Northern Ireland: Stuck with it or Sticking with it
David Trimble's post-dated resignation threat may or may not have influenced voters' intentions on June 7th but his party lost seats to the DUP and Sinn Féin although they did claw one back from Bob McCartney's one man party, the United Kingdom Unionist Party, in North Down.
By so doing he just managed to pip Paisley as leader of the largest Unionist party at Westminster with the largest number of votes cast. However, the local elections, which took place on the same day, resulted in huge gains for Paisley's DUP.
The state of Northern Ireland's representation in parliament now stands at Ulster Unionists 6, Democratic Unionists 5, Sinn Féin (who refuse to take their seats) 4 and the SDLP 3.
It should, however, be noted that, ignoring their differing views on Partition, if the votes of the parties supporting the Good Friday Agreement, successful and unsuccessful, the UUP 26.8%, Sinn Féin 21.7%, SDLP 21% plus some of the smaller parties are added up it comes very close to the 72% who voted yes in the referendum on the agreement in 1998.
Whether this Belfast Accord which set up the Assembly, also approved by a 94% support in the Republic (including constitutional changes to their Articles 2/3), stands or falls depends not only on progress on decommissioning but also on Trimble recognising his folly in laying down ultimatums and reconsidering his threat to resign as First Minister.
By this action he has put his own future into the hands of the Republican Movement. They could if the will was there, underpinned by their poll success, come up with a sensibly constructed compromise which might get him off the hook upon which he has impaled himself.
To so of course Sinn Féin would have to face down reaction from dissident Republican groups. Boosted by their electoral success, proving that politics does workm if they can summon up courage the impasse could be overcome.
Prime Minister Blair has met Trimble (11th June) and he will be seeing other Northern political leaders to discuss the post election situation. He is also due to meet the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in the next few days.
Ian Paisley is strutting around like a dog with two tails, breathing fire and brimstone (who'll get to grips with this dragon?). Jeffrey Donaldson and the Rev. Martin Smyth are wondering whether to oppose the shaky Trimble at the Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the end of June, so things are in a state of ferment.
Or, as Captain Boyle says in 'Juno and the Paycock', "the whole world's in a state of chassis".
Gerry Adams, presumably speaking for Sinn Féin, has said the next steps are up to Tony Blair but he himself should say, as he looks in the mirror, 'What can I do to consolidate the Agreement, improve the standing of my party across the spectrum of politics, in the interest of progress and peace?'
In doing so he should re-read his books and his many public statements, wherein lies guidance whereby he could co-operate with Unionist supporters of the Belfast Agreement.
It is not really a question of being stuck for answers but a matter of sticking with the full implementation in words and spirit of that historic Agreement reached on April 10th 1998, endorsed by 72% in the referendum on May 22nd that year.