Book Details and Reviews
image of back cover
This chapter is copyright Feargal Cochrane (2001) and is included
on the CAIN site by permission of Cork University Press and the author. You may not edit,
adapt, or redistribute changed versions of this for other than
your personal use without the express written permission of Cork
University Press. Redistribution for commercial purposes is not
|Preface (first edition)
|Preface (second edition)
|The Anglo-Irish Agreement: Origins and Interpretations
|The Unionists of Ulster: An Ideological Analysis
|The Politics of Protest
|A Little Local Difficulty
|Coming in from the Cold: From Belligerance to Negotiation
|Ulster Unionism in the 1990's: The Talking Begins
|Unionism Before and After the Ceasefires
|Text of the Downing Street Declaration, 15 December 1993
|Text of the Good Friday Agreement, 10 April 1998
Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism
since the Anglo-Irish Agreement
Ulster Unionism in the 1990s: The Talking Begins
At the turn of the decade, unionism was at a low ebb. The campaign to destroy the Anglo-Irish Agreement had failed to produce the expected results, while its tentative efforts to offer a political alternative to the AIA based upon a minimalist return of devolved powers to a Stormont assembly had not deflected the British government from its partnership strategy with the Irish Republic. The apparent impotence of unionism to influence policy-making within Northern Ireland led to internal fracturing and the emergence of various groups such as the Campaign for Equal Citizenship and the Charter Group within the UUP and the Ulster Political Research Group within the UDA. These groups, together with non-aligned individuals disaffected with the respective leaderships, struggled for control of the intellectual direction of the ideology These divisions, charted in some detail in previous chapters. further weakened unionism and left little energy for proactive engagement within the political arena.
At the end of the 198Os politics in Northern Ireland had ossified further, with the SDLP clinging to the AIA as a ‘banker’ position which was unlikely to be improved through talks with a moribund unionist leadership. This was highlighted at the beginning of 1990 by an uncompromising speech by the UUP’s William Ross, a close lieutenant of James Molyneaux and not renowned as a hardliner within the party. Ross launched an attack on those 'pundits' who criticised unionists for contributing to the political vacuum and lack of progress within Northern Ireland.
Undoubtedly come of those who talk about vacuums are deeply concerned about the state of affairs in Ulster but, given the conclusions at which they arrive, I sometimes think that the largest vacuum is between their ears … Progress in their terms … means movement towards a united republican Ireland, therefore in terms of action, stalemate or lack of progress, means simply that they are frustrated by finding themselves confronted by the steady stubborn will of the Ulster Unionist Party.
The message from Ross was the traditional defensive and negative one which had done so much to blight unionist political fortunes during the 1980s. In effect, this strategy said that: the system is against us; we cannot rely upon either our argument or our mandate as these will be ignored by government; we must stand still, because if we move, we will go backwards. Sadly for the unionists, while they chose to engage in the ‘hokey-cokey’ steps of Molyneauxism, where they put one foot into the political arena and then took it out again, the dance went on around them.
The appointment of Peter Brooke as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 24 July 1989 marked a new positive phase in the politics of Northern Ireland and the intellectual condition of unionism. In personality terms, the new Secretary of State was radically different to his predecessor. Tom King could be an acerbic politician who, like his leader Margaret Thatcher, appeared to place little value on consultation or consensus. A ‘doer’ rather than a ‘thinker’, King’s axiom seemed to he not so much ‘shoot first and ask questions afterwards’, as ‘why’ bother asking questions at all’. Neither community in Northern Ireland warmed much to him. While nationalists gave him a guarded respect for standing up to the unionists during their protest against the AIA (and on one occasion being physically attacked by some of them at Belfast City Hall), they suspected him for his unionist sympathies, which in fairness he made little effort to disguise. Unionists, of course, despised King for his role in implementing the AIA which led some to openly disparage him as 'Tomcat' King. For them, he was the front man for a government engaged in the process of edging them off what Peter Robinson referred to as the ‘window-ledge of the Union’. Most opinion formers in Northern Ireland were similarly unmoved.
Clearly by the end of the 1980s he was not the man the British government needed if it was to present itself as a neutral arbiter in the conflict. It should be said that King’s position was an invidious one, taking over in late 1985 at a time when tensions were at their highest in a number of years and the two communities had become polarised along the fault-line of the AIA. It is doubtful that Brooke would have performed much better during that period. In that sense, King was a man for his time in the same way Brooke represented the early 1990s.
Peter Brooke was a different fish entirely. A Tory of the old school, his public image was one of being pathologically polite, reluctant to offend anybody’s sensibilities and eager to establish some common ground. While his verbal circumlocutions over political terms and conditions at times bordered on the garrulous, leading some to lampoon him as ‘Babbling Brooke’, he nevertheless won the respect and trust of both the political community and the general public within Northern Ireland. This was accomplished not simply though bonhomie, but by a shrewd sense that the only way to get political progress started was through ‘constructive ambiguity that is, answers would not immediately be demanded of the parties as nobody really understood what the question was. This approach was encapsulated in August 1990 when the political adviser of a leading nationalist advanced the following conundrum: ‘Question: What do you get when you cross Peter Brooke with the Mafia? Answer: A question that you cannot understand but cannot refuse.’
Brooke begins new strategy
The first signs of a new departure in government policy towards Northern Ireland came with an interview given by the Secretary of State to mark his first 100 days in office. Brooke hit an unusual note when he pointed out that the British government recognised that it could not defeat the IRA militarily and that it would respond in a manner that was both ‘flexible and imaginative’ if republicans renounced their campaign of violence. While unionists reacted angrily to this as a sop to the IRA and an encouragement to them to continue with the armed struggle, as ‘one more heave’ would precipitate concessions from a government who had lost the will to fight, they recognised at the sonic time that Brooke held out an opportunity for them to return from the political wilderness. This mood was reflected at the beginning of January 1990 when the UUP European Parliament representative Jim Nicholson held a meeting with Brooke and commented afterwards that unionists should be receptive to any realistic attempt by the government to end the political impasse.
