The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, yesterday won the support of his party for returning to government with Sinn Fein following the IRA's move this week to decommission its weapons.
As expected, he had a comfortable majority within the 110-strong party executive. But he admitted he faced a closer result in the next important vote – in the Stormont Assembly this week when he stands for re-election as Northern Ireland's First Minister.
Mr Trimble had resigned from the post in July in a move calculated to force the IRA into decommissioning.
The IRA's pledge this week to put arms beyond use has greatly increased Mr Trimble's standing in the Unionist party, where his support had been steadily ebbing away.
Speaking after yesterday's executive meeting, he said he had won a vote at the meeting by at least a three-to-one majority; some had wished to refer the question of re-entering government, to the party's 800-strong council.
However, Mr Trimble was critical of the republicans: "Despite what has happened they are not really acting in good faith," he said. "They are only acting when they have to, because they have to. None the less the beginning of decommissioning is a significant event."
Although the executive called on Assembly members to back Mr Trimble in next week's vote, two look unlikely to do so. Peter Weir and Pauline Armitage, have indicated that they are unimpressed by the IRA's action.
Mrs Armitage said: "I accept arms were destroyed, but we have no idea of the numbers." She said the Unionists' leader had told her there was no programme for the continuation of the destruction of weapons. Without the support of all Assembly members, Mr Trimble may have to rely on votes from smaller groupings.
Meanwhile, a soldier was critically ill yesterday after being injured by a blast bomb thrown during disturbances in Belfast. Police said the 18-year-old was helping man a checkpoint when petrol bombs and other missiles were thrown to lure them into an ambush. Police also received injuries in the Ardoyne Road attack.
The loyalist Ulster Defence Association is being blamed for a blast bomb that exploded in a north Belfast house, leading an elderly Catholic man and his two sons to be treated for shock.
The violence on both sides was condemned by Unionist political figures, with Belfast's Lord Mayor, Jim Rodgers, saying: "They are bringing the good name of the Protestant religion into disrepute. I'm challenging these people to spell out to the people of Belfast and Northern Ireland why you are attacking soldiers of the Crown ... you should be ashamed of yourselves."