TV Mike, the current leader of the Ulster Unionist Party is about to lead his colleagues into the wilderness of “opposition” to the Good Friday Agreement. If the DUP follow him it is likely to be no longer a wilderness. It will be Stormont that will be the wilderness. Until the Grand Old Duke of York leads his men back into Stormont, the opposition will be “opposing” nothing. And if TV Mike is left alone in the wilderness he will soon be wanting back in.
Such is the farce that is politics in the failed entity of ‘Northern Ireland’.
But there also is a great hypocrisy in the UUP that should be pointed out. About 15 years ago when the UUP was the majority in the Executive it welcomed a Republican fued in order to prolong itself in Government. Now it uses a fued among ex-members of the IRA to create a fantasy opposition which will hopefully bring down the Government.
In 2000 the UUP was the majority element in a Government with un-decommissioned Republicans. It had the power to sink that Government if it chose, being the majority in it. However, it welcomed the idea of Republican blood-letting openly as a means of getting rid of the Republicans. Now it seems to have adopted the opposite position in a farcical piece of political opportunism.
Back in 200 the date of 28th October was set for a fresh meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council to encourage their leader, First Minister Trimble, to withdraw from the executive. With Republicans keen to move the Peace Process forward and work the institutions whilst proceeding toward decommissioning Trimble joined the dissidents. Not as part of the Unionist opposition to himself within his own party, with his colleague Mr. Donaldson, but in taking up the arguments of the Republican dissidents against his own Unionist dissidents, and in favour of his continued participation in government with Sinn Fein.
Trimble’s speech to his party conference in October 2000 was a series of taunts and jibes at Sinn Fein for having abandoned the armed struggle and for “administering British rule in a Partitionist Stormont”. One would think that if a Unionist leader really believed he had secured the defeat of Republicanism he would have let it have its fig-leaf and not try to goad and provoke it back to war. But Trimble seems to have believed that the Republican Army was fatally compromised and would be only capable of a half-hearted effort if it renewed its military campaign. And a war at half-cock would be good for Unionism in its difficulties.
Here is the gist of the speech he gave to the Unionist unfaithful at the Waterfront Hall on October 14th 2000:
“Unionism is on the inside now. Some think being inside is outweighed by having Martin McGuinness as a Minister. Let’s be honest—Martin McGuinness has had influence over Government policy since he met Willie Whitelaw in 1972. That influence was hidden. Now it is in the open where he is accountable for his actions. The man who tried to destroy partition is helping to administer Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, on behalf of Her Majesty and on the basis of British law. This is a real seismic shift…
“We are in a new situation. The Provos’ armed struggle is over. After the thousands of needless deaths, the armed struggle failed. There is no united Ireland, but the guns are now being used as bargaining chips for more concessions. Until the Government stands up to this blackmail it will rightly be accused of a craven approach. But we have forced Republicanism to face up to the reality of Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. All they have left is rhetoric about the inevitability of Irish unity. And it is rhetoric. The consent principle in the agreement drove a steak knife through that. The rhetoric only disguises their ideological defeat.”
Why did David Trimble use the phrase “steak knife” in his speech? He did not have to use this phrase. A clue was in a statement Trimble made at the end of his speech:
“It has been said that war is a continuation of politics by other means. In Northern Ireland today that is reversed. Politics are the continuation of the so-called war by other means. We cannot run away from the political struggle.”
Trimble was not saying that this was the thinking of the Provos. The statement was made in the context of what he felt the Unionist Party must do to safeguard the Union.
From the start Trimble’s main interest in the ‘Peace Process’ was not a positive one. It seemed to involve trying to do in ordinary politics what his mentor Bill Craig and Vanguard failed to do in fascistic activity —”to liquidate the enemy.”
Trimble’s political manoeuvrings around the Agreement were all geared toward continuing the war in the political sphere and attempting to deliver a fatal blow to the Republican leadership which signed the deal. It was strange to hear it from the horse’s mouth and it elicited no comment from the media at the time. But that is really all that could be taken from Trimble when he chose to equate politics with war in the context of military intrigue.
Whatever the explanation of Trimble’s reference to “steak knife”, it cannot be denied that he approved of intrigue on the part of the security forces. And since that was very much the sort of activity that was conducted in the “so-called war” and which supposedly brought the Provos to the conference table it could not be said to be untrue to say that it was the type of thing Trimble approved of in the “political struggle”, which was, after all, “a continuation of the so-called war by other means.”
