Trimble battles to sell deal to Unionist party

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The Independent Online
THE NORTHERN Ireland peace process faces another crucial test today when parties gather to hear the Ulster Unionist reaction to the draft plan thrashed out last week between David Trimble and Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein president.

More details of the packageemerged at the weekend, though interpretations differ on whether it would be likely to deliver the IRA arms de-decommissioning sought by the Unionists. Attention is focused on the Ulster Unionist party and whether Mr Trimble concludes he can sell the potential deal to it. Doing so would entail calling a special meeting of his party's ruling Ulster Unionist Council. He faces the opposition of his deputy, John Taylor, while the position of other significant figures has yet to be clarified.

The Government is doing all it can to encourage Mr Trimble, who was said yesterday by Tony Blair to have shown "incredible courage and vision".

The deal centres on an agreed sequence of events by which Unionists and republicans would reassure each other of their bona fides. Sinn Fein would declare violence was not the way forward and condemn so-called punishment attacks.

The IRA would publicly commend Sinn Fein, commit itself to the peace process and agree to appoint an interlocutor to liaise with the International De-commissioning Commission, headed by the Canadian General John de Chastelain.

Unionists would then proceed with establishment of a new cross-community devolved executive, which would include Sinn Fein members, together with the establishment of new cross-border bodies. This would take place in December.

In January General de Chastelain would say first that he had opened talks with the interlocutor and would later confirm he believed IRAde-commissioning had begun. If this did not happen, the executive and the cross-border bodies would be wound up. The intention would be the completion of de- commissioning by May of next year.

The outline agreement is said not to contain any specific republican guarantee of disarmament; rather, this is said to be implicit in its text. The argument is that since this agreement would be endorsed by London, Dublin and Washington, it would carry huge moral weight and any republican reneging would bring severe political punishment.

Mr Trimble now has to contend with a variety of critics, some of whom will say the scheme offers no certainty of achieving de-commissioning, while others oppose the formation of an executive which would include republicans pretty much on principle.

Most critics seem preoccupied with whether the punishment of resiling republicans would be automatic and would be heavy enough.

Twists and turns,

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