Orange Order to be squeezed out

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The Independent Online

David Trimble's plans to restrict the influence of the Orange Order over his Ulster Unionist Party have been met with opposition by senior colleagues.

Lagan Valley MP, Jeffrey Donaldon urged colleagues not to "break the link" with the Protestant marching organisation simply because it was politically expedient.

Mr Donaldson was responding to Mr Trimble's plans to propose reform measures to the party's rules revision committee in the summer which could see an end to the Orange Order and other anti-Good Friday Agreement groupings sending delegates to the 860 member policy-making council.

The Orange Order has 120 delegates on the council, while the Young Unionist group, which has also criticised Mr Trimble's leadership and could also lose its representation, sends 34 delegates.

Last month, Mr Trimble survived a leadership challenge from the anti-Agreement MP for South Belfast, the Rev Martin Smyth by 57 per cent to 43 per cent at the last Ulster Unionist Council meeting in the Balmoral agricultural complex in Belfast.

But Mr Trimble told the Sunday Telegraph the reform move was "not something dreamed up in response to last month's Balmoral result.

"These discussions have been ongoing for a number of months."

UUP sources confirmed moves to reform the party were under way and that senior party officials had been involved in negotiations with the Orange Order.

However, Mr Donaldson said he was concerned the move was being launched by Mr Trimble because it was now politically expedient.

Acknowledging reform plans were discussed within the party for some time, the Lagan Valley MP said: "I would be concerned that the Unionist Party would move to unilaterally break the link with the Orange Order at this time, especially given that the Order has taken a particular position on the Agreement.

"It is also being perceived by this story and other people that breaking the link is politically motivated rather than for the purposes of modernising our structures, so I think the party instead ought to have discussions with the Orange Order about future relationships rather than breaking the link."

Mr Donaldson told BBC Radio Five Live it was not the interests of the UUP or the Order for the link to be severed without mutual agreement as it would be perceived by people outside as an attempt to "dump" the Protestant marching organisation.

Trimble ally, Dermot Nesbitt said last night the reform plans were "well known" within the party and the proper consultation processes with UUP members would be pursued.

The South Down Assemblyman told PA News: "The Ulster Unionist Party, in order to survive, has to be seen to be pluralist but it must also be mindful of its roots.

"What we want to do is strike a balance between knowing where our roots lie and reflecting a unionism for the 21st century."

However, there was some anger in Ulster Unionist quarters, with former Northern Ireland Forum member David Brewster claiming it "sounded like the first shot" in a civil war which could erupt between pro and anti-Agreement factions in the party.

"This move is a bit like a doctor faced with a patient who is haemorrhaging and who decides to rip out the backbone. It is foolish in the extreme."

The Democratic Unionists' Ian Paisley Junior also accused Mr Trimble of planning a "witchhunt" against anti-Agreement members of his party in the wake of last month's council votes.

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