Belfast Telegraph

Lord Maginnis speech 'swayed Trimble aide to back deal'

By Rebecca Black

A former UUP special adviser has recalled an impassioned speech by Lord Maginnis as the party's negotiating team pondered in the final hours before the Belfast Agreement was signed.

David Kerr described how 11 of the party's then most high profile politicians - including David Trimble, Reg Empey, Dermot Nesbitt and Jeffrey Donaldson - met in Robert McCartney's empty office at 1.10pm on Good Friday 1998 to decide whether to back the deal.

"We used Robert McCartney's office because he had left and there was nothing else in it, we all sat in there and discussed the Agreement," he said.

"For me that was the key meeting of the UUP talks team that day because it was effectively the party leadership making the decision at that point to go with it."

Mr Kerr said that while many of those present made articulate speeches, the words of the former Fermanagh MP struck him the most powerfully.

He wrote a letter to Lord Maginnis in 2012 after the peer left the UUP, recalling that speech.

"It was your words on that afternoon and no-one else's that convinced me that the Agreement was worth fighting for," he wrote.

"I'm not an overly religious person but if God speaks through men, he spoke through you that day. I can't remember everything you said, but I remember that passion, the steel, the anguish and the hope in your voice."

Hours later Mr Donaldson walked out, while his colleagues went on to sign the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Kerr also spoke of his regret that devolution was not currently working on the 20th anniversary of the historic deal.

But he added he remains optimistic that power sharing government will return to Stormont.

"Truthfully, 20 years on, we would have hoped to have been much further on down the road towards stable government in Northern Ireland," he said.

"We are in a situation now where we need people to find solutions.

"The issues are resolvable, I think, if there is a willingness there between the parties to sort it out.

"But overall I am optimistic, I still think a way will be found to resolve the issues."

Belfast Telegraph

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