To Raise up a New Northern Ireland: Articles and Speeches 1998-2000 
by David Trimble.
Belfast Press, 166 pp., £5.99, July 2001, 0 9539287 1 3
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I had been living in England for just eight months when Bobby Sands died in the Maze Prison hospital after spending 66 days on hunger strike. Speaking on the day of his death in the House of Commons, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister, described him as a ‘convicted criminal’ who ‘chose to take his own life’. This did not stop a crowd of nearly a hundred thousand people attending his funeral in Belfast. One week later, Francis Hughes died, and eight more men – Patsy O’Hara, Raymond McCreesh, Joe McDonnell, Martin Hurson, Kevin Lynch, Kieran Doherty, Thomas McElwee and Michael Devine – starved themselves to death in the months that followed.

During that summer of 1981, the Northern Ireland crisis came closer than ever before or since to carnage. Levels of mob as well as of subversive violence were high. In Dublin two thousand people attacked the British Embassy. An IRA bomb exploded during the official opening by the Queen of the Sullom Voe oil terminal. Sitting in my college in Cambridge, I was thinking that perhaps the Provos were right after all, that the stupid inflexibility of ‘the Brits’, with their obsessive determination to remain in Ireland, was the source of the ‘Irish problem’. But I was from a rabidly anti-IRA family. My uncle’s business had been blown up by the IRA. Pat Cooney, the controversial and (some said) reactionary Irish Minister for Justice, had been a frequent visitor to our home during the 1970s. At university in Dublin I had been happy to be associated with him, and I was proud, too, that Mountbatten’s killers had been spotted at a road block in my home town, and caught by a local Garda. In the year of Mountbatten’s death, I had gone on a debating tour of America as a representative of the English Speaking Union. Before the hunger strikes I had spoken fervently against Sinn Féin men at university debates, including at the Cambridge Union. But now here I was, tempted by the Republican view. I wasn’t alone. During the first half of the 1980s, the number of ‘armchair Provos’ and ‘sneaking regarders’ of IRA idealism and determination reached record levels. When the IRA almost blew up Thatcher in Brighton in 1984, many ordinary Irish people had to control their surge of pride that it had been the Irish (rather than the miners, the steelworkers, the ethnic minorities or any other ‘enemy within’) who had nearly got her.

It is appropriate that the opening images of Endgame in Ireland showed the funerals of the hunger strikers. As the first of the four programmes made clear, it was at this lowest point in the conflict that the chance for a return from the brink presented itself: the hunger strikes ‘opened the road to the endgame in Northern Ireland’. Forty days into his protest, Sands had secured election to the House of Commons, and after his death the Sinn Féin member Owen Carron won the resultant by-election with an increased majority. (Naturally, the British authorities had rushed legislation through to stop other prisoners following Sands’s lead.) Immediately after Carron’s victory, Provisional Sinn Féin announced its intention to stand in future Northern Ireland as well as Westminster elections. On 31 October 1981, Danny Morrison, a leading member of Sinn Féin, made his famous rallying cry to the faithful gathered at the Party’s Ard Fheis: ‘Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in one hand and the Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?’

These two questions – both stimulated by the success of the hunger strikes in broadening Sinn Féin’s appeal – have framed the politics of Northern Ireland during the last twenty years. They eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement and the hopeful developments since then. There is reason behind Bobby Sands’s sister’s outburst in the final programme, about the IRA’s ‘sell-out’: for keepers of the flame of 1981 it must be galling that the main consequence of the success of the hunger strikers’ extremism has been to make compromise possible.

The general election of June 1983 confirmed the wisdom of Morrison’s twin-track strategy. From a non-existent base, Sinn Féin polled 102,701 votes, putting them within reach of the 137,012 achieved by the constitutional nationalist SDLP. The vote was not as spectacular in retrospect as it seemed at the time: Carron lost his seat, Morrison failed in Mid-Ulster, and the only real sensation was the victory of Gerry Adams over the old nationalist stalwart Gerry Fitt in West Belfast. Local and European elections in 1984 and 1985 were to show that 1983 had not started a Republican bandwagon, but the British authorities panicked. It wasn’t so much that militant Republicans had won 13.4 per cent of the vote in 1983, more the horrifying prospect of Sinn Féin becoming the main Catholic party in the Province. Ulster and British officials and politicians knew all about the sectarianism that had been used first to construct Northern Ireland’s borders and then to set in place a Unionist hegemony, but the language of constitutional legitimacy could carry on being used as long as it was possible to believe that the majority of ‘decent’ Catholics abhorred the ‘terrorism’ of the IRA. Now British democracy threatened to expose this pretence.

