27/06/2003

Rebel UUP MP's suspended from party

Three rebel Ulster Unionist MP's have been suspended from the party, it has been announced today.

Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, South Antrim MP, David Burnside and South Belfast MP, Martin Smyth all resigned the party whip at Westminster earlier in the week in objection at the current leadership and its stance over the British and Irish Joint Declaration.

The decision was taken by the party's disciplinary committee on Friday afternoon.

The three men can appeal the decision - however the hearing cannot take place until mid-July.

Elsewhere, US Ambassador to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass has met Secretary of State Paul Murphy today to discuss developments in the current peace process.

The meeting took place ahead of further meetings between nationalist and unionist politicians and Mr Haass.

While refusing to comment on the current political spilt within the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr Haass, in an interview on BBC Radio Ulster this morning, said he believed there was still political unionist support for the current process.

Despite this split, Paul Murphy maintained that work would be continuing towards the outstanding key issues in the current process.

He said: "Northern Ireland is best governed through local Ministers making local decisions. The sooner we achieve this the better for the people of Northern Ireland.

"There is much work to be done on all sides if we are to succeed in restoring trust and confidence and re-instate devolved government in the autumn.

"As we pursue with the political parties how the devolved institutions might be restored and the remainder of the Belfast Agreement fully implemented, I especially appreciate the ongoing support of the American administration as we work to achieve this goal."

Mr Haass was also due to speak with SDLP leader Mark Durkan later this afternoon.

Mr Durkan has already expressed his "disgust" at the action taken by Jeffrey Donaldson, David Burnside and Martin Smyth in withdrawing their support of UUP leader David Trimble in the current process.

He described all three men as "sulketeers" who were "attempting to form with others an ever tighter anti-Agreement axis".

The challenge facing the pro-agreement parties, therefore, was to build a pro-agreement axis that will deliver the full Agreement in a fair, decisive and balanced way, he added.

(MB)

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