Let’s get the conspiracy theory out of the way. Deep conspiracy. According to this theory Adams and Trimble did indeed choreograph their statements, actions and responses on Tuesday, including de Chastelain’s statement and Trimble’s histrionic, last-minute shelving of the whole shebang. Trimble then goes back to the Ulster Unionist Council and is acclaimed as the new Mr Hardballs, a Unionist leader at last who is prepared to stand up to the IRA, but who can be sweet and reasonable when sweet reason is required.
After further negotiation, the IRA allows Sinn Féin to provide Hardballs with the transparency he has demanded, thereby enhancing his position even further in the eyes of the Donaldson and Burnside contingent within the UUP. By the same token, Sinn Féin are portrayed to the SDLP-voting population as the new super-moderates who persuaded the IRA to go an even further mile along a road they didn’t even want to go down in the beginning.
Oh yes, and the IRA come up smelling of roses because they are seen to be so serious about creating the conditions for achieving final closure on the conflict that they allow themselves to be basted and turned one more time by David Hardballs.
Clearly, this theory has its attractions and I understand fully why its supporters are so ardent and enthusiastic. I would almost go for it myself, except that… well, I don’t believe Gerry Adams would do that. It’s not his style or practice. It would have put him in line for the Aisling Actor of the Year Award, but I don’t think he is contemplating a change of career at this stage. It would have meant pulling the wool over the eyes of the people on a scale that only politicians like Tony Blair, George Bush and Bertie Ahern consider to be within the bounds of acceptable behaviour, and, of course, Adams would know all along that he would never have got away with it.
As well as that, the publishing of details of the decommissioning process could well create major problems for Sinn Féin, not within the IRA, nor indeed within the ranks of dissident republicans, but within the ordinary, republican community across the North; in fact, across the country.
Theory number two is that the republicans detonated a cleverly concealed booby-trap, designed to go off as John de Chastelain spoke at Hillsborough on Tuesday. Knowing that Trimble could never go for it, those clever lads in Connolly House forced a formula of words on the good General, with the intention of making Trimble look foolish and confused, and aiming to have him finished off altogether come the election.
I suspect that the DUP, Jeffrey Donaldson, Bob McCartney and even Reg Empey are fully-signed-up members of this particular theory, and I must admit to seeing how they have come to this point of view. Trimble does look a bit dazed and struggling, and it is easy to agree with Ian Paisley who says that Tuesday just proved that the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process as a whole is a complete bags.
The kindest reading – theory number three – is that Trimble decided at the last minute that the decommissioning lark had fallen out of joint and decided to do as he had done once before, on what should have been the first day of the newly-elected Stormont Assembly. Remember that day, when the world and his mother was waiting for David to nominate his ministers to the new executive. Instead he elected to put the process on hold.
Only the most diligent student of the peace process could actually work out what happened last Tuesday. Maybe Trimble just took a rush of blood to the head. Maybe he simply gazumped the price. Happens every day. You’re buying a car, agree the price, but when you go to get the keys and pay over the cheque the guy says he needs an extra five hundred quid or it’s no deal. He’ll certainly put things on hold, give you a couple of days to think it over and stump up… bit like playing poker.
The trouble from Adams’ point of view is that the republicans have already paid over the cash, so to speak. By direct debit.
I don’t know what happened, probably never will. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that the two sides may not be all that far away from each other. There wasn’t really a confidentiality imperative on the decommissioning event. Blair was given the details, so was Ahern. The IRA probably won’t suffer having inventories and serial numbers, weights in kilograms and timetables to completion published in the Belfast Telegraph, but with goodwill on all sides Trimble could be convinced of republican bona fides, and he himself guarantee Unionist confidence.
But then, that all depends on goodwill. And at election time good will itself can often be put on hold. Sinn Féin might well have decided by now that the Save Dave campaign must come to an end. Why not let him go into his electoral nightmare, fighting the DUP at the hustings with no agreement, no deal and the whole process in a mess. That way it is almost certain that Adams and McGuinness would be dealing directly with Robinson and Campbell in the New Year.
But then nothing is certain in politics, and a day is an awful long time, never mind a whole election campaign. All we can do is register to vote, I said register to vote, and watch this space. They are stumbling, they are staggering, but they are still moving on. Definitely. Watch this space.