Whilst there’s a party atmosphere in Republican west Belfast, there is a strong feeling that the ball is now in the court of the Unionists, not least the DUP. The party’s ‘hard man’ Ian Paisley Junior is leading much of the party’s public countermoves at the moment. He characterises the IRA’s move as phoney decommissioning, and prepares his team for the public and private pressure which is likely to follow:From Ian Paisley Junior:
Speaking Mr Paisley said, “In the coming days and weeks the resolve of the Unionist people will be tested as never before. Efforts are no afoot to see to it that another act of phoney decommissioning takes place so as the government can insist on establishing a devolved assembly that includes Sinn Fein/IRA in the government of Northern Ireland.
The government, Dublin and Washington must be left with a clear and certain understanding that unionism is resolved to resist having a government made up of bombers, murderers, gangsters, bank robbers or fugitives.
There can be no uncertainty on this. No wavering can be permitted. No mixed messages or ifs and buts allowed. Unionism is mandated to stand united and determined that only democracy can and will prevail.
Last year the DUP laid the foundation for a settlement that would have lasting and certain features. If republicans want to be part of the institutions of the country they must become democratic. They must renounce violence, and eschew all criminal activity. Their words would not be the talisman of their condition rather their actions would be the benchmark by which unionists would judge them.
We have made it clear that we would hold the Prime Minister to his undertaking that unionists would have to be satisfied that the IRA weapons have been destroyed and their structures dismantled and their terror army disbanded. That is why we sought a mechanism to verify in an open, transparent and convincing manner that decommissioning has occurred.
Sinn Fein shunned that effort. Dismissed because republicans claimed it would “humiliate” them. Well in my book IRA murderers need a taste of humility!
They dodged the great and searching question, are they sincere about giving up terrorism and criminality and walking a path of democracy?
They cannot duck and dive that question any longer. The sincerity test has arrived. Sinn Fein/IRA’s sincerity will be judged on how they deal with this matter. The course they have currently chosen is without credibility or standing and will result in unionism dismissing it.
They have demonstrated that they are not interested in convincing unionists of their alleged peaceful intent or of anything approaching sincerity.
• They hold on to the £26 million stolen from the Northern Bank.
• They refuse to hand over killers and rapists from their community.
• They oppose the lawful police and courts system.
• And they are engaged in a so-called decommissioning process that is in secret, without credibility and with no prospect of convincing unionists that all their weapons are destroyed, the IRA disbanded and the criminal empire forsaken.
They think unionists must spare their blushes on the issue of the destruction of terrorism and terror weapons. We will do no such thing!
It is in the interest of democracy for law and order to prevail over terror and chaos I am convinced that only the DUP has both the calibre and resolve to stand up where others have collapsed. But make no mistake about it the pressure will be on at even the slightest suggestion that the IRA has got rid of a bullet case let alone its murder arsenal.
I give this warning to our community that the unionist that forgets the past is destined to repeat the mistakes of David Trimble.
He took Sinn Fein at its word. He gave them not one but three chances in government only to destroy himself and is party. Unionists have no more chances top distribute. The DUP cannot and must not get it wrong on any occasion.
That is why we are determined to do the right thing no matter how long the course we must walk.
Lets face up to it; there is no appetite for a devolved government with Sinn Fein. The Secretary of State knows this to be the case. Unionists know that direct rule offers a less than satisfactory form of government. We want to take decisions that affect the interest of our people but the price of an unreconstructed, terror machine at the heart of government is too high for any democrat to contemplate.
The ball is not in our court. We will live with direct rule; the ball is in the court of others.
The Government cannot ignore us. They have seen in recent days the vacuum they helped to create if they ignore the elected representatives of unionism. The government must do more than have initiatives and honeyed words they must take action on the issues we have put before them.
Sinn Fein/IRA know that they cannot bluff the DUP. Appealing over our heads to Blair, Ahern or Bush cuts no ice with us. Only our people can pressurise us. That is why unionists must stand firm and determined to resist pressure. After all we can only walk a path we are willing to walk.
Sinn Fein/IRA has an opportunity to pass the sincerity test. They can decommission in secret and convince no one of its credibility. Or they can decommission transparently, disband their army, dismantle the criminal empire and give up the proceeds of crime in a way that will expose their evil but will bring it to an end.
Their unwillingness to be open and honest will be the breaking point of any decommissioning process.
The government has a clear duty to recognise that unionists have rights. We have in front of this government matters that they could implement that would demonstrate that they are listening and acting. More importantly the Secretary of State has the power to move on without any more time wasting waiting on the IRA. He can tell the other parties that a better way forward is by those parties moving on without the IRA. Has the SDLP the leadership qualities to jettison the front men of the IRA?
Has the government the will to recognise that the Belfast Agreement is dead and it is now time to move on.”
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty