As the hardline Ulster Unionists express reluctance to support the current stance of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leadership, Trimble is bidding to win over crucial support for his campaign to be re-elected as First Minister.
Although the meeting of the UUP’s executive over the previous weekend endorses Trimble’s return to office in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the re-election bid can be thwarted by a failure to win grassroots support.
At least two Assembly Members express grave reservations about supporting Trimble’s re-election as First Minister, and anti-agreement factions within the UUP call a meeting of the party’s ruling council to be held within the next three weeks.
While it is anticipated that the elections of the First and Deputy First Ministers will be held later in the week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) calls on its members to prepare for Assembly elections. The anti-Good Friday Agreement DUP anticipate a collapse of the power-sharing Assembly if the re-elections of top ministerial posts fail to return a quorum of support from the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The DUP says that meetings are to be held on October 29 to discuss the party’s strategy.
Sinn Féin says the meeting is a hugely significant move. “This is the first time in Irish history that a republican leader and a leader of unionism have sat down together in a room on their own,” says a spokesman. “This is about normalising relations between Sinn Féin and the First Minister.”
But the two men are not expected to shake hands after Trimble says Adams is still holding arms. They are likely to discuss decommissioning terrorist weapons.
The men meet briefly on Monday, September 7, in a round-table discussion of party leaders on procedural matters of the future government of the province, the Northern Ireland Assembly.
News of Trimble’s invitation to Adams breaks the previous week after the Sinn Féin President issues a firm denunciation of violence. But Trimble is adamant that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must hand over arms before Sinn Féin can take seats in the new government. Sinn Féin has made moves in this direction by appointing strategist Martin McGuinness as an intermediary between the international arms decommissioning body and the IRA.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement includes a power-sharing administration under British rule and an all-Ireland ministerial council to promote island-wide co-operation. London is due to hand over a large measure of home rule powers by February 1999. In the meantime a “shadow” ruling executive must up be set up and mechanisms put in place to ensure smooth implementation of all aspects of the Agreement.
In Bangor, County Down, a group of loyalist protesters put up a Union Flag outside the offices of Sinn Féin education minister Martin McGuinness at his department’s Rathgael House headquarters. Another group of PUP protesters demonstrate at government buildings in Adelaide Street in Belfast city centre, where the Union Flag is flying above two of the government buildings in the street.
The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson criticises Sinn Féin ministers over their refusal to fly the Union Flag. “These people cannot even recognise that we have a monarch who’s 100 years old and they can’t even fly the flag, just because they think that everything that is British is no good,” he says. “These people forget that they have lived in Britain all their lives, most of them. They weren’t even born at Partition (of Ireland).” He adds that Sinn Féin’s ministers should accept that they are “British ministers in a British state.”
However, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey condemns the protests as “intimidating and sectarian.” He says Sinn Féin’s position on the flying of flags is designed not to cause offence. “Where British cultural and political symbols are invoked in public life, equivalent Irish cultural and political symbols should be given equal prominence. Where this cannot be agreed, no such symbols should fly,” he says.
The issue of flags has been emotive and divisive in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin ministers anger unionists on May 2 by ordering their civil servants not to fly the flag as part of the Coronation Day celebrations. The row reaches a head when the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) attempts to guarantee the flying of the Union Flag with an assembly motion in June. However, the party fails to win enough support for their motion to be passed.
There are about 13 days in the year when the Union Flag is flown on designated government offices in the United Kingdom. Government buildings across the UK – from Whitehall ministries to town council offices are expected to raise the Union Flag on these days.
It is the second time in a week that the health minister has run into controversy. On Wednesday, August 2, she is confronted by angry loyalist protesters during an official visit to a County Antrim hospital. Around 20 demonstrators picket the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, while she is on a visit to see a GP scheme as part of a programme to learn about aspects of the health service. The tyres on the minister’s car are let down and an egg is thrown. De Brun is forced to leave the complex by another door.