What could have been better for Trimble at this point, with his party difficulties, than if a Republican feud could be manufactured? Obviously, Republican shooting Republican would give Unionists great pleasure and Unionism the leverage with the British Government in obstructing and watering down the much feared Patton Report on policing that was going to pose great difficulty for Trimble’s hard line Unionism amongst his constituency.
It would also have had the benefit of making things very difficult for the Republican leadership. If the Republican Army found itself attacked, and its arms dumps threatened by those who wanted to start a new war, how could it respond without losing out politically and militarily? Having seen the difficulties within Loyalism, it must have surely crossed the minds of those given to intrigue that a Republican bust-up would have done very nicely at such an opportune moment.
About a month before Trimble’s speech the story of ‘steak knife’ emerged in the media. “Steak knife” was supposed to be the code name of a highly placed informer in the ranks of the Ballymurphy IRA, who supported the Peace Process. The story was that a few years before the UFF had targeted this important British source, so one of the British Special Forces got their double agent in the UFF, Brian Nelson, to sow a false trail and convince the UFF that another man, Francisco Notorantonio, a former internee, was the Real IRA leader in the Ballymurphy. The other man was killed by the UFF, who claimed he was an IRA leader, and the British source was protected. Or so the story that was ‘leaked’ went.
Then there was an extraordinary series of events whereby a paper was banned from running the story that had already appeared. And the paper was banned from even saying that it had been banned. Then the ban of talking about the ban was lifted, and then the ban itself was lifted. This unprecedented charade of heavy-handedness all created the impression that there must have been a lot of substance in the leak, if the State wanted it covered up so badly.
In Ballymurphy, the story that British intelligence had set up the murder of a local did not cause any great surprise. How could it? The main concern centred on who was this “steak knife” and, if he existed and had not fled, surely he was still there in the Republican movement? Tension began rising as speculation grew about the tout. Rumours were rife about his identity, and senior Republicans in the area fell under suspicion. Even Adams was mentioned as the possible “steak knife”. All this coincided with the dissident Republican characterisation of the Provo leadership as a moulded product of British manipulation. Ah ha! British agents all along!
The missing piece of the jigsaw was the fact that the alleged leader of the Real IRA in Ballymurphy, just happened to be a member of the Notorantonio family; he was grandson to the man who had been killed by the UFF. (The British were, of course, well aware of the individual’s position in the Real IRA, and were not slow to publicise their knowledge of this after his killing.) What conclusion could the dissident, draw from all this, but that the same Provo traitors who were up in Stormont were British agents all along who had set up his grandfather for assassination? After his death, his mother said just that.
Whether the killing was sanctioned by the Provos, or it was done by individual Republicans, who had a difference of opinion with him over something, was impossible to say. One thing could be said with certainty, however—it took place in the charged atmosphere of the “steak knife” intrigue referenced at the Unionist Party Conference.
Trimble’s advisor, Steven King, writing about the killing in Ballymurphy, in an article entitled: “The Pain Is Shifting On To Republicans. Isn’t it Time for UUC Delegates to Put up Their Feet and Enjoy the Spectacle?” wrote in the Belfast Telegraph (24.10.00): “Isn’t the real lesson of O’Connor’s murder not that the Provos are only semi-house-trained but that the logic of the Agreement is sinking in, even in deepest Ballymurphy?”
He quoted from Marion Price’s oration at the Real IRA man’s graveside: “the Provos… are now reduced to an armed militia of the British State,” and commented:
“As Ulster Unionists embark on an unarmed feud this week, they could do worse than bear in mind Ms. Price’s words. Unionists have suffered great pain over the last couple of years… Now the pain is shifting on to republicans, is it time to pull the plug on a partitionist settlement and Stormont rule? Isn’t it time, instead, for UUC delegates to put up their feet and enjoy the spectacle?”
What was the Trimble leadership of Ulster Unionism reduced to when it gloated over, and had to rely on, the death of a dissident anti-Agreement Republican, whose arguments it had adopted, to carry forward its policy within its own party?
Now we have come full circle. The new UUP Leader, TV Mike, is using a small feud between ex-Provos to withdraw from the Agreement and launch a mythical “opposition” to the Agreement. Trimble, when the UUP was the majority element of a Government with Sinn Fein, welcomed a Republican feud to prolong the UUP’s term in Government!
Hypocrisy is the only word for it!