Magazine article The Spectator

A Task Only for the PM

Magazine article The Spectator

A Task Only for the PM

Article excerpt

The Ulster peace process is once again in danger, because of the IRA's refusal to decommission its weaponry. Insolently insisting that it has no hand in the decision, Sinn Fein is demanding that its representatives should be allowed to sit in the new Executive: a unique and brazen use of schizophrenia as a political alibi. This is unacceptable to the Unionists, as it ought to be, and there is no sign of a compromise.

On the contrary: although many Republicans do want peace, the evidence suggests that the IRA's position is hardening. Although the Good Friday Agreement insisted that there must be an end to the politics of threat in Ulster, some leading Provos have fastened on to the absence of a specific timetable for decommissioning. Some, indeed, are now insisting that it will never happen. In that case, the Unionists could never be expected to sit in an Executive with Sinn Fein members.

Some Provos are making another malign calculation. Next year, the Patten Commission on the Royal Ulster Constabulary is due to report. It is all too likely that Mr Patten's recommendations will pay scant respect to the RUC's heroic record of service, sacrifice and success, and in some IRA circles there is a proposal to use decommissioning as a bargaining device, both to enforce any concessions that Mr Patten might recommend and to insist that further humiliations should be inflicted upon the RUC.

If the IRA manages to procrastinate on decommissioning until after the Patten report has appeared, a most dangerous degree of polarisation could easily ensue. But long before then, the new Assembly would have collapsed, and with it Mr Trimble's brand of moderate Unionist leadership. He would have gone the way of Brian Faulkner, and, as with Mr Faulkner, a generation's hopes of peace would have gone with him.

There is only one man who can ensure that this impasse does not become critical: Mr Blair. The Provos are calculating that, if this settlement were to founder, he would impose a new one which would be far less acceptable to Unionists. They are also calculating that Mr Blair might not resist their attempts to destroy the RUC.

There are good reasons to believe that the Provos have miscalculated, and misunderstand Mr Blair. There is no suggestion that he is anti-Unionist and, over the past few years, he has developed a high regard for David Trimble, who will have completed his political education on the RUC. …

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