29 October 1998 Edition

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Making history at the Hist

A motion that ``immediate decommissioning is necessary for Northern Ireland'' was defeated at a packed public debate in Trinity College Dublin last week which saw dissident Unionist MP Willie Thompson share a platform with Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. While the surroundings were historic with echoes of Trinity students of the past like Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmett, Douglas Hyde and Edward Carson, the debate was bang up to date as the clock ticked away to the 31 October deadline in the Good Friday Agreement.

Student debates can often be highly tedious with aspiring young politicians and/or barristers testing their oratorical skills with much bombast and little substance. Last week's `Hist' (College Historical Society) debate had its moments, however, with the prize going to the student who, referring to the anti-Agreement unionists, said that some people were ``living in a world of Pancake Tuesdays and Ash Wednesdays, trying to pretend Good Friday never came''.

Orange Order cheer-leader, revisionist historian and media handler for British agent Seán O'Callaghan - this is the cv of Ruth Dudley Edwards. The atmosphere was too polite in Trinity - or most of the students were too ignorant of her true role - for this to be referred to by anyone from the floor but Dudley Edwards still won few friends with her approach. Refusing to take any comments or questions she launched into an anti-republican diatribe worthy of her relative Conor Cruise O'Brien.

Naturally the main focus of the debate was on Willie Thompson and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

Ó Caoláin said that the real issue delaying the formation of the shadow Executive and the All-Ireland Ministerial Council was not decommissioning but ``the refusal on the part of sections of Unionism to embrace change and a new future for all of our people''.

Ó Caoláin said that if David Trimble fails to establish these structures by the 31 October deadline he will have defaulted on his undertakings of Good Friday. He urged David Trimble to ``put the decommissioning obstacle behind him'' and implement the Agreement in full.

Willie Thompson MP said that he had ``no regrets in opposing the Agreement''. He said that unionists had voted ``not on the letter of the Agreement'' but on the basis of promises from British Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding decommissioning. The West Tyrone MP said that unionist opinion since the referendums has ``greatly moved against the Agreement''.

When Willie Thompson spoke of the fears of the unionist community on the issue of weapons Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin intervened to ask if he accepted that the republican and nationalist community also had real fears. The MP seemed stuck for words in what was overall a strangely subdued sppech, perhaps reflecting the disillusionment and lack of direction among many unionists.

Kevin McNamara, former Britisg Labour Party spokesperson on Ireland ably summed up for the opposition and when the vote was taken a majority was recorded against the motion.

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