21 November 2002 Edition

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Trimble's tongue betrays him

BY FERN LANE


Even by the epic standards of hypocrisy normally set by unionism, Trimble's latest outpourings on the 26 Counties have reached a new and transcendent level. During a meeting with the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper last Thursday, he said that that the state is only held together by Catholicism and hatred for Britain. "If you took away Catholicism and anti-Britishness, the state doesn't have a reason to exist," he opined.

He went on: "You still can't fly Union Jacks in Ireland - you'll see the flags of every country in Europe except the Union Jacks, which will be littered on the floor".

The comments came during Trimble's visit to the city, ironically to address the Council on Foreign Relations. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Trimble was also anxious, in a city "where Irish Americans dominate local government", that people "hear the other side on Northern Ireland".

They certainly did and it is unlikely that Trimble did either himself, or his cause, any favours. At home, even the normally supine leader of the SDLP was roused into a angry response, accusing Trimble of "sectarian ramblings".

"David Trimble will try to present this as pointed analysis but most people will see these comments as sectarian ramblings" said Mark Durkan. "Trying to denigrate political ideals and the religion of others is only demonstrating his own prejudice."

It is difficult to fathom the workings of Trimble's small and increasingly fevered mind, but perhaps unconsciously he believes that in accusing others of the very things of which it has historically been most guilty, the wider world will be deflected from or even just forget unionism's long and miserable record of intolerance, racism and failure.

In March this year, he told the Ulster Unionist Council meeting that the 26 Counties was a "pathetic, mono-cultural, mono-ethnic state to our south" ("I didn't actually use the word 'pathetic‚ he protested somewhat lamely to the Chicago Sun-Times; "I was reading that, and I said, 'Whoops! We got a wee bit over the top."). Not for the first time, pots and kettles spring to mind.

The northern state was established solely on the desire by northern Protestants to establish and maintain forever a haven for themselves which precisely conformed to Trimble's description - or, to put it another way, a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people. That state then went about trying to cleanse itself of those identified as Irish, utilising its own impoverished working class and its police force to carry out its dirty work. In nationalist enclaves, that pattern of behaviour still persists. And, no matter what their public protestations may be, the behaviour of many of the unionist great and good, including Mr Trimble himself, suggests that they still harbour an earnest desire to see such a statelet.

The Chicago Sun-Times went on to report that Trimble accused the South of making Muslims and other recent arrivals in the country feel unwelcome. However true this may be, that it comes from a party leader whose political allies in loyalism - the "misguided patriots" - carefully nurture links to the British far right, is more than a bit rich.

This complete lack of self-awareness is equally apparent in Trimble's observation about flags. On every 12 July a great pile of Tricolours are ritually burned alongside Lundy. Within living memory, the unionist regime at Stormont declared it illegal to fly the Tricolour. You could go to prison for it. Anyone with even the smallest knowledge of the current conflict will know that one of its most crucial early events was the enraged threat by Ian Paisley to take a loyalist mob into the Falls Road in order to tear down a Tricolour which, in defiance of the law, had appeared in the window of the Sinn Féin Offices. True to form, the RUC did the job for him, with lethal consequences for the nationalist community.

In very recent times, Trimble will remember his former parliamentary colleague, Ken Maginnis, hurling a Tricolour into the Thames from the House of Commons terrace in a fit of uncontrolled rage. And currently we have his fellow unionist Sammy Wilson and other assorted recidivists wasting not only their own time but also the time of Belfast City Council generally as they rant and rave against the presence of a Tricolour - alongside the Union flag - in the Mayor's office. In contrast, a Union flag was flown at half mast over the Dáil to mark the death of the British queen mother.

When faced with the furious response to his comments, Trimble's spokesman claimed that the comments were "mischievously taken out of context" - although he did not bother to provide the context in which they were said - and Trimble himself resorted to his favourite metaphor when discussing the nationalist community or its representatives, telling the Irish Independent that the reaction was "Pavlovian".

"How can you have such a bloody situation where if I even utter the word 'Catholic', without evening saying anything negative, you get some people salivating at the mouth," he said.

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