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13 October 2000 Edition

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Trimble survives again


So David Trimble survives, politically speaking, to fight another day - but only just. After the hastily convened UUP conference at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Saturday 7 October, followed by the narrow defeat of a vote of no confidence brought against him by the DUP at Stormont on Monday, the party s anti-Agreement members appear to have decided that for the time being their best ploy is to try and force a change in policy rather than leader. According to some sources, however, there may well be another attempt to remove Trimble after the forthcoming meeting of the Ulster Unionist ruling council.

Aside from the insistence that the RUC remain forever unchanged, the party's requirements in respect of decommissioning have now evolved into demands for what Donaldson refers to as `product'; in the absence of such `product' the no-camp - which essentially does not want to share power with nationalists in any circumstances whatsoever - will be provided with the excuse it needs to compel the UUP to ultimately withdraw altogether from Stormont, forcing its collapse. The antis will begin that process by bringing forward a motion at the meeting in a fortnight's time for non-co-operation with the North South Ministerial Council.

Jeffrey Donaldson, who again retreated from mounting a direct challenge against Trimble for the leadership of the UUP when given an opportunity to do so on Saturday, adopted instead his customary tactic of remaining on the sidelines issuing threats of a possible future challenge and calling for Trimble to pull out of power-sharing with Sinn Féin whilst offering no alternative policy other than to say `No'. In short, he bottled it. Given his own and his supporters' apparent confidence in his ability to win a head to head contest with his party leader, this is rather surprising, although it is clear that Donaldson's plan is to only put himself forward in a leadership election if and when the UUP withdraws from Stormont. In that way, he avoids any direct blame for its collapse, whilst having done his utmost to bring it about.

Another reason for this particular plan of action could also be because it has finally occurred to Donaldson that the problems and choices facing Trimble are not unique to him personally. Any leader, even Donaldson, would come under exactly the same pressures. If he withdrew the UUP from Stormont it would not bring about IRA disarmament, nor would it in itself ensure that the RUC retains its status as the sole preserve of unionism. More likely, the collapse of power-sharing is likely to bring about joint authority, unionism's second-worse nightmare after full Irish unity.


Trimble must lead change - Ó Caoláin

Speaking at the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body (BIIPB) in Galway this week, Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said that David Trimble must ``lead the change'' with the other pro-Agreement parties and reject the ``zero-sum game'' which sees any gain for nationalists as a loss for unionists.

A fixation with this zero-sum game, this notion that any gain for nationalists must inevitably be a loss for unionists, lies at the root of the current crisis within unionism
Ó Caoláin attended the BIIPB meeting, which brings together parliamentarians from Ireland and Britain. For the first time, members of the new Assembly in the Six Counties were present, including Sinn Féin Assembly member Barry McElduff.

Speaking in support of a motion welcoming progress in the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Ó Caoláin said:

``I acknowledge that progress towards the full implementation of the Agreement has been made since the last meeting of this Body. The Executive was re-established following its unilateral suspension by the British government and it has been functioning successfully. For the first time ever, unionists, nationalists and republicans have been working together in an Executive for the benefit of all the people they represent. The fledgling all-Ireland bodies have been working also and they carry the promise of further and strengthened co-operation and co-ordination between all the people of this island and their representative institutions.

``These developments are, I believe, hugely positive for all the people who share this island, unionists as well as nationalists and republicans. I want to refute a notion that has gained ground. That is the notion that the establishment of equality and justice for those so long denied it somehow diminishes others. An end to sectarian discrimination against nationalists also benefits unionists because the denial of the rights of any person or group diminishes our society and everyone in it. It is not a question of nationalist rights as against unionist rights. The progress we are trying to make in terms of human rights and civil liberties will benefit all.

``I believe that a fixation with this zero-sum game, this notion that any gain for nationalists must inevitably be a loss for unionists, lies at the root of the current crisis within unionism. Republicans have been at the leading edge of this peace process and we have had to persuade our activists and our communities of the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement. For us there is no question but that fundamental change is essential. The question for us is `Does it go far enough and is the pace fast enough?'

``We understand the difficulties of unionists and of David Trimble in particular. But in voting for the Agreement, the majority of the unionist people accepted the need for fundamental change. David Trimble has failed to lead that change and to mobilise the large pro-Agreement constituency within the unionist community as a whole, as distinct from the Ulster Unionist Council.

``We in Sinn Féin acknowledge the distance that David Trimble has come but if he does not begin to set the pace for change himself, in co-operation with the other pro-Agreement parties, his opponents will always be able to hold him back.

``The issue of policing is absolutely crucial and, I emphasise again, the establishment of a proper civil police service in the Six Counties is not a concession to nationalists but a vital necessity for every citizen. The establishment, for the first time, of an acceptable police service will be of immense benefit to all sections of society.

The question of policing is bigger than any one political party or any one political leader. The Patten proposals do not go far enough for Sinn Féin. But we gave them a fair wind. We had a right to expect that the British government's legislation would be faithful to them. But the Policing Bill falls far short of what is required and as it stands is not acceptable to the vast majority of nationalist opinion. I urge the British government to ensure the full implementation of Chris Patten's recommendations.''

Later, the Sinn Féin TD questioned Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the policing issue and said that we must ``put behind us the sectarian and repressive legacy of the RUC''.


An Phoblacht
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