Northern Ireland’s peace process is caught in a “dangerous crisis” because Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble allowed hard liners to set the agenda in recent years, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness claimed today.
In a hard-hitting attack on the Ulster Unionist leader, Mr McGuinness told his party’s annual conference that Mr Trimble reneged on commitments he gave to republicans during crucial peace process negotiations last year.
The Mid Ulster MP told the conference in Dublin: “David Trimble knows the Agreement is good for our society but since April 1998 he has allowed his political compass to be set by Ian Paisley.
“This is what has driven his ’ducks into the water, ducks out of the water’ approach to the political institutions.
“For this has been part of his wider battle within unionism.
“As Ian Paisley set the unionist agenda of opposition to the Good Friday Agreement, David Trimble’s biggest mistake was to respond by trying to out-Paisley Paisley.”
In a report to delegates on political developments over the past year, Mr McGuinness detailed the sequences agreed between the Ulster Unionists, Sinn Féin and the Irish and British governments in two failed negotiations in April and October of last year.
The IRA, he said, acted in good faith on both occasions but were badly let down by Mr Trimble’s party and the Irish and British governments.
The former Stormont Education Minister said the political process in Northern Ireland "tilted into political crisis" in September 2002 when Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble joined forces with his internal rival Jeffrey Donaldson at a meeting of the UUP's ruling council.
At that council meeting, Mr Trimble threatened to walk out of the power sharing institutions if the IRA did not take steps to wind down.
However a raid on Sinn Féin offices at Stormont and arrests of four people for an alleged IRA spying operation were manufactured, he claimed, by the British Security Services in October 2002 to help the Ulster unionists avoid getting the blame for bringing down the power sharing government.
Mr McGuinness said a joint declaration produced by the Irish and British governments last year did not completely satisfy his party during negotiations to re-establish the Stormont executive early last year.
“Let’s be absolutely clear about this declaration,” the party’s chief negotiator said.
“Although it deals with many of our concerns, it is a bilateral position agreed only by the two governments.
“It is not a Sinn Féin position. It does not and cannot supplant the Good Friday Agreement.”
Mr McGuinness said the joint declaration, however, was seen by Sinn Féin as a testament to how London and Dublin had failed to implement many aspects of the 1998 agreement.
The party’s negotiating team had an early sight of the document and believed if the commitments were acted upon by London and Dublin, it would have marked the beginning of a process which would have resulted in the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
As a result, Sinn Féin persuaded the IRA leadership to draw up a statement which could “inject momentum” into the peace process which was passed on to the two governments and was also shown to the Ulster unionist leadership.
“It contained several highly significant and positive elements unparalleled in any previous statement by the IRA leadership,” he said.
However the initiative floundered over a demand by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for clarity and the Ulster unionists’ refusal to sign up to it.
“In doing so they made it clear that their primary concern was the forthcoming election battle with the DUP and conceded that this battle would be fought on the political ground of their opponents within unionism,” he said.
Mr McGuinness also revealed that the IRA authorised a third act of putting weapons beyond use in a bid to break the deadlock but said that that initiative was rejected by unionists.