Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Labour / SF cosiness only affirms Trimble's importance

Following on from yesterday’s post about the GFA - the extracts in the Guardian this week from the book ‘Great Hatred, Little Room’ make interesting enough reading, but should also be treated with caution. On Comment is Free, Mick Fealty points out the limitations of biography in explaining historical events. Jonathan Powell’s book provides a personal account of the Labour government’s role in the peace process, but it does not explore all the elements which made that process possible. Mick’s contention is that a substantial contributor to the British government’s confidence in dealing with republicans was the infiltration of that movement by intelligence operatives.

The latest extracts reprise, from the government’s perspective, the much repeated story of the clinching stages of the Agreement and in particular Tony Blair’s letter assuring unionists that power-sharing would be collapsed if decommissioning was not forthcoming. More surprisingly another extract reveals that Martin McGuinness does not believe the Bloody Sunday enquiry was a necessary concession to bring republicans on board.

There has been little in the extracts which I have read that will cause a dramatic re-appraisal of the run up to the Agreement. Peter Mandelson and others have long contended that unnecessary concessions were made to republicans in Tony Blair’s eagerness to secure a deal. There is a great deal of incidental detail recording the warm relations which developed between Powell, Blair and the various republicans. Once more, this is hardly an astounding revelation. With the exception of Mandelson, the relationship between Blair’s government and Sinn Féin has been consistently touchy feely.

To my mind the process which Powell outlines in his book reinforces the important role that the UUP played in re-focussing attention on unionism. In a process that was largely taking place between Blair’s government and SF / IRA, David Trimble managed to crowbar open a pivotal space for unionism, and from that position shape a deal which addressed unionist concerns.

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