One does not expect such a commitment to be demonstrated overnight. So London's acceptance that the cessation is permanent will not conclude the issue: the commitment to exclusively peaceful methods will have to be established by deeds, not words.
In the first instance, those deeds may be just the continued absence of violent actions; before too long they must include dismantling the paramilitary machine. You are not committed to peace if you maintain a private army. You cannot expect to be part of a serious dialogue if there is the implicit threat that you will revert to other methods when you do not get your way. The best way of proving that there is a permanent cessation is to dismantle the war machine. This issue of verification must be sorted out as soon as possible.
The judgement of Ulster Unionists is that the Sinn Fein/IRA ceasefire is tactical. This view is based on the actions of Sinn Fein/
IRA as well as its prevarication over the permanence of the ceasefire. Far from dismantling the war machine, we understand that recruiting continues; the search for fresh intelligence continues and targeting continues. There are indications that no-go areas might be recreated.
Furthermore, Sinn Fein/IRA declares that it does not accept the Downing Street declaration, but believes that the nationalist parties, together with the Irish government and Irish diaspora, have sufficient weight to compel the British government to make concessions. It is in this area that I believe a deal has been done, which includes the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams; the SDLP leader, John Hume; the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, and Bruce Morrison's Irish-Americans.
This deal is demonstrated by the way Hume and Reynolds have brushed over the IRA's failure to declare a permanent cessation, and their abandonment of the timetable and procedures in the Downing Street declaration in an indecent rush to embrace Adams. The pan-nationalist deal has serious implications for the UK government and its relationship with Dublin. Where once the British and Irish governments stood together against terrorism, the Irish government, in return for a temporary ceasefire, has switched to join forces with Sinn Fein/IRA in a political fight against the British.
This is an enormous gamble for Reynolds. He may believe there can be no return for Adams, now that he has been manoeuvred into a cessation of violence. But Reynolds is tolerating the existence of a private army which, through the murder of the underworld figure known as The General, has declared an intent to take over Dublin's criminal rackets. There may be implications for the health and stability of Irish democracy.
Reynolds's gamble is heightened by the fact that two wheels have
already come off the nationalist bandwagon. Bill Clinton has declared his neutrality and Tony Blair has changed Labour Party policy to declare that a Labour government would not be a persuader for a united Ireland.
Paragraph 10 of the Downing Street declaration also refers to democratically mandated parties. Hitherto, Sinn Fein obtained votes on the basis of being a terrorist support group. They will need not just a new manifesto, but a new mandate. The Secretary of State could call an election to a Northern Ireland assembly at the drop of a hat, which would give Sinn Fein an opportunity to gain a new mandate.
Elections would serve another important purpose. For years the greater number of the Ulster people (of all religious persuasions), who eschew violence, have been spectators while power is exercised by governments and terrorists. The people must cease to be spectators and become actors.
Moreover, the creation of a genuinely representative institution would be a continuing expression of the popular will. I am not, however, suggesting another constitutional convention, as in 1975. All the signs are that such a body would not be successful. Rather, I am suggesting a working body such as we proposed in our Blueprint for Stability, which, based on the principle of proportionality, would enable all parties to participate fully. As well as debating the constitutional issues, it would start to reduce the democratic deficit and show that the only failed political entities within Northern Ireland are certain political parties that are not prepared to co-operate in an administration based on an elected body in Northern Ireland.
This would leave the issue of human and minority rights. Ulster Unionists tabled papers on these matters in inter-party talks, but, regrettably, nationalists were very reluctant to discuss them, preferring to follow their overriding territorial ambition. Our papers were based on the accords of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which makes extensive provision for minority rights. There is much we can learn from that, and from those areas in Europe that have successfully coped with national and ethnic tensions. Indeed, it will be necessary to ensure any new agreement is compatible with the standards and mechanisms that have been agreed should apply throughout Europe.
But this would not preclude creating a mechanism specific to the British Isles. This could take the form of a sub-group within the CSCE, or it could be a purely British Isles forum in which all interested parties could discuss the relevant human and minority rights issues. In these ways we believe that the basis for an equitable outcome exists and should be pursued, whatever the outcome of the Sinn Fein/IRA manoeuvres.
The writer is UUP Member of Parliament for Upper Bann.