Unionist rift exposes Ulster tension
Wednesday 06 January 1999
The split within the UK Unionist Party, which held five of the Northern Ireland Assembly's 108 seats, means that the Unionist cause is now represented by six separate factions within the new institution. Both of the new fragments remain opposed to the Good Friday Agreement.
Opinions differ, however, on whether the development will in the end represent a net gain or a net loss for the pro- agreement forces that dominate the assembly. The agreement needs a stable and substantial section of Unionism to prop it up, but with such confusion and disarray in the ranks, uncertainty is the order.
In yesterday's split, four UK Unionist assembly members abandoned their leader, Robert McCartney, announcing they were forming themselves into the Northern Ireland Unionist Party. While Mr McCartney seems to command the support of his party's grass roots outside the assembly, within the chamber itself he will become leader of a party without any other members.
The party has in recent times been closely aligned with the Rev Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, campaigning vigorously for a "no" vote in last year's referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.
The split was accompanied by a fair amount of acrimony. Mr McCartney accused the four of an act of "political infamy", saying they had committed a fraud against the electorate and challenging them to resign their sets and fight by-elections. He said the dissidents had little or no support and denied their claim that he was a despot intent on dragooning them into a boycott of the assembly.
The dissidents said in a statement that they were opposed to Mr McCartney's "insistence that we blindly acquiesce in his exit strategy from the assembly".
They said that would weaken the anti-agreement forces, adding: "For elected members to withdraw from the assembly on the personal whim of a party leader at a time of maximum crisis for the Union would be an act of gross political irresponsibility."
Mr McCartney is one of Northern Ireland's most familiar political figures, taking a prominent part in Unionist politics since the early 1980s. He is Westminster MP for North Down, having relinquished a profitable practice as one of Belfast's leading QCs to take up a full-time political career.
He left the Ulster Unionist Party after disputes in the 1980s, and more recently led his party out of the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'
Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'
Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?
Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent
"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier
Striker's four-month ban for biting an opponent expires on Friday
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's Oscar Pistorius joke goes a bit too far at the Q Awards
- 5 Ottawa shootings: Bruce MacKinnon's cartoon is the perfect tribute to soldier Nathan Cirillo
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery rumours: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
FCKH8: YouTube reinstates provocative anti-sexism video showing young girls swearing
Axe wielding man shot dead after attacking four New York policemen on busy street
Diwali: What is the festival of lights – and how is it celebrated around the world?
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior Software Engineer - C#, VB.N...
£120 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Luton: The Job:SECONDARY teachers need...
£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Behaviour Support WorkerThe JobTo...
Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is working in...