Betrayal sank Trimble and leaking Agreement (Belfast Telegraph)

I am particularly intrigued by Eric Waugh’s proposal to apply the Alternative Vote System to voting decisions by Northern Ireland Assembly MLAs.

Betrayal sank Trimble and leaking Agreement

Eric Waugh (Belfast Telegraph)
13 May 2005

David Trimble said he regrets nothing about the contents of the Agreement of 1998. But he would, wouldn’t he’? He bought it! Too late he adds the rider that he should have held to a harder line in the business of implementing it.

Trimble, of course, was dropped in it – by Blair and by Adams. Of the two, Blair’s was the more shameful betrayal. Adams was merely doing his duty as a good republican to foul up the British works.

Trimble’s mistake, he may now perceive in hindsight but dare not admit, was to yield to false blandishments and venture on board the Agreement as Whitehall – pushed and goaded by Clinton’s Democrats – wanted it (i.e.: with the IRA’s agents in Government, arsenal intact or no).

The vessel leaked like a colander from the start. Trimble should have known it would sink.

The soundest pointer we have that our immediate future may yet comprise a decade or two of Direct Rule is the official mouthings that the Agreement remains our only and indispensable vehicle of progress.

Two elections have declared that it is not. What greater demonstration do Blair and Ahern require?

The notion of dual consent is held to be the foundation of the deal of 1998. But it is no longer present. To quote it as valid now is quite fraudulent.

Officially, any renegotiation is held to be out. But the 1998 deal is shot through with ambiguity and bluff, twin shoals of the three upon which it foundered.

So renegotiation is now inevitable. Everyone knows we must have an agreement, But not this one.

For one thing, the arms fudge must go. S0, of course, must the IRA.

Given the stance of Sinn Fein, in refusing to recognise the State in which they would share government, the 1998 power-sharing model is always going to be under severe strain.

It win also be strained by the refusal of Sinn Fein to accept any deal as a lasting settlement, rather than as a stepping-stone to the united Ireland they are unable to say how they would pay for – and which terrifies Dublin.

Indeed, the prospect that all-Ireland parties — Sinn Fein plus a future SDLP formally allied to Fianna Fail — could be sitting simultaneously in Government, north and south, raises unnerving security hares at once.

What price Cabinet confidentiality? Every Government has secrets. There would be few on this basis.

Trust, the outraged shibboleth, third of the three wrecking shoals last time, would be scarce.

Mind you, little enough is left. To reread the letter of April 10, 1998, which Trimble sought from the Prime Minister, is to be shocked afresh b its obfuscation.

No doubt Jonathan Powell, or the other adviser who drafted it, thought it a clever masterpiece. That depends upon what Blair was seeking to do.

His purpose was to float the Agreement; but that treacherous letter, suggesting (but deviously not quite spelling out) a tough Government line on decommissioning, ultimately helped sink Trimble, the Agreement’s essential pillar, and, therefore, the Agreement itself.

This is very much where we come in, second time round.

Might I suggest that a sound resolve at the outset might be that the Prime Minister, not to mention the Taoiseach, give the same signals to both sides?

And that one of those signals should be that the season for open appeasement of terrorists is over?

But the parties should start with a blank sheet. The present voting system makes it possible for candidates to be elected by winning the votes of only a minority.

The Alternative Vote system should be adopted, obliging candidates to command a majority to be elected.

To do that they would have to appeal beyond their own sectarian ghetto. Tactical voting would be encouraged.

The heinous requirement for all elected members to declare themselves orange or green, or other, sets the sectarian divide in concrete.

It was not considered necessary in the 1974 deal and it should go, to be replaced by stipulating a certain numerical majority to pass legislation.

So should the d’Hondt proportional system used for electing Ministers. It is not used anywhere else. No wonder. It turns the “Cabinet” into a den of slanging chieftains without any unifying purpose.

Members of the Executive should be elected by a free vote of the Assembly in which the members would use the same Alternative Vote system (i.e.: Ministers, to be appointed, would require a majority to be elected). Deals would have to be done.

Finally, the nonsensical provision that Irish unity would happen when a referendum produces an unspecified majority should go.

A majority of one? Its size should be stipulated at a level indicating broad majority consent.

After this, my prognosis that Direct Rule could last a decade or two may not seem so far-fetched.

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