Politics during this period were dominated by a number of smoke-signals sent out by Peter Brooke in various public speeches which were then interpreted by the protagonists in Northern Ireland. One of the most significant of these coded messages came in an address to a gathering of businessmen in Bangor, County Down on 9 January 1990. Brooke made an appeal here for interparty dialogue and commented that any co-operation reached between the parties in Northern Ireland that would improve the functioning of the AIA would be viewed ‘seriously and sympathetically’ by both the British and Irish governments. This was an attempt to assuage unionist fears that any dialogue engaged in by the ‘constitutional’ parties would have to be consistent with the operation and existing parameters of the AIA. From their perspective, there was little point in talking if this was conducted under the auspices of the ‘straightjacket’ introduced in November 1985. In an attempt to get unionists to the negotiating table, Brooke commented in his Bangor speech that:
…the two governments have already stated formally that if in the future it appeared that the objectives of the Agreement could be more effectively served by changes in the scope and nature of the Conference, the governments would be willing in principle to consider making such changes …I do believe the Agreement can be operated sensitively, in the Interests of bringing about talks between political parties and giving them the best possible chance of success.
If there is one thing that the Northern Ireland political community are good at, it is using their highly tuned antennae to pick up and decode messages such as this. Unionists certainly interpreted Brooke’s remarks as a signal that the government had finally given up on the AIA and wanted to negotiate an alternative to it. Ken Maginnis, one of the more liberal figures within the UUP lost no time in making this point when welcoming the content of the Bangor speech the following day.
There is a relief in the unionist camp at Mr Brooke’s apparent willingness to consider an alternative agreement. We would all like to do something positive for the Province and Mr Brooke has gone out of his way to indicate he understands the unionist position.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley welcomed Brooke's remarks as a sign that the British government was penitent and would return to ‘the proper democratic process, honour and the ballot-box’. However, positive though he was, Paisley added that the main obstacle in the way of interpartv talks had not been tackled by the Secretary of State’s speech, namely the non-implementation of the AIA while negotiations were under way and the cessation of the working of the Intergovernmental Conference and the secretariat at Maryfield.
Only when these conditions are fulfilled can any real movement be achieved. Unionists are all eager to set in train once more the democratic process, and the thing which delays that is not any reluctance on their part but the dragging of feet of Her Majesty's Government.
This condition was one which came to bedevil the whole talks process as the British government tried to balance unionist demands with the opposition of the nationalist community and the Irish government to a formal suspension of the AIA. The SDLP were of the opinion that unionists were engaged in a ruse to achieve an open-ended suspension and then string out interparty negotiations to the point that a subsequent reintroduction of the AIA would prove to be a practical impossibility. In this analysis, as their full-frontal attack on it had failed, unionists were now embarked upon a campaign of stealth to damage the Agreement. It took some time of course for this dispute to play itself out. Back in January 1990, unionists were eager to at least articulate a mood of optimism and generate some positive headlines for a change. This may explain the comments made by John Taylor of the UUP in an RTE radio interview when he advocated that a new institution should be established, at which representatives from Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic could meet, as part of a political settlement. Delegates to this body would be drawn from a devolved assembly at Stormont and the Dublin parliament. ‘Dublin is our immediate neighbour and there are certain things now in which we have a common interest in which we would not have had 20 years ago.’ In an effort to massage the problem concerning the entry of the ULP into interparty talks, Taylor went on to say that if the AIA was rendered ‘non-operational’ for a fixed period rather than suspended, then the way would he clear for talks to begin.
Further signs of progress were provided by a four-hour meeting between Peter Brooke and the leaders of the two main unionist parties on 22 May 1990. A formula was agreed here for an informal suspension of the Maryfield secretariat and a gap in meetings of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference for the duration of interparty talks.
No sooner was this obstacle removed when another one appeared to impede political progress, on this occasion the time-scale for the involvement of the Irish Republic in the process. While sources in Dublin claimed that they would be engaged from an early stage in proceedings. unionists demanded that they should not be brought in until ‘substantial progress’ had been made in talks between the rival factions within Northern Ireland. In a speech to the DUP annual conference on 24 November 199O, Ian Paisley left little room for ambiguity.
Dublin can have no place whatsoever at any talks about an internal settlement in Northern Ireland. That is a matter for the representatives of the Northern Ireland constitutional parties and of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament alone. And substantial progress and agreement must be made at such talks before there can be any further progress.
The tortuous mechanics of the talks process continued in the lead-up to Christmas, when a further meeting between the leaders of the two main unionist parties and the Secretary of State on 13 December produced a formula to break the deadlock over the timing of the Irish Republic’s entry into the process. It was agreed here that Peter Brooke would act as a referee, deciding when progress was at a sufficient stage to justify the involvement of the South.
The British government announced its intention to force the pace in the House of Commons on 14 March 1991, when Brooke declared a deadline for interparty talks to commence and gave the parties until Easter to decide if they were going to sign up to his plan. While unionists eventually accepted these terms, they were initially suspicious due to Dublin’s enthusiasm for the process. The propensity of fear to produce defensive and negative reactions within unionism was amply demonstrated three days after Brooke’s announcement when William Ross commented that, although he had not actually studied Brooke’s proposals, he believed that London had conceded to the nationalist agenda and agreed to an early involvement of the Irish government.
I have been a sceptic when it comes to the motives of the Dublin government and nationalists in general. Time after Lime it is Dublin which blocks talks. At the end of the day they are simply interested only in taking us into a united Ireland. They have not and will not budge from that. Clearly that is a road we cannot go down - there is nothing in it for unionists. We have been labelled as the wreckers but not once have we seen an acceptance by the nationalist community of the unionist position, and they [unionists] have little reason to trust the Conservative Party either.
In addition to his primitive reading of Southern Irish political objectives, this statement by Ross emphasises once again the reactive dynamic within Ulster unionism which leads to such defensive and ultimately defeatist policy positions. The sad truth is that no unionist leader has ever lost the support of their community by being too hardline; they have only fallen from office when they have demonstrated a capacity to engage in progressive thought and action. Terence O’Neill, James Chichester-Clark, Brian Faulkner, William Craig and eventually James Molyneaux shared this similar fate. However, despite such siren voices, times had changed within unionist politics since the 1980s. Their experience of exclusion after the signing of the AIA had left an indelible mark upon their collective consciousness and few wanted to repeat the exercise. James Molyneaux typified this new mood with his declaration at the end of March 1991 that, twenty years after the end of the Stormont government and five years after the AIA, the time had come for unionists to become ‘insiders rather than outsiders in the British political system’.
