Unionists expel rebel for opposing Trimble

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The Independent Online

The dissident Northern Ireland Assembly member Peter Weir was expelled from the Ulster Unionist Party yesterday for voting against David Trimble in the recent elections for the post of First Minister.

Mr Weir was expelled after a disciplinary hearing in Belfast. A second dissident, Pauline Armitage, was suspended but escaped expulsion. The pair have been thorns in Mr Trimble's side for several years, often criticising him and withholding support in Assembly votes.

The move is uncharacteristic in Unionist terms, since the party traditionally affords an extraordinary degree of leniency to critics within its ranks. But after the Assembly vote last week, Mr Trimble accused both of being dishonourable.

The rebels triggered a crisis in voting against their party leader, since their action meant he did not command the required majority of Unionist members of the Assembly. The centre-ground Alliance party was pressed into redesignating several of its members as Unionists to secure Mr Trimble's election.

Mr Weir left yesterday's proceedings before the result was announced, saying he would not tolerate a "kangaroo court". He said: "There has been so much abuse of process over the past few days, I will not be party to anything but a fair trial."

He said he had tried to stick by solid Unionist principle, adding: "I leave today with my head held high."

Mrs Armitage said of the hearing: "We agreed to disagree. I still believe what I did was not detrimental to the party, but they had a different view, and that's life." She had earlier accused Mr Trimble of "single-handedly destroying the Union".

Some in the party have argued that expulsions were inadvisable in that they, in effect, guaranteed a lessening of Mr Trimble's strength in the Assembly. Another view, however, was that there was in any event no realistic chance of securing Mr Weir's support.

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