Throw Me a Lifeline; Trimble Calls for Control over Police
Dempster, Stephen, The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
DAVID Trimble last night appealed to the Government to throw him a lifeline by devolving responsibility for policing to the Executive and Assembly as soon as possible.
The First Minister made the radical proposal one week before he faces another do-or-die meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council.
He urged the Secretary of State to remove the potential political banana skin of the police reform row from his path, arguing devolution could eradicate divisive arguments over the Police Bill and allow society to undertake ''a big clean-up job'' of criminal elements.
He spoke as fears grew yesterday that Ulster Unionist Party dissidents could force him to withdraw from Government within weeks - possibly destroying the Agreement.
And evidence of a growing crisis came in the shape of the US President Bill Clinton's entry into the fray.
He warned all sides not to give in to short-term political pressure or it could spell tragedy for the fragile peace process.
''Every political leader is subject to short-term political pressures. But in Northern Ireland I believe it is critical for all to consider how their actions in the heat of the moment today will be felt in a year, a decade, a generation from now,'' Mr Clinton said.
With pressure mounting on his position, and decommissioning and policing remaining the two core issues of contention in the peace process for unionists, Mr Trimble used a speech at a Law Society dinner in Belfast last night to confront one of the problems.
The UUP leader demanded the removal of the Police Bill row from the equation, in the knowledge it could improve chances of survival.
He said devolution of responsibility for policing and criminal justice ''would obviously lead to greater accountability through enhancing the role of the Assembly and enabling us to put behind us some of the divisive arguments over the Police Bill''.
He added: ''The concerns that some have over the relationship between the Police Board and the Secretary of State will become largely irrelevant when the Secretary of State's powers transfer to the new devolved administration.
''Indeed I can think of nothing better to give everyone confidence, and to bind all the community behind law enforcement, than to see the central political policy direction of the criminal justice system (including policing) in the hands of Seamus Mallon and I and our successors. …