28/08/2002

Trimble set to face challenge from hardline Unionists

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is in for another stern test of his authority after anti-agreement elements succeeded in calling a party council meeting to debate the policy of sharing government with Sinn Fein.

A petition containing more than the 60-signatures needed to force an emergency meeting, has been presented to party President Martin Smyth and the council is expected to be held within the next couple of weeks.

Senior representatives, lead by MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside, had been calling for members to withdraw from the power-sharing executive, particularly following several weeks of civil disorder and further reports of republican links with Farc terrorists in Colombia.

South Antrim MP David Burnside said he expected a meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council to be held in mid-September.

He said: “We have no confidence in the government. Ulster Unionists must act and take the initiative and we will do at the Ulster Unionist Council.”

Fellow anti-agreement party member, Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson, said that there was a lack of confidence within the unionist movement about the apparent failure of paramilitaries to commit to peace.

He said: “Obviously there are people in the party who feel it’s time to have a debate on the removal of Sinn Fein from ministerial office.”

Both Mr Burnside and Mr Donaldson will seek permission at Friday’s meeting to run in next year’s Assembly election. Party rules require Ulster Unionists to receive special permission if they wish to run for election in a second post.

It was the 800-strong council which had agreed to enter into government with Sinn Fein two years ago. The council, however, also has the power to remove Ulster Unionist ministers from the Assembly.

Before a meeting can take place, the party officers have to debate the matter and agree on both a date and a venue. The next meeting of party officers is due to take place on Friday.

Sinn Fein chairman, Mitchel McLaughlin, claimed that was enough support within the unionist movement to withstand the pressure from the more hardline elements, whilst SDLP leader Mark Durkan accused David Burnside of wanting to bring down the Good Friday Agreement structures.

David Trimble has yet to comment on the proposed meeting.

(KMcA)

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