Unionist dilemma

Paul Bew in the FT today says:

“Mr Trimble’s critics have one big weakness: they do not have a clue what to do next. They dream about a form of devolution that denies Sinn Féin a place in the administration of the province. That was always implausible. It became inconceivable as soon as Sinn Féin overtook the moderate nationalist SDLP at last year’s general election to become the majority party for nationalists. The only real alternative to the agreement is a return to direct rule – a form of administration involving a significant role for Dublin following the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement.”

But then he goes on to quote recent findings of the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, from which he draws the following analysis:

“..most Protestants do not see devolution as integral to their prosperity; they do not think devolved government provides value for money; and while they accept that the agreement’s collapse would lead to more sectarian violence, they do not believe the agreement’s survival will lead to less.”

Yet he doesn’t believe this is a reason to abandon the Agreement. Instead he switches the focus away from the internal question and puts it on Sinn Fein instead:

“There is still a problem of republican paramilitarism. Gerry Adams, the Sinn Féin president, may have chosen the path of political compromise but he controls the republican movement by permitting its militaristic adventures so as to sustain the illusion that a return to armed struggle is still possible. Mr Adams thereby imposes the costs of his own man-management on Mr Trimble. The republican leadership does not want to go back to war but it heads a movement that instinctively prefers tension to normality in the province.”

He goes on to suggest that Trimble should look to turn this to his advantage. But after such an astute analysis the punchline at the end of the article is probably less inspiring than it might be: “Essentially, voters would be asked to tolerate devolved government with Sinn Féin ministers as the most practical way of sustaining the Union.”

It persists in viewing the Agreement as morally compromised. But as deKlerk said of the situation of the whites in SA when contemplating reforms in the mid to late 80’s, the only solution worth considering here is a moral one. So far the anti-Agreement lobby is occupying the ‘higher moral ground’. It’s hard to see that situation being turned, unless an compelling moral argument is raised against the ‘alternative’.

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