it is true after all, David Trimble is politically
invincible, well, for another period of interminable
stagnation at least.
Saturdays crucial Ulster Unionist
Council meeting in the significant surroundings of
the Ulster hall,saw Trimble stave off another challenge
to his premiership, by the emphatic margin
of 55% to 45% .
Hailing the victory as a triumph of policy over personality
Trimble again at once offered the olive branch to
party dissidents Martyn Smith, David Burnside
and Jeffery Donaldson, by assuring them that if they
again took the party whip then all would be forgiven,
if not forgotten, that the threatened disciplinary
action would disappear, the fatted calf slaughtered
and the feasting on the bones of Nationalism could
resume at once, unhindered by distractions in their
own back yard.
Predictably, Donaldson at once slated the victory.
Reversing Trimbles statements, he claimed the
row was indeed a matter of policy and not about a
clash of personality and rejected out of hand any
notion that he or his rebel comrades would
take up the party whip again, but stay within the
party and combat issues such as the British/Irish
joint declaration and the constituting of a new International
Commission designed to monitor paramilitary activity.
One Unionist luminary in attendance amongst the 800
strong delegation was the normally unflappable Sir
Reg Empey. In a very uncharacteristic fit of nastiness,
he stated that,
It was time to cut
. when asked to speculate on the
future of the UUP.
this was because Sir Reg had been widely tipped to
back the party rebels and has been flummoxed, as have
many, myself included, by Trimbles miraculous
survival. Empey moved at once to rubbish the claims
made in recent days coupling his name to a leadership
contest, as blatant and nasty spin doctoring.
denying any linkage with himself to a leadership challenge
Empey has probably averted another emergency meeting
of the Ulster Unionist Council within a few weeks.
Saturdays meeting was actually the twelfth such crucial
UUC meeting that Trimble has endured in his tenure
as party leader. On March 20th 1999, less than a year
after signing of the Belfast Agreement, he romped
home against an anti-agreement faction taking the
vote by 75% to 25%. A startling drop in support for
him was evident on October 28th 2000. In a challenge
led directly by Donaldson, Trimble, in direct contravention
of the letter and spirit of the Agreement, promised
to prevent Sinn Fein ministers from taking part in
North/South ministerial meetings unless there was
more progress on IRA decommissioning. He won that
day with 54% of the vote.
In reality however that represented a mere 71 votes
more than his opponent.
By the 23rd of June 2001 an increasingly desperate
Trimble, was returned as leader unopposed because
of his threat to resign as First Minister. Banking
heavily on the fact that his feigned resignation would,
somewhat ironically, damage the political credence
of any challenger, by being in effect the man or woman
that brought down the assembly. Again on March 9th
2002, he was returned unchallenged and caused immediate
controversy, when in trying to give himself a harder
edge, he denounced the Republic of Ireland as a pathetic
That leads us to March 1st this year, when his own
pragmatism seems to have come full circle to bite
him in the backside. Once more returned unchallenged
as UUP leader, he calls on the IRA to say that their
war is over before Sinn Fein can return to Stormont;
however he indicates that this does not necessarily
mean full and total decommissioning before this can
Trimble fiddles whilst his personal Rome blazes. It
is must be sickening for a man who set his stall out
against Republican violence as the benchmark for the
entry to the assembly to be receiving political advice
on the need for a cohesive Unionist standard bearer,
and a degree of chastisement, from none other than
the PUPs David Ervine. The embarrassment of
this weeks announcement by Fred Cobain that
a wing of the UUP is still in direct contact with
the UVF, although that organisation has announced
a twelve month moratorium on their military activity,
they are apparently still seeking assurances that
the UUP are in a stable enough form to progress. This
contact is particularly galling in the light of Trimbles
and the UUPs expectations of mainstream Republicanism,
a point noted and expounded upon by Donaldson et al,
in the build up to last Saturdays spectacle.
The recent ridiculous spectacle of Trimble scurrying
about the six counties, at times visibly panic riven,
has once more saved his ever thinning political hide.
Round thirteen cannot be far away. However there are
reasons for this. They are not surprising, and are
illustrative of the fact that little has changed here
at all, Good Friday Agreement or no Good Friday Agreement.
A wholly annoying facet of this increasingly unworkable
document is that it is entirely dependent on the cohesion
of its majority holding player.
Despite decades of abuse by the UUP of the apparatus
of majoritarian democracy, and the institutional violence
inherently directed at Catholics, Nationalists and
Republicans because of their interpretation of democratic
procedures in Northern Ireland; no elections will
be forthcoming, in an attempt to revive this political
corpse until a unified UUP emerges once more. This
is borne out by the demonization of all opposites
as the once monolithic UUP backs itself into a corner.
Sinn Fein have discovered this in their eagerness
to play big-boys politics. They have been
firmly clamped by the ideological short and curlies,
the political scapegoats and whipping boys every time
the UUP implodes. I would have to agree with the Sinn
Fein analysis that this weeks announcement on the
new monitoring body for paramilitary activity is merely
a ruse to sooth the gaping sores in the Unionist body
cousin of mine recently completed his Degree in Political
Science. In the course of his thesis he had the chance
to interview Derry Socialist activist Eamonn Melaugh.
When asked for his thoughts on Unionism, Mr.Melaugh
commented that he had always thought Unionism to be
Like a one-legged giant
.very easy to topple.
this analysis is hardly prophetic, it is startlingly
apt for the present climate.
A bonus of this collapse is that the UUP are in danger
of doing it to themselves, although do not be surprised
if there is another bout of imaginary Nationalist/Republican
plot making about to confront us all. Sports manufacturers
beware, prime your staff for some overtime, I feel
that there are goalposts out there that may need shifting
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