Trimble claims victory over IRA 'juggernaut'

 

The IRA "juggernaut" has been halted in Northern Ireland and Sinn Fein "hollowed out," Ulster Unionist leader Mr David Trimble has claimed.

As Sinn Fein president Mr Gerry Adams prepared to discuss efforts to revive devolution at Stormont with party colleagues in Dublin, it emerged Mr Trimble defiantly told an Ulster Unionist branch in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, last night that republicans would have to wait very long to see their dream of an end to British rule fulfilled.

"The republican juggernaut has been halted - unionists are not going to be rolled into a united Ireland," the Upper Bann MP declared.

"After their so-called `long war', Irish republicans face a very long wait indeed for an end to British rule.'

Mr Trimble also told the annual general meeting of the East Antrim Ulster Unionist Association they should have every reason to believe they were "on the front foot" in the peace process and could look to the future confidently.

Ulster Unionists, he predicted, would have a very strong Assembly election and the party's strategy since the signing of the Belfast Agreement would be vindicated.

He derided claims by the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists that they could renegotiate the Agreement as the largest unionist party after the next Assembly election, claiming his rivals were incapable of working constructively and had "fluffed" its chance in the past to negotiate.

The former Northern Ireland First Minister also claimed the DUP had begun to adopt Ulster Unionist policies.

"Look at the DUP, they are increasingly coming over to our way of seeing things, much to their supporters' distress," the Ulster Unionist leader argued.

"We know, though, that they are incapable of working the institutions or of making improvements: they had their chance and they fluffed it."

Details of Mr Trimble's speech emerged as Sinn Fein's ard chomhairle (national executive) gathered in Dublin where they were expected to hear from party leader Mr Adams that republicans were willing to "explore any possibilities" the current negotiations with the British Government might open up.

In a significant statement, the Sinn Fein president said ahead of today's meeting that, while he did not believe the IRA was responsible for the current political crisis, he accepted the terror group's activities had caused problems for unionists.

"When I say that the IRA is not the cause of the crisis, this is not to suggest that allegations of IRA activities do not cause political difficulties in the unionist constituency," the West Belfast MP said.

"They do of course; and regardless of whether they are real or unfounded. Irish republicans know that!

"Because ongoing activities by British intelligence, the British Army, the police force and unionist paramilitaries cause political difficulties in the our community. Particularly against a backdrop of unionist contrived perpetual political crisis which is at the centre of attempts to wreck or renegotiate the Agreement.

"But these are problems to be addressed and resolved, not reasons for wrecking the Agreement."

Mr Adams also praised Prime Minister Tony Blair's for his "frank admission" recently that the Government had not honoured all its commitments under the Belfast Agreement.

PA