By the end of March the four participants in the talks - the UUP, the DUP, the SDLP and the Alliance Party — had accepted the terms and Peter Brooke outlined the structure of the talks in the House of Commons on 26 March. The negotiations were to have three strands. Strand One would deal with internal relationships within Northern Ireland, the object being to establish a consensus for devolved government. Strand Two was to signal the entry of the Irish government into the process when the talks would consider relations between North and South. Strand Three would deal with East-West relations between the Republic of Ireland and Great Britain. Crucially, in terms of maintaining unionist support, Strands Two and Three were to begin at an unspecified date when Peter Brooke decided that sufficient progress had been made between the parties on internal arrangements. To reassure all participants that their consent to any subsequent deal was necessary, the unwieldy diplomatic concoction ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ was devised. This caused one of the more moderate participants to comment sarcastically a few months later, when the process was on the verge of breaking down, ‘well, we’re halfway to a solution — nothing is agreed!’ To satisfy unionist preconditions concerning the AIA, the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Maryfield secretariat were suspended for a fixed period, providing a window of ten weeks For the politicians to reach an agreement before the AIA swung hack into action in the autumn. Brooke’s success in getting the four 'constitutional’ parties into round-table talks was no small achievement, earning him a rare verbal bouquet from Ian Paisley who praised the Secretary of State's ‘honesty, uprightness and … great openness’.
Predictably enough, the DUP leader was hurling brickbats shortly afterwards, as unionists first of all argued with the SDLP about where Strand Two should take place and then fell out with the British government over the proposed independent chair. While the SDLP wanted the talks to take place in Ireland, the unionists stipulated that, because of the Republic’s territorial claim to Northern Ireland, they must be held in London. Unionists also vetoed the suggestion that Lord Carrington should chair the Strand Two discussions. They had apparently read his autobiography and were less than impressed at his references to the ‘bigotry and insobriety' of Northern Ireland politicians. They were also suspicious that Carrington was too close to the Foreign Office, whose analysis had placed a major part in the signing of the AIA, and felt that his role in the Rhodesian settlement was a sell-out’ which was not going to befall them. It was an unedifying spectacle which did not augur well for the late of the interparty talks. The uncertainty over the parameters of the talks was not solely the preserve of the general public as key personnel within the UUP appeared to be no better informed. When at last it appeared that it had been agreed that Sir Ninian Stephen would chair Strand Two, a joint statement was issued by Ian Paisley and James Molvneaux on 15 June which said that a formal endorsement of Stephen would have to wait until intensive research had been conducted by them on his suitability. This was viewed with some consternation by officials in UUP headquarters at Glengall Street who commented: ‘it would be putting it mildly to say we were surprised by the joint statement … as far as we were concerned, we understood the matter was settled’.
The first plenary session of the talks eventually got under way at Stormont on 17 June 1991 when the SDLP and Alliance put forward their position papers. Even at this late stage a delay occurred which resulted in the meeting being delayed by two hours due to a last-minute hitch caused by the Alliance and SDLP refusing to sit down at the negotiating table until the DUP accepted Sir Ninian Stephen as chair of Strand Two. This led to the bizarre sight of Paisley and Robinson (who claimed that they were awaiting further information on the Australian) leaving Stormont and spending an hour at their party headquarters awaiting the much sought after clarification. This journey clearly satisfied them as, minutes after they arrived back, the much delayed Brooke Talks got going at 12.52 p.m. Fittingly, after eighteen minutes’ discussion, the delegates broke for lunch!
Talks under strain
It was clear from an early stage that Peter Brooke’s initiative was not going to produce a substantial degree of progress. A political time-bomb was ticking away underneath the talks in that the next meeting of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference was scheduled for 16 July leaving the participants a mere four weeks to establish agreement within a complex framework of negotiations. Clearly this time-frame was inadequate, though the difficulties presented were due largely to the time wasting which had occurred since March. Predictably, given the preconditions with which the unionists entered the process, the date of the impending resumption of the ALA came to dominate the minds and the agenda of the talks. One senior official within the DUP remarked that: ‘we entered the talks only alter the agreement’s operations were suspended. If the two governments go back on that crucial decision while the talks are still going on, the implications could be drastic.’ To make up for lost time, the politicians decided to step up their work rate, holding a five-hour meeting on 18 June and agreeing to follow a more intensive timetable involving three days of talks each week. Despite these renewed efforts, sufficient trust did not exist between the parties to enable any significant movement to take place. Unionists felt that the two governments remained committed to the old structures of the AIA as they seemed unwilling to suspend the forthcoming ministerial conference, even given the prospect - however remote - of interparty agreement superseding the AIA which was the ostensible aim of the Brooke initiative. The SDLP, on the other hand, believed unionists were stalling in an attempt to achieve a further suspension of the AIA and ultimately make it extremely difficult for the two governments to reimpose it against the wishes of the unionist community especially within a political context which articulated the principles of agreement and consent.
The curtain eventually came down on the Brooke Talks on 3 July 1991 as time had run out before the resumption of the AIA. In an agreed statement with the four party leaders, the Secretary of State attempted to put a brave face on events, declaring that the talks ‘had been valuable and produced genuine dialogue’.
The unionist position during the Brooke Talks was clear. While the Ulster and Democratic Unionists behaved formally as individual parties during the talks, they had a common negotiating position. This was based on the document developed by a UUP-DUP working party in December 1987 and presented to the British government in January 1988. While much of the language was inclusive and spoke of involving the nationalist community in 'a very real way’, the broad architecture of the plan indicated a depressing lack of political movement within unionism. Both the UUP and DUP argued that an assembly should be established with non-executive responsibilities and should he run through an elaborate committee system. Parties would be represented on those committees in accordance with the strength of their representation within the elected body. Nationalists interpreted this as an invitation to become proportionate minorities rather than disproportionate minorities. In addition, the unionist proposal for an assembly with an increased representation to that of the 1982 model was designed to ensure that political control of the committees would rest firmly in the hands of unionist political representatives. Irish Times London editor Frank Millar pointed this out when the plan was leaked in July 1991.
