Democratic Doldrums

At the weekend of 26th October, at a secret location in Germany, leaders of the Ulster Unionist, Democratic Unionist and parties associated with Loyalist paramilitaries met to jointly discuss the situation of the Six Counties' political turmoil.
I have seen no reports or heard in the British media what the exact agenda was, although there may have been speculation about their intentions in the press and radio north and south of the border.
One can assume the possibility of some concerted action and the formation of a common response to the suspension of the Assembly, perhaps a call for an early election at the end of the period set by the Ulster Unionist leader Trimble for Sinn Féin to effect the disbanding of the IRA. They may even have tentatively touched on some sort of electoral arrangement, if and when such an election takes place, despite the disagreements they have.
They could of course have discussed the possibility of cooperating with the SDLP to effect changes, or a review of the Good Friday Agreement, or alteration of the Assembly voting procedures whereby an overall majority would prevail, rather than the requirement of a majority in the two designated classifications of Unionist and Nationalist on crucial issues.
In the murky devious ways of Northern Ireland politics could they be trying to bring Loyalist paramilitaries under some kind of control as a counterbalance to Sinn Féin and Republican paramilitaries. Could they have suggested to the Loyalists that a measure of decommissioning from them might be a useful ploy to put their opponents on the back foot?
In their weekend conference, also 26th October, in Monaghan, Sinn Féin considered the aftermath of the Assembly suspension and the demand by former First Minister Trimble, backed by Prime Minister Blair, for the IRA to disband.
Those like myself, who know and understand something of Irish history and in particular NortherN Ireland, recognise that a demand of this kind would not be heeded, indeed those who made it are fully aware that that would be the case.
Trying the fix the blame for the impasse on your opponent has often been a ploy on both sides, but this latest one by the Unionists is so very blatant and Tony Blair, if he wanted to keep the show on the road and moving forward should not have been caught in the trap set by them. I note that the IRA has announced suspension of their contact with the De Chastelain decommissioning body, obviosly a reaction to the demand.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has replied to the demand saying that although the allegations of continuing by the IRA are causing concern and impact adversely on the Process and that he is not speaking for them, he firmly believes the IRA is fully committeed to the peace process. And Martin McGuinness is reported as saying that for him the war is over and that as a politician his job is to work for peace.
The Bloody Sunday inquiry still continues and witness testimony is in direct contradiction to official accounts given at the time. One former British soldier who was on duty on the day in his evidence was clearly at variance with the version given by military sources. It will be interesting to whether even an interim report of this inquiry is published before the due date of the Assembly elections next year, if indeed they are held then.
The expected conclusion and report of the Stevens inquiry into the assassination ten years ago of solicitor Paddy Finucane has been postponed until the spring of next year.
During their investigations it was alleged that the security forces or someone in the know, close to them, had divulged information which facilitated or encouraged the killing, for which no one has yet been charged.Spying to obtain information is unnecessary for Unionists or for Loyalist paramilitaries in view of the strong web of political, social and cultural links which exist.
The latest bit of disquieting news surfacing is that warnings by informers prior to the Omagh bombing, which killed 29 civilians and wounded hundreds, about the likelihood of a major incident was not activated early enough by police forces on both sides of the border.
Some allegations still persist that this was to protect the safety or anonymity of the informers or undercover agents. The bombing has been blamed on the 'Real' or the 'Continuity' IRA, and only one person, from the Republic, has been convicted - for lending his mobile phone.
At a critical time in the peace process, due to the resignation of the British Secretary of State for Education, Estelle Morris, Tony Blair reshuffled his cabinet and Dr. John Reid, who has served a relatively short time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland,has moved to being Labour Party Chairman.
Paul Murphy, a former Northern Ireland Minister serving as Secretary of State for Wales, is now the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Paul is MP for Torfaen, the adjacent constituency to that in which I live and the part of Cwmbran in which my home les is part of Monmouth although for local government purposes we are in Torfaen County Borough.
I have known Paul for some years and before he joined the shadow team on Northern ireland under Mo Mowlam and corresponded and discussed the problems, conveying my views to the then Labour spokesman on the opposition front bench, Kevin McNamara.
I continued the contacts when he himself became a shadow minister and, after the 1997 general election, Northern Ireland Minister of State, expressed my views to him and Mo Mowlam as events developed.
Now that he is Secretary of State it might not be possible to see him so easily as in the past but I will continue to write to him on the issues as I see them and, should the opportunity arise, speak personally to him.
I take this opportunity to publicly welcome him to the job and to wish him the success which the post requires and the issues demand, and outline some views, referring him of course to the 'Green Dragon' website.
The Good Friday Agreement (though I have some criticisms of it) must, as he has recently said, must remain as the core of the peace process.
There are sections of it which still require legislation, such as the Bill of Rigts, as well as the full implementation of the Patten Report on policing.
I think that (Secretary of State note) it would accelerate the peace process and further decommissioning and even the standing down of the Provisional IRA if in the next Queen's Speech such legislation was included.
Along with progress on these, if the Unionists could persuade Loyalist paramilitaries to cease attacks on Catholic communities, the Assembly could be reactivated, clearing the the political debris and laying the ground for a peaceful and productive election and a return to a democratic, devolved and inclusive power sharing government in Northern Ireland.

©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, 31 October, 2002.

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