Unionist rebels to defy Trimble

Supporters of Ulster unionist leader David Trimble were bracing themselves today for the release of a series of commitments by anti-Good Friday Agreement members of his party standing in the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Supporters of Ulster unionist leader David Trimble were bracing themselves today for the release of a series of commitments by anti-Good Friday Agreement members of his party standing in the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Rebel Ulster Unionist Party MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and David Burnside were among UUP Assembly candidates expected to put their name to a series of pledges to the electorate.

However, the rival Democratic Unionists were expected to make capital out of the pledges and claim that they illustrated the deep divisions within Mr Trimble’s party.

Mr Donaldson and Mr Burnside have been critics of their leadership and in the summer resigned the Ulster Unionist whip at Westminster in a row over policy.

In July the Belfast High Court judge overturned an attempt by the party to suspend them and the south Belfast MP, the Rev Martin Smyth.

A second bid to discipline the MPs was put on hold after the Ulster Unionist Council in September rejected the rebels’ challenge against the disciplinary action.

The Conservative Party was also due today to launch its manifesto.

The party was expected to press for the retention of grammar schools and attack proposals to reform post-primary education.

The Conservatives were also expected to indicate that they would not be describing themselves as unionists if elected to the Assembly.

A party source said: “While we are a party which believes in the Union, we do not believe in the sectarian designation system at Stormont and will be putting ourselves forward as non-aligned members.”

A succession of billboards were also due to be launched by parties eight days ahead of polling day.

The loyalist Progressive Unionists were due to unveil their billboard in Belfast.

The party is defending two seats – leader David Ervine’s in East Belfast and Billy Hutchinson’s in North Belfast.

Nationalist SDLP leader Mark Durkan was also planning to launch a province wide billboard campaign in Belfast building on the party’s claim that it could stop the anti-Good Friday Agreement Democratic Unionists from taking key seats.

The DUP has also scheduled the launch of an “eyecatcher” poster in the east of the city.

Sinn Féin was focusing on the issue of agriculture and rural development, with vice president and West Tyrone MP Pat Doherty releasing its latest policy document.

More in this section