17/04/2002

Agreement survives but unionists have "deep reservations"

Amid a broadly encouraging speech, Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble has told the IoD annual dinner in London that many unionists had "deep reservations" on how the Agreement was being implemented.

He also offered a further defence of his controversial recommendation advocating a border poll, saying the move would "take the border out of the political debate in Northern Ireland for many years to come". Mr Trimble then offered a caveat to those who believed that the so-called 'war on terror' had finished paramilitarism in Northern Ireland.

“In the four years since the Belfast Agreement, the international climate in which terrorist and pseudo-national liberation movements operate has turned decidedly icy. Paramilitarism no longer thrives in Northern Ireland but it has proved stubborn nonetheless," he said.

“Few doubt Northern Ireland has undergone a transformation in recent years, politically, socially and economically. When we look to the Middle East the scale of that transformation - and its positive character - is plain. But on the part of paramilitaries it has been, it must be admitted, only a partial transformation."

Mr Trimble also highlighted the fact that loyalist paramilitaries had not responded to the IRA's move to decommission some of its weapons, and also claimed that the IRA was continuing to engage in beatings and murders.

He added: "Sinn Fein’s qualified enthusiasm for democracy is exemplified by its lack of enthusiasm for the parliamentary investigations, either in the Irish Republic or, more importantly, in the US, into allegations of IRA links to the FARC narco-terrorists in Colombia.

"This group have engaged in two major bombings in the last 10 days – both of which bear uncanny resemblance to IRA actions of the past. In truth, the FARC connection is but one of Irish republicans’ links to international terror."

Mr Trimble added that while this would not be such a big deal for a minor party, the fact that Sinn Fein was prospering in Northern Ireland, and vying with the SDLP to be the largest nationalist party, presented the British and Irish governments with a considerable problem.

He concluded: "Few believe that progress will be made by tossing the Agreement aside. At the same time, many unionists have deep reservations about the way the Agreement has been implemented and about Sinn Fein’s democratic bona fides.

“It is in this context that I have suggested the idea of a ‘border poll’ in Northern Ireland. This would have the effect of giving confidence to unionists that there political position within the UK is secure and, at the same time, take the border out of the political debate in Northern Ireland for many years to come." (MB)

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