Category: Archive

Mitchell plans exit

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Jack Holland and Anne Cadwaller

BELFAST — Hope that the impasse over the implementation of the Good Friday peace agreement might be resolved has further dimmed as it was learned that former Sen. George Mitchell intends to end his review of the process by mid-October unless progress is made.

While Mitchell has expressed “optimism” that all sides are talking, an informed source believes that the senator has concluded there is actually little hope of those talks producing a breakthrough.

Progress has been snarled by the refusal of the Ulster Unionist Party to share power with Sinn Fein without decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

In another knock to Mitchell’s review process, Ulster Unionist officials have denied speculation that party leader David Trimble would join Sinn Fein in the executive and then allow four weeks for decommissioning to take place.

Trimble is still committed to the “jump together” scenario for the establishment of the executive, a UUP spokesman said. That would involve decommissioning coming almost simultaneously with the UUP joining Sinn Fein in the new executive. The spokesman said that the timing of this arrangement is still being worked out.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

The Way Forward proposals of last July envisioned a similar scenario with Unionists entering government with Sinn Fein and decommissioning starting within four to six weeks. The UUP rejected that offer in July.

A source close to the Good Friday negotiations said that it was unlikely Trimble would sign up to a plan similar to the Way Forward proposals.

“The situation, if anything, is worse than it was in July,” the source said.

The confusion over Trimble’s position came as the UUP leader faced the prospect of a contentious party conference in earlier October.

Trimble spent the weekend in Glasgow, Scotland, closeted in secret sessions with his Assembly party, minus deputy leader John Taylor, who opposes talks with Sinn Fein and believes the agreement has failed. Taylor said constituency work had kept him from leaving Northern Ireland.

Two outspoken anti-Sinn Fein commentators — columnists Malachi O’Doherty and Eoghan Harris — addressed the Assembly party, along with historian Paul Bew. All are thought to favor the UUP forming an executive with Sinn Fein in order to put republicans under intense pressure to decommission.

The Scottish trip prompted alarm within hardline UUP circles, amid the speculation that Trimble would agree to form an executive should he be given guarantees by the British government that it will fall after four weeks if the IRA does not begin decommissioning.

Some within the UUP were speculating that the Northern Ireland Office had sparked the rumors to test the waters for Mitchell’s review.

Taylor warned, however: “I hope that when my colleagues return the party policy of `no guns, no government,’ as decided by the party executive, will still be intact.”

Other MPs, including Willie Ross, Jeffrey Donaldson and Ken Maginnis, also appeared nervous over the weekend think-in.

Donaldson said the Mitchell Review has a negligible chance of success, and that a majority of Ulster Unionists are now opposed to the Good Friday peace agreement. He said that the Patten Commission report on policing had caused so much concern among unionists that any chance of flexibility had disappeared.

One UUP man who did not wish to be named said: “I won’t be surprised if Trimble pledges he’ll resign a month after forming an executive if the IRA doesn’t begin decommissioning. He’ll have to go as leader. I expect he’ll be away before the end of the year. We have to get rid of David Trimble. He won’t listen.”

Other party sources said Trimble had already written his post-dated letter of resignation, which his Assembly members could invoke, if the IRA failed to decommission within a month of Sinn FTin taking its seats in the 10-member executive.

A UUP spokesman denied the letter existed.

Trimble is thought to have warned his party that if it rejected plans to set up an executive, then the Assembly would be shut down. One Sunday newspaper claimed that at least 10 Assembly members are still deeply opposed to the plan.

A senior UUP source who did not attend the Glasgow meeting said: “Even if this proposal is accepted by the majority of the Assembly members, it will never be passed by our ruling executive. We will have broken every promise we made to our members and our electorate over the last 18 months.”

But one leading UUP member dismissed all the speculation. MP Ken Maginnis insisted there would be no change in policy without the backing of the party officers and the 110-member executive.

“I would remind them that party strategy cannot be changed without the recommendation of the party leader and officers and the approval of the party executive,” Maginnis said.

Sinn Fein powwow

Sinn Fein ard comhairle and other leading party members also met in secret session last weekend in County Donegal.

Sinn Fein vice president Pat Doherty said that while the party was approaching U.S. Senator George Mitchell’s review constructively, it has not seen positive signs from the UUP.

“Regrettably, at this time we see no evidence to suggest that the UUP leadership is serious about ending the crisis. Its tactical engagement has seriously undermined the agreement and heightened the sense of gloom which is currently widespread,” Doherty said.

Sinn Fein’s submission to the Mitchell review said that without the implementation of the agreement, arms decommissioning would be “virtually impossible” to achieve. Urging Trimble to implement the agreement, O’Doherty said the UUP had more influence over IRA decommissioning than his party had.

Doherty said if David Trimble took the lead within unionism and implemented the agreement in full, then his party would attempt to help. However, he added, it was “very, very difficult to attempt to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves.”

Doherty also confirmed that the party had set up its own Commission on Policing to debate the Patten proposals for reforming the RUC and which would enable its ruling executive to reach a decision on the report.

— Patrick Markey contributed to this story.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese