Latest hiccup in the Northern Ireland peace process - what's it all about?

Obligatory link.

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.

AFAIK, the confidentiality agreement was written into the Good Friday Agreement, which Trimble himself signed. Thus, he knew what was going to happen, and had prepared his outrage in advance.

I was a bit unclear. The IRA could have allowed greater detail to be released and Trimble claimed that he had said in advance that he wouldn’t act unless this was supplied - so maybe he did have a legitimate expectation of more information this time round. In fairness, there was slighly more information released by the General than on previous occasions but this wasn’t enough for Dave. There’s no dispute about whether weapons were put beyond use within the terms of the GFA.

To plagarise myself (from here):

Sounds like the main issue is that Trimble thought he had a specific agreement and he didn’t quite have what he thought he had - I think he is more pissed at what he sees as “bad faith” rather than the transparency issue. He and the UUP had (reportedly) repeatedly told Sinn Fein that another act of decommissioning would achieve nothing without it being open and transparent, and thus winning the trust of the general public. This didn’t happen.

No one believes the act didn’t take place, but the UUP point seems to be that if it is happening, people need to know exactly what it entails, so that they can continue to have trust in the process. The IRA leadership can be considered to have acted strictly within the existing legal mandate, but could have taken that extra step to show their peaceful intent clearly to everyone in NI. (although perhaps alienating hard-liners in the process). Difficult call all round.

It currently reads as people putting petty principles before peace, from all involved sides.

Of course, it all could be a Media game to make Trimble look decisive (didn’t work) and give Adams back some face in his community for the further act of decommissioning (yet to be seen if this worked). I guess we’ll see in the next day or three what really comes of this, but I don’t think too many will be holding their breath.

Yeah really unfortunate turn of events.

As I said in the thread linked by Aro I fear this will hurt Trimble and put the ball in the DUP’s court. A DUP/Sinn Fein lead assembly would be a nightmare.

Hopefully something happens like a report on the actual stuff decommissioned(crosses fingers)

Given the history between the two parties there is simply no way I can believe that Trimble made a deal based upon a promise of transparency without defining what “transparency” meant. Absolutely no frigging way.

Having personally witnessed the reactions of several SF Ard Chomhairle members when Trimble pulled out I am also completely convinced that there was no attempt at duplicity by republicans. The shock at all levels of the party is immeasurable. The agreement, as far as we are concerned, was signed and sealed and our part and the IRA’s were delivered - and then Trimble got cold feet.

I blame the media to a large extent. The whole day, who were they going to for reactions? The anti-agreement unionists (who, let’s face it, were never going to settle for anything less than a public mass suicide by IRA members). I believe this created a climate in which Trimble feared he could not sell the agreement to his people, and then de Chastelain’s statement about the confidentiality clause gave him a peg to hang his panic on to.

Besides, if you look at de Chastelain’s statement it was actually quite detailed. He named the types of weapons, he said that it was a “much larger” amount than in the previous decommissionings, he said that the weapons were in usable condition and would have caused large scale death and destruction if used. If he had not said anything about the confidentiality clause I seriously doubt that anybody would have noticed there was any information missing at all. The idea that this decommissioning wasn’t “transparent” enough just because they didn’t get an itemised list of the weapons is absurd. It’s a red herring - just as decommissioning has been throughout this process.

Actually, I have heard Trimble is quite notorious in negotiations, despite his being a lawyer, of NOT pinning down specific details on paper and of glossing over ‘minor’ issues in an attempt to maintain clarity of the big picture. So it comes as little suprise that a specific clause may not have been fully confirmed and agreed in writing prior to announcements. And now it looks like both parties thought it was all agreed, but subsequently had different ideas of what that agreement was. An oversight, or a bollox - you decide?

Interestingly, the response of the UUP members seems to have been one of similar frustration - reports of much teeth-gnashing, wall-punching and naughty words - so there is either a lot of play-acting or a lot of crossed-wires all round. It seems everyone thought they had something they didn’t have. An oversight, or a bollox - you decide?

If it drags on without resolution, there is good chance, as Yojimbo says, Sinn Fein will be dealing with the DUP (if they even will) not the UUP, who have already stated that the only way they see forward is to scrap the BA and negotiate a different ‘fairer’ (ahem) agreement. No decision required - bollox it is.

What are your thoughts on where/how it would go from there, Ruadh?

