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'The Best Way Forward' - Statement by UUP Leader, David Trimble, 8 October 1999

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Research: Fionnuala McKenna
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'The Best Way Forward': Statement issued by Mr. David Timble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, 8 October 1999.

"The Mitchell Review may be the last real chance to make the Belfast Agreement work. The first three weeks of the Review have given Senator Mitchell a chance to bring himself up to date with the causes of the impasse which have developed since he was last here in the heady days leading up to Easter ‘98. Now that this has been achieved the pace of negotiation will accelerate.

The failure to implement all of the Agreement has saddened many, not least myself. Well meaning people frequently say to me 'surely after all that has be achieved we cannot fail now'. The same people usually want unionists to go ahead and set up an Executive without further conditions.

In their view there will then be inevitable pressure on all parties to continue the Executive in a fully democratic manner. Republicans will be under immense pressure to give up violence for good and will not need their weapons. The experience of inclusive government will, in this view, convince even the most sceptical of unionists of the value of the path outlined in the Agreement.

These views are well meant and I respect those who advocate them but there is surely a flaw in this thinking. The current pressures on Republicans to observe their clear commitments in the Agreement to 'total disarmament' and 'exclusively peaceful' methods should be immense, yet republicans are unable to clarify how these commitments are to be honoured.

Everyone, but everyone, wants them to make these clarifications so that we can all move forward, but they refuse.

If they are able to resist such pressure, why should anyone imagine that once in government the pressures will be any greater. If I agreed to buy a house but kept stalling on coming up with the money, few would advocate giving me the keys in the hope that I would be shamed or inspired into paying up. This never happens in real life because we all realise that the most difficult decisions are rarely made once the pressure is relaxed.

It is not as if we have not been through this before. A brief rereading of the Mitchell Report of 1996 provides a strong sense of déjà vu. The British Government and unionists demanded decommissioning before talks. Sinn Fein said there would be no decommissioning until talks began and accused unionists of not wanting talks at all.

Senator Mitchell was brought in as an honest broker and advocated decommissioning during talks. The UUP accepted the Senator's compromise and entered talks, but as we all know no decommissioning occurred during talks. Neither has the killing and maiming ended.

This leaves unionists with a real dilemma. Sinn Fein refuse to give a real indication of their true intentions and continue with unbelievable assertions that they are not the IRA, which incidentally undermines what little confidence we have in their sincerity.

Even so, the possibility remains that they may behave democratically within a new Executive. On the other hand is the possibility that the republican leadership have settled for a new type of subversion. Not a direct threat to state with bombs and attacks on the security services, but a Mafia state in which ministerial power will be allied with a well-stocked private army able to control public opinion through intimidation in its heartland.

The latter possibility appears to fit the facts of continued gun running and ongoing killing, beating and intimidation. So strong is the longing for an end to Northern Ireland's long agony that some are willing to take almost anything on trust. Matters have not been made any easier by a Secretary of State who played all her best cards in releasing prisoners in the hope that republicans' hearts would soften and guns could be given up. The fact that the opposite has happened only increases the need for caution.

In these circumstances, democracy’s best course is to ask for clarity. All sections of society must insist that republicans make their intentions clear. If they have difficulties in meeting their obligations because of dissention in their ranks, then let us know and we can try to help. We will be realistic. But we must know which way the republican leadership wish to go.

For my part I can be utterly clear. I want this Agreement to succeed, and I am fully signed up to the commitment to an inclusive Executive. This is, I still believe, the best way forward for Northern Ireland.

However a deal is a deal. The Agreement made last year was acceptable to nationalists. For unionists the changes were more difficult to accept but the majority accepted, with me, that generosity was the best course and perhaps the only way to secure a stable Northern Ireland in which all communities feel comfortable.

This effort of will to support profound changes was made in the clear expectation that the deal involved an end to all violence and intimidation, and the dissolution of all private armies. It is this deal which must be kept.

The demand for disarmament was merely the best way to prove beyond doubt that violence had to be abandoned and democracy embraced. We genuinely have no wish to inflict humiliation on either republicans or loyalists even if some of our supporters feel this is only just. We remember the unspeakable violence perpetrated over 30 years and the countless innocent victims.

Republicans must convince society of their good intentions, and of their absolute commitment not to use weapons. Disposing of arms does, however, seem the best way to celebrate a new start to a better world.

Let republicans and loyalists do this, not simply because of pressure but because they realise that it is the best way forward. That would be their contribution to the new dispensation.

In the meantime I ask all to rest assured that as First Minister designate I will work for the good of all in Northern Ireland. I will continue to work hard to achieve the breakthrough that so many crave. Progress will be best made, however, if at this late stage everyone joins in to exert what pressure they can. And where appropriate to provide guarantees that those who take risks in support of democracy are rewarded, while those who continue to use or threaten violence are not permitted to profit by it."

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