fact he is instilling a growing sense of despair among those republicans and unionists who took the difficult step and voted Yes in the referendum. Trimble should resist the temptation to reflect the views of reactionary unionism which can only lead back to the failures of the past.

The current crisis can be resolved only if British Prime Minister Tony Blair and David Trimble as the leader of Unionism keep their word and implement the Agreement. By 31 October the Executive and the other institutions must be up and running if the Agreement is to be followed. There are no preconditions. Under the Agreement there can be no Assembly without the interdependent and interlocking institutions.

The reality is that David Trimble's current position has little to do with IRA weaponry and lots to do with hollowing out the Good Friday Agreement until it becomes merely an agreement on unionist terms. Trimble has used a tactical split within unionism to sucessfully talk up the decommissioning issue to a point where it now threatens all the progress which has been so far made. He is attempting to blackmail everyone into adopting the unionist agenda on decommissioning.

The signs are depressing but all is not yet lost. The 31 October deadline can still be met but it needs a political will to do so. Decommissioning has this week, and for the umpteenth time, been raised as a precondition to political progress. It has been overcome in the past and must be overcome again if we are to move forward. The alternative is that the agreement will be breached and the political process which has been followed of late will collapse entirely. This cannot be allowed to happen.


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