Northern Ireland History - 2000The beginning of a new Millenium and one hoped a new era, or in the case of Northern Ireland, maybe not? After all this was Northern Ireland and so the Assembly functioned for a whole ten weeks when it was suspended. Trimble had given a senior official a pre-dated letter of resignation which would take place if decommissioning was not seen to be forthcoming. This along with the sight of Martin McGuinness now being responsible for the education of all the children in Northern Ireland was a stark culture shock for the Unionist politicians and indeed for the Unionist people as a whole. As early as January 2000 a report was released on policing that had been commissioned as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
Northern Ireland History 2000 - The Patten ProposalChris Patten produced a blueprint for police reform that was particularly unsavoury for the Unionist politicians to savour. One of the first proposals was the then name should change from the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Unionists supported the police force so strongly that they believed it to be their police force and such changes they found to be completely unacceptable. The Unionists saw this as an affront to the dedicated members of the RUC and for those that had given up their life for their country. All of these combined changes and still no sign of decommissioning made for a very unsettling time for Unionism and after just 72 days, Mandelson was forced to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly. Direct Rule from Wesminster London was once again applied to Northern Ireland. It was the classic two steps forwards and one giant step backwards.
Northern Ireland History 2000 - Johnny Mad Dog AdairAt this time Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair was rising to prominence as the West Belfast UDA military commander and this appeared to alienate many Protestants. Support for the march appeared to slowly but steadily ebb away and the protests fizzled out. In August of 2000 there were bitter disputes in West Belfast between the UDA under Adair and the UVF. Three people died and 200 families had to be re-housed as this bitter in-fighting continued. In total for 2000, eleven Protestants died all killed by loyalist paramilitaries in this bitter dispute. The INLA also contnued to pursue the path of violence and they launched a mortar attack on the offices of M16 in London.
After this suspension there followed the usual tit for tat political fighting with each side blaming the other for the suspension and many recriminations. The IRA in May issued a statement that they would put its guns completely and verifiably beyond use and allow arms dumps to be inspected by independent people. This was instantly rejected by Ian Paisley and other anti-agreement Unionists and Trimble asked the members of his own party to take a vote as to whether or not they should return to the Assembly based on this commitment by the IRA. He won his vote by 459 votes to 403 and this was enough to have the Assembly back by the end of May 2000. Cyril Ramaphosa former Secretary General of the African National Congress and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari confirmed that they had visited and seen IRA weapon dumps and so the Assembly continued. July however was just around the corner and Drumcree which had seen peaceful protest raised its head once again.
The local Orange Lodge in Portadown called on its supporters to once again take to the streets of Northern Ireland to protest against the refusal of their march to take place down the Garvaghy Road. Days of dispruption and road blocks followed bringing many districts and towns to a complete standstill. I once again returned to my two hour drive home rather than my usualy fifteen minute one. You could literally have cut the tension with a knife. As the 12th July approached it did become clear that there was no full approval from the Protestant people for this and this was confirmed when Harold Gracey the Portadown Orange leader refused to condemn the ongoing violence.
The Ulster Unionist Party then lost a crucial by-election of what was considered one of their safe seats to the hard wing Ian Paisley. This increased the pressure on David Trimble and the members of the UUP stepped up the pressure to have Sinn Fein excluded from the NI Assembly. Another trying year for Northern Ireland History.