The Guardian June 14, 2000


Assembly doors are open again in Belfast

by Steve Lawton

Following the Ulster Unionist Party's Council's decision at the end of May 
to accept the IRA's decommissioning statement, devolved governing powers 
were restored to the Legislative Assembly at Stormont Castle, Belfast. 
Though still far from business as usual, it does mean all parties to the 
process  including the UUP and Sinn Fein  will re-connect in addressing 
the daily political challenges.

But the Democratic Unionist Party, which has two seats on the 12-member 
Executive, remains "semi-detached", as Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams put 
it.

The IRA had said it would put weapons permanently beyond use in the context 
of the overall arms hand over, including British demilitarisation and on 
the basis of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

The UUP vote has cleared the way for the political institutions, which were 
up and running seven months ago but suspended in February, to resume work 
for a second time.

David Trimble's recommendation as UUP leader and First Minister to support 
that IRA statement won the day by a close margin, bringing into sharper 
relief the persistent division in unionism as it comes under increased 
pressure.

The 862-member Council voted 459 to accept with 403 against (56 and 47 
percent respectively).

Hard-line unionist opposition therefore remains unrepentant. Gerry Adams 
said: "I met a rejectionist unionist in the hall [of Stormont Castle] and 
he said, `It won't last'.

If that attitude is taken then our confidence is ill-founded; but our 
confidence is in the people who voted for this agreement north and south 
and we cannot let their votes be foundered or undermined by those who 
resist change."

The British Government having suspended the Assembly powers once until the 
IRA had made yet another unilateral concession, has clearly demonstrated 
its arrogance to both communities.

In its temporary, yet swift and arbitrary dismissal of the fledgling 
institutions, certain forces within the state are reminding everyone that 
it can take such decisive action whenever it deems it in its interests to 
do so.

The hard and long process required for cross-community development and 
reconciliation to take root is dependent upon the British Government 
sticking to the Good Friday Agreement.

Both Sinn Fein and the unionists have gradually developed in many local 
ways a degree of cooperation on everyday issues. This is also reflected in 
north/south links and in the growing commercial interests in the north.

The heart of the long-term issue is that the British state wants to make 
very sure there is no dominant political shift that challenges the social 
and economic basis of society in Ireland. That may seem, in any case, a 
long way off; but nothing stands still.

The momentum remains strong for a permanent settlement of the conflict 
which has deeply scarred the north of Ireland.

Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness said: "We want to build a 
future for everybody. The question is, are we up to it? I think we are. I 
think we can get this right."

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