Trimble fights back at critics

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The Independent Online

David Trimble today fought back against his critics in the Ulster Unionist Party by telling them he was still committed to making the Good Friday Agreement work.

David Trimble today fought back against his critics in the Ulster Unionist Party by telling them he was still committed to making the Good Friday Agreement work.

In an uncompromising speech at the Ulster Unionist conference in Belfast, he turned on anti-Agreement colleagues for calling for a change of party policy.

The Northern Ireland First Minister accused them of rushing into "public attacks and simplistic responses" in the aftermath of the party's defeat in the South Antrim by-election two weeks ago.

"We will be more successful if we are united with a more mature approach. That is why I won't be walking away from the Executive just yet. A considered and calibrated approach if others do meet their commitments will be better.

"I hear loud calls for a change of policy. I'll give those who have been shouting a change of policy.

"Stop undermining the party. Stop undermining the leadership of the party. Stop undermining democratic decisions made by your party. Stop running to the media and badmouthing the Assembly team."

Mr Trimble told delegates in Belfast's Waterfront Hall no member was denied the right to air their concerns about party policy.

But he said the Ulster Unionists must keep their differences to themselves, just as the Democratic Unionists, SDLP and "the Shinners" - Sinn Fein - did.

And he called for support for continuing with the Good Friday Agreement.

"Will we sleep any sounder in our beds if we are seen to ditch this Agreement? Will there be decommissioning? Will the Union be guaranteed? No, no and no again," he told them.

"The choice we have is simple. On the one hand, we can draw nationalism and republicanism into a consensus. On the other, we can be governed by London with Dublin interference, deprived of a voice, deprived of a veto."

The UUP leader, who faces a Democratic Unionist motion of no confidence as First Minister in the Assembly, accused the Rev Ian Paisley's party of being "glued like limpets" to their positions alongside Sinn Fein, despite their denials.

Mr Trimble also had harsh words for nationalists and republicans over the issues of policing reforms and decommissioning.

The prospect of partnership government, he said, was being "poisoned" by the policing issue and in particular, the Patten Report.

"Patten asked: What did we expect when we signed the Agreement? I'll tell him what we expected," he told delegates.

"We expected his report to be acceptable to the greater number of people in Northern Ireland. It wasn't.

"We expected his report to reject sectarian procedures for recruitment. It didn't. We expected his report to accept and respect the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. It didn't.

"It was shoddy. Are nationalists really saying the future depends on Patten, the whole Patten and nothing but Patten?

"Nationalists need to get real about policing. Do they really want to destroy the best chance in, perhaps, a lifetime of an agreed way forward in Northern Ireland?"

Mr Trimble also told republicans and loyalists that ongoing paramilitary activity was unacceptable, with murders, punishment-style attacks and arms smuggling still continuing.

The IRA had also not lived up to the commitments it made on disarmament in May, he noted.

"We cannot live on promises alone," the UUP leader warned.

"We have had enough of prevarication. Our people are losing faith in a Government whose response to paramilitary pressure is to look for another set of goodies to give them."

Mr Trimble warned the IRA against trying to bluff their way through the disarmament process.

"They thought they could bluff their way in January.

"In February, we proved there was a bottom line. It hasn't changed. We remain committed to pushing all paramilitaries to deliver the peace they promised."