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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Northern Ireland: Will Trimble be proved right?
A crucial vote by the Ulster Unionists means a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland will be back in action by midnight on Monday.
Critics of the Unionist leader David Trimble say he should not be sharing power with Sinn Fein before the IRA surrenders any of its weapons.
David Trimble says the IRA pledge to put its weapons "beyond use" should be put to the test, and it is time to get with on with building more prosperity for the people of Northern Ireland.
Is David Trimble right? Is it time to look to the future with a return to power-sharing government? Or should the unionists have stood their ground over IRA weapons?.
This debate has now closed. Read a selection of your views below.
John Brownlee, England
The UUP has made one of the biggest disasters possible for Unionism. It has now gone into government with the representatives of fully armed terrorists.
Decommissioning may not have been
actually linked to devolution in the Belfast Agreement but it was sold to the people (especially Unionists) by Tony Blair and others in such a way that we were led to believe that it was definitely linked to prisoner releases.
By July we will have had all of the terrorists back onto the streets of Northern Ireland, plus Sinn Fein/IRA will be better armed than before. These "silent guns" will remain as a silent threat to the Government and Unionists that Sinn/Fein/IRA must get
what they demand or else it will be a return to violence. This is NOT democracy but the UUP will find out the will of the Unionist
people when they next go to the polls.
Johhny Nemo, USA
This "Peace Process" (so-called) becomes more of a farce every day. I find it difficult to see this latest "step forward" as anything other than a group of bankrupt politicians agreeing on terms of surrender to the IRA.
Devolution has been such a refreshing change in Scotland and it's about time that Northern Ireland got its parliament too. I would think all sides can take heart from the fact that Northern Ireland is to be run by men and women from Northern Ireland and not by an Englishman in London.
Richard , Northern Ireland
During the last 50 years there has been wrong on all sides - Republican, Unionist and both the Irish and British Governments. No settlement is ever going to be 100% fair to all but both Unionists and Republicans have gained from the Good Friday agreement. But winning the peace is going to be a very long hard struggle. There will still be some bitterness left in 30 years time. But I praise the courage of both David Trimble and Gerry Adams for getting this far. Every day without a return to weapons is a very big plus.
The issue that has always threatened peace in NI is not arms and their availability, but sectarianism and its impact on each community. The volatility that religion brings to politics has no place in a modern democracy. Until each person is judged on ability without reference to religious beliefs. Until the triumphalism of ancient battles won is no longer paraded in the streets. Until men of the cloth go back to their places of worship only to glory in God, then a lasting and just peace will be very difficult to achieve in NI - guns or no guns.
Geoff Stevens, UK
Nothing lasts for ever - not even tribal hatred in the North of Ireland. One day it will all fade into a sad historical footnote. The Unionists have to ask themselves if, in the long term, their fear and loathing of the Catholic Irish is a solid enough base for their sense of identity. The Nationalists have to ask themselves if they really want Ireland to be re-united by violence and coercion rather than by consent. Positive developments are palpable on both these fronts, and full credit to those who have glimpsed beyond the barbed wire.
David Trimble has taken a lot of gambles in the name of peace and deserves a lot of respect for doing so. However, it is funny how the British media never seem to highlight the fact that some of the loyalist terrorists have not yet disarmed either. Is this because the wrath of the loyalist terrorists does not reach the British mainland and as such goes to prove that people do not actually care about the situation in Northern Ireland at all?
Within recent years, David Trimble's leadership of the Ulster Unionists has moved mountains. This has similarly been matched by Sinn Fein and by the commitment of the IRA to decommission arms. This has been no mean feat and both sides should be congratulated.
Clearly, the attempts by others within David Trimble's party to stall power sharing has been an attempt to halt the peace process under any circumstance and by any means possible. Perhaps they should consider their positions by leaving the Official Unionists, joining the fringe parties such as the DUP, and thereby leaving the Northern Ireland Assembly to get on with the process of real government.
Stephen, Northern Ireland
The Ulster Unionists have done the right thing. The alternative to not returning to a devolved government without Sinn Fein would have been disastrous. The IRA pledge to give up their weapons is enough of a concession in itself. Once the devolved parliament is up and running, the IRA will duly oblige by revealing various arms dumps. Loyalist paramilitaries will have to reciprocate this decommissioning as well, for any hopes of a lasting peace. It is encouraging to see mainstream Unionism finally realising the necessity of sharing power with their Nationalist neighbours.
