At last Jeffrey Donaldson has jumped ship where for so long he has obstructed
the efforts of his former captain, Trimble, to steer the Ulster Unionists' ship
into the Peace Dock for a refit, to face the 2ist century's problems and leave the
problems of the 17th to fundamentalist fulminators such as Ian Paisley
(Senior/Junior) and their cohorts, old and new.
Unable to wrest the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party from Trimble,
first by walking out during the Agreement negotiations in April 1998, and then
by various strategems holding back progress to the full working of the Inclusive
Executive, he has defected to the DUPes.
But will he really see eye to eye with their putative leader-in-waiting, who,
beneath his support for the Bellowing Paisley, is anxious to assume the
robes and crown should the old-timer lose his grip or – well, we are all mortal,
are we not? Donaldson will now jostle for the leadership of his new colleagues,
for his ambition will not disappear, or fall, as one might say in an aside to
Peter (pun intended).
Previously I suggested in an article a method whereby the problem
(subsequent to the recent Assembly election) of electing the First and Deputy
First Minister might be solved by using the alternative voting method 5.(d)(ii)
under Strand One of the (1998) Agreement for dealing with cross-community
The defection of Donaldson and others from the UUP to the DUP has increased
the latter's numbers in the Assembly to 33 as I anticipated, but the calculations
I made show that if the Alliance Party members (6) designated themselves
as Unionists (as some of them did before) for the election of the two principal
ministers, then, on the method quoted above, more than the 40% minimum
of Unionist votes could be assured to offset the fact of the DUPes being the
largest party of Unionists in the Assembly.
It has now been announced that the review, as per the Agreement (see
'Agreement Review' below), will commence on January 29th, so this change
in voting procedure could be considered during it.
One idea floating around, before and after the November election, was that
Peter Robinson might do a deal enabling Sinn Féin and the DUP to share
the top posts (over Ian P's dead body, I presume).
This sort of 'pie in the sky' wishful thinking scenario is clearly impossible
anyway (if it ever was on) now with Donaldson in the camp (and Paisley
breathing fire) to which the bold Jeffrey had defected because he couldn't
agree with Trimble doing such a deal.
Now that Donaldson is no longer a thorn inside the party, Trimble should
seize the moment (forgetting his earlier fumble), press for the alternative
method of election to the two major posts and stand for the First Minister's
position once again, thereby persuading Sinn Féin to encourage a suitable
response from the IRA.
Quick thinking, intelligence and common sense could, if the will for peace,
reconciliation and progress is there or can be prodded into action, strengthen
support for pro-Agreement sentiment and frustrate the Abominable No-man
and his cohorts, old and new. So, David, turn the ball over in the scrum and
go for the line.
I supported the Agreement as it represented a compromise reached between
parties from both communities and traditions in the Six Counties and was
ratified decisively in referendums in both jurisdictions, i.e., Northern Ireland
and the Republic of Ireland.
However, I had reservations because I felt that in the electoral arrangements
and structures of the Assembly the sectarian divisions were such as to give
insufficient room for cross-community or non sectarian groups to gain recognition
With a population only half that of Wales (which is more than twice as densely
populated as the whole island of Ireland – Ed.), Northern Ireland has 108
Assembly members (granted that there are different and greater responsibilities)
the number seems out of proportion when Wales has only 60 in their
Whatever the review decides or proposes the change in the internal voting
procedures I instance in my article above is paramount, but it is imperative
that any changes should avoid strengthening the underying antagonisms
left over from history, including that of the old Stormont regime. These, rather
than any flaws in the Agreement, are the main barriers to progress.
British Prime Minister Blair said, "There would be no renegotiation of the Agreement",
so if that really remains the position, then the review can only consider ways
to make it more functional and flexible in all its aspects.
Ideally, they could staert from scratch and adopt the structure that I proposed
in my submission to the Opsahl Independent Commission in 1992 (briefly
outlined on page 227 of its Report in 1993) but I suppose that we are
unfortunately well beyond that juncture.
What must not be done is any change which will reinstate a Unionist veto, or
restore their hegemony which, through its partisanship (in which the Reverend
Ian Paisley was a mentor) generated or spawned the violence from 1966 onwards.
That would surely turn the clock back with a vengeance.
Paisley and Donaldson opted out of the formulation of the Belfast Agreement
in April 1998. they should not be allowed to rewrite it in their terms.