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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Trimble: A damaged leader?

The failure of Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble to win a convincing victory over a challenge to his leadership has raised doubt over the future of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The close result reflects the deep divisions in the province's biggest political party over Mr Trimble's handling of the peace process

It also appears to indicate that opposition to his approach and to the Good Friday agreement has hardened within the Ulster Unionists.

Has the result of the leadership challenge damaged Mr Trimble's ability to speak for the party in the peace talks? Have the prospects for peace been undermined? Has it dashed hopes of an early return to Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive?

Your reaction

Just when will the British Army occupation leave Ireland?
William Wolahan, USA

The Unionists cannot maintain the status quo. The IRA cannot keep their weapons. David Trimble must persevere. There is no question of weakness. He won and that's all that counts in democracy, not the margin of victory.
John, London, England

The Unionists cannot maintain the status quo. The IRA cannot keep their weapons. David Trimble must persevere. There is no question of weakness. He won and that's all that counts in democracy, not the margin of victory.
John, England

An agreement that promised all things to all sides was never going to work. As usual Blair promises the world but cannot deliver anything at all.
Matthew Knowles, UK

Perhaps if the vast amount of legally held weapons in N.I. (Who holds them?) were "decommissioned" and the British Army's overt presence and threatening installations for all to see around N.I. were dismantled, the IRA might be more disposed to put their arms out of commission?
Den, Scotland

If there ever is to become a united Ireland it will be when the majority of the Northern Ireland people want it that way!

Richard, Wales
The blame should not be put on the Unionists, it should go to Sinn Fein/IRA for refusing to decommission and to the Labour Government for putting pressure on the Unionists to sort it out. You cannot blame anybody for refusing to work with terrorists!
Also to Nail P. Colgan who said the British Government must become persuaders for a united Ireland: that would
1) go against the majority of the NI people who want to stay British, and
2) Britain would be giving the wrong message to the rest of the world that "eventually we will give in to terrorism!"
If there ever is to become a united Ireland it will be when the majority of the Northern Ireland people want it that way!
Richard, Wales

I think David Trimble is to be applauded. Maybe, on this occasion, success had eluded him, but his Nobel prize was well deserved. Okay, he didn't bring peace to the province but he stood forth and vehemently tried (unlike other parties).
Suzanne McMillan, Japan (From N. Ireland)

Give the unborn future occupants of that tearful piece of land a chance for a decent life in peace. A sure prescription for prejudice and reactionary fighting is a visit to the cemetery, where eggheads and boneheads get equal billing.
David Lewis, MD, USA

The only way to get the process back on track is to get the institutions up and running again.

Margaret, Ireland
The only way to get the process back on track is to get the institutions up and running again. The leadership challenge is over now and we know the result- so lets get back to the important business of making the GFA work once and for all.
Margaret, Ireland

Trimble is a traitor to the Unionist ideals.
John Dixon, Canada

It appears to me that once the Good Friday Agreement was established, setting up the government was the most important action to be taken. It took time but eventually the GFA was signed off by all parties. However, when the UUP declared the end of January as a new (unilateral) date for decommissioning, which was in conflict with the GFA, they did so with the hope (and most probably the knowledge) that the IRA would balk..........which was exactly what they did!
This seemed to me at least, to be a move to prove they (the UUP) were the "top gun" in this NEW Northern Ireland government. To top it off, neither Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Peter Mandelson, or anyone else in a power position stepped in to try and change their minds.
Bob Cunningham, USA

True peace will only come to Ireland when the English leave the last six of the 32 counties of Ireland. The proof of this is across the border in the Irish Republic. God put a body of water between the two countries for a purpose, to keep them separate.
Jimmy Beglan, USA

David Trimble is a highly skilled and shrewd political operator.

