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10 December 1998 Edition

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Unionists continue to unpick the Agreement

Gerry Adams, writing from Washington, outlines the continuing Unionist strategy to renegotiate the Good Friday Agreement
      Last Thursday, at two o'clock in the morning, as Mr Blair was leaving Stormont he told me; ``There will be agreement on the departments and bodies by this evening.''
``Don't be too sure,'' I cautioned him; ``The unionists won't close on this in your absence.''

This time I came to the United States with some reluctance. Not for any personal reason or sudden dissatisfaction with the USA. On the contrary, the place continues to intrigue me. My reluctance this time was due to the behaviour of UUP leader and First Minister designate David Trimble.

Last week he reneged on a deal to put the peace process back on course. This week he and I, and the rest of the party leaders are in the United States to receive peace prizes. But the process has to be about delivering peace, not pocketing peace prizes. Mr Trimble doesn't seem to realise that. The rest of us do.

John Hume, for example, is a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I wish him well. I also wish David Trimble well. But I hope he rises to the honour being bestowed upon him. His behaviour last week shows he has a long way to go.

Last week, having agreed in principle on ten departments for the new executive in the north of Ireland and having agreed in principle on some of the all-Ireland implementation and policy making bodies in intense discussions involving the British Prime Minister, the SDLP, Sinn Féin and the Irish government, Mr Trimble back-pedaled.

The discussions took place up at Stormont. Mr Blair flew in to be personally involved. The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was at the end of the phone. For the previous five or six weeks his government had engaged with the rest of us to get a broad sense of what was required on the issues under discussion.

Those of us who engaged positively were concerned to agree the departments and implementation bodies so that the two governments could pass legislation in time to keep the process in tune with the second deadline for February.

Due to the success of the unionist delaying tactics, one deadline has been missed already. That was for 31 October when all the institutions were to be in shadow formation. That is, the Assembly, the Executive, the Council of Ministers, the All-Ireland bodies, the Civic Forum and so on. Power is to be given to these institutions in February. All of this was agreed on Good Friday.

Last Thursday, at two o'clock in the morning, as Mr Blair was leaving Stormont he told me; ``There will be agreement on the departments and bodies by this evening.''

``Don't be too sure,'' I cautioned him; ``The unionists won't close on this in your absence.''

I left Stormont at 2:30am. I was back at 9 o'clock. By noon, after a series of meetings with Dublin, the British Secretary of State and with the SDLP it was clear that my fears were well founded. The deal was being undone.

At 2:30pm I met Mr Trimble. He conceded that ``there was agreement in principle on ten departments.'' But he declared that he couldn't go above six All-Ireland bodies. It was obvious that he wanted to dump the more substantive ones - as well as the Irish language and an Equality Department. The Inward Investment element was also out. But even though this is not acceptable to Sinn Féin that was not the problem.

The problem was, according to Mr Trimble, that it would take a lot more time to sort out the matters he was prepared to close on. He couldn't rush. There was no hurry. And he was too busy.

And there you have it. Forced to negotiate because the British Prime Minister was present, the unionists made some, not enough, but some progress. Freed up from that imperative by Mr Blair's absence, the unionists unraveled the progress. Tony Blair was said to be livid. So was Bertie Ahern. David Trimble was relaxed. He had seen off a British Prime Minister. He had stopped a Taoiseach, who planned to travel north to close the deal, from doing so. He had frustrated the SDLP. Mr Trimble was playing a blinder. I told him so. But he wasn't making peace. I told him that also.

John Taylor, UUP deputy leader, suggested that everyone take a holiday. On Friday Mr. Trimble did just that. The rest of his team took Mr.Taylor's advice and followed Mr Trimble's example. There wasn't one of them to be seen about the place.

On Monday morning I spoke by phone to Mr Blair. On Friday I had a meeting with Mr Ahern. I put it to them that the unionist veto was being used. That Mr Trimble was playing a long, slow hand. That the two governments have to step in. Decisively! They have to get the process back on course before Christmas. Martin McGuinness met Mr Blair on Wednesday. He will lead a team into talks with the Irish government. We will engage again with the SDLP.

I had a 50 minute meeting this week with President Clinton and Hillary Clinton. I said to the President as I said to the Taoiseach a few days ago and when I spoke to the Prime Minister in London by telephone that the deal that was done last week and then undone by the unionists needs to be put together again. That the Equality department needs to be in it, that the inward investment element that was taken out must be put back in. The Irish language implementation body must be included. And all of this must be and can be agreed before Christmas.

President Clinton is very focused, he's very up to date on what happened last week. He understands the need to make peace urgently and I think he appreciates that the entire agreement needs to be implemented and that the quicker that's done, the better for the future and for the promotion of the peace process. I think it was a very good meeting, a very constructive meeting and a very focused meeting.

The Good Friday Agreement, as the day tells us, was at Easter. It's now Christmas. That's a long time in terms of putting together commitments which were made at that time and which are clearly within the gift of the parties to deliver upon. My view is that the unionists are tactically engaging and that what we saw last week was a cameo presentation of what's been happening since last Friday. From their point of view they want to dilute, they want to stretch, they want to hollow out the core, the substance. It's all renegotiation all the time. And I think if you spoke to all the participants other than the UUP and even though the governments have to put a positive spin on it, they would have to admit the same thing. That there is a renegotiation ongoing in perpetuity on issues which we thought were settled on Good Friday.

I raised the decommissioning issue in my meeting with the President and pointed up the mechanism within the Good Friday Agreement as the means that we agreed to resolve that problem. And that mechanism has not been used. We're involved in it, General de Chastelain is doing his best but all of the parties aren't involved in it.

It's interesting that when I met with David Trimble last week in Belfast, in a 40 minute conversation he never even mentioned the issue of decommissioning. That gives you a sense of what this is about. It's about implementing all aspects of the agreement within the time frames agreed. Already one deadline has been missed. We're heading to miss another deadline. The responsibility for that lies with those who are protracting the process and not keeping their commitments.

And that means that we, who are in political leadership keeping the promises that we made.

But it takes everyone to play his part. David Trimble has to face up to his responsibilities. And Mr Blair has to tell him so.

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