By Bob McCartney QC
Since my retirement from active politics in 2007 I have scrupulously avoided political comment, but having read the contribution of Jim Allister QC and that of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson PC the seriousness of the current situation requires comment. That of Jim Allisters states the reality of the crisis facing Unionism and a clear outline of what must be done, while that of Sir Jeffrey offers nothing more than a thinly disguised vote call for the DUP in a devolved Government that has singularly failed to protect the Union.
Two parties the Ulster Unionists Party and the Democratic Unionist Party under the leadership respectively of David Trimble and Ian Paisley, both motivated by personal ambition and party interest plus a devotion to Devolution, were agents for decisions which have presently placed the Union in its parlous position. In November 1986 when as a member of the Ulster unionist Party I addressing its party conference, I said that “There are those in the party that will be busy selling us into second class citizenship in some debased form of devolved government”.
That among other matters was to result in my expulsion. Subsequently I committed myself to alerting the Pro Union people and parties via a series of pamphlets on the threat to the Union posed by the British and Irish Governments, the SDLP, and Sinn Fein, via the Downing street declaration 1993 and the Framework Document of 1995. These documents specifically and at length together with their implications for the Union, were dealt with in detail in a pamphlet entitled the “McCartney report on Consent”.
The object was to publicly place before the Pro Union Parties particularly the Ulster Unionist Party led by David Trimble the traps that lay in front of them. I pointed out the clear policy of the British Government within the Framework document. In 1995 the Ulster Unionist Executive Council issued a statement of rejection of the Framework as being designed to render the ‘Consent’ of a majority to any change unnecessary. It described the proposed Northern Ireland Assembly “as one which would be paralysed and ineffective. The empty boast that sovereignty is unaffected meant nothing for what use is sovereignty when the functions of government are centred in a foreign state”.
I predicted that the negotiations would in real terms be limited by the British and Irish Governments and were based on the Framework and could not in reality be divorced from it. How then could David Trimble reject the clear conclusions of his party’s Executive Council and the detailed warnings of what lay ahead set out in my pamphlet?. He did so out of personal ambition, weakness, plus the pressure of Blair and Clinton and the party’s sought after acquisition of political dominance in the assembly, and the financial benefits to the party’s members that accompanied it.
Trimble and the party claim that they were deceived and did not believe that Unionist majority consent was limited to the formal handover of sovereignty as now determined by the NI Court of Appeal, yet they could only have been deceived on the basis of their willingness to be deceived in the face of the evidence placed before them, or of massive negotiating incompetence. Sir Jeffrey as a member of Trimbles team was complicit and must bear a shared responsibility.
The intuitive instincts of the pro Union people as to the decisions of the Ulster Unionist party were manifest in the Assembly election of 2003. The electoral success of the DUP and the ongoing demise of the Ulster Unionist party and of David Trimble reflected the unionist electorates verdict on his leadership. The writer in company with the DUP, but for very different reasons, had been part of the No campaign in the Referendum, which opposed approval of the Belfast Agreement. It soon became apparent that the DUP while rightly condemning the UUP for initially entering into partnership with Sinn Fein under the agreement, had leadership and party objectives that were not dissimilar. Ian Paisleys ambition to become First Minister and his party’s aim to enjoy the spoils of office had to be satisfied. This would entail doing a deal with Sinn Fein and reversing the party’s battle cry “Never Never. Never”
Having lost my Commons seat to a combined election coalition of UUP, SDLP, PUP, Alliance, and the Woman’s Coalition, I was undecided as to whether I would contest the seat in the 2005 General Election. At the time I was suspicious of the DUPs political objective and the the probability that it would enter a deal with Sinn Fein. As a result when approached by Timothy Johnson after Peter Weir had been declared a DUP candidate, as to my intentions, I made it clear, that if the DUP failed to include in its manifesto that it would not enter into a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein under D’Hondt or any other similar arrangement I would run, and declare that my reason for so doing was the DUPs refusal to give that undertaking. Subsequently at a meeting with Peter Robinson and Nigel Dodds I was given that assurance.
