25/06/2003

Trimble calls emergency meeting of sundered UUP

As the split within the Ulster Unionist party rumbles on, party leader David Trimble has requested an emergency meeting of party officers tomorrow.

Top of the agenda will be the implications of the current impasse imposed by the party’s own ‘rebel’ MPs Martin Smyth, Jeffrey Donaldson, and David Burnside.

Yet since Monday’s decision of the rebel MPs to resign the party whip, claiming that Mr Trimble had failed to endorse his policy on the joint British-Irish declaration, the UUP leader has remained tight-lipped about the future of his party.

Speaking after Monday’s announcement, Mr Trimble hit back, claiming that the actions of the three MPs represented ‘a slap in the face for every delegate to the Ulster Unionist Council’, and called for their resignation.

The UUP leader said: "Having made it clear they don't accept the decisions of the council, that they don't agree with the leadership, that they are attacking everything we have done over the past half dozen years, I would have thought it's fairly clear what they should be doing”.

He added that the positions of party president, Mr Smyth, vice-president Mr Donaldson, and Mr Burnside were ‘wholly untenable’, and have shown ‘only contempt for the UUC delegates’.

However, Mr Trimble went on to say that while the rebel MPs had clearly rejected party democracy, he agreed that the present controversy surrounding his party was "a defining moment not just for the Ulster Unionist party but for unionism as a whole."

A statement issued on Monday by the UUP also attacked the MPs actions, saying: “The agreed aim of the UUP is to bring about a resolution of our historic conflict on a democratic basis. That task is made all the harder when fellow Ulster Unionists fail to uphold democratic decisions”.

The three disaffected MPs were also given a warning this week by fellow party member, representative for Mid-Ulster, Billy Armstrong who claimed that the party faced a “short-term meltdown”.

However, appeals for party unity has apparently done little to detract the rebel MPs from their current position. Earlier in the week they launched a personal attack against their leader, saying: "We must see to it that unionism is never again represented at the negotiating table in a weak and dysfunctional state." Mr Burnside also added that Mr Trimble should resign if his policy on the joint declaration did not change.

They also insisted that they would start discussions with the DUP and former MP, Bob McCartney of the UK Unionist party, about the creation of a “united front” against the terms, particularly decommissioning and devolution, of the government’s declaration, in order to “produce a form of accountable local administration at Stormont which has both unionist and nationalist consent”.

Mr Trimble may have narrowly beaten Mr Donaldson last week in his leadership contest, however, scraping by with 54% of the vote, it remains clear that Mr Trimble’s reputation is almost certainly hanging in the balance.

(MM)

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