Thursday, May 12, 2005

Tunnel vision was Trimble's downfall

Brian Feeney:

Trimble's gone and a lot of people who should know better are falling over themselves to pay tribute to him. The record shows that, contrary to the myth, some observers are striving to establish Trimble as a courageous, far-sighted leader. He was in reality an inept political leader who never attempted any serious reform of his decrepit party and never whole-heartedly embraced change.

Nor did he ever gain the full support of his party, for he won the leadership on a bogus prospectus in 1995. A substantial number of the party's ruling council could never accept that the hardliner they voted for to stonewall seemed to have sold the pass.

Trimble was also a hopeless election campaigner.

Voters could not warm to him. He was awkward, prickly, ill-tempered, condescending and unpredictable. In almost every election he fought as UUP leader the party's vote and share of the vote fell. He inherited a party with ten MPs and resigned with one. Enough said.

He failed to reform the UUP. He did not make any effort to break the link with the Orange Order which testified to bigotry, supremacy and sectarianism as fundamental tenets of the party he led. In the understandably self-serving speech he gave on Monday Trimble claimed credit for many achievements including the fact that, compared to ten years ago the north has a 'darned good balance sheet'. Really? Well perhaps, because we don't have David Trimble prancing about in Portadown hand in hand with Ian Paisley, a man whose convictions for disturbing the peace began thirty years earlier.

Meanwhile society has become more polarised in every respect, accelerated by the expulsion from their homes in the mid-1990s of hundreds of people, mainly Catholics, as a result of the Drumcree protests which Trimble at first encouraged and then characteristically shied away from. And to think the people of Garvaghy Road were Trimble's constituents.

In that same speech which will become a classic example of looking through the wrong end of the telescope Trimble also claimed he had 'unambiguously endeavoured' to implement the Good Friday Agreement. Nationalists will be amazed at that assertion. He gave a good impression of someone not implementing it. Nationalists will look back to 1999 and remember that Trimble refused to establish an executive because republicans were not abiding by his interpretation of the GFA.

The truth is that Trimble lost out in the last hours of the negotiations in 1998 and tried to behave as if Tony Blair's letter of comfort somehow superseded the agreed terms of the GFA.

An executive should have been established before decommissioning of weapons began but he refused to implement that. He also refused to accept the procedures of de Chastelain's commission and insisted on trying to impose his own conditions. He repudiated the Patten commission's findings, a commission he had agreed to being established. And so on and so on.

By the middle of 1999 Trimble was such a vocal critic of the operation of the agreement that it is a mystery why any unionist would ever want to support it. Then, as the DUP describe it, Trimble first turned purple, then turned turtle, succumbed to Blair's blandishments and at last went into an executive with people he'd spent nearly two years denigrating. If it was so bad and Sinn Féin were so dreadful and untrustworthy how could any unionist understand Trimble going into an administration with them? He'd painted himself into a corner. On the evidence of Trimble's very own words criticising his executive partners, Jeffrey Donaldson was right to oppose him for selling out. Trimble had barricaded himself into a nonsensical position.

Essentially what Trimble is now telling us is that his political demise is everyone else's fault. It was republicans' fault for not adhering to his demands, it was Tony Blair's fault for leading him up the garden path, and compelling him to set up an executive, it was the DUP's fault for not coming into the executive, it was the Irish government's fault for side-lining him in 2003. As always, everyone else is out of step but David Trimble.

And whoever replaces Trimble as leader of the UUP will probably be just as bad.


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