It was far too early for direct talks with the militants. Besides, Thatcher was still alive (no thanks to the IRA) and thriving in office. Negotiation had to take place at three removes, with the British Government dealing with the Irish Government, the Irish Government with the SDLP and the SDLP with their own nationalist hinterland in an effort to show that they – not the IRA – could deliver the goods. On 19 November 1984, a joint communiqué was issued in which the Irish and British leaders said that the ‘identities of both the majority and the minority communities in Northern Ireland should be recognised and respected and reflected in the structures and processes of Northern Ireland in ways acceptable to both communities’. Almost exactly a year later, the same two leaders (Thatcher and Garrett FitzGerald) concluded the more far-reaching Anglo-Irish Agreement. In November 1986, Sinn Féin voted to end its traditional policy of not putting up candidates for the Dáil. During the next two years, both the SDLP (publicly) and the Irish Government (privately) held meetings with the Republican leadership. Then, in November 1989, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, publicly admitted that it was ‘difficult to envisage the military defeat’ of a force such as the IRA ‘because of the circumstances under which they operate’ and that if a political debate were to ‘start within the terrorist community’ and they ‘were to decide that the moment had come when they wished to withdraw from their activities, then I think the Government would need to be imaginative … as to how the process should be managed’. A year later, he declared that the ‘British Government has no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland’. Around the same time, a channel was opened up for direct discussion between the British Government and the Republican leadership.

As Martin McGuinness put it in these programmes, ‘we had arrived big-time on the political scene.’ Adams and the SDLP’s John Hume together worked out the theological basis for what, after many drafts, was to become the British-Irish Downing Street Declaration of December 1993 – the document which paved the way for the IRA ceasefire of August 1994. The programmes give most of the credit to Hume, whom David Trimble also praises in one of the articles in To Raise up a New Northern Ireland: it was thanks to Hume’s redefinition of Irish nationalism, Trimble says, that ‘a common ground, where dialogue might take place’, could be found. In retrospect Hume’s ideas seem blindingly simple. Republican nationalism is by tradition committed to the right of self-determination of the people of Ireland. Suppose, however, that the people of Ireland, in exercising this right, decide that they intend to enjoy full control over their island only when a majority of those living in that part of the island known as Northern Ireland agree. No Republican who was genuinely committed to respecting the democratic wishes of the Irish people could object. As Eamonn Mallie and David McKittrick – two journalists on whom Endgame in Ireland wisely relied – put it in The Fight for Peace (1996), ‘The border would therefore exist by nationalist choice rather than British imposition.’ In the Downing Street Declaration, the British Government stated: ‘it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish.’

Although this was presented as a concession by the British, its acceptance by the Republican movement was a larger concession. No longer was a united Ireland an entitlement as of right: it was from now on an ambition contingent on the wishes of a minority. For all Hume’s trickery with words it was effectively a ‘partitionist’ settlement. In the run-up to the Good Friday Agreement, the Republican leadership displayed great political skill in reconstructing its ambitions so as to make the eventual outcome seem more of a victory than it was. Issues of human rights and equality, which had previously been the preserve of lawyers, feminists and community ‘do-gooders’, were pushed centre-stage. Having learned ‘Hume-speak’ directly from the master himself, the Provos now spoke of ‘tolerance’, ‘diversity’ and ‘plurality’ with the intensity of converts. When all this found its way into the final Good Friday text, a great Sinn Féin victory seemed to have been won. The soft support that had been around since the hunger strikes was delighted.

The militants had also to be reckoned with. The 1994 ceasefire was hardly unequivocal as far as they were concerned, and an agreement with the British that could be presented as a sell-out carried huge risks, a fact proved by the short breakdown in the ceasefire at the end of John Major’s term in office. The Republican tactic was to stress that any deal would represent an honourable draw rather than a defeat. Prisoners would be released (rather than exchanged: the IRA did not for obvious reasons take prisoners, and the British rarely if ever imprisoned their own forces, and then only for the shortest time possible). The police would be reformed into a service acceptable to its erstwhile opponents. British emergency law would be reviewed. Military operations by the British Army would be scaled down. And there would be no surrender of weapons. The Good Friday Agreement did eventually accept that the decommissioning of weapons was ‘an indispensable part of the process of negotiation’ and all participants affirmed ‘their commitment to the total disarmament of all paramilitary organisations’. They also confirmed ‘their intention to continue to work constructively and in good faith’ with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, and ‘to use any influence they may have, to achieve the decommissioning of all paramilitary arms within two years following endorsement in referendums North and South of the Agreement and in the context of the implementation of the overall settlement’. This was a million miles from a long line of defeated paramilitaries being signed off by some British colonel as they deposited their arms before him in a gesture of military self-abasement. The IRA was satisfied.