[tinfoil hat]
If you take Bertie Ahern’s statement to the Dáil yesterday at face value, there has to be questions about the role of the Governments, particularly the British Government. The Taoiseach said that he had grave doubts about how the level of detail on decommissioning would influence the UUP. He said that he made efforts to contact de Chastelaine and when he failed to do so, he seriously thought about staying in Dublin on Tuesday. Disregarding the possibility that he’s just being wise after the event, this would suggest to me that while the parties may have had an agreement in place, the Governments hadn’t completed the choreography.

De Chastelaine, given his independent role under the agreement, was always going to be something of a wild card. The Irish Government, however, were anxious to address the issue of what he was likely to say and how that would play with unionists. It seems to me that the British Government preferred to let the momentum of the day do its work and put Trimble in a position where he could not be seen to be a party pooper. But David could party poop for (the UK/NI/Ireland) delete as appropriate.
[/tinfoil hat]

Of course, there’s probably a lot of truth in ruadh’s analysis in that Trimble probably did get cold feet and also seized the opportunity to distance himself from Sinn Féin. I don’t agree with the ‘blame the media’ line - that’s too easy. I think he would have been worried that his opponents would characterise him as being Gerry Adams’ best mate during the election campaign and he needed to counteract that.

I don’t agree with the ‘blame the media’ line though. The media will always go where the best story is - politicians just have to suppress their control-freakery and deal with it. There was no willingness on the part of the pro-agreement parties to talk to the press while the thing was on a knife edge and it was quite natural to seek quotes from where they were readily available. I also think if you look back on the media coverage, it had a distinct pro-agreement slant.

I’m not sure about the doom and gloom merchants’ view that this all plays into the hands of the DUP, Donaldson etc. If Trimble can get past next Wednesday’s meeting more or less intact, there could be light at the end of the tunnel. There will probably be some sort of compromise in advance of the elections and if Trimble’s entourage play this cutely, he can bring his traditional support with him as well as poaching a few voters who are idiotic enough to buy into the hard man image. I’m looking forward to seeing the UUP’s candidate lists - a big factor in all of this will be how many anti-agreement candidates are put up by the UUP.

As a final thought, a big part of the process has been about bringing democracy to Northern Ireland. I would be very critical of how the British Government has stalled elections until an ailing UUP is shored up. That is not democracy. Elections happen in properly democratic states when the constitution says they happen, not at the whim of the Government of the day. If this means that the DUP emerge stronger (and SF, equally unpalatable to some) then so be it.

Apologies for the editing! I obviously double don’t blame the media.

Re: Proposed Elections:
No one I have spoken to recently really seems to care about the upcoming elections and have already decided it is a waste of time due to current circumstances. Many (rightly or wrongly) view it as a mere poll, a popularity contest which will have little impact on anything important - especially if there isn’t going to be a government at the end of it.

I don’t know how reflective my circle of acquaintances are of the populace as a whole (certainly a mixed bag of political affiliations), but there certainly seems to be little enthusiasm about it all- so I think a big part of the outcome will rest on the extent of voter apathy. Of course, this may all change in the coming weeks once the campaigners get going – we’ll see.

Donaldson will certainly be standing in my local constituency (Lagan Valley) – doubt they would/could even attempt to change his position there. No idea of the others.

I don’t know whether or not it was agreed in writing, but I still find it impossible to believe such a crucial issue - if that really was the crucial issue, which as I’ve already indicated I doubt - would not have been clarified. Certainly our people were completely unprepared for the possibility that Trimble might judge it “not transparent enough” - and we’ve had enough experience already with him moving the goalposts that I also doubt that our negotiators would have left open that possibility.

Were the UUP members briefed by the leadership about the terms of the agreement beforehand, though? I don’t know that they were.

I’d like to see the way things pan out over the next 48 hours first.

As I understood it, Trimble just couldn’t carry the sceptical wing of the of the UUP without greater specifics; as per normal, no point you making agreements your radicals can’t accept. What isn’t known is whether that (lack of specifics) was intentional or not. It’s possible – though highly unusual – to think parties attempted to force the issue through and the only way to do that was to keep one or two elements a little vague and hope a kind of relief/euphoric momentum would carry the day with the rank and file.

Alternatively, it was a balls-up, which seems less likely to me.

Obviously, almost everyone is genuinely upset about this turn of events.

Perhaps as interestingly is how the personal relationship between ‘Mr Trimble’ and ‘Mr Adams’ has warmed, if it carries on like this they’ll be going on ‘Iron Man’ weekends together before the year’s out.

Also, I’d like to able to compare Adam’s voice/tone now, with what it’s been at any point prior. Something in the man has changed.