Article written by David Trimble, UUP Leader, for the Belfast Newsletter, 23 October 1999
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Article by Mr. David Timble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, which was published in the Belfast Newsletter on 23 October 1999.
The Ulster Unionist Party has been at the forefront politically for the last nine difficult years. We have carried the burden of many seemingly insoluble problems and represented the unionist position reasonably and effectively. We have always been aware of our responsibility and duty to society in Northern Ireland as a whole and are anxious to do what is right for all the people.
At every stage in the process there has been no shortage of advice from prima-donna Unionists about the dangers and pitfalls of taking risks, or of negotiating with our opponents. We have been at the forefront of managing and negotiating change for the betterment of Northern Ireland and the Union.
The announcement of cease-fires in 1994 placed politics at the centre of the stage. The inevitable talks confronted Unionists and nationalists with the political reality that the only way forward was through political. agreement.
Certain elements within the Unionist family do not know how to cope with change. We in the Ulster Unionist Party have embraced it and the challenges facing Unionism achieving our constitutional objectives through the Belfast Agreement.
Piece by piece, implementation of the Agreement has continued in all its aspects except on the vital issue of disarmament. We want to form the Executive, with all the Parties entitled to take up ministerial positions, but presently Sinn Fein refuse to accept that they need to change. They cannot credibly say that they are committed to peace while they cling on to guns.
They too must accept change if Northern Ireland is to prosper in a stable and peaceful future. There cannot be an armed peace.
We have said we are ready to ‘jump together’ so that formation of an Executive is accompanied by the beginning of decommissioning. We believe this is the only credible way forward.
The people of Northern Ireland want an Assembly. They want their elected representatives to take the decisions that affect their lives on a daily basis. Our schools and hospitals face crucial challenges. Our agriculture, textiles and manufacturing industries need the support of a powerful Northern Ireland Assembly, campaigning for them in London, Brussels and beyond.
That and the experience of working in harness together will transform life throughout Northern Ireland. We all know it will be a massive change for the better.
Some people do not want this change for the better. They do not want to see the Assembly work. Some are still involved in terrorism. Either they cannot face the fact that the long war was the wrong war or they want to retain dominance of certain areas and their rackets. Others cannot face the eclipse of political careers built on spreading division and fear of the future. Others cannot bear the fact that they were wrong. The latter are desperately trying to prevent progress by spreading scare stories of what will happen.
Mr McCartney has spent most of this week attempting to tell everyone how if the Executive is set up then the North-South arrangements will survive any subsequent failure of the administration. There are three answers to this. First, we are planning for success, not failure. We expect Mr. McCartney’s nightmare to remain a mere hypothesis.
Secondly, this is not what The Agreement or the Government have said. The Agreement and the Treaty establishing the North South council says quite clearly that all the institutions are "interlocking and interdependent and in particular the functions of the Assembly and the North South Council are so closely interrelated that the success of each depends on that of the other." Furthermore Political Development Minister Paul Murphy said in Parliament on 8 March 1999 when the legislation for the North-South bodies was being passed through that ‘The North-South Ministerial Council to which the bodies are accountable, would disappear if there were no Assembly. Similarly, the bodies envisaged in the Agreement would disappear.’
Thirdly, Mr McCartney seems to misunderstand the nature of these bodies. They have no independent existence. They are merely the vehicles to implement co-operation schemes under the direction of the North South Council, on which there must always be a Unionist present to allow decisions to be taken, accountable to the Assembly and dependent on it for finance. Without the Assembly or council they would be something of a Marie Celeste if they tried to continue, and in any case, government would be committed to dismantling the new schemes for co-operation we have agreed.
The greatest challenge facing Unionism at the end of the 20th century is how to manage the change necessary to cement accountable Government in Stormont within the United Kingdom. We are nearly there but the representatives of the IRA must honour their side of the Agreement signed last year if the operation is to be a success.
We want devolution; we want decommissioning of terrorist weapons. We want to see the new relationships envisaged in the Agreement working well. We want to usher in the new millennium with a new Northern Ireland.
The Agreement is the best way to achieve all this. We must not contemplate failure because the past must never re-visit our future. As First Minister and as Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party I believe that if Republicans take the necessary steps over the coming days to deal with the weapons issue, then society in Northern Ireland will take a huge step forward. We are not looking for excuses to deny people a better future.
All in politics should strive to make this project a success and make sure that the evil of the past never returns. Terrorism must be left behind for good so as to allow the new democratic institutions to endure.
If the Agreement is successfully implemented in full, support for and confidence within Unionism will continue to grow. Rest assured, the Agreement will not fail for lack of effort or courage on our part.
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