Leading Article: Mr Trimble is right to wade into the marching dispute

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The Independent Culture
ON THE face of it, the decision by David Trimble to involve himself in negotiations to settle this year's round of the Drumcree marching dispute is a blunder. Mr Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, is unlikely to come up with a compromise that will satisfy both the nationalist residents of the Garvaghy Road and those Loyalists who want nothing other than the march going ahead the same as it ever did. As Ulster's First Minister designate, Mr Trimble should be a cannier politician than to risk his prestige, given such poor odds of success. Nor should he be allowing himself to be distracted from the far more important job of saving the Good Friday agreement, when talks with John Hume and Gerry Adams resume on Thursday.

But Mr Trimble is right to try to settle the Drumcree impasse himself. He is, after all, the local Member of Parliament. Local MPs are not expected to get involved in every last constituency brawl. But we would certainly expect Tony Blair to take charge himself, if the future of law and order in this country rested on a dispute in the Prime Minister's constituency. Mr Trimble is wise to protect himself from criticism that he has not talked formally with representatives of the nationalist residents.

Mr Trimble is also right to seek to avert bloodshed at Drumcree on 4 July, because the future of the Good Friday agreement rests, to an extent, on the outcome of events at Drumcree. On the agreement, he has been pushed into a corner by his so-called supporters. They have left him barely space to move his elbows, let alone to think about decommissioning arms.

Furthermore, the "transitional executive" - proposed by the Government as a way of getting around the failure to persuade the IRA to hand over or destroy weapons - has already been rubbished by Sinn Fein. Under such circumstances, it makes sense for Mr Trimble to show the nationalist movement his good faith by tackling the one issue that has become an emblem of Protestant-Loyalist ascendancy in Ulster. Mr Trimble needs to give ground on Drumcree to be able to secure the agreement.

Moreover, what does Mr Trimble have to lose? If he does manage to fabricate an agreement, he will be a hero to all the moderates in Northern Ireland on both sides of the community divide. His reputation as a negotiator will be enhanced.

And if Mr Trimble fails, he can blame the more reactionary elements of Orange-ism and rival political parties such as Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party. At a time when Ulster's Roman Catholic community is reeling from revelations about the state-assisted murder of Pat Finucane, all Mr Trimble's efforts to defuse the Drumcree bomb are welcome.