Ronan Early, Ireland
David Trimble is a highly skilled and shrewd political operator. The only Unionist politician with the wit and intelligence to politically out manoeuvre Sinn Fein. The Ulster Unionists are an ailing force, they are unbelievably fortunate to have a leader of his calibre and if nearly half of them can not see this, then it speaks volumes for general intelligence level within the party, or the lack of it.
Ronan Early, Ireland

It seems that the Unionists are unhappy with Trimble's lack of progress over the Good Friday Agreement, especially weapons decommissioning.
Quite what they hope to achieve by replacing him with someone who has less experience of the current situation, at such a delicate time, is beyond me. Perhaps they liked the times before the cease fires.
Andrew Dowle, UK

If true peace came to Northern Ireland, both extreme groups would lose their power and influence.

Roger Steer, UK
The nightmare scenario for both hard-line Unionist and Republican groups is a free, liberal society. If true peace came to Northern Ireland, both extreme groups would lose their power and influence.
If the conflict remains, either as it is at the moment, or as a result of a forced unification, both sides feel oppressed, and polarise, giving support to their leaders. The conflict remains, not because the people want it to, but because the leaders of both sides want it, for their own reasons.
Roger Steer, UK

David Trimble knows that in the not too distant future the unionist population in Northern Ireland will be in the minority. In order for it to survive in this scenario, it has to promote itself to all the people of Ireland as well as the world-wide community as being a rich, tolerant, interesting and appealing culture.
The only way it can do this is to enter into a government with nationalists, and become a vital element in the effort to bring peace, equality and stability to the people of Ulster. This will show them in a positive light and put increasing pressure on the IRA to disarm.
Alex, Scotland

There is no real peace - just a temporary period of non-violence.

James, UK
Sinn Fein/IRA have always been in charge of the so-called peace process. Their stance is - We'll talk to you but if we don't get everything our way then we'll bomb again. As long as the IRA is armed it does not matter what happens to the unionists. There is no real peace - just a temporary period of non-violence.
There are a lot of comments from the USA appearing. Perhaps the so-called "Irish Americans" should come across here and watch innocent people being bombed and shot on a daily basis. Then we would see if they still wanted to donate to the republican cause.
James, UK

Anyone with any sense knew that the real problem was weapons.

David Bird, Scotland
Sadly those who planned the peace process tackled it like eating a crocodile from the tail. Anyone with any sense knew that the real problem was weapons and those that use them. Instead of dealing with the hard issue first they settled for piece meal nibbles of easy committee talk shop parts. Eventually the peace process reached the teeth and now they are stuck.
Perhaps it is a sad fact that not enough people have died for a real attempt to be made at securing a lasting peace. Plainly the men of violence believe this why else would they retain their weapons? Had the troubles in Northern Ireland been tackled as a war with a recognition that the weapons had to be removed first and then the peace negotiated then the rest may have followed more readily.
David Bird, Scotland

Is it really any surprise to anyone that the people of NI have been let down by Ulster's politicians once again?! The Unionists like their position and power so they would love to perpetuate the conflict and they are just as quietly as the IRA for not being men enough to hand in their weapons and actually work for peace.
It does seem that the people of NI have limitless courage but their politicians have little real courage when the crunch comes! As usual it will be the British Govt that picks up the pieces and pays for everything...ho hum back to the Unionist/IRA dream - no peace.
Neil, UK

It is time for Mr Trimble to depart from his position as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. The vast majority of the Unionist Population are against the current appeasement process, that very process that Mr Trimble created. Not only is he a damaged leader, but he has also damaged the future of the Unionist population.
Kyle Clements, England

Is it any wonder that support for the Agreement is waning?