(From: “Trimble joins Union Flag row,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, Friday, August 4, 2000 | Pictured: Protesters picket the Department of Health)
The 860-ruling Unionist Party council had been scheduled to meet on Saturday, May 13, but postponed the session for a week to allow Trimble to broaden his support among unionists still opposed to the deal. The council is expected to vote on resuming participation in a joint executive, which had been suspended on February 11 after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) failed to initiate disarmament.
Great Britain and Ireland are co-sponsors of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement on reconciliation between the Catholic and Protestant communities. Trimble tells news media he is ready to support a return to sharing power with Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, after receiving assurances on the arms issue.
Earlier in the month, the IRA broke the stalemate with an offer to put its arms arsenals beyond use under international supervision. The IRA offer fell short of a pledge to submit its weapons to destruction, as was understood from previous talks on the issue, but both Great Britain and Ireland back the compromise and press for its acceptance by unionists and nationalists as well.
Great Britain’s Northern Ireland SecretaryPeter Mandelson describes the postponement as the “correct decision.” He says, “David Trimble has been clarifying some issues and driving a hard bargain over others. Now he needs time to present the outcome to his party.” He says he is confident that Trimble will be successful and the way will then be paved for the return to power-sharing.
However, hard-line Ulster Unionist leader Jeffrey Donaldson says he does not believe that weapons will be put beyond use. “What we actually need to know and hear from the IRA is are they going to decommission their weapons?” Donaldson, a member of the British parliament, says in a BBC interview. “We haven’t had any clarification from the IRA.”
British Prime MinisterTony Blair says in parliament on Wednesday, May 17, the IRA offer to put its weapons “beyond use” is “an important confidence-building measure” but only the start of a process of silencing the guns. “We need to make progress until the time when these weapons are indeed completely, verifiably, beyond use,” Blair says.
The First Minister is one of 54 Nobel Peace Prizelaureates who meets Pope John Paul II briefly at the Vatican, as part of a two-day trip organised by former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The Nobel Prize winners meet the Pope as a group and are then introduced and shake hands individually. There is a group photograph but no filming of the event. Careful stage-management ensures there are no public photographs of the two men close together.
A spokesman for Trimble says the UUP leader told the Pope he hopes this will be the year when peace will be secured in Northern Ireland. The Pope recalls his visit to Ireland and says murder cannot be condoned or called by another name.
Although the meeting is welcomed on both sides of the North divide, it does little to enhance Trimble’s standing in Upper Bann, particularly in troubled Portadown. In Portadown’s loyalist estates, there is open hostility toward Trimble. Many residents accusing their MP of “putting his personal status above the interests of his constituents.” The response is typified by one angry woman who says, “The loyalist people of this town and Drumcree, put David Trimble into office. Now he has turned his back on us. That’s a fatal mistake, this town and Drumcree will now destroy Trimble.”
“It’s unbelievable that this meeting is actually taking place,” says Orangeman Ivor Young. “It totally contradicts the oath that David Trimble took when he joined the Orange Order. We all knew Trimble was a traitor, this latest escapade puts the final nail in his political coffin here in Upper Bann. There is no way that he will ever be elected here again.”
Trimble also comes in for further criticism from Portadown Orange District, whose Drumcree protest has continued for the past 288 days. David Jones, the District’s press officer says that the people of Portadown once again see their local MP on “a world stage,” instead of being involved locally. “There are a lot of people around Portadown who aren’t very impressed that David Trimble has gone off to meet the Pope and hasn’t got more involved in trying to get the situation here solved,” says Jones.
On Portadown’s Garvaghy Road, Catholics are also critical of Trimble’s visit to Rome. “It’s amazing how he can travel to Rome to meet and talk to strangers,” says one nationalist resident, “yet he can’t be bothered to travel less than 30 miles to meet us, to talk about the serious issues that confront this community. After all we are as much his constituents as are the loyalists in this town.”
