Category: Archive

Editorial: Bye-bye, David

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Last week’s debacle of the new Northern Ireland Executive was an inglorious and pathetic episode, and afforded the world a picture of Ulster Unionist Party that should shame them all — especially David Trimble, its leader. Trimble did not even show up at the Assembly meeting that was supposed to see the appointment of the new Executive. Instead, he stayed at UUP headquarters, where one party member was seen to smash a fist into his palm and proclaim, "We’re now a force to be reckoned with." Had he said "a farce to be reckoned with," it would have been more accurate.

Trimble said he stayed away from the Assembly meeting, meant to have been a historic new beginning in the troubled history of the province, in order to avoid a bitter debate that would have poisoned the political atmosphere even more.

Perhaps, but even if true, this is not a good enough excuse.

It exposes just how far Unionists under Trimble have to go before they are comfortable with democratic norms. Can you imagine British Prime Minister Tony Blair boycotting Westminster under such circumstances, or Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern absconding from the Dail? The truth is that Trimble is so embedded in the tribalism of Northern Irish society that the whole idea of consensus politics, as framed in the Good Friday agreement, is foreign to him. He prefers the schoolboy antics of what must be one of the most immature political outfits in Western Europe — the Ulster Unionist Party.

Meanwhile, back at the Assembly, the spectacle was indeed being enacted to the formula as outlined by that well-known aphorism that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce. That, at least was how the event was characterized in the British papers. But it was more than just a farce. In Northern Ireland, the prevailing mood was one of frustration and despair, captured in the telling image of the empty Executive seat that should have been occupied by the first minister, David Trimble.

The Unionists, of course, defend themselves by arguing that democratic norms are being violated when one of the parties in the executive, Sinn Fein, has its own, illegal army and that until that fact is dealt with, normal government is impossible. But by this insistence he has made decommissioning the defining issue of the Good Friday agreement. It is not. It is merely one of the goals of that agreement and will only come about as a byproduct of it. That means the agreement has to be enacted as agreed upon, and then allowed to work as a democratic settlement that is supported by the vast majority of the people of Ireland, North and South. Then — and only then — will arms be taken out of the equation.

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In the meantime, the UUP and its leader are standing in the way of the will of the people. Trimble should resign at once as first minister elect, since he has manifestly failed to enact what he was elected to that position to achieve.

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