Trimble: Blair must nail down IRA on disarmament

13/11/2004 - 11:36:24

Tony Blair must nail down the IRA on a commitment to fully disarm and end paramilitarism if Northern Ireland’s Assembly is to return, it was urged today.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble told his party’s annual conference in Newcastle, Co Down, the British Prime Minister had missed an opportunity at talks in September to find out exactly what the Provisionals were prepared to do to revive power sharing at Stormont.

With the governments preparing to put proposals to revive devolution to Northern Ireland’s parties within the next week, he also accused the rival Democratic Unionist Party of letting republicans off the hook at the Leeds Castle talks in Kent.

“When Sinn Féin arrived at Leeds Castle, the cry was ringing in their ears that they were the government’s Stormont Fusiliers,” Mr Trimble said.

“I suspect that they had been unable to persuade their grassroots to make what they would regard as big sacrifices.

“Like other parties, we do not know what republicans supposedly offered to Blair. I suspect the offer was more a bluff than anything else.

“Blair should have nailed it down, but with characteristic optimism he rushed at it. The DUP could have covered themselves by confronting republicans and insisting they give clear details. But rather than engage in serious negotiations, they hid behind other issues.

“I did warn the DUP that they were letting republicans away in the smoke. Unfortunately, they did not listen. But that should not obscure the fact that the main responsibility lies with the government and republicans.

“The post-Leeds talks have run out of steam. It is said that the government is preparing a paper to put before the parties. We have advised government that they first nail down republicans.

“There must be genuine acts of completion that satisfactorily resolve decommissioning and paramilitary issues. Without that prospect, there will be no progress. With it, there is something to do and we will be ready.”

A deal on devolution and decommissioning has been frustrated by the failure of the Democratic Unionists and nationalists to agree a future model for power sharing.

Mr Trimble said today the DUP had put forward no new deal in the negotiations and had in fact signed up to the Good Friday Agreement after six years of opposing it.

He accused the DUP of flip-flopping on engaging with Sinn Féin in television studios and in talks.

Ian Paisley’s meeting with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin was the most dramatic reversal of all, the UUP leader claimed.

The Upper Bann MP also attacked the party for seeking separate elections in the Assembly for the Stormont First and Deputy First Ministers if devolution returned.

“What is the gain if the DUP is not required to vote for a Sinn Féin DFM but it is prepared to accept a Sinn Féin DFM voted in by other means?” he asked.

“This is merely stripping out one of the few cross-community provisions of the Agreement to spare the blushes of a sectarian party.”

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