No guns - no government, Trimble tells IRA

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The Independent Online

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble warned the IRA today that it must disarm otherwise there will be no ruling administration in Northern Ireland.

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble warned the IRA today that it must disarm otherwise there will be no ruling administration in Northern Ireland.

"No guns - no government means just that," he said. "If there is no decommissioning there will be no government."

Mr Trimble's move to steady the nerves of his supporters and persuade doubters to put their trust in his leadership came on the eve of the party's critical vote on the devolution/disarmament deal.

Victory at tomorrow's meeting of the 858-member Ulster Unionist ruling council will almost certainly mean Northern Ireland having its own government by next Thursday, once legislative powers are transferred from London to Belfast.

Senior party officials believe Mr Trimble may just have enough support to win.

But he is under enormous pressure from hardliners, among them six MPs, who claim he has abandoned party policy.

Defeat would probably spell the end of the deal and topple Mr Trimble as UUP leader, although either way the party is likely to emerge bruised and possibly split.

But Mr Trimble warned that this agreement with Sinn Fein was the only way to get a devolved government and the handover of paramilitary weapons.

"If we say no, there will be no decommissioning and no Stormont government," he said. "All the gains we have secured for unionism in the Agreement will be lost and the pain we endured will have been for nothing."

Voting yes would get rid of both the Irish Republic's claim to Northern Ireland and the Anglo-Irish Agreement for good, and allow the Stormont government to take control of North/South co-operation.

"We now owe it to ourselves and society to put the republican movement's professed commitment to peace and democracy to the ultimate test," Mr Trimble said.

"The future will be in our hands. In the last two years we have made considerable progress. We have come too far to turn back now. We must take our courage in our hands."

The Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, speaking during a visit to council offices in Larne, issued an appeal for the Ulster Unionist Council to back Mr Trimble: "It's now or never."

Mr Mandelson said: "I understand the fears that people have ... but I think the greatest fear people have is of failure.

"I think people have got to be more confident, I think they have to be less defensive, less defeatist about the chances we have before us in Northern Ireland and that's why I say 'give it a chance'.

"You will personally be no worse off if it doesn't go right at the end of the day."

Mr Mandelson refused to be drawn about the size of the mandate Mr Trimble needs to press ahead with the deal brokered by Senator George Mitchell.

He said: "The Ulster Unionist Party must take its own decision. I feel confident that they are going to listen to the people ... and right across Northern Ireland they are saying give peace a chance.

"We are not going to have another chance."

Mr Mandelson added: "What Northern Ireland now has within its grasp, is the prospect, next week, next Thursday, of ending direct rule, of putting behind us the last 30-years of the most awful, failed politics of Northern Ireland.

"We must however grasp that opportunity that's before us, and if we don't I am afraid we will be slipping backwards to the bad old ways."

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