There have always been two main problems which have held up the peace process in NI. Both undemocratic, they are the IRA and the UUP council. If 71% of the NI people want both peace and the Good Friday agreement, who are these organisations who hold up procedure? The NI assembly must now get on with governing the province for the people and not pandering to men in balaclavas or grey suits.
Disarmament is such a slippery concept (all arms? held by all sides? forever? how enforced?) as to be almost meaningless. Trimble is right to press on: real world politics always involves compromise. I trust, meanwhile, that the Republic is building its security forces to deal with the unionist minority which will, one day, live within its borders.
The IRA has achieved part of its aims through terrorism. It has retained its arms so if it does not continue to consolidate its power it can revert to terrorism.
53% of the unionists did the right thing this time. Still time for the 47% to think better of their negative decision.
In a way I am glad to see that peace is perhaps taking yet another unsteady step forward, but for how long? How long before the pessimistic attitudes that surround Irish politics find something else to cry about. Forgive me, but how do you solve a problem without dealing with the cause? Finding ways of excluding the evils of the troubles will only provoke those who do not want peace.
Thank goodness for common sense. Without the resumption of the power-sharing executive there was no alternative to a return to violence. This is a hard pill for the Unionists to swallow, but they have made the right decision
Dan Barry, USA
Of course David Trimble had to return to power-sharing. Although many people see the lack of decommissioning as the terrorists holding a gun to the politicians heads, I can't say that I see the Ulster Unionists threat to bring down an elected government unless satisfied with progress in any different light.
I am sick of Jim Robertson's type - the sort of people that accuse the Northern Irish of sponging off the "English" taxpayer. The fact is that as part of the UK, Northern Ireland is entitled to the money it requires. What about the North East of England, the poor and the sick? Would you call them spongers?
Ironically, of course, without the assembly the cost to the British taxpayer as a whole would be less. So the statement by Mr Robertson makes little sense.
Martin, Belfast, UK
It is unbelievable that intelligent politicians would even consider going into government with terrorists when not one bullet or stick or gun has been surrendered. Unionism is being frog-marched to a united Ireland because of a weak-kneed Mr Trimble. A sorry day indeed.
The Ireland question is irrelevant now Europe is merging. It is ironic the Irish were prepared to sign up for the Euro. They were fighting the British for power yet they've handed power to Brussels.
I applaud the vote to move forward into the future. Now, with the IRA pledging its weapons to remain removed from use and under the care of independent
observers, isn't it time to exact a similar pledge from the Protestant guerrillas -
who have so far refused to enter into such an agreement.
James Gibbon, UK
A brave step by an honest politician and leader. If only there was even one like him in Dail Eireann's present corrupt government!
David Trimble has consistently put his own job on the line in order to put an end to violence and fear in the province. Let's hope that his efforts are matched by a sustainable resolution to the conflict as well as the proper implementation of the Good Friday agreement.
Alex Banks, Wales (English)
The people of Northern Ireland don't want a return to violence. All they want is a chance to get on with their lives without it.
You only need to re-read the Opsahl report of 1992 to see that the consensus in Ireland and the UK was that a peace process which sought the symbolic surrender of an undefeated guerrilla army, the IRA, would be doomed to failure. Trimble and the Unionists have no choice but to go into government with Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein voters deserve to have their say. It's called democracy.
From an English point of view, I am fed up with the Unionists who think that they are entitled to keep sponging money off the English taxpayer.
If the Unionists want to continue to say no to government with Sein Fein, then they should pay for it themselves, not make continual demands from us to say no.
The UK Government is a multi-cultural society. There is no room for a bunch of white Anglo-Saxon male Protestants.
Any breach of the trust reflected in the UUP's vote should immediately lead to the complete withdrawal from Stormont by the UUP and the banishment of the IRA from any future political role in Ulster.
I feel that acceptance of the IRA 'offer' will, in the long run, prove to be an error of judgement. It is quite clear now, not only by the narrow vote within the UUP, but also from comments and reactions of the unionist supporters, that this decision does not have enough real support to last.
In this day and age of the EC people in Ireland, north and south, must learn to go forward and work together for peace and progress. I fully support David.
Mr Trimble and the UUP have made a brave and positive decision. If they are right or wrong this question will be answered by the Provisional IRA and other groups. If the gun and the bomb can be taken out of Northern Ireland politics then they were right. But if there is a return to violence at a later date then they were wrong.
However, I believe it is the children that we should be thinking about. Does anybody have the right to refuse them a chance for a peaceful and prosperous life?
The unionists' decision was a massive error. This will be borne out over the next few months - mark my words.
Yes! While there is a momentum for peace it must be used. Each side must go forward. Whoever retreats now from peace suffers the most damage.