In an explanation note to his colleagues the draftsman of the document says: ‘the larger the committee, the larger the unionist majority and the risk (of loss of control) is consequently and proportionately reduced.’ In deference to previous unionist opposition to executive power-sharing, the document says: ‘As there is no executive, there is ipso facto no executive power-sharing. Yet the SDLP can rightly say that they are represented at the highest level.
It is clear from the unionist position on Strand One of the Brooke Talks that they were still trying to devise a means of being ‘top dog’ in Northern Ireland rather than reach a compromise settlement.
This was not a power-sharing relationship in the sense that nationalists understood that term and consequently held little attraction for the SDLP. In return for the scrapping of the AIA, the SDLP were being asked to sign up to a package which was integrationist in tone. The limited powers of the assembly were designed on one level to create a strong Westminster-Belfast political axis in terms of legislative decision-making, and on another level to reduce the scale of the Irish dimension. Unionists were aware that a legislative rather than merely an administrative assembly would increase the stakes for the nationalist minority within Northern Ireland and would require a more proactive role by the government of the Irish Republic in acting as a guarantor for that community. In such an arrangement, this role would have to be defined in advance and institutionalised in a manner which would likely have built upon rather than detracted from Dublin's role in the AIA. However, merely implementing decisions taken at Westminster shifted the power balance from Belfast to London. The reforms suggested by unionists, such as ending Orders in Council and establishing a select committee, were designed to achieve a greater political and institutional harmonisation with the rest of the United Kingdom, do away with the ‘special case’ status of Northern Ireland and remedy the ‘direct rule with a green tinge’ policy evident since the signing of the AIA. To some extent the Agreement was a brooding presence throughout the duration of the Brooke Talks. The knowledge that it would be reactivated should significant interparty consensus not be forthcoming was a constant irritant to the unionist negotiators and did little to create the culture of compromise which was an essential ingredient for the success of the exercise. Against this, nationalists would doubtless point out that it was only the ‘obnoxious’ nature of the AIA which had got unionists to the negotiating table in the first place. The SDLP, on the other hand, saw the Agreement as a starting block to be built upon rather than an edifice which could be chipped away in discussions with those who had been trying to destroy it for the previous six years. In structural terms this allowed the SDLP to negotiate from a position of strength and produced an unpromising equation. Put simply, if they did not move they would get the return of the AIA; if the SDLP did, they would get an emasculated version of the AIA. This reality, together with their experience as they saw it of unionist gamesmanship during the course of the talks, did little to encourage a mood of compromise within the SDLP in 1991.
Despite the failure of his talks initiative, Peter Brooke embarked upon a damage limitation exercise by making it clear that the door had not completely closed and he wanted to ‘explore the possibility of finding terms on which fresh discussions could he held’. The immediate prospects did not look encouraging. Loyalist paramilitaries, who had called a ceasefire on 30 April for the duration of the talks, resumed their campaign of violence with much greater ferocity from 4 July. The upsurge in violence together with the failure of the talks resulted in a hardening of the unionist position. At a Friends of the Union meeting in early November, James Molyneaux denounced the structure of the Brooke initiative and declared that his party would not participate in a similar exercise again. Instead, he advocated a minimalist approach with low-level political discussions leading to incremental progress.
If only the Northern Ireland Office would permit us to get together without putting us under the glare of the TV cameras in mock summery we won’t get involved in another high-wire act simply to satisfy the news industry There is no reason why in the course of bilateral discussions we can’t edge forward and make progress where it is possible.
At the DUP annual party conference a month later, Ian Paisley also spoke of the Brooke Talks as a 'high-wire act’ and claimed that any further political discussions should take a different format and be held at Westminster rather than being centred on Belfast. He remained adamant of course that, although the structure and location of future talks had to change, the unionist preconditions surrounding the AIA and the role of the Irish government must remain, ‘The talks about the internal affairs of Northern Ireland are no business of the Dublin government. It intruded itself into the first talks — that cannot happen again.’
Many unionists retain bitter memories of the Brooke Talks, blaming the SDLP and the Irish government for erecting obstacles during the process and being ambivalent in their commitment to the enterprise. One Ulster Unionist claimed that the procedural wrangling was caused when John Hume demanded at the beginning of Strand One that the parties must decide where they were going to meet the Irish government before the talks proceeded any further and that this ‘precondition’ to continue caused the whole process to degenerate to a point that serious negotiation was impossible. ‘I think in retrospect, possibly unionists were outmanoeuvred. They appeared to be the ones who were breaking the talks, when in fact it was quite the opposite, they were the ones most anxious to get the talks rolling.’ It has to be said however that, despite these protestations of injured innocence, the unionists seemed all too eager to he drawn into petty squabbling over the modalities and did not demonstrate the requisite spirit of compromise necessary for progress to be made. Of course they were positive about Strand One and achieving agreement about internal structures of government for Northern Ireland, but they showed precious little commitment to go beyond this and bite the bullet concerning how North—South relationships could he developed to reflect the political and cultural identity of those within the North who were not unionists. Distrust between the unionists and nationalists hung over the talks like a ‘spectre at the feast’ and tended to undermine any chance of serious negotiations taking place in a positive atmosphere. The unionist attitude was that the SDLP had no incentive for making the talks work as they had the AIA to fall back on and were manoeuvring during the whole process to ensure that when they did eventually collapse the unionists would get the blame for it. One senior member of the Ulster Unionist Party presents anecdotal evidence to support his claim that the SDLP were working to a different agenda and were less than wholeheartedly behind the Brooke initiative.
When the talks were all over … the unionists all went home when it was announced that day. And Jim Nicholson and Reg Empey went in Ito the bar] for a beer, feeling very low, and the SDLP were having a party in the bar. They hadn’t been in the bar the whole ten or twelve weeks they had been up at Stormont, Hume had kept them all closeted in their rooms. We never even met them, we never even met them in the corridors, I don't know whether they were smokin’ or drinkin’ or not, but they were never in the bar until the very last day and when Jim Nicholson and Reg Empey went in, they were whoopin’ and cheerin’ and drinkin’ their heads off. So I think that tells you [that] they saw themselves [as] having succeeded.