The meeting is the first time that the First Minister of Northern Ireland or the head of the Ulster Unionist Party has met the Pope in Rome. It also represents a rare appearance by an Orangeman at the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Trimble and his entourage meet the Pope in the sumptuous surroundings of the Consistory Hall, the same room where the Cardinals of the Church gather to advise the Pope.
Earlier in the morning Trimble says in an interview with the Vatican radio that besides giving an update on developments in Northern Ireland, he wishes to “express to his Holiness the Pope that he and the Church will do what it can to persuade the paramilitaries to commit themselves irrevocably to peaceful means.”
There are no reports of any casualties and army technical experts are at the scene shortly after the blast.
Gregory Campbell, security spokesman for the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, visits the scene and says the blast bears similarities to an incident at Ballykelly, twelve miles away, in February 2000. He adds, “In Ballykelly there was a breach of the security fence, with the bomb planted near sleeping quarters. Here it was beside a former guardhouse. It appears to have been outside the perimeter.”
Campbell also claims that in recent months the base’s watchtowers had not been manned. “I get the impression that security has become a bit lax since the ceasefire,” he says. “This is confirmation of what we all knew was coming, a determined effort by paramilitary groups.”
Campbell continues, “When you look at the past few months it is very obvious that these groups – if they are splinter groups, if they are people who are leaving the Provisional IRA to join these dissidents or if the Provisional IRA is giving a wink and a nod to these dissidents – it is as plain as the nose on your face these people are developing terrorist capabilities.”
“When there is a device at a security cordon and another device inside another camp 12 miles down the road from here it is very obvious they are working towards a major attack with loss of life. Within a few months we are going to be faced with a major onslaught,” Campbell adds.
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble, speaking in advance of a House of Commons debate warning of damaging consequences if the government presses on with moves to rename the Royal Ulster Constabulary, says it appears that the blast at the barracks in Derry is part of a wider campaign of low level terrorist activity by dissident republicans. Speaking on BBC Radio Trimble says, “There have been a number of incidents recently which have been attributed to dissident republicans. This may be another one. And there is reason to believe that dissident republicans are trying to launch a sustained campaign.”
Speaking after a 40-minute meeting with Trimble, Adams says they had had a “useful exchange of views.” But he adds, as expected, “there were very few conclusions in terms of the big picture….I asked Mr. Trimble how he thought things could be sorted out and Mr. Trimble had no particular suggestion to offer. But it was a good meeting.”
The Sinn Féin president says he had suggested to Trimble that each leader could address the executive of the opposite’s party. “He declined. But I hope he will think about the suggestion.”
Trimble says no significant developments came out of the meeting. He adds that the onus is on the republican movement to move the process forward. He dismisses Adams’s suggestion that they should address each others’ parties as a “stunt.”
The 26 year old O’Connor is shot dead as he sits in a car outside his mother’s house in Whitecliffe Parade in Ballymurphy. He comes from a well-known republican family and is understood to have been involved in welfare work for “Real IRA” prisoners. Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) sources do not suggest a motive for the shooting, except to say it is not sectarian and they believe it is a result of an inter-republican dispute. Continuity IRA sources deny their organisation is involved and the killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin.
O’Connor had just left his mother’s home and got into the passenger seat of a car when two hooded gunmen approach on foot and shoot him at point-blank range. He is hit in the head and dies instantly. A relative who is in the driver’s seat is uninjured.
O’Connor’s cousin, who lives nearby, says, “I heard one shot, then a silence, and then four more shots in quick succession.” Tensions between mainstream and dissident republicans at the time are high in Belfast but without serious violence.
O’Connor, who lives nearby in the Springhill Estate, is married with two young sons. His grandfather, Francisco Notarantonio, was shot dead by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in highly controversial circumstances at the same house 13 years earlier. That killing is at the centre of a legal battle between the British Ministry of Defence and the Sunday People over allegations of security force involvement.
