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Article by UUP Leader and First Minister, David Trimble - written for the Belfast Telegraph, 2 February 2000

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Article by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Leader and First Minister, David Trimble - written for the Belfast Telegraph, 2 February 2000.

YESTERDAY was a profoundly disappointing day for all those who seek to make a new future for Northern Ireland based on inclusively and democratic norms.

Despite attempts to pretend otherwise, the stark reality is that General de Chastelain was unable to report that any start to actual decommissioning had been made by any of the mainstream paramilitary groups.

This has particular implications for Sinn Féin as the only paramilitary-linked party in the Executive. There has been a blatant attempt by Sinn Féin to play fast and loose with the Belfast Agreement which cannot be overlooked.

Back in November, I approached my party and sought approval for a course of action which involved putting the institutions envisaged in the Agreement into place and moving to devolution immediately. It was further agreed that this action would be reciprocated by decommissioning taking place, in Senator Mitchell's words, as soon as possible.

We had been told that Sinn Féin would be unable to persuade the IRA to decommission before the operation of the institutions had been set in motion. Despite the dubious morality of that position, we accepted that and sought to put the republican movement's bona fides to the test.

It was made clear to Sinn Féin again and again that the formation of the Executive without a start to actual decommissioning was an unsustainable position in all but the short-term. As Senator Mitchell can verify, Sinn Féin were under no illusions about the fact that a start would have to be made by the end of January if the institutions were to continue to receive broad acceptance.

I continued to hope, despite media speculation to the contrary, that republicanism would respond to the initiative I had made right up until late Monday night. I had hoped that republicanism would see that those represented their best chance yet to fulfil their commitment under the Agreement.

Republicans argue that they have been asked to meet an artificial unionist deadline and to surrender. This is a patently false notion. All that has been asked of them is fulfil the basic democratic condition and to choose between the party and the army.

All will suffer for the republican movement's inability or unwillingness to embrace the new politics. I know they cannot find fault with my conduct as First Minister or with that of my Ministers, or those of the SDLP.

We have upheld our pledges scrupulously to work for the benefit of all the people of Northern Ireland, regardless of political persuasion. There has been no attempt by the UUP to undermine the spirit or the letter

Furthermore, the benefits of devolution were beginning to be felt. The ability of Northern Ireland Ministers to take decisions in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland quickly and efficiently is appreciated by all sections of our community. This has been jeopardised by republicanism's refusal to make a breach with the old politics, the politics of threat.

I am sure that many nationalists and republicans will feel as cheated as most unionists do that the IRA has vetoed, for the moment, a new future based on participation and partnership.

I will work tirelessly to ensure that the republican movement's failure to deliver upon their side of the understandings made at the end of the Mitchell Review does not mean an end to the Agreement which 72% in Northern Ireland and 95% in the Republic voted for.

If, as seems likely, the parties and Government now enter into a review of the workings of the Agreement, there can be no doubt as to where the default has occurred.

Republicanism has made the task of reviving the Agreement and the institutions all the harder. I can see no way in which my party can be expected to re-enter the Executive solely on the basis of understandings. Try to put the institutions back in place I will do. And I will keep on trying.

I remain absolutely convinced of the benefits of the Agreement. No convincing alternative has been put forward with the same potential to transform Northern Ireland's bloody and stagnant politics.

But any review must be based on the principles of the Agreement. We have demonstrated our commitment to inclusively. There must now be a demonstrable commitment to non-violence from republicanism and paramilitary loyalism.

I expect to leave the post of First Minister next week with the suspension of the institutions. That situation will not have been brought about by any unwillingness on my part to work with democratic republicans.

I am as eager as anyone else to heal the wounds of our society through inclusive politics and economic revival. The trappings of office cannot tempt me to permit a sustained corruption of the democratic process, however.

Unionism jumped. Republicanism has not followed.

The whole community looks to the Sinn Féin leadership to rescue the Belfast Agreement.

They have the ability.

Do they have the commitment?I hope they do because time is short. Otherwise, the hopes of a new generation will have been cruelly dashed.

History's verdict will be no less cruel.

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