- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 1999

"Tenure" is not a word that a Northern Irish priest and a political party leader take for granted this Christmas. For a country where the definition of "peace" changes with each new agreement, such uncertainty is not a surprise. But it is lamentable that those who have worked hardest for the peace of Northern Ireland find their efforts threatened by pressure from their own parties and from the opposition to avoid political compromise.

One of those Northern Ireland's new top executive David Trimble said Monday that keeping his position is an uncertain proposition. The problem is that the Protestant Ulster Unionist Party would not have voted to include the Roman Catholic Sinn Fein in a shared executive government were there not some guarantee that Sinn Fein's paramilitary wing, the Irish Republican Army, would disarm. So when the Unionists met to vote on the shared executive for Northern Ireland, Mr. Trimble offered them the closest thing he could to a guarantee: a resignation letter, now in the possession of the party president, to go into effect if the IRA does not begin to disarm.

"It is out of my hands, but he is unlikely to hold it for very much longer," Mr. Trimble told editors and reporters of The Washington Times. He is fairly confident that the arms decommissioning will begin next month. "I would not have proceeded to implement the understandings of the [U.S. envoy George] Mitchell review, I would not have asked the Unionist council to endorse that, did I not think that the probability is that it will begin in January," he said. "I would not be so comfortable about letters of resignation and council meetings in February had I not thought so," he said about the upcoming party meeting to be held to review Sinn Fein's and the IRA's progress since the establishment of the new executive. In meetings with both parties this fall, Mr. Mitchell had encouraged the implementation of the Good Friday accord's requirement that there be shared executive rule.

A certain County Tyrone priest's retirement is even more imminent. At an 8 a.m. Mass last Sunday, Monsignor Denis Faul reminded his congregation that Jesus wasn't born in the Loughmacrory parish a few miles from Carrickmore. His point was that God is not the exclusive property of Roman Catholics; God's love extends even to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, even though historically they have been mostly Protestant. This seemingly unremarkable proposition has the town's Sinn Fein contingent up in arms. When the priest attended a community police liaison committee meeting recently with the RUC and some locals involved in health and social services, the scene became ugly.

"The meeting was physically broken up by Sinn Fein elements. Sinn Fein elements have been campaigning for the removal of the parish priest," Mr. Trimble said. "The level of intimidation in Carrickmore is such now that no parishioner would dare to refuse to sign the petition" for the priest's removal.

According to the Irish Times, the petition accuses the priest of "dividing the parish irreconcilably by leading a number of parishioners in an ill-conceived liaison with a force totally discredited in this area," the article said, referring to Mr. Faul's approval of the RUC.

Recognizing that the Christmas message is for Protestant police as much as it is for Roman Catholics, Sinn Fein activists should not send this priest into early retirement. Nor should the IRA's dragging feet give Mr. Trimble reason to give up the vocation of peacekeeping that won him the Nobel Peace prize in 1998. What better way for Ulster to celebrate the New Year than to resolve to keep men experienced in fighting for peace in both the executive and the church?

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