The killing is condemned by Republican Sinn Féin. A Sinn Féin councillor, Sean McKnight, says local people are “shocked” by the killing. “We call on those responsible for this deliberate shooting to declare themselves and spell out to the people what their motives are,” a spokesman says. “Local sources indicate the deceased man was associated with the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Republican Sinn Féin has no hesitation in condemning this action and points out the obvious dangers that lie ahead.”
The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) representative for Belfast West, Alex Attwood, condemns the murder as pointless but says no one should “rush to premature judgment” about who is responsible. “The overwhelming mass of political and wider opinion is determined to consolidate the political and peace process and no words, no acts and no narrow politics will destabilise it.”
(From “Leading ‘Real IRA’ member is shot dead in Ballymurphy” by Suzanne Breen, The Irish Times, October 14, 2000)
The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholicparamilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.
“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.
Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.
Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.
Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.
According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.
Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.
(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)
Early in the day the government rushes legislation through the House of Commons providing for the suspension of the Executive if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) fails to decommission all its arms by May 2000 in line with a timetable, yet to be drawn up. It refuses to accept any Ulster Unionist amendments. But within 12 hours, British Prime MinisterTony Blair signals that three new amendments will be included to tighten the so-called failsafe mechanism when the bill is debated in the House of Lords in the evening.
The first amendment makes clear that decommissioning must proceed in line with a timetable to be drawn up by General John de Chastelain. The second provides for the automatic suspension of the Executive, while the third provides for the party in default to be clearly identified.
They fail to sway Trimble, who criticises The Way Forward as a hastily concocted scheme. However, he does leave the door open for further negotiations to save the agreement. “If there was a clear watertight scheme, in which there was at the outset an unequivocal commitment to change and a process that genuinely guaranteed to deliver that change, we would have to consider whether a scruple over a period of days could be justified.”
Sinn Féin is furious with party president Gerry Adams saying, “Those who may genuinely want to deal with the issue of guns are going about it in absolutely the worst and wrong way.” The party wants the assembly to be wound up immediately, and all members’ wages to be stopped. It wants the British and Irish governments to continue to implement all aspects of the agreement which are within their control. Adams is enraged by Blair’s move to amend the failsafe legislation. His party says it will consider applying for judicial review of the amended bill, believing it to compromise the International Commission on Decommissioning and unlawfully conflict with the agreement.
Blair and TaoiseachBertie Ahern announce on the following day that the 15-month-old and ailing Good Friday Agreement will go into a review procedure involving all the political parties and be effectively parked over the summer.
Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionists, resists intense government pressure as he refuses to back the British and Irish governments’ blueprint providing for a power-sharing executive the following week and IRA decommissioning in the summer. He repeats his party’s view that Sinn Féin can only join his cabinet once the IRA has started to hand over its weapons.
The outcome is a bitter personal setback for Blair. In a last-minute televised appeal to the Unionists not to “close the door’ on an agreement, he appears to acknowledge that they will have to try to find another way forward. “I believe in the end we will get an agreement on this. Whether we manage it by tomorrow morning, that is more difficult,” he says.
Trimble complains he had too little time to secure backing within his split party for The Way Forward, which the governments issued twelve days earlier after a week of intense negotiations at Stormont Castle. Blair’s handling of the affair is questioned.
Trimble’s problem with the legislative failsafe is that it punishes all parties for an IRA transgression of a decommissioning timetable, yet to be drawn up. It provides for the executive to be suspended, rather than carry on with Sinn Féin’s two ministerial posts allocated to other parties. The nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), which could have given Trimble cover on the issue of expulsion, declines to say whether it will vote for Sinn Féin’s expulsion, which infuriates Ulster Unionists.
Negotiations to save the Good Friday Agreement have gone through four deadlines during the year. There are fears that the latest delay might lead to Sinn Féin withdrawing its declaration on IRA arms.
(Pictured: British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern present a joint British-Irish blueprint for implementation of the Good Friday Agreement at Stormont Castle in Belfast, June 2, 1999 | Sean Gallup | Getty Images)