- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2001

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has cut a deal with a small rival party to get rid of a pesky critic of the Irish peace process in the coming British election, despite the risk of a backlash in his own party that could sweep him from power.
The small Alliance Party, which stands for reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, has announced it is pulling its own candidate out of the North Down constituency. Instead, it advised its supporters to vote on June 7 for Sylvia Hermon, Mr. Trimbles candidate.
This was widely interpreted in British and Irish newspapers as sounding the political death knell for Robert McCartney, leader of the maverick United Kingdom Unionist Party, who holds the seat.
Mr. Trimble and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are determined to oust Mr. McCartney, who has been a lone but articulate and effective critic of their policies in the British Parliament.
Over the past three years Mr. Trimble, originally elected as a supposed hard-liner to guard Protestant unionist interests, has made one concession after another, not just to the more moderate, constitutional Catholic nationalist Social and Democratic Labor Party, but also to Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
He has done so to advance and preserve Northern Irelands historic peace process and power-sharing agreement between its 900,000 Protestants and 600,000 Catholics. But now he faces the prospect that many — and probably most — of his partys nine seats in the House of Commons will be lost to the more militant Democratic Unionist Party of the Rev. Ian Paisley.
Mr. Paisley and his DUP are implacably opposed to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that Mr. Trimble signed.
Ulster Protestant Unionists are disillusioned with the peace process and the power-sharing agreement because the Irish Republican Army has refused to make even a beginning at decommissioning its stocks of weapons and explosives, estimated by Northern Irish security officials as sufficient to equip two light divisions.
As long as the IRA refuses to do so, Ulster Protestants increasingly fear it is not sincere about the peace process, however much the British and Irish governments assure them to the contrary. Instead, they are coming to see Mr. Trimbles concessions as leaving them far more vulnerable to a renewed wave of IRA terrorist violence.
This is especially the case as the British government, with loyal support from Mr. Trimble, is stripping the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Northern Irish police, of manpower. This is supposedly in order to open the 94 percent Protestant force for far more recruiting from the Catholic community.
But the IRA is implacably opposed to members of the Catholic community joining the police. And it has a long and bloody record of singling out Catholic policemen to be murdered, often in front of their families. Therefore Catholics are not joining up.
That leaves the increasingly undermanned police unable to maintain the most basic functions of law and order against the paramilitary terror groups Protestant and Catholic alike — that increasingly rule the streets of Belfast and towns such as Portadown.
Because of these developments, Mr. Trimble knows that he has little chance of turning back the DUP tide. But he believes that if he can single out Mr. McCartney and oust him in middle-class North Down, then he can plausibly present the results of the election as mixed.
The pact with Alliance was meant to ensure that Mr. McCartney had no chance of re-election victory in what increasingly looked like a very close race. But it could instead trigger a massive defection of disillusioned Ulster Unionist voters who would sent Mr. McCartney back into Parliament.
That in turn could mean the political finish for Mr. Trimble.

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