Wednesday, May 11, 2005

David Trimble and unionism

Susan McKay:

No, said the Reverend Doctor Ian Paisley. He didn't feel sorry for David Trimble. The Ulster Unionist leader had nobody to blame but himself for his downfall.

"I held him by the hand in Portadown...

I was the kingmaker," said the triumphant DUP leader, who travelled to Banbridge on Friday night to witness Trimble's humiliation. Outside, Paisley's people roared and battered their Lambeg drums while Trimble quietly acknowledged defeat.

The university law lecturer – with a taste for classical music – yielded to the hymn singing meat plant owner. (To call David Simpson and Willie McCrea gospel singers is to insult Sam Cooke).

This is how it is in unionism now.

Paisley's reference was, of course, to the notorious moment in 1995 when he and Trimble held hands and punched the air after the RUC chief constable allowed the Orange Order to march along the Garvaghy Road.

A grinning Trimble insisted that there had been "no compromise" with nationalists, while Paisley described it as a great victory for Protestantism.

It was this hardline, triumphalist Trimble who went on to win the leadership of the UUP. The stance he and Paisley took over Drumcree in 1995 inevitably raised the stakes for the following years.

Unionism was determined to triumph again – nationalism was equally determined not to be humiliated.

Unionism won after loyalist paramilitaries murdered a Catholic to show nationalists what would happen if they tried to stop the Orange Order. At least a dozen more Catholics were to die during the Drumcree years to prove the same point.

Trimble went on to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, which, undeniably, represented a compromise with nationalism but the jig at Drumcree haunted him. With Paisley on the outside and Donaldson on the inside shouting that he was a Lundy, Trimble spent much of his leadership trying to prove that he wasn't.

After one of those bruising Ulster Unionist Council showdowns between Donaldson and his cohorts and Trimble, the leader, despite having seen off his attackers, declared that the difference between them was merely tactical.

These people were explicitly and fundamentally opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. They showed contempt for democracy even within their own party. Trimble became their prisoner. In recent weeks he was humiliated again by the likes of James Molyneaux and Martin Smyth, UUP men who backed the DUP.

Now that he is gone commentators are blaming Sinn Féin, the Irish government, the British prime minister, the media and the woman in makeup who didn't apply green foundation to counter his redness of face. True, Sinn Féin has failed to deal with the IRA. True, the two governments dropped the SDLP, the UUP and the smaller parties once Sinn Féin and the DUP became the dominant forces. True, some in the media were harsh. True, the red face was not concealed.

But, in the end, it was unionism which defeated Trimble.

His own, as well as Paisley's. Unionism didn't like the agreement.

Trimble didn't like it and made that clear. He didn't sell it as a victory, though in many ways it was. Many unionists would never have voted for it only for Tony Blair's notorious Coleraine promise about IRA arms, a promise that couldn't be kept.

Nor could Trimble keep the support of those who felt they'd been duped – that unfortunate word.

He shared their obsession with IRA guns. Getting Sinn Féin on to the policing board would have been a better goal.

A significant number of unionists voted for the agreement to be shot of politics. They were at best 'agreement-acquiescent' and were appalled to find they'd signed up for a long drawn out and acrimonious process. Republicans, on the other hand, claimed they'd won the war and kept fighting.

Unionism wasn't ready to share power with nationalism – let alone republicanism – in 1998.

It isn't ready yet. The DUP will get its comeuppance in time.

Unionism has shown that while it knows what it is against, it doesn't know what it is for. What will become of God and Ulster when the IRA goes away?

Nationalism will still be on the rise.

For now, though, the DUP's hunger to humiliate Sinn Féin is unabated.

Stuffed with UUP defectors, and waiting for more, it will want to savour its victory over Trimble's "pushover unionism" and consolidate it with new assembly elections, before returning to the deal it abandoned in December.

Whatever about photographs of IRA weapons, it certainly isn't ready – yet – to be photographed with Sinn Féin on the steps of Stormont.

Of course the real reason why the DUP will not deal with Sinn Fein has nothing to do with the IRA and everything to do with British colonialism. The only time colonists want to talk to members of an indigenous population is when they are giving orders to the natives.


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