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The 'Gud Auld' Days

Dr John Coulter maintains there is a faction within unionism which would not weep if Stormont eventually collapses so that they could return to the 'gud auld' days of Direct Rule.

Dr John Coulter • 18 February 2005

Unionism is bursting at the seams with conspiracy theories, theories and plotters. The latest rumour doing the rounds of the Ulster Unionists' coffee circles is that there are some within the movement who secretly want the power-sharing Assembly permanently mothballed, with a return to good, old-fashioned Direct Rule.

Such rumour-mongering surfaced earlier this month with a claim that triple elections to Westminster, local councils and a new Stormont Assembly could be set for 5 May.

The plan was supposedly part of a secret political blueprint for progress favoured by some sections of the UUP loyal to David Trimble.

That date looks certain for the Commons and council electoral battles, but sources close to Trimble say some in the pro-Agreement camp favour an historic 'three-in-one' Super Thursday.

However, it is also known that a significant number of existing UUP MLAs are opposed to another Assembly election, less than two years from the last bruising battle in November 2003 when the Ulster Unionists lost the mantel of 'top dog' to the rival DUP.

Likewise, Sinn Fein and the IRA are still reeling politically under the intense pressure heaped on them by the two governments and the Bush administration in the United States.

With the DUP's political progress bandwagon now seemingly motionless, the Trimble plan is being interpreted as a 'last ditch' attempt to score some political points on the Paisleyites.

However, with fears the UUP could face an electoral meltdown on 5 May, a number of senior unionists also see the emergence of the blueprint as a tactical movement to scuttle any coup attempts against Trimble during the centenary AGM of the party's ruling Ulster Unionist Council on 5 March.

Under the blueprint, Trimble wants Northern Secretary Paul Murphy to reinstate the suspended Assembly and begin the six-week timeframe to elect the First and Deputy First Ministers.

The UUP boss also wants the power-sharing Executive to be re-established and implement that part of the Agreement which enables Sinn Fein to be booted out of the peace process.

Surprisingly, some in the Trimble camp also want fresh elections to a third Assembly called on the same day as the Commons and council elections. They are clearly gambling strongly the North's middle ground and democratic nationalists will support this move at the expense of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

The major gamble on electoral trends is that nationalists who voted for Sinn Fein merely to end IRA activity will return to the SDLP fold, and DUP voters will become disillusioned with Paisleyite inactivity and drift back to the Ulster Unionists.

One senior UUP man close to the Trimble leadership said he was "baffled" by both the timing and content of the Trimble blueprint.

"Why would Trimble launch this initiative now when it is clear it is the Shinners, not the UUP which is in a jam. Realistically, there is no way the DUP will agree to a power-sharing Executive after the recent exposes about Sinn Fein.

"And I can't see the SDLP wanting to enter any Executive. In fact, the SDLP need to remodel themselves more like the late John Turnley's constitutional republican organisation, the now defunct Irish Independence Party, to be sure of winning back votes from Sinn Fein.

"I suspect this Trimble blueprint has more to do with crushing rumours of a planned centenary AGM coup against the leadership than saving the peace process. Ironically, the DUP needs David Trimble as UUP leader.

"They can blame them for whatever goes wrong and stop any fragmentation in their own ranks by their religious wing.

"I suspect, too, he also wants to avoid the 'imposed solution' the two governments are talking about. But the real issue for Sinn Fein is that it has a massive credibility problem amongst unionists.

"Under Trimble's blueprint, the Northern parties still have the upper hand. Sinn Fein will be excluded, but if it can sort its own internal problems out with the IRA, there's no reason why a truly democratic Sinn Fein party can't rejoin the Executive process at a later date."

Meanwhile, it is also rumoured the 'Big Two' rival unionist parties are vying for a pre-election stunt which will have voters flocking to their ranks. The favourite gimmick leading the field is for either the DUP or UUP to announce its MLAs are not drawing their Assembly salaries because of the political stalemate.

