19/12/2003

Mixed responses to Donaldson's departure

The decision by rebel Ulster Unionist MP Jeffery Donaldson to leave the party has been welcomed by some supporters of UUP leader David Trimble.

The hardline anti-Good Friday Agreement MP announced his decision to leave the party along with two other Assembly members, Norah Beare and Arlene Foster who were also elected on an Ulster Unionist ticket.

Mr Donaldson, whose resignation from the UUP was welcomed by DUP leader Ian Paisley, is now considering his position.

Mr Donaldson has said that he has been asked to join the DUP's 'renegotation team' as the largest Unionist party gears up to attempt to win changes in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, alterations that the DUP says will be more in line with the wishes of the majority of unionist voters.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the UUP said Mr Donaldson's decision, while a "matter of regret", was not a surprise.

The high profile Ulster Unionist said that he would be talking with the DUP with a view to joining that party. He said that he expected to make an announcement early in the New Year.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said that the resignations dealt a "hammer blow" to the Ulster Unionist party who he said were "badly out of touch with the views and aspirations of the electorate."

Mr Donaldson was effectively sidelined by the Ulster Unionist party when he and two other Westminster MPs refused the party whip and the party moved to censure the three in August.

Speaking following his announcement on Thursday December 18, Mr Donaldson said the Unionist Party was not the same party that he had joined 20 years ago.

At an Ulster Unionist ruling council meeting in September, Mr Donaldson and the two dissident MPS the Rev Martin Smyth and David Burnside were called on to take the whip and declined a motion to hold a vote of no confidence in leader David Trimble. This effectively ended Mr Donaldson's aspirations to directly oust party leader David Trimble.

However, the loss of three key members from the former largest Unionist grouping in the Assembly servers to substantially weaken the party's grip on local government should this be reconvened.

The Ulster Unionist Party is effectively left with 24 members, the same number of seats as Sinn Féin, and should Mr Donaldson join the DUP, seven seats short of the DUP's enhanced complement of 31.

(SP)


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