Battle to Maintain Control of Our Political Destiny; Putting Politics in Perspective

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), April 21, 2001 | Go to article overview

Battle to Maintain Control of Our Political Destiny; Putting Politics in Perspective


Byline: Alex Kane

It has long been taken for granted in the unionist NO camp, that the Belfast Agreement is irredeemably biased towards the nationalists' long term objective of a united Ireland. Yet if that interpretation were the correct one, then surely the SDLP and Sinn Fein would do everything required of them to ensure the success of the Agreement, by making David Trimble's position a great deal easier?

What we know, however, is that the two nationalist parties have gone out of their way to both embarrass and undermine the First Minister, in particular, and pro-Agreement unionists, in general.

Sinn Fein has pursued a policy of congenital foot-dragging, on the issue of decommissioning, producing excuse after excuse for their IRA comrades and ensuring that the arms issue remains their most potent bargaining chip. So much for their talking of ''good faith'' being a vital component of the peace process.

The SDLP has always chosen to throw a comfort blanket of moral and political ambiguity over the actions of their pan-nationalist chums, wading thigh-high through hypocrisy and humbug to remove all pressure from Sinn Fein and place it upon David Trimble's back, instead. Seamus Mallon may treat us to the occasional outburst of well-rehearsed pipe-puffing piety, but he will never place the needs of moderate unionism above the need to preserve his contacts with the more extreme wing of republicanism.

The simple fact of the matter is, that a lasting, stable, internal settlement in Northern Ireland is not compatible with the ongoing territorial ambitions of pan-nationalism.

John Hume hasn't spent 30 years hauling his single transferable speech around the international equivalent of the Mothers' Union just to see a unionist First Minister returned to Stormont. And the IRA's volunteers didn't spend 30 years in ditches and safe houses, just to see their representatives accepting the Queen's shilling as Ministers of the Crown.

There are times I am tempted into the belief that the real nationalist agenda is geared towards the crashing of the Agreement, but in circumstances in which unionists are seen to take the blame.

The IRA would then assure both governments that their ceasefire was secure and I suspect that the ''Real'' and ''Continuity'' factions would announce their own ceasefires, if they believed that the Assembly and the Agreement were for the chop. The British and Irish governments would initiate a new series of bi-lateral negotiations, leading to another Anglo-Irish Agreement and de jure joint sovereignty.

I have never shifted from the belief that the Belfast Agreement is good for Northern Ireland. It may not be perfect in terms of institutions and it may be politically top-heavy at the moment, but it is still very much better than either Direct Rule or the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

If some of the other unionist parties weren't so insular, blinkered and determined to smash the Ulster Unionist Party, they might have had the sense to help rather than hamper David Trimble's efforts to preserve the Union. …

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