Mitchell praised as he gives verdict on Ulster

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The Independent Online

Former US Senator George Mitchell was bidding farewell to Northern Ireland today as Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble fought for his political survival and to keep the peace process on track.

Former US Senator George Mitchell was bidding farewell to Northern Ireland today as Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble fought for his political survival and to keep the peace process on track.

Senator Mitchell was presenting his final report on the 10-week review of the Good Friday Agreement in the hope that he has put the politicians on a no-turn path to a power-sharing government.

Senior UUP negotiator Sir Reg Empey paid tribute to the senator's negotiating skills, integrity, good humour and patience today.

"Anybody who knows anything about the hours he has had to sit and listen to us squabble and argue must give him good credit," he said. "All had to feel they were getting something out of it."

But six of the 10 UUP Westminster MPs are fiercely opposed to a deal with Sinn Fein aimed at ridding the Province of terrorist guns and the transfer of legislative powers from London to Belfast.

They are Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), William Ross (East Londonderry), William Thompson (West Tyrone), Roy Beggs (East Antrim), Clifford Forsythe (South Antrim) and Martin Smyth (South Belfast).

They issued a statement condemning as "totally inadequate" the IRA's offer to appoint a go-between to the independent decommissioning body after the set-up of an executive including Sinn Fein.

Mr Trimble has dissociated himself from the statement but made no further comment.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly said it was hardly surprising, since the six MPs have always been against the Good Friday Agreement.

The IRA pronouncement came as part of a carefully choreographed series of steps, worked out by the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Fein over the course of the review.

But the "Westminster six" said: "The IRA statement offers no certainty, nor clarity on decommissioning, no timetable for disarmament and no guarantee it will actually happen.

"This deal effectively removes the lines between democracy and terrorism and we urge the wider party to stand by our manifesto pledges."

The six will rally dissidents to reject any softening of the party's "no guns no government" stance at the expected meeting of the 900-strong ruling council, possibly on Saturday week.

An unfavourable vote could scupper the devolution/decommissioning plan and topple the leader. But Mr Trimble's supporters claim his pragmatic approach will still win the day.

Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Ken Maginnis said his objectives - devolution and decommissioning - remained the same, but it was a question of timing.

"I'm as disappointed as any of my colleagues but the reality is when you go to make a bargain you don't always get what you want at the time you want it."

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