Monday, November 17, 2003


...you think I've disappeared, I'm blogging at Slugger O'Toole for the duration of the election campaign. I thought I'd have time to do both, but things are busy at the moment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003


David Trimble is a voter in Lagan Valley. Which leaves me wondering who he will vote for - his loyal Chief Whip Ivan Davis or the rebel who has refused the party whip, Jeffrey Donaldson?

Alliance's Seamus Close has already suggested a tongue-in-cheek answer - that Mr Trimble could vote for him!

Thursday, October 30, 2003


DOES anyone know if there's a way to get a counter on my sidebar for no cost and very little technical ability?

BRIAN Feeney can do my head in with his tired republican rhetoric, but he does make the occasional good point. I think he managed one the other day when he pointed out that the UUP and SF may not have been too badly damaged by their failure to make a deal.

A pre-election deal was always going to be tricky. I didn’t think it would happen, although it would have been nice to have been proved wrong.

So what are the potential electoral consequences for the two problem parties? Was their ‘nearly deal’ a good move or not?

From a UUP perspective, it was a gamble. Some prospective candidates have jumped ship; surprisingly some of the more moderate pro-Trimble types, like Bob Stoker and Ivor Whitten. Yet, by talking to Sinn Fein just before an election – rather than taking the usual unionist route of retreating to the tribal corner – Trimble was appealing to a more moderate unionist. Unionists are perhaps more prepared these days to forgive those who try and fail, than those who never try at all. Watching the contrast between the DUP’s party election broadcast in May and yesterday’s is incredible; moderation could be making a comeback.

If a deal had been agreed with ‘the enemy’, the DUP wouldn’t have had any use for their own election slogan. ‘Lundy’ would have sufficed. News of the long-awaited handshake was downplayed so much, it barely registered on the unionist consciousness. The fact that Trimble and Adams were on the phone hours after the process broke down was a good indication that they will just pick up the pieces and try, try and try again. Everyone knows we can’t go back to square one, even the DUP.

But Trimble has, in some ways, beaten republicans at their own game. He has pocketed the IRA’s ‘war is over’ statement and a substantial act of decommissioning – his arch-critic David Burnside’s description - without giving anything away.

Trimble has been castigated as a poor negotiator, but have the begrudgers got it wrong? More to the point, is the UUP too scared to shout about it? They seem to have a problem recognising when they are ahead of the game.

On the other side of the fence, Sinn Fein has got the election it wanted so badly.

And… that’s it. But as Trimble himself might say: “An election to what?” Certainly not an Assembly, so Sinn Fein haven’t much to show for their weeks of negotiating.

Whether the IRA bottled it, or Trimble didn’t understand what he had agreed to, some say republicans are having ‘trouble with their constituency’. The resignation of John Kelly from the party was a footnote in the press here, but was it indicative of a much greater concern within republicanism about Sinn Fein’s strategy?

I am beginning to suspect this may be the case. Feedback welcome.

Monday, October 27, 2003


I mentioned this the other day, and UUP negotiator Michael McGimpsey noticed as well in the Belfast Tele on Saturday ('cos he was on BBC Hearts & Minds on Thursday):

“Senior UUP negotiator Michael McGimpsey said the DUP had performed a 'flip followed by a somersault' over the issue of Sinn Fein involvement on the Policing Board.

He said Sammy Wilson's comments that the party would not leave the Policing Board in the event of Sinn Fein taking their seats "flew in the face of stated DUP policy" which declared that the party would not remain on the Board if Sinn Fein took its positions.

Mr McGimpsey said: "Sammy let the mask slip. Only a few days ago, the DUP said it would have nothing to do with republicans, yet here we had a flip followed by a somersault contradicting the stated position.

"It was astonishing that he indicated that his party that changed its mind on policing with Sinn Fein without decommissioning, without closure, without 'acts of completion'.

"Sammy's comments have exposed the DUP's real position regarding Sinn Fein's participation on the policing board. We owe him a debt of gratitude for his frank honesty.”

So the DUP will NOT deny that it will sit on the Policing Board with Sinn Fein, as anyone who watched Sammy Wilson’s performance on Hearts & Minds will (hopefully) have noticed. Something worth remembering for all those borderline UUP voters who think the DUPes would never ‘sell out’.


Having said that, and not to diminish the boul' Sammy's attempts at reconciliation with nationalism on the Policing Board, the DUP are giving more than a wink and a nudge to observers that they ain't the party of no talking that they used to be. Prepared to deal with republicans?

Of course they are. And don't you dare not believe it.

"Earlier this month tax-evasion charges were filed against Vastly Sharkhnovsky, who is responsible for the auditing of operations."

Well named or wha'?!


Friday, October 24, 2003


BLAIR wants greater transparency over IRA weapons, yet there is none in his own statements.

This contrasts starkly with General de Chastelain. In fact, the differences between the two men are clear and many. Blair is a triumph of style over substance; de Chastelain is a plain speaking man, who avoids putting a gloss on his words.