Had the peace process been conducted solely between the two military forces, the British and the IRA, its conclusion would have been more speedily reached and its implementation less problematic than has been the case. Silencing the bombs, especially those that had begun to cause economic mayhem, was the UK Government’s primary goal. In the negotiations leading up to the Agreement, however, the peace process inevitably became entangled with a different series of talks, a hangover from an earlier era when Government policy was to talk only to non-militant moderates. Bringing together everybody opposed to violence in order to end political violence is an idea with a long history of failure in Northern Ireland. The latest attempt had been initiated by Peter Brooke in March 1991, and it was drifting along in the usual desultory fashion when it found itself running in tandem with the far more dynamic peace process. This ‘three strands’ process as it was called (after its emphasis on three sets of relations: between the two communities in Northern Ireland; the Irish north and south of the border; and the Irish and British) duly found its way into the Agreement, and has now rooted itself in Northern Ireland, to most people’s satisfaction. A non-sectarian ‘power-sharing’ Executive has been doing good work. The Assembly has been holding ordinary political debates. Meetings between Northern Ireland and Irish ministers have been taking place. The British-Irish element in the Agreement has been established.

The Republican leadership takes part in all this: it is their reward for the cessation of IRA activities. Sinn Féin has ministers in the Executive, members in the Assembly and involves itself in cross-border affairs. The problem for many Unionists in the years since the ceasefire and certainly since the Agreement has been that while they were prepared to concede the substance of the nationalist agenda, many of them could not accept that Sinn Féin should be among the beneficiaries of these concessions. This is irrational: it is precisely because Sinn Féin have called off their war that the institutions have had a chance to bed down. For a large number of Unionists, however, the IRA cessation of violence was itself problematic, though not all of them would have been as shameless as Ian Paisley was when the first ceasefire was announced, claiming that Protestants now faced ‘the worst crisis in Ulster’s history since the setting up of the state’. Trimble puts it well in one of the many excellent speeches and articles in this collection:

The event that has caused the greatest problem to Unionists in recent years is the adoption by the Republican Movement of a different political approach. When the Republican Movement was wholly involved in terrorism it was simple enough, we knew what we were dealing with, we had lived with it year in year out, and our response was straightforward and simple. But then they changed their approach.

What trick were these killers playing now, laying down their arms?

The Ulster Unionist personality is rooted in adversity. When Protestant Scots arrived in the Province in the 17th century, their first act was to build walls to protect themselves from the people in the countryside. And when a new kind of wall, the border which created Northern Ireland as a separate entity, was constructed, it ensured that there would be a permanent, large minority of disaffected Catholics in the region, almost as though Ulster needed a substantial ‘enemy within’ in order to be able to function properly. Trimble acknowledges this in his Nobel Peace Prize lecture: ‘Ulster Unionists, fearful of being isolated on the island, built a solid house, but it was a cold house for Catholics. And Northern nationalists, although they had a roof over their heads, seemed to us as if they meant to burn the house down.’ Throughout the fifty years of Northern Irish self-government, the Stormont regime found a reason for many of its most explicit acts of injustice in the threat posed by Irish secessionists within and around the border. The IRA’s war was therefore in many ways comforting to Unionism. When the first ceasefire was announced in August 1994, the Unionist leadership ignored it for a while, hoping it would go away. The fact that the IRA statement announcing the ceasefire had not contained the word ‘permanent’ was gleefully seized on as evidence of bad faith: ‘they might not be killing anybody now, but you should see the way they will be behaving in two years’ time’ was how the dismal argument ran. Then so-called ‘punishment beatings’ were presented as a breach of the ceasefire. The Unionist leadership, running out of ways of undermining a cessation of hostilities that the Loyalist paramilitaries had by now also agreed to, then had a stroke of luck: Major’s Government ran out of steam and became effectively dependent on Unionist support. This galvanised reactionary opinion in Britain, which had not fully backed the peace process.

