Conservative policy

Simon Heffer believes Trimble has no choice but to move rightwards. Conor Cruise O’Brien pops his head above the parapet for the first time in a while and gives more immediate counsell: “What Trimble and all other unionists should be doing right now is keeping the spotlight on Colombia and the IRA’s links with FARC. In this way he will embarrass both Sinn Fein and the British and Irish Governments.”

Meantime, in yesterday’s debate in Westminster the Lib Dem’s Northern Ireland spokesman Lembit Öpik questioned the apparent arbitrariness of Conservative Party policy towards Northern Ireland and it’s abandonment of bi-partisan policy under William Hague’s leadership.

“No one can question the seminal importance of the work of former Prime Minister, John Major, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has rightly pointed out. As I have said in other speeches, there is no doubt that John Major kick-started the current peace process by taking significant risks as Prime Minister and straying beyond what might have been regarded as the safe path in respect of Northern Ireland. No one can question whether the Good Friday agreement, for all the strains on it, exists and was signed by the majority of parties in the Province.

“Nevertheless, the Conservatives have raised a number of concerns, as they are entitled to do, and I should like to explore two of them—their criticisms of past political activity by the Government and their predictions for the future. As for the former, it strikes me as ironic that a number of activities, such as prisoner release and the apparent non-enforcement of the decommissioning conditions, are so heavily attacked by the official Opposition. It seems to me that the Conservatives have set a great deal of the precedents with regard to Northern Ireland political decision making. Their past approach tends to imply that we must allow the flexibility for a Government to take those kinds of tough choices.”

He goes on to suggest that what HMG has been attempting to do under both Conservative and Labour adminstrations precisely the same thing:

“In effect, we have tried to say that there is a better, peaceful, democratic way to achieve outcomes than the paramilitary way that has been tried previously. I do not feel that using the stick of excluding such organisations from the Executive will have any effect other than, first, strengthening support for them in the communities that they represent, and, secondly, providing a degree of pressure within those organisations that makes it even less likely that we will manage to resolve these issues.

“There must be a limit. We cannot keep writing a blank cheque and retreating, allowing these organisations to do anything they want and to disrespect completely, in this case, the Good Friday agreement. I worry, however, that the threshold is being set rather low by those who feel that we should take the approach of wielding a very large stick and a relatively small carrot.”