Category: Archive

Handshake with Adamswill have to wait: Trimble

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon and Patrick Markey

Northern Ireland First Minister Designate David Trimble is not ready to shake the hand of Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams any time soon.

But Trimble was apparently eager to pour oil on the troubled waters of the peace process during a visit to New York last week during which he was presented with an award and greeted with a standing ovation at the annual Flax Trust Ball.

Trimble arrived in the U.S. with the critical words of Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon snapping at his heels.

The two have taken up sharply diverging positions in recent days with regard to IRA arms decommissioning and the role of Sinn Féin in upcoming cross-border ministerial council meetings.

On the much-hyped handshake with Adams, Trimble was less than enthusiastic.

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"The handshake in itself is not the point," he said. "There are sensitivities with unionists such that people are saying to me, yes we appreciate that you have to do business with Sinn Féin at the moment, but we don’t want any public love-ins while there isn’t broad confidence in the community on their sincerity."

On his difference of opinion with the SDLP’s Mallon, Trimble opted for caution and some measure of reassurance.

"There are going to be alarms and excursions; there are going to be bumps along the way," he said. "I think people also have to get used to the fact that this is a rather curious coalition arrangement. It is not a single party administration. At the moment, it’s a relationship between ourselves and the SDLP, that will broaden into a multiparty administration. But it’s not a coalition in its normal sense. And people are going to have to get accustomed to different views being expressed by different people from time to time."

Trimble did make the point that he and Mallon "don’t have any difficulty" working together.

"I would say to people with regard to comments that are made either by me or by Seamus which indicate slightly different approaches to particular issues, not to get excited."

Referring to the Oct. 31 deadline for the setting in place of the North elected assembly’s various departments and delegations, Trimble was adamant that nothing was set in stone.

"There are a lot of misunderstandings about Oct. 31 and about the whole transition itself," he said. "There’s plenty of time because there are no hard and fast dates in the [Good Friday] agreement. The agreement is fairly flexible about the transitional period. The more rapidly we can progress the better."

On IRA decommissioning, Trimble was rather more inclined to cast a deadline in concrete.

"They’ve got to think again about their position vis-à-vis the agreement," he said. "There is a very clear obligation in the agreement on them to disarm. It’s their side of the bargain. It’s utterly unreasonable for them to expect new political institutions to give them the chance of being included, prisoner releases to be delivered to them without them delivering in return their side of the bargain.

"There are also very clear linkages in the agreement. The two-year time span for prisoner releases and the two-year time span for the completion of decommissioning are not coincidental. Because it says in the agreement that decommissioning must be completed by the end of two years, doesn’t mean that it only should be started [at the end of the two-year period].

"The agreement puts a date by which it is to be completed, the implication is that it begins before then, and the whole implication of the agreement is that they [releases and decommissioning] go together.

"What I have said is that if time goes on without decommissioning beginning, this will become a problem for the [British] government vis-à-vis public opinion. I can see the government finding it increasingly embarrassing to be pursuing the prisoner-release program without the reciprocal movement by the republican movement.

"Apart from the agreement, there is also the question of trust, and the question of trust is, from a point of view of the unionist electorate, they are being asked to accommodate some quite uncomfortable notions in terms of prisoner releases and republican involvement in the administration.

"This they can probably accept, if they know for certain that it is going to mean that we get peace and stability. Their concern is what happens if the republican movement isn’t sincere, if it is merely exploiting this situation to get into the administration, and then in a couple of years’ time, after they get their prisoners out, they’ll then return to the use or threat of violence.

"There is good reason for that concern, in the sense that if you look at Semtex. What do you do with Semtex? It’s only there for one purpose. It’s only for one thing. If you’re holding onto Semtex, the clear implication is you’re doing so because you want to use it again.

"We need to see a credible beginning, at the least. We’ll shortly be six months into the two-year process. It’s clearly reasonable to expect it [decommissioning] to have begun. This is the last big hurdle. We’ve had several other hurdles, we’ve managed to get over them. I very much hope we’ll get over this one too."

Trimble described the continued standoff at Drumcree as a "festering sore" and complained that tensions were being raised there by outsiders, some from "as far away as Larne" in County Antrim.

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