Unionists adjusting to new political landscape: David McKittrick finds a new mood in a party better known for its caution

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The Independent Online
INSIDE the Ulster Unionist conference, the grassroots listened to warnings that the IRA was not finished and that a resumption of republican violence could be on the cards.

But outside the inn at Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, the level of security gave an indication of the Army and police assessment of the threat level: for much of the day there were no troops and no police officers in sight.

Things have changed and this cautious, conservative, elderly party was beginning to adjust to the recent dramatic events. The feel-good factor was palpable, with much praise and much genuine affection for James Molyneaux, who is seen as a low-key but effective leader.

Many speakers were critical of the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, accusing it as scaremongering and groundlessly whipping up grassroots'concerns. One councillor declared: 'This exploitation of sectarian fears, the whining and the whingeing, take a toll on the Unionist spirit.'

The party leadership's position, in contrast to Mr Paisley's, was summed up by Ken Maginnis MP: 'The Union has been threatened. The Union is now safe.'

Only a few Young Turks thought Mr Molyneaux should be extracting more from his relationship with John Major. 'The next two years is the time to capitalise on our influence,' David Burnside, formerly of British Airways, said. Another speaker said of the Government: 'We must continue to keep pressure on them. Fortunately their majority is weak - hopefully they may be in difficulties over the Post Office and other issues.'

After the Young Turks came a surprising Old Turk, Enoch Powell, who was given two standing ovations, despite taking the very opposite of the Molyneaux line: this was a time of the greatest possible danger for Northern Ireland, he warned, since the British government was operating to a game plan, first to give them self-government and then to bring them to a united Ireland.