By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has said he will not try to persuade his party to accept the proposals hammered out last week after six days of work by the Irish and British governments.
The proposals, headed "The Way Forward," are an attempt by the governments to kick-start both the power-sharing executive in Belfast and the process of paramilitary arms decommissioning.
Trimble is demanding radical changes to the joint governmental proposals, which link the decommissioning of IRA weapons with devolving power to Belfast through the setting up of a power-sharing Executive.
Trimble says there is too long a delay between the proposed setting up of the power-sharing Executive and an actual weapons handover, and he is not satisfied the sanctions, or "punishment," to be made if decommissioning does not take place is fair to his party.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president, has an uphill campaign to wage with the doubters in his own party, who are fearful the deal means the completion of IRA decommissioning of all its weapons by May 2000. There was stunned shock in some republican homes at the news the IRA is decommissioning at all.
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The proposals put to the parties by the two prime ministers were not agreed by either the UUP and Sinn Féin, the two main protagonists, but both Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair made it clear there would be no renegotiating.
After the marathon talks at Stormont ended in stalemate, two days after the "final" deadline of June 30, the governments put forward their proposals on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If either unionists or republicans do not accept them, the entire Good Friday agreement could collapse under a so-called "fail-safe" clause inserted in the proposals, they said, forcing the two governments into a so-far undisclosed "Plan B."
Whether London and Dublin stick by this promise, or whether they agree to Trimble’s demand for a full renegotiation, remains to be seen. The unionists have already been promised legislation that would enshrine Sinn Féin’s exclusion from the process if the IRA does not decommission.
Hardline unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson has already signaled he will fight any attempt to water down his party’s demand for decommissioning before Sinn Féin is allowed into government. Donaldson is being seen as having an enforcer role for Trimble in the coming weeks.
Trimble: no fair
Speaking three days after the proposals were published, Trimble said: "I have not come away from Stormont to sell this deal. I am not trying to sell it. It is not a fair deal. I am trying to find out if we can get a fair deal."
There needs to be sanctions against Sinn Féin if the IRA did not decommission, he said, and he also wanted to find out from the SDLP if they will agree to assist unionists in excluding republicans if the IRA doesn’t hand over weapons.
"I am amazed at the silence of the SDLP so far," he said. On being informed that the SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, had help draft the "fail-safe" clause in the proposals, Trimble said: "In that case he should be ashamed."
The UUP said there were three aspects of the proposals that needed changing: timing, commitment and fail-safe. "Without changes, we cannot proceed," Trimble said.
Rank and file republicans are also extremely anxious about what concessions Sinn Féin made in the talks, and Gerry Adams has already conceded he will need to "take to the road" over the next two weeks to explain the deal to his party grassroots.
Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a long-time critic of the Adams leadership, writing in a Dublin Sunday paper, said Sinn Fein had legitimized partition and British rule in Ireland.
The party had yielded up the Irish Constitution, she said, and offered the full decommissioning of IRA weapons.
What had been gained, she asked? The end of the war, and Sinn Féin’s participation with the SDLP in administering British rule in Ireland. What been lost? Life and liberty, she said.
Many nationalists believe the deal is an excellent one from Trimble’s vantage point. Some observers were saying openly that if he does not run with it, the unionists will lose far more in the long run as a result of Blair’s frustration with them.
Blair himself, in a newspaper article, said if the unionists do not agree to the deal, they would be blamed and it would be "an own goal of monumental proportions." Despite all this, the signs are that unionists will reject the deal unless it is renegotiated drastically.
One informed observer said: "The unionists won, but they are too foolish to see it. Sinn Féin lost, but they are too cunning to admit it."
The UUP’s Ken Maginnis, said the British prime minister had let unionists down at the 11th hour by asking them to make a decision to go for inclusive devolved government, which they had agreed to, but the IRA had not agreed to disarm. This meant there was "really no choice but to say a very firm no," he said.