From Socialist Voice, October 2004

Northern talks stalled again by unionism

The talks last week at Leeds Castle were the latest attempt to get the Executive and Assembly back in operation. Before they opened there was much talk about whether Sinn Féin could deliver on the key question of the disbanding of the IRA, which unionism was looking for. The Dublin media and the chattering classes continue to babble on about the IRA being the main obstacle to a solution in the North; somehow or other unionism has supposedly transformed itself and sees the error of its ways and wants to move forward, if it weren’t for the obstinate republicans and their silent guns.
     It is clear from earlier statements by Gerry Adams that republicans feel that politics has reached the stage where the role of the IRA needs to change. They have had a lot of internal discussion in relation to this matter and have now reached a settled position. In all these matters, republicans will do things in their own time and way. The more they are pushed the less the likelihood of their doing it. In particular, the more unionism makes the demand the more it will be resisted.
     What was put on the table at Leeds Castle on 16–18 September is the same as what was offered last October, which Trimble bucked at. The Democratic Unionist Party, over the previous weeks, in particular through its deputy leader, Peter Robinson, had been presenting a more conciliatory position. They would work with everyone to make a political settlement work; all that was needed was for the IRA to disband. This was dutifully repeated throughout the Dublin media as a reasonable position.
     As the Leeds Castle talks finished it became clear that the DUP is far from supportive of the Good Friday Agreement. There are four main areas they want changes in, which amount in effect to the renegotiation of the agreement:
     (1) the question of illegal weapons
     (2) an end to all paramilitary activity
     (3) issues relating to policing and justice
     (4) changes in structures and institutions.
     In relation to point 1, it has been part of necessary confidence-building measures contained in the agreement that decommissioning was to take place. The IRA has already carried out at least two major decommissioning events, supervised by John de Chastelain—even if he did make a complete mess of reporting the extent of the last major act. The removal of all paramilitary weapons is a very settled position within republicanism, which can’t be said to be the case among loyalist paramilitaries.
     Point 2 also is very much related to the clear working of the Assembly and the Executive. The stop-start approach and the vacillations of Trimble have not helped to win people or to build confidence. People will move from one form of struggle to another only if they have confidence in the process. It is slow but necessary. It is also true that a number of former paramilitaries have moved on into using their knowledge and experience for self-serving and criminal activities. This can be dealt with by using legislation similar to that establishing the Criminal Assets Bureau, which has punctured some of the criminal elements in the South—to the extent that the state wants to end criminality. In the context of the North, unionism has used whatever legislation it could to break nationalists and republicans, so it does pose potential dangers in the future.
     Point 3, in relation to policing and justice matters, has also seen advances. So is it the case that the DUP wish to restore the RUC? Do they wish to have no local accountability over policing? Who should control the police if not the people? Do they wish to see the retention and the use of repressive legislation? Whom do they wish to use it against? Should we not know the truth about state killings? In the eyes of the DUP, is it legitimate to believe in and campaign for a united Ireland in the North? Is the break-up of the Special Branch political police not a necessary democratic development?
     Point 4 is code for the DUP wanting to establish a unionist veto over legislation and decisions made by ministers in any new Executive. They want all legislation or decisions made by ministers (read Sinn Féin) to be voted first in the Assembly, where there is a unionist majority, thereby undermining equality and power-sharing arrangements. They also want changes made in how the ministers are elected. If they got their way it would drive a coach and horses through the Good Friday Agreement.
     Contained within the DUP position is also an attempt to block the development of the North-South bodies and North-South co-operation. There are no differences within the DUP between Paisley and Robinson, not in substance: just in style and presentation.
     So, what the DUP wants under the guise of forcing the IRA to disband is to fundamentally rewrite the Good Friday Agreement. They have problems with the equality agenda, with justice, and the way the North should be governed. They fundamentally want to re-institute a unionist veto by another means. This cannot be allowed to happen; the DUP must be faced down. There can be no return to “majority rule.” The last thirty years have shown what can happen if that is allowed.

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