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"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

Anthony McIntyre • 30.09.02

David Trimble is like the persona we sometimes assume in bad dreams - running through quagmire to escape something malign. While our legs might just manage to shake off the torpor sufficiently to keep a pace ahead of whatever is snapping and snarling at our heels, it never provides enough respite in which to sit down unafraid of being devoured.

This month's UUC gathering flagged up the existence of more storm clouds than Trimble has faced since the leadership challenge from Martin Smyth just over two years ago. His threat to garrotte the institutions, against his better judgement, has once more enhanced his position within republican demonology. His government colleague, Martin McGuinness, has dismissed him as little other than a front for the ‘rejectionists’ while Mitchel McLaughlin has accused him of political cowardice. Calculatingly more polemical than penetrative on the part of Sinn Fein.

Trimble’s grudging venture into the lair of the unionist anti-agreement camp with a reverse gear at times seemingly beyond his reach is being given forward momentum by some of his key allies in the Assembly - arguably his power base within the UUP - either resigning or being deselected. As an Assembly election looms in the spring of next year, Bertie Kerr's decision, in particular, to jump ship has merely accentuated a belief that the party leader is out of touch with unionist grassroots opinion.

Whether Trimble has sufficiently sold the Agreement up to now is a moot point. But he can hardly sell it in the manner Sinn Fein demand without calling into being a strengthened unionist challenge to it, which in turn limits his ability to sell it at all. Paradoxically, it is by underselling it that he has managed to sell it for as long as he has.

Nevertheless, the nationalist electorate want Sinn Fein in government regardless of unionist concerns. And who are the unionists to tell that electorate otherwise? Do they expect a double veto, firstly over the constitutional question - which they have already - and also over the form in which partition is to manifest itself within the North? There is no just reason for the British Government to collapse the institutions at the behest of unionism.

At the same time the unionists would not be disenfranchising the nationalist electorate by refusing to sit in a functioning government with those whom nationalists elect. The nationalist electorate cannot compel unionist politicians to sit in government with Sinn Fein when the unionist electorate believe - with no small measure of hypocritical cant - a report by the Times that there is now a majority of Army council members who are also Sinn Fein elected representatives.

In a situation where unionism was to withdraw from government and not demand that the British collapse the institutions and the British in turn were to go as far as to allow all the ministerial portfolios to be filled by nationalists, what sort of executive would it be? What possible basis in consent would it have? Furthermore, there must exist in the midst of British strategic thinking a strand pulsating with memories of 1974. And with unionist anger simmering, the British are likely to want to ensure it does not reach the point of a raging boil. If the British waive any claim to a right to move against the institutions, Sinn Fein might face up to the weakness of its own strategy, and along with the SDLP de facto take the onerous decision to suspend them anyway - dressed up as magnanimity and an act of inclusiveness - rather than face the instability that would ensue from them functioning as ‘ourselves alone’ bodies.

In all of this, it is hardly fanciful to believe that Trimble does not want to destroy the Agreement but is having his ability to drive it thwarted by a grassroots unionist belief that the IRA remains active. Thinking republicans presumably ask themselves if the IRA were to be removed from the equation would there be a crisis at all? Despite republican assertions to the contrary, it is far from clear that all the anti-agreement figures can be labelled as not wanting a Catholic about the place. Is that the position of someone like Arlene Foster? Hardly likely. It is the IRA they seem not to want about the place.

Despite wishing to play down any link there is a strong implicit acceptance on the part of Sinn Fein that the continuation of IRA activity has a bearing on the stability of the institutions. If the party genuinely believed otherwise it would cease to deny IRA involvement in some activities. Likewise the IRA would accept responsibility for its actions. But therein lies the rub. The appearance of IRA spawned unionist turmoil helps Sinn Fein sell its strategy within its own constituency.

Nevertheless, because ministerial positions are more important than the IRA and because the Sinn Fein leadership could quite easily wrap up the IRA in the morning the inexorable logic is one of moving towards a trade-off where the IRA, like its guns, is little other than a disposable Sinn Fein bargaining chip facing disbandment in the South and being pulled back into Sinn Fein in the North as a form of IRB-cum-Praetorian guard. And who then expects unionists to complain long and hard if the only object of IRA force is recalcitrant or awkward republicans?






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The man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap.
- Ayn Rand
Index: Current Articles

6 October 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


That Book
Tommy McKearney


"SOS - Save Our Stormont"

Anthony McIntyre


Birds of Ireland
Brian Mór


The Right to Live
Davy Carlin


Interview with Colombian Human Rights Worker



Willpower of Revolutionaries


4 October 2002


Revealing Secrets


At Last We Know the Human Cost of Gerry Adams

Paul Bew


The Boys of the Old Brigade Are Not Happy
Brian Mór


Segregation in Oldham
Mark Hayes


Common Denominators

Aine Fox


SF - Stormont First
Anthony McIntyre


Dispatches from the U.S. Anti-War Movement
Julie Brown


Preventing the Bush Turkey Shoot
Steve McWilliams




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