The Days of David Trimble


Things I don’t like about David Trimble: his socks; his grin; his Demis Roussos collection; his wig; his dander; his jokes; his driver; his attitude; his statements; his inexperience; his manners; his tone; his judgements.

His leadership.

And, it would appear from last Saturday’s annual conference of the Unionist Party, I am not alone. However, I am not looking rid off him - despite his failures and flaws. But no republican or nationalist can save him or save him from himself, because the deceit he initially engaged in on Good Friday 1998 was always going to leave him vulnerable to the arguments of anti-Agreement unionists.

That deceit lay in falsifying the republican position as accepting the union and British rule and that the IRA was obliged to decommission its weapons. In fact, unionists foolishly made decommissioning synonymous with surrender, despite all previous lessons. In 1995 the IRA refused to accept Patrick Mayhew’s infamous conditions known as ‘Washington’s One, Two and Three’. And in 1996 the IRA returned to armed struggle when this very issue was used to block progress on the commencement of all-party talks. The IRA only reinstated its cessation when Labour came to power and re-jigged the order of business.

In every statement on the issue the IRA has stated that there will be no decommissioning.

It was amazing, how long it took for the penny to finally drop. Read what the deputy leader of the Unionist Party, John Taylor, had to say this week:

"It seems to me that after two years, the International Commission for Decommissioning is wasting its time. They wait in vain for IRA decommissioning. Perhaps the time has arrived when realism must prevail and General de Chastelain should return to Canada. The circus cannot continue indefinitely."

Welcome to the club, John. But realism should also include the fact that republicans engaged in compromise, that the IRA has been on cease-fire a remarkably long time, that the vast majority of republicans - those who fought or supported armed struggle - are committed to the peace process, and that the IRA took the bold step - not popular with many of its supporters - of allowing an inspection of arms dumps as an indication of its commitment to peace.

There is civil war on the Shankill Road, three men have been killed and many others wounded by recently-imported weapons, 200 families have been left homeless, and the Ulster Unionist Party is preoccupied with silent IRA guns sealed in a dump somewhere in Kerry. It’s ridiculous. But we all know it is not about guns at all. It is about those aspects of the Belfast Agreement which are meant to redress the injustices against nationalists created by the partition of Ireland.

Equality, it seems, is a concept that the majority of unionists have a problem understanding and accepting. That is what opposition to Patten is all about. They want a constabulary that is Royal because they see themselves as royalists and loyal to the Crown and the constabulary has to be in their image. They want it to be named after Ulster, a term they have monopolised to be applicable to land in six counties, and which, again, is in their image: the Ulster Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Council, the Ulster Volunteer Force.

They want it to be Protestant.

They want it to be the RUC - and it will be, if the British government squanders this unique opportunity to create an independent and neutral policing body.

The one good thing that Peter Mandelson said this week was that if the peace process collapsed, local politicians would lose considerable power, and London and, importantly, Dublin, would be increasingly intervening in Northern affairs. It sounded like a veiled threat of joint authority. But it has been issued far too late in the day to have any effect on unionist thinking.

I believe that Trimble is on his way out, probably to be replaced by Daniel O’Donnell. But the chalice that Jeffrey Donaldson will inherit contains the same ‘poison’: having to live with and share power with nationalists and republicans. That problem hasn’t gone away.

Because of the memories of Brian Faulkner’s fate - and I am not talking about his horse-riding accident - there is little chance of a major split and realignment within unionism. That means that attitudes will be increasingly dictated by the crazies. You could be forgiven for thinking that for many of these people their lives were only fulfilled when IRA bombs were exploding and they were under siege.

If the Ulster Unionist Council changes the party leader or forces a walk-out from the Executive which leads to the suspension or collapse of the Assembly, then we face a political vacuum where faith in politics is eroded and frustration can lead to violence or more auspicious conditions for those already engaged in violence.

But that is the road to nowhere and would only reinforce the position of those unionist fundamentalists without materially affecting one’s negotiating position.

The nationalist community is more stoical than might be thought. It is confident and it remains calm. And it is saving up to buy David Trimble a gold watch.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison