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Friday, November 19, 1999 Published at 18:28 GMT

UK: Northern Ireland

Trimble begins battle for party support

David Trimble wins request for a meeting of ruling council

The Ulster Unionist Leader David Trimble has begun the battle to win support within his party for the compromise package aimed at ending the deadlock in the peace process.

The BBC's David Eades: "The tensions within the party have been layed bare"
Mr Trimble requested that a special meeting of the party's ruling council be called to decide on the compromise arrangement revealed this week, which if agreed, would pave the way for a locally elected administration.

The party's executive supported this move at a meeting held in Belfast on Friday, but Mr Trimble now faces an enormous challenge to win over his party's grassroots.

The compromise deal emerged following the conclusion of the former Senator George Mitchell's review of the workings of the Good Friday Agreement.

It involves the setting up of a power sharing administration, and an announcement by the IRA that it has appointed an intermediary to deal with the international body overseeing the handover of weapons. Both are due to happen on the same day, if all goes to plan.

The package will now be put before the party's 800 strong ruling council, but winning the backing of a majority for the proposals on offer will be tough.

That meeting is expected to take place on Saturday, 27 November.

In an early indication of the difficulties Mr Trimble will face in promoting the deal, Derek Hussey, the deputy whip of the Ulster Unionist assembly group resigned in protest at the current direction of party policy.

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Speaking after Friday's executive meeting Mr Trimble said: "Let us bear in mind that what we are doing, what we have been engaged in over the course of the last number of years, what will take still some time to work its way through is actually quite important.

"It does have the capacity to transform the society that exists here, does give us the opportunity to move away from the conflict and division that has been so evident over the last three decades, and to create instead a society based on peace and democracy and a society that is going to be at ease with itself.

Referring to the meeting of the ruling council he said that it should not be looked on as "make or break".

[ image: George Mitchell has put forward a blueprint for devolution]
George Mitchell has put forward a blueprint for devolution
He said: "It is part of an evolution that is taking place within Northern Ireland, and when we reach the end of the road, which is some way off yet, we will see that over the course of a four or five year period we have produced major changes for the better."

At one point in the news conference the tensions within the Ulster Unionist Party surfaced as an anti-agreement member of the executive interrupted with the words: "Let's have some honesty in this party".

Party official David Brewster was referring to a statement which suggested that UUP officers had agreed to recommend the formation of a power-sharing executive.

BBC Radio Ulster's Gareth Gordon:"It's no bed of roses for David Trimble"
Mr Trimble immediately moved to clarify the issue by saying that the statement was from him and not the party officers .

Unionist support is critical if the peace process is to move forward to the next stage - the setting up a devolved administration - which may happen as soon as early December.

George Mitchell's review ended on Thursday with the former US senator saying that the basis now exists for devolution and decommissioning.

It followed a number of carefully choreographed statements earlier in the week which broke the deadlock over the issue of paramilitary weapons.

In their statement the Ulster Unionists pledged support for inclusive government, while Sinn Fein leaders stated their opposition to violence and their belief that decommissioning was an important part of the peace process.

The IRA then said following the establishment of a power-sharing executive, it would appoint an intermediary to the international body appointed to oversee the handover of paramilitary weapons.

The majority of the Ulster Unionist Assembly Group may be behind David Trimble, but most of his fellow MPs object to his strategy. The decision therefore of the party's council will be critical.

Many unionists still believe that they should not enter an administration with Sinn Fein until the IRA actually hands over some weapons, a policy of 'no guns, no government.'

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