Martin McGuinness has revealed that he made a calculated decision to dump UUP leader David Trimble in favour of Ian Paisley during crucial talks on power -sharing in Northern Ireland in 2003.
The Deputy First Minister was speaking at a conference of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) in Dublin yesterday.
It was aimed at exporting the lessons of our peace process to other conflict zones and was hosted by Eamon Gilmore, the Irish Tanaiste, who chairs the organisation this year.
Delegations from 46 countries across the world attended the conference.
Mr McGuinness made it clear that he never thought much of the Ulster Unionists or David, now Lord Trimble, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for taking on hardliners within his own party to sign the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Mr McGuinness glossed over the DUP’s call for a no vote in the referendum which ratified the Agreement.
He said: “They (the DUP) had never detached themselves from the political process as it developed. In fact, in 1997 both myself and Peter Robinson led respective party delegations to South Africa at the request of the then President Nelson Mandela.”
Turning to David Trimble, the UUP leader who split his own party to back the Good Friday Agreement, Mr McGuinness said: “I never got the feeling that David Trimble and the UUP were entirely on board for the process.
“Indeed, he failed, in my opinion, to embrace, fight for or implement the Good Friday Agreement. He managed to squander much of the goodwill generated and the mandate he achieved for implementation in the 1998 Assembly elections and referendum.”
Mr McGuinness saw his chance to replace Mr Trimble with a new unionist partner in 2003 when a weakened UUP was overtaken in the polls by the DUP.
Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, said that the DUP leader would never share power with Sinn Fein.
But Mr McGuinness said: “I challenged him directly on that. I told him that his plan to revitalise the UUP was going nowhere. I told him that I believed that we could reach an agreement with the DUP and that was what the British Government needed to focus on. I also told him I thought agreement with the DUP would be possible — difficult, yes — impossible, no.”
Mr McGuinness added: “The process led to what I believed was
an inevitable place — an engagement with Sinn Fein and the DUP — an engagement which energised the peace process, liberated the political process and resulted in stable power-sharing institutions.”
Meanwhile, Mr McGuinness has offered to testify at a tribunal where it was claimed he was involved in the IRA sanctioning the murders of two RUC officers. But the Sinn Fein MP insisted he would have nothing to contribute to the Smithwick Inquiry in Dublin because he has no knowledge of the incident.
Mr McGuinness said: “I made it clear some time ago if there was a need for me to (attend), I would be prepared.
“But I thought I had absolutely no contribution to make whatsoever. It's an incident I know absolutely nothing about.”
British intelligence officer Ian Hurst claimed to have inside knowledge linking the Sinn Fein chief to an order for the 1989 border ambush of Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan.
Martin McGuinness said he had helped in the peace process there. He added that the Maze/Long Kesh Peace Building and Conflict Resolution Centre could be helpful to the Philippines as well as the Basque country and other “countries emerging from conflict around the world”.Transnistria
Transnistria is an ethnically diverse breakaway region of 555,347 people along the Dniester river between Moldova and the Ukraine. It was singled out by Eamon Gilmore, the Tanaiste and current chair of the OSCE, as a priority. It declared independence from Moldova in 1990 and endured a war in 1992. It is currently a demilitarised zone overseen by Russia and Moldova and its constitutional status is unresolved. Peace |negotiations recently resumed.Sri Lanka
This large island off India is the scene of ethnic and religious disputes mainly between Buddhist Sri Lankans and the Hindu Tamil minority who look to their co-religionists in India for support. Many see similarities with Northern Ireland.
The region has been visited by Martin McGuinness and former minister like Paul Murphy have visited.Nagorno-Karabakh
Nagorno-Karabakh is, like Transnistria, a statelet which emerged with the breakup of the Soviet Union. Its 138,000 people live in the volatile southern Caucasus region. Yesterday, Eamon Gilmore pledged OSCE support for resolving the conflict which has involved locals as well as military forces from neighbouring Azerbaijan and Armenia.Basque region
The Basque region between France and Spain where ETA, an armed secessionist movement, was an ally of the IRA during the Troubles. Last year ETA declared a “permanent ceasefire and cessation of armed activity” on the advice of Sinn Fein who have sent frequent delegations to the regions. With a history of splits ETA is now a rump and has not been absorbed into the political process. The Spanish government is pushing for its complete dissolution as an organisation.
There were signs, in the speeches given by Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in Dublin yesterday, that the DUP and Sinn Fein are starting to put the history of the Troubles into perspective.
Both groups were seen as “awkward parties” during most of the conflict; intransigent hardliners who stood in the way of accommodation.
Now they are the mainstream, they have struck a durable deal and are making sense of their incredible journeys.
Before he spoke about peace building, Mr McGuinness fielded questions about his role in the IRA and Mr Robinson made it clear that it was no surprise and, unless there was evidence to put before a court, it would not upset the Executive.
This attitude can be regarded as either cynical or mature. It is probably a bit of both, but the point is, it is the only attitude on which stability can be built and we need stability.
The need to eventually bring in the extremes, if their leaders have enough skill to avoid defeat early on, is one of the messages of our conflict.
The final judgment of history is some time off, but the first step to drawing its lessons for ourselves and others is facing what has happened.
The Maze/Long Kesh site can be a place where this happens and the joint endorsement of the DUP and Sinn Fein makes it likely that it will.
This is something they must work on with the universities and the other parties.
The high security prison which housed paramilitary offenders is of obvious interest because of the hunger strike and the prison protests which came before it.
These are an important, and disputed, part of the story but not the whole story.
It is also a place where loyalist prisoners, British soldiers and mainly unionist prison officers lived and died. It is somewhere where all their stories, and the stories of the victims and survivors can be told.
Done properly, it can be a driver for tourism, complementing the Titanic project and the Giant’s Causeway as well as bringing visitors to Lisburn.
That is one aspect but to work it must also be a centre of study where people from other countries, as well as our own, can learn how we slipped into conflict, fought for 30 years and eventually achieved the soft landing few had predicted.
It is a story worth telling.