Unionism in a state


"As far as democracy is concerned, those folk ain't house trained yet… we do actually need to see the Assembly running so the checks and balances that are there eventually bring them to heel."

So said David Trimble a year ago, comparing Sinn Fein elected representatives to dogs, only days after the IRA broke the political deadlock with an initiative described as 'a sensational development' by one national newspaper. After tortuous negotiations at Hillsborough in May 2000 - aimed at achieving nothing more than had already been agreed; that is, the full implementation of the Belfast Agreement - the British government promised to honour its commitments on the Patten Commission and on demilitarisation by June 2001.

The IRA, in a controversial decision which Gerry Adams later admitted dismayed and worried activists and grassroots republicans, announced: "The contents of a number of our arms dumps will be inspected by agreed third parties who will report that they have done so to the IICD [Independent International Commission on Decommissioning]. The dumps will be re-inspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained secure."

The IRA said that progress on the arms issue would be determined by all participants keeping their side of the bargain. "The full implementation, on a progressive and irreversible basis by the two governments, especially the British government, of what they have agreed will provide a political context, in an enduring political process, with the potential to remove the causes of conflict, and in which Irish republicans, and unionists can, as equals pursue our respective political objectives peacefully. In that context the IRA leadership will initiate a process that will completely and verifiably put IRA arms beyond use."

And so the Executive and the Assembly was re-established and local politicians went back to work. However, problems soon emerged when Secretary of State Peter Mandelson on 17 May told the House of Commons that he intended incorporating the name of the RUC in the 'title deeds' of the new police service, and then began eviscerating the heart of the Patten proposals which were supposed to signal a new beginning. Republicans warned Tony Blair time and time again that this represented a reneging on the context in which the IRA made its pledges. The only message that came back was, Poor David, he needs our help and support.

Last October David Trimble banned the two Sinn Fein ministers, Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun from attending North/South ministerial meetings, a ban which continues despite being declared unlawful. In December and in March the IRA called upon the British to return to the Agreement but these warnings were never treated with the same seriousness as David Trimble's continual threats, repeated on the eve of the general election, to resign as First Minister if the IRA didn't begin decommissioning. And so Tarzan set himself a date, July 1st, and now off he's swung with Daphne by his side.

Unionists first used the demand for decommissioning in the wake of the IRA's cease-fire in 1994 and viewed it then as a way of keeping Sinn Fein out of negotiations, as they view it now as a way of keeping Sinn Fein out of the Executive. They made decommissioning synonymous with IRA defeat and surrender and as a form of atonement. Every IRA gesture in support of peace was rejected or called into question.

Unionists have actually made it difficult for the IRA, which also has a proud constituency, to put its guns beyond use. And, of course, unionist double standards are astonishing. Loyalists are assassinating Catholics, burning churches, bombing Catholic homes, invading Catholic districts, preventing children from going to school, manufacturing new pipe bombs and explosives, yet David Trimble has been concerned only with the silent guns of the IRA. When was the last time David Trimble met with the UDA and UVF to discuss decommissioning? When was the first time?

Irish people, North and South, overwhelmingly voted for the Belfast Agreement in the referenda, yet David Trimble delayed setting up the executive for eighteen months and, supported by Peter Mandleson, pulled it down after seventy-odd days by threatening to resign. In the meantime, his procrastination fed the growth of republican dissidence. He had a perfect opportunity to move the peace and political processes forward when in the summer of 1998 both communities were united in revulsion against the burning to death of the Quinn children and the Omagh bombing, but instead his first major speech after those terrible events was to launch an attack on the IRA over decommissioning.

Under the Belfast Agreement "all participants" pledged "to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the Agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement."

In the context of the implementation of the overall settlement. That was the agreement that the British reneged on by indulging the unionists in their resistance to change and reform. IRA guns are not the real issue. The real issue is unionism's difficulty in sharing police, power and peace with republicans and nationalists because that begs the huge question: What was the state of Northern Ireland all about?

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison