By Jack Cleary
With an imminent split in the David Trimble-led Unionist Party, prospects of an early resurrecting of the suspended Northern Ireland power-sharing Executive faded further this week.
The hard-line wing of Trimble’s party, led by Jeffrey Donaldson, have never been more than grudging “supporters” of the Good Friday Agreement. After five years of what Unionists see as endless concessions to the Provisional IRA for very little in return, not even IRA disarmament, the Donaldsonites want to call it a day on the experiment of power-sharing.
Here they certainly reflect majority Unionist opinion now.
After the failure at the Ulster Unionist Council last week of the latest of many challenges to David Trimble’s leadership, Donaldson indicated that he might split the party. When Donaldson and others “resigned the party whip”, Trimble called on them to leave the party.
Flanked by the Antrim MP David Burnside, former party leader James Molyneaux, and the Reverend Martin Smyth, a one-time Grand Master of the Orange Order, Donaldson appeared at a Belfast press conference, which looked like the beginning of a drive to split the UUP.
Already Trimble represents only a minority of Unionists. Under the strict terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which requires separate majorities in both the Catholic and Protestant communities before anything important can be decided, Trimble should not have become First Minister when the Executive was resuscitated last time round. That issue was fudged then.
A serious split in the UUP would most likely lead to the emergence of a sizeable Unionist majority against power-sharing, one too big to be ignored.
The question is not when power-sharing will return, but if it will return at all under the Agreement signed on Good Friday five years ago.