If the peace process can be thought of as a weather forecast, then it is save to say that since it began it has hardly had one clear day. So it is not surprising that this week the clouds are once more gathering in the North. This time the bad weather is coming in thanks to Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble’s problems. His party might well lose the South Antrim by-election to the Rev. William McCrea, a country and western singer who belongs to the Rev. Ian Paisley’s rejectionist Democratic Unionist Party.
The problem for Trimble is that his party’s candidate, David Burnside, a former high-flying London p.r. man, also rejects the Good Friday agreement — or at least important parts of it. That means that Trimble is damned if his party wins, and damned if it doesn’t.
However, some fear that a loss to McCrea would inspire Trimble’s opponents in the UUP to make a final heave to get rid of him. This is an outcome dreaded by the British, who believe that post-Trimble nihil est, at least as far as the Good Friday agreement is concerned.
There is no doubt but that it would provoke a crisis in the UUP. But the question Unionists have to ask themselves, if they should decide to take this route, is, Who will replace him? The list of candidates makes depressing reading, even if it is only two names long. It consists of John Taylor and Jeffrey Donaldson. The first is too unstable, and the second too young and inexperienced to lead a party in such difficult times.