23/09/2002

UUP threaten executive walk out after council meeting

The future of the assembly has once again been endangered after the Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) agreed a proposal for its ministers to walk out of the executive if paramilitary groups have not begun the process of disbandment within three months.

The party says that it will leave the executive, as it has done on two previous occasions, if disbandment was not under way by the time of the next UUC meeting on January 18, 2003.

The decision has been widely criticised, particularly in nationalist quarters, as further evidence that David Trimble owes his position to the favour of the hardliners rather than through the loyalty of the party faithful.

At Saturday's council meeting in the Ramada Hotel, Belfast, the party adopted a strategy involving both "immediate and graduated action". The first strand of the resolution is an immediate end to participation in North-South Ministerial Council meetings, and the second was to give Sinn Fein three months to prove that the Good Friday Agreement was being implemented in full with republican violence at an end.

Copper-fastening his bottom line, Mr Trimble poured further doubt on the nature of the institutions, adding that the party would meet Prime Minister Tony Blair and engage in talks with the other Northern Ireland parties to "see if there is a viable basis for future government in Northern Ireland."

The special meeting was the ninth such meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council at which David Trimble's policy and authority has been challenged.

Mr Trimble said: "The Ulster Unionist Party won today and the people of Northern Ireland won today because the people of Northern Ireland now, as a result of this, can see the added spur on the paramilitaries to complete the transition and to get the full promise of the agreement delivered."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that the outcome of the UUC meeting was a "wrecker's charter".

"Today's UUP decision is evidence that political unionism has not yet risen to the challenge presented by the imperative for change. In the absence of consistent, constant and positive leadership, unionism is trying to delay, dilute or prevent change. This cannot be tolerated," he said.

The Alliance Party leader David Ford accused David Trimble of "putting on the political straight-jacket handed to him by the anti-Agreement faction in the

UUP".

Mr Ford said: "Any compromise with anti-Agreement unionism is a bad compromise. By threatening to bring down the assembly, David Trimble is leading us into yet another manufactured crisis ahead of an election."

(GMcG)

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