By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Both sides in the growing crisis over decommissioning raised the stakes last week, with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble accusing the IRA of fascism and the IRA accusing the unionist leadership of trying to destroy the peace process by exercising a veto.
In its New Year message, the IRA accused the Ulster Unionists of being "wedded" to the old politics of domination and inequality. Without mentioning decommissioning by name, the IRA noted that "demands for preconditions" collapsed its previous cease-fire in 1994.
This was taken by the unionists as a direct IRA threat to end its current cease-fire, and this interpretation led to repeated demands for a beginning to actual republican decommissioning before the setting up of the proposed new Executive.
Others reacted strongly to the IRA statement. Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionists said the IRA cease-fire could be over by the end of the year and it was only a matter of time before it went back to violence.
Peter Robinson, the deputy leader of the DUP, said the statement was proof the Ulster Unionist leaders had mishandled the negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. They had, he said, deceived the electorate and he accused the IRA of expressly threatening the people of Northern Ireland.
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Trimble, meanwhile, said Sinn Fein was using "Nazi propaganda tactics." It was Josef Goebbels, said Trimble, who once said if you tell a big enough lie often enough then it will be believed.
"Sinn Fein are spinning the lie that there is nothing in the agreement which requires the IRA to decommission before Sinn Fein can take up ministerial positions in the Northern Ireland government," Trimble said. "This is absolute rubbish."
A TV documentary, filmed during the climactic events of 1998, was broadcast this week. In it Trimble implied Gerry Adams was a coward because he got out of "front line paramilitarism" as fast as he could. On decommissioning, Trimble said he didn’t think Adams "has got either the brains to do it or the bottle to do it."
Responding, Sinn Fein said Trimble "had used every trick and subterfuge in the book" to exclude the party, but all had failed "and so will his latest attempt to provoke us in his use of intemperate corner-boy language."
In the same documentary, Seamus Mallon of the SDLP was critical of Trimble, saying, "It’s very difficult to have a rapport with him outside of doing business with him," and that he has a "personal requirement to always be right."
"I think he somehow or another doesn’t have the capacity to communicate with people, not on an academic or a political basis but on a human basis," Mallon said. "If the Assembly collapses, two things are certain: One, David Trimble is finished. The other is Gerry Adams is finished."
This came in a week when Trimble and Mallon repeatedly and flatly contradicted each other. Mallon said the SDLP would not permit Sinn Fein to be excluded from taking its two ministerial posts on the executive.
But, he went on to say, the IRA would come under irresistible pressure to decommission if Sinn Fein members were made ministers in the power-sharing executive. Once in office, there would be an enormous political obligation on the republican movement to dispose of its weapons. It would be impossible to sustain any argument against it, he said.
Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said it was the view of an increasingly large group of nationalists and republicans that Trimble was seeking the collapse of the agreement.
"He has spent the better part of last year and the beginning of this year in an attempt to renegotiate it," he said.
There was a new and worrying urgency about Gerry Adams’s use of language in an article published in The Irish News on Wednesday. In it, he accused unionists of seeking to exclude Sinn Fein and reshape the agreement to maintain inequality.
There is nothing in the agreement to require the IRA to decommission before the setting up of the Executive, he said, neither is there any linkage between it and prison releases or a new police service. Adams went on to say that Trimble was using decommissioning, as did the last British government, to frustrate progress.
Loyalist bomb in Derry
The so-called Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for the bombing at a GAA ground in County Derry on Wednesday afternoon. A building worker was treated in hospital after what the RUC call a "small device" exploded when he turned over a block.
The injured man was one of three workmen building a new clubhouse when he heard a hissing sound after lifting a concrete block. He ran away and three seconds later the area was showered by broken stones. He thought he was fine but later developed a headache and began to bleed from his ears.
The Orange Volunteers claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying the wider nationalist community now had "everything to fear." The rest of their statement read: "The siege of Ulster is continuing with the British government abandoning the loyalist people and the Irish government standing up for republicans. The Orange Volunteers are ready to defend our people."
Also, the four assembly members who quit Robert McCartney’s UK Unionist Party have formed their own party. This means the UK Unionists have only one member of the assembly and one MP at Westminster. This latest split within unionism creates a new party — the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.
The four assembly members said they had failed to resolve fundamental differences with McCartney, centering on what the party should do if Sinn Fein gets into government without decommissioning. There are now seven unionist parties in Northern Ireland.