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Over to you, Mr. Adams

This was the Belfast Telegraph's editiorial on Nov. 29.

The euphoria which greeted Saturday's momentous vote at the [pro-British] Ulster Unionist Council must today be tempered by a degree of caution. Northern Ireland has taken a major step in the right direction, but it would be premature to suggest that all the obstacles on the road to stable government and an unbreakable peace have been removed.

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David Trimble has certainly proved himself to be a formidable leader and a tough negotiator. Those who accuse him of rolling over forget the firm stand he took in July, and the opprobrium which was generated by his refusal to form an executive on that occasion. He tenaciously held out for a greater commitment by Sinn Fein and the IRA on the key issue of decommissioning [weapons], at a time when the parties of the center were willing him to acquiesce for the greater good.

Opinion polls have left no doubt about the widespread wish among unionists and nationalists for the weapons to be put beyond use. Indeed, it could be argued that support for decommissioning outweighs the backing for the Good Friday Agreement [1998 peace accord] itself.

Such has been the pressure from throughout the community for a credible start to be made to the dismantling of the terrorist arsenals that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness can have been under no misapprehensions when they entered the Mitchell review [talks chaired by former US Sen. George Mitchell, which reached a compromise two weeks ago]. They can have been in no doubt that the IRA would have to move beyond the simple appointment of an interlocutor to the International Commission.

The UUC vote opens up a window of opportunity for the republican movement to show that it is serious about "jumping together." If that overused phrase means anything, then we need to see a credible start being made to the elimination of "product" by the end of January. By any reckoning, an eight-week breathing space represents a sufficient period for the IRA to match its words with actions. Provided events go according to plan this week, there will be a huge onus on the nationalist community to pressure the IRA to honor its part of the bargain.

The ball is firmly in the court of the republican movement, and there are no excuses left for any further delay. Their day has come.

Somehow the Dublin Government, the [moderate Social Democratic and Labor Party] SDLP, and the Sinn Fein leadership have got to get it over to the hard men that democracy and guns do not mix. What republicans must realize is that any failure now by the IRA to decommission will sabotage an agreement which has produced many gains for the nationalist community. It is the best guarantee for a future society based on equality and inclusiveness.

We're at the start of what promises to be an historic week in Northern Ireland politics. Optimism is only moderated by the knowledge that the acceptance on the part of the Ulster Unionists of the formation of a [cabinet] was conditional. The vote shows how little room Mr. Trimble had to maneuver. If he'd proposed unconditional acceptance, there's little doubt he'd have lost the day.

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Trimble has now thrown down the gauntlet to Mr. Adams. He has done his bit, and is now fully justified in placing the onus on the republican movement. But it's not just the IRA that will have to respond to the desire for decommissioning. The obligation extends equally to the loyalist paramilitaries, who can't claim any moral high ground.

While Trimble secured a 58 percent majority on Nov. 27, it unfortunately can't be assumed the current strategy commands a majority in the wider unionist community. A distinction must, however, be drawn between those who remain concerned about the decommissioning issue, and those, like some of the spokesmen for the [radical pro-British] Democratic Union Party, who are out to wreck the entire agreement.

The unionist community must resist attempts by the hardliners to drag it toward a complete rejection of the agreement. The same siren voices led a campaign against the power-sharing executive in 1974, and today their message is as negative as ever. Where would they take Northern Ireland, other than into a new era of confrontation with nationalism? Have they any policy which might bridge the community divide? The position of the DUP, in particular, is confusing. They sit on committees with Sinn Fein, yet threaten to destroy the deal that created the new administration.

With resistance to change persisting among elements in republicanism and unionism, Northern Ireland isn't out of the woods yet. In this climate, the UUP can give no more, and Trimble has clearly gone as far as he could.

It is over to you, Mr. Adams.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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