Even the way they dress speaks volumes. The General turned up at his now infamous press conference looking slightly dishevelled. ‘Throughother’, as they say in north Antrim. But then he hadn’t had a chance to even change after visiting the IRA arms dump, so it’s entirely plausible he had been dragged through a hedge backwards. IICD member Andrew Sens told the DUP: “We had very little time between the act and the press conference.”

Blair appeared, as usual, in an immaculate suit. But that couldn’t disguise his discomfort.

The DUP have put a transcript of the meeting they had with de Chastelain on their website.

I found this question by Peter Robinson interesting:

“There are various assessments of the size of the IRA arsenal by Jane's Intelligence Review, Magill, The Guardian and the Mirror. Are all these in the ballpark?

“De Chastelain – Yes.”

So at least we're all talking, roughly, about the same size of arsenal.

Downing Street’s attempts to play Blair’s ‘sexed up’ weapons statement down as a ‘guesstimate’ is not convincing, as Blair had already told the Commons:

“He [de Chastelain] gives certain information—not the full information, but certain information—to us, as the two Governments. Although we are not at liberty to disclose that information without his permission, we are working hard to try to find a way in which we can do so, because I believe, on the basis of what we know, that people would be satisfied if they knew the full details.”

You’d think after the debacle over the Iraq weapons report, Blair would’ve wised up.

It seems not. Enough of the smoke and mirrors from the PM, thank you.


On Hearts & Minds the other night, Sammy Wilson claimed that the DUP would not walk away from the Police Board if Sinn Fein joined. I'm nearly sure that they said they would in the past. Does anyone know if this was a new shift?

Thursday, October 23, 2003


SOMEONE is telling fibs, it seems.

Either Tony Blair was told further details on what the IRA put beyond use by de Chastelain or he wasn't. General de Chastelain said he would resign if he was forced to reveal the scale of decommissioning.

Small wonder he is thinking about quitting.

Blair's suggestion that if only the public knew what he did, we would be satisfied, is either complete bluff or he was told by the IICD, which it denies.

Downing Street's suggestion that Blair could not say more without breaching confidentiality with the IICD raises the stakes. Clearly, the implication is that what Blair claims to know didn't come from the security services (who would have a good idea of the locations of arms dumps), but de Chastelain.

At the moment, this is a battle between the credibility of Blair and de Chastelain.

The General is winning. Blair hasn't had much credibility amongst unionists and nationalists for a long time. If there is some bigger plan going on here, it is lost in the haze of spin that surrounds Downing Street these days.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


DAVID McKitterick wrote in the Independent today:
“If a Paisley-Donaldson alliance in the new Assembly outnumbers the Trimble forces, the Assembly will face deadlock and crisis, since there is no chance of dominant Paisleyites agreeing to form a new power-sharing administration.

The scale of republican moves surprised many observers, who expected more, since Mr Trimble had personally worked out details of the deal with Mr Adams. It was also approved by the British and Irish governments. Instead of a triumphant Mr Trimble claiming credit for drawing the IRA's fangs, what emerged were reports of disappointment in his party at what had been negotiated.”

It seems to me that perhaps the main problem in this process has been a lack of understanding. In negotiations, without realising it, the UUP and Sinn Fein were talking different languages. What Trimble wanted was something QUANTITATIVE, while republicans only permitted de Chastelain to give QUALITATIVE information. Trimble initially appeared to blame the IICD chief, but later on BBC Spotlight he was clearly blaming the IRA for not permitting the Canadian general to say more.

If I was to buy the UUP and Sinn Fein negotiating teams a dictionary, I would have the bookmark at the page with ‘transparency’ defined. Clearly, there was a difference in the understanding of what could be done. On the BBC recently, Martin McGuinness hinted that the IRA could go further. But it looks now as though nothing was ever spelt out, even after Trimble warned Sinn Fein negotiators that another statement would be unacceptable. Blair is said to know what has been decommissioned, and Trimble desparately called on him to make it known last night.

I remember saying during the summer that I didn’t think there would be a deal before an election, as it would be treated as a sign of Trimble’s weakness by the DUP hardliners. Now he is being held up as the unionist who was suckered by the Shinners, who trusted them and was let down. It will take some time to rebuild the trust.

Once again in this process, we learn the difference between the letter and the spirit of an agreement. The ‘agreed scheme’ means the IRA can ask for no publicity; but it was to be carried out in a manner that maximised public confidence.

The Government's last card is now the Comprehensive Review following election, as an Executive is unlikely to be formed in any circumstances now.

As an aside, I understand that the Government wants to re-initiate discussions between the parties. However, it wants the IICD to be involved, as the Commons will hear later today.

Keep up to date with current Northern Ireland debates with Slugger O'Toole. It's a very useful site if you are curious about how both the punters and politicos from all sides view the situations.

There's also a lot of hot air and interesting links... like the recent UUP talks with Sinn Fein. Arf.

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