Trimble: bowing to the inevitable

High-risk British ‘peace’

Earlier this week the Ulster Unionist Party bowed to the inevitable and sat down with Sinn Fein at the Northern Ireland ‘peace’ talks.

True, UUP leader David Trimble used the occasion to described SF as “the godfathers of terrorism” and repeated his call for its expulsion from the talks, but this bluster was no more than a cover erected against the howls of outrage from Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party, protesting against the unprecedented face-to-face meeting. The DUP accused Trimble of being “terrorised to the talks table”.

This was a reference to the Markethill bomb. Trimble at first pretended to believe that the IRA had planted it, although subsequently what most people had suspected was confirmed - the device had been exploded by the Continuity Army Council, a republican splinter which wants to continue the armed struggle against the British occupation of the Six Counties.

All the unionist parties had boycotted an earlier session, when SF signed up to the ‘principles of non-violence and democracy’ in order to be allowed to participate in the talks. The DUP and the smaller UK Unionist Party will certainly not return, but last week Trimble led the UUP, alongside the Progressive Unionist Party and the Ulster Democratic Party, back into Stormont Castle. The PUP and UDP are linked to loyalist paramilitary groups.

Their initial stayaway did not go down well with other participants at the talks. Monica McWilliams of the Women’s Coalition described the unionists as “boys playing war”, while the Social Democratic and Labour Party was also dismissive of the “contrived drama”. SDLP spokesperson Mark Durkan was however prepared to allow the UUP “a few more cushions to make them comfortable sitting down with Sinn Fein”.

Still looking nervously over his shoulder in the direction of the DUP, Trimble told the press on his eventual arrival at Stormont: “We are not here to negotiate with Sinn Fein, but to confront them - to expose their fascist character.”

In truth Trimble had no [text corrupted in archive file] may be vociferous, but the pressure from the protestant population to ‘give peace a chance’ is very real. A recent poll found that 93% of UUP supporters were in favour of dialogue, while only a handful of the 36 speakers at the party’s pre-talks conference were against participation.

After all, the IRA has made it plain that it wishes to end its armed resistance, if only the government would offer the necessary concessions, including the release of its prisoners of war and moves toward the establishment of some kind of all-Ireland institution. That is a price that the British state and most unionist leaders are well prepared to pay in order to achieve a new imperialist stability under British hegemony.

All this dovetails nicely with Tony Blair’s overall plans for constitutional reform of the British state. However, his strategy is not without risks. Paisley, while likely to be marginalised in the short term, will bide his time, waiting for the moment to cry, ‘Ulster says no!’ The possibility of a new unionist upsurge à la Ulster Workers Council should not be discounted.

Additionally armed opponents of the ‘peace’ process, such as the CUC and the Loyalist Volunteer Force, have not yet been eliminated. And ‘eliminated’ they could well be, if they become too troublesome for the state. But it is unlikely that the state will need to intervene directly: the IRA could take care of the CUC tomorrow, and no doubt the loyalist para-militaries attached to the PUP and UDP could deal just as efficiently with the LVF.

The violent deaths of a few CUC leaders could easily be put down to an ‘internal republican feud’ - while the state looks the other way.

Jim Blackstock