The Unionists’ chance came in March 1995, when Sir Patrick Mayhew, Peter Brooke’s successor, visited Washington. Tall and well-spoken, Mayhew looked like a man from another era, born to rule India not a few damp counties. Without warning, and despite the fact that the ceasefire had lasted for seven months, Mayhew imposed a new condition on Sinn Féin’s admittance to all-party talks on the future of the Province: there had now to have been some ‘actual decommissioning of some arms as a tangible confidence-building measure’. It took a report by George Mitchell and a few huge bombs from the IRA for the process to be wriggled off the decommissioning hook on which Mayhew (acting on Major’s instructions) had impaled it. Tony Blair’s Government didn’t have to rely on Unionist votes and this made things much easier. But the Unionists had scented blood and were not about to let go. The recalcitrant among them had hit on their make or break issue.

When it finally arrived, the Good Friday Agreement did not require decommissioning (there would have been no agreement had it done so), but Unionist support for the deal was at the 11th hour made dependant on a letter of assurance from Blair to Trimble. This note confirmed the Government’s view that the force of the ‘decommissioning section of the Agreement’ was that ‘the process of decommissioning should begin straightaway.’ Blair went on to state that ‘if, during the course of the first six months of the Shadow Assembly or the Assembly itself’, the provisions relating to exclusion from office in the new Executive had been ‘shown to be ineffective’, the British Government would support any necessary changes to those provisions. This gave Trimble a piece of paper to wave about and no doubt confirmed his belief that he enjoyed a special relationship with the Prime Minister. But it did little else and certainly did not affect the substance of the Agreement. It was quite clear that Mayhew’s Washington precondition had been dropped, and that decommissioning was something that would be addressed in the context of the overall implementation of the Agreement rather than in isolation from it.

In the years since the Agreement, many Unionist politicians have used the issue of decommissioning as cover for their rejection of the package to which their leadership committed itself. At first glance this is curious. The Agreement guarantees the current status of Northern Ireland as part of the UK in Irish as well as British law, an astonishing advance from the Unionist perspective. It restores devolved government, long an ambition of the Unionist community. It involves co-operation with the Republic of Ireland on only very limited practical and technical matters. Various new institutions based in Britain promise to tie the Republic of Ireland more closely to the UK than at any time since 1922. Trimble seems to understand this very well, though he voices it publicly with frustrating rarity: ‘Violent Republicanism … has failed in all its stated objectives’; ‘the man who tried to destroy partition’ – Martin McGuinness – ‘is helping to administer Northern Ireland within the UK, on behalf of Her Majesty and on the basis of British law. This is the real seismic shift!’ Despite such comments, however, the retention of IRA weapons is still judged to be critical by many Unionists. The need for surrender is thought more important than peace and a return to representative government. From his speeches and articles it is clear that Trimble is not sectarian; the same is true of many of his colleagues. But for other Unionists it is too much to be required to share power with undefeated Catholics, and this is slowing things down interminably.

Since the Agreement was signed, the IRA has done far more than is commonly acknowledged to push along its decommissioning of weapons. After the breakthrough in November 1999 that led to the establishment of the power-sharing Executive, the IRA announced the appointment of ‘a representative to enter into discussions with … the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning’. That Commission reported three months later that the IRA had ‘asserted’ that it would ‘consider how to put arms and explosives beyond use, in the context of the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, and in the context of the removal of the causes of conflict’ and that it had also made clear the circumstances which would lead them to ‘initiate a comprehensive process to put arms beyond use, in a manner so as to ensure maximum public confidence’.

On 6 May 2000, in a long public statement, the IRA set out this context. The ‘full implementation, on a progressive and irreversible basis by the two Governments, especially the British Government, of what they have agreed’ would allow the IRA leadership to ‘initiate a process’ that would ‘completely and verifiably put IRA weapons beyond use … in such a way as to avoid risk to the public and misappropriation by others and ensure maximum public confidence’. As part of this process, the IRA ‘agreed to put in place within weeks a confidence-building measure to confirm that our weapons remain secure’. What this entailed was that the contents of a number of arms dumps would be inspected by agreed third parties who would report to the Commission. These dumps would then be ‘reinspected regularly to ensure that the weapons have remained silent’. A number of inspections and reinspections then followed. On 22 March this year, the Commission confirmed that it had been in touch with the IRA and that while no actual decommissioning had yet occurred, ‘the events of the past few weeks lead us to believe that progress on it can be made.’