However, whichever unionist party unveils this plan first would still expect to claim existing allowances to pay research staff and keep constituency offices running.
It is expected the move would only be a short-term strategy until after 5 May so that Assembly members would not have to sacrifice too much pay.

One senior Ulster Unionist who would support such an electoral ploy said: "The fact that the Assembly is not meeting, yet MLAs are being paid part of their salaries is a real bone of contention amongst many unionist voters.

"If the UUP got in first and decided not to take their salaries, that could strike a cord with the electorate and give us at least a fighting chance in the elections. We've had our eye wiped by the DUP before.

"Remember when the DUP walked out of the Executive before, they did it ahead of our party so that when we walked out, we were accused of only following the Paisleyites."

Ironically for the Ulster Unionists, it was one of their own MPs, Sylvia Hermon of North Down, who issued a question mark over the future of the Assembly when she queried its costs during the period of suspension since October 2002.

Her remarks led to angry exchanges between staunch devolutionists and Trimble supporters at both a party executive meeting and an UUP Assembly group meeting at Stormont.

In spite of the apparent splits between the UUP's devolutionist and integrationist wings over the future of Stormont, the party has been trying to claw back some of the ground it lost to the DUP in the 2003 Assembly battle and last year's European poll.

The party is set to unveil the latest in a series of six mailshot leaflets targeting 10 of the North's 18 constituencies which the UUP claims it can either hold or take back.

The latest leaflet to hit the streets is entitled 'Tough on Crime: Tough on the proceeds of Crime'.

Blaming republicans for a series of criminal raids including the £1 million of goods taken from Makro, the £2 million in fags stolen from a Belfast warehouse, as well as the £26.5 million Northern Bank heist, the hard-hitting leaflet also features a photo of Sinn Fein boss Gerry Adams with half his face covered by a balaclava.

This latest UUP leaflet is similar to a poster campaign which it ran in the mid 1980s featuring a photographic montage of Adams, the then SF publicity director Danny Morrison, with a hooded and armed terrorist behind them.

The key target seat for the UUP is East Belfast, currently held for the past 26 years by DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson where the Ulster Unionists claim only 1,900 votes exists between the rival parties.

The grassroots favourite to succeed Trimble as party leader - Reg Empey - is the UUP runner in the constituency.

The UUP presently holds five Commons seats, and ironically the plan to double this to 10 echoes the DUP's electoral hopes of holding and winning 10 Westminster seats.

In the meantime, the UUP hopes its forthcoming centenary celebrations in early March will boost the party's coffers. Sources claim the cash-strapped party will need £300,000 to fight the two elections on 5 May.

It is hoped a centenary dinner organised by English UUP supporters at a plush London venue with seats costing £500 each will bring in between £20,000 and £30,000 for the party.

And the party has talked privately at going head-to-head with Sinn Fein in terms of the numbers game over the March weekend centenary celebrations.

Appeals have gone out to fill as many of the expected 1,000 seats at Belfast's St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral for the UUP's Thanksgiving Service on Sunday 6 March.

UUP members have been told this is the same date Sinn Fein will hold a major event in Dublin, also to mark the centenary of its formation.



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

21 February 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Time to Go
Anthony McIntyre

Stand Together in Pursuit of Justice for Robert
Catherine McCartney

The Murder of Eoin Morely
Ivan Morely

Exclusion Orders
Brian Mór

The 'Gud Auld' Days
Dr John Coulter

The Courage of Ward Churchill
Ghali Hassan

Awaiting the Prisoner of Zion From Within Israel's First Circle
Mary La Rosa

18 February 2005

"Death by Suicide"
Margaret Quinn

But Will Anyone Object
Brian Mór

Seeking Justice for a Brother
Davy Adams

Perspective and Perception
Eamonn McCann

Only One Option Left, Really
Mick Hall

Trust Your Leaders!
James Connolly

A perfect 10 for Bertie's volte-face on the peace process
Anthony McIntyre

Distress vs Illness: Social Control
Sean Fleming

Double Visions Conference
Seaghan O Murchu

No More Lies



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