The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Seconds out for Round Thirteen.
Eamon Sweeney • 8 September 2003

So it is true after all, David Trimble is politically invincible, well, for another period of interminable stagnation at least.

Saturday’s “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 Trimble’s 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 the crap….” when asked to speculate on the future of the UUP.

Perhaps this was because Sir Reg had been widely tipped to back the party rebels and has been flummoxed, as have many, myself included, by Trimble’s 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.”

In 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 sectarian state.”

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 happen!

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 PUP’s David Ervine. The embarrassment of this week’s 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 Trimble’s and the UUP’s expectations of mainstream Republicanism, a point noted and expounded upon by Donaldson et al, in the build up to last Saturday’s 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 it’s “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 politic.

A 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.”

Whilst 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……..again.





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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.
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Index: Current Articles

11 September 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Seconds Out for Round Thirteen
Eamon Sweeney


UN Report on Human Development
Liam O Ruairc


No Sign Yet of an End to the Cold War
Anthony McIntyre


West Belfast - The Politics of Childhood
Davy Carlin


Review of Eoin O'Broin's Matxinada
Douglas Hamilton


Help Renew the Republican Dream
Gerry Ruddy


Three Meeting Announcements
Belfast & Dublin


7 September 2003


Bush, Coke-a-Cola and the Nazis
Eamonn McCann


A Regime of Silence
Anthony McIntyre


Lower Falls Memories
Kathleen O'Halloran


My Axis of Evil
Pedram Moallemian


In Memory of Israfil Shiri 1973-2003
Debbie Grue


IRPWA Calls on Paul Murphy to Reveal Recommendations
Martin Mulholland


A Letter to Mr Foley
Matthew Kavanagh




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