Speaking after their conclusion, Taoiseach Ahern and Prime Minister Blair said that some progress had been made. There were positive signs that Republican paramilitary activities could be ended and comprehensive decommissioning achieved. However, power sharing was still an essential and integral part of the 1998 agreement.
On RTÉ radio Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy confirmed that in general those taking part in the discussions agreed that advances in some respects had been made. Contacts would continue with party groups in the North, involving the Irish minister, Cowan, and himself, to overcome difficulties in respect of the varying perspectives in relation to how the institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement should function. These are currently proceeding.
My own reading of the situation is that the anticipated result at the Leeds Castle location faded somewhat as Ian Paisley resumed his active leadership of the DUP. which his deputy, Peter Robinson, had pragmatically led during the old bull frog's sojourn in hospital.
"Over my dead body!" still seems to be his stance in response to any attempts by less intransigent members of the DUPes to accept the authenticity of IRA decommissioning and possible 'End of the War' declaration, and to enter into joint executive government with Sinn Fáin in a restored Assembly.
He appears, as he resumes his leadership position, to have again raised his demand for a complete renegotiation of the Good Friday Accord of April 10, 1998. Old shibboleths like "No surrender!", which he interprets as "No compromise!" or "We are the bosses!" are still his stock in trade, are burned deeply into his psyche. A mantra of a Unionist veto over all, made in the image of Ian. I wonder often how my compatriots in Northern Ireland, especially those who call themselves British, are going to tolerate their destiny being determined by this turbulent cleric and fundamentalist politician who has persuaded a section of the community that he is divinely destined to lead them back into a promised land of Protestant ascendancy.
No sensible member of either community wants to sink back to to this reconstitution of the old Stormont regime, which he represents, with its discrimination and attacks on civil rights, and its marches, such as Burntollet, which were organised by Major Bunting, who regarded Ian Paisley as his mentor and inspiration.
It has to be recognised that the 1998 agreement, although it did not meet completely the criteria contained in my own proposals to the Opsahl Commission in 1992, was however a result of intense negotiations entered into by a wide spectrum of parties, apart from the DUP, who excluded themselves as did the later UUP defector, Jeffrey Donaldson. It was endorsed by referendums north and south, 72% and 93% respectively.
The DUP should not, indeed must not, be allowed to pick and choose which part of the Agreement they will operate. it should be all or nothing. Their denying of any ownership by opting out should not be used to prevent its implementation.
The time to influence the terms, conditions and structures was in the spring of 1998 and not now, like 'Johnny‑come‑latelys' trying to reverse history. Surely there must be some more thinking, intelligent, co-operative section of the Unionist community, in or out of party membership, [prepared to join with the Nationalist sector and to say no to Paisley's prevaricating paranoia and forge alliances to end his obstruction.
I can see no stipulation in the Belfast Agreement which says that the largest party in the Assembly is automatically entitled to be given the right to hold the office of First Minister.
Of course, following the conventions of the Westminster Parliament, they could be given the first opportunity for their leader to stand for the post. if he or she failed to get the necessary support, or refused to accept the nomination, another candidate could be put forward. I have suggested in previous articles how this might be effected within the terms of the procedures.
There is an implication in Paisley's stance that if he fails to get his way his party will obstruct and frustrate the democratic majority and lead his followers into street protest, thereby rekindling old animosities and disorder.
His intransigent vision of Unionism is like the tail trying to wag the dog of the body politic. There has to be a realisation that the rabid animal that is portrayed has had its day and should receive the benefit of the common sense of a kindly political vet. We cannot, in all conscience, wait much longer for it to expire by natural causes.
Samuel H. Boyd