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BBC NI's Seamus McKee talks to Pauline Armitage
"Is its aim to weaken Unionist party position?"
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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK
Unionist supports Sinn Fein exclusion
Armitage signature has secured the motion
An Ulster Unionist assembly member has denied that her decision to back a motion to exclude Sinn Fein from the executive will weaken her party leader.

Pauline Armitage has agreed to back a motion from the Democratic Unionist Party calling for the exclusion of Sinn Fein ministers Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brun from the Northern Ireland power-sharing executive.

The DUP announced on Tuesday that it had sufficient backing in the assembly to force the assembly's business committee to consider the motion after having secured a 30th signature.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Ms Armitage said she had wrestled with her conscience for several weeks before backing the motion.

'Motion not just DUP's'

The East Londonderry assembly member publicly criticised her party last month in the assembly, opposing the Ulster Unionists' decision to go back into an executive with Sinn Fein before moves by the IRA to put its weapons beyond use.

Pauline Armitage:
Pauline Armitage: " I have to live with my conscience"
But speaking on Wednesday she said: "I have not come under pressure from anyone. I have not signed a DUP motion. I have signed a motion for the exclusion of Sinn Fein.

"At the end of the day I think I have to live with my conscience. I fought on a manifesto of "no guns, no government". I felt the time had come when I had to stand up and be counted," she said.

She was critical of what she said was the party's decision to act against policy by entering the executive with Sinn Fein before "actual IRA decommissioning".

She also dismissed suggestions that the IRA opening its weapons dumps to inspection was a sign of progress.

But she said she did not think the motion was "aimed at weakening" the party leader, David Trimble.

'Assembly farce'

Mrs Armitage added that she felt the assembly was "slightly a farce" because the issues it debated, such as the prospect of rural post office closures and whether Belfast's Jubilee Maternity hospital should be kept open.

She said these "did not achieve anything" because ministers took decisions opposed to the consensus of their committees.

DUP Peter Robinson
Peter Robinson: "Members will be able to nail colours to the mast"

"I just want a more democratic system, that's all I really want.

"I think there should be more Ulster Unionist Party members standing beside me. I don't know if there will be. They will have to live with their conscience as I have to wrestle with mine," she added.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson has said he expects the debate to take place next Tuesday to enable assembly members to "nail their colours to the mast" on Sinn Fein's participation in the executive.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams criticised the DUP motion, but said it would merely delay, not halt, progress in the peace process.

A move two weeks ago by anti-agreement unionists to force a debate on the exclusion of Sinn Fein from government failed.

A petition forcing a debate failed to attract the 30 signatures required because of a rival motion from the smaller Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

To be successful, the exclusion motion would require cross-community support with a majority of either nationalists or unionists and a 40% minority of the other community.

It is not expected to succeed.

If 60% of unionists do not support it, the DUP's two ministers in the executive, Peter Robinson in regional development and Nigel Dodds in social development are expected to resign from the power-sharing government.

The DUP has said it would then rotate the posts around its members to prevent the seats going to pro-agreement parties.

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