Then on 8 May, in the run-up to the UK general election, Trimble declared that he would resign as First Minister if the IRA had not begun decommissioning by 1 July. No doubt this was done to shore up a political base that was crumbling in the face of all the criticisms of the Agreement, not least those made by Trimble himself and other Unionist ‘supporters’ of the document. But its inevitable effect was to make movement by 1 July impossible: the IRA does not jump through hoops at the behest of the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. In the weeks after Trimble’s statement, the Commission confirmed that it had carried out a further inspection of IRA arms. On 31 May the IRA pointed to its continuing contact with the Commission as ‘clear and irrefutable’ evidence of its commitment to decommissioning; it also reiterated its view ‘that the resolution of the issue of arms’ was ‘a necessary step in a genuine peace process’. Trimble responded that there still had been no progress on putting weapons beyond use. The countdown to 1 July continued. In an interview with journalists on 20 June, an IRA spokesman ‘restated’ the IRA’s belief that ‘the issue of arms can be resolved, but it will not be resolved by Unionist ultimatums or on British terms.’ On 30 June the Commission reported to both Governments its judgment that the IRA’s commitment to put weapons beyond use in the context of its statement of 6 May 2000 was a ‘conditional commitment … made in good faith’. But no decommissioning had started. Mr Trimble duly resigned.

The removal of the Unionist leadership from the scene provides the opportunity that the British and the Republicans have been waiting for. With Trimble’s bluff called, the Unionist-dominated political process can be allowed to slip into the shade while the far more dynamic and productive peace process re-emerges. The proposals published by the British and Irish Governments on 1 August for the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement were like a return to old times, with the British authorities speaking via the media to the IRA after prolonged discussions with the Irish Government, the SDLP and (on this occasion) Sinn Féin. What these most recent proposals directly and unequivocally address is the IRA’s statement of 6 May last year, spelling out the circumstances which would allow further movement on decommissioning. No longer needing to satisfy Trimble, the section on decommissioning is short and sensible:

In respect of the issue of putting arms beyond use, the two Governments repeat their view that this is an indispensable part of implementing the Good Friday Agreement. All parties to the Agreement recognise that; and that, under the Agreement, this issue must be resolved in a manner acceptable to and verified by the International Commission on Decommissioning in accordance with its basic mandate in law.

No bluster or triumphalist blarney there.

The other sections of the proposals, on policing and the normalisation of security, seek to meet IRA concerns about what peace will mean on the ground. The Patten Report on policing will be revisited and police boards expanded to include nominees of all the political parties, including Sinn Féin. The physical evidence of an ‘army of occupation’ will be scaled back as soon as the implementation of this package produces ‘a significant reduction’ in the threatened level of violence. ‘Ultimately the normal state would mean the vacation, return or demolition of the great majority of army bases, the demolition and vacation of all surveillance towers, no further army presence in police stations and the use of army helicopters for training purposes only.’ Various allegations of security force collusion in killings by paramilitary groups will be investigated by a judge of international reputation from outside both islands, with the power to recommend public inquiries if necessary. Men and women with criminal charges or extradition proceedings hanging over them, as a result of alleged subversive activity before the conclusion of the Agreement, will not be pursued.

None of these changes will happen overnight. The IRA was not defeated, but neither was the British Army. As the letter from the two Governments which accompanied the proposals put it, ‘while each of the issues … is best addressed in its own terms rather than being seen as a precondition for progress on any other, the Agreement can only succeed if all parts of it are implemented together.’ What is now envisaged is an escalation of reasonableness, with the IRA responding in generous terms which will in turn facilitate further demilitarisation, and so on. That the issue is urgent is clear from the continued capacity of the Real IRA to force the process back to the ‘politics of the last atrocity’.

Having responded to the 1 August package with some tentative movement on decommissioning, the IRA then somewhat illogically and (from its own perspective) inconsistently withdrew its offer after the short suspension of devolved government orchestrated by the British and Irish Governments in order to buy an extra six weeks for further negotiation. On the assumption that this backwards move can be successfully reversed, the Unionist Party will have nowhere to go. Of course there will not be full decommissioning, or anything like it, in advance of further movement on implementation of the whole Agreement, just as there will not be sudden and dramatic British demilitarisation. But a process will have begun which will eventually achieve this result. If this is not enough, if weapons still need to be handed in before anything else happens, or if rejection of the policing proposals now being made becomes a precondition for further progress, then the Unionist Party will have sent a clear message, one that could result either in a fresh election or in suspension of the Good Friday institutions. If an election were to produce a Unionist majority against the proposals on offer, this would itself make such a suspension inevitable. The Assembly would cease to function, but close co-operation between the British and Irish Governments could continue, particularly on issues dealt with by the cross-border bodies. And of course the great advances in the relationship between the British and the IRA would not simply be set aside: the Hume/Adams peace plan is more robust than that. The Loyalist paramilitaries might also be tempted to confirm that they have called it quits, just as they did (to everyone’s surprise and delight) in 1994. At the end of all this, where would the Unionists be: led by the arch-recalcitrant Jeffrey Donaldson, as second string in Ian Paisley’s orchestra of anger, touring every TV and radio studio that will have them, shouting their fury at ‘Ulster’s sell-out’?

