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Statement by David Trimble (UUP) at the opening of the Review of the Agreement, 3 February 2004

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Text: Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) ... Page compiled: Brendan Lynn

Statement by David Trimble, then leader of the UUP,
at the opening of the Review of the Agreement,
3 February 2004


A review is long overdue. There is a case for saying that there should have been a review under paragraph 7 of the relevant section of the Agreement immediately after the suspension of the institutions on 14 October, 2002. Instead we had the Prime Minister's Harbour Office speech in which he called for republicans to complete immediately the transition from paramilitarism to exclusively peaceful and democratic means and in which said that there would be no more inch-by-inch negotiations. Unfortunately republicans, once again, failed to live up to their commitments and the British and Irish governments acquiesced in this failure last year by allowing more inch-by-inch negotiations. Now, guided apparently only by the calendar, they have arrived at this paragraph 8 review in quite different circumstances than those envisaged by the Agreement.

The Review will not address the underlying problem of Northern Ireland's political institutions any more than will the welcome establishment of the Independent Monitoring Commission - welcome because the IMC should allow rumour to be replaced by clear facts, point the finger unambiguously at those responsible, thus enabling the appropriate political responses. The underlying problem, the reason for suspension in October 2002, is the same as the reason for all the crises in the implementation of the Agreement, namely the failure of republicans to decommission all the weapons and to end all paramilitary activity. Until that happens there is no prospect of real progress in these discussions.

There is a danger that this review will only really serve to mask that underlying problem. It may be that this review will serve merely to fill a vacuum created, not by the election result, but by the continued failure of republicans to honour their commitments. The problem we face, contrary to the new republican myth, is not the DUP's reluctance to enter into inclusive arrangements, but the unwillingness of republicans and others involved in paramilitarism to commit themselves fully to the democratic process.

What at is required is that there be an immediate and total end of all forms of paramilitary activity. We need to see the fulfilment of the remit of the IICD, a key part of the Agreement for democrats. Up to now it has failed to discharge its tasks. Decommissioning was clearly intended to be a confidence building measure. Because of the manner in whit the issue has been handled, confidence has not been built. We also need to hear that the IRA are no longer an illegal private army. We need to know that their racketeering is over, that so-called punishment beatings are over, that arms procurement and use is at an end and that targeting and intelligence gathering is finished.

It is said that because the IRA was never defeated we should have no legitimate expectation of decommissioning and disbandment. But that assertion is self-deceiving. It is contrary to the clear terms of the Agreement. It is contrary to the facts. In 1994 that organisation was still capable of inf1icting harm, but the pattern of decline had been clear for years and the prospect of its ultimate failure was such that it was losing support even before the first ceasefire. Some republicans may have thought otherwise, but their inability to prosecute a sustained campaign after Canary Wharf demonstrated their error.

If republicans had acted from a realisation that violence was morally wrong, then we would not have had the ambiguity of the `cessation of military operations' and the endless foot-dragging on decommissioning. Instead there would have been a ready willingness to end all aspects of the campaign and to genuinely embrace exclusively peaceful and democratic means. That has not occurred.

On the first sitting of the first Assembly I acknowledged that people with a past are capable of having a future. But the truth is that in every year since the Agreement the republican movement has been responsible for murders, beatings, shootings and all manner of criminality. These are now directed exclusively against Catholics. Loyalist paramilitaries may well have been responsible for more violence overall. But those facts cannot in any way excuse the republican failure to end violence.

So sustained have been republicans' breaches of the Agreement that virtually no one in the Unionist community believes that republicans really intend to change or give any credibility to their statements. The best that can be said for Mr. Adams efforts to bring about an end to physical force republicanism is that they have yet to succeed.

In short, the events of last October have raised the bar. Far from being a seismic shift, the lack of transparency raised the bar to the point that many now believe a prolonged period of direct rule is now inevitable. I think that would be bad for society as a whole, though I suspect it pleases some. How ironic if direct rule was a result of the half-hearted, grudging and minimalist approach of republicans to the Agreement they purport to support!

I think we should all remind ourselves of the unequivocal promise made by the IRA on 6th May, 2000. It promised that it would put its arms beyond use. Moreover, it said that it would do this in a way `to maximise public confidence'. It was on the basis of this promise that we entered the Executive in June 2000. Despite three undisclosed instalments of the decommissioning process, the promise has yet to be kept.

In these circumstances, while an examination of the voting arrangements in the Assembly or the functioning of the committee system or the d'Hondt formula might be a worthwhile exercise if we had an Assembly, at present it puts the cart before the horse. We have some quite clear views on how the functions of the Executive and the Assembly could be improved. There are also areas where matters did not work out as the Agreement intended. We will also be ready to put forward our views on the these and on the whole range of issues that we all nay wish to consider, if we had the prospect of a functioning Assembly. But we will not be party to an exercise in deception on the Government's part.

Therefore we must address some points to the Government. Presumably when the Government called this second Assembly into existence it intended that it should exist and function. At the time the Government resolved that there should be this second Assembly it well knew the obstacles that the renewal of devolution faced. The obvious inference is that the Government knowing those obstacles had in its mind some way of overcoming them. It is, therefore, incumbent on the Government to tell the people of Northern Ireland how they propose to enable the Assembly to work. Clearly Plan A will be to hope that this exercise produces a result. But if it does not then there is a clear duty on the Government to come forward with a Plan B. It would be quite wrong for the Government to give to any one party, representing as all the major parties do a minority of the voters, veto on the operation of the Assembly.


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