Northern Ireland: Through the Sound Barrier – but not yet up to Speed

David Trimble just nosed through the sound barrier at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting on May 27, at 53% to 47% only a 6% margin, escaping stalemate by less than 30 votes of the 562 total cast. Just sufficient for the Unionist leader to breast the winning tape ahead of his dissidents. As Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister once said, “A week is a long time in politics”.
He can, of course, discount some of the no votes of the Orange Order delegates, a block vote, who are not necessarily members of his party – some are actually members of Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.
There are still many rocks on the road to obstruct a full, fair operation of the Assembly and its local and cross-border institutions. As I have mentioned in previous articles, diehard opponents of the agreement intend to exert every effort to destroy it from inside the Assembly.
They have now said they will try to have a motion passed to exclude Sinn Féin from the Executive pending some physical arms reduction gesture from the IRA. Trimble was dependent on his Deputy John Taylor’s support in winning the vote on Saturday who has himself been previously expressing that view.
Taylor says his support was based on promises from both governments about the arguments on flag flying on public buildings and the retention of the name of the RUC, a change from which is recommended in the Patten Report.
So there are many hurdles yet in the way of the Assembly when it is reactivated on Thursday June 1. It is as if a football competition which had been previously played on a rough green hillock of a pitch has been transferred to a purpose-built stadium where the potholes and humps have been replaced by rules designed to ensure fair play but ways and means of flouting and obstruction are still practised.
Trimble requires his assembly members to get behind the inclusive format to make it work. This is more important than placating his council dissidents or indeed his Westminster Parliamentary Party.
He also needs to retain the vacant Westminster seat arising from the death of the previous Ulster Unionist MP by a substantial majority in order to strengthen the support for the policy approved at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting.
I have never at any time supported his party but one has to recognise the situation on the ground so he must be encouraged to take the path of full implementation of the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
If he does so, then I am sure it will be responded to positively by the republican movement as the move also positively to a fully democratic agenda. With a lot of Unionist baggage from the past discarded there will also be a lot of Nationalist baggage – as we embark on a jointly shaped future.
©: Samuel H. Boyd, Cwmbran, Wales, UK, 28 May, 2000.

Samuel H. Boyd