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Editorial More trick than treat

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Trick-or-treat time is approaching for the Good Friday peace agreement. And it looks as though its first major deadline, that regarding the setting up of the shadow executive — which should have been completed by Oct. 31 — will pass without being met. That is unless there’s a trick up someone’s sleeve that will enable the first minister designate, David Trimble, to escape the hole he has dug for himself over his demand that paramilitaries begin decommissioning their weapons before the politicians who represent them can be assigned their posts in the executive.

Trimble’s keynote speech at the Ulster Unionist Party conference last weekend unfortunately gave no hint of compromise. Indeed, Trimble was in a belligerent mood, sounding more like the man who had danced a jig down Garvaghy Road with the Rev. Ian Paisley than the recent winner of the Noble Peace Prize. He called the Oct. 31 deadline "bunkum" and said he would be happy to go along without Sinn Fein and build up the structures envisioned by the Good Friday accord with the SDLP and other parties to it. There were definitely no treats in his speech for those who have been hoping he would find a way around the impasse.

The problem for Trimble is that Sinn Fein does not see the Oct. 31 deadline as "bunkum," nor does the Irish government. It is the first important test of the letter of the agreement as well as its spirit. The fact is, it will likely fail to pass that test, thanks mainly to intransigence on both sides. But it will be a psychological blow to Sinn Fein that should not be underestimated.

Republicans will once more point to Unionism as an obstruction in the path to a settlement, one with which neither the British nor Irish governments seem to be able to deal. And this after Sinn Fein has made major concessions, some of them unthinkable a few years ago. After all, they have agreed to take part in the new Northern Ireland assembly, and take their posts in its executive body, reversing 70 years of republican policy that was based on the refusal to even recognize the state’s right to exist, let alone take part in its governance.

During his weekend speech, David Trimble answered his critics in the rejectionist wing of unionism by ticking off this republican reversal as one of the achievements that his party can point to as a result of its participation in the negotiations that led to the agreement. But it would have been better if Trimble had acknowledged this compromise for what it was instead of making demands he knows that, rightly or wrongly, the IRA will not meet, at least in the short term.

However, there is a fudge on the horizon this Halloween. Trimble and his deputy, the SDLP’s Seamus Mallon, have called for a round of meetings with party leaders on Thursday, Oct. 29. It is suspected that Trimble will propose that they name those members they want to head the 10 departments in the shadow executives and agree to the areas to be covered by the cross-border implementation bodies. Because the list will be an "informal" one, he will not have to have it ratified by the assembly. In other words, it will be a shadow of the shadow executive. However, if that’s what it takes to keep the show on the road until the politicians can come to grips with more than mere shadows, then so be it.

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