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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 21:28 GMT 22:28 UK

Heavyweights clash on TV

Head to head: Dr Paisley and Mr Trimble in the heated debate

Unionist heavyweights David Trimble and the Rev Ian Paisley clashed for the first time in a televised debate on the referendum.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Dr Paisley, champion of the No camp, had hitherto refused to appear with Ulster Unionist Party leader Mr Trimble, who leads the Yes campaign, in a debate on the issue.

Rev Ian Paisley and David Trimble confront each other on BBC Northern Ireland's Newsline (22")
But the two men, who appeared on BBC Northern Ireland's Newsline programme, enjoyed a wide-ranging, heated debate.

Dr Paisley said: "He (Trimble) has had the approval of Gerry Adams. Well done David."

Mr Trimble replied: "What I've done over the past two and a half years is give the people of Northern Ireland a chance. What Ian is doing is going to let Sinn Fein/IRA off the hook."

Dr Paisley said: "It's a very funny thing to say that you are going to defeat the IRA when you are going to let their murderers out in 24 months."

Mr Trimble replied: "We have the support not just of a very substantial majority of the entire community but a majority of the Protestants too."

[ image: Robert McCartney:
Robert McCartney: "Dr Paisley's monkey"
In another televised debate, in the Belfast studios of BBC2's Hearts and Minds programme, Mr Trimble clashed with Robert McCartney, leader of the UK Unionist Party.

Even before they got together, Mr Trimble accused Dr Paisley, of backing out and sending Mr McCartney as a stand-in for the No campaign.

"Unable to get the organ grinder, we have decided we will tackle his monkey," he taunted.

The debate started with the two protagonists circling around the fraught issue of the decommissioning of terrorist arms.

If there was a Yes vote, decommissioning would be "buried" the moment the Northern Ireland Assembly was established, leaving the IRA to carry on "turning the ratchet", said Mr McCartney.

Wrong, retorted Mr Trimble, insisting the agreement offered the only hope of progress, adding that if Tony Blair failed to honour his assurances on the issue he was "a fool and a rogue".

"He's gazing into a rear view mirror. He is obsessed with the past," Mr Trimble said of his opponent.

"All this scratching away at little sores is ignoring the opportunities in this agreement."

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