Category: Archive

Divided unionists imperil review

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The Ulster Unionist Party will remain involved in the review of the Good Friday Agreement, now being conducted by former Sen. George Mitchell, but has not ruled out withdrawing.

Mitchell returned to Stormont late Monday with few observers or politicians giving his bid to resuscitate the peace process much hope. Rivalries and splits within unionism have reduced what small space previously existed for the UUP leader, David Trimble, to maneuver.

The deeply divided UUP Executive met for three hours on Monday to debate the Patten Commission Report, with some hard-line members arriving to accuse Trimble of betraying those who had died for Northern Ireland over the last 30 years.

Trimble was already reeling from a decision by his deputy leader, John Taylor, to quit the Mitchell review, but insisted after the meeting that his leadership was still solid. There does not appear to be any sustained effort to oust him. Only three of the UUP’s 10-strong parliamentary party now support the agreement.

On Friday, Taylor had said he would take no further part in the review and laid the blame for his decision at the door of the IRA and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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Taylor had been a key negotiator in the run-up to the agreement, but revealed he had always had doubts about it and said he now realized "it is not going to work because IRA/ Sinn Fein are the one organization, let’s not forget about that."

Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, said Taylor was making a mistake by staying away from the review.

"I think Mr. Taylor should be there with the rest of us," he said. "If he does not do that, all he is doing is confirming the ‘no’ men of unionism."

The Ulster Unionist MP for West Tyrone, William Thompson, said his party’s policy of supporting the agreement has failed. The agreement was bad for Northern Ireland and bad for unionism, he said.

Thompson said that Trimble’s policy is no longer viable and he should reconsider his position as party leader. He has repeatedly called for Trimble’s resignation.

Ulster Unionist leading negotiator, Dermot Nesbitt, also said the Mitchell review of the Good Friday agreement cannot go on much longer unless there is a promise that the IRA will begin decommissioning soon.

Nesbitt, one of the few remaining UUP members prepared to speak out in favor of the agreement, said it was time for those who have used violence to jump ship and commit to decommissioning. The time had not yet come to withdraw from the Mitchell review, Nesbitt said, but that time was not too far away.

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