Sean Fear, UK
David Trimble is sadly paying the price for Tony Blair's refusal to honour his promises at the time of the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. Remember, "those who use or threaten violence to be excluded from government" and "no prisoner releases unless violence ended for good."
Since then, there have been hundreds of beatings and shootings by both republican and loyalist terrorists and the prisoner releases have continued. At the same time, the British and Irish governments have put constant pressure on David Trimble to give way over decommissioning. Is it any wonder that support for the Agreement is waning?
Sean Fear, UK

I've been watching the Northern Ireland mess for as long as I care to remember and have observed enough re-writing of history to make Orwell proud. If Northern Ireland won't be governed by any one nation then let it be governed by two. Apply joint and equal (and permanent to avoid any future misunderstandings) sovereignty over Northern Ireland by Eire and the UK. Then jointly put an end to the fascists and their fellow travellers in Ireland.
G Anderson, Australia

For too long David Trimble has been making concessions to the nationalists in Northern Ireland.

R McMaster, Great Britain
I would just like to express my view and the view of many other unionists living in England. For too long David Trimble has been making concessions to the nationalists in Northern Ireland. Although many of these concessions were necessary to forward peace, its rhetoric is wearing thin, and we have not gained any ground unlike Sinn Fein / IRA. It would appear that this is a wake up call for Mr Trimble, that this is as far as the Unionist community is prepared to go.
I feel, as a Northern Ireland ex-pat that it is high time that we stop making concessions to the IRA and their sister-group Sinn Fein. How much more leeway must we give to the group(s) bent on the destruction of democratic rule, in a country where the majority of the population is listened to less and less with each passing day.
R McMaster, Great Britain

I have very little time for hardline Unionists who have an awful lot to answer for. If they replace Trimble with a hardliner things will get worse, rather than better. And Trimble is definitely weaker than before, and this is bad for Ireland, north and south.
But at least Unionism has stepped some way down the road to implementing the agreement, at some pain to themselves. Could someone please explain to me what meaningful steps the IRA have taken which could inspire trust?
Mick, UK

I'm fed up with having to subsidise Northern Ireland out of my taxes just because Unionists refuse to make do with the peace they've got.

Richard, England
Ed Bayley is right. As someone aged 21, English and living on the British mainland, I'm sick and tired of watching hard-line Unionists putting dogma before peace. I'm fed up with having to subsidise Northern Ireland out of my taxes just because Unionists refuse to make do with the peace they've got. I now want Britain and especially England to become independent from Northern Ireland. (Incidentally, I do also resent the never-ending, automatic "blame the British" attitude of Republicans.)
Richard, England

May be it's time to move away from Belfast and away from Northern Ireland to where I can start a family that will not be looked upon as second class from our Unionist neighbours
Sean, Ireland

We have to push forward. Hardline Unionists within Trimble's Unionist party cannot be allowed to override the current majority of Unionist opinion in Ulster (70% in favour of Peace Process) nor the overwhelming support of the rest of the UK and Eire.
The UK government has been very courageous in Northern Ireland - for the sake of the overwhelming majority of British and Irish people I hope they keep their nerve and break the back of bigotry once and for all.
Peter Marshall, England

I think the significance of this result is being overstated.

Adrian Mc Elholm, N. Ireland
I think the significance of this result is being overstated. David Trimble's personal standing is at its lowest ebb - the assembly has been abandoned and the IRA still hasn't decommissioned as much as a bullet. And yet, at this desperate point Mr Trimble has still managed to get 53% of the backing of his party, when everyone knows there have always been significantly large elements of his party who have always been opposed to his policies. I think if he grits his teeth and gets on with it, then as progress is made he shall weather this storm.
Adrian Mc Elholm, N. Ireland

No matter how many times the GFA or another of its equivalents occur, if the Orange contingent of the NI government don't agree with it at some later date, then they merely have to tell Peter Mandelson or his equivalent and he/she can then abrogate the agreement once again or as many times as strikes his/her fancy. The whole GFA was codswallop from the very day it began. Just another example of the British government playing the Orange card. No one with good sense would ever believe anything the British uttered, they have exactly no credibility in the rest of the world.
Ua Niall, US

The failure of this is due to Blair's incompetence and political ambitions. Blair was too keen to get a vote-winning political success; he was also too naive and incompetent to realise that an agreement without tight, binding, language and continued concessions to the IRA was doomed to failure.
R W Vose, U.S.A

