31 March 2006

Daily Ireland Editorial: Empey talks move exposes hypocrisy

Daily Ireland

Editor: Colin O’Carroll
31/03/2006

The recent announcement by the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Reg Empey, that he has been meeting loyalist paramilitary leaders since the autumn of 2005 came as a surprise to some, but for other UUP-watchers it was very much par for the course.
Down through the darkest years of the Troubles the then main unionist party held a hard line about talks with the IRA. That line was that talks were out of the question and that a military victory had to be ruthlessly pursued.
In January 1988, John Hume began talks with Gerry Adams which would eventually lead to the IRA cessation of 1994. The howls of protest that went up were ear-splitting in their intensity. Because the IRA campaign was in full tilt and blood was being spilt on the streets, the UUP accused John Hume and the SDLP of ‘giving in to the terrorists’ and the invective levelled at the SDLP leader was withering in its intensity.
Today the UDA and the UVF continue to murder each other over sordid drug and territory disputes, they are fully armed and active and show no signs of laying down their weapons. Yet Mr Empey sees continuing loyalist violence as no bar to a seat at the table with the UUP. The unionist parties, he said, “had a special responsibility to persuade the loyalist paramilitaries to commit to purely peaceful means”.
The benign view of all this would go something like this. Well, it took them a long time to learn the lesson of Hume-Adams, but better late than never and good luck to the unionist parties in their attempts to wean the UDA and the UVF off the drugs and guns.
Incredibly, the main unionist party continues to refuse to have any dealings with Sinn Féin; it refuses to acknowledge the most basic personal courtesies, it talks to republicans through a third party and, crucially, it continues to rule out the speedy return of the power-sharing executive and assembly. The benign view of that would go something like this. Ah, but the DUP have always taken a harder line than the UUP and at least they’re being consistent.
Except of course that the DUP wouldn’t know consistency if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. The party is on the brink of entering into talks with the UDA and the UVF without any prior commitment being given by the loyalist paramilitaries in regard to guns and violence. The excuse for parleying with men in balaclavas while refusing to have anything to do with the North’s largest nationalist parties is that while the DUP might, just might, have some influence over the UDA and the UVF, it has none over ‘Sinn Féin/IRA’. This is the same party that damned John Hume as a fellow traveller for doing almost 20 years ago what they’re proposing to do now. Except John Hume at that time, by his own admission, would have talked to anyone and anybody, republican or loyalist. The DUP position now, in essence, is that talks with armed groups are not governed by morality, by right or by wrong, but by practicality and realpolitik. Perhaps somewhere in there is a glimmer of hope.

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