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The BBC's David Eades
"The bleakest assessment to date about the chances of decommissioning"
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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 22:11 GMT
Trimble begins grassroots talks
Ulster Unionist leadership
Ulster Unionists to meet to review power-sharing arrangement
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble is to begin a detailed consultation process within his party to discuss the future of the stalled Northern Ireland peace process.

The first minister made the comments after a meeting of senior party officers in Belfast on Friday.

They were discussing a report from an internal review group monitoring the party's participation in the power-sharing executive.

A failure to make progress will have consequences and those consequences inevitably will be negative

David Trimble

In the absence of IRA decommissioning, the group was expected to deliver a downbeat assessment of the current political situation.

Mr Trimble said he was going to organise a number of meetings at various levels within the party, beginning next Monday, before a decision was made on the way forward.

But he said he hoped to see progress being made on the contentious issues of arms and policing.

In a message to republicans and nationalists, Mr Trimble added: "Let nobody be under any illusion at all, that a failure to make progress will have consequences and those consequences inevitably will be negative.

"Nobody can think that you have got some option to simply let things sit. They either go forward or we're going to find things going backwards.

"I very much want to see things going forward. I hope people will make progress. We have jumped, we have taken the strain, and it's now time for other people to show the same courage and leadership that we have done."

The consultation process is expected to last until the end of the month.

The review group's report was thought to have focused on Ulster Unionist frustration over the lack of progress on IRA decommissioning.

The group met General John de Chastlain, the head of the decommissioning commission, on Friday morning.

In a statement afterwards, it said it was "regrettable" that since their last meeting in September, no progress had been made on actual decommissioning and no further contact had been made between the general and the IRA.

It added: "With the exception of the limited gesture by the LVF (Loyalist Volunteer Force), decommissioning remains the only area of the Belfast Agreement where progress has not been made.

"Not only have republican and loyalist terrorists failed to decommission, they have not even indicated if and when decommissioning might begin."

The group said that if the present political structures were to survive it was "vital that decommissioning begins immediately".

Arms body

When the UUP's 860-member ruling council met in October, it backed Mr Trimble's plan to ban Sinn Fein from attending official north-south council meetings until the IRA re-engaged with the arms body.

Sinn Fein is challenging this sanction in the courts.

Mr Trimble also vowed to review his party's position at Stormont in January.

UUP deputy leader John Taylor has warned that he expects another meeting of the ruling council to be called for the end of this month, or start of February.

This would increase pressure on Mr Trimble to gain some concession on IRA disarmament.

If Mr Trimble's party recommends that he should take further action against Sinn Fein, this could strain the power-sharing arrangement to breaking point.

David Burnside: Won selection race
David Burnside: Won selection race

In a separate development, businessman David Burnside has retained his position as the Ulster Unionist's Westminister candidate for the South Antrim area.

He will contest the formerly safe Ulster Unionist seat, which the party lost to the Rev William McCrea of the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, in a by-election last year.

"It's a big vote of confidence in me from the by-election," he said.

He also said he was confident of winning the seat back for the UUP.

Mr Burnside defeated three other candidates at a selection meeting in Templepatrick, County Antrim, on Friday night.

They were: Avril Swann, councillor Roy Thompson and assembly member Jim Wilson, who is the Ulster Unionist chief whip.

Mr Burnside finished 46 votes ahead of Mr Wilson.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern spoke by telephone on Friday to discuss the peace process.

It followed a meeting in Dublin on Thursday night between Mr Ahern and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.

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