What it all proves is that, when it comes down to the wire, the Unionists will not sit down and share government with Nationalists. David Trimble was a breath of hope a Unionist leader who broke the mould and was prepared to look forward, but alas as we see with his party, he was probably the only one. Instead we must return to the impasse that was, with the Unionists rejecting whatever possible agreements/solutions that may come about and ignore any optimistic dreams of the future that anyone had.
T Slevin, Australia

If those Unionists of the reactionary tendency don't change their ways pretty soon, I suspect they will lose the support of the British public to the extent that their nightmare scenario will occur - a united Ireland. It's about time they started stamping on their bowler hats instead of stamping on the Catholic minority.
Ed Bayley, USA (English)

It must be renegotiated from scratch.

Bob, UK
The problem isn't Mr Trimble, or the name of the RUC, or even the rest of the unionist movement. The problem is the fudge of the Good Friday Agreement where, desperate to get "something" signed, the parties signed up to the wooliest that could be agreed to.
The blame lies firmly with the Labour party, still suffering from the romantic blinkers the socialist movement has for the Republicans. This agreement was never detailed enough to work. It must be renegotiated from scratch.
Bob, UK

I have long felt that permanent peace through understanding, cooperation and tolerance between the Unionists and Nationalists is only a faintly possible objective, given history and the handicap of religeon. What has happened today in the leadership contest is another major setback, wounding as it does a man possessing those qualities in abundance but who is also with a vision for the future - and possessing the patience of Job. Surely the lack of will amongst the Unionist leaders to back Mr Trimble in his struggle to reconcile an almost irreconcileable situation has illustrated beyond all reasonable doubt that power sharing - and hence peace - is an illusion in Northern Ireland. The Government should now be working on the inevitability of a strategic withdrawal of British interests.I'm afraid to say that Northern Ireland have shown that they are unleadable and do not merit further huge resources from the mainland being poured in and tied up for an indefinate period - and soldiers lives continuing to be put at real risk.
M Fowler, England

What we are seeing here is the unraveling of the Good Friday agreement. The momentum has been failing since the IRA/Sinn Fein failed to follow up on the establishment of devolved power with decommissioning. Now that the momentum has failed the conservative elements with in the UUP are growing in strength. Any party other than IRA/Sinn Fein can do little now to revive the entire process, focusing on the UUP is a side issue. Non-paramilitary parties can merely wait and encourage decommissioning.
R. Campbell, USA

What people have long feared is becoming true. The NI conflict involves four bodies of opinion - with moderates and extreme factions on both sides of the divide. Treating extremists of either religion as the "real" representatives of their respective communities simply plays to extremist strength. It used to be that extremists had the guns, and moderates had the votes, but in the last two years the three governments involved have treated extremists as though they were the people worth talking to in their communities, and now this has become self-fulfilling. By slighting moderates as not worth paying attention to, we are actively encouraging the voters to switch their votes towards the "hard men" with clout.
jon livesey, USA

I met Tony blair on his visit to Omagh in the aftermath of the Omagh Bomb. He is surely a righteous and reasonable person. The answer to the Irish problem rests with him. He has only got the rest of this parliament to impose HIS will on the situation. it is quite simple really.The British Government must become persuaders for a united Ireland. Everyone knows that is the ultimate solution and the sooner a British prime Minister actually works actively to this end the better. Come on Tony if you don't,how long will the people of this small country have to go on suffering? You can do it I know you can!
Niall P. Colgan, N.Ireland

Gerry Adams did not do a good job in getting Sinn Fein to line up and do their part. This does not mean it cannot happen; but, David Trimble needed more help. I think that Mr. Gerry Adams ought to speak to the 'Press' about his intentions and explain why this effort has not worked. There is no excuse for it. Everybody has been doing their part. Now, it is up to Sinn Fein to put some real effort into this process that all of the rest of us have been working for peace in Ireland like it should have been months ago. And, like all of us who are Irish and British have worked so damned hard to make peace work.
Dave Adams, USA

