Unionist ambivalence is the enemy of peace

Sinn Féin's Michelle Gildernew, who succeeded unionist Ken Maginnis as the MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, argues that that the problem with unionism is that it remains wedded to a failed and unworkable past

David Trimble's resignation as first minister has plunged the peace process into its most serious crisis to date. Such action at anytime would be highly irresponsible but at a time when loyalists were killing Catholics, nightly bombing their homes, and were facing the Orange Order's sectarian marching season, Mr Trimble's behaviour was a dangerous abandonment of his duties.

He has single-handedly created a political vacuum. It is therefore galling, if predictable, that the issue which he selected to excuse his actions was the IRA guns which have been silent for years. His attitude to silent IRA guns is in marked contrast to his silence and the general silence of all shades of unionism in the face of a dramatic rise in loyalist violence.

There have been two Catholics killed and over 100 bomb and gun attacks on Catholic homes in recent months. And this is not an isolated series of attacks. There is a depressing but familiar pattern to loyalist violence going back many years, since the IRA's first cessation in August 1994.

We can imagine the loud chorus of condemnation from unionists, British government and media circles if republicans were involved in violent incidents and Gerry Adams was as mute as Mr Trimble.

What action has Mr Trimble taken to end loyalist attacks? What action has Mr Paisley taken? What action has either man taken to ensure that loyalists 'decommission' or put their guns 'verifiably beyond use'?

Their attitude to loyalist violence is typical of how the leaders of unionism have traditionally reacted. They see only 'threats' from republicans even when there is no threat. They never volunteer, publicly, opposition to loyalist violence. Any reaction has to be squeezed out of them.

David Burnside has yet to say a word about the 500 pounds of explosives belonging to the UVF found in his constituency the day after he was elected to the Westminster parliament. He said nothing when loyalists killed 19-year-old Ciarán Cummings who lived in his constituency.

This studied ambivalence is also reflected in the way in which the RUC respond to loyalist intimidation. A recent example is sufficient to prove this point.

At the beginning of July, on the Springfield Road in Belfast, hundreds of RUC and British army personnel backed up by water cannons, plastic bullet guns and armoured cars were deployed to force an Orange Order-UVF march along the nationalist part of the Springfield Road.

The nationalist population was effectively put under curfew in their homes for several hours by this huge military force. Compare the use of this force to impose a sectarian march on nationalists, many of who were killed by the UVF, to the use of a similar force the week previous to block Catholic primary school children from getting to school.

Why did the RUC allow loyalists to block the path of the children? Why did they not use their force to ensure the children got to school? The reason is simple. In both the Springfield Road and Ardoyne the RUC had to challenge loyalist organisations and they are clearly not prepared to do so.

It is the old argument. The Crown forces are more comfortable when they are attacking nationalists.

These recent developments highlight the nature of the problem facing nationalists and republicans in trying to irreversibly anchor the peace process and secure equality and political rights through the Good Friday agreement.

On the one hand nationalists and republicans openly embrace the peace process and the agreement while unionists are trying to wreck it or slow down change to a snail's pace.

David Trimble might have signed up to the Good Friday agreement and took part in the institutions for a limited period but his actions are those of a leader who wants to frustrate change from the inside while Ian Paisley tries to wreck from the outside.

Then we have to listen to David Trimble lecturing the rest of us about republicans not 'keeping their promises'. A bogus and baseless allegation which we repudiate in categoric terms.

Let me remind him of the contribution republicans have made to the peace process:

l It was republicans and nationalists who started the peace process in the early '90s. Not the unionists or the Tory government under John Major;

l It was republicans who secured not one but two ceasefires;

l Sinn Féin used its influence, despite the bad faith of the Major government, to sustain the first IRA cessation for 17 months until Major rejected the report by senator Mitchell on decommissioning;

l It was Sinn Féin who used their influence with the IRA leadership, which led to the IRA deciding in the right circumstances to 'verifiably put their guns beyond use';

l Despite the British government's bad faith and failure to honour promises made the IRA is engaged with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning;

l It was the IRA leadership in an unprecedented and far-reaching gesture aimed at strengthening the peace process who decided to allow complete strangers to inspect three of their sealed dumps.

Both inspectors reported that there were substantial amounts of weaponry in these dumps. The IRA have remained in contact with General de Chastelain and he reported positively on these exchanges.

Are these actions of people who, according to Mr Trimble, haven't kept their promises?

Furthermore while the IRA unilaterally made these significant moves many times over the last seven years the Sinn Féin leadership also led from the front.

l We turned our party upside down to secure support for the Good Friday agreement.

l We changed our constitution to allow republicans to participate in a northern assembly and executive.

l In December 1997-98 we worked tirelessly to keep the process on track in the face of a concerted loyalist murder campaign which left 11 nationalists killed and almost 100 wounded in shooting attacks.

l Gerry Adams publicly set out for republicans the way forward when he said the "the violence we have seen must be for all of us now a thing of the past, over, done with and gone".

It is obvious that the leadership of the IRA and the leadership of Sinn Féin are committed to the peace process and the Good Friday agreement.

Gerry Adams has repeatedly said that the current difficulties will in time be overcome. He is right to say so. And recent history is on his side of the argument. Who could have predicted a few years ago that we would have had the IRA on ceasefire for several years, inclusive negotiations, an agreement, republicans, nationalists and unionists in an executive and an assembly?

But obviously there is much more work to be done to end the many injustices arising from partition.

Unfortunately at this point in time it appears that the political leaderships of unionism, in all forms, remain wedded to a failed and unworkable status quo.

August/September 2001

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-02-04 13:23:14.
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