The SDLP have, unsurprisingly contested this version of events, with one of their leading members who was involved in the talks claiming that this incident was simply a matter of letting off steam in a highly pressurised environment and that, while the outcome of the talks was not successful, this did not oblige the party to go around wearing sackcloth and heating their breasts in mortification.
At the beginning of 1992 Brooke attempted to resuscitate his talks process by holding discussions with the leaders of the four main parties. After a meeting with the Secretary of State on 7 January James Molyneaux announced that this had resolved what appeared to be artificial misunderstandings and that he hoped interparty discussions could begin at the earliest opportunity. While this latest attempt to re-establish political dialogue was beset by uncertainty surrounding the date of the forthcoming Westminster general election and a concern that this could potentially interrupt the process, the initiative was dealt a fatal blow on 17 January when the IRA massacre at Teebane Cross in County Tyrone coincided with Peter Brooke’s performance on RTE television. The response of the unionist community to the Secretary of States unfortunate syncopation ranged from dismay to disgust and Ian Paisley lost little time in issuing another political death certificate. 'We don’t believe that the Secretary of State can recover any ground in regard to this matter … It has gone too deep. It has cut through to the very quick, to the very soul of Ulster and will remain there for a very long time.’ The UUP stopped short of calling for his resignation but said that he no longer had any personal credibility within Northern Ireland.
A rather different tone was struck by the political sketch-writer for the Times when discussing unionist demands for the resignation of the Secretary of State. The reaction in the English press, of which the following extract was die most eloquent, demonstrates the detached attitude of those in Britain to issues of primary concern within the unionist community.
Mr Brooke serves as a standing example of how it is no good trying to he nice to Ulster Unionists. Every month or so, patient Mr Brooke stand up in the glare of the Commons TV cameras and is ritually insulted by Northern Ireland’s MPs. Every month backbench colleagues wince as this courteous bumbling fellow turns the other cheek and tries, yet again, to be reasonable. Every month he gentlemanly decency meets with the same sour and graceless response. Every month he returns for yet more money for a yet larger subsidy for their constituents. Every month he secures it. Every month, dipping deeper into the wells of their bottomless ingratitude, they respond with the same angry complaint that it is not enough. Every month he arrives to report that he has still not quite persuaded the unionists to talk to anyone else on their island. Every month he departs undertaking to have one last try. Every month he fails.
And, should a future PM ever decide to face the Unionists down, nice Mr Brooke will stand witness for the proposition that the other way has been tried already.
While other commentators were more restrained in their analysis, this episode emphasises once again the inability of unionists to see themselves as others see them. In Britain generally, Brooke's misdemeanour was a relatively insignificant matter which did not exercise public opinion unduly.
From Brooke to Mayhew
At the beginning of February 1992, Albert Reynolds was elected leader of Fianna Fáil following the resignation of Charles Haughey and became Taoiseach after getting the approval of the Dáil. In the subsequent Cabinet reshuffle, David Andrews replaced Gerry Collins as Minister for Foreign Affairs. The month was not complete before the new administration had fallen out with the unionist leadership over the remit of future political talks on Northern Ireland. The unionist demand for a concession over the Republic's constitutional claim received a setback on 13 February when Andrews announced that Articles 2 and 3 could only be discussed ‘within the sense of global talks/. Two weeks later fan Paisley left little room for misunderstanding when he rejected the new Taoiseach’s claim that the 1920 Government of Ireland Act should be on the table for negotiation in addition to the Irish constitution.
Mr Reynolds had better learn that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland is not on the table … At no time in any future talks will the unionist leaders even contemplate discussing the Union with the Irish Republic. Mr Reynolds had better get the message loud and clear - it is none of his business.
As all thoughts turned to the looming British general election, the UUP began to manoeuvre in the hope that a hung parliament could provide them with a pivotal role in the formation of the next government. On 22 March the Sunday Times suggested that the Conservatives might look to the Unionists rather than the Liberal Democrats for support. Hoping no doubt that the government would adopt aspects of his agenda in the election campaign, Molyneaux made it clear prior to the election that he was looking for an integrationist framework to be established within which interparty talks would take place.
The post-election Government will be forced to establish a clear understanding of the Union and then underpin it with constitutional arrangements which demonstrate that the citizens of Ulster are, like their colleagues in England, Scotland and Wales, citizens of the United Kingdom with identical rights and obligations. Only when the constitutional framework has been established, can useful discussions on the details within that framework take place. With that framework in place there should be no difficulty living in harmony with our neighbours south of the frontier.
This represented a curious approach to negotiations, as Molyneaux wanted nationalists to concede to an essentially unionist framework before interparty talks even began and when they did commence, these talks would merely line-tune internal relations arid those ‘with our neighbours south of the frontier'. Molyneaux was also displaying a rather optimistic outlook if he believed that the British government would countenance becoming further embroiled in Northern Ireland than it absolutely had to. The reason why the region has not been treated in the same manner as other areas within the United Kingdom is precisely because it is manifestly notthe same as England, Scotland or Wales. In none of these three countries is there an alternative national allegiance and only Scotland exhibits any secessionist tendencies capable of obtaining substantial support.
The Conservatives won the general election of 9 April 1992 with a reduced but workable majority and Peter Brooke was replaced as Secretary of State by Sir Patrick Mayhew, a former Attorney General considered by the nationalist community to be antipathetic to their position. The unionist reaction to Mayhew appointment was rather more favourable, James Molyneaux declaring that the new Secretary of State was renowned for his ‘independence of mind and dispassionate decision-making’. Mayhew knew made it clear immediately upon his arrival in Northern Ireland that, while he had no magic formula for achieving a political settlement, his main objective was to build upon the foundations laid by Peter Brooke and attempt to reach a political settlement through interparty dialogue between the four main constitutional parties.
Mayhew makes progress
Thankfully, much of the preliminary manoeuvring had been resolved during the Brooke initiative and the participants were able to move from procedural wrangling over where the talks should be held to more substantive issues with less acrimony and time-wasting. The format was to be the same as before, a three-stranded process which would address each of the key relationships. Unionist concerns over the AIA were met when the two governments agreed in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference meeting of 27 April to a three-month suspension to facilitate interparty negotiations. The infamous ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ formula remained an integral part of the process. What became known as the Mayhew Talks began formally on 29 April with a two-hour plenary discussion among the parties.
