Reinstate the assembly now

The Irish Democrat's northern correspondent, Bobbie Heatley, argues that the immediate reinstatement of the Northern Ireland assembly is in interests of the peoples of Britain and Ireland

ALL FORWARD-THINKING and progressive people in Britain should be demanding, in their own best interests, that Tony Blair restore Northern Ireland’s devolved assembly at Stormont. October’s suspension marked the fourth such intervention by Blair at the behest of Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble.

Trimble had been attempting to serve two masters: the British government, which wished to preserve a watered-down and drip-fed Good Friday agreement for its own purposes; and the strong anti-reformist wing of backwoods Orangemen in his own party, the UUP.

Faced with the prospect of his removal as UUP leader, Trimble submitted to his party’s steadily advancing No camp in late September.

The growing band of anti-agreement UUP members had given him the choice: carry on acting as a conduit for the British government, doing its bidding against your own deep-felt wishes and ours, or else come back into the fold and serve us in the way that we would like.

Knowing that his career as party leader and Northern Ireland first minister was effectively over if he gave the wrong answer, he chose the latter and became their captive, speeding over to Downing Street as their messenger boy to put a peremptory demand to the British prime minister.

No longer interested in the decommissioning of IRA weaponry, he instead demanded that the organisation disband immediately and the halting of key Good Friday reforms, including the government’s promise of further moves towards a full implementation of the Patten report on policing.

If that were not done, he threatened, the UUP would walk out of the Stormont executive in January, thereby causing its collapse.

ust why it had become so frantically urgent for the IRA to jump to a stricture from the UUP, Trimble has not yet managed to tell us.

The No-men have made full use of the predictable media furore over the convenient and as-yet unproved IRA spying allegations, as well as the impending trial of three republicans held in Columbia and attempts to link republicans to the Castlereagh break in.

Yet even intelligence sources conceded that there were no signs that the IRA had any intention of initiating a new war.

The organisation clearly supports the Good Friday deal and the peace process, and it has co-operated with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning in putting guns beyond use on two occasions.

Things were clearly moving in the right direction and more such steps were in the offing So why did the UUP feign panic? As Bill Clinton might have said: ‘it’s the election, stupid.’

Under the terms of the agreement there will be new assembly elections in May 2003. As a result of the UUP’s obstructive approach to change and Trimble’s failure to champion the benefits of the Good Friday agreement, he has allowed Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party to creep up and overtake him in the propaganda war.

Even those in the UUP whose attitude to the Good Friday deal is lukewarm toleration have shown signs of alarm at the very real possibility of losing their assembly seats -- and the more than tolerable salaries that go with them.

Some have already been de-selected by their constituency parties and others, have attempted, chameleon-like, to don Paisley’s rabid anti-agreement colours.

Trimble’s main objective in his mad dash over to Downing Street had been to secure Sinn Féin’s expulsion from the Stormont executive.

Had he been successful he would have taken comfort from being able to take the UUP into the election on the basis that they were above rejectionist reproach because they were ‘not in government with Sinn Féin’.

Blair refused Trimble’s request knowing that it would have meant scrapping the Good Friday agreement altogether -- something which he is unwilling to contemplate given the difficulties and dangers associated with any attempt to start again from scratch.

Besides, such a move would have required cross-community support and the SDLP was never going to commit hara-kiri by going back to accepting a minority status for nationalism.

However, since the UUP did not wish to go into the election as partners in government with Sinn Féin, Trimble appears to have convinced Blair that a further suspension of the assembly could help revive the UUP’s flagging fortunes.

As things stand, if elections are allowed to go ahead, the next Northern Ireland assembly looks set to be dominated by Sinn Féin and the DUP, the latter’s stated objective being to scrap the agreement and replace it with something else, as yet unspecified -- though it doesn’t take a genius to predict that what ever emerges will be inimical to the interests of Irish nationalists.

The SDLP and Sinn Féin have said that they will not enter into futile negotiations only to end up with something that is guaranteed to be less favourable to their interests than they already have.

Despite the arrival of a few optimistic press pundits who opine that the DUP, were it to become the majority party within Unionism, might prove -- under Peter Robinson’s leadership -- to be more pliable than most people expect, it is difficult to see how an assembly dominated by the DUP and Sinn Féin could work in practice.

Although much will depend on developments between now and January, there is a growing prospect of direct rule for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, Trimble is doing his best to cosy-up to the war-mongering right-wing Bush regime, seeing in it a bird of the same feather.

Wherever it is, whatever it is, unionism will be forever tied to the oligarchs in opposition to the democracy of the people.

None of that is in the interests of the reviving British labour movement, or indeed, the British people as a whole.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-29 16:33:51.
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