Five years after the Belfast Agreement was signed, it is clear that it has failed to bring stable and democratic government to Northern Ireland. Rather than the government wasting time and effort breathing life into the failed accord it is time to negotiate a new agreement.
The suspension of the devolved institutions came about because of the fundamental flaws in the Belfast Agreement. As a result, whilst Sinn Fein/IRA pocketed concessions, unionists could only despair as those associated with terrorism sat in government, unaccountable to the Assembly.
Four suspensions, the resignation of the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and a host of ministers indicates the instability of the current institutions. History has taught us that no deal will survive unless it commands the support of a majority of both nationalists and unionist.
Proponents of the Belfast Agreement have spent the last five years stating that it recognises Northern Ireland’s constitutional position within the United Kingdom. Yet the reality is that the last five years have been used to attempt to eradicate all traces of our British sovereignty. The vast majority of unionists in Northern Ireland now feel that they live in a place that is British in name only.
The fundamental flaws of the Belfast Agreement are plain for all to see: the release of unrepentant terrorist prisoners, the destruction of the RUC, unaccountable all-Ireland bodies with executive powers, and placing the representatives of terrorism into unaccountable positions in the heart of government.
Some saw the flaws but put their trust in the pledges of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s pledges were not worth the board they were written on. The prisoners were released, at nothing short of breakneck speed. Despite Ulster Unionist claims to the contrary, the RUC has gone. Not only did David Trimble put his trust in Tony Blair only to be let down, but also more foolishly he put his trust in the IRA army council.
In short, the IRA was effortlessly able to expand its campaign from the paramilitary to the political arena. Sinn Fein/IRA was not fit for government in 1998 because the IRA was holding onto its arms and it was still active – carrying out murders, beatings, racketeering and extortion.
Sinn Fein/IRA is still not fit for government. They continue to hold illegal weaponry. They have murdered over a dozen people since the signing of the Agreement. They have been involved in gun-running from Florida; training FARC terrorists in Colombia; they have broken into the Special Branch Headquarters at Castlereagh; and been operating a spy-ring at the heart of government. These are not the actions of an organisation fit for, or deserving of, a place in the government of Northern Ireland. We are not in the business of putting the IRA back into government.
It is quite clear for all to see that the IRA has not given up the use of violence. There is no genuine commitment to democracy.
What faith can any unionist have in the bona fides of the IRA when they operate in this fashion? The actions of the IRA always speak a lot louder than the weasel words of their spokesmen.
Law-abiding unionist people will not accept the current round of pandering to Sinn Fein/IRA. The Hillsborough deal, when fully revealed, will be on republican terms and ultimately disastrous for unionism. Too often in the past we have seen the government making concessions to the IRA with the agreement or the acquiescence of the Ulster Unionist Party and achieving nothing of worth in return.
The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party would be well advised to recognise the flawed analysis he has been pursuing. His course of action has advanced the republican agenda further than many could have imagined. If implemented, this new deal will allow top Sinn Fein/IRA men like Gerry Kelly to be a minister in charge of policing and criminal justice and see the return to Northern Ireland of on-the-run terrorists, many of whom have spent not a day in prison for their murderous activity.
The suspension of the devolved institutions by the Secretary of State and the collapse in unionist support has condemned the Belfast Agreement to the political dustbin. The pro-agreement parties are flogging a dead horse by seeking to revive it.
Northern Ireland needs a new democratic deal that the unionist community can support. That is not an unreasonable demand. It is not merely a unionist demand, it is a democratic demand.
We want to see a deal put in place, which does not have the representatives of armed terrorist groups in government. That is not merely a unionist demand, it is a democratic demand.
We want to see a deal put in place, which does not have the representatives of armed terrorist groups in government. This is not merely a unionist demand, it is a democratic demand.
A new structure of government is required. The present structures cannot be made suitable with only minor changes. They are fundamentally and fatally flawed and must be set aside to allow a new system of government to be put in their place. That is what we want to see – and after elections that is what we will be entering negotiations to achieve.