30 JUNE 2001, Page 30

Polarisation in Ulster

From Mr Marshall Billot Sir: In his interesting piece on Northern Ireland (`The limits of charm', 23 June), Bruce Anderson notes the belated efforts now being made by the governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland and the SDLP on the urgent need for decommissioning. But what leverage does any of these groups have any longer to compel decommissioning? David Trimble's position is tenuous at best. All IRA prisoners have now been released. Not a single weapon has been decommissioned during this time. Sinn Fein is virtually at the point of superseding the SDLP as the dominant nationalist party in Ireland. Realistically, what incentive is left for the IRA or Sinn Fein to decommission?

Even if the Assembly is suspended, we still have the North—South political institutions linking the Republic with Ulster, a possible reintegration of the Provisional and Real IRA (given that the source of the split will go with the collapse of the Good Friday Agreement), and the very real prospect of Ian Paisley's DUP again becoming a dominant voice in Ulster politics. The latter in particular is a PR nightmare for the Protestant community, given that it is likely to encourage more people in Britain to wash their hands of the problem completely. It seems to me that Sinn Fein has played a brilliant hand against everyone, making dupes of the other parties to the agreement. For this, the government in reality have nobody to blame but themselves.

Marshall Billot

Fernhurst, West Sussex