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Editorial The end is nigh?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

In a way, British Prime Minister Tony Blair must find it a relief to deal with the Kossovo crisis. For all its horrors, it’s a lot more malleable than the situation he finds himself confronting in Northern Ireland, where David Trimble and his Ulster Unionist Party have rejected the latest attempt to break the deadlock over decommissioning and transfer powers to the new government, as envisioned in the Good Friday peace agreement. Because the plan does not include prior paramilitary arms decommissioning, and allows Sinn Fein members to take their allotted seats in the new Executive without the IRA turning over weapons, the Unionists have denounced it as lacking clarity and substance.

Blair will not be amused.

He is not the only one. Even liberal Unionists, as represented by the Belfast News Letter newspaper, are upset at Trimble’s position. Earlier this week, the paper editorialized that such a rejection would be a "kick in the teeth" to the 71 percent of Northern Ireland’s population who endorsed the Good Friday deal.

Blair has called the June 30 deadline "absolute." No one seems to know, however, just what will happen if, as now appears inevitable, the "absolute" deadline is not met. The most reasonable assumption is that the Good Friday agreement would be placed in "review." This would almost certainly spell its doom. If there’s one thing to be learned from recent experience in Northern Ireland, it’s that plans or agreements that are left flapping without being enacted as soon as possible are quickly torn to pieces by the prevailing winds of hostility and suspicion.

There is also another lesson in recent events: It is pointless getting Trimble to sign something unless he can bring along the UUP. He has done this before, but not without such potentially disastrous consequences as are now looming on the horizon.

It is clear that Trimble would prefer to let the agreement collapse than risk the ire of Unionist hardliners who are insisting on prior disarmament before the executive takes office. He faces the roaring reverend, Ian Paisley, in the Euro elections, on June 10. Paisley would certainly exploit any move toward implementation as yet another "sellout."

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One must have sympathy for Trimble, who has brought his party farther down the road to political reform than any previous Unionist leader. That’s why it will be truly tragic that just when the prize of an acceptable settlement was within his reach, and the reach of the vast majority of people in Ireland, it should prove ungraspable.

It’s the hardliners on both sides who are to blame. Unfortunately, they won’t be the ones who’ll pay the price for the high cost that such political failures bring to Northern Ireland.

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