Ulster peace process 1 9th June 2008
David Trimble’s objection to the British government’s handling of the Northern Ireland peace process (June) is essentially that it did not take the side of the Ulster Unionist party (UUP). But the key to the British government’s success was its policy of neutrality, which made the status of Northern Ireland a democratic question solely for its own people. Trimble complains that the British government was not hard enough on Sinn Féin, but republicans argue that the agreement was fudged to save Trimble and the UUP from the growing electoral strength of the “extremist” DUP. British neutrality was mirrored in Dublin; President May McAleese’s husband was even sent to play golf with UDA “brigadiers.” These things were necessary. As Jonathan Powell (May) put it, the Troubles were “a struggle between two traditions for recognition and influence.” The agreement was a belated coming to terms with reality.
Sean Swan Gonzaga University, Spokane
Ulster peace process 2 11th June 2008
David Trimble was a remarkable leader of the UUP, but I disagree with three of his criticisms of my book. The book was deliberately written from my diaries and contemporary government papers to avoid the trap of hindsight. David, in his comments, has fallen into that trap.
First, contrary to what David says, the Good Friday agreement was ambiguous on the issue of decommissioning. It had to be, because the gap between Sinn Féin and the UUP was too wide in 1998, and the only way to bridge it was through constructive ambiguity. The period from 1998 to 2003 therefore had to be dedicated to negotiations on decommissioning, rather than on implementation, as David knows because he participated.
Second, David thinks we should have been tougher on republicans in this period because he believes there was no prospect of the IRA going back to violence after Omagh. That was not the judgement of the British government at the time, on the basis of all the information that was available to us. We were not going to give in to the threat of violence, but we did not want to tip Northern Ireland back into the Troubles by miscalculating. And Adams and McGuinness could not deliver the IRA on anything they wanted, as David claims. The relationship was more complex. Tony Blair used to compare it to the relationship between a Labour cabinet and…