The Northern Irish peace process is destined to failure, no matter under what circumstances, they occur. This struggle is not one with specific goals. The rivals in the area merely believe that they have something to prove to the other, which results in all of this violence. The fighting is not a revolution, rather it has developed into something resembling a street gang. The only logical and ethical way to end the crisis would be to rule Northern Ireland democratically, but firmly with the military. Using the military would seem unhumane and undemocratic, but the undemocratic and unhumane thing to do would be to allow these mass killings to continue, whilst deadlocked negotiators put more into talking than into action.
Jeremy DeWaal, United States

It's not about guns and it's not about renaming the RUC. It isn't even about being part of the UK. It's simply class conflict. The Unionists are desperately trying to maintain their place at the top of the NI food chain. Since that position is morally indefensible they have to deflect attention to a succession of decoys. All these other issues are just subterfuge. Merely red herrings to justify an elitist mandate. Get by one and they quickly put up another. Underlying it all is the question of civil rights. And the more Trimble flirts with an inclusive society the less his chances of leading the UUP.
Krow, USA

Collin, Canada

Mr. Trimble is the latest victim of the suspension of the power-sharing executive. The Unionists have clearly grown impatient with Sinn Fein/IRA's refusal to decommission their weapons and said so in their narrow vote in favor of Trimble. They believe that he is their best chance for peace but have also made clear that if he screws up any more, he's out.
jeff, u.s.a.

The peace process is already damaged by the IRA/Sinn Fein failure to decommission. This is the fundamental problem and Sinn Fein have failed to deliver
W Wilson, Northern Ireland

Trimble should be trying to reform those elements within the UUP who simply want to exclude Fenians from government. There is undoubtedly a caucus writhing the party who refuse to herald change and want to negotiate an internal settlement above the heads of the thousands of people who vote for Sinn Fein. Decommissioning is a red herring on several levels and the sooner the Unionist community wise up to that the better.
Declan McVeigh, Ireland

The problems facing David Trimble at this current time are all of his own making. He has repeatedly broken his solemn promises to the Unionist electorate of Northern Ireland, remember no guns no government, and his own right-wing, the people who elected him leader in the 1st place, faced with electoral annihilation at the local and general elections because of his unpopular policies have now risen up to drive him out.
Christopher Stalford, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The problem that David Trimble faces is that he took an understanding of an agreement back to his party and had them approve it. Recently it has been proven that the agreement was not worth the paper it is written on. In the case of the more contentious points, which were not written down but given verbally by Tony Blair, these agreements have also proven worthless. The agreement won the backing of the people of Northern Ireland on the understanding that these points would stand. Is there any surprise a couple of years on that the whole thing is starting to fall apart if people were not honest at the start of the process? And yet again, the Unionists take the blame. I think the whole agreement will either have to be renegotiated or a common understanding agreed and written down. Then the people should be asked again if they agree to it. Providing the agreement looks like we all thought it looked like two years ago I can't see there been a problem. And if anyone is naive enough to think that peace can happen whilst a bunch of gangsters remain armed they had better think again.
Roy Chapman, UK / Germany

Well, it looks like that's it then. Trimble may not resign but he is now the lamest of lame ducks and an already impenetrable situation is now a hundred times worse. Unionists will be blamed by a media that sees it all in black and white but they have been undermined by Sinn Fein-IRA's grand plan to split Unionism and weaken it for a very long time. Make no mistake: that is what they have always intended. How else to explain Sinn Fein-IRA's elastic, evasive and deceitful stance on decommissioning? The only way towards REAL peace in Northern Ireland is not for Trimble to face down his own party, but for democrats to face down terrorists. Everything else is just spin and empty hype, and doomed to recurring uncertainty and failure. Why can't people see this?
S R Davidson, UK

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See also:

25 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Blow for Trimble leadership
25 Mar 00 | Northern Ireland
Analysis: Trimble's troubles
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