A draft wording including my conditions was produced, agreed, and included in the DUP manifesto. As it happened Peter Weir was not elected for North Down, nor has any DUP Candidate been elected for that seat since. Within a year it became clear that despite that manifesto pledge the DUP were going to resile from its agreement with the writer. By October 2006 the British and Irish Governments had abandoned the UUP and the SDLP, and were intent on brokering a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein.
The unimaginable was about to happen, the two parties that directly or indirectly caused or fomented sectarian violence were about to be rewarded with the shared Devolved government of Northern Ireland. The DUP were about to assume the role of the UUP under David Trimble, which they had so fiercely criticised. On the 9th of October 1996 on the eve of the St Andrews conference I wrote an article in the Belfast News Letter setting out in the clearest terms what the DUP were about to do, and which they did do.
The result was that during the time of the conference only one member of the DUP spoke to me, that person was Jim Allister, who was clearly disturbed at the progress of events. Ian Paisley was to achieve his lifelong ambition to be Top Dog, and his party would hold most of the ministerial offices. The party leader was to embrace his new colleague Martin McGuinness with such enthusiasm that Ulster black humour entitled them the ‘Chuckle Brothers’.
By this time Jeffrey Donaldson was of course a member the DUP, Ian and Eileen Paisley would subsequently become Baron and Baroness, Jeffrey would become Sir Jeffrey and a Privy Councillor and the party would begin a slow descent like that of Trimble’s UUP. What does Sir Jeffrey now offer us.?
The DUP have become the authors of their own downfall. At St Andrews they had agreed to a change in the terms upon which a First Minister would be elected. Prior to St Andrews the First Minister was the person who represented the largest party within the largest denomination, Unionist Nationalist or Other. This in a real sense effectivly guaranteed a Unionist First Minister.
The DUP engineered a change so that the largest single party only would control the appointment, hoping by this to cause the demise of the UUP, by blackmailing the electorate that if it did not make the DUP the largest party Sinn Fein might gain the post. This was typical of the DUP lack of any strategic thinking as they are now faced with the prospect that in the coming assembly election Sinn Fein are odds on to be the largest party and the office of First Minister will be theirs.
Sir Jeffery was part of Trimbles Negotiating team that allowed the principle of consent to be limited to the final handing over of sovereignty. He was also a member of the DUP team that put Unionist certainty of control of the office of First Minister to an end.
It is worth mentioning that Trimble’s team failed to note that the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland lodged with the United Nations only refers to consent in the context of the formal transfer to the Republic of the territory of Northern Ireland, not to any constitutional arrangements.
In his article Sir Jeffrey states that consent in this form is not the guarantee that was sold to Ulster Unionists in 1998. The truth is that it was sold to David Trimble at a time when the following was public knowledge to anyone willing to listen or read as evidenced below.
1. Mo Mowlam was on record as saying that, “No labour administration will allow its commitment to consent to be transformed into a veto on political progress towards unification”.
2. That Albert Reynolds, John Hume and Seamus Mallon publicly stated that consent in the context of the agreement only referred to the formal transferral of sovereignty.
3. That the Unionist Party Executive Council in 1995 stated in rejection of the Framework Document “What use is sovereignty when the functions of Government are centred in a foreign state”
4. That the writer in his report on the principle of consent in 1997 had set out in great detail the policy of the British Government and the fundamental threat to the Union it contained.
All of the above must have been known to David Trimble and to Mr Jeffrey Donaldson as he then was, as a member of the UUP negotiating team. Why should the Pro Union electorate presently trust and endorse his negotiating skills and judgment, and his continued devotion to the devolved assembly?.
An assembly whose continued existence is an essential element in an alleged peace process designed for the eventual exit of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom. Sir Jeffreys five point solution to the present crisis is both nebulous and unreal. The only discernable message is vote for me and the DUP and the continued existence of the assembly and you the electorate will get more of the same.