Good on ye, Trimble!
Democracy is a word that is not often at the forefront of Northern Ireland politics, but at least it was the real winner on Saturday. There is now a clear, if marginal, mandate across the whole Northern Ireland community to continue with power sharing and the peace process.
There is still much work to be done. The anti-agreement unionists still represent a significant proportion, and many of their more legitimate concerns will need to be addressed if the peace process is to continue.
It is right to back the power-sharing, because it is nice to see the unionists and republicans working together for the future!
The Ulster Unionists did the right thing, it is about time that the people of Northern Ireland had accountable governance, instead of faceless men in suits doing so at the NIO. It will mean real democracy, something which the people of Northern Ireland not only want but deserve. David Trimble should be commended for his courage and commitment to the process.
I hope that the support for David Trimble is evidence that the Protestant people of Ireland are prepared to define an identity for themselves that is based on active political thinking and a concept of themselves that is not determined on a disrespect for their neighbours.
It is a growing sense of this that has seen many unionists prepared to
acknowledge the political legitimacy of republicans, even if they
are fiercely opposed to their objectives. Such a development does
not spell the end for political conflict in Ireland, but it will see an
end to a situation where the only outlet for this is violence.
E. Harrigan, US
Absolutely! The ball is back in the court of the
republicans. The Good Friday Agreement MUST
not fail because of non-terrorist loyalists. If it fails it must fail because armed
factions refuse to give up their weapons when
the armed struggle is over.
This condition to have an undefeated army lay down its arms is unprecedented. Decommissioning was a stupid idea and I'm not surprised that the IRA will not do it. Luckily, they've found a way around the issue with the observers. Obviously, if the IRA wanted to use the weapons, no-one could stop them.
Fact is, with a federal Europe becoming more and more of a reality, it really doesn't matter if Northern Ireland is part of the UK or reunited with the rest of Ireland. It's quickly becoming irrelevant.
Sinn Fein candidates were elected in Northern Ireland to serve in an Assembly. It would not be up to David Trimble or any other political party whether or not to share power. The people have decided.
Of course they should have joined the government. The nature of politics is compromise. That's what separates statesmen from zealots. Eventually the UUP will understand that devolution makes the IRA obsolete. And an inclusive society makes unification with the Republic of Ireland a moot point. It's Zen reasoning, but in this case the unionists win by giving in. The irony should not be lost.....
Equal rights for blacks was a hard pill to swallow for some and they still demonstrate their old hate of blacks and others but we have made great strides.... no longer do we have separate restrooms, separate hotels and separate schools.
We are still working on it and it is something those in the North of Ireland need to learn also.
Lets get on with it. The leaders should set an example and treat each other with respect.
A no vote would have left everybody back at square one. The worst that can happen now is that in a few weeks or months, they walk out again, i.e. still only back to square one. Yet it still leaves the opportunity for a real advance.
Anyone from outside Northern Ireland could see it was time for all of the parties to share power in government with one another: now anyone inside Northern Ireland will be able to see it too. The next step will be to abandon our tribal and destructive parties altogether, so that it only matters what you believe in, rather than what you were born. I hope we are moving towards that.
A great day for the people, north and south. Peace and silent guns can only be positive. We all have to look forward and give concessions republicans and unionists alike should be proud that both sides have swallowed some pride and given way to peace. As for Paisley, Donaldson, anti-agreement parties and dissident paramilitaries, they are going the way of the dinosaurs.
David Trimble deserves a lot of credit for this and has done a lot for his party and electorate. The process moves forward again. If the IRA respond we can have two years of devolution to Northern Ireland before the next election. Over those years Northern Ireland has its best-ever chance for democracy and power sharing to be tried. If it works Northern Ireland has a prosperous future as a largely self-governing province. Mr Trimble should turn to party reform, removing the Orange Order's block vote, however. Otherwise, all these gains could be lost by a leadership challenge.
Of course Mr Trimble is right! It is time for the people of Northern Ireland to end this feud and have the peace and prosperity that others in the UK and Ireland already enjoy.
Congratulations to David Trimble and those unionists who are prepared to look forward, instead of over their shoulders all the time. A brave move on their part, and commensurate with that of the IRA - in whose court the ball is now firmly set. Let's hope they can honour their side of the deal.
The UUP has made a courageous step by voting to return to power sharing in Northern Ireland. Now is the time for the IRA to honour their commitment to the peace process.
Yes - what alternative is there?
27 May 00 | Northern Ireland
Unionists back power-sharing
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