Northern Ireland: Prepared to Wound – Afraid to Kill

This seems to be the attitude of the Ulster Unionist dissidents and the most prominent, who personifies that attitude to the Good Friday Agreement and his to party leader, Jeffrey Donaldson MP, circles around, denying he intends to run for the leadership, unsure as yet whether the balance inside the party has moved sufficiently for him to be successful. Meanwhile, the Reverend Martin Smyth ponders on whether to have another go himself.
David Trimble, Unionist Party Leader and First minister of the Northern ireland Assembly, has responded vigorously to the pressure, tacking into the wind, genuflecting to the fears that the Unionist community has in respect to the implementation of the Patten report.
The Ulster Unionist Council, within which the Orange Order’s role has been questioned, is the latest choice of battleground for the dissidents (the ‘No’ faction) in the party, after failing to make a breakthrough at the annual conference in the Waterfront Centre, Belfast, on the weekend of 7 October.
A motion of no confidence in the First Minister tabled by the DUPs in the Assembly was defeated 52 votes to 26. As the situation develops Trimble’s main concern will be to retain sufficient support among his Assembly party members to ensure that he can, within the procedures laid down in the Belfast Agreement, retain his position as First Minister and those of other members of his party in the Executive.
I explained in a previous article how such voting was set out under safeguards in Strand 1 of the Agreement whereby key issues, including the appointment of the First Minister. These involve using the criteria set out on page 5 of the document as follows:
(i) either, parallel consent, i.e. a majority of those members present and voting, including a majority of the unionist and nationalist designations present and voting :
(ii) or a weighted majority (60%) of members present and voting, including at least 40% of each of the nationalist and unionist designations present and voting.

A crucial part of the proceedings is of course the number, if any, of his Assembly members who defect to the ‘No’ camp of the Agreement.
Although at Westminster Ulster Unionist MPs are split and Paisley’s DUPs have gained the South Antrim seat, this is of no immediate importance to Trimble and his UUP, until, of course, the expected Westminster general election next year, when, if further losses occurred, it would jeopardise not only his and his party’s position but the Agreement itself.
This would be a catastrophe indeed, to risk plunging both communities into a repetition of three decades of mayhem, death and destruction.
I question whether the Belfast Court which refused the request for an injunction to stop the BBC Panorama programme on the Omagh bombing had its thinking cap on and whether the BBC had thought the issue through.
In view of the fact that the Secretary of State commented that he saw the broadcast and thought it was well done, with a powerful thrust, does make me wonder if there was a hidden intention in allowing such a broadcast at this time.
Tony Blair has had discussions on the situation with Bertie Ahern (who was opposed to the broadcast taking place) and both governments are engaged with the issues.
If the republican movement, who claim to have the ability to assess and analyse political issues, realise that they have a crucial role in progressing the Peace Process they could and should, in order to sustain the spirit and text of the Good Friday Accord, activate themselves further in the Decommissioning Commission.
The next three months are critical so perhaps one might hope that by Christmas some high level summitry, pace the April 10 1998 effort, will help us enter 2001 with a resurgence of hope of real progress.
All through the last thirty years the call has been for dialogue or, as Churchill once said, “Jaw Jaw is better than War War”.
However, there comes a time when the talking has to give way to agreement, compromise and action. Now is the time for more of the same as was achieved on April 10 1998, the ball is in both courts. Let’s stop the game at 40 all and proceed to another win win situation.

: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran.

Samuel H. Boyd

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