06/01/2004

War of words erupt between Trimble and Donaldson

A war of words erupted today between Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble and Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson.

It follows Mr Donaldson's high profile defection from the Ulster Unionist Party to the Democratic Unionist Party on Monday.

On Tuesday, Mr Trimble called for a by-election in the Lagan Valley constituency saying Mr Donaldson had been elected on a UUP ticket. He said: "It is most unfortunate that people were not more honest with the electorate and with us.

"A lot of people in Lagan Valley think there should be a by-election. I think it is a matter for Mr Donaldson's honour and it is for him to decide."

However, Mr Donaldson hit back claiming Mr Trimble had orchestrated the move to have him expelled from the party, therefore a call for a by-election was farcical.

"Is he suggesting that if I had been expelled there should have been a by-election?" he said.

"There have been many defections in the past from the DUP to the UUP and I am not aware of any instances where those public representatives, people like (East Antrim MP) Roy Beggs and Ivan Davis ever having called a by-election."

Mr Donaldson's decision to join Dr Paisley's party follows months of heated debate with Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble over the position of the UUP.

In June 2003, Mr Donaldson, alongside colleagues David Burnside and the Rev Martin Smyth, resigned the party whip claiming Mr Trimble failed to endorse his policy on the joint British-Irish declaration.

They claimed Unionism, led by Mr Trimble, had been "represented at the negotiating table in a weak and dysfunctional state".

Then following elections in November, Mr Donaldson questioned Mr Trimble's leadership after the DUP became the dominant unionist party in the province.

Today's move brings the DUP's strength at Stormont to 33, nine more than the UUP.

Mr Donaldson's defection to the DUP also makes it the largest Northern Ireland party at Westminster.

(MB)

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