Trevor Ringland: Sinn Fein undermined moderate unionism

Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble and Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams pass within touching distance outside Castle  Buildings, Stormont during a break in the negotiations before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Pic by PACEMAKER
Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble and Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams pass within touching distance outside Castle Buildings, Stormont during a break in the negotiations before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Pic by PACEMAKER
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When you hear Sinn Fein’s current complaints about the DUP, it’s tempting to say “dry your eyes and get on with it”.

That’s the advice a friend gave me when I complained that the two parties had stitched up democracy at the St Andrews’ agreement.

They changed the way that the First and Deputy First Ministers are appointed, so that they can constantly play the sectarian card to their electoral advantage.

Sinn Fein were also in large part responsible for the DUP’s rise to prominence.

Like many others, I told them that they would have to move on decommissioning weapons, or else David Trimble’s position would be in jeopardy. They took the decision to undermine him and a more constructive form of unionism.

The ‘middle ground’ won the political argument about Northern Ireland’s future, but lost power. If those moderate people did not care so much about this place, there would almost be satisfaction in saying “we told you so” about the shambles at Stormont.

The vitriol from Sinn Fein and the confrontational attitude of the DUP contain some clues about why Northern Ireland endured almost 40 years of conflict. We should never have allowed those who hate the most to determine how the relationships between the rest of us would work. The DUP and Sinn Fein have now shown that they are inept as well as hate-filled. It will be disastrous if they are entrenched in government perpetually.

As a society, we should ask how the bitterness and enmity that they represent arose. We could not have got our relationships more wrong than we did over the past 100 years. There must be constant vigilance to ensure those mistakes are not repeated.

A positive and constructive future is achievable and many things show it is possible including the potential of some of the younger politicians in all the parties to practice their politics in a way more beneficial to our society. Friendship is a powerful force, but hatred is equally powerful in a negative sense.

We tried hatred before, so we should now try friendship, for our own sakes and the sake of our children.

Trevor Ringland, Holywood

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