Conversations with hard line Ulster Unionists often end with the question, “What have we got out of the peace process since the Good Friday agreement? The Republicans have had their terrorists released, they've got a place in the Northern Ireland Executive and the Royal Ulster Constabulary is losing its old status. They've won. What have we got?” The root of the problem for Protestant Unionists has always been their deep seated fear that Northern Ireland would one day somehow be subsumed in the Irish Republic, both politically and in a religious sense. It was true that the Republic's constitution included an aspiration that such a take over should one day become reality. It is therefore surprising that the Unionists cannot see that the peace process has won them the biggest prize of all: the removal of this offending clause of the Republic's constitution and the guarantee by the British government that there can be no change in Northern Ireland's status without a majority vote in favour.

As the hard line Unionists spend yet another week trying to think of new objections to the acceptance of the IRA's offer on arms, it is important that the wider world understands that Mr Trimble and his party have gained quite as much as Gerry Addams and Sinn Fein from the peace process and that everything should not now be lost by arguments over flags and badges that are infinitely less importance than the possibility of permanent peace.

Ray Fleming


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