Trimble as DUP pin up?

Alex Kane turns his attention this week to the DUP and speculates on its possible routes forward. He argues that the party’s position on changes needed do not amount to fundamental changes, but arrather represent a compliment to the pioneering work of his own party leader and former First Minister, David Trimble.By Alex Kane

A few weeks ago I wrote a column in which I expressed the opinion that the DUP should cut to the chase and arrange a face-to-face with the IRA. This produced outrage from the usual sources within the DUP hierarchy, including Ian Paisley, who replied; “I am not in the business of wronging people who have given to me such a sacred mandate.”

In yesterday’s News Letter, we had this comment from Peter Robinson: “We’re discussing it at the present time, so clearly we haven’t ruled it out, and how best it can be done is something that we’ll have to consider. But I think we have a responsibility to use our influence. How best we use that influence is something that the days and weeks ahead will perhaps reveal.”

Mr. Robinson was actually referring to possible talks between the DUP and the representatives of the loyalist paramilitaries, but, at long last, and as predicted by some of us, the DUP has conceded the principle that talking to terrorists is an acceptable way of using their political influence. And, of course, once you have established the case for talking to one set of terrorists, it makes it so much easier to talk to another set.

In my opinion the DUP is preparing the political ground for some form of talks process with Sinn Fein/IRA and I also believe that those talks will happen before the IRA has either disbanded or totally disarmed. The DUP has already conceded the principle of “confronting” Sinn Fein on public and media platforms; it has taken part in the negotiation process at Leeds Castle, using the British government as its proxy link to Sinn Fein; and it has been down in Dublin to discuss Northern Ireland matters with the Irish government.

Now, I happen to believe that the DUP has no realistic alternative to u-turning on just about everything it said before the November 2003 Assembly elections. It is paying the price of being the largest party and having to make the first moves in the process. It has realized, as did the UUP before it, that it cannot operate in isolation, or secure any degree of progress which doesn’t require concession or compromise. It is only a matter of time before they cross the Rubicon and talk directly to Adams and McGuinness. Indeed, I challenge any of the DUP’s negotiating team to state that the party will never engage with Sinn Fein in advance of total decommissioning and a timetable for disbandment.

And, as David Trimble said in Portadown, on Wednesday evening; “The DUP have no big ideas. They have no new deal to propose. They have no ideas of their own. All they have done is to suggest some fairly modest modifications of the Belfast Agreement.” But, in the meantime, the DUP will continue to direct buckets of bile at the UUP, in a forlorn attempt to prevent an increasingly sceptical electorate from spotting the thumping hypocrisy and steaming humbug which lies at the core of the DUP’s opportunistic and thoroughly disingenuous strategy.

Let’s be frank, the DUP, once the vibrant trumpet of anti-Agreement unionism, has become the squeaky, sneaky, entirely compliant champion of the “fundamentals” of the very thing they claimed to despise. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then I suspect that David Trimble’s pin-up is on every DUP bedroom wall. The nightmares for the DUP are only just beginning. The hardest choices have yet to be made.

First published in the Newsletter on Saturday 16th October 2004