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Ahern must seek reform programme

(Brian Feeney, Irish News)

Tomorrow there should have been an election. As far as nationalists and republicans are concerned it was called off at the behest of David Trimble and/or to save him and the UUP from the DUP.

While some or all of that's true, the emphasis on the cancelled election helps to obscure how serious matters are but does nothing to address those matters. There's a crisis, not a 'bump in the road'.

Consider where we are. There is no assembly, no all-Ireland bodies, no North/South Ministerial Council, no British-Irish Council. There ain't gonna be.

The British government has also failed to implement the Good Friday Agreement across the whole range of what you could call 'non-institutional' areas laid out in the Joint Declaration. Tony Blair first admitted that the British were in default in these areas on October 15 last year.

We can now be certain that the British government will remain in default in these areas on October 15 this year. In fact Blair could make precisely the same speech on that day. The weak language and substance of the Joint Declaration offer no hope that matters will be any different in October 2004.

What has happened is that unionists have successfully wrecked the institutions of the agreement by simply refusing to work them. What is going to happen next is that unionists will refuse to accept the Joint Declaration. One way or the other, by July the Joint Declaration will be a dead duck.

That means that neither the institutions of the agreement, nor the measures which don't depend on the institutions, but which the British have stalled on, will be operating. In short, exactly what most unionists want – a return to direct rule.

Some dreamers have been desperate to cling to polls which show that a large majority of unionists are only just dying to work the agreement if the IRA disbands. Oh yeah? Notice the dreamers ignore the findings in the same poll that show that, even if the IRA did disband, more than a quarter of unionists would still oppose the agreement in any case. Secondly, when unionists set the unknowable and unattainable criterion of IRA disbandment, which even Trimble has the wit not to ask for, it's another way of saying never.

That unattainable criterion is an accurate reflection of the position of a majority of the UUP. They no longer demand decommissioning. They got that and they pocketed it as predicted. They're not interested in an end to the sort of IRA activities Dublin and London naively specified in paragraph 13 of the Joint Declaration in the hope that they would appease unionists. Unionists object to the declaration itself, not just the annex on IRA members on the run. They object because it would help implement the changes people in Ireland voted for in 1998.

Nobody seems to have noticed that unionists are no longer asking republicans to do anything as a condition for consenting to work the agreement. Unionists have at last come clean. By rejecting the Joint Declaration they are rejecting the agreement full stop. They prefer direct rule because it means no change.

Now there's an important conclusion here for the Irish and British governments. Unionists regard the status quo as a bulwark against change which, indeed, it has been for 30 years now.

Unionists have managed to twist the British veto on constitutional change without unionist consent into a veto on any change whatsoever without unionist consent. That's not on. The British administration here cannot allow unionists to prevent movement to an equal and more just society with measures which benefit everyone.

To endorse unionist resistance to any change at all, which is what our proconsul and his fly-by-night colleagues are doing, is to prevent reform of this society which the British government and Irish governments have agreed is necessary.

No unionist has ever agreed to any reform except under severe political pressure from Britain. None ever will. Conniving with unionists to avoid change means accepting the position unionists have always clung to.

Now that unionist rejection of the Joint Declaration and therefore the agreement is obvious, it is up to the Irish government to demand a timetable for a programme of reform to change society here in accordance with the terms of the agreement.

Failure to do so will mean that the north remains in its default position – direct rule which suits unionists because it's the most unionist form of government they can hope for. Why should they change? The British impose no penalties.

May 29, 2003
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This article appeared first in the May 28, 2003 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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