Unionist election choice takes firm stance on arms

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The Independent Online

The Ulster Unionist Party must unite to demand that the IRA hands over its weapons before Sinn Fein can re-enter a power-sharing government, new UUP Westminster election candidate Peter Weir said today.

As party leader David Trimble prepared for Dublin talks with Irish premier Bertie Ahern, anti-Good Friday accord Mr Weir's selection to fight the North Down seat was another blow to the pro-Agreement camp.

"Ulster Unionists have got to move forward on the basis that they've got to see actual decommissioning bfre allowed into government," said Mr Weir.

The hardline barrister lost the party whip in the Stormont Assembly last Spring when he failed to toe the line over Mr Trimble's plans for the structuring of government.

Mr Trimble and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams were to hold separate meetings with Mr Ahern later today but there is little prospect of an early end to the deadlock over arms and devolution.

London and Dublin are desperate for some progress before Easter in a bid to get the suspended political institutions running again as soon as possible.

Mr Trimble has said he would consider going back into the Stormont executive with Sinn Fein before the Provisionals start to disarm provided there was certainty they would do so.

He has warned that the Agreement will have a "serious credibility problem" if there has been no movement on disarmament by May 22, the date by which the peace deal anticipates decommissioning could be completed.

If the stalemate drags on into the tense summer Orange marching season, it will make resolution all the more difficult.

But Mr Trimble's negotiating position has been severely restricted by his narrow win over leadership challenger, the Rev Martin Smyth, and his party's decision to make retention of the RUC's name a pre-condition to power-sharing with republicans.

Mr Weir, who voted for Mr Smyth in the leadership contest, defeated Lady Sylvia Hermon, the wife of former RUC Chief Constable Sir John Hermon, for the North Down candidacy.

He said he did not want his selection to be seen as a "personality issue" with regard to Mr Trimble's leadership.

But Mr Weir, who will stand against UK Unionist MP Robert McCartney at the next election, urged his colleagues to unite and heal the divisions.

"I think it's important as Ulster Unionists we do all move together, we unite around a strong policy and start to heal within unionism some of the divisions which have occurred not just over the last week or two but over the past few years," he said.

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