Trimble tipped to win narrow backing for deal

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The Independent Online

The Ulster Unionist party will determine the immediate course of the peace process today when its leader, David Trimble, solicits its support for his plan to enter government with Sinn Fein.

The Ulster Unionist party will determine the immediate course of the peace process today when its leader, David Trimble, solicits its support for his plan to enter government with Sinn Fein.

Most of the political soothsayers were predicting yesterday that Mr Trimble would win the support of 55 to 60 per cent of the party's 860-strong Council.

But such forecasts were not advanced with any great confidence, given the size of the Council, the use of the secret ballot, and the fact that a large number of its members might not make up their minds until the last moment.

Much is thought likely to depend on Mr Trimble's performance at the meeting, while many delegates may be influenced by the attitude of his deputy, John Taylor MP. Mr Taylor at first supported the Good Friday Agreement but recently switched camps. A ringing denunciation of the deal by him, or, alternatively, another change of mind, could be important at the meeting.

A victory for Mr Trimble would set in train a rapid sequence of events leading to a new devolved government for Northern Ireland by next Thursday. Failure, however, would result in a crisis in the peace process and a period of great uncertainty.

The 120 delegates from the Orange Order have been advised to vote against Mr Trimble, but one senior figure yesterday broke ranks to support him. David McNarry, who has played a prominent role in the Drumcree marching dispute, yesterday appealed for a pro-Trimble vote.

"It will haunt us for ever if we do not find out what the next step would take," he said. "It's important and it's incumbent on the Ulster Unionist Council to back their leader."

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

"We now owe it to ourselves and society to put the republican movement's professed commitment to peace and democracy to the ultimate test. The future will be in our hands. We have come too far to turn back now. We must take our courage in our hands."

East Antrim MP Roy Beggs, a member of the anti-Trimble camp, said: "There are many people who fully supported the Agreement, but cannot take the further step asked of them to admit terrorists into government in the absence of any evidence of the decommissioning and intent to hand over all of these illegal weapons."

Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: "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.

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