'THE Northern Ireland crisis has been transformed. Expect clashes between two hard, bright men. Expect also a torrid time ahead."
The words were spoken by a seasoned observer of Northern Ireland politics on hearing that David Trimble was to be the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which is trying to keep the region British-ruled.
Minutes after his election Friday, the lawyer who now heads the province's Protestant majority fulfilled that prophecy.
Mr. Trimble declared that Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, had so far "failed to prove his sincerity" in speaking about peace. He was referring to the IRA's refusal so far to hand over its weapons after it unilaterally declared a cease-fire a year ago, ending its 25-year-long paramilitary campaign to drive Britain out of Northern Ireland.
"It is not enough for people whose intention still is to revert to the use of threat of violence as a lever, simply to make a gesture and think that lets them off the hook," Trimble said, speaking to enthusiastic UUP supporters.
Many observers say confrontational politics will now rule the peace talks and hinder an early compromise between nationalist Catholics and pro-British Protestants.
Trimble had been elected to replace the mild-mannered James Molyneaux as party leader, he said, "because the UUP wanted a change of style" and to be led by someone who could "stand up to Adams," says Andrew Hunter, chairman of the British Conservative Party's Northern Ireland committee of members of Parliament.
In choosing Trimble, the UUP's ruling council opted for a hard-line advocate of Northern Ireland's union with Britain, and an outspoken Protestant with close ties to Northern Ireland's Orange Lodges - the part-religious, part-political men's clubs that form a network of rallying points for Trimble's co-religionists.
"David won because our movement wanted to be led by somebody as young, articulate, and determined as Gerry Adams," said one of the unsuccessful leadership candidates after the vote.
Trimble has been a member of the British Parliament for only five years. He has a lawyer's mastery of detail and a sharp tongue. During the Gulf war he compared the Irish Republic's claim to Northern Ireland to Saddam Hussein's claim to Kuwait. At one time he was associated with the extreme hard-line Vanguard Unionist Progressive Party.
Some unionists have suggested that Trimble would like to reunite the UUP and the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party, and thus sharpen the confrontation with Sinn Fein.
In the run-up to the leadership vote, the mood of the UUP rank-and-file had been changed by a sudden glitch in the Northern Ireland peace process. Many analysts say this helped to propel Trimble to the top of his party.
Last week, John Bruton, prime minister of the Irish Republic, called off a summit to have been held with British Prime Minister John Major. British government officials accused Mr. Bruton of backing off because of Mr. Adams, who said his party would never agree to a weapons handover plan that the two prime ministers were considering.
Trimble is already pushing for time with world leaders: He has said he wanted meetings with Bruton and Mr. Major. UUP officials say he will probably travel to Washington to meet White House officials before President Clinton's November visit to Britain.