by David Granville
A COUPLE of years back a delegation from the Connolly Association’s executive met with a senior official in the Northern Ireland Office to discuss concerns around the implementation of the Good Friday agreement.
The meeting took place in the Millbank offices of the NIO, conveniently just down the corridor from the head of the secret intelligence services. It did so against a backdrop of faltering progress and impending crisis, much of which, like now, was linked to the precarious position of David Trimble as leader of a divided and fractious party and as top dog in the wider unionist pack.
Like other parties interested in forging a genuinely new dispensation in the north of Ireland based on peace, equality, and parity of esteem -- from the Connolly Association’s point of view as a precursor to the eventual forging of a united and, hopefully, independent Ireland -- the CA delegation questioned both Trimble’s ability and willingness to deliver on the Good Friday deal and the government’s strategy of propping him up at all costs.
The NIO official’s response was along the lines of ministers’ much-practised and oft-repeated refrain: ‘the Good Friday agreement is the ‘only show in town, there is no plan B’.
While sympathising with ministers’ and officials’ desire to project the need for the Good Friday agreement to succeed, it would be a scandalous dereliction of duty if contingency plans had not been put in place, particularly given the precarious position of the UUP leader on whose political survival so much of their plan has appeared to rest.
Despite what government ministers and David Trimble would like us to believe the latest suspension of the Good Friday institutions and, at the moment seemingly indefinite, postponement of new assembly elections have very little to do with unilateral IRA decommissioning, alleged spy rings or South American adventures.
The elections cannot take place, from a British government point of view, because Trimble and his supporters will lose while his anti-agreement foes, both inside and outside the UUP, are set to make big gains.
To make matters more uncomfortable for Mr Blair, Sinn Féin looks set to continue to make gains at the expense of the SDLP and could easily find itself the biggest political party in the north, if elections are allowed to proceed.
If that happens, Trimble can kiss goodbye not only to his party’s leadership but also his ministerial salary, courtesy car and the trappings of faux power-- leaving him free to be welcomed into bosom of Britain’s most dysfunctional political family, the Conservative Party, where he’ll be very much at home.
It’s about time that the Blair government faced facts: Trimble is rapidly running out of tarmac and even the most enthusiastic supporter of the ‘Save Dave’ fan club must surely have their doubts as to the benefits of continuing to support his lame duck leadership of unionism.
As the Irish Democrat’s Belfast-based correspondent Bobbie Heatley suggested in the May/June /July edition of the Connolly Association's bi-monthly paper, perhaps it’s time for the British to break with the last vestiges of Britain’s old colonial traditions and give democracy a try.
Whatever eventually happens to Trimble, the assembly or the Good Friday deal, there seems little doubt that the British government, irrespective of public pronouncements, will continue its gradual disengagement from the six counties.
After all, millions have been saved in recent years by scaling down security operations in the north and much more could be available were these to be pruned even further and eventually done away with -- though whether this would find it’s way into Britain’s hard-pressed and underfunded public services or be syphoned off to maintain an army of occupation in Iraq instead of Northern Ireland remains to be seen.
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