In a previous article I said that I had written to the BBC’s Feed Back programme, suggesting that they feature my query if there was any known reason why in the Any Answers programme which followed the Any Questions programme broadcast from Larne in Northern Ireland on Friday 6 June, no calls had been taken from listeners there, or from anywhere else, about the issues particular to the Six Counties discussed by the panel. I had myself called in as someone from Belfast.
To the best of my knowledge my query was not referred to in the ‘Feed Back’ series nor was I contacted, even by an acknowledgment, so the queries I raised will not be answered.
The Marching Season passed off without any major incidents, a fact which Ulster Unionist Party leader Trimble mentioned on a BBC Radio 4 interview on August 19 when he said that Northern Ireland had had a good summer. He didn’t just mean the good weather, although they did have more rain than in this part of Wales.
He commented on some incidents, including the killing of a man in his home in front of his children in West Belfast, believed to have been out by members of the dissident Real IRA.
It was clear from this and other happenings, he felt, that the Republican Movement had not carried all its members fully into the peace process and that further acts of commitment, for example decommissioning and reaffirmation that they are, without question, fully committed to the political path, without which, if the vacuum persisted, there was danger of slippage back into violence. The return to devolved government was being blocked by this failure.
These are not his exact words but to me are the import of his comments. He did, however, give some credit to Republican leaders for the efforts they had made but it was not yet satisfactory enough for him and his party.
Another matter about which the interviewer questioned him was a newspaper report that Sinn Féin had requested that the ‘criminal convictions’ of Republicans during the period of the ‘Troubles’ should be erased from their records to facilitate their return to a normal life (employment etc.). In his view this would not be acceptable to the Northern Irish population in general.
That may be his view but unless those who had been involved on both sides are able to rehabilitate themselves and take their place back in society again it is difficult to see how divisions can be healed and the peace process consolidated.
Nonetheless, trimble did concede that many in both communities had worked hard in cooperation to ensure that the ‘good summer’ was achieved.
Yet, in my view, Trimble does not give enough salience to the fact that unless ‘politics’ is seen to be working (and his current stance is not helping to start up the action) and an early date is set for the Assembly election there is a very real danger of sporadic or continued outbursts of violence.
I accept that he is still bedeviled by dissidents in his party led by Jeffrey Donaldson MP and David Burnside MP and an MEP (whose name escapes me) plus Lord Jim Molineaux, the taciturn former leader of the party. Although in a recent attempt from them to unseat him from leadership, Trimble achieved 56% of his Ruling Council’s support.
These four who resigned from the party whip are in a sort of Limbo with Trimble trembling on the verge of expelling them yet, beset by legal wrangling, not quite able to do so.
It was to suit or assist Trimble that the Assembly was suspended (now for almost a year), and the elections postponed twice, in my view a great mistake. By their action the Westminster Government has participated in the politics of Northern Ireland (in a one sided way) contrary to, and outside the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement which ostensibly was to allow its electorate to determine its policies and functions within the areas specified in the Agreement.
I am awaiting a copy of the new bill being rushed into legislation at Westminster, setting up a monitoring commission charged with overseeing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and any violations of the ceasefires and commitments to democratic politics by parties represented in the Assembly. The government’s own implementation of their commitments will be covered, I presume. I will be able to comment more definitively when I get the copy.
Those parties which signed the April 10, 1998 Agreement (and those which didn’t), if they want to ensure the burgeoning of democratic politics in Northern Ireland, will need to cast off the burden of historic baggage while still understanding the legacy of 30 years of violence and engage in dialogue outside and inside the machinery of government.
Politicians (especially leaders) need to shape themselves into statespersons and, at the risk of annoying some in the Unionist diehard community, take a lead from the President of the Irish republic (herself raised in Belfast) who recently visited and talked with Loyalist groups associated with paramilitaries in their heartland in east Belfast. In a RTÉ radio interview at the time she spoke about her contacts with a great deal of understanding and concern.