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Trimble rejects Hume plan

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — The Ulster Unionists have rejected SDLP leader John Hume’s latest proposal to break the stalemate in the peace process over decommissioning, with growing fears that the British and Irish governments are going to put the Good Friday peace agreement on ice for the summer.

The SDLP leader had put forward a proposal that would have required Sinn Fein excluding itself from government if the IRA returned to war. Gerry Adams said his party was prepared to look seriously at the idea, but it was rejected outright by the UUP.

Hume said his proposal would involve a declaration by Sinn Fein, and other parties with related paramilitary groups, aimed at assuring the entire community that a planned coalition administration would operate in a peaceful atmosphere.

On Monday, David Trimble, the UUP leader and first minister-elect of the Northern Ireland Assembly, said rather than discuss the Hume formula, the parties should return to the Hillsborough Declaration, with its proposal that decommissioning is an "obligation."

"Words, while they are fine, are not enough by themselves," Trimble said. "There need to be deeds as well."

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Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, said Hume’s formula had the "potential . . . to break the crisis." Although Adams ruled out Sinn Fein "excluding itself from government," he said he was prepared to discuss the idea.

A clearly exasperated Seamus Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP, said the Good Friday peace agreement was being "vandalized" by Sinn Fein and the UUP. He said the agreement belonged to all the people of Ireland and they would deal harshly with those they blamed, if it fell apart.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are still on standby to join the Stormont talks later this week if there are signs of progress, although judging by Monday’s lack of activity there, this isn’t a likely prospect.

Sinn Fein has warned that the political process would be shattered by any attempt to park it during the summer.

"Our view is if you park the peace process, there will be no Good Friday agreement to come back to," said Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin. "I think we are already in a very deep crisis and clearly each day that we fail to find agreement on setting up the political structures, the political institutions, then that crisis will deepen."

Liz O’Donnell, the Irish minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the next two or three weeks would be critical. "I don’t think we have the luxury of parking this process; I feel we have to continue," she said.

Although both governments denied they had parked the peace process for the summer, Adams said the vehicle was now "stationary." Earlier, he had said it was in a "free fall."

"There is always a point in talking, but I’m not in favor of talking just for the sake of talking," Adams said. "I think the two governments cannot continue to put things off."

Trimble’s papal visit

The last week saw a minor history-making moment when David Trimble attended a private audience with the pope, along with other Nobel peace laureates, on Wednesday. He said he used the opportunity to brief His Holiness on the peace process, but eyebrows were raised in the Orangeman’s constituency.

It was noticeable that he stood to the far left in a group photo of the Nobel laureates and that there were no TV pictures made available by the Vatican of the moment Trimble shook hands with the pope, unlike all the others he met on the same day.

Trimble said the pope greeted him with the words "You are British." He said he confirmed this and said he had told the pope about his efforts to "persuade those seeking to enter the democratic process to show clearly that terrorism is being left behind for good" — a clear reference to Sinn Fein.

According to Orange rules, an Orangeman is bound to scrupulously oppose the "fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and avoid any act of popish worship."

David Jones, a spokesman for the Drumcree Orangemen, said: "It’s ironic Trimble can meet the Pope but cannot come near his own constituency without an armed guard. I think people would be only too glad if he went over and stayed with the pope".

Trimble said afterward, "What it did was kill a taboo, making it more difficult for republicans to play a strategy game portraying unionists as being intransigent or sectarian".

John Hume did not attend the meeting, which was organized as part of a two-day conference set up by the Gorbachev Institute. The Belfast-printed Irish News praised Trimble for meeting the pope and said he deserved "considerable credit."

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