A one-shot manoeuvre
by the editor
THERE'S A strange thing about the recent shenanigans which ended in the election of UUP leader David Trimble and new SDLP leader Mark Durkan as Stormont assembly first and deputy-first ministers -- and that is that it is difficult not to have a modicum of sympathy with the No-men's protestations of a fix.
However, any such feelings for those whose sole objective is to wreck the Good Friday agreement and all that it stands for -- the basis of a new accommodation in the north in which equal treatment, access to justice and fundamental human rights for all are essential components -- last barely a nanosecond in the cold light of this knowledge.
Despite this, most ordinary people will have found the spectacle particularly unedifying -- indeed, the only real pleasure to be derived from the whole slightly farcical episode, apart from the outmanoeuvering of the wreckersí camp, was the irony resulting from the dilemma faced by the 'liberal' unionists of the Alliance who had to 'temporarily' redesignating themselves as something they patently already are, to get Trimble and Durkan elected.
While the right immediate outcome was undoubtedly achieved, the way in which this came about can hardly be held up a paragon of democratic practice.
Whichever way you look at it, the episode has resulted in record levels of cynicism which, if left to ferment further, stirred and shaken daily by the forces of reaction, will only add fuel to the social tensions which exist in the six counties.
Acceptable, just, as an exceptional measure to ensure that the momentum brought about by the IRA's historic decision to begin the 'decommissioning' process was not negated at birth, it must be recognised as a tactic which will not stand the test of repeated use. Next time around -- in this game and with these players there is sure to be a next time around -- it will have to be new elections and whatever outcome that brings. A further unilateral suspension of the Good Friday institutions is neither a credible nor an acceptable option.
On present trends at least, this could mean significant gains for both Sinn Féin and the DUP at the expense of the SDLP and the UUP. Given the position of the DUP and UUP No-men (and woman) it is more than idle speculation to suggest that this too could herald the death knell for the end of the Good Friday agreement as currently constituted.
This is the last thing that Trimble, the SDLP or, more importantly, either the British or Dublin governments want to see happen -- though for differing reasons. If Paisley was to be placed in the unionist driving seat the pressure on the British to take a more positive approach to republican concerns would intensify significantly. This is not something that Tony Blair or northern secretary John Reid wants to have to contemplate just yet -- or ever for that matter -- it's simply not part of the script for achieving a reformed union.
Although the DUP is unlikely to succeed in its endeavours, at least this time around, to sink the assembly ship by recourse to the law courts there are no signs that the latest developments will result in the political stability many hope for, yet what Paisley, Donaldson and co. don't seem to realise, or if they do they are careful not to show it, is that collapsing the agreement will not end reform or herald a return to the golden age of unionist top-doggery.
On the contrary, it is likely to hasten the reform programme as the Dublin and Westminster governments chart out a new reform path between themselves, unencumbered by the limited constraints of the existing Stormont assembly. This would increase rather than decrease 26-county involvement in the affairs of the six counties.
December 2001/January 2002
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Copyright © 2001 Connolly Publications Ltd