For the uninitiated, following discussions and agreement between Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionist Party and the two governments, yesterday was supposed to see a series of carefully choreographed steps to enable the NI Assembly and the power sharing executive be reinstated following elections. The running order was supposed to go something like this:
[li]Date for elections announced by the British Government (actually happened the day before).[/li][li]Sinn Féin announce commitment to exclusively peaceful methods and condemn any violent political action.[/li][li]IRA agree with Sinn Féin and announce a significant act of arms decommissioning.[/li][li]General John De Chastelaine, chair of the decommissioning body, verifies that such an act has taken place.[/li][li]The Ulster Unionist Party agree to work the institutions and support the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.[/li][li]A typically cerebral NI election campaign takes place.[/li][li]The Pro-Agreement parties sweep to victory now that the Governments have ensured that the elections take place in the best possible conditions for them.[/li][li]Adams and Trimble dance hand up the main driveway of Stormont as the paving slabs light up like in the Billie Jean video and the SDLP run to catch up.[/li][li]Paisley, Robinson, Donaldson, Burnside et al mutter about those pesky kids.[/li][/ol]
OK, forget about the last couple but you have the idea. The process actually stalled between steps 4 and 5. The General, due to a confidentiality clause with the IRA, could not spell out exactly what had been decommissioned, although he was at pains to stress that it was a significant amount and greater than any previous decommissioning acts. Trimble stated that this was not sufficient for him to move and that greater “transparency” or “particularity” (the VHS and Beta of the NI buzzword market) was required. It should be noted that the decommissioning was done within the agreed terms for such acts.
So, what do you think? Is this a ploy by Trimble to outflank the anti-agreement Unionists in advance of the elections? His posturing, if that’s what it is, will play well with the Unionist electorate. Was it a breach of faith by the IRA to insist on a confidentiality agreement, in the light of discussions between the parties on this matter? The IRA are obviously very wary about anything that could be construed as ‘surrender’ and have never allowed these events be filmed - they also don’t want to be dictated to by any unionist leader. Is this just another example of how the same language means different things to the parties - the famed lack of understanding of nuance by plain speaking Protestants, or Catholic sophistry if you prefer it that way?
So, to use an unfortunate phrase, give it to us with both barrels. In the great tradition of the Straight Dope, it won’t matter a damn what we say but we’ll sure have fun saying it.