On Thursday January 9th on BBC 1's 'Question Time', from Belfast, the main political
groupings in Northern Ireland faced questions from a representative section of the
The panel, in stereotypical way, ran true to form as they responded to the issues raised
from the floor. Even if one's eyes had been closed it would still have been easy to tell
which party spokesperson was giving forth.
David Trimble attacked Mitchell Mcloughlin for expressing doubts regarding the legitimacy of
the impending war on iraq and repeated the allegation that Republicans were supporting
terrorists in Columbia and also doubted Sinn Féin's democratic credentials.
And, as ever, a great deal of time on the programme was used questioning Sinn Féin's
adherence to the implementation of the Belfast Agreement (1998) and their failure to achieve
full Republican paramilitary decommissioning.
This was forcefully rebutted by the Sinn Féin panel member who said that they were fully
committed to the peace process and indeed, as all other parties to the Agreement were
obliged to do, had used influence towards the reduction of all violence and the removal and
disposal of weapons and had engaged fully in the democratic process.
Whilst there had, he said, been two major acts of decommissioning by the IRA, supervised by
the De Chastelain Commission, Loyalist paramilitaries were showing no signs of doing so.
Nigel Dodds, DUP MP< was the typical 'dyed in the wool', uncompromising, fundamentalist
Unionist, trying to bulldoze everybody to accept his line of reasoning (if it could be
Whether he is, or isn't, a member of Paisley's Free presbyterian Church, he seems to me just
as noggin headed as his mentor, a sort of orange coloured bull frog, with a point of view
redolent of the 17th century.
On the main issue, of how the peace process could be moved forward, the SDLP member of the
panel strongly reiterated that it was essential that the Assembly and the poer Sharing
executive be reactivated.
The 18th January has come and gone. That was the date set by Ulster Unionists many weeks ago
in 2002 when they withdrew from the Executive causing the Assembly suspension. After that
date they would review their decision depending on whether Sinn Féin had met the criteria or
ultimatum set by them.Trimble and his senior colleagues are now considering whether to call
their Council together to discuss the position.
Efforts by the Secretary of State, Paul Murphy, to get all the parties together, especially
those involved in making the Good Friday Agreement (10/04/98), to construct a path for the
return to devolved government have been unsuccessful so far.
The Progressive Unionist Party, who have two members in the Assembly (suspended like all the
others but still receiving salary) have now refused to participate in talks, claiming that
in the first efforts to get a settlement (behind closed doors) they had been excluded.
Then, or simultaneously with the PUP withdrawal, two Loyalist paramilitary groups with links
to them, the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Red Hand Defenders, broke off contact with the
De Chastelain Commission.
Recently Sinn Féin (Martin McGuinness, I think) said that they believe the Ulster Unionist
leader is trying to undermine the Agreement as a means of preventing the Assembly elections
being held on May 1st as scheduled to preserve their narrow margin over their rivals, the
There are, however, various possibilities which are latent in the different agendas being
chased. I have a sort of suspicion that, despite their differences, some form of common
action is being pursued all with the intent of frustrating the Agreement unless changes are
made which will bring about Sinn Féin's exclusion from the Executive.
Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinnes is reported to have said that there could be significant steps
by the Republican movement were the Westminster government to fully apply the measures in
the Agreement pertaining to the Police Service, presumably the Patten recommendations.
Statements in the media suggest that Trimble will not be attending the meetings called by
the Secretary of State, the spectre of Paisley's cohorts pushing his party into second place
among Unionists still haunting him. He and all of them know that the PM Tony Blair, who has
recently met and had some understanding with Taoiseach Ahern,largely preoccupied with Iraq,
will continue to stall and prevaricate.
Unless there is some consensus reached soon I can see no possibility other than a short
Assembly session to set the scene for the election in May, as I suggested in my previous
article. After that the real politicking and argument will begin.