It soon became obvious that the lack of trust between the parties which had bedevilled the Brooke Talks was also going to undermine the 1992 negotiations. On 14 May, John Hume accused the UUP of bad faith by leaking the SDLP’s submission to Strand One which envisaged a European dimension to future internal structures of government within Northern IreIand. Speaking from Strasbourg, Hume alleged that whoever released the document to the media was trying to wreck the talks. ‘l’m extremely angry It is very clear the party from which the leak came, because it was accompanied by a media attack on our document by that party'. The UUP’s reaction was predictable, John Taylor commenting disdainfully that ‘as an Ulster Unionist, I totally and utterly reject the thinking behind the leaked document’.
Despite the discordant mood-music which accompanied the talks, progress of a sort was being made. By early July, Strand Two was scheduled to begin after a preliminary agreement had apparently been reached over an internal assembly based on a representative committee system. Crucially however, the SDLP had not formally agreed to this structure, while unionists were saying that they had only agreed to move on to the next phase because the Secretary of State had confirmed that their preferred devolutionist option would form the outline of the Strand One settlement. Another sign of positive movement came with the beginning of Strand Three on 30 June, bringing the unionists — including the DUP — face to face with Irish ministers for the first time since the 1973 Sunningdale conference. David Trimble sought to defend his party’s participation in these talks from the endemic fear of being labelled as a compromiser, a tag which has traditionally signalled fatality for unionist leaders. Speaking to a gathering of Orangemen in Glasgow, Trimble declared that his party was taking part in the talks as ‘part of a process making Irish nationalism generally come to terms with reality — and partition’.
At this point the various strands began to unravel. Despite unionist assertions, it was clear that agreement had not been reached over internal structures of government. It was also apparent that Strands Two and Three were proceeding without a guarantee from the Southern government that they would remove Articles 2 and 3 of their constitution. After the talks eventually collapsed in November, unionists blamed the SDLP for going back on their word over the Strand One agreement. This was subsequently used to imply that the SDLP were chiefly responsible for wrecking the talks and were never wholly committed to them in the first instance because they had the AIA to fall back on.
However, as the leader of the Alliance Party John Alderdice recollects, the situation was a little more complex. In the effort to establish sufficient agreement over internal structures, a working subcommittee was set up where representatives from each of the four parties would devise the basis for a position on devolution which would enable the other two strands to commence.
We thought, and I remember rather well because our representative was Steve McBride, and he came to me and said: ‘Look, we’ve got this package. All of us have had to compromise a bit. I'm not totally keen about all this but it’s the best that can be achieved at the moment. Will we run with it?' I read through it and said ... 'if it's the best we can do and it's important we [progress]' and in any case we were going to be coming back to it because there were bits of it that were in square brackets that weren't completely sorted out and I said, okay we’ll run with it’. The message came back the next morning that Paisley had agreed to run with it, Molyneaux agreed to run with it but that John Hume wasn’t agreeable to run with it.
Now in fairness, it had not gone to the plenary. It had not been approved, it had simply been drafted by this small group. The understanding of it was that everybody had given a bit and got a bit and that was the best that could be done and it was going back for ratification … So that was what happened and from then on — I mean things had already been difficult before that, that's why the committee was set up — but when that happened we really didn’t seem to be going anywhere very fast.
Alderdice is surely correct in saying that this disagreement signalled the beginning of the end of the Mayhew talks. However, it still begs the question as to why thc SDLP were reluctant to accept the compromise. When Jonathan Stephenson later chairperson of the SDLP, was asked for his party’s account of events, he emphasised that the SDLP did not renege on an agreement which had been reached, but merely failed to accept the opinion of the subcommittee. Stephenson added that the proof that his party was not against the details of the draft agreement was demonstrated by the fact that the SPLP endorsed similar proposals when they later emerged in another form.
The SDLP story on that was that the subcommittee which reached that so-called deal had to report back to the full plenary and did report back to the full plenary and then agreement wasn’t reached. But it's not a question of Hume pulling the plug. But the one thing I would say about that is that isn’t it odd that unionists have gone around making that particular statement about a document which they say was agreed, which essentially onus the basis of the British part of the Framework Documents which they rejected? I mean people say that the Framework Documents were a nationalist document, but the British Framework Document about the internal arrangements was based almost entirely on what the unionists say was the rejected bit, the bit that Hume pulled the plug on and which they had agreed ... They can’t have it both ways, if that was their preferred option then, then it should be their preferred option now. It is something we can negotiate on. The internal proposals [of the Framework Document] were the panel which was incredibly cumbersome, which is why Hume and SDLP delegation didn’t in the end go for it.
In reference to this last comment, however, it has to be said that preferred option at the time of a European commission to internal devolution, composed of disparate elements from Northern and Southern Ireland, Britain and the wider European Community, could hardly be described as a model of practicality. When Stephenson was asked if the SDLP opposed the unionist position on Strand One of the Mayhew talks because the internal power-sharing dimension was not adequate or because of the relationship between this and the wider concept of the Irish dimension, he indicated that the party's position owed less to the actual details of the proposal than the surrounding framework within which the negotiations were being conducted. Once again this response demonstrated the lack of trust surrounding the talks and the way in which this damaged the ability of the participants to compromise with one another.
The objection wasn’t on the substance of the internal agreement. The objection was that we weren’t going to agree that until we agreed everything else, because we had said ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'. Once you agree internal structures, the unionists would say ‘right, that’s it, we’ve got our internal structures’. Now we weren’t going to have that. We were prepared to look at internal structures inside the context of the whole package.
This lack of trust which bedevilled movement in the Mayhew Talks did not just characterise the relations between parties but was also to be found within them. Evidence was provided at the beginning of July 1992 that elements in the DUP could not come to terms with the compromises required in the interparty dialogue. When Strand Two of the talks got under way in London on 6 July, three DUP councillors resigned in a revolt over Ian Paisley’s participation in talks with the Irish government. While it was perhaps a poetic irony that the man who had spent much of his long political career accusing other unionists of betrayal was now himself the subject — if only tacitly — of the same charge, it was a further example of the difficulties faced by any unionist who engaged in positive action and moved away from an existing position. The three Cookstown councillors, Alan Kane, Walter Millar and Kenneth Loughran, sent an open letter of resignation to Paisley and implicitly accused him of moving away from their principled stance on talks with the Irish government.
