Friday, April 28, 2000

The current difficulties faced by the political process have presented all of us involved with a challenge. The difficulties being experienced inside the Ulster Unionists Party, following the vote giving 43 percent to the challenger against David Trimble, could have been done without in the interests of the overall process, while the vote tying the UUP to retaining the name of the Royal Ulster Constabulary before entering an Executive may lead to difficulties in the future. However, we must focus our minds on the job which needs to be done, and turn our attention to finding a way out of the current impasse.

The Good Friday Agreement was different from every other proposed solution to the terrible suffering which has gripped our land, because it was underpinned firmly by the will of the people, north and south, who voted for it overwhelmingly in the referenda. For the first time in our history the people have spoken. The will of the people must be listened to by everyone who calls himself a democrat. Therefore those who want to bring down the agreement are anti-democratic, and it is the duty of all the pro-agreement parties to do all in their power to make sure that the will of the people is heard and acted upon.

Direct dialogue with each other and with the two governments is what is required if we are to escape the current impasse. Given the fact that David Trimble, in spite of his opponents’ efforts, still has majority support within the party, I will be working with him and others to move this situation forward. That is also clearly the will of the people.

The growing strength of anti-agreement Unionism can be contained through the implementation of the agreement. That is the only way to forever put behind us the dark days of the past. Those who are against the agreement have demonstrated little capacity for positive or imaginative thinking. They have nothing to offer Unionism, never mind the rest of the people of Northern Ireland.

For Unionism to return to old-style thinking would achieve nothing. Mr. Trimble still retains around 58 percent support of the Unionist Council. I believe this is something which must be understood; Unionism per se does not want a return to the past any more than anyone else, and this adds even more weight to the duty of everyone to find a way forward at this difficult time.

Building the new political society according to the Good Friday Agreement was never going to be easy. But it can only be built if all pro-agreement parties remain determined to implement all aspects of the agreement. Fears and apprehensions have been raised by the suspension of the institutions and by the failure to progress decommissioning in the manner expected.

Only if certainty can be given on all its requirements can confidence exist that the real peace, stability and reconciliation promised by the agreement will be delivered. The paramilitaries, republican and loyalist, have a grave responsibility to assist at this time. They must make it clear that there is absolutely no threat of any return to political violence and that they will cooperate with General de Chastelain to put arms beyond use in ways that will reinforce that confidence.

At the same time the suspension of the political institutions must be lifted so that that the context for implementing all aspects of the agreement will exist.

Both governments together with all of the pro-agreement parties must now meet and not cease their discussions until they have achieved a basis for moving forward.

John Hume is the leader of the Social Democratic Labor Party and winner of the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize.

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