N. Ireland Peace Process In Trouble

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London (CNSNews.com) - While world attention focuses on the Middle East, another peace process closely associated with the Clinton administration may also be falling apart. A leading Northern Ireland politician warns that the Good Friday peace agreement will collapse if concessions to terrorists do not stop.

David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and First Minister in the power-sharing Belfast government, said Britain's Labor government was doing what successive governments had promised not to do - "surrendering to terrorism."

In an article published Tuesday, Trimble said it was unfair to expect only one side to make all of the painful compromises, and he warned that the agreement could disintegrate, leading to "increased instability in both parts of Ireland."

Trimble complained that the Catholic republican paramilitary group, the Irish Republican Army, had not made good on undertakings to disarm.

Last June the IRA finally allowed international monitors to visit three of its arms dumps to confirm that guns and explosives had been put "beyond use."

The inspections, coming after a long deadlock around the weapons issue, were hailed as a positive step, but no more have taken place despite the obligation on weapons "decommissioning" in the Good Friday deal.

Despite the lack of progress, the British government last week offered the IRA new concessions in a bid to build confidence and encourage a reciprocal gesture in the way of more weapons inspections.

The new measures included the further dismantling of British Army bases in Northern Ireland, and an agreement that the government would no longer seek the extradition from the U.S. and elsewhere of wanted IRA terrorists who escaped justice.

Trimble slammed the unilateral concessions to republicans.

"What was a confidence-building measure has become yet another tool for extracting concessions," he wrote. "In short, a British government is doing what successive governments have promised not to do: it is surrendering to terrorism."

Trimble, one of the architects of the 1998 Good Friday deal brokered by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, said the agreement now being pursued was not the one he had signed up to.

The stinging reproach and warning comes just days before Trimble faces yet another showdown with critics inside his UUP party, at its annual conference this weekend.

Over the past year he has on several occasions faced leadership challenges from elements inside the party who oppose his peace policies, accusing him of conceding too much in order to achieve a negotiated settlement.

His warning of a deal collapse Tuesday is seen partly as a bid to counter these arguments that he has sold out unionism, the pro-British, Protestant tradition in Northern Ireland.

One of the agreement's most unpalatable aspects for unionists a the range of planned "reforms" to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Ireland police force unionists praise as a courageous bulwark against terrorism, but republicans regard with suspicion and mistrust.

The planned reforms include a change of badge and name - to remove the obvious "royal" association with Britain - and the recruitment of more Catholics into the mostly Protestant force.

Trimble earlier reluctantly agreed to the RUC changes, but said Tuesday that in the light of republicans' failure to deliver on their obligations, he wanted a moratorium on the reforms until the IRA disarms. Moreover, the whole issue of the RUC's change of name should be re-opened, he said.

Peter Mandelson, the British government's Northern Ireland minister, called Monday on the IRA to allow more inspections of its arms caches, "in a way that maintains the greatest mutual confidence an all sides of the community."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow