Samuel H. Boyd : Leap Forward or Backward

As 2004 is a Leap Year, tradition has it that a woman can propose marriage to a possible male partner on February 29th or indeed any time during the 366 days of the year.
As far as Northern Irish politics is concerned, David Trimble, the Ulster Unionist Party leader, has elected, after a trial separation from his position as First Minister, for a Divorce and has withdrawn from participation in the All Party Talks set up to review the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
It is ironical that the position that existed up to the finalising of that agreement nearly six years ago when Trimble's Unionist rivals, the Paisley Democratic Unionist Party, refused to take part in the negotiations which led to its signing has now been reversed.
Sinn Féin, on the other hand, at their Ard Fheis (Annual General Meeting) a couple of weeks ago, reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement and their willingness to continue within the review procedure in the hope that, despite the DUP's statements, some understandings might ensue which would facilitate a return to devolved government.
However, the activities of paramilitaries in both communities in the shape of punishment beatings is still a problem. Hugh Ord, the Chief Constable of the new Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has said that if these are attempts to curtail anti social behaviour, or have any other purpose, they contravene the commitment to only 'peaceful means' as laid down in the Agreement. This sort of action is unlawful, and the police themselves have had some success in combating it. Such matters should be left to them and not to paramilitary vigilantes.
As ever though, the most serious obstacle to setting the peace process in motion in the right direction again is the vying for dominance between the UUP and the DUP.
At one time they had almost established a common front, but those days have long since gone, and personal0000000 antagonisms between Paisley and Trimble, plus defections from the latter to the former, have changed the balance of power and support.
The next meeting of the Ulster Unionist Party on March 27th will be crucial to see whether Trimble's leadership will crumble or a replacement rescue them from isolation from the review talks. Or perhaps Trimble may stay, realising that if he wants to beat the fundamentalist Paisley he cannot do it outside the talks.
Paradoxically, a fuller understanding by Trimble and the UUP of the problems of their opponents, Sinn Féin would rescue him, his party and most of all, the agreement, from collapse. It would also rescue him from the 'friendly fire' he has had to endure from the DUPes and from his former colleagues who defected to them.
When he and his supporters look into the abyss they should have courage and leap forward, for there is a deeper hole if they step or leap backwards.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, 10 March 2004.

Samuel H. Boyd

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