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Friday, April 17, 1998 Published at 19:08 GMT 20:08 UK

Events: Northern Ireland: Latest News

Jibes fly as unionists clash
image: [ The writing's on the wall for David Trimble - but he must persuade the doubters ]
The writing's on the wall for David Trimble - but he must persuade the doubters

Rival unionist politicians have clashed at the Northern Ireland Forum in Belfast as the Ulster Unionist Party leader David Trimble defended his decision to accept the Stormont peace settlement.

Real Video: BBC Ireland Correspondent Denis Murray reports
Chairman John Gorman called for order as hardliners in the Rev. Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party heckled and barracked Mr Trimble in the opening stages of a debate on the historic agreement.

There were shouts of "what about the guns?", "sell-out" and "absolute tripe" as he insisted the province's constitutional position within the United Kingdom had been strengthened by the deal.

Forum chairman John Gorman intervenes then PUP leader David Ervine challenges the Rev Paisley's party
At one point East Belfast MP Peter Robinson, Mr Paisley's deputy, called across to Mr Trimble: "You are in a hole and you should stop digging."

Earlier, Mr Trimble said he expected the "overwhelming majority" of his party to back the new deal.

He told BBC Breakfast News: "All the indications are we are heading for a 70-30 majority."

Mr Trimble has to persuade the 850-strong Ulster Unionist Council to ratify the agreement when it meets on Saturday. But he can expect some strong opposition.

'Democracy vindicated'

[ image: Trimble: expects support for the peace deal]
Trimble: expects support for the peace deal
The influential Protestant Orange Order has asked for clarification on a number of issues, including the early release of prisoners and the future policing of Northern Ireland.

David Trimble speaks to BBC Breakfast News
And Jeffrey Donaldson, who is tipped as a future Ulster Unionist leader, says he cannot recommend that the people of Northern Ireland vote yes in the referendum on the peace package.

But Mr Trimble told the BBC a successful yes campaign would strengthen Northern Ireland's place in the United Kingdom and not be a stepping stone to a united Ireland.

He said the peace deal was "democracy vindicated" but accepted there were "legitimate" unionist concerns.

He said it was "fundamentally wrong" to release prisoners early for political reasons and he wanted reassurances that the Royal Ulster Constabulary would remain the sole police force in Northern Ireland.

Unionists are also concerned at the proposal to let Sinn Fein hold seats and ministerial positions in the proposed Northern Ireland assembly without requiring the paramilitaries to decommission their arms.

Jeffrey Donaldson talks to BBC Radio 4's Today programme
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Donaldson, said: "I could not recommend an agreement which allows Sinn Fein/IRA to hold ministerial position in the government of Northern Ireland in circumstances where the IRA's campaign of violence has not ended.

"I'm sure there would be many people who would be shocked and very deeply disturbed if they were being told that terrorists and the representatives of terrorists were going to become ministers in the government of their country."

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