Unionist candidate may split right-wing vote

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The Independent Online
DAVID McKITTRICK

Ireland Correspondent

A new element of uncertainty was introduced in the contest for the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party yesterday when a fifth candidate, the Upper Bann MP David Trimble, entered the race.

Mr Trimble, who has been an MP for only five years, has long had a reputation as a hardliner. He strengthened this in July when he took a leading role in a loyalist confrontation with the RUC in Portadown.

The significance of his entry is that he can be expected to draw support from the same quarters as the Strangford MP John Taylor. Mr Taylor is regarded as front-runner to succeed James Molyneaux, who stepped down on Monday after 16 years as head of the party.

Mr Trimble and Mr Taylor share both a Westminster office and an uncompromising right-wing approach. The Taylor camp is said to be concerned that Mr Trimble's candidature will divide the right-wing vote and benefit the Fermanagh- South Tyrone MP Ken Maginnis, standard-bearer of the party's liberal wing.

The other declared candidates are two traditionalists, the East Londonderry MP William Ross and the South Belfast MP the Rev Martin Smyth, who is head of the Orange Order. The new leader, to be elected next Friday night, will be the first man to gain more than 50 per cent of the votes of the 860-strong Ulster Unionist Council.

Mr Trimble said his decision to run had been influenced by complimentary editorials in the Daily Telegraph and the Times. Asked if, as leader, he would take part in round-table talks with Sinn Fein, he replied: "No, not at this stage."

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