It is with grave concern and personal regret that the situation has been arrived at where we write to you in the following terms. We consider that there is no place for unionists around a negotiating table with the Irish Republic’s government. Not only does the Irish Republic claim jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, but more significantly in practical terms it freely harbours IRA murderers and terrorists and has consistently refused to operate any meaningful extradition arrangements ... Over the years we have been consistently told that the DUP would not sit down at the negotiating table unless a government was in place in Northern Ireland discussing matters of mutual interest.
Paisley responded to the resignations by declaring the following day that they were a 'stunt’ and that of the three dissidents only Alan Kane was a current party member ‘and not a very active one at that’. Of itself this incident was not a serious challenge to the DUP leader’s position, though it was a warning to Paisley not to run too far ahead of hardline opinion within the party. While this was not an activity that he often appeared to engage in, it nevertheless illustrated the limitations of Paisley’s position during the talks. It also demonstrated the reactive dynamic within unionism which sees any progressive movement as a potential threat which should be resisted, a predisposition which tends to act as a brake on ideological or political development.
While he survived this scare intact, Paisley was not caught out again. During the early part of September the Mayhew initiative approached the point of disintegration when the DUP walked out because a discussion of Articles 2 and 3 was not sufficiently high on the agenda of Strand Two of the talks. Ian Paisley issued a statement declaring that he had left two party members as non-negotiating observers who would alert him when the Irish Republic’s territorial claim came up for debate and that this would signal his return to the process. 'We will not be negotiating at the talks until this issue comes up, and we have made this very clear.’ The latest crisis in what seemed to be a perpetually fraught exercise was heavy with irony as disagreements over the agenda between the Irish government and SDLP on the one side, and the unionists on the other, were put to a vote. There have not been many occasions in Stormont’s history when a vote went against the unionists, while the DUP, who have traditionally placed a lot of emphasis on the sanctity of majoritarian democracy, then quarrelled with the legitimacy of the mechanism. Ian Paisley was clearly upset by the turn of events.
We sought along with other parties to resolve this issue. Yet, when another paper was produced later suggesting an agenda that my delegation found unacceptable, there was no one interested in resolving the difference. This time, the Irish Republic sought to bulldoze the issue through by vote … We re-state our consternation at the turn of events that has for the first time in the whole of the talks process introduced voting as a means of deciding issues. We had thought, wrongly. it would seem, that we were engaged in a process of resolving disputes. Never before during any Strand in this process has voting formed pan of the procedure.
The Ulster Unionist Party did not join the DUP in its boycott, though they were by this stage extremely uneasy about the direction of events and felt ‘naked in the conference chamber’ without their Democratic Unionist colleagues. Predictably enough, a few days after the DUP action James Molyneaux announced that his party would also vacate the talks table if Articles 2 and 3 were not addressed. This warning came against a background in which the British government had introduced a position paper on North—South co-operation which had enraged the UUP. The intention of this document was to initiate a debate on mechanisms which could he introduced to remedy the inadequate levels of communication and co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. The language used spoke of an ‘agreed Ireland’ and a specific North—South axis which was the antithesis of the UUP strategy at the time. Ulster Unionists were stressing the need for a British—Irish agreement to replace the AIA with an Irish dimension which would be non-specific to Northern Ireland. In this scenario, the North would be integrated into the rest of the United Kingdom and any consequent Irish dimension would apply equally to any region within the state. This explains why the UUP were so alarmed by the British government discussion document as it appeared to be going in completely the opposite direction in response to a nationalist agenda. Their concern over the document, which was reportedly written by Sir Patrick Mayhew, also explains the UUP’s threat to join the DUP in boycotting the talks table. When James Molyneaux wrote to the Secretary of State with an ultimatum that if the discussion paper was not withdrawn his party would walk out of the talks, the document was dropped by the British government.
While it is clear that little substantive progress was made during the Mayhew Talks over the core issues of an internal system of devolved government in Northern Ireland and an Irish dimension which would reflect the nationalist identity, the mechanics of the process did demonstrate some positive signals within unionism. With all three strands of the process in operation, Mayhew did get further down the road of negotiation than his predecessor Peter Brooke, even if both journeys did lead eventually to a dead end. Both of the main unionist parties engaged in dialogue with the government of the Irish Republic while the UUP went to Dublin without the DUP on 21 September for discussions under the auspices of Strand Two of the process.
However, as one observer has astutely remarked, ‘one should not assume that movement denotes progress’ and while there was a degree of movement by unionists over the modalities, there was little evidence of political compromise. Once again unionist disunity bedevilled the ability of the ideology to move away from old positions in a more progressive direction. While the Ulster Unionists took a brave step in going to Dublin as part of the Strand Two negotiations, the DUP’s Rev. William McCrea attempted to undercut them by describing their decision as a ‘betrayal of the loyalist people’.
By October the Mayhew Talks were staggering towards inevitable collapse, as yet again unionist minds began to dwell upon the imminent resumption of the AIA on 16 November. While unionists submitted a new paper on 9 November which included a bill of rights to protect and an ‘Inter-Irish Relations Committee which would establish relationship between a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland Dublin parliament, these ideas came too late in the day to be give consideration and in reality showed little change from their position. The Mayhew Talks ended formally the following day unionists withdrew due to the commencement by the Maryfield secretariat of preparations for the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference the following week. Sir Ninian Stephen, chairperson of Strand Two of the process, produced the most understated summary of events:'the talks have not resulted in a comprehensive accommodation in relation deep-seated and long-standing problems they have been addressing'. Perhaps a slightly more practical assessment was provided by Mark Brennock of the Irish Times when he noted that what was ‘initially a search for a historic new agreement became a search for heads of agreement, for elements of agreement, for a "soft landing" to allow for an early of talks and finally, for an agreed statement"’.
 News Letter, 6 January 1990, p.8.
