27/09/2002

McGimpsey rejects Haass concern as 'ludicrous'

The fall-out from the Ulster Unionist Party's unilateral deadline on IRA decommissioning and disbandment, has extended across the Atlantic.

On Thursday, President Bushs's special adviser on Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, spoke out against the UUP decision, which was made at Saturday's Ulster Unionist Council, to withdraw from the executive if paramilitaries had not "demonstrably established that a real and genuine transition is proceeding to a conclusion".

In a damning dismissal of Trimble's strategy, Mr Haass spoke of his concern that the "deadline will increase the sense of crisis, increase polarisation, undermine trust and make it all the more difficult to focus on what should be everyone's main task - namely, making the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement work."

Today, senior Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey hit back, accusing Mr Haass of "incorrectly assessing his party’s decision". He went on to describe the US envoy's interpretation as "ludicrous" and suggested that the Whitehouse's treatment of republicans betrayed double standards in an era when the US is waging its 'war against terror'.

Mr McGimpsey said: “The UUP does not want to bring the peace process down. It is ludicrous to suggest that after all that our party has invested in the last four years to help provide stable government in Northern Ireland.

“This is about the IRA failing the critical test of moving from a terrorist campaign into constitutional politics. As a result the political process is failing.

“It is time for Americans to get tough on all terrorism. The people of Northern Ireland expect that. The Agreement can only work in its entirety. You don’t need two tonnes of Semtex and a private army to make it work.

“America should wake up to the fact that republicans are not living up to their promises. Their involvement with Farc terrorists in Colombia, the break-in at Castlereagh Police Station and ongoing violence in Belfast proves that.

He added: "We cannot continue to give Republicans unlimited time to make a transition. It has to happen in the lifetime of this Assembly. Either republicans are serious about peace or they are playing games. They can’t have it both ways.”

With the UUP leadership under pressure from without and within, a public fall-out with Washington – articulated by a pro-agreement minister perceived as liberal – will be seen as further evidence of a hardline shift in Unionist strategy ahead of next year's assembly elections.

(GMcG)

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