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Thursday, April 16, 1998 Published at 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK

Deal 'no threat to Union'
image: [ Trimbe:
Trimbe: "We will not abandon the opportunity"

Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble has rejected claims that Northern Ireland's union with Britain is threatened by the agreement reached at the all-party peace talks last week.

David Trimble says he will not "abandon this opportunity"
Speaking in a press conference ahead of the Ulster Unionist Council meeting at the weekend, Mr Trimble said that the Union was safe but ordinary unionists were right to want clarification on three critical issues.

He stressed his confidence in winning overwhelming support from his party in the May 22 referendum.

Mr Trimble was speaking the day after two unionist groups dealt blows to the campaign for a "Yes" vote in the referendum.

The Democratic Unionist Party began its campaign to scrap the peace deal, attacking the settlement as a betrayal of the Union.

Later, the highly influential Grand Lodge of the Orange Order, which represents thousands of Protestants across the province, said it could not accept the settlement without further clarification. Orangemen hold a quarter of the votes at Saturday's Ulster Unionist Council.

David Trimble says Sinn Fein is the dog that is not barking
The Ulster Unionist leader described the DUP's claims that the peace blueprint threatened the "very lifeblood" of the Union as among the "sillier things" that had been said of the settlement.

"This agreement underlines the consent principle," said Mr Trimble. "The very first section (of the agreement) has the participants accepting the legitimacy of Northern Ireland, something that Republicans have rejected for 70 years.

"This is quite different from the Framework Document, Sunningdale and even the Downing Street Declaration."

Issues for clarification

[ image: Trimble needs the support of the Ulster Unionist Council]
Trimble needs the support of the Ulster Unionist Council
Mr Trimble called on the Prime Minister Tony Blair to clarify three areas: decommissoning of paramilitary weapons, the release of paramilitary prisoners and the future of the RUC.

"The letter we received from the Prime Minister (during the talks) underlined the linkage between decommissioning and taking office," said Mr Trimble.

"People are not entitled to take office in the Assembly if they are from a paramilitary party that has not begun decommissioning.

Sinn Fein focus

Mr Trimble predicted that his party would support the settlement and said that focus should shift to Sinn Fein which he claimed had gone to ground since Good Friday.

He said the Republican movement had to decide if it was going to accept legitimate democratic politics and the existence of Northern Ireland.

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