[2 Quoted in B. O’Leary and J. McGarry, The Politics of Antagonism Understanding Ireland (London, 1993). pp. 312-13. See also Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast, 1992), p. 811, where the same joke is attributed to Mary Holland the Observer on 31 March 1991: A few weeks ago there was a joke doing the political circles in Belfast. Question: What do you get when you cross Peter Brooke with Don Corleone? Answer: An offer you don’t understand but can’t refuse.’
 News Letter, 9 January 1990, p. 8.
 ibid., 1O January 199O,p.l0.
 ibid., 11 January 199O,p.4.
 ibid., 17January 1990. p. 10.
 ibid., 29 January 1990, p. 4
 ibid., 26 November 1990, p. 1.
 ibid., 18 March 199I,pp. 1 and 4.
 ibid.,25 March 199l.p.9.
 While Sinn Fein had a greater democratic mandate at the time than Alliance, and despite the fact that the party’s president Gerry Adams was the MP for West Belfast, the party were excluded due to their refusal to condemn the IRA campaign.
 News Letter, 27 March 1991, p. 7.
 Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Ireland’s 1917 constitution define the territory as consisting of the thirty two counties of Ireland, though pending the reintegration of the national territory, laws would only apply to the jurisdiction of the twenty-six counties. These articles were given a further significance for unionists by the judgment of the Supreme Court in the McGimpsey case of 1990 that reintegration of the national territory was a ‘constitutional imperative’ for the Irish government.
 P. Bew and G. Gillespie, Northern Ireland:A Chronology of the Troubles 1968- 1993 (Dublin, 1993), p. 246.
 Sir Ninian Stephen was a respected Australian diplomat and former governor general of Australia.
 News Letter 17 June 1991, p. 1
 ibid.,19 June 1991,p.7.
 ibid.,4 July 1991,p.6.
 This document, entitled Administrative and Legislative Devolution, was leaked to the London editor of the Irish Times and former general secretary of the UUP, Frank Millar and published in the Irish Times on 3 July 1991, p. 2.
 Irish Times, 3 July 1991, p. 1.
 News Letter, 4 July 1991, p.6.
 The Provisional IRA did not call a formal ceasefire, or observe an informal cessation during the talks.
 News Letter, 11 November 1991, p. 5.
 ibid., 2 December 1991, p. 13.
 Conversation between the author and a senior member of the UUP.
 Conversation between the author and a senior member of the SDLP
 Peter Brooke’s credibility lay in ruins after he appeared on RTE’s Late Late Show. While artistically his rendition of 'My Darling Clementine’ may not have worried the ‘Three Tenors’, it was certainly politically ill-advised, given the fact that the IRA had killed seven Protestant workmen at Teebane in County Tyrone the same evening. While he staggered on until the 1992 general election, this incident effectively sounded the death-knell of his period as Secretary of State.
 News Letter 21 January 1992, p. 1.
 Matthew Paris, Times, 21 January 1992, p. 18.
 Bew and Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology, p. 257.
 News Letter, 26 February 1992, p. 7.
 Bew and Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology, p. 259.
 News Letter, 27 February 1992, p. 13.
 While there are close historical and cultural links between Scotland and Northern Ireland, the dynamics of their nationalist tendencies are not similar. The engine of the independence movement in Scotland is essentially driven by a sense of political disenfranchisement, rather than an allegiance to a competitor ‘mother country’. Orthodox nationalists in Northern Ireland (whose number is difficult to determine and does not equate to the size of the Catholic population) do not just wish to secede from the state they are in, but want to join an entirely different state. Thus, while public support for Scottish nationalism is likely to dissipate in the event of devolution granting the region a substantial degree of regional autonomy from Westminster, this is unlikely to significantly alter the attitudes of nationalists in Northern Ireland.
 As British Attorney General, Mayhew had enraged the Northern nationalist community and the Irish government in 1988 by deciding on the grounds of ‘national security not to prosecute a number of RUC officers despite evidence contained within the Stalker/ Sampson Report of a cover-up over an alleged official ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy in Northern Ireland. Nationalist suspicions were reinforced by one of Mayhew’s first appointments. On 14 April he named Michael Mates as Deputy Secretary of State with responsibility for security. Mates, a former officer in the British army, had previously intervened regularly in Irish affairs and was often wheeled out by the media as a unionist voice on the Conservative back-benches. One nationalist MP referred to him contemptuously as ‘Colonel Blimp’ upon his appointment.
 News Letter, 13 April 1992, p. 5.
 The SDLP paper called for a Northern Ireland executive commission as an overall to govern the region. Under this plan, a six-member commission elected by transferable vote would be composed of three members from Northern Ireland, one each from Britain, the Irish Republic and the European community.
 News Letter, 14 May 1992, p. 16.
 ibid., 6 July 1992, pp. 1 and 4
 It has rarely been acknowledged by unionists that the removal of Articles 2 and 3 immediately in the gift of any Irish government as the constitution can only be amended after a referendum is held and a majority within the state consent to such a change.
 Dr John Alderdice, interview with author. 7 February 1996.
 Frameworks for the Future. commonly referred to as the Frameworks Document. There were two parts to this British-Irish intergovernmental policy initiative. The first specifically British government document outlining its preferred form of political structures within Northern Ireland. The second document was drafted jointly by the two governments and was concerned with the relationships within Ireland and between the two governments. Stephenson was referring here to the first of the framework documents entitled A Framework for Accountable Government in Northern Ireland.
 When Stephenson was reminded that the UUP did not reject the British part the Frameworks Document he agreed, but added that as a package the initiative was rejected by the UUP as a basis for political progress. Jonathan Stephenson, with author, 21 November 1995.
 News Letter. 7 July 1992, pp. 1 and 4.
 ibid.,8July 1992,p.7.
 Belfast Telegraph, 9 September 1992, in Bew and Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology, p. 272.
 News Letter, 11 September 1992, p. 6.
 Bew and Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology. p. 273.
 P Arthur, ‘The Mayhew Talks 1992’, Irish Political Studies 8 (1993), p. 139.
 ibid., p. 141.
 Bew and Gillespie, Northern Ireland: A Chronology, p. 277.
 Arthur, ‘Mayhew Talks’, p. 142.