Endgame in Ireland not only tells the Irish story with clarity but also tells you more than you’re normally told. Quentin Thomas, a civil servant who did much to drive the process on, recalls his insistence that the Sinn Féin representatives arriving to meet him for the first time should not go through a metal detector (‘if Martin McGuinness plugs me one I will know our political analysis has been faulty’); the Loyalist prisoner Michael Stone describes with obvious admiration Mo Mowlam’s visit to the Maze which saved the process in early 1998; the body language of Patrick Mayhew demonstrates what his words tried to hide: that the Major/ Mayhew Administration had no interest in making the first IRA ceasefire work; the poignant image of Hume, the great hero of the peace process, being ignored at a New York conference while Adams hoovers up the attention beside him. The programmes are full of loquacious and scheming Republicans enjoying the moment, of cautious and pragmatic Unionists wondering where the latest trap is, of British administrators caught in a muddle not of their making, some rising to the occasion, some lamentably failing to do so.

It is now pretty clear that the Good Friday Agreement would not have been signed by the Unionist Party had it not been for David Trimble. This edition of his speeches and articles is a revelation. One speech in particular, to a hostile Young Unionist conference in October 1998 and delivered without a text (a journalist happened to have a tape recorder with him), is impressive both in its depth of thought and its celebration of politics as the moral task of (to quote the lecture title) ‘engaging reality’.

Trimble may have been foolish in allowing the extraordinary success of his negotiations in the Good Friday Agreement to be smothered by the negative reactions of the extremists. He may be tactically inept, as is suggested by his frequent imposition of deadlines on the IRA which he knows cannot be met. But these articles and speeches show that he is a man of enormous courage, vitality and (though he hates the word) vision. He has looked at the comfortable certainties of the oppositionism to which so many of his colleagues are committed and which would have guaranteed him a towering place in his provincial world, yet has rejected them as ‘withdrawing from reality’.

He sees himself in the tradition of Edmund Burke, ‘the son of a Protestant father and a Catholic mother … a man who in word and in deed honoured both religious traditions, recognised and respected his Irish roots and the British Parliamentary system which nursed him to the full flowering of his genius’. Trimble’s speeches make particularly clear his desire that Unionism regain its poise, ‘recovering the spirit of former generations’, and develop into a ‘modern, vigorous, self-reliant, self-confident’ political creed. He is manifestly and deeply committed to the Good Friday Agreement, because it allows for the establishment of ‘a pluralist Parliament for a pluralist people’, a reworking of an earlier Unionist leader’s infamous comment that his was a ‘Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State’. Even the notorious behaviour at Drumcree in 1995 which secured him the Party leadership could be seen charitably as the result of a desire not to let the unspeakable Paisley hog the limelight. Misquoting Beckett in his Nobel lecture, Trimble promises: ‘I will go on, because I must go on.’ For the sake of Northern Ireland we must all hope he does.

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Vol. 23 No. 18 · 20 September 2001

Conor Gearty makes very limited reference to the daily reality of a society which is more polarised and overtly sectarian than ever. He claims that some Unionists don’t want to share power with ‘undefeated Catholics’, but ignores the fact that the Taoiseach and the Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan have both explicitly said that they wouldn’t share power with Sinn Fein because of its ‘private army’. The single reference to ‘so-called punishment beatings’ ignores the fact that the IRA/UVF/UFF, which are all ‘on ceasefire’, continue to beat, maim, shoot and murder people. The IRA has killed 20 people since the Good Friday Agreement, all Catholics.

Almost all our schools remain religiously divided, as events on the Ardoyne Road make all too clear. More ‘peace walls’ are going up, residential areas are increasingly segregated and all academic research shows an increased level of sectarianism. The dramatic gains made by the hardline parties in the June elections, coupled with the virtual disappearance of the non-sectarian centre, augurs ill for the future and contrasts with Gearty’s bland optimism. A lasting peace in Northern Ireland requires us to tackle the fundamental divisions over religion and national identity. There is little evidence of any real will to do this.

Philip McGarry

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