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Editorial: Bon voyage abyss

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It+s a curious aspect of politics in Northern Ireland. One minute the place is facing into the political abyss and the next minute various political leaders head off for the summer holidays and the abyss seemingly toddles off with them, along with the beach towels and sun tan lotion.

This phenomenon seems to especially apply to First Minister and Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble whose have-abyss-will-travel habits have long befuddled students of a political process that seems to function best in the absence of some of its leading politicians.

It would be facetious in the extreme to suggest that the North+s first politician might do worse than settle down permanently in some mountainous or watery retreat, there to engage in a pursuit less personally injurious than leading the fractious UUP.

It would also be unrealistic. Sooner or later, Mr. Trimble, whose oft-flushed complexion is far more suited to Craigavon than Cyprus, will return with his customs-cleared abyss in tow and the North+s politics will get back to a more typical, post-August turbulence.

This year+s return from the sun, however, might be a little different to those of former years. The suggestion is about that a presumably refreshed and renewed Trimble will gather his still considerable energies and bring about the collapse of the Stormont Assembly, thus precipitating an earlier than planned election to that body.

November is being suggested in reports as the month for a ballot, this as opposed to next May when an election is actually scheduled.

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The reasoning behind this scenario is that Trimble, for several reasons, not the least of which is personal political survival, needs to focus the attention of his party more on an effort to rewrite the Good Friday Agreement rather than on the continuing efforts of some party members to unseat him from the leadership.

Trimble must also face into the growing challenge of the Ian Paisley-led Democratic Unionist Party which has been nibbling away at UUP voter support by playing big bad wolf to the agreement+s little red riding hood.

Ordinarily, elections are positive events in a democracy even if, as is not infrequently the case these days, many voters ignore them.

Elections in Northern Ireland, however, can be fraught affairs where issues that voters in most democracies view as normal, usual or even humdrum, are frequently pushed into the background by parties and party leaders seemingly intent on forging, rewriting and reliving history all in the same instance.

A November election, one that would effectively be a referendum on the GFA, could turn up some interesting developments. The British and Irish governments might see fit to concede some ground to Mr. Trimble. Other parties, the SDLP and Sinn F

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