Trimble celebrates another victory over dissidents

ULSTER UNIONIST leader David Trimble celebrated another resounding victory over his party’s three rebel member on Saturday night, but the dissidents are intent on continued defiance.

The rebel members of parliament party president, Martin Smyth, Jeffrey Donaldson, and David Burnside called a meeting of the party's ruling 900-strong Ulster Unionist Council to try to halt Mr Trimble's moves to discipline them for resigning the parliamentary whip in June in protest at party policy.

But behind the closed doors of the Ulster Hall in central Belfast, their motion never even went to the vote.

Instead, Mr Trimble's amendment regretting their action and calling on them to return to the fold was passed by 443 to 359.

It was a 55.2% to 44.8% victory for Mr Trimble and in line with the margins of previous challenges to his authority by dissidents. The result put to rest in the short term any doubts about his leadership.

Emboldened by a margin of victory which had appeared questionable only days ago, Mr Trimble urged the rebels to pull back from the brink, withdraw their threat to split the party and to resume the whip.

If they did so, he said, the issue of disciplinary action would fall by the wayside. But the trio made it clear they would continue as dissidents.

Lagan Valley MP Mr Donaldson said: "55% can't dictate to 45% we have to find a consensus."

Mr Trimble insisted the divided party could be reunited if the three MPs agreed to toe the party line. He declared: "The reality of the situation is the party and the Ulster Unionist Council have voted for themselves; they've voted to say to people accept the decisions of the council.

"And they voted to say to people, withdraw your threat to split the party and retake the whip. Of course, if people retake the whip, as I made clear, then the issue that gives rise to consideration of disciplinary proceedings falls by the wayside."

However, Mr Donaldson made it clear they would not be taking the whip again before legislation implementing the British and Irish Governments' proposals for reviving devolution had been debated at Westminster.

"Our position remains as it was. We will not be retaking the whip at Westminster; we are going to oppose the legislation linked to the joint declaration," he said.

Ignoring the council defeat he added: "We believe that the majority of unionists are opposed to that joint declaration, someone has to represent their views and we will be there in parliament to put forward our concerns, seeking to change that which we disagree with."

South Antrim MP Mr Burnside indicated they would, however, reapply to take the whip once they had carried out their act of defiance in Britain's parliament.

He urged that no action be taken against them.

As the Trimble camp celebrated they were urged to be magnanimous in victory and not to go ahead with any disciplinary action.

Former Stormont Assembly member Danny Kennedy who has opposed such action said the result was good for the leader but not so good for the party.

Decisions will have to be taken by party leaders soon whether to proceed with disciplinary action or allow the defiance to continue unpunished.

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