Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Criticisms aside, all parties have played their part, but DUP and Sinn Fein must end it

Lord David Trimble (right) and Seamus Mallon at Dublin City University where they received honorary degrees in recognition of their key contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.

You don't have to be a genius to work out what Sinn Fein and the DUP's backroom teams will be saying about the criticisms made by David Trimble and Seamus Mallon in Dublin recently: they will accuse them of double standards and of forgetting their own mistakes. But is this fair?

Lord Trimble and Mr Mallon, who were respectively First and Deputy First Ministers when the UUP and SDLP were the largest parties, hit out at the achievement of their DUP and Sinn Fein successors for not achieving enough in office.

Mr Mallon was the more scathing: "Every single important issue that has cropped up, they have walked away from it," he complained.

Both the DUP and Sinn Fein pointed out that they ended the period of 'stop/go' government that characterised the Trimble/Mallon years.

Lord Trimble and Mr Mallon were both prickly characters who often clashed when they shared office between 1998 and 2003.

Yet their personal chemistry wasn't the big problem that led to repeated suspensions of the Assembly. The impetus for that lay in DUP pressure on the UUP and delays in IRA decommissioning.

That was the period, just after the Good Friday Agreement, when Mr Trimble, as he then was, believed Sinn Fein would deliver IRA decommissioning in two years.

Not so, argued Sinn Fein; they were only committed to doing their best and the circumstances weren't right.

This created difficulties for Mr Trimble, who couldn't keep his party in line. It created opportunities for the DUP, which had opposed the agreement.

Eventually, republicans realised they would have to deal with the DUP. So they saved key concessions, like decommissioning, for Ian Paisley.

These presented problems which were, as Trimble and Mallon pointed out, of a different order from those faced by the DUP and Sinn Fein today.

Nowadays, there is no major electoral threat to the big parties, we have relative peace and the mood music is better as a result.

They eventually failed, but, along the way, Mallon and Trimble did much of the heavy lifting and took heavy political hits to get us to this point.

Now it is up to the DUP and